April Ryan, girl star of Funcom’s new adventure title The Longest Journey, won’t be rated on the T&A scale. The Norway-based cyberco is hoping to grow the underserved teen girl gamer market by breaking with the big-buxom mold that characterizes most female characters in the digital realm.
‘It’s about time games had a strong female character [who is] normal in terms of appearance,’ says Ragnar Tornquist, the CD-ROM’s designer and producer. ‘There’s a large number of girls and women over the age of 12 [who like to play video games].’ While 18-year-old April still looks pretty good in tight jeans and a T-shirt, she’s not distractingly top-heavy, nor in danger of bursting her digital seams. April relies on her smarts to surmount barriers, like tricking a muscle-bound guard into believing a shadow is her gun-wielding sidekick.
Although no publisher has yet been signed on, The Longest Journey is intended for a November release for US$50. The title is set in the two worlds of science and magic, and ‘April shifts between both, learning about the talents she must use to establish balance in the universe,’ says Tornquist. ‘It’s about a journey she takes-not just physically, but emotionally, and that’s something that fits more with a female than a male character.’
While still a fan of Tomb Raider’s bodacious heroine Lara Croft, Tornquist is critical of the typical femme fatale cyberchick- he says she lacks authentic female emotions. ‘[Lara is] a male character disguised as female, which shows a lack of originality,’ he says. ‘We tried to get somebody who is more emotionally real.’
Funcom is making a foray into nontraditional gaming venues to get the word out about The Longest Journey-including mailing demos of the game to women’s publications worldwide. The game is also being touted to alternative media, as well as game magazines and Web sites.
The girl title offers a pretty high-tech level of game play; players take on April’s persona as they interact in the 2-D/3-D, high-resolution environment (16- and 32- bit color), with 150 locales and more than 60 talking characters. Other sensory-overload extras included in the game are: 30 minutes of rendered video; real-time lighting effects with detailed shadows; motion-capture and skeletal animation systems (similar to those used in the movie Titanic) for creating 3-D characters that move with human realism. This kind of technology doesn’t come cheap. Tornquist says the motion-capture equipment alone put Funcom back about US$150,000, and the game cost US$3.5 million in total. Tornquist believes this kind of expenditure is required as gamers become more sophisticated and come to expect all the bells and whistles in the latest titles. ‘It’s pricey,’ he says, ‘and it’s getting worse, but a certain amount of realism is required as we step up the technology ladder.’