"I Didn't Want To Be The I Ruined Your Childhood Guy'"
As we discussed in today's hands-on preview, Paul Cuisset's Flashback remake is cause for both celebration and trepidation. Beyond some new gameplay features, the PSN and XBLA-bound reboot plans to inject the legendary platformer with more in the way of traditional videogame storytelling, complete with fully-voiced dialogue, cutscenes, plenty of NPCs and even more twists to discover in the overarching plot. Appealing to fans of classic games while attracting a new audience is always tough, and doubly so when trying to flesh out characters like Conrad, who are effectively blank slates filled in by our imaginations and tidbits.
Keen to know about the challenges facing the writing team, I recently sat down for a chat with co-writer Simon McKenzie, who explained that he's a fan of the original game with a clear vision in mind.
Jonathan Lester (Dealspwn): Thanks for talking to us, Simon. We've been waiting 20 years for Flashback to return, but many of us were just expecting an HD version. What is this new project attempting to do? Is it a reboot, a remake or... what?
Simon McKenzie: It is a remake of Flashback, so it's not just an HD shiny version, it's a remake of the game. I was a fan of the original, so when it came up on my radar and they wanted a writer, hands up in the air, I said "let me!"
The main thing is that it's done by Paul Cuisset, who did the original. He said, this was the game in his head back in the 90s, but there were technological limitations. We were able to work with him, put some new ideas in there, but all the classic elements that you remember from Flashback - from the Death Tower to finding the fragments of your memory and piecing together the larger scheme of things - they're all there in the new game.
Dealspwn: So what would you say are the biggest deviations from the original Flashback formula? Or improvements, perhaps, since Cuisset's on board?
Simon McKenzie: I wouldn't say they're deviations. We were allowed to do more with the story. For me, Flashback was a very important game in terms of story when I played it originally. Going back and looking at it, most of the story actually played out in my mind. It was there in the gameplay, but not there on screen. So we were able to develop the characters more, put in more twists and turns within the plot, but keep it Flashback. It was very important to keep the suspense, keep Conrad who he was in the original, not change him.
Dealspwn: What kind of pressure are you under, working on such a beloved franchise?
Simon McKenzie: It's one of those things. I knew what Flashback meant to me as a gamer, so I really had some concerns. I didn't want to be the 'I ruined your childhood' guy! So it was all about keeping the spirit. We talked to Paul extensively, what movies and books influenced him originally, and he worked with us. When we had good ideas, he was like, "great," but when we had terrible ideas, he was like "no, we're not going to do that." So it was a really collaborative effort between us all.
Dealspwn: How difficult was it to flesh out Conrad with dialogue and voice acting?
Simon McKenzie: I had really good ideas of who Conrad was, so he was kind of there. It was all about keeping the tone with the dialogue - that's the most important thing for writing videogame characters, getting the consistent tone. It was looking back, and it was more of a feeling with the original game, rather than what was always on screen. To keep Conrad representative, he's a non-conformist in a conforming world, so that was one of the core elements: the struggle against conformity.
Dealspwn: Sure thing. Out of interest, how closely does the story mirror the original Flashback in terms of the overarching plot?
Simon McKenzie: The main tentpole elements are there. We were able to add dialogue in this version, so we were able to have some fun... there's some twists and changes that will surprise fans of the original and make it feel like a new experience.
Dealspwn: Sounds promising. Finally, when this is announced in a couple of days, there'll doubtlessly be plenty of Flashback fans who'll be worried about the very idea of a reboot. What would you say directly to them?
Simon McKenzie: I would hope that fans of the original will embrace this version, because it's Paul Cuisset's vision. It's his game, it's been his baby. He's wanted to do this for a while. The timing came together, the partnership with Ubisoft and VectorCell to get it out, it was a perfect marriage. If you enjoyed Paul Cuisset's game in the early 90s, this was the game he really wanted to make. We've got the technology now in the 21st century to put it out how he visualised it.