Let’s talk about Sam & Max: This Time It’s Virtual, which is mere weeks away at this point for Oculus Quest owners. How did you come to be involved with that?
JEJ: We’ve worked closely with Mike Levine on several of his projects, going all the way back to his Lucasarts days. He reached out to us last year, and of course we were delighted to jump onto some brand new Sam and Max content (the timing of it with the Skunkape remaster was totally uncanny—double your Sam and Max, double your fun)!
JK: The timing was definitely crazy - but the two of them really are different games and experiences. The first time I play-tested This Time It’s Virtual, it was like being in a dream. It’s not often you get to play IN a Sam and Max game and this one surely delivers from the very moment the game starts running and you’re there sitting right next to Sam and Max.
Mike Levine credits BA Sound with helping to bring back voice actors David Nowlin and Dave Boat. Between that and the inclusion of Jared on the score, it seems to me that BA Sound’s involvement with This Time It’s Virtual is helping to keep a degree of continuity with the Telltale games. Can we expect a fair amount of original music from Jared in this game?
JEJ: Yeah, there are a little over 19 minutes of new custom music for This Time It’s Virtual, and I think folks are going to really enjoy it! Keeping a certain continuity was important to me, whilst also making sure to treat this new game as its own separate thing. In some ways, the vibe is similar to the Telltale games, but in other ways it’s quite different, especially with the VR aspect of it, and we wanted to make sure the audio reflected those similarities and differences. Personally, I’m really excited about where it’s landing.
JK: After making three seasons of Sam and Max games, we got to be pretty tight with a lot of the actors - and this extended to all of the games from The Walking Dead to Wolf Among Us. When you spend so much time with people in recording sessions, you end up developing bonds that far outlast the games. I am fortunate to call so many past cast members my good friends and we’re still in regular contact all these years later. So naturally when I was able to call Dave and David up and say “wanna play in the Sam and Max sandbox again?” - the answer is a pretty easy yes. But from the very beginning of working on the VR game, Jared and I knew that being as consistent to the license as possible would have to be one of our core responsibilities.
Sam & Max adventure games have always had a huge volume of spoken dialog in them, and my impression is that This Time It’s Virtual will be no different. What can you tell us about the voice sessions?
JEJ: I’ll let Julian tackle this one!
JK: When you turn Mike Stemmle loose on writing dialog for a Sam and Max (or any) game, filling scripts with amazing material will never be an issue. He really did an impressive job and I was constantly laughing out loud as we recorded this game’s dialog.
Having the experience that you do with Sam & Max adventure games, what’s been different, or not so different, about creating the soundscape for this virtual reality experience?
JEJ: I think the biggest differences are in the way we’ve treated the sound effects, and to a lesser extent, the voice. For the music, it’s a bit different as well, but that’s more a reflection of the overall tone of Mike Stemmle’s incredible script. I feel like in some ways the writing in This Time It’s Virtual is perhaps a bit closer to Hit The Road, and the music reflects that tonal difference a bit. Beyond that, though, it’s still Sam and Max, and I think fans of the Telltale games will absolutely love the familiarity, and the surprises that come in this new game.
JK: On the technical side, creating the audio assets for a virtual game turned out to be a lot more different than we would have expected. We had done several VR titles before, but this was different---more like an adventure game---a Sam and Max game. Many of the things you just assume you can do, you can’t and there are also different rules to how you experience the audio while playing. I don’t want to spoil anything but suffice it to say that the VR game will take you to places you never imagined going - and there’s a sound for that.
We were all saddened by the passing of Jory Prum several years back. We discussed Studio Jory a bit in the last interview as a recurring collaborator of yours, but I’m not sure it’s widely understood how instrumental he was to the great many dialog trees in Telltale’s games and beyond. Could you shed a light for those more familiar with Prum’s work than his name?
JEJ: Losing Jory still feels like a bad dream. He was one of the most technically gifted people I’ve ever known, and generous and kind. He’s the guy who would wear a “No I Won’t Fix Your Computer” shirt, but then spend 10 hours on a weekend fixing your computer for you. He had a great sense of humor and was a huge lover of music. He loved the collaboration of working with actors in his studio, and set a really lovely, playful tone in those long sessions.
