Sam & Max isn’t the only classic adventure that Telltale Games has revived with their episodic releases; they’ve been doing quite well with Tales of Monkey Island. Sean Vanaman, one of the designers for the latest exploits of Guybrush Threepwood (Mighty Pirate!), offered his thoughts on the series thus far...
Jim Cook, Gamers Daily News: How did this project get started? Monkey Island is genuinely a classic adventure series, and continuing it must have been a pretty tall order. What convinced Telltale to try it, and what hurdles did you have to get past to make it happen?
Sean Vanaman, Telltale Games: Well I’m not sure anyone here needed much convincing – Monkey Island is one of those things that, as designers and fans of adventure games, if you get the chance to work on it, you leap on it. I’m sure there were some business side hurdles in getting licensing rights for Telltale, but from a production standpoint and for as long as I’ve been involved with the project, it’s been pretty smooth sailing. It was the right time for a Monkey Island game, the right time for Telltale and the right time for LucasArts, so here we are.
GDN: What has the fan reaction been like so far? Do you think you’ve struck a good balance between honoring the series’ past while exploring new territory, and making it accessible to those not deeply familiar with the previous games?
Telltale: The fan reaction has been really great – and let me clarify – when I say “really great” I don’t mean it’s always glowing reviews, it’s also a fair amount of candid criticism – and with a series like MI, you know fans aren’t going to pull any punches when it comes to what they expect. Our forum members are super knowledgeable about the series, and they question decisions, question story elements, question everything. But at the end of the day, they’re engaging the series, saying a LOT of nice things about it and seem pretty hooked – the story is pretty carefully crafted over five episodes and it seems like the audience gets more and more excited for each episode.
GDN: The controls are a departure from adventuring norms, using ’WASD’ or drag-clicking on the PC. It seems as if the controls were built with the analog stick on the Wii’s Nunchuk primarily in mind; is this the case?
Telltale: I wouldn’t say the controls were built primarily for the Wii, as they’re a variant on the Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures controls which was on XBLA. They’re certainly geared towards driving the character around, which is a challenge in 3D when you don’t have an analog stick and you’re not making a first person or over the shoulder third person game. We know we wanted players to explore by moving Guybrush, so that’s why the controls are they way they are.
GDN: What about other platforms? Do you have any plans to port the series beyond the PC and Wii?
Telltale: We always try to get our games on as many platforms as possible, so if you don’t have a PC or Wii, hang tight and I guarantee we’re doing what we can to get ToMI to you, however you play … unless you’re holding out for the Dreamcast port. Then you might be out of luck.
Interviewer’s side note: No Dreamcast port? Well, it’s not quite the same thing... but you could probably play Secret of Monkey Island on a Dreamcast via ScummVM, if you had the original CD.
GDN: The Wii versions are certainly playable, but nonetheless suffer from obvious drops to framerate and audio quality. Can you tell us why this happened, or ways players can make these issues less severe?
Telltale: Well, it’s no secret that WiiWare games are required to be very small. Forty megs. Forty! We work quite a bit of magic to get the game down to that size, so that’s where you’re seeing some performance issues. We love being on the Wii and the Wii controls feel like they were naturally built for an adventure game, but we certainly have to make a few concessions.
GDN: Do you have any future plans for the series you can share? Will there be a Season Two? Can we expect any changes to the user interface (for example, being able to adjust Brightness in-game, control customization, etc.) or other modifications over time?
Telltale: Nothing to announce as for the future of the series, but we’re always looking to improve the experience of all of our games – if there’s something missing from Tales that fans would love to see in future Telltale games, I would definitely encourage them to hit our forums or our Twitter accounts or what-have-you and let us know. As a company we want to evolve how we’re telling stories interactively and also refine what is traditionally known as an “adventure game mechanic” so I would say look for those evolutions coming down the road.
GDN: Anything else you’d like to discuss?
Telltale: Just that the final episode of Tales of Monkey Island is out December 8th and that I think, all five episodes together, make a pretty fantastic game. Mark Darin and Mike Stemmle, the series leads, have really done the world justice. If you like high-adventure, good jokes and a twisting and turning story, check out the series if you haven’t. It’s something we’re all very proud of.
GDN: Thanks for your time!
Telltale: Of course, anytime!