The Secret History of the Whispered World

The Whispered World Week, Day 2: Tuesday

Note: This is Day 2 of “The Whispered World Week” at The Slowdown.

Nothing is permanent in this wicked world – not even our troubles. –Charlie Chaplin

Sometimes pictures are worth a thousand words. Other times, a video is worth these thousand words; once in a while, though, there comes a time when neither pictures, videos nor a thousand words can accurately portray a story.

One such story, in more than one way, is that of The Whispered World, an apocalyptic fantasy point and click adventure from Germany; apart from boasting an imaginative, existentialist storyline, it also comes with an origin story that is one of the wildest development rides for a video game in recent memory.1

Timeline, 2004-2006

Back in 2006, things were not turning right at all for German artist and designer Marco Hüllen; in fact, they were turning all kinds of wrong: The painter, whose graphic design and illustration graduation project at the Rhein-Sieg academy of arts – a hand-painted adventure game in its classic point and click mode that showed immense promise from the get-go – had just agreed to a publishing deal with the now-infamous, ephemeral German adventure game publisher Bad Brain Entertainment. This decision, perfectly logical at the time, would later turn out to have massive repercussions on the development of the game.

Bad Brain Entertainment, founded in October 2004 by one Wolfgang Kierdorf, “a former game-programmer who gave up that career in the early 90s to start into the ‘serious’ software development business,” later became infamous for swooping in to ink a publishing agreement for A Vampyre Story with Bill Tiller’s Autumn Moon Entertainment back in 2007, only to back down from the deal shortly afterwards, for reasons that are still shrouded in folklore.

Wolfgang Kierdorf

This rather disreputable company died a quiet death only shortly afterwards, leaving behind little else to show but an October 2005 demo version of Hüllen’s thesis, a ridiculously optimistic release date of Winter 2006, and… as we all know, a bunch of broken dreams. As it soon became evident to fans of The Whispered World, Kierdorf’s definition of “serious” actually meant “dire” for Hüllen, as his brainchild languished in contractual limbo for the better part of 2007, as Kierdorf still controlled the assets Hüllen had produced during his stay at the company.

For a moment, it seemed as though the story of The Whispered World would come to an end with the demise of Bad Brain. That is, until Daedalic Entertainment scooped up the rights to the game – as well as the existing assets Hüllen had previously developed over at Bad Brain – in the August of 2007.

Today, Hüllen admits that the game had in fact progressively begun to resemble his original vision less and less during his stay at Bad Brain, until there was little left that reminded him of his own plans for the game. The original version of the story was only brought back and reintroduced after Daedalic negotiated a deal with him later in 2007. Retrospectively, the artist now looks at the game’s temporary cancellation as a positive turn of events. To satiate your curiosity, here are some screenshots from the 2005 German-language demo:

Hüllen also remains admirably philosophic over the Bad Brain debacle, holding no ill will over Kierdorf’s actions, in fact describing his former employer “essentially a great boss.”2 On the whole, it would seem that the gaming press latched on to the very tangible frustration borne out of the delays Kierdorf caused both to A Vampyre Story and The Whispered World.

Timeline, 2007-2010

That Hüllen is relieved to see his game see release would be an overstatement. Who could have imagined a six-year development process for a project that started its life in 2004 as a school project? Originally as a thesis, the artist produced a demo – the same demo that Bad Brain would later release – with 4-5 rooms and a set of basic animations for the main characters, Sadwick the clown and Spot the caterpillar.

While the game was languishing in contractual limbo, an unofficial German-language trailer, also animated and produced during Hüllen’s stay at Rhein-Sieg, was leaked in the autumn of 2007, prompting many adventure gaming sites to take it for an announcement of a publishing deal.

The game, influenced by Studio Ghibli and the Monkey Island brand of point and click adventure gaming, very much remains the brainchild of Hüllen, as the artist was ultimately responsible for most of the game’s backgrounds, character designs and interface. While Hüllen testifies that the game is largely as he envisioned six years ago, Sadwick’s character did undergo a revision that was meant both to appeal to a more adult gaming audience as well as better express emotions that Marco characterizes as “immensely important” for the game.3

Of course, the biggest pressure has been off of Hüllen’s shoulders since the August of 2009, when the game was finally released in Germany after five long years of intermittent development. Uncharacteristically for a recent German-produced adventure game, though, The Whispered World is also seeing wide-spread, global release.

In North America, where Daedalic has an all-new publishing agreement with Viva Media, the game is slated for release on the 26th of April. In Europe, where the game is to be published by Deep Silver, with a release in the UK, Scandinavia, Spain and Italy on April 23rd. Daedalic also promises the game will be published via Steam and other digital download platforms, though no official date is yet given.4

The game, then, is obviously characterized by its hand-painted, high-resolution backgrounds and luxuriously animated character sprites. To allow more insight into the creative process of the game – let us not forget the contributions of the rest of the staff, as most of the game’s animations were done by Hüllen’s colleagues at Daedalic – Deep Silver have published a “Making Of” video for the game:

Last but not least, for more information, you can visit the game’s equally luxurious website here. If you have any questions (or corrections!) regarding the admittedly complex timeline, feel free to ask in the comments section and we’ll try to figure it out.

The research for this article has been produced in conjunction with the gracious Mr. Hüllen, and is partially based on our interview that will be posted tomorrow here at The Slowdown, so check back soon!

  1. Other than, that is, Babylonian Twins []
  2. http://www.slowdown.vg/2010/04/21/interview-with-the-whispered-world-designer-marco-hullen/ []
  3. http://www.slowdown.vg/2010/04/21/interview-with-the-whispered-world-designer-marco-hullen/ []
  4. http://twitter.com/daedalic/statuses/10881762668 []