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This Used To Be For Fun Page 10 Double Fine’s Next Step Page 23 The Many Seasons of Telltale Page 37 For The Love of Development
Scripted Page 45
Nathan Vella: Personal Profile
More Than Business
I would first off like to say thank you for reading the very first issue of Cultured Magazine. What you are about to read is the culmination of months of hard work (every page you are about to read was written and designed by myself), made possible thanks to many different people, the first of which is Cristina Azocar and the Center for the Improvement and Integration at San Francisco State University. Without the CIIJ and a program it runs called the Digital Diversity Fund, this magazine never would have happened. What I’m trying to accomplish with the magazine is to educate a wider variety of people about video game development and the people behind some of today’s most interesting and thought provoking games, as well as those pioneering new concepts in the industry. The first part of the magazine is focused on three different development studios (Capybara Games, Double Fine Productions and Telltale Games). In these sections, you’ll learn about where the studios came from, their actual development process, some of the games they working on and have made before, as well as what they are doing that is unique. After the studio feature, I have also done a personal profile on one of the creative minds at each studio—something that I feel brings a much more personal side to the development industry. The final part of the magazine takes a look at the Game Developer’s Conference, an industry cornerstone, its history and what it does for the industry. Finally, I would like to thank all of the people who have graciously given me their time: Nathan Vella, Zack Karlsson, Alan Patmore, Tim Schafer, Greg Rice, Alan Johnson, Dave Grossman, David Cage, Brenda Brathwaite, Jason Scott, Patrick Klepek, Andrew Pfister, Frank Cifaldi, as well as all of the fine employees of Capybara
Games, Double Fine Productions, and Telltale Games. I commend you all for the work you are doing, and thank you for letting me delve into what makes this industry great! I would also like to extend some personal thank yous to Christian Engelbrecht, Nena Farrell, Penny Smith, Lindsey Best, Richard Best, Justin Haywald, Michelle Phillips, Jonas Olsson, David Hay, Elizabeth Hay, Jade Kraus, Mark Rabo, Morgan LeFevre, my parents, Tony & Sheila Brown, as well as my family, and of course, Christian Nutt, without whom many parts of this magazine wouldn’t exist. Thank you all for your support and advice; you have all helped me to realize this goal. Of course, I would also like to thank you, the reader. I hope that you enjoy the magazine, and you might even learn something new.
From the Editor
Michael Brown, Creator
This Used To Be For
It didn’t start how you’d expect. Before co-founding Capybara Games in 2003, Nathan Vella and fellow co-founders Kris Piotrowski, Matt Repetski, Sean Lohrisch and Tony Chan weren’t even involved in video games. Nathan, Kris and Tony met at Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario, in the school’s prestigious film program. It wasn’t until they became a part of the local chapter of the International Game Developer’s Association (IGDA) that they decided to make games. For a year and a half, Capybara Games was a part-time development studio. There was no office space, no payroll, in fact everybody had full time jobs. Vella was working as a film editor for a local Canadian television station, and one of their writers was even working at the Canadian bookstore, Chapters. The team originally met through an online
forum and, after time, they began to meet in person. What started out as a group of thirtyfive eventually whittled down to twelve. All of Capy’s employees at the time would spend their day at work, and then come home and try to make cell phone games in the evening. It wasn’t until a year and a half later that Capy was finally noticed, and those who paid attention had real power. Through their agent, Capy got a meeting in front of some Disney executives who asked them to put a pitch together for a cell phone video game based on their latest movie at the time, Cars. As Nathan Vella, current President of Capybara Games, recalls: “We put together a pitch, we budgeted and tried to pretend like we were a real professional company. And in the end, they gave it to us.” The afternoon they found out that they got the contract, it suddenly dawned on them: “Holy fuck,” Vella exclaimed, “we need a real office.” For a small, part-time developer, their first contract was substantially bigger than they ever could have hoped. In the same day, Vella and the other co-founders went out and got an office space and computers. Things had quickly gone from a pastime to the big time.
Capy began with six employees, and four weeks later, when they got another contract, things began to snowball. “I think I lied to Disney a fair amount,” Vella light heartedly explained. “But we’ll just pretend that didn’t happen. We knew that we could make something cool, and even though it took us a year and three quarters to make a couple games, we still thought: ‘Holy shit! This turned out well.’ The art was good, the gameplay for a cell phone game was great, and it was fun.” Capy finally had a chance to prove themselves, and they were going to make sure that they stood out from the rest.
forms such as the Playstation 3, Nintendo Wii or Xbox 360. From the start, all of Capy’s employees had no previous experience developing games. Most of their programmers only had experience with database software or business solutions programs. Their artists were all people who did it for fun, and their audio director was actually a biochemical engineer. After working on some of the studio’s initial projects, the team was experienced enough to create Disney’s game that was by-and-large a success. After a couple of years of doing contracted games for other publishers, Capy finally decided to take matters back into their own hands and start making the games they wanted to.
