Could you introduce yourself and talk about your role on the project? What drew you to the games industry?
My name is Inga Mittendorf and I am the PR-Manager of developer Replay Studios.
Can you give us the high level overview of the game? What were the main cultural influences for the game? How much of the game is based on real events and real places?
Velvet Assassin is a World War II scenario in which the gamer takes over the role of a female agent named Violette Summer. She is driven by rage and therefore decides to fight against the Germans who destroyed her family by causing war. This is why she joins the secret service and starts out for sabotage and assassination missions against the Nazis.
According to reality: We tried to rebuild as many things as possible from originals, in terms of being true to history. We remodelled houses, harbours and all those many small things that existed in that time from aerial photos and maps, as this is one important part of not skipping historical facts-but we were not allowed to use the symbols on the cars though this is one part of those historically true scenes as well. Furthermore, we did not get the permission for some buildings like the church of “Notre Dame” in Paris and though we had a really nice art design, we were not allowed to show it.
In Assassin's Creed, Altair is actually a memory being reconstructed through a descendant's DNA. In Velvet Assassin, Violet is actually reliving her memories in a coma from a hospital bed. Is that where the vague similarities end? How did this concept evolve from the initial design of the game which involved a male assassin?
Vague similarities – well, there are always somehow vague similarities between games especially among those of the same genre. Our idea of developing a concept in which our protagonist relives her memories in a coma and takes morphine when the fever dreams are getting too strong is based on historical research on how wounded soldiers were treated during war. And we thought the idea was great – and when we got deeper into history and learned about those many female spies who had been involved into war, we had found the perfect outline for our game.
How do you fight the stigma of "yet another WWII game"? Do you think there is any WWII fatigue among gamers who have fought almost every possible battle in WWII?
We don’t think it is necessary to “fight a stigma” all the time and argue why this is a special game because this is what could be done for every game then. Why has a standard shooter its justification for existence or why do there have to be sequels on every game that did a little well? So, on the one hand, we don’t care about this stigma and don’t believe in a fatigue among gamers, because this fatigue could appear in nearly every genre of games then. On the other hand: our game indeed has a different approach than those that existed before and so we don’t feel like belonging to the other mainstream games of that genre. First, we wanted to create something that is unique and had not been on the games market like that before. Of course, WWII games did exist before – but they have never been designed in this perspective, with this special art concept, the impressive atmosphere and not made by the Germans themselves. We saw this as a great challenge to invent this game topic completely new. We wanted our game to be for some kind cinematic, like a film: and the topic of WWII is a good topic for a game with such high claims.
We're not trying to pick apart the modern-day German's psyche, but WWII is a sensitive subject in Germany. Violette is an Allied spy in Germany during WWII. Why was it important for the Hamburg-based Replay Studios to face this socially-sensitive challenge? What limitations arose because of having the game being developed by a German team?
Well, there were many things coming together and building this final idea of making a game on World War II: But then one must say, that the topic is less sensitive among the people of our generation than it seems. From earliest years in school children work up the crucial historical period of WWII and we have developed a critical view on the things that happened 60 years ago. Our generation has learned to talk about our past from childhood on, we accept that our country has this cruel and embarrassing past and by dealing with this topic we can assure that nobody stops remembering. But we feel enlightened enough not be intimidated by the topic any more-we consciously make it a topic! It has happened many generations before, so us young people should not feel guilty about it but instead make sure by open discussions and critical thinking to let this never happen again.
But indeed, there are limitations when you use this era as material for games in Germany: A simple one is that you are e.g. not allowed to use symbols like swastika and show them in your game, no matter whether it is with a politically correct purpose and although the message of the game is definite anti-nazi. For us, this is not really understandable as the position of the player during the game is always politically correct and he does not even have the choice on which side he wants to be: he is always against the Nazis. So, when all this is clear, why not printing the swastika on the Germans’ cars?
We can comprehend that people-even Germans-at first have a sceptic stance on the idea of using a serious, sad and dramatic topic like WWII in a
game which usually is meant to be fun. There is this fear of abusing our cruel past. This is why we decided for a female main character, who is less brutal and the whole purpose of the game is not “running around and shooting as much as you can”, but instead we chose the stealth-genre, which enhances the concept of the game a lot. People who saw the game give the same feedback and think that our way of dealing with the topic looks “healthy” and “grown up”.With reportedly over 50 stealth-kill animations, it's safe to say that Velvet Assassin will mainly be sticking to the shadows. Still, many stealth game developers feel the need to mix up the gameplay with shooter action. Will Violette be doing this?
In some situations you might get along if you play the game as a shooter, but those moments are really few. We decided to be consequent and so in most parts the game will be unforgiving if you play it too action-style. It is definitely meant to be more stealth than action.
What's the hardest part about designing a stealth game? How will Velvet Assassin differ from other games in the genre?
The hardest part consists of many things going together: You have many ideas, a great concept, so many things you want to do better than they have been done in other games on the market – and then on the other side you have this plan with limitations of time and budget that make fulfilling your great plans nearly impossible. On Velvet Assassin we have worked with about 25 people and this was more than a challenge. But we hope that gamers value our passion for the game…
From what we've seen Velvet Assassin has an interesting approach to death as the character mis-remembers things and you get to replay the level. How did you come up with that approach and why did you move away from the standard die and reload approach?
The mis-remembering-death is a creative approach we decided on because it can be perfectly combined with the narrative element of morphine. Morphine and this type of death we use is a symbiosis that contributes to the attractiveness of the gameplay.
What's this we hear about a "taint stab"? How did you come up with this particular attack? If taint stab made it into the game, what didn't make the cut?
How we came up with a “taint stab”? Put a bunch of game developers during their lunch-break together in one small room and let them do the standard talk developer nerds do…Everyone was thinking about the craziest ideas how to vary the silent kills in the most interesting way for the gamers – and so this one idea obviously came up!
Any tips for people when they pick up the game? Are there any things that you recommend people do or areas they should explore while playing the game?
Yes, sure, the most important thing is to be smart. The game is really composed as a stealth game and you should keep that in mind during the game instead of getting your hands on your gun too fast…
Is there anything we missed that you think is important to talk about?
The release date of course: End of April.
We'd like to thank Inga for taking the time to answer our questions and to our good friend Stephanie for helping to setup the interview.