Levine & Ahern Interview Art & Sound

Will there be voice acting on either platform? Anyone we might know?

Mike Levine: We worked with Joe Franco and his team at Beatstreet Studios in Manhattan and have several well known VO talents, including Greg Abbey playing Roachy and Kathleen McInerney playing Chrys. They have been on many a Saturday morning and other animated shows. The entire experience was a lot of fun!

Larry Ahern: The PC version will have full voice, and the DS version has voice in the cinematics, and then sound fx with text in the interactive sections. Given the large quantity of dialog we have, especially in the detective levels, there just wasn't room for that much voice on a DS cartridge.

Is music an important part of <i>Insecticide</i>? With Peter McConnell still on board, that's great news.

Mike Levine:

Very important. Peter is amazing and once again achieved beyond expectations. We have a great soundtrack that really sets the mood and tone of the game.[/p]

Larry Ahern: Working with Peter was fantastic. I felt bad sometimes, because he'd be sending stuff over asking for feedback, and we didn't say much. Then he'd say, "OK, well then I'm going to start this next level. What kind of sound do you want?" And we'd mumble something and ask him to make it cool. Basically, Peter knows more about this stuff than we do, so we just kind of described what was happening and the mood, and cut him loose. You'll see, the results are great. Plus, an added bonus for the fans, Peter did a short VO part in the game. See if you can find it.

There seem to be some basic similarities in appearance between Insecticide and Double Fine's Psychonauts, such as character style. Is this down to Peter Chan designing both games, is there another reason or is it just down to them both being 3rd-person action/adventures in a weird fantasy world?

Mike Levine: We have heard many say this, but honestly, besides Chrys, the lead character, we think the similarities end right there. And yes, Chrys' style was done by Peter Chan, who also worked on Psychonauts. But people have to understand we had Chrys designed before we had even seen Psychonauts. After Chrys, when you look at the world and other characters, I really don't think there is much similarity at all. Larry?

Larry Ahern: Well, I would say there are similarities in that Peter and I and Tim and Mike probably have similar tastes in art. Which is understandable, considering that we all worked together on a lot of projects in the past. Otherwise, because what both of these games are doing visually is so different than a lot of what you see on the store shelves, it's easy to make a connection between them. Peter did the final Chrys design, as well as Quinbee and a couple of other characters, and I designed Roachy and some of the supporting cast, and then Anson did a bunch more characters, so it was really a lot of influences coming together, making up a kind of insect stew (yuck!).

Sometimes, some of the non-LucasArts vets on the team would want to add a powerup or something and just say, "It's a floating's worth 3 health." And I'd go nuts, because whenever you do that, you lose a chance to tell the story.

Nevertheless, the visuals and character designs for Insecticide are awesome. What were some of the influences for the game's art style?

Larry Ahern: A big part of what we wanted to do with the environments was to make them recognizable as being similar to the human world, but having evolved with a bit of insect style. This is not an alien world, but a futuristic version of our world that has new influences. So, Peter really played up adding insect forms, and segmented columns, and bug-eyed windows and all that good stuff to the buildings. Then, we tried to give things a visual nod to 1940's style as well, just to tie in with the noir feel.

The characters we tried to make a little more innocent than the subject matter, just for an interesting contrast, but then made sure that the lighting and textures of the environments brought it back to that gritty reality. That's why we pushed the big eyes and head on Chrys, or the short, plump body shape on Roachy. I know there were a million specific influences we looked at along the way, but every time one or two names pop up, I'm hesitant to mention them because I can't see it anymore.

I think the look really evolved with all the different artists' input. And, I have to say that, although I was officially the art director, this is one of the few projects I've done where it felt like it wandered off visually on its own to find its style with me chasing behind it, as opposed to going somewhere I'd planned from the start. Kind of scary but exciting at the same time.

Crackpot has indicated that even though <i>Insecticide</i> is as much an action game as an adventure, it is still a story-driven experience. What makes story-driven games attractive to you as a developer in a marketplace where they seem to have suffered a decline?

Mike Levine: Have they? Don't the games that sell well often have deeper storylines and plots? Even action games like the Half-Life series, God of War, Bioshock – I think part of the reason people love them is the story and world they are in. For me personally, I lose interest pretty quickly if there isn't a story to keep pulling me in, to keep me going. If it's not happening by level 5, then I am always asking "Why am I doing this?" So for me, it's all about story and characters. Gameplay is derivative 80% of the time. It's the world and story that can set things apart.

Larry Ahern: I agree. And unless we're talking something like Tetris, I think the story has to be there, in some fashion or another, to hook you. That doesn't necessarily mean full dialog or cutscenes or all that. Good story can be told solely in the sequence of events, or how interactive elements are constructed, but whenever there's a backstory behind that stuff, it's so much more interesting. So, one of the things that drove me nuts during development was if we had elements that felt random or "gamey." Sometimes, some of the non-LucasArts vets on the team would want to add a powerup or something and just say, "It's a floating's worth 3 health." And I'd go nuts, because whenever you do that, you lose a chance to tell the story. No offense to Miyamoto and his stars and mushrooms, but I think there's a missed opportunity if you don't give players a logical reason why you've put these things into your game world.

