Playing a detective with superpowers in a point-and-click adventure game? Sign me up. When I first came across this game on Steam, the premise instantly captured my imagination, so I reached out to Clifftop Games, the studio behind Whispers of a Machine. I was enthused to receive a reply from Joel Staaf Hästö, programmer and founder of Clifftop Games; Petter Ljungqvist, lead artist and founder of Faravid Interactive; as well as Jacob Lincke, the composer. And so I fired away, trying to find out more about the creative process.
What inspired the Nordic setting?
Joel: Both of us writers are Swedish, so the Nordic aspect came very naturally to us from the beginning. There aren’t many games set in a nordic sci-fi environment, so it seemed like an interesting setting that could have a wider appeal. Also, I can’t fail to mention the Swedish artist, Simon Stålenhag, as a distinct influence on the world of Whispers of a Machine.
Petter: We wanted to create something new. In the stereotypical cyberpunk setting, you have these endless cityscapes with their ubiquitous neon signs against black skyscrapers, and it’s always night and constantly raining. We wanted the town of Nordsund in Whispers of a Machine to look like something you’ve never seen before, even though it should still look vaguely Norse.
While there are obvious Norse influences in the game, why include other religions?
J: We wanted a religious element to both the AI fanatics and their counterparts from the very early stages of the writing process since a central theme of the game is how an AI singularity could essentially become a god.
P: Yeah, we didn’t want to make this a technology vs. the church conflict. Adding fundamentalist aspects to both sides made it more nuanced.
What was the writing process like and what kind of challenges did you face while writing the story?
J: The writing for Whispers of a Machine was a collaborative process for the two of us. The biggest challenge was probably simply agreeing on a shared vision for the game, but a few other things we struggled with were Alex’s role in the story and how to structure the endings.
P: The beginning and the ending are definitely the hardest parts to get right. A story is only as good as its ending, but to even get there you have to catch the player’s attention and hold on to it.
How did the inclusion of morality choices affect your story writing?
J: It certainly made Vera kind of scattered as a character, since all three sides of her would have to be developed in parallel, giving us less time to flesh out each aspect of her. How these three sides of Vera integrate in the narrative and the way the story molds around each of them (and to what extent) was also something we spent a lot of time on figuring out.
P: The plot and its themes are very suited for moral choices. What role should humanity play, how should we handle A.I, etc.
I must say that the music for the game was fantastic, and it reminded me a lot of the police noir genre like those of Max Payne and Sin City. What were your inspirations behind the music?
Jacob: Glad you enjoyed it! When you think about sci-fi, cyberpunk or post-apocalyptic settings in general, what comes to mind in terms of music are usually synths and other electronic instruments. Sure, we used those as well but we wanted a unique touch to the soundtrack and a more “grounded” sound.
To achieve this, we focused on the Scandinavian elements with lots of folk music influences. The Swedish “nyckelharpa” is one example of a key instrument used to create the overall sound. Combining traditional instruments with futuristic rhythms and synths creates this pretty cool blend you don’t hear very often. And on top of that we also made sure it had a mysterious noir feel to it, reminiscent of the examples you gave.
What was the reason you decided to go with the old visual styles of point and click games, much like that of Monkey Island?
P: I’m personally attracted to pixel art and low resolution painting. As you mention, it immediately evokes the feeling of playing a point and click game from the early ‘90s.
J: In my view this was also partly tied to budget constraints, apart from the nostalgia factor and genre recognition.
Is there a sequel planned for this title? If so, how far along is it in development?
J & P: No continuation for Whispers of a Machine is planned at this time, as the two of us will focus on solo projects next. Therefore a sequel is unlikely, but of course not impossible! We don’t have a canon ending 🙂
And there you have it. With its blending of Norse culture into their game, Whispers of a Machine has certainly made itself look and sound unique. It really was a pleasure to walk down the streets of Nordsund, what with all its Nordic glory.