Compared to today’s SmartPhones and Apple’s iPhone, the cell phones that Capy was developing on in 2003 were subI mean, sales are cool, but stantially differtaking a game that you put a ent. The reason that they deyear into, and then selling it cided to develop on cell phones for 99¢ is a little tough to do.” was purely budNathan Vella getary. At the time, all it took was a computer and an $80 In 2007, Apple Inc released phone. As Vella explains, “You the iPhone, and a year later didn’t have to ask to be licensed they launched the uber-sucdeveloper; you could literally cessful App Store. When word just start creating a game… of the App Store got out, Capy and go from there.” That’s not went to work on what has been to say that developing a game one of their most creative and on a cell phone is easy, but the ingenious games to date: Critter barrier for entry is significantly Crunch. In the game, you play less compared to other platas Biggs, a hungry little animal
but is only interested in being a cog in the wheel. the studio’s Creative Director. multi-million dollar contract. they were in a position to prove themselves.99 on the App Store on launch day. sales are cool. He also stated: “We can’t offer a multi-million dollar contract. And thanks to Nate Bosia. Featuring Adventure and Puzzle modes. who fought hard for them. the audio director is working on the game’s soundtrack. Capy decided that they weren’t going to just move the exact version of the game over. but we can offer the opportunity to make something. the team moves on to the next phase: Prototyping. they would prefer to hire someone who is passionate. The concept is simple enough.” Nathan Vella As Nathan Vella told me: At Capy. a demo level is created. and the passion from each of their employees are clearly visible in every one of their projects. the writer is creating a concrete script. Critter Crunch still remains a fantastic iPhone game to this day. characters and even a story to their game. During this phase of the development process. employees are constantly playing the game—checking to see whether or not it’s fun. The game got the green light to be ported to Sony’s Playstation 3. Programmers are continuing with the code and making sure that it is playable. possible demographics. This can include anything from target renders. Capy begins producing the game. they were going to re-release it entirely. and one they think has promise. After prototyping. as well as finding any major issues that need to be addressed. Yet over time. they re- drew all of the art assets. Vella had this to say: “I mean. Capy was given a meeting with Sony. everyone is working to compile all of the elements of the game.who lines up columns of critters to score points. rather than someone who has done previous work. it’s Capy’s way of figuring the basic elements out. Once again. and most importantly avoid being overcome by a swarm of insects. Here. feed himself. as the App Store’s pricing model quickly became a race to the bottom. they begin to work on a pitch document. In Capy’s eyes it was put up or shut up. The game is finally reaching a 7 . Critter Crunch too. Next. the studio can take anywhere between 2 to 8 months to do this. On average. but we can offer the opportunity to make something. If a concept creates a strong pitch document. added extra game modes. Once the team has decided on a pitch they like. plenty of which come from Kris “We can’t offer a Piotrowski. but taking a game that you put a year into. and as with Disney. but the game is hopelessly addictive. Originally being released for $9. artists are creating assets and character models. However. had to succumb to a price cut. and then selling it for 99¢ is a little tough to do. The idea of creating a pitch document is to allow the studio to see whether or not the game is actually conceivable. but doesn’t have any experience making games. via their digital Playstation Store. Capy’s development process begins by having all of their employees pitch their ideas.” These principles. So. the employees at Capy delivered nothing less than a spectacular re-release of their most popular game at the time. and even mock screenshots of what they think they game could look like.” In the end. Critter Crunch stuck out among other games in the crowd. When asked about the state of the App Store and the typical price point of its games. Critter Crunch proved to be a commercial success.
yet even though he does miss working on art. Nathan Vella became president when Tom Frencel decided to leave the studio. his role in the company has significantly shifted (see Nathan Vella: Personal Profile). With regard to Vella’s business decisions and the demographics Capy typically tries to target. However. when a game is ready for release it goes “Gold. but there can still be glitches or bugs that need to be worked out.” This simply means that the game has most or all of its features. At Capybara Games. It is also during “Beta” that a game might have a publicly available demo to gauge the audience’s reaction of the game. at this point only last minute wrinkles are being worked on. Typically there is no difference between this code and a retail copy. Since that time. whereas the other requires an invitation or code. to a year and a half. Finally. Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes took almost two years to develop the original Nintendo DS version. one of their most recent games. In early 2009. Keep in mind that this demo level is not released to the public. Vella himself has noticed this difference between independently run studios and larger companies: “Smaller studios are good at passion.point where all of the components are coming together and an initial level is created to assess what still needs work. and then analysis but 8 . a game goes into what is known as “Alpha. Vella has found it’s best to foster creativity and unique ideas first. Sometimes video game journalists will even receive copies of this code for review.” This is a term used to describe final retail code or product. Capy is thriving now more than ever before. Following the demo level. Betas of this sort can be both open and closed. unless a last minute issue was discovered. their particular development process (as was outlined here) typically takes a year. After being in “Alpha” a game moves into “Beta” phase where all elements of the game are included. one is available to all. as it is still too early in the development cycle. it all began in 2003 when a group of passionate people who wanted to make games decided to get together and see if it was possible. and only then see what demographics the game has the ability of reaching. This goes back to the studio’s roots. Upon going “Gold” the video game finally sees its release.
