This interview was originally published on N-Europe on 21st April 2008. Telltale Games were about to launch Strong Bad’s Cool Game For Attractive People for the WiiWare service and PC, a modest licence for a studio who have since gone on to become bastions of the adventure genre and master storytellers, with episodic smash hits across the PC, Nintendo Switch, Wii, iPhone, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, and PlayStation 4. They now work on world-famous franchises such as The Walking Dead, Back To The Future, Batman, Game of Thrones, The Wolf Among Us, Jurassic Park, Tales From The Borderlands, and the upcoming Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy game.
Dave Grossman was responsible for genre-defining games such as Day of the Tentacle and The Secret of Monkey Island. Brett Tosti produced the Star Wars games Jedi Knight II and Rogue Squadron II at LucasArts. Mark Darin has since written and co-designed episodes of The Walking Dead, Tales Of Monkey Island, and Tales From The Borderlands.
Telltale Games are a studio best known for their adventure games, primarily Sam & Max, a side-splitting episodic series which parodies old detective films in Telltale’s unique style. Being active for only four years, the studio have quite the reputation with point-and-clicks, and have recently announced Sam & Max Season 1 for the Wii and Strong Bad’s Cool Game For Attractive People on WiiWare.
With pen in hand and a mind chock-full of burning questions, I caught up with the team at Telltale – Emily Morganti, Dave Grossman, Mark Darin, and Brett Tosti – for a chat about their highly anticipated upcoming projects, and recent releases such as CSI: Hard Evidence for the Wii.
Nathan: To start off, can you give our readers a brief history of Telltale Games?
Emily Morganti: Telltale was started in 2004 by three LucasArts veterans. They saw entertainment moving into the downloadable space with sites like iTunes, and thought there was an opportunity to deliver games the same way. Telltale was built from the ground up to make episodic games — games that are shorter than a traditional game but also come out more frequently, on a set schedule, like a TV show.
Originally appearing in a 1987 comic, crime-solving animal duo Sam & Max first appeared in virtual form in LucasArts’ graphic adventure game Sam & Max Hit The Road in 1993.
Nathan: Sam & Max is a hilarious and extremely witty point and click adventure game. How long does it take to create an episode?
Dave Grossman: By the calendar it’s roughly three or four months for an episode from start to finish. Which, trust me, is ridiculously fast. The design and the scriptwriting take half of that time, and the hilarious and witty probably three quarters of that.
Nathan: The writing in the Sam & Max series is fantastic, where do your ideas come from for the brilliant dialogue and new stories and events in the series? Do you have any influences?
Dave Grossman: I think Brendan relies on Cheezits and Chuck has some kind of a plate in his skull, but personally, I use technology, and have even put up a web page about how it works.
“By the calendar it’s roughly three or four months for an episode from start to finish. Which, trust me, is ridiculously fast. The design and the scriptwriting take half of that time, and the hilarious and witty probably three quarters of that.”
Nathan: The Wii and DS are both fantastic consoles for point and click adventure games such as Sam & Max. Do you think it’s possible to revive both consumer and developer interest in the genre with the help of these two consoles?
Dave Grossman: The intuitive control mechanisms for both the Wii and DS are inherently well suited to the kind of idea-based gameplay you find in adventure games, which is why they’re excellent platforms for those games. However, I think a revival of consumer interest will be more dependent on designers making adventures that are entertaining and have genuinely broad appeal than it will on any particular platform. I like to think we’re on top of that at Telltale.
Nathan: Your publisher, JoWooD, announced Sam & Max for the Wii recently, but you quickly debunked it. What was that about?
Emily Morganti: We weren’t quite ready to announce it at the time, but now we are! We had been hoping to bring Sam & Max to the Wii ever since 2006 when fans first started asking for it, but the timing hadn’t been right for various reasons. Thanks to CSI: Hard Evidence, our first Wii game that came out earlier this year, we now have our development tools working on the Wii. We’re also working on a new WiiWare project right now, but of our other games, Sam & Max was our first priority for “Wii-ification” since so many people had been asking for it.
Nathan: Will Sam & Max be a retail product, or will it be released on WiiWare?
Emily Morganti: It will be a retail product, and it will be available in stores in North America and Europe this autumn.
Sam & Max Season 1 sees Max run for President against a giant evil Abraham Lincoln statue, among other wacky adventures.
Nathan: Is Sam & Max a brand new game for the Wii or a port of the existing episodes on the PC?
Emily Morganti: We’re starting with Sam & Max Season One. I don’t think we would ever make a Sam & Max game that was only available on the Wii. We have such a huge audience of PC users already; it wouldn’t make sense to create an entirely new Sam & Max game that they couldn’t play.
Nathan: What are your views on the lack of a Wii hard drive; will this make true downloadable content on the Wii impossible?
Dave Grossman: Not at all. You can make a terrific game in the amount of storage space you get on a Wii. If anything, it will keep developers honest and focused on what’s fun about their games instead of pouring all their effort into cranking out gigabyte after gigabyte of elaborate textures and special effects. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Nathan: If rights, money and time-constraints weren’t an issue, which franchise would you like to bring to the Wii or DS?
