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Interview: TellTale Games (english)

del 30 Settembre 2006
Interview: TellTale Games (english)

A cura di Adriano Bizzoco

AP: Welcome Telltale Games! We are very proud to have you here. Could you tell us something about your team and your backgrounds?

Emily Morganti: Telltale was started by Dan Connors, Kevin Bruner, and Troy Molander in 2004. They all knew each other from LucasArts. Since then the company has grown to about 25 people, many of whom worked at LucasArts in the past on some pretty popular games, including Grim Fandango, Day of the Tentacle, and of course the never-released Sam & Max: Freelance Police.

AP: In your team there are Mark Darin and Deirdra Kiai, developer of indie adventure games, but even people from the community, as the lovely Emily Morganti, Jake Rodkin e Doug Tobacco. Is it a planned strategy or it is just casualty?

Emily: Thank you! *blushes* Telltale seems to have a knack for attracting the "right people" to the company. Many of those people started out at LucasArts, but Telltale has also kept in touch with what's going on in the adventure gaming community. Mark (developer of the Nick Bounty games) and Deirdra (developer of Cupbert Badbone: PI and The Game That Takes Place on a Cruise Ship) were hired after Kevin played some of their games. Jake, Doug, and I met with the Telltale folks through our work with gaming sites like Adventure Gamers and Idle Thumbs. They were looking to hire some people who could work on the website and help build the community, and we happened to have a lot of experience in those areas, so it was a good fit all around. I always wanted to work at Sierra when I was growing up in the 80s, and Telltale is the closest company around to what Sierra used to be back then, so I consider myself very lucky to be working here.

AP: Let's start with the long awaited Sam and Max: Season 1. What advantages and disadvantages you see in the episodic format you choose?

Emily: One of the biggest advantages is that the episodic model allows Telltale to make games that simply couldn't be made otherwise. Sometimes when people hear that Sam & Max is being done in episodes, the gut reaction is to say, "But I don't want an episodic game, I want a real, full-length game." Well, they tried that once already at LucasArts, and it got cancelled. The traditional "blockbuster" model of making games has become inhibitively expensive for a lot of developers, particularly when it comes to anything that takes chances. The biggest benefit of the episodic model, in my opinion, is that it's allowing games like Sam & Max to be made in an industry that otherwise wouldn't support them. There has been a real lack of good story-driven games in the past several years, so the fact that Telltale's finding a way to make them is a pretty cool thing.

Now that Sam & Max: Season 1 is taking shape, some of the other benefits of these frequent episodes are emerging, such as the ability to tell stories in new ways. Season 1 has six episodes, and each has its own self-contained story, but there's a bigger, more subtle mystery going on in the background that will become clear as the season plays out. It won't prevent someone from jumping into the season sometime in the middle if they want to, but it's going to be a really neat experience to play the season from beginning to end and see this story arc unfold. Of course, another benefit is that the game designers get to listen to feedback and make changes almost immediately. Telltale has done this already, making some improvements in The Great Cow Race based on the feedback they received for Out from Boneville, but with the more compact schedule of Sam & Max: Season 1, we'll be able to make these sorts of changes even quicker. One other big benefit of the model is that players get shorter games for less money. I love adventure games but I just don't have a lot of time to devote to playing them, which often means I lose interest in the game before I get a chance to finish it. As a player, I really like the idea of games being shorter and cheaper, but still entertaining and satisfying.

AP: For how many hours each episode will take? And how the gameplay could be influenced by this particular format?

Emily: The amount of time each episode takes will depend on the player, and will also probably vary a bit depending on which episode it is. The pilot episode has a lot of optional dialogue, and things you can do just for fun, so it's really going to depend on what kind of a player you are. I've played Culture Shock a bunch of times now, but I'm still finding new lines and new actions that I hadn't noticed before. There's definitely a lot in there for people who want to take their time and bask in the experience.

AP: Sure enough, to “reborn” legendary characters as Sam and Max is a very difficult task. How do you feel about it and could we find again the dementiality that was the trademark of Hit The Road?

Emily: I only started playing Hit the Road recently, and I still haven't finished it (see the answer above about games being too long!), but it's still pretty obvious to me that the humor is in tact. Of course Steve had input into the storyline and helped with some of the script, so his influence is there, but in the end I think the game is working because the designers, Dave Grossman and Brendan Ferguson, really understand what makes Sam & Max tick. The characters banter the way you'd expect Sam & Max to banter, there are some bizarre situations just like what you see in the comics, and there are even a bunch of subtle references to the comics and the previous game woven into the environments.