adventure and role-playing game (RPG) elements into one title. Originally released for Nintendo’s portable hardware via publishing giant Ubisoft. with an upcoming release on iPhone.” Following Vella’s promotion to President of Capybara Games. Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes. They recently released their latest game. roes in a cellophane wrapped box was a pretty amazing experience” Nathan Vella “Holding Clash of He- 9 . Currently. the studio had an actual physical copy of one of their games that they could hold and touch. “Holding Clash of Heroes in a cellophane wrapped box was a pretty amazing experience. Capy has nine artists. Vella said that there were no plans. it was ranked as the 4th best game on the Nintendo DS in 2009. When asked about a possible expansion for Capy.” Vella described looking back on the release. one can only look forward to what’s in store from one of Canada’s most interesting development studios. nine programmers. Metacritic. Might & Magic represented one of the biggest moments in Capy’s history. and distribute. With the passion and innovation found at Capybara Games. two creative designers. one writer and one quality assurance lead on their payroll.[demographics] don’t decide what is going to be made. Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP on the iPad. and in fact he hopes that they can just continue what they’re doing. two producers. What’s next for Capybara remains to be seen. After all of their years of hard work. The game combines puzzle. According to reviews aggregator. the studio created their first game to be released in physical copy. one audio director.
Nathan Vella Personal Profile What were you doing before you founded Capybara? I did film school at Ryerson in Toronto. Anyway. I worked for this company called Marble Media that was founded by a bunch of young guys.” I thought I should be happy to be where I am. I did get to edit a skateboarding show which was super rewarding—I used to be a skateboarder for 10 years—so having a summer where all I did was edit skateboarding footage was awesome. and I was really interested in editing. so most of my bosses were 30 10 . I ended up working with some really amazing people. in fact two of people I founded the studio with. My film class was amazing. I had this vision that I was going to edit music videos or documentaries but I ended up doing fitness shows and kids’ shows. it just wasn’t creatively rewarding. “I should be loving my job. It was this weird thing where I thought. Although it was cool. A one-on-one conversation with the man behind Capybara Games However. A lot of the other people ended up being extremely successful artists and so on. Once I finished school I managed to get some jobs editing television but it was a lot of Canadian television. The people were fantastic. but then the station didn’t pick up the next season so I never had that job again. but I wasn’t because it wasn’t creatively rewarding at all.
“I’m turning 32 and I feel like I’ve done a lot.” 11 .
If you can’t learn on your feet you will fail. it sounds like paying your dues was a lot more rewarding for you. Mostly. For sure! And a lot of it’s shit and piss. It doesn’t get much better than that. even though they’re doing a lot of license-y type stuff too. Even though when we started the company we all put whatever we had down as our seed capital without knowing if we would ever get it back. all of our own designs. but these were guys my age—people I played volleyball with in university. one of the founders. They’re still making basically unique games. So I ended up “running the studio” in air quotes— I don’t really run it myself. but I wasn’t really doing art direction. I did art for all of our cell phone games (while we still did them). I was more so doing art production. Tom. Anyway. A studio that we talk a lot about is Treasure. which is like four projects. in a lot of ways. That’s become a significant portion of my job. Then. Were you expecting it to be tough? You just don’t know. You can’t be taught. It’s an investment. I was an artist. is so awesome because I ended up skipping over a lot of bullshit and wasted time—well. And when I told the guys I worked with I was leaving to start my own company there was this sort of “High Five-Handshake-Good Luck” farewell. decided he was going to go out and do his own thing. and how they’ve managed to keep making creative titles for themselves over this insanely long period of time. I just had to make sure that all of our artists knew what they should be doing and were getting stuff done on time. and to have that goal be bigger than just a raise or a promotion. all of our own concepts. we own where those games will go. I’m turning 32 and I feel like I’ve done a lot more. then that’s the best-case scenario. They’re still making unique shit. it’s learn-as-you-go. Oh hell yeah! It’s really rewarding to have a goal.at the time. some of the people I worked with at Marble Media ended up starting their own TV company as well. but the return on that investment is so massive that you don’t even worry about it any more. We got a bit bigger. all of the other owners contribute too. It’s been really interesting. I work with Ubisoft and Sony. And that’s where Capy started. I’m the guy who does the business development. but I paid my dues in a different way and I liked doing it this way better. So there was this kind of avenue of entrepreneurialism and self-starting and “get your own shit out there” fed into me because that was where I worked. They weren’t pissed at all about me bailing on them at all. or self-starting. and we decided we needed someone to start managing the artists. and that’s why doing stuff independently. Then about two and a half years ago. and those relationships I own and manage and foster. a lot of it’s not fun and it’s really stressful 12 . maybe even under 30. it’s school of hard knocks. Doing it this way. What do you see in store for Capy’s future? If we can keep doing what we’re doing. what we’re doing right now. who was also President at the time. I ended up being called Art Director. It sounds like it! Yeah. not wasted time. What have been some of the biggest challenges that you’ve had to face during your time at Capy? Running a business is really hard.
