I have had the great pleasure of checking out Tales of Monkey Island before anyone else and having a chat with Dave Grossman (Design Editor) and Emily Morganti (Marketing and Public Relations) about the game.
Are there any differences between the PC and WiiWare versions of the game?
Dave: You mean like content differences? No.
With how many series you have now, are you worried about spreading yourselves thin? How will you hold the games to the same high standard?
Dave: Well we have more people now. The company is now up to 70. We're geared up to do about one series a quarter.
Outside of games you have worked on, what are some of your favorite games?
Dave: Well I kind of jump around. I don't really have favorite adventure games, but I like to take inspiration from a lot of other stuff. I like the Zelda series quite a lot. My favorites are around the time the Super Nintendo was around. I got really into Animal Crossing for a while. It's really charming. I just like to see your own virtual world with a real time aspect, that was pretty cool. And I want to draw a parallel, I guess it's kind of a weak parallel, to that and the kind of stuff that we do, where it's kind of like a real time thing, because the stories are coming out, it's kind of spread out over a five month period so that is part of it, and then you can digest and talk about it until the next bit comes out.
Leading into that, what do you like best about the episodic model?
Dave: Well, it's quite different from a storytelling perspective. If we're doing one game, let's say something like Secret of Monkey Island, we spend a year and what we wind up with is a story that's told in three maybe four acts, over the course of 20 or so hours of gameplay. Whereas with the episodic model, we can do something that is more epic in scope. So now what we've got is more like 15 acts, and probably by the time you finish the season it's probably gonna be similar in gameplay time. And also, I think the aspect of having them come out monthly ties it into the real world a little bit, in that you're actually experiencing time going by. I think we can get more story into the same space this way. Also, I personally have kind of a short attention span, so I don't like to work on things for too long, so I like the fact that we're moving from episode to episode because it feels new every time.
I definitely know what you mean there. Are there any games outside of the previous Monkey Island games that you've taken inspiration from for Tales of Monkey Island?
Dave: For this game? Wow.
Or maybe it's just all your experience leading up to it?
Dave: Well sure, you kind of draw from everything if you're telling stories, and there are themes across the season of relationships and of trust, trying to figure out who is really on your side and kind of working with people that you don't trust, and the the whole level of science versus voodoo. You kind of draw that from everywhere, your own relationships, or like I read a lot of Kurt Vonnegut novels so I'll draw something from him. Also, there's a team of guys who are producing these, so each episode has a different designer / writer rotating in turn so each one of them brings their own inspiration to each piece of the story.
So they do these individually and you kind of put it together in to one?
Dave: Well I'm like the editor. Those guys are doing all the heavy lifting. I just make sure they're going the right way and throw in ideas of my own. I actually did get to write a few lines of dialog but not too many.
How long has the game been in development?
Dave: We started the design on it late last year, and the production probably around the beginning of this year. It's pretty typical for us to spend 7, 8, 9 months gearing up to the launch of a series.
Well I am glad you guys waited to announce the game till so close to release. It'd be torture to have to wait 7 or 9 months knowing a new Monkey Island game was coming.
Emily: So we just had to keep the secret for 9 months.
Dave: Well it wasn't easy.
I can imagine.
Dave: I told two people. I told my wife, and as soon as I was allowed to, I told Ron Gilbert. I know the franchise means a lot to him, and I'm happy to say he was excited enough to come down and work on it.
That was my next question, has he given any input?
Dave: Yeah, he has. Obviously he's the creative director at Hothead and he's making his own game Deathspank which actually also looks pretty cool. But we were able to borrow him basically for a week and he did some brainstorming with us, and got some plot elements off of him, and he actually provided a little insight for us. And he liked what was going on.
Good. Who came forward with the idea for this game first? Did LucasArts come to you guys or did you pitch it to them?
Dave: Well we've been talking to them about it for years, actually. And it was just the fortuitous coming together of the right set of people asking the right questions at the right time. They've got some new people making decisions there I guess. There's always somebody there who's passionate about the old adventure titles and wants to revive them but it doesn't quite work it's way out through all of the chains that is has to go through.
Going away from Monkey Island, is there anything happening with Sam & Max?
Dave: There's design going on for Season 3. You'll see it eventually.
Emily: And I would just add to that, that there was kind of outrage when Sam & Max didn't come out in the beginning of this year when we orignally thought it was going to... It was because we were working on Monkey Island. So we couldn't exactly say that at the time.
Well I think everyone can forgive you now.
What does the future hold for Telltale, as a general question?
Dave: As a general question? Well we're taking over the world, bit by bit. The episodic gaming format is really working for us. Other people seem to be making stabs at doing it but we kind of make the best inroads into it so we're the go-to people for that. And I think there's something compelling about that. It works in very well with where games in general seem to be going which is digital download and an audience with a short attention span. They just want something that they can just sit on the couch, fire up the machine, get it immediately, play it right then, and move on to some other aspect of their lives.
Well I think that's all the questions I have.
Dave: Did we mention our fabulous preorder deal?
Emily: People who buy the game before the July 7th launch will get the limited edition Steve Purcell cover for the collector's DVD. Anyone's eligible for the DVD, but this cover, it's gonna be like a flipcase that goes over the DVD case that only preorder people can get. Free Telltale game, which Mojo people have probably played them all already, but you get a coupon you can redeem for any of the $8.95 episodes on the site.
And then the thing I think is cool is that we've opened up a special forum that only preorder people can get into, where members of the team will be posting. We're gonna have guest appearances like Dominic Armato is doing a Q&A; right now, we're gonna have Ron Gilbert stop by, Steve, different people on the team making posts of artwork and concepts and stuff before we post them other places. We're doing an E3 thing right now where we're gonna be taking pictures and video and stuff of our E3 appointments, the LucasArts booth, and our pirates handing out swag. It's kind of like when we've done dev chats in the past where we go to a site and answer questions all day, except it's going to go on for all of the time before the preorder period ends. So kind of a members only club.
Definitely a sweet deal.
Emily: Yes. It's called the Private Pirates forum, and I keep reading it as the Pirates Privates forum. (laughs)
Dave: Try saying that five times fast.
Emily: Five times fast.
Thanks so much to Dave and Emily for the chance to check out the game and have my questions answered!
Written by Jeff Moeller for The International House of Mojo and The LucasArts Fan Network.
2nd June 2009.