In the late ninteen eighties and early nineties, there were some really big names in the videogame industry emerging from France. There were some really big players such as Infogrames, Mindscape, Coktel Vision and Delphine Software – not to mention the fledgling Ubisoft. They produced a series of Worldwide hit games, and marked out Europe as a real hotbed for game development.
Years later, and Ubisoft has thrived and become one of the few real behemoths of the industry – branching out across the globe. The others however, have suffered setbacks, down-sizing and bankruptcy – none of them have managed to maintain their status in the same way as Ubisoft. Some of this is down to the massively increased costs associated with producing triple-A, blockbuster titles. This placed too much strain on some of these companies and has made the games industry wary and unwilling to take as many risks as we saw two or three decades ago.
But lately, with the industry shifting towards digital distribution and indie developers publishing their own titles, on their own terms, there has been a surge in new companies and creative people, eager to make games that the so-called “big” publishers wouldn’t dare risk to make. That in turn has led to a new breed of developers both in France and around the world in general – and this has resulted in games that are perhaps smaller-scale, but which push the industry in more exciting creative directions.
One of these is Lexis Numerique. The company did in fact begin in 1990, during the last boom in gaming in the country, and had been publishing Adventure Games (still a popular genre in Europe) through the nineties and early 2000s. They prospered through a partnership with The Adventure Company – a publisher which famously champions indie Adventures, but they wanted to step out on their own, and they have recently come to the fore with a some Nintendo DS titles and a selection of digitally distributed titles that have made a splash on Xbox LIVE Arcade and PlayStation 3 – including detective title Red Johnson’s Chronicles and Survival Horror game Amy. Now that a second installment of the Red Johnson series is imminent, we got the chance to chat with Lexis Numerique a little about the new game, amongst other things.
The First Red Johnson (see our review here) was a PlayStation-exclusive title, so with Red Johnson’s Chronicles: One Against All launching simultaneously on both Xbox LIVE Arcade and PSN, what prompted the move to multi-format?
We don’t mind admitting we had a number of Xbox gamers who were a little bit angry with us for making the original Red Johnson’s Chronicles a PSN exclusive. We’re happy to be able to bring the game to both consoles on this occasion.
Will the first game ever be released on XBLA so gamers can catch up?
The truth is we really don’t know, we’re working on it.
An earlier game from Lexis Numerique – Metropolis Crimes on the Nintendo DS – saw players taking on the role of a young detective in a seedy, urban, almost Neo-Noir world and it seems fairly obvious that it was the spiritual predecessor for the Red Johnson series – with a similar setting and some very familiar-looking characters. We wondered what were the stylistic influences on the game?
It’s a bricolage of the fifties, sixties, seventies — as you rightly point out there are strong noir elements and some manga-esque ideas in there too
Also, there are quite a lot of humorous elements in the game, is this inspired by the classic funny adventures such as those from Lucasarts and Sierra?
Totally, yes — humour is a huge part of this genre and ours is maybe a little darker than those but they were hugely inspiring, no doubt.
One problem with the first episode was that it was criticised for being very short and ending quite abruptly – are there many more entries in the series planned, and will the story carry on throughout, as the game left us with many unanswered questions!
This one follows on from the last and does have a natural conclusion. We had a lot of feedback, positive and negative on the first Red Johnson’s Chronicles and we took it all onboard with a view to making improvements.
With the way that the games industry has shifted away from the risk of boxed retail product to the relative safety of digital distribution, the landscape for developers has really changed dramatically. How do you find operating mainly in the digital market, as opposed to the retail games you have released in the past?
You can liken it to being your own boss as opposed to having one: it’s more challenging in many ways but you have more freedom. You also have direct access to your gamers, which is great.
Lexis Numerique have been around since 1990, their most popular and successful series of titles that they have released are the In Memoriam games, which are puzzle Adventure games where players often have to interact with real-world domains outside of the game, such as specially-designed websites, or emails that the game sends to them. This In Memoriam series is perhaps what the studio is best known for, are you planning any new entries in the series?
That’s a very good question. We see Alt-Minds as a natural progression from that series and a convergence of TV, video games, reality and fiction.
(Although there is no concrete news on any new In Memoriam games, the first episode of Brooklyn Stories – a new game from In Memoriam creator Eric Viennot will be coming to Xbox 360, PC and PlayStation 3 later this year)
Finally, we approach the subject of Survival-Horror title Amy. We reviewed the game earlier in the year, and were somewhat disappointed by the end product, after we heard the interesting concept and the people who were involved in making the game. Some of the issues with the title were addressed in a patch, released quite some time after release, but it wasn’t generally well-received. As a studio who has made a lot of adventure / puzzle games, it was quite a departure to make Amy – a survival horror – what made you take this risk?
We produced Amy with Vector Cell and Paul Cuisset. They had a great pedigree (Flashback, etc) so we were happy to work with them.
(Amy ended with a cliff-hanger, but as of yet there has been no confirmation from Lexis Numerique as to whether or not they will be producing any more installments in the series)
It will certainly be interesting to see where Lexis Numerique go next. They are obviously not scared to experiment and try new things, yet they also responded quite angrily in the press to criticism of Amy when it was released – citing the game was simply too hard for the gamers of today. As a small, independent developer, we hope they can bounce back strongly after this set-back, as the games market is much more interesting and varied with companies like them making games. We will soon get the chance to see their next game though, as a review of Red Johnson’s Chronicles: One Against All, is coming soon on GodisaGeek.com.
The second game in the titular series, Red Johnson’s Chronicles: One Against All, is available on Xbox LIVE Arcade and PlayStation Network now.