AP: We know that in Freelance Police (then cancelled) some of your ideas were, well, censured. Now with your own software house, you're free to create what you want. How these censorships limited you in the past?

Dan Connors: Well, Turner does have some decency policies, but it also has Adult Swim so those are easy enough to hit. As a creative person, it's really hard to describe how liberating it is to be able to do whatever you want. It's a beautiful time at Telltale right now because we have that freedom, and it will show in Sam & Max.

AP: Have you implemented in Culture Shock some minigames as in Hit The Road and in Freelance Police?

Emily: There is one segment that's very similar to highway surfing. I hesitate to call it a mini-game because it's not the sort of arcade sequence I think of when I think of a mini-game. Basically, in episode 1, there are some points where you have to drive the car to solve a puzzle, but you can also go driving around at any time, and there are a lot of funny things that can happen. You get to drive like a maniac, the way Sam & Max would, banging into things and flipping the car over and pulling people over and shooting indiscriminantly if you want to. It's just a fun way to waste time, and it's also completely point and click, no reflexes required. I actually think it's more fun than the highway surfing in Hit the Road.

AP: Sam & Max will be in 3D, supported by your graphical engine we saw in Bone. Have you had some difficulties to port them in 3D? And how the third dimension will change the puzzles in the game?

Dave Grossman: 3D doesn’t really change very much about adventure puzzles – most of them are logical rather than spatial. There are a few exceptions. It does change how you navigate through the world, and sometimes point-and-click controls have issues when you try to map them into a 3D space. And it changes our cinematic presentation dramatically, by letting us move cameras around at will. Sam and Max themselves seem to have made the transition to an extra dimension without much trouble, though one general issue that comes up a lot is that it’s harder to cheat animations when characters with short arms need to grab things that they can’t realistically reach.

AP: Will you use the multiple characters dialogues as in Bone?

Emily: These are used a few times in Culture Shock, once when Sam & Max are playing "good cop / bad cop" interrogating a suspect, and also when you pull people over. It's a little different than in Bone, because in Bone the character you were controlling could talk to multiple people at once, and in these parts of Sam & Max you can speak as either Sam or Max, but you're only talking to one person. I think these dialogues were done in a way that works well with the story, and it's a great opportunity to show the personalities of each character.

AP: What could you tell us about the music in the game?

Emily: In a word, the music is awesome. It was composed by Jared Emerson-Johnson, who did the music for Bone, and was recorded by live jazz musicians. Each location has its own distinct theme. I find myself humming the music that plays in the office all the time. We're going to be releasing a few tracks on our website soon and I'm really excited to hear what people think of them.

AP: Could you introduce us in the plot and atmosphere of Culture Shock?

Emily: Culture Shock starts out with Sam & Max goofing around in their office, playing with guns. It's been a really long time since they've had a case and they're starting to get stir crazy. Just then the phone rings and they run to get it, but they can't find it. Instead, where the phone's supposed to be, there's a ransom note. The rats who live in Sam & Max's office have hidden the phone and won't give it back unless their demands are met. So, that's how the story starts off, with a pretty easy puzzle to get people used to the interface and the way the game works. Once Sam & Max get the phone back, they hear from the commissioner and learn some vandals are causing trouble in the neighborhood, so they have to go down to the corner store and find out what the problem is. It turns out this group of former child stars who used to be on a TV show called the Soda Poppers are causing the trouble, but they're not working alone, and Sam & Max have to get to the bottom of it. It sounds like a simple premise, but it takes some pretty bizarre turns along the way.

AP: We know that the game will be available on the Internet and you plan a classical “First season” version, as for the Tv series. Can we hope in a larger distribution and italian localization at least for this special box? Speaking about it, any news about an italian version for Bone (at least for subtitles)? They are excellent games and it's a real shame that part of our readers can not try them.

Emily: Localized versions of Sam & Max (and Bone) are something we'd really like to do, and we're working on making these a reality. It's too early right now to say exactly what's going to happen, but we know that there's a huge market for adventure games in Europe and obviously we want to find the best way to reach this audience. As for Bone, we're working with a European publisher right now and hope to make an announcement about localizations very soon.

