The string puppet Abby flees from her captors into freedom and adventure: a world of beauty and wonder – but also danger! She finds herself in a war-torn, medieval fairytale, surrounded by ravaged, starving citizens and hunted by a relentless cut-throat. Despite dangling from her threads, Abby learns that she can still influence her destiny – if only by winning over the audience.
Dominik Schön studies interactive media at Animationsinstitut and is responsible for the gameplay programming and the level art of A JUGGLER'S TALE.Keep reading to learn more about the history of the game and his studies of Interactive Media.
About A JUGGLER’S TALE
What is A JUGGLER’S TALE about?
Dominik: A JUGGLER’S TALE is an atmospheric 3D sidescroller for PC and console that takes place in a medieval puppet theatre and revolves around the relationship between the narrator and the marionettes. Players experience the story of Abby, a captive circus artist. She escapes from the travelling circus and finds herself in a beautiful, fairy-tale world. But after a brief moment of freedom, she also encounters the dangers in this world. Guided by the lyrical rhymes of the narrator and puppeteer, Abby must find her way through bandits, traps and numerous other dangerous obstacles. The narrator plays a major role in the game because he gives all the puppets their voices. He is responsible for the story that the audience and the player experience.
Can you tell us more about the creation of A JUGGLER’S TALE?
Dominik: The game was originally created in the second year of our studies, in the so-called "Filmgestaltung 2" semester. Here the students are allowed to experiment very freely under the supervision of the lecturers, this is why we were able to develop a game. During the project phase we built a short section of the game, a so-called "Vertical Slice". We wanted to combine modern, digital games with traditional theatre and poetry culture. Germany can look back on centuries of fairy tales, poetry and drama, which offer an inexhaustible pool of sagas and legends. Our motivation to develop A JUGGLER'S TALE comes from our enthusiasm for these stories and narrative games. Because we liked the theme and the game world so much, we developed the game independently from Filmakademie in a gap year and founded our own company kaleidoscube. Currently we are finishing the project as a co-production of our company and Filmakademie as our diploma project.
What tasks do the team members have in the project?
Dominik: Our A JUGGLER'S TALE core team consisted of three students: Steffen Oberle (Student Animation) is responsible for story and 3D art, Enzio Probst (Student Technical Directing) for core programming, shading and lighting and Dominik Schön (Student Interactive Media) for gameplay programming and level art. Meanwhile, Elias Kremer (Student Animation) joined the team and takes care of effects, shading and art. Apart from that we have a lot of support from other students in the field of sound design and music, motion design, animation, etc. – and Sven Bergmann, also a lecturer at Animationsinstitut, helped us as a producer with the prototype.
The team members are from different disciplines – Animation, Technical Directing and Interactive Media. How did you come together to form a team? How did your cooperation work? How could a smooth workflow be guaranteed?
Dominic: We all started with the basic studies, where you have a lot of classes together with the other disciplines (also script, camera, direction, etc.) and get to know each other. In the first year we already worked on a smaller project in the same group – and there we found out that we can work on a vision together very well. The fact that we all study different disciplines was more of a coincidence, but those different backgrounds helped our cooperation a lot. In our work with such a small team these boundaries disappear very quickly, and everyone works in different areas.
What was the biggest challenge in your work on A JUGGLER’S TALE?
Dominik: I don't think there was the one "biggest" challenge. To work creatively together in a team in which everyone can get involved is always difficult – but also quite simply time management and a lot of organizational effort, which is always necessary. We first had to learn to assess our work capacity correctly so that we could plan better.
You have already won several awards! Which ones were they exactly?
Dominik: Last year we won the Deutscher Computerspielpreis (German Computer Game Award) in the category "Best Young Prototype" with A JUGGLER'S TALE. At the Game Connection Europe in November we won numerous prizes (including Grand Award, Best Story, Best Artwork, Best PC Game) in Paris, which surprised and delighted us. And only last week we learned that we are also among the finalists at the IGF Awards during the GDC 2020 as "Best Student Game".
ABOUT STUDYING INTERACTIVE MEDIA (IM)
Why did you decide to study IM?
Dominik: I was looking for a place to study game design/game development at a public academy. A good friend of mine told me about Filmakademie and wanted to apply there as well – for animation. Together we visited the open house and, of course, I took a look at all the projects of the last years on the website. I was quite enthusiastic about all that, so I really wanted to apply.
What did you do before your studies at Filmakademie?
Dominik: Actually, I am still pretty young for Filmakademie and practically straight out of school. During my school days I started programming my own apps and small games, so I was lucky enough to be able to do a year's internship in two German game studios before I started studying. During my time at King Art Games in Bremen I was able to work on the games Book of Unwritten Tales and Die Zwerge, and during my internship in Munich at Mimimi Games I was allowed to do level design for Shadow Tactics.
What practical experience did you gain before and during your studies?
Dominik: Since the study courses at Filmakademie are very practical and project-oriented, we gain a lot of practical experience here. This starts in the basic studies with subjects like camera for film, screenplay and dramaturgy and directing, and ends in the project studies with teamwork on various interactive or linear projects. The classes at Filmakademie are actually always accompanied by the projects the students are currently working on. Due to the small number of students, you always have an insight into all the things the other students are working on – a great opportunity to learn from your fellow students or to support them in a practical way.
What did you specialize in during your studies?
Dominik: I find this very difficult to answer – I have certainly specialized, I have improved in various areas. But I don't think I've found a real specialty for me – which is perfectly ok. Especially in small teams you have to take on different tasks anyway. For A JUGGLER'S TALE I do both programming and level art – because otherwise there would simply be nobody around to do it. But I think I work much more organized and goal-oriented than before my studies – and working together in a team is also a learning process that will last for some time.
What do you enjoy most about your IM studies? Which topics do you find particularly exciting?
Dominik: The possibility to initiate very different projects – ranging from computer games, apps, websites to installations or musical works. We do not have any guidelines for the format of our work and it's incredibly fun to experiment with it. In the third year of my studies I wanted to program an interactive sandbox with projection – and everything was done to make it happen. We had support from building the actual box to special mentoring for sound at trade fairs and events.
What has been your highlight regarding your studies so far?
Dominik: Here you get to know a lot of creative people (students and lecturerss) and you can work together with them in a team on crazy ideas. I consider myself very lucky to have a group of friends with whom I enjoy working together – Filmakademie really does bring together a lot of people here with very similar interests and creative fantasies. Through the various projects in different teams you always get to know new people in an intensive way.
What's your study routine like?
Dominik: We have a permanent working space at Animationsinstitut where we can work together on A JUGGLER'S TALE. When we don't have lectures or meetings, you can usually find me at my workplace during the day (or in the evening). Apart from that we don't really have fixed teaching times, the timetable changes every week – this is due to the fact that Animationsinstitut has many guest lecturers who are invited according to projects and needs. Every two weeks all students of a year meet and report about the current progress of their project in the so-called "Weekly". This is a great opportunity to get feedback on the own work and to support each other.
Any advice for people interested in applying at Animationsinstitut?
Dominik: Don't get too hung up on one subject – you don't have to be an expert in one area to study, nor do you need to specialize in just one area. The study is also meant to allow you to try out new things, and the individual subject areas are intended more as a guide. But many courses are combined with other specializations and it is always a pleasure to attend lectures in other areas.