They have families and all that kind of stuff. Those are the only two options you have. That’s a really good question. Clash of Heroes and Critter Crunch have been two very important parts in us achieving that goal of bigger and better.” we really want to be proud of it when it’s done. but a big part of how we make games is that in a different way and I liked doing it this way better. “Oh I’m not going to do it. It’s not the hardest thing ever. I think it’s something that every independent studio struggles with. It’s something where I’ve had to learn how to multi-task because for the first four years of Capy. and something every independent studio has to figure out how to do. so I love those two probably the most. that took a while to get my head around for sure. You can’t just say. I’m sure there’s probably a billion people who work way harder jobs. You know. that’s kind of the flip side to running a business. Just being able to help. I mean. for instance. even in shitty little cell phone games that were kind of super awesome. I’m emailing and I’m on the phone. or you do it yourself. What’s your favorite part about the video game development industry? People. and if we’re not. I feel bad because “I paid my dues 13 . but over the past couple of years we’ve managed to meet a lot of people outside of Toronto that have been super inspiring. I picked up my tablet and I drew. then we’ll just keep working on it if we can find a way to convince the publisher.being accountable for paying people’s salaries. If the game’s not done to our liking. we did this crazy Sonic-meets-Mario platformer for the movie Happy Feet—that was really cool— and we did a lot of stuff. people give a shit. it’s not easy. for sure. I put on my headphones. but at the same time it’s super rewarding as well. I really don’t think that I could pick one to tell you the honest truth. Yeah.” You either hire someone to do it for you. I think one of things that a lot of small independent studios struggle with is that there’s a lot of stuff that takes up your time and takes you away from making games. I came to work. we’ll find a way to make it to our liking. everything from iPhone developers to one of my close friends who works on the Call of Duty series. Now. I love making games. When you can help somebody out. and I’m not complaining at all. and I’m pitching and I’m doing this or that. but it was something. You’re just proud of everything you’ve done? I know it’s easy for that to come off the wrong way. But even going back to cell phone stuff. So it really is like opposite ends of the spectrum. and more creative and more freedom. our writer just had a kid and now he works from home part time. I’m really proud of what the team on Sword & Sworcery has been able to do. What game are you most proud of? I don’t know. and producing a project. You’re wearing quite a few different hats. the biggest game in the entire universe and those guys give a shit! They work their asses off to make something cool. I’ve met a bunch of people at Treyarch. I love playing games. and they make Call of Duty. It’s a very stressful thing and it’s something that’s very challenging. personally.
It’s made up of people that have a vested interest in seeing it get better. and passionate group of people I’ve ever met. and even though the game is really well done. but helpful. No can list offense to They’re the most You names ifoff a few you them. Again. That’s easily the best part of the industry. cre. And that’s really the reason why I think this industry is better than any other industry. I read stuff. And I’ve worked in TV. nity. They are in a whole different realm and I don’t really see Hmm…who am I going to them as a part of the commupick? There are a ton of people. caring. it’s not just limited to developers. but they’re all the same as me. Tim Wagner who runs Independent Schafer came out to IndieCade Games Summit.I’ve been rethem. So I feel bad because I know these guys work their asses off—guys of course being guys and girls—and care about their projects as much as I do about mine. with Ron Carthe people mel from 2D Boy. and he’s a quote unquote big guy in the industry—go to these small events. Matt IndieCade—for instance. Kellee Santiago at GDC. They actually give a crap about what they do. some of my closest friends are journalists. there’s the moneyhats and CEOs and stuff. But ate group of people ally lucky. caring. They’re the most helpful. or people who work at localization houses. and I’ve done some other stuff creatively so it’s a very interesting contrast. It’s easy to take for granted.” Indie Fund thing developers. ly admire in the development that’s not what I’m interested industry? in. and passion. and that’s really special. I couldn’t agree with you more. they still catch flack every once in a while.want to. most people don’t give a crap. but I don’t Who is one person you greatreally give a fuck about them. Most go because they’re interested. that you see going into sessions Jonathan Blow. as with any popular thing. kind of offense to ative.this year. or people at QA studios (people who just test games). I’ve the combeen doing this munity of I’ve ever met. and I have no problem saying that I think it’s better than other industries. and Aaron “ 14 . Sure. creative. or coming out to from thatgamecompany.
or DrinkBox—actually we got to work with DrinkBox on Clash of Heroes. There’s like this giant unending list of people. It’s helped our studio so much and inspired our studio so much. I mean Tommy and Edmund are geniuses. even as someone who is more on the business end. For me. Behemoth. If you could collaborate with one other studio or creative mind on a game. 2D Boy… fuck. It would be nothing if it wasn’t for those guys. They’re super inspiring. it’s kind of nuts. that’s a great question. Meeting these people has changed so much for us. there’s a million of them! I’d love to just collaborate again and again and again… I loved Super Meat Boy! I’d love to do something with those guys. There are a lot of people I’d like to work with. and to me that’s a huge inspiration personally as well. who would it be and what would you be interested in creating? That’s a great idea. All of them are amazing people. He’s a good friend and I’ve always wanted to do something with him. super helpful. I guess that’s another thing that’s cool about the games industry. or us where we are. I just kind of put most of the indie games community in there. knowing somebody like Kellee Santiago who is President of thatgamecompany. and it goes all the way . I don’t know. It goes from a single person all the way up to this giant. It’s more like learning about their stuff and their process and figuring the way they’ve worked. I’d like to work with Adam Saltzman who did Cannibalt and Gravity Hook on iPhone. absolutely amazing people. there’s ton of cool stuff on there like Castle Crashers and Braid and N+.Isaksen. I genuinely can’t pick one person that has played a big role in getting me where I am. It’s not one of those things where I’m shadowing her and trying to figure out what they’re doing right. I’d love to work with Mare & Reagan Sheppard. I mean. there are so many amazing independent game developers and inspirational people. I’d love to work with thatgamecompany. I mean. personally. XBLA is what XBLA is because of independent developers. I’ve learned so much from her just by hanging out and shooting the shit.