AP: In the last few years the adventure's developers seems to be in love with action sequences (fight, stealth ecc.). These parts are often criticized by a large part of the community. How do you feel about this changes? Do you like them or do you think they could “modify” the graphical adventure how we know them?

Dave Grossman: A good action sequence can be very effective if it’s used in an appropriate part of the story, however, the changes between modes of gameplay can be fairly jarring. We tried something interesting with the driving scenes in Sam & Max, where the presentation is action-y but the gameplay is still done by pointing and clicking (it’s similar to we did with the cow race sequence in The Great Cow Race). I think this sort of thing could be taken a lot farther.

AP: Speaking about adventures in general, do you like any of the games of the last few years? Do you agree that with the graphical improvements, we had less gameplay and less engaging plot? Have you spotted some innovations or new ideas to revitalize this kind of games?

Dave: I haven’t seen anything lately that turned my crank, but I’m kind of hard to please. I liked most of Grim Fandango, how long ago was that? Really, that long? Hm.

Emily: Some of my favorite games in the last few years have been Indigo Prophecy, Shadow of Destiny, Phoenix Wright, Al Emmo and the Lost Dutchman's Mine, and of course The Great Cow Race. All of these games have great stories and do new things with those stories, which I really appreciate because for me, story is the most important part of a game. Graphics aren't really that important to me, but I do agree that in general, pretty graphics seem to have become more important than story and good gameplay in the last several years, which is disappointing. I'd much rather play a game with so-so graphics and a well-told story than the other way around.

AP: About the future: how can we expect to see the next Bone episode? Is it possible that Bone will be divided in season as Sam and Max?

Emily: We're pretty focused on Sam & Max right now, because we're going to be releasing six episodes between October and April, just like a TV season. It's a lot of work but we're getting into the groove and learning a lot about how to make episodic distribution work. You probably won't see another Bone episode until after Sam & Max: Season 1 wraps up, but when you do, we will have learned a lot that help us make the Bone episodes more efficiently moving forward.

AP: Are you satisfied with the results of Bone?

Dan: Yes, we definitely are, and our goal is to finish the entire epic. It may take us as long to finish as it took Jeff, but that's part of the reality of being independent. As I think I once heard a hippie say, “freedom ain’t free.”

AP: Will you release other “realistic” adventure, like CSI, or something slighty different like Texas Hold'em in the next future?

Emily: Having worked on CSI, Telltale is definitely set up to do realistic-looknig games as well as cartoon games, and I know we're looking at several licenses to start working on down the road. We're not ready to say what that next project will be, but it won't necessarily be a comedy.

AP: Dave, the last adventure you wrote and directed before 2005 was "Day Of The Tentacle" (1993). What do you feel in returning after twelve years in the videogame world that is totally changed, from production to distribution?

Dave: Well, it’s true that I didn’t direct a game between Tentacle and The Great Cow Race, but I did write quite a few in the interim and consulted on quite a few more, so I won’t be able to give you the kind of Rip van Winkle perspective that I would if I’d actually been living on the moon or something. That said, there are some things about production that have changed notably in the last decade. For one thing, there are a lot more standardized tools available for game development, and you can hire people straight out of school who already have practical experience using them. Amazing! Budgets have also changed dramatically - a million dollars used to be more than enough to build a game. What the extra money buys I’m not quite sure. And it used to be difficult to interest a publisher in paying for the rights to a movie or a TV show, whereas now it’s nearly impossible to get a game made WITHOUT its being based on a popular license. Distribution, conversely, didn’t change much for a lot of that time, but it’s changing now with the spread of broadband internet access and the rise of the casual game space. Downloadable sales are becoming common. At Telltale, obviously, we’re taking advantage of that.

AP: Would you like to say something else to your italian fans?

Emily: Thank you for your support!

 

Info Requisiti
Generale
Sviluppatore: Telltale Games
Publisher: GameTap/Telltale Games
Distributore: Telltale Games
Data Rilascio: Q2 2007
Piattaforma: PC
Caratteristiche
Genere: Avventura/Commedia
Grafica: 3D
Visuale: Terza Persona
Controllo: Mouse
Doppiaggio: Inglese
Sottotitoli: Inglese
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OS: Windows XP
Processore: 800 Mhz
RAM: 256 MB
Scheda Video: 32 MB
Hard Disk: 240 MB
Supporto: Online Download
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