Emily Morganti: Personally, I’d love to see DS versions of Sam & Max or our upcoming WiiWare game, Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People. I love playing adventure games on the DS. I can think of some other licenses I’d love for Telltale to work on, too, but I’m afraid to say them out loud because the internet has a tendency to jump to conclusions about this kind of thing…
“CSI was a blast to work on. It’s a great feeling knowing that you are bringing to life a world that people are familiar with through the TV show, and allowing them to experience it in a much more personal way.”
Nathan: You had to live up to a big name with Sam & Max as it is a loved franchise among gamers, but what’s it like to work on CSI, which is such a big thing among the general public?
Mark Darin: CSI was a blast to work on. It’s a great feeling knowing that you are bringing to life a world that people are familiar with through the TV show, and allowing them to experience it in a much more personal way. Working with a franchise that is wildly popular with the general public as well as gamers presents some unique challenges. One of the goals we kept in mind from the start was that this game had to be accessible to hardcore gamers as well as people who seldom play videogames but love the show. Finding that balance is tricky. The wide appeal of the CSI TV show means that we will always find some people that find the game too easy and just as many who find it too hard, but I think we were able to find the middle ground that appeals to the widest audience.
Nathan: Are employees of Telltale Games fans of CSI?
Mark Darin: I have been a fan of CSI for some time, long before I started working at Telltale. When I learned that Telltale was working on a CSI game, I jumped at the chance to work on it.
Dave Grossman: I’ve been known to watch marathons.
Nathan: Can we expect any extra downloadable crime scenes in the future?
Emily Morganti: It’s not in the plans right now, but I think it would be a good fit. If CBS and Ubisoft asked us to do it, we’d certainly be interested!
CSI: Hard Evidence allows you to put your forensic skills to test by working on five different cases with beloved characters from the TV series, such as Warrick Brown and Gil Grissom.
Nathan: You’ve just announced your new WiiWare game. What’s it all about?
Mark Darin: Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People is an episodic adventure based on the characters and scenarios of the popular web cartoon, Homestar Runner. It stars Strong Bad, a masked, boxing glove wearing, self proclaimed awesome guy who generally spends most of his time making fun of people, thinking up humorously bizarre and sometimes destructive schemes and … answering email. This game will have the player getting into all kinds of hilarious mischief as they try to realize Strong Bad’s visions of grandeur, often at the expense of those around him. (For people who don’t have a Wii, the episodes will be released on PC, too!)
Nathan: Earlier this year, it was revealed that SBCG4AP would be episodic. How often can we expect to see new installments, and will the series ever end?
Mark Darin: We expect to release five episodes to start, with each one releasing about a month apart. We hope that the series will continue for as long as the fans are enjoying it!
Nathan: What was the inspiration behind your latest project?
Mark Darin: The Homestarrunner.com web cartoon, created by Mike & Matt Chapman back in 1999, has been releasing weekly episodic content for years and has a huge fan base. Many of us at Telltale were big fans to begin with and it seemed like a perfect match. When we contacted the “Brothers Chaps,” they were just as excited as we were to make this game and to release it as downloadable episodes on WiiWare.
“Nintendo left the door wide open as far as creative design was concerned, which was great because it allowed us to focus on the game we all wanted to make without having to worry about content restrictions along the way.”
Nathan: What was it like to work with Nintendo on one of the first WiiWare games?
Brett Tosti: We’ve had a excellent working relationship with Nintendo. It’s always somewhat of a challenge to develop on a new platform while system guidelines and product requirements are being established. Nintendo has gone out of their way to make sure all WiiWare developers are aware of any requirement changes and their development support team is great at answering any questions we may have.
Nathan: Nintendo has said that there are some guidelines and limitations put in place for WiiWare developers. Were you limited at all during the development of your game?
Brett Tosti: Not at all. We feel that WiiWare is the perfect platform for SBCG4AP. The WiiConnect24 features that the platform offers far outweigh any limitations.
Mark Darin: Nintendo left the door wide open as far as creative design was concerned, which was great because it allowed us to focus on the game we all wanted to make without having to worry about content restrictions along the way. They do highly encourage us to take advantage of the Wii’s special features, like WiiConnect24, but that really isn’t a limitation; instead it allowed us to think up some exciting additional features that we think gamers will appreciate!
Homestarrunner.com mania hit its peak when Strong Bad’s song about his fearsome dragon, Trogdor the Burninator, was featured in Guitar Hero II back in 2006.
Nathan: When can we expect to see this hit the Wii Shop Channel, and for how many Wii Points?
Brett Tosti: The first episode of Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People is scheduled to hit WiiWare in June. We’ll be announcing the final price point in the very near future.
Nathan: And finally, do you think the milkman did it?
Dave Grossman: I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the milkman, though the milkman is definitely the father of the heiress’s baby, only that guy with the funky hairdo paid the cleaning lady to sabotage the lab tests so that no one would know. Later on it will come to light that the murder wasn’t about the contents of the refrigerator at all, but about what the victim saw reflected in the butter dish when he opened the door, and then they’ll realize that the perpetrator is always, always played by an actor whom you’ve also seen on Desperate Housewives.
Thanks to Emily, Dave, Mark and Brett for their cooperation and their fantastic answers!