You could be forgiven if you haven’t heard of J.U.L.I.A. Although the game got good feedback from players, a limited budget and issues with the title’s publisher withholding royalty payments prevented it from taking off like the developers, CBE Software, had hoped. They were one of several developers who struggled with a lack of response and payment from UK publisher Lace Mamba. But thanks to a successful campaign on IndieGoGo, CBE Software is now back on their feet and working on a new release: J.U.L.I.A. Enhanced Edition. The new game, now on Steam Greenlight, is such an improvement over the original release of J.U.L.I.A. that they are even considering a new name for the title. I had the chance to chat with Jan Kavan, one half of CBE Software, about how they got to this point.
GT: How would you describe the original J.U.L.I.A to someone who has never heard of the game?
Another aspect which influenced the original game was a non-existent budget. We’re just two people, who worked in our free time during the four years of the production. For that reason the production values weren’t particularly high. Still, the game was appreciated by the reviewers who understood our position and I am really proud of that achievement.
GT: What are the biggest differences between the original game and the new Enhanced Edition?
In addition to this brand new gameplay style, we now have many other gameplay devices: station computers with individual profiles and conversations of the expedition members, datapads containing logs of crew members, an ingenious analytics computer which you utilize to analyze gathered samples for vital or non-vital clues just to name a few.
To make the game even more fun, we’ve now added a lot of optional content (or sidequests if you will). They enrich your experience and detail the world and the story while not artificially hindering your progress. This way the observant players will get much more from the game and the story. Players can now customize their experience to their liking.
GT: Were you inspired by any other games when developing J.U.L.I.A.?
Kavan: I was inspired by old games like the aforementioned Snatcher or the beautiful A Mind Forever Voyaging, but mostly for the atmosphere. J.U.L.I.A. was more a game I wanted to play myself and couldn’t find anywhere else so I had to make it.
GT: What challenges have you faced in the process of developing the game?
Kavan: There were quite a few, especially connected with finding the game identity and operating without any budget. Also living in a non-English speaking country provides for an extra layer of challenge especially when it comes to voiceover recording.
GT: Unlike most games, J.U.L.I.A. stars a female protagonist. What went into this decision, and do you have any concerns about it deterring potential players?
Kavan: Not only female protagonist but also an absolutely non-stereotyped one! Our Rachel doesn’t do Taekwondo, nor she can hack computers. Even more – she is properly dressed for the whole duration of the game. You would say it’s a recipe for a commercial disaster, don’t you think?
GT: What else distinguishes J.U.L.I.A. Enhanced Edition from other adventure games we’ve seen in recent years?
Kavan: First of all, the interface based adventure game is not very common. Unless you count Experiment 112, you don’t usually see those. Even then, J.U.L.I.A. is very original in execution. Technology-wise the game runs at Full HD or HD ready resolutions bringing alive extremely detailed environments. Add in all the new gameplay devices I’ve already mentioned and you already get something quite new.
The funny thing is that I lectured about this theoretical concept at the Musica Nova conference in 2012 and now I have a proof that it can be done and moreover it sounds great!
GT: Can you describe some of the technology players will interact with in the game, such as the MOBOT?
I’ve already mentioned the technology new to J.U.L.I.A. Enhanced Edition. Basically the devices you operate are extremely user friendly and I am trying to place the challenge on the contents, and not on the controls.
As a separate chapter there are puzzle interfaces which are very contextual to the environment and I am trying to make all the puzzles integral parts of the story and reasonable in the context. One example is datapad password hacking. For example, a crew leader would use password in a form of an unintelligible alphanumeric combination and secured by strong cryptography (you have to find that password somehow) while some of the scientists would just use some easily hackable word.
GT: Unlike the original, J.U.L.I.A. Enhanced Edition features optional side quests and missions. How much does completing these optional tasks add to the game?
GT: The Enhanced Edition also introduces new interface features, specifically the mind map and the mission log. What role do these play in the game?
Kavan: The mind’o’matic interface is helping you sort through your thoughts. You basically piece together the specific event from fragments and ruling out the wrong leads. When you finish it, the game confirms to you that you really understand the story. Again – this is an entirely optional part of the game.
Mission log is there basically for keeping you motivated. Since you see your current goals and all the tasks you already finished to reach the goal, you can return to the game even after some period of non-playing and you will be quickly able to jump in.
GT: What kind of feedback has J.U.L.I.A. Enhanced Edition gotten so far?
GT: Is there anything else you’d like to share that might convince readers to try the game?
Kavan: Let’s start with this exclusive screenshot. It’s something we are working on right now.
We also have a teaser trailer and our Steam Greenlight campaign. Getting on Steam for us is a question of continuation so if you can support us by an upvote, please do so! Another thing is that I’m currently writing a blog about our experience with crowdfunding and sharing some tips and views how we’ve achieved what we did. You can find it here and it may bring an additional human level to a game development. It really is a difference if you have a team of 50 people operating on a multimillion budget or if you have two indies working with $14k. On closing I would like to thank you very much for your great and original questions. I had a great time answering them and I strongly believe our new game will be well worth the wait until the end of Q1/2014 when we currently plan to release the game.