but I’d love to be able to do something where we take collaboration in a different direction. I have no idea what it would be. artist. I’d love to make something with him too. I’d work with Superbrothers again in a millisecond. I’d also like to help independent studios figure stuff out. That’s a good question. I think that industrial design is super cool. he’s made some really awesome iPhone games such as Bit Pilot. although I’ve never done it and I have no idea if I’d be good at it. I’m a huge fan of Zach Gage. programmer. what would you be doing? I know you said you started in film. If you weren’t working in game development. So let’s say that you could take all of the experience you’ve had with Capy. of any of these studios. what would you be interested in creating with that specific studio? I love what Jon Mak does with visuals and music and how important those are in his games. Not that I would be employed by them.just collaborate again and again and again…” down to people who just make stuff for fun. would you go back to that or would you do something totally different? I don’t know. who’s a good friend of mine who’s made some really cool stuff. Sort of give them this giant 16 . but for some reason you can’t do this any more. I’ve always wanted to design furniture. I love the idea of making stuff that human beings have to use functionally. Ted Martins. Pixel Fireplace. we’ve gotten to see their process and then you can’t help but want to work with them. I probably wouldn’t go back to film. you’ve got to pick something else. The latest thing he did was an interactive fireplace. it’s really tough to say “I’d love to just because we’ve worked with so many brilliant and inspiring people. I’d probably want to go in a bit of a different direction. I’ve always been really interested in graphic design and motion graphics and that kind of stuff. but I’d like to figure out a way to help them out. I think. There’s this designer. I really do dig motion graphics. so I’d love to eventually do something with John. So let’s say. too. if you could just pick one of them and then create something with them. Overall. I could probably go on for 24 hours straight and I’d probably end up listing 900 people. He’s super rad. Then again.
they’re made by people who put a lot of themselves into it. Anyway. but not necessarily screen based. Video games as culture are very important for our studio. I’d love to cut music videos or something like that but there’s not much music video stuff any more. There is a culture around it and that culture is so important to games. and who put a ton of their vision and creative juices into it. We do that with photography. I think culture is much more important. but especially on the small studio front. it still exists. I think the most important thing for me is that people understand that the people who make projects care about them. we do a lot of that with film now and I don’t know if people necessarily do that with video games. I’m more interested in culture. If there was one thing you could say to people who don’t know very much about video games or the development process. Some people less than others. but it probably wouldn’t be film. it would be called “Don’t Do This. and I think it’s really interesting. you make this emotional assumption that the person painting that put a lot into it. I don’t know. It’s the same way that when you see a painting. Nathan’s 5 Independently Developed Reccomendations Flower thatgamecompany Braid Jonathan Blow Nidhogg Messhof Deep/Wing/Break Cactus Everyday Shooter Jonathan Mak Listed as: Game Developer thing for me is that people understand that the people who make projects care about them. what would it be? Man. but for me. Actually. I think a lot of people just look at them as entertainment. and I think for this city. There’s this big “Are Video Games Art?” argument that’s going to go on forever.compendium of lessons we’ve learned. So that’s the big thing. Seriously! Don’t Do This!” [Laughs] But in a way it’s kind of good for studios to make those kinds of mistakes. The games are being made by people who are willing to do anything. but everyone for sure. that’s a good question again. Definitely something visual though. It’s what makes them better. but also to The Arts as a whole. not just art under the classical definition thing that Ebert talks about. I think I would go back to doing something visual. [Laughs] Publish a book? Yeah.” “The most important 17 . In the end they craft it in a way that really ends up reflecting themselves in a lot of ways. Maybe not as much on the big studio front. rather than as a form of culture.
Double Fine’s Next Step By Michael Brown 18 .
it’s really fun to watch because I really appreciate it and value it. some of their goals when they start a new game. against and with one another.a 19 A picture hangs on the wall. We like it that way. “We don’t start game projects with the goal of be- . but passionate studio has grown over time to become one of the most critically acclaimed mid-size studios in the industry: “It’s a very different scope and scale. the studio’s founder. Vice President of Business Development at Double Fine. Double Fine Productions began in 2000 when Tim Schafer left LucasArts and wanted to create his own development studio.” Karlsson explains. creativity and success. and something you would expect from Schafer. As a person who doesn’t get to sit in the creative seat.” What started out as a relatively small.” Still. Last July. to celebrate their 10th anniversary. first saw this sign he thought it would make for a great band name—they’d get free advertising— but as Zack Karlsson. it was a clever idea. “Unfortunately Tim’s not a very good musician so he made it a game studio name instead. they’re in it to make games and share their creativity with the world. “[The employees] hone themselves. lightheartedly said. With that said. right when you come through the door of Double Fine Productions. merge principles between two different schools of thought. When Tim Schafer. there is a large sign proclaiming: “This is a Double Fine Zone”. As you come off of the Golden Gate Bridge entering San Francisco. the entire staff pitched in to buy a photograph of the road sign that had become the studio’s namesake. “The studio just has this culture of wit and sharp intellect—I don’t really know how else to put it. a classic text adventure game created by LucasArts in October 1990. one of the creators of The Secret of Monkey Island. We’ve had the opportunity to expand the business quite substantially. and we’ve declined that opportunity because part of what makes it interesting to work here is how creative people can be in a smaller environment.” Double Fine isn’t simply a studio that’s in it to make money.
