Available: 1 September 2003.
Developer: Private Moon Studios
Publisher: Private Moon Studios

Interview by: Matthew Patterson

Can you introduce yourself and tell us a little about Private Moon Studios please?

Private Moon Studios is a game developer studio in Hungary, but the team is quite international. So far we have been involved primarily in smaller multimedia productions such as multimedia appendices to pop music CDs, as Private Moon Productions is a music productions company that has been operating for ten years, and Private Moon Records is an independent record publisher. In Private Moon Studios the “studios” of Private Moon came together, that is the sound department, the graphics team, the web group and multimedia developers. Even so, right now only 7 people work full time on AGON. Soon we will probably need significant development to keep deadlines. We have been developing AGON for almost one year.

Can you tell our readers about AGON please?

AGON has been a very important idea for us for a long time. We have been planning to realize it for years. All this jumped out of the heads of Pierrot (musician, producer, a designer of the game), Laszlo Falvay (graphic artist and designer) and friends (a historian of technology, a computer professional and a film director) back in 1997. They have always been adamant board game players and collectors of unique specimens, so the first script of AGON contained little story and a lot of beautiful, culturally accurate board games. In another version of the game, there was already much more adventure. Yet both versions ran into the difficulty of finding a publisher and the fact that it is almost impossible to start with such a project in Hungary, especially if it’s an adventure game. However creators continued to work on the idea: Pierrot wrote additional short stories and the script, others were working on the graphics and technical solutions. We have started developing the game already when we decided to avoid publishers and bring gamers a game that now is much more of an adventure game than a collection of board games.

The game is much more like a book than a game - how does this side of the series work?

Yes, you’re right in that! For us the genre of adventure game means a new way of telling a story – and I believe most of the developers of good adventure games might have a similar idea. Apart from playing a game, we want to provide the opportunity for various degrees of immersion in a story. There are perhaps three possible levels of involvement, and players can decide how much they want to deal with background stories or just solve the specific puzzles. All players will be able to succeed at their chosen level at the end of the game (in episode 14), but players on the different levels may come to different conclusions.

Can you play the episodes in a different order than the one presented, or are you forced to stick to a linear plot development?

Originally AGON was going to be an entirely non-linear game, but what is a blessing of the online distribution method on the one hand, is a shortcoming on the other: it would be very complicated technically to arrange that everyone can download and install episodes in the order they wish to. An unnecessarily complicated database and system of programs would require a host of patches, so it would bring more frustration than the joy of the non-linear game. The episodes of AGON will come in a fixed order.

The game is a mixture of board games, and adventure games? - can you explain this to our readers

As I have mentioned, originally AGON was going to be a collection of board games held together by a simple story. Similarly to puzzle game classics such as Jewels of the Oracle or The 7th Guest, maybe Safecracker. Nowadays the emphasis has shifted to the story, so if I wanted to define the genre of AGON, it’s a pure adventure game. It includes exotic board games (that are probably less well known by gamers) which crown each episode as a kind of master puzzle. (Note: there’s no board game in the first episode, only the usual adventure elements.) The subtitle we use now also emphasizes the background story: The Game Above All Games...

Can you explain to us about the AGON club? what is it, and who does it do?

The AGON CLUB will operate after the release of the first episode; all of those buying the episode can be members. It is a place for a community to come together and for gamers to have additional goodies. Apart from providing information on the development it provides additional details of the story, such as the Professor’s correspondence, his life story, his adventures not included in the game, Smythe’s (his friend) discoveries and further information and amusement. And this is the place to play the board games with other gamers. AGON CLUB is also the place for chatting, exchange of information or even influencing what should happen in later episodes.

How can our readers join?

It’s very simple. Buying and registering the first episode is also the entry to the AGON CLUB.

What innovation is featured within the game? Are there any individual sections that you cant encounter in any other title on the market?

We are proud that AGON is quite unique in a classical genre. But it is the story that became our priority over technical development, so our aim was not a feat of strength, as is fashionable with FPSs. I believe we set our standards rather high in every aspect, such as real-life appearance, easy manageability and atmosphere. We are using an engine we developed specifically for AGON, scenes are explored through first person view 800—600 resolution panoramic pictures, living persons and animals are depicted in real time 3D and other similar 3D effects (lights, natural phenomena, reflections etc.) and puzzles are integrated in the rather life-like surroundings. Sometimes shorter or longer films separate interactive parts, which are full screen and have a unique atmosphere due to the music. Technically Post Mortem comes closest to us, although in the first episodes there is less emphasis on communication.

How soon is the release date?

We are preparing for September 1, going full steam ahead.

Will all episodes be available at the launch date, or will they come later?

Episodes will come approximately bimonthly. Everyone interested and of course members of the AGON CLUB will be informed of the release dates. And we hope you will also help spread the news... :-)

There is an online method to play the game, where you play board-games that you have 'unlocked' during the game - how will these work?

The AGON program is able to communicate with the server of Private Moon Studios. This connection is necessary not only to installing the episodes, but also to playing the online board games, because we do not switch to some kind of simplified interface for the online game but use the graphic one in the AGON game. This way, the program can also check if the gamer has won against the game master in the episode, and whether it is worth connecting with other, experienced gamers. If so, it allows web-based playing.

What adventure books/series have influenced the team in writing the story?

Pierrot says you cannot name a single book, film or game that influenced AGON. Recently a few people have mentioned that Jules Verne’s 80 Days around the World, or the Hungarian Antal Szerb’s Pendragon Legend came to their minds while reading the script. But knowing the details, such as references to the Middle Ages and even earlier periods, there are very few specific similarities. Pierrot and a few devoted members of the team are keen on the period between the turn of the century and the 1920s, so I believe that’s where the ideas come from.

How big is the development team?

Not counting episode characters, that is actors, motion capture artists, those helping with sound and picture recording, altogether seven of us are working on the project. Even we are uncertain if we resemble more a garage team or a professional game developer team. The quality of the participants, working methods and the amount of investment resembles the professional category; given the size of the team, the fact that we are Eastern European and the amount of enthusiasm, we look at ourselves as a hobby team sometimes. However, we are certain that the quality of our work stands the comparison with any large professional team’s.

Why did the team decide that the last episode should be released for free?

I thought you’d ask why we are not giving the first episode free. :-) Well, it’s no secret that although we are several steps ahead of the current release, development will continue during the next two years, what is more, gamers’ support is vital for us to be able to finish the AGON series. However if that happens, we are happy to share our joy with those who were loyal to us all along, and are want to present them with episode 14, the Great Conclusion.

Anything else you would like to add before we finish?

Thank you for your interest and the publicity. This is really our chance to realize our long cherished wish. We will soon ensure a test copy for you, so that you can get to know the world of AGON better, or is the first episode, which is only the tip of the iceberg. :-)