JK: Many of us that were in Jory’s circle of friends continue to have those moments where we just need to call Jory--“You know Jory would have this all figured out”. The thing is, he was a very genuine soul, he wore his personality on his sleeve and was a total open book. He and I would work tirelessly on figuring out ways to make the recording pipeline more streamlined--and we were never satisfied it was quite right. The truth is, any system that could keep up with the rigor that the Telltale schedules required, can literally handle any other game with ease. The way we did things evolved greatly over the years but I still rely on some of our core systems in my every day work.
There was an anecdote that circulated when Double Fine’s remaster of Grim Fandango came out that Jory had recovered Peter McConnell’s original music sessions off digital linear tapes using an obsolete drive he literally recovered from a dumpster. It’s a cool, if also frightening, story of “digital forensics”. Julian, I might be extrapolating too much about what you’ve had your hands on, but I know you worked at LucasArts as far back as Full Throttle, so from a fan point of view I’m curious: From your perspective/memory, are the original audio assets for the old LucasArts adventures in a vulnerable place, or are the Lucasfilm archives as well-kept as the legends say? For context, I’m holding out hope that I am able to convince an eccentric billionaire to finance remasters of all the other adventure games someday.
JEJ: I’ll let Julian reply to your specific question, but I will say that working with the Skunkape folks gave us a great opportunity to make sure all of our original archives are now backed up in multiple locations. I’m a pretty obsessive backer-upper, but even so, a lot of the archives of that stuff was on 15 year old DVDs (and old ITE hard drives). You’ll be happy to know that all of it is now backed up in four locations and on the cloud, so we’re good on that!
JK: I am sure that there’s at least a good chance that some of those old games are in a safe place - whether there’s anyone available to know how to get at them might be a different story. I know that we sound folk at Lucasarts knew we were on our own for backups - at that time the company wasn’t used to having to deal with the amounts of data we were amassing. I know that I still have some of the source sound recordings that I made for games such as Curse of Monkey Island, Outlaws, Force Commander, etc. but compared to what is available today, it’s really more about nostalgia than anything truly useful. Also, having a few sounds archived is nothing compared to trying to revive a code base sitting on old PCs running operating systems that have been long cast aside. But I sure would like to see it happen!
To keep going with the pipe dream stuff: Is there a particular LucasArts oldie either of you would like to see get the remaster treatment?
JEJ: I’d be curious about a remake of The Dig. Mike Land’s score is one of my favorites of that era, and I’d love to hear it with a live orchestra.
JK: Of course there are the classics we all know (DOTT, Grim, Monkey, etc.) - but I agree with Jared - The Dig would be amazing--or Fate of Atlantis, Dark Forces, X-Wing… honestly, it would be great to be able to play all of them. I mean TIE Fighter? Come on, that would be great. When you read down the list of titles that were put out in those glory days, there are few I wouldn’t mind playing again. Personally I’d love to see some of those flight sim Star Wars games revived (and I know it’s not Lucasarts but I’d love to get to play a remaster of Descent!).
BA Sound did sound design work on the original Psychonauts. Double Fine seems to have built up a formidable audio department of its own in the subsequent years, but I’m curious if BA Sound nevertheless has any involvement in Psychonauts 2 that we can look forward to?
JEJ: You’re right that they now have a robust and talented in-house audio team, so it’s all in exceptions hands. Although we’ve done a bit of audio for DF here and there over the years, alas. I was able to do orchestrations for a few of Peter McConnell’s new music cues, and that was a lovely way to dip my toe into the project even if we aren’t involved in a broader way at this point.
JK: We worked on Psychonauts for several years as it went through its various incarnations and it is still one of the most creative games we’ve ever worked on. We have not had a role in Psychonauts 2 but it will be fun to get to play it for the first time like everyone else--it’s sure to be awesome. Tim, if you're reading this - we miss you.
BA Sound also collaborated with Campo Santo on the well-regarded Firewatch, a game where the audio implementation played no minor role in the experience. Can you talk a little about that project?
JEJ: Firewatch was so much fun. We recorded literally all of that audio out in the wild on trails and mountain peaks in California and Montana. It was such a fun challenge: to make a soundscape that was incredibly subtle and realistic, but reactive to time-of-day, weather, location, and narrative tone. There is so much happening under the hood there, and much of the design and implementation credit must go to our pal Chris Remo. I would love to do ten more games like Firewatch—such a unique and specific challenge (plus a good excuse to go backpacking with audio gear)!