As Alan Patmore. The goal of the pre-production phase is to get something playable—what we call “Vertical Slice”. the game took five years to make. and was released on Playstation 2 a couple of months later. “The cool part about the Amnesia Fortnight process is that during that two week prototyping. just to sell out.” Karlsson explains. but did receive a bump in sales when it was re-released digitally via the Xbox Live Marketplace as an “Xbox Original”. Brütal Legend also had quite a long development cycle. a factor that greatly affects production time and in the end. demonstrating all of the game’s core pillars and verbs. “For instance. a twoweek period where everyone forgets what they are currently working on. Psychonauts had two publishers. if you were going to be doing a third person shooter. you would have all of the player’s core movement controls. Typically. Double Fine. maybe one or two dif- 20 . The game was originally going to be published by Vivendi Games. ing to sell out. not sell well initially. and even the pre-production phase of development. Like Psychonauts. Psychonauts was finally released for Microsoft Xbox. Production began in 2005 as Psychonauts was just wrapping up.” The studio’s first game was Psychonauts. While it wasn’t as successful as everyone had hoped. On April 19th 2005. Brütal Legend. unlike a majority of start-ups. a platforming game that puts you in control of Raz. the main character in Double Fine’s second game. and as Karlsson says. “We want to make money and we want to make success for the company. it accomplishes a lot of the goals of the concept phase. their merger with Activision led to the game being dropped from their portfolio. That’s why we call it “Vertical Slice”. one of the most respected writers in the industry at the helm of the studio. Vice President of Product Development.ing tortured artists. notes. “[It’s] one of those ones where you can feel the people who made that game. in that game!” Unfortunately the game experienced a long and drawn out development cycle. However. creatively. “It would take a lot less time [to develop games] if things went right the first time. also had Tim Schafer. However. As Karlsson asserts. because it goes deep through the game. That’s how comedian and actor Jack Black ended up agreeing to do the voice acting for Eddie Riggs. and emotionally with who we are as people and as creatives in the industry. The game did “We’re not go- Every so often the entire studio takes part in what they call “Amnesia Fortnight”. and the studio works on prototyping small games. a young boy with psychic powers who leaves the circus in order to become a “Psychonaut”. the game had struck a chord with a dedicated audience. but we want to do it in a way that is consistent intellectually.” Zack Karlsson Of course. this was the studio’s first game and road bumps were to be expected. it is a playable level of the game—about fifteen minutes—at a pretty high quality bar. those who played Psychonauts loved it. Electronic Arts (EA) picked up the publishing rights to the game and became Brütal Legend’s actual publisher. Later.” Although Brütal Legend was well received by reviewers. the game still didn’t sell as well as Double Fine had hoped. The game received plenty of critical acclaim.
It’s not here. If you can’t find the fun. which are to figure out how you’re going to build the game and how long it takes to build each part of the game. Costume Quest and Stacking (results of the aforementioned “Amnesia Fortnight”) are two of the studio’s most recent releases. and we hope that eventually the customers will want it as much as we want to produce it. which means we focus on character. both of which have had exceptional critical acclaim. writing. and you can’t demonstrate the fun early in pre-production. the real thing is to find the fun. There is a place for ‘Generic Space Marine #12’. Both titles were released via digital distribution (through the Xbox Live Marketplace. and Sony’s Playstation Store) through Double Fine’s current publisher. as well as decent sales figures. We’re gonna make something that other people haven’t seen.” While the studio still kept working on Brütal Legend during its time without a publisher. And both games clearly demonstrate what Double Fine does best: innovation. Double Fine is different from almost every other studio out there. but also. it’s just that the focus [for the game] is on character. THQ. Double Fine doesn’t remain tied down to a certain genre.ferent weapons that the player could use to demonstrate the inventory system and the shooting system. we focus horizontally. It needs it. humor.” From the very beginning. even if they don’t know it yet: “We believe that the industry wants innovation. Zack Karlsson elaborates: “Rather than vertically. It wants it. That’s why going deep is really important. or type of game. in an interesting way. then you are going to have a very long. ‘We’re gonna make it interesting. Karlsson noted: “I think it’s how the studio marries creativity and humor and character and story.’” The studio strives to create new experiences that they think players will want. painful development cycle. etc. Double Fine conducted an “Amnesia Fortnight”. story or whatever else. When asked what he thought Double Fine did better than other studios. Those things can really be brought to any genre or any theme. even the way they actu- 21 .” With regard to the beginning of their development process. You’re kind of accomplishing two goals. What the studio does take into consideration is something called “horizontal focus”. There would also probably be one or two enemies that you’re fighting against. but basically you’re going really deep so you can figure out how you’re going to build the game. and it was here that some of their latest projects were born. There is a place for that. and says.
