E3 2017 | Roundtable Interview for Layton’s Mystery Journey with Lucy Pozniak and George Valko
During our trip to E3 this year, we found the elusive Layton Cafe, found at Tom’s Urban in downtown Los Angeles and hosted by Level-5. After solving some puzzles and drinking some Professor Layton branded tea, we joined other press outlets for a roundtable interview about Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy. Joined by Level-5 abby’s Games Marketing Director Lucy Pozniak and Senior Manager of Production George Valko, we had a chance to get some details about the upcoming puzzle adventure.
Unfortunately, the interview environment was fairly loud, so the transcription may not be 100% verbatim. Some questions from other media outlets have been paraphrased based on the context of the answers given.
Lucy Pozniak (LP): Thank you guys for joining us, we are very excited to be here to talk about our newest release, which is Layton’s (Mystery) Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy. The title is releasing, as most of you know, on July 20th on mobile, and then it will be releasing on 3DS shortly after that in Autumn. George and I are here, we’ll introduce ourselves, and then give you a small brief glimpse into Katrielle’s world, and then we’re open for questions.
George Valko (GV): So I’m George, I’m director of production at Level-5 abby, which is our L.A. branch, so I focus a lot on localizing our game titles, our apps, our TV shows, etc.
LP: I’m Lucy, I’m the Games Marketing Director, so I’m the newest, let’s say rugrat in this group, but I’ve been a Layton fan since day one. I’ve been playing for the last ten years, so to be part of this launch is really, really exciting from both a fan perspective as well as Level-5 abby perspective, so thank you again for joining us today, and hopefully I get you as excited as we are for this title release. So with that, to give you just a small glimpse of regarding the game, as you all know, as I mentioned before, it’s releasing on iOS on the 20th of July, and then on 3DS shortly after.
The game itself follows Katrielle Layton as she opens up a detective agency in London, and she begins to solve the mysteries and the puzzles of the London aristocracy. She goes through a journey of twelve chapters and with multiple people in London that she helps as she solves mysteries for them. As she helps through this journey and story, as we all know from our Layton series, we will have opportunities to solve all these wonderful puzzles and teasers, and you know, plenty of plot twists and characters.
A couple of things I want to really highlight: in the past, the Layton series has really followed Professor Layton. It’s been a little bit more on the earth tones and it’s been a little darker in color, and sort of just a little more brown/orange, right? And then you turn around and you see Katrielle’s world, and it’s very bright, and it’s colorful. So the game is colorful, but she’s very colorful as well, and as you take that journey and play along in this game, you get to discover her personality, her quirks, her comical side, her serious I’m-going-to-solve-this-puzzle side. You’re introduced to all these characters and these wonderful storylines that really make the journey as robust as any journey before it. So with that, we’re open for questions.
Are there any challenges between the two different platforms for this game?
GV: So what’s really nice about developing for 3DS and mobile is a lot of the gameplay features can be shared across both devices, because there’s the touch-style gameplay, right? So when we started to create the title we thought “we have these Layton fans who all have 3DSs and we want something for them to play”, but at the same time, there are a lot of people who haven’t played Layton who don’t have a 3DS, so how do we reach them? Well if we release the title for mobile as well, we can sort of kill two birds with one stone, so we were just kind of lucky that the 3DS and mobile apps can interact so easily with the gameplay, and there are obviously a few technical challenges to develop for two platforms at the same time.
When you do make a PlayStation and an Xbox game, there are still difficulties that way right? But it wasn’t so difficult and we were really happy with how things came out. It’s really the same game on both platforms, there are few differences just in terms of specs, just because the hardware of the 3DS is just a little old at this point, so what can be shown on one and on the other is slightly different, but you’re not seeing different scenes, you’re not seeing different gameplay, you’re not seeing different puzzles, but maybe the quality of one might be slightly greater than the other just because of what the hardware has available.
David Poole (DP): So chronologically, where does this game take place? I’m assuming after (Professor Layton and) the Unwound Future?
GV: Yes, this is in the future.
DP: Do you have a timeline of when?
GV: Nothing specific, I will say this is part of the canon. It’s part of the Layton canon, so it is after the previous titles, a couple years at least.
We know the story has Professor Layton disappear, so do we learn more about him and what happened?