How do you think Insecticide evolves the adventure or story genre?

Mike Levine: It's the natural extension actually. I have made this point many, many times. What is an adventure game anyways? I am not sure I have an answer for that. Sure, maybe there are some common elements, but if you look at the games that came out when we were at LEC, each of them evolved the genre in their own way. No one was ever content to sit back and make a game like the last one. DOTT pushed the limits of animation. Sam and Max added more UI and mini games (and lost things like verbs, etc). Full Throttle added action games into the mix. Curse of Monkey Island upped the animation quality again and added more mini games. Grim Fandango added full, real-time 3D. Trust me, if it was easier back in the day to have action and more mini games in "Adventure Games" - there would have been.

Larry Ahern: So all we did with Insecticide was extend that tradition. It wasn't our intention when we first formed Crackpot to sit down and make an action-adventure hybrid. We talked a lot about different ideas in different genres. But, when we finally settled on Insecticide, the kind of story we wanted to tell made sense including traditional adventure game elements, as well as action elements. Like any good detective film, there's going to be a mystery to investigate and there's going to be action.

Apart from the occasional new video at GameTrailers you all seemed very quiet during the game's development. Why the lack of marketing? Will there be more features, previews and adverts appearing closer to the release date?

Mike Levine: There have already been several trailers, screen and footage released since we got these questions, and there is more in the works. We are doing a fun "film trailer" now and will continue to ramp it up. We left most of this to our publisher but are trying to take matters into our own hands now that we are close to shipping, and talking to sites we want to reach ... Like Mixnmojo!

Larry Ahern: It's amazing how much time it takes to run a game production on multiple platforms with a small team. Add to that a short development schedule, and we barely had time to sleep. I wish we could have spent more time talking to the community, but we've just been so busy working to bring you quality gaming entertainment.

Have you played any games made by any of the other LucasArts deserters, such as Psychonauts or Sam & Max?

Mike Levine: You are confusing us for people who have time and lives to do such things. (-: I played most of Psychonauts and have checked out Sam & Max when I can. I hope to be able to play them all someday!

Larry Ahern: I played half of <i>Psychonauts</i> and then my Xbox died. That was before they made the game backwards compatible on the 360, but the delay killed my momentum. And I think we had another kid in there too (I have 3, so like Mike...not a lot of time). I love the trend towards episodic, though, for just that reason. I've played two of the Sam & Max episodes and will eventually get to the rest.

Add to that a short development schedule, and we barely had time to sleep. I wish we could have spent more time talking to the community, but we've just been so busy working to bring you quality gaming entertainment.

What's your favourite game a) that you've worked on at LucasArts, b) that you didn't work on at LucasArts, and c) non-LucasArts that you had nothing to do with but wish you had?

Mike Levine: a) >Sam and Max or Full Throttle
b) Outlaws .... They had a good time making that game! c) Shadow of the Colossus – I would have made it easier!

Larry Ahern: a) Day of the Tentacle (if you mean favorite to work on), Curse of Monkey Island (if you mean for end result...not that I think it's better than the others, but it was newer, so the production values hold up still)
b) Grim Fandango (love the visuals and the bizarre world)
c) Half-Life

Do you keep in touch with anyone at Telltale, Autumn Moon or Double Fine?

Mike Levine: Dan Connors and I have been friends since college, so we talk at least a few times a year. I also talk to Bill Tiller every so often. Tim I haven't spoken with in awhile but he always helped us out when we asked.

Larry Ahern: I've run into various Telltale friends/staff at different shows, and Dave Grossman and I exchange an occasional email and Christmas card (ironically, his are usually illustrated and mine include long letters). Bill and I talk now and then, and I usually get a random email from Tim once every year or two about some fan who's tattooed Purple Tentacle on his forehead or some such nonsense.

Will Ron Gilbert ever reveal the Secret of Monkey Island? What do you think it is?

Larry Ahern: No. That would be foolish. He's got this mystique that's built up around it, so that even if he lived in a cardboard box by the railroad tracks, someone would still want to ask him about it while he squeegeed their windshield. It's his ace in the hole, and the great thing about it is, if he keeps it in the hole, it doesn't even have to be an ace. Not that I'm saying that it's not (and I'm going to stop talking about holes now). But, I couldn't figure out what it was, so maybe it's better left unspoken. Like Voldemort's name (oops!).

Do you think LucasArts still has what it takes to become a great story-first developer again, as recent recruiting videos and interviews have pictured them?

Mike Levine: Honestly, we don't know, we just don't have enough information. But we hope they want to, and will!

And finally, what's next for Crackpot and Chrys? Have you started work on your next game? Insecticide 2 or another original IP?

Mike Levine: For now we are mum on this, but expect more from us in the future!

Excellent, that's all, sorry there were so many. Thanks for talking to us today! If you want to see more of Insecticide, check out the videos below hosted by GameTrailers and the massive amount of screenshots now in our gallery!

And of course, make sure you pre-order the game too! They're still giving away those free collectable art-books, you know.

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