“This place is a really funny place to work. that was really funny!’ “His brain just works differently than everybody else and as a result it keeps—particularly with the creative folks—them engaged in humor and creative solutions. but it’s slightly better because it’s not the one that was obvious. It’s incredible to see just how Double Fine’s endless flow of creative energy works to their advantage. “Have you ever had that conversation. the same composer that Tim Schafer has been using since he began work at LucasArts back in the 1990s. Gameplay programmers focus more around the individualized experience. going all the way from senior level producers to assistant producers. The designer work is largely done by gameplay programmers—we find that it gives us some efficiencies…They design either within the scope of the technology or with a mind to accommodate the time and how long it will take to do whatever design or directional change they want to make. you know when you’re sitting around with your friends and somebody makes a joke that has a double-entendre? You’re just kind of looking at each other and everybody knows there’s the joke there and your minds race to try to put the joke together and whoever gets there first gets the polite chuckle from everyone else because you all knew it was there—you’re all chasing it. Sure. It wants it. 2D and con- cept artists. down. All in all. It needs it. but you can bet that when the studio finally has its big take-off. it’ll be greater than anyone ever expected. Well.” Karlsson explains.” It truly is a genesis from the top of the studio. such as Pete McConnell.industry wants innovation. Tim does that faster than anyone else and it’s a different joke—it’s not the one you thought! It’s not hugely better. ‘Oh shit. “We’re one of the only studios in the business (of which I’m aware) that does not currently employ designers (other than one). it’s just slightly better. they’re taking some big risks. And you’re just there saying. whereas core guys focus on the underlying tech and whatever else.” Besides their unique breed of programmer-designers. user interface and visual effects programmers. “We split our programmers into two pieces: Gameplay programmers and core/engine programmers.” Zack Karlsson “We believe the ally make games is a drastic move away from how other studios make their games too.” explains Karlsson. Double Fine also employs character and 3D artists. Double Fine is comprised of 67 people. 22 . The studio also has an extensive production team. They even have a localization producer—who works off site—as well as a small set of contractors and vendors.
who bought Sigil and launched Vanguard. I loved it. Double Fine’s Vice President of Business Development What were you doing before you came to Double Fine? Wars: Galaxies. Before that I worked at Sony Online. Why did you choose/want to work at Double Fine? I’m a business guy. where I was the head of Business Development. which eventually left Microsoft and came to Sony Online. and all those games at Sony Online. not a creative guy so when I look at an opportunity. I guess. and worked on EverQuest. Star . It was a great job. but just hadn’t yet. and we were making a game called Vanguard for Microsoft. It needed me—hopefully— to help them break out of wher- >> 23 Before I came to Double Fine I was at Namco Bandai. And before that I was at a company called Sigil. And that was about twelve years ago.More Than Business Getting to know Zack Karlsson. So what I was looking for after Namco was a company that was ready to breakout. what I look for is potential—under valued potential. they’re a great organization.
The same thing happens when you look at the BioWare guys. I think so. Costume Quest was an excellent game. and that’s how I ended up here. Sales-wise it did pretty okay. “BOOM! Off they go!” If you look at Ken Levine who made a couple of games that sold“meh”. then all of a sudden…there’s BioShock. and business and finance and whatever else and really help them do that?” It ended up being a really short list. that started out really making games that sold“meh”—no offense intended to the guys over there. They had one game were everything clicked and it’s like.ever they had been. Then they just broke out. they were good— critically acclaimed—but they just weren’t getting sales and then…BOOM! Taking off! So I thought to myself. “What are the studios that are out there that are not already owned by a publisher. it’s reviewed well. I’ve been here for about a year now. When you look at studios like Blizzard. I mean it didn’t do fantastic—it didn’t sell as many games as Castle 24 . where all they need is that one game that takes them off? And where can I apply my knowledge of the industry. They started off with a little bit of a rocky start. Do you feel like you’re still on the way to that “take off game”? Yeah. I interviewed and they miraculously liked me and it worked out really well. it’s won a bunch of awards.
and are willing to find unique and interesting ways to get out there. We peaked. they did exactly what they needed to do.Crashers. It was really a pleasure and you so rarely get to say that…with a straight face. [Laughs] It was nice because we got to work with a group that said. For an independent developer like us. if the game hits. “How do we still remain innovative and manage risk?” It’s ended up being this sort of tightrope walk. but they don’t want to take a lot of risk. we’re left with people who want to do smaller things. they supported us. well. and they are experienced with the Kids & Family Group at THQ. it’s not an embarrassment. to think. Like I said. They were stern with us when we needed it. we had 25 . So we’ll keep going. we had to think. They handled us expertly. That’s how it normally works. Just so fantastic! The way it’s supposed to work when you get to the end of the project is that the publisher hates the developer. some bets are getting bigger and most are getting smaller.” The challenge is that not everyone does. margins are way down. we believe in this! We believe in this studio. or has the experience on the platform—digital. for instance—but it did well. not everyone is willing to take that kind of risk. then all sins are forgiven and everybody’s friendly again. We believe in the uniqueness of these properties. thank God! The units have done okay. I think. and we’ve been lucky—we’ve had some good partners who have had enough success in the rest of their portfolio that they’re willing to be adventurous. We love them—and I hope they love us—but we really do love them! They were easy to work with. And that was for Costume Quest? And Stacking. What have been some of the biggest challenges you have faced during your time at Double Fine? That’s a long list. “No. And then. So for us. The problem is that a majority of the big bets are being made internally at publishers. and the developer hates the publisher. publishers have really gotten squeezed in the last couple of years. They were fantastic. THQ was the first. It’s really hard being a developer right now. but it’s not like everyone is hailing the second coming of Castle Crashers. You swear you’ll never speak to each other again. and the first royalty check comes. and lighthanded when we didn’t. ‘How do we still remain innovative and manage risk?’” Zack Karlsson “For us. a couple of years ago in terms of development spend size. Now the spends are starting to come back down. which I think “Thank God!” because I was getting a little worried there—the development spends were just getting crazy. That’s not what we made unfortunately. I mean specifically. The bets are getting bigger and the risks. They signed both of those up at the same time.