GV: Right, so Layton… I would say (a) low focus story, but there is that question of what happened to Professor Layton. I won’t say whether that gets answered or not, or if he appears, cause I really don’t want to spoil the story for you right? What’s the point of playing if you know what’s going to happen? This is really viewed focusing on Katrielle, and she’s starting her own detective agency right? So you start with her almost from her zero-point. Watch her grow out, make new friends, and solve cases, so it’s really more about learning and growing with her.
It’s the tenth anniversary of the Layton series right now, so could you give us your comments or feelings about the latest title?
GV: So Layton holds a special place in everyone’s heart at Level-5. It’s our first publishing title, and we all love the series, and we spent a couple years where we didn’t release anything. You know, even if we wanted to, we weren’t quite ready. Well we feel like now is the right time to with the anniversary, with a new character. It’s helped that we had a couple years away because our CEO, Hino-san, has been able to take some time off, and come back re-energized, and ready to make something amazing and fun. So we’re all super excited about it. I know Lucy is a big, big Layton fan.
LP: I’m incredibly excited, yes. I’ve been playing since day one, every single title, so for me, this is a great, great opportunity, and like I said, I was already excited that the game was coming already, and to work on it, to be able to be a fan and work on it is just double the fun for me, so very exciting. It is a celebration. In the ten years we’ve — I think we’ve forgotten how much our fans have really become a part of the series, and the biggest moment for me was being downstairs in our cafe and seeing fans wearing Layton’s hat. Wearing Katrielle’s hat, live streaming as Katrielle — I mean the game’s not even out yet and she already had this fan appeal. She’s a strong character, the property is a strong property, and we’re very excited because it’s a different game altogether.
It’s more than just puzzle solving, you’re immersed in the story. It’s more than just a story cause you’re also using logic, and it’s day to day, but it’s also something you can put down and pick up as you want to. It’s a game you control, and it’s on your pace. You make this game what you want this game to be, and that’s true of all Layton games. It’s such a key piece for us, so yea, it’s exciting.
Will there be a physical release for 3DS?
Is there any gameplay mechanics puzzle-wise with the pooch (Sherl)?
GV: We don’t really want to give away too much details, but we have a lot of—let me step back for a second. What we do have in previous Layton games, we had sort of a puzzle master (Akira Tago), and unfortunately he passed away last year, so we have a new person contributing to the puzzles. So you’re going to see some new style puzzles, maybe something more abstract or from a different point of view, and do expect to try all kinds of new puzzles which may or may not incorporate some of the new characters that will be appearing in the series.
I’ll take that as a soft yes.
LP: [Laughs] We should use your marketing, you’ve got the spiel.
DP: I know you don’t want to spoil too much, but obviously there’s the mystery of Kat’s mother as well.
DP: Is that going to ever be touched upon in the game, or is it just hinted at? Or is it going to be kind of a little mystery for now?
GV: What’s your favorite answer to questions?
LP: A lady never tells.
DP: Fair enough.
Banking off the question about the dog (Sherl), we know the dog talks to her (Katrielle) and helps her with puzzles. Does the game build around having a sidekick character? Or does it mostly focus on Katrielle?
GV: Well the way that Hino-san comes up with these ideas is he’s very story driven, character driven. So before it’s even “what kind of puzzles?” or you know, “what’s the end goal?”, who are these characters and what’s the world? So that was all developed from the start, so all these — there may be a couple people who join her team, and they were all part of originally — they’re all incorporated very organically, so they’re not just like dressing on the side, they’re fully a part of the world.
Asking more of a hardball question, what kind of business model will be used on the mobile platforms? How does it compare to the 3DS and how pricing is concerned? How do the 3DS and Mobile versions compare in terms of content?
GV: So we don’t want to get into specifics about pricing, we can talk a little bit about it.
LP: So — thank you for the hardball question. We’re very aware of mobile and challenges in pricing, and what a mobile player considers too much and not enough, but we’re also very cognizant of how robust this game is. We’re taking a full console game, with the same visuals, same experience and same content, and putting it on mobile. So it’s the same game, same experience that you’re going to have regardless of what platform.
So in terms of what the audience in the mobile world is going to look at, iOS and Android will be the same price. So we will not change the price for Google and Apple, they will be identical for the player. It’s the same game, it should be the same price. Content might be different in terms of 3DS versus mobile, but mobile to mobile will be the same. You’ll just play on a different device, or a different platform.