JK: I could work on Firewatch forever. It was just so damn creative and cool and the story was so well-suited to being a video game… I just love it. Technically we worked with Chris Remo on so many cool little systems, like hearing random (and locationally accurate) bird and animal sounds or dynamix ambient systems that changed as you climbed higher and were affected by time of day, weather, etc. I think another secret to the authenticity of Firewatch’s audio was that we literally recorded almost all of it from scratch.
Jared, back in 2016 you got to contribute a little music to Duke Grabowski: Mighty Swashbuckler! Was it a fun challenge to build on the foundation set by Pedro Macedo Camacho set with Ghost Pirates of Vooju Island?
JEJ: I did! That was a ton of fun. It was interesting, coming into a project that was mostly done at the time of the composition, so I had a lot of reference points to latch onto. Pedro’s music is fantastic, and it was a great starting point, and of course I couldn’t resist drawing a bit from the inspiration of the Monkey Island scores, which are still some of my favorite soundtracks in the world.
It seems like every couple of years, Bill Tiller expresses hope that he’ll be able to revive his sequel to A Vampyre Story, and I think a few years back he at least achieved the first step of getting the rights back. BA Sound worked on the first game; what would you most look forward to if you get the opportunity to revisit that world?
JEJ: Boy, we’d just love that! Those characters are so much fun, and the gothic/comic tone is great playground for sound design.
JK: You sure do your homework - and it reminds me I need to call Bill and check up on things--I’d start today if he asked. This is another one of those games that just don’t come along that often. Honestly if he does make a sequel I would just want to immerse myself in his incredible artwork and bring the locations and character back to life. I am sure there will be many discussions on what should change, but I can also assure you that it will be amazing when it comes out the other side.
While LucasArts is long gone, the “Lucasfilm Games” branding seems to have returned to be honorarily slapped on any upcoming Star Wars and Indiana Jones game projects. Do you expect to come “full circle” and toy with those big Lucas properties again? Do you maintain any contacts within Lucasfilm to this day?
JEJ: We do have a few people “on the inside” and we’d absolutely love to return to some of those properties again down the line!
JK: We definitely have maintained relationships with many of the people we worked with back then, and to be honest, most of the people we work with now can trace their DNA back to what I like to call “Lucas High”. We all went there, and we all learned a lot---then everyone graduated and went off to scatter around the industry. I love seeing where my former (and current) colleagues have gone over the years--it’s quite a driven and creative group. As for working on the big properties - of course we would love to and we have a few things coming up where we will get to lend a hand on some much larger games. But some of those licenses have gotten so big in their scope, size and cost--not to mention the amount of cooks (stakeholders) in the kitchen. There is something about working with small and nimble teams such as we did back in the early days of LucasArts and Telltale - and and then recently with likes of Skunkape, HappyGiant and Out Of The Blue that you just can’t get on a large teams where you only know a fraction of the people involved.
Anything else you’re up to these days that you’d like us to know about?
JEJ: We have a few fun things on the horizon, but nothing that we can talk about at present. It’s not exactly adventure games, but I’d suggest that your readers should keep an ear to the ground about the release of Panic’s Playdate console. There’s going to be some really cool stuff that launches with it.
JK: Game developers live in a world of secrecy where they can’t talk about what they’re working on but yet everyone seems to know what they’re working on. But in all seriousness, we take discretion very seriously. And though I have signed 100s of NDAs over the years, the truth is, I really don’t need to - we would never jeopardize a project by revealing any of its secrets.
But all that said, aside from the games we’ve talked about in this interview, I recently got to work with Cissy Jones and Yuri Lowenthalagain, directing the voiceover for Call Of The Sea; a wonderfully beautiful game developed by Out Of The Blue. These are the types of games that really make our job fun---and it also shows that there are many people who enjoy playing these types of games. So if any of you smaller developers are reading this--wow, keep up the good work!
The same goes for you guys! Let's not wait ten years before we touch base again.
The remaster of Sam & Max Save the World is currently available for PC and Nintendo Switch, with the subsequent two seasons to follow on a yet-to-be-announced schedule. Sam & Max: This Time It's Virtual! will be available for the Oculus Quest 2 in July, and additional platforms over the next year. Check out Bay Area Sound's web presence at basound.com.