Pig-Min did an e-mail interview with Javier Maldonado, CEO of Alteraction, who made [MASQ].

Korean version of this Interview.

User image

Promotional Poster of [MASQ]. Very attractive.

1. Alteraction is new company, so people haven't heard much about it. Please introduce Alteraction, and the team's background in brief.

AlterAction is not that new, it’s based in the San Francisco Bay Area in California and it began operations a few years back. We developed Masq (our only title) in Mexico and the US and it was released in 2002. However, even when most players emailed us very positive feedback, broadband was not that popular then and the slow response of dialup service discouraged many potential users from playing. Plus we promoted it mainly in the US where most distribution channels were afraid of the adult content. So it didn’t become popular then. A couple of months ago Masq was “re-discovered” by PCGamer in the UK and PCGamer Benelux who wrote great reviews and now it's getting a lot of attention.

I wrote, programmed and even drew the first episodes of Masq. Paulina, my wife, helped me to produce it and advise me regarding the story. And other friends and collaborators I knew from Mexico helped too. American game designers and writers Noah Falstein, Ken Melville and Charles Swartz advised us and helped polish the dialog for  the American market.

Before Masq, I had worked in Mexico as creative director/engineer in marketing/communications, developing linear and interactive media, advising screenwriters, designing theme park shows as well as drawing comic strips for newspapers. I studied engineering and later film at UCLA.  I worked at Electronic Arts as tester before I started working on Masq.

You can find the the bios at:
http://alteraction.com/discussion/team.html


2. Masq is a very new genre in the Western game market, but it's kind of similar to Japanese Text Adventures/ Visual Novel style, such as 'Choose action bar & different outcome happens'. Were you influenced by the Japanese gaming scene?

Not really. I started working on Masq around 1997. Back then I played many games looking for one where I could interact with interesting characters, flirt, live adventures like in the movies or a novel but I didn’t find many (I’m still looking). All of them were Western games. I remember playing LucasArts Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Phantasmagoria, Zork and an interesting game called Midnight Stranger.

Recently I have heard many people referring to japanese games as similar to Masq, but most of what I have found is very linear with very few points to make relevant choices, or the games work more based on points and levels like a traditional game. I guess I have not found the right ones. Do you have any recommendations?


3. Player MUST BE ONLINE, even if we download the game. There might be some reasons for that, perhaps for Gaming & Business. Please explain about that.

One of the business models we explored back then was selling lives, so players could play through episode 5 a few times for free and then they were asked to purchase lives. So having them connected allowed us to verify how many times each one played. Other business models we explored were to deliver ads at the end of every episode, so we needed to have the channel open to deliver the ads. Now we’re not doing any of that but simply promoting Masq. However it's still useful to check how many people are playing it, how many times, etc.
 

4. [MASQ] could be an Online Webgame, because it's made with Shockwave & MUST BE ONLINE to play, but you instead fashioned it as Downloadable content. Any reasons for that?

The whole of Masq’s 5 episodes were originally planned to be played online. However we ran out of money and we did not have the resources to do the testing of the last three episodes to be played online, but they worked fine offline. Therefore we decided to release Masq as it was. So this hybrid model is the result of the business reality we experienced.
 

5. The Plot / Storyline is very interesting & addictive, with Affairs/Violence...etc. And it has tons of subplots & branches, so it is very different from a plain Game/Movie/TV Drama scenario style. Who wrote it, and how was it made?

I wrote it, and interactive screenwriter Ken Melville polished the dialog for the American market. I wanted to create a game that I would enjoy. Fortunately I have a rare combination of skills such as screenwriting, graphic artist and engineering so I was able to intertwine all the elements to create Masq.

I was influenced by David Lynch’s Blue Velvet movie as well as Latin-American melodrama (soap operas).


6. According to Homepage description, [MASQ] might be a 'Prototype' for new business style. Please explain about that briefly. And are there any Serious business contacts developing, or is the news just starting to spread?

Masq demonstrates the potential of a design platform (set of design rules and principles) that can be applied to an endless stream of new titles.

http://alteraction.com/discussion/platform.html

Masq illustrates that storytelling can really be intertwined successfully with game design, to achieve results that many people have been waiting for (at least in the Western market): The opportunity to really become the protagonist of a story like the ones you experience in novels and movies.

Masq let’s you interact not only with the “concrete/physical”  word (as all current games) but let’s you affect your personal relationships with well-developed characters, affect their feelings, and explore these characters in ways not even linear literature can. All this, while triggering hundreds of different paths and dozens of different endings in a story-like universe. All these elements, story, plots, characters, relationships, can vary from title to title but can be orchestrated using the same design model.  

http://alteraction.com/discussion/deepdesign.html

Obviously many have attempted similar goals but Masq is fun, extraordinarily friendly to non-gamers. It's organic, and the text options open an endless action palette for authors.

Regarding Business contacts, in this second phase we’re just starting to spread the news again, so we don’t have many solid development contacts yet. And this time we would like to focus not only on the US but also on Europe and Asia. So contacts and suggestions are always welcome!


7. According to the storyline, it's for a MATURE audience, NOT for the kids. Kids must be kept away from this game, but there are not any strong restrictions about that. Do you have any future plans for an 'Adults Only' restriction?

Yes, we’re working on getting resources to do more stories and solve some problems, and blocking underage access is one of our priorities.
 

8. Please recommend other good Indie Games, and the reason why.

I wish I could recommend indie games but the little time I have to play lately has been spent looking for Masq-type games without any success. I would like to reverse the question asking you or your readers which games do you recommend to me to play that share some of Masq's key elements. I’ve tried many adventure games, some date simulators and even bishoujo without success. All of them are very linear, you make very few decisions and many times they don’t even have dramatic consequences. I want to really affect what happens in the story, but not by only shooting aliens, jumping or even sending characters to eat or go to the bathroom. I want to be the protagonist of a novel. Again I should ask if you have any game suggestions?


9. Did you try some Korean games, or even heard or experienced anything about them? If so, please share your thoughts about that.

Unfortunately I’m not familiar with Korean games, however, I keep hearing how advanced Koreans are regarding games and the online digital lifestyle provided by your ubiquitous broadband (which we can only dream of here in the States) so I would really appreciate your recommendations. Just please think of games that I can play in English or Spanish.
 

10. Please leave some message for Pig-Min readers.

Enjoy Masq and please send us all your comments. This is our first exposure to non-Western players and we really want to hear everything you have to say about it, and about our ideas, so please post all your recommendations, opinions, etc. on pig-min blog, and in ours at http://alteraction-masq.blogspot.com/

I’ll find a way to translate everything you have to say.


Korean version of this Interview.
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