It’s always a hard time for developers to determine how to price mobile games with so many free-to-play titles. Was there any debate on settling on pricing for the mobile versions?
LP: You know, we’ve been talking to our mobile partners for a very long time, and one of the big things that we believe and are also cognizant of is the nature of this game, because it is a full console game. We — we are not going to bend to the free-to-play market or that realm. We believe in this game and the integrity of the quality and the nature of this game, in terms of how strong it is as a title, as a full game. And you can play it offline once you download it.
GV: It’s the same full game from the 3DS on your smart device. We’re not cutting out part of the story, you’re not missing part of the gameplay or the puzzles. It’s the full game, so we feel justified in expecting our users to pay some amount of money to play that full game on your smart device.
What was it like entering the mobile market and making a game like this for smartphones?
GV: Well we’ve had several mobile apps out already. We have more out in Japan than we do outside of Japan at the moment. I can say our mobile Yo-kai Watch game in Japan has been like a giant hit, and that’s been going on for a year and a half or two years now, which is also released in Europe and actually the rest of the world. So we have that and we have other mobile titles. We have more mobile titles planned for the future, so we’re not ignoring that segment.
I think at heart, Level-5 is a console game company, it’s where we started, it’s where we cut our teeth, and it’s where we’d like to continue to create titles, but we don’t want to ignore this other space, these other users. You can have a fun game on mobile that doesn’t feel like a cheap, you know, way to earn money as well, so we’re interested in getting something fun for the smart devices also.
So this is the first Level-5 published title in the series. Why did you choose Katrielle as the main character over Professor Layton?
GV: The character choice is really because previous titles got so big. Like at the end of the titles, (Professor) Layton’s saving the world, so how do you go from saving the world to finding someone’s lost bag or something, right? There’s this giant gap, so we’re sort of getting rid of these other parts or elements of Layton, and going back to the core, starting with some small puzzles, and smaller mysteries. So in order to do that, we need a new protagonist, so we introduced Katrielle, who is (Professor) Layton’s daughter, and you get to learn and grow with her, and experience everything anew. This is also sort of like a rebirth of the title. It’s great to have a new character joining that renovation and start all over again.
DP: Kind of bouncing off of that, can we expect to see any other characters that have been seen in the series like Inspector Chelmey or Luke?
GV: There may be a few characters who do show up, I don’t want to spoil it for you.
Is this title possible to be released for the Nintendo Switch later on down the road?
GV: So first off, we want to say we love the Switch, we think it’s a great platform. We are already partnered with Nintendo with some releases of our games outside of Japan, and we’d like to continue that relationship. Right now, for this title, we’re not announcing or really looking to Switch at the moment. Maybe in the future, but right now, the title was developed with the 3DS and smartphones in mind. So it’s going to be — not a pain, but additional work to make for the Switch. However, time [?] is in the future and we would love to do something for the Switch in the future.
DP: You mentioned earlier the puzzle master, Akira Tago, passed away last year. Has that had a large impact on development of the franchise?
GV: You know, we all really felt it. I think Hino-san and he (Tago) had known each other for quite a while, so it was a shock. So it has impacted the game in that puzzles are a large part of the game, and a new person is creating these puzzles. You’re going to get whole new kinds of puzzles, so we’re sad that he passed away, but in a way, it’s kind of nice for this title that someone new is taking on the reins. Someone with a strong mind of puzzles has helped to give us rebirth to the titles, so it’s kind of sad, but it’s also quite an opportunity to try something new, so it has made quite an impact.
Can you give us a comment for the Japanese Layton fans?
GV: To the Japanese fans? Yea, well Level-5 is a Japanese company, right? So we love all of our Japanese fans obviously. I think that we have a lot of titles that perform better in Japan than they do outside, and we’re really happy and thankful for all of the fans. I know Hino-san loves creating titles for Japan and outside of Japan, so we’re just really thankful that everyone’s been so supportive, and we want to continue to make games that Japan will like, but also that the US, and Europe, and Latin America will like as well, so we’re really appreciative, and we’ll hope that you’ll continue to support us.
We would like to thank George Valko and Lucy Pozniak for their time, and we look forward to the next entry in the Layton series. Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaire’s Conspiracy releases on Thursday, July 20th for iOS and Android, and releases shortly after in the Fall for the Nintendo 3DS. Feel free to check out the trailer below and even pre-register for the Android version.