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Blackmore: adventures in culture clash

Friday, 21st February 2014 08:00 GMT By Brenna Hillier

Blackmore hopes to step into a void left vacant since the early 1990′s, and satisfy the hunger for Japanese graphic adventures inspired by Hideo Kojima’s classic Snatcher. Writer Jeremy Blaustein talks adventure, steampunk, and the heritage of Japanese development.

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What is Blackmore?

A classic point-and-click adventure set in an alternate, steampunk London of 1988.

Developed by a multi-national team based in Japan, but written by Jeremy Blaustein, a US-born Japanese translator and localisation expert with a long list of credits.

Character design from Satoshi Yoshioka (Snatcher, Policenauts) and music from Motoaki Furukawa (Gradius, Snatcher).

Stars Emma Blackmore and her robot companion Jonas, as they set out to solve the mystery of a violent crime. Jack the Ripper seems to be involved.

Notable voice actors have been signed to the project including David Hayter (Metal Gear Solid) and Jeff Lupetin (Snatcher).

Planned for release on Mac and PC, in both Steam and DRM-free forms.

Will be available in Japanese and English.

The hero of Blackmore is a Japanese-English doctor named Emma, who forsakes the life of leisure her privileged background offers in order to run a medical clinic for the poor in East London. In some ways, Emma’s backstory echoes that of developer Iqioi; a mix of Japanese and western staffers stepping away from the traditional games publishing world to strike out on their own both as an independent and through crowdfunding, but also by banking on the oft-neglected adventure genre.

The project is being written by Jeremy Blaustein, a localisation expert who worked on Hideo Kojima’s influential cyberpunk thriller, Snatcher. At least three other contributors have Snatcher credits. This connection is an interesting one, because Snatcher has a prominent place in the adventure canon as one of the few Japanese examples to make it big in the west.

Although few outside of import fans are familiar with it, adventure is a popular genre in Japan – although we tend to call them “visual novels”. Aside from a few examples like Virtue’s Last reward and Danganronpa most of us are unaware of just how popular the genre is.

“That can include anything from Kamaitachi No Yoru (recently release here in the US as Banshee’s Last Cry and translated by me) to Snatcher to dating sims like Tokimeki Memorial and the like,” Blaustein told us.

“Most visual novels these days in Japan are a little too racy to be ported over.”

In the west, adventure has suffered a similar fate, minus the raciness. Although European publishers and and independent developers have kept the genre alive (and arguably flourishing; think Daedalic, Wadjeteye and dtp Entertainment), until TellTale and Double Fine re-ignited mainstream interest you’d be lucky to hear about a new adventure from a core gamer.

Blaustein doesn’t care; he said the decision to launch Blackmore now was motivated by the rise of Kickstarter, not because adventure is back in the limelight.

“I don’t actually pay that much attention to trends. I think that adventure games are literally timeless and will always be the best way of telling a story in a game,” he said.

Blackmore’s Kickstarter pitch video explains Blaustein’s passion for the project.

We don’t yet know very much about the story of Blackmore, but we have seen concept art and read descriptions of its steampunk London setting – an aesthetic Blaustein feels can be just as challenging as futuristic sci-fi.

“I think that cyberpunk represents anxiety about where we are going, but steampunk is interesting in that it can speak to the forks that we saw along our paths up to this point. It reminds us of the direction we chose when it wasn’t so clear where we were headed,” he said.

“Back in 1888, it was like people were taking their first steps in the direction that led us to where we are now. So we can use steampunk to re-imagine the choices we made, but it is also so much a reflection of our own times in terms of massive societal changes that I think it also speaks to modern times.”

One of the major changes we’ve seen in games development over the past decade is the rise of independents, after many years of publisher dominance. While Blaustein said Iqioi would consider an offer from a publisher in order to help bring the game to as large an audience as possible, he had strong opinions when we asked about companies like Capcom trying to straddle the Japanese-Western divide with games it hopes will appeal to gamers in both regions.

David Hayter discusses his
involvement with the project.
He plays Emma’s brother, Jonas.

“I don’t think they need that to be successful in both markets. In fact, in some cases, I would argue that it is the dilution of a strong vision that makes for a weak game. Years ago when Japanese developers were making games for their own base without worrying about overseas markets, they were making their strongest and most clearly envisioned games,” he said.

“But in the case of Blackmore, I think the story and script being written by me will similarly make for a much more clear vision than you would get by translating something – particularly considering the setting and subject matter.”

The difference is that between a game with elements borrowed from other titles in an attempt to recreate their appeal, and one developed following a single vision but aiming to be accessible to multiple audiences. It’s a fine distinction to make, but Blaustein has strong roots on both sides of the Pacific to help him strike the right balance; his wife is Japanese and they have three children.

“I am very well aware of what it is to have one foot in each culture. I definitely plan to show some aspects of that in the game. It is an essential part of Emma and Jonas’ characters,” he said.

Iqioi is looking for $200,000 to fund Blackmore via Kickstarter, with 20 days remaining on the clock. The single-player Mac and PC title is expected in northern spring 2015.

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