But the reality is. There’s been an occasion when we haven’t— I’m not going to tell you which one.” You’re thinking.Do you find it to be more challenging to create a game with a strong story as opposed to a game that purely focuses on mechanics? This is a question that’s not for me. and it all just comes tumbling out. but it’s a really cool process to watch. I can follow it. it’s easy to throw criticism and say. I have absolutely no comprehension of how he does it. [Laughs] But we almost always start with a story. his brain just works differently. He just comes into the office one day and says. but I can’t make it myself. I could do a whole interview about this question. but I will answer it because I find that purely through observation—I’m not an authority on this subject by any means—Double Fine. It’s been very cool to watch because his creative process is uniquely arcane. I’d like to see consumers appreciate creativity more than they currently do—or appear to—because I think the medium itself is worth more. For instance. 26 . and then the rest begins to flow around that. we almost always start with a story. And lots of people have logged many. in a way that is fairly unique in my experience. always starts with a story. In terms of the products. “Oh. space marine games sell—lots of units. you can’t really throw stones at that. in terms of the core of whatever this idea is and then we hang other things off of it. It almost comes birthed fully formed. and a feather flew by and it made me think of this. Tim is really the guy behind it. that’s a really big question. “So I was sitting on the sidewalk last night with my daughter. “Wait. how did you get that?” Then he starts to explain it. all in a row. many hours playing space marine games. Well. another space marine game!” It’s easy to say that. and that I can’t even make. I have a long list. or this story that he finds interesting. If there were one aspect of the video game industry you’d like to see changed. So. It’s driven around this whole narrative of what he would find interesting. it makes it sound gross. I know. He’ll come into work one day and say. “I was thinking…” He makes this leap so quickly. what would it be? Wow.
Can make good money. If you go to GDC. It opened the door. In order for NPD to get data. I mean. No one wants to reveal their competitive advantage. it’s evolved to a point where it can support that. it’s trying to make the whole medium a better place for creativity and business to happen. you look at movies and you say. with no differentiation between platforms. and those are space marine games effectively (on the big screen). I think that as an industry we view proprietary information in kind of a naïve way. Where it’s not just an Indie Film Festival. I think the games medium has been viewed as something only a particular subset of humanity. The competitive advantage isn’t what sales you have. Reports are only released monthly and include sales information regarding hardware sales (such as Playstation 3. in my opinion. Isn’t there an opportunity for games as a medium to evolve where we’re also doing romantic comedies. But EverQuest was one of the first commercial successes that opened up the door to online gaming. You know. Holding on to data of that nature only inhibits the growth of the entire industry. such as Ultima Online and you can keep going back. not just about sales. 27 . I’d like to see more transparency. you want to know how a movie did? Just look it up on the Hollywood Reporter on Monday. but on the business side. such that creative products can really have a leg to stand on. can have big success. Nintendo DS) and the Top 10 software sales. or at least this culture. when I started out in this business we used to say. I don’t care. I know that makes me a big nerd. What game are you most proud of? I’m actually going to have to go all the way back to the beginning and say EverQuest. it is interesting to note NPD does not report digital sales data. I think that that tension helps drive quality and I still get a finished product out the door. I’d like to see it a little more open than it is. certainly. is probably the flow of information. they’d never ship. you get talks about things that were happening three years ago. I’m not saying it needs to be an open book. the demographic is 18-24”. I think that there is a normal push-pull tension that occurs between publishers and developers at the end of a project. As a medium. “Oh. I think it’s necessary. In fact. And historically. What is NPD? NPD Group is a market research company that has reported on video game sales for the past several years. I just think it would be nice to be more open. Competitive advantage is what your ideas are or how good you are. I mean there were games before. That game changed the way we think about gaming. as things are trying to get out the door. where they get their recognition and no sales. It’s a place where a variety of different kinds of movies—games— can make money. and extrapolate and run data through an algorithm to acquire sales data. they put on a good program. And if publishers had their way they’d ship a year early. at its core. I don’t think I’d change that. “Oh. It’s getting broader and I’d like to see the interest space broader. I can say this—not as a representative of Double Fine—as someone who has observed the industry for a while: In a vacuum. We can go out to the real theatres and get broad recognition and sales. As the market for digital distribution increases. For instance. It’s not really a competitive advantage. there are action movies that people love”. it is very difficult to get an accurate representation of how many other games in the industry are doing. but about where the industry is going. Now the demo is 18-35. if developers had their way they’d take forever. thrillers or whatever else? It’s not just space marines. they comb leaderboards. The thing that I’d like to change about the industry. Although sales are reported. look at NPD. As for the industry.At the same time. will engage in actively.
they might exist in some form. or social gaming or World of Warcraft or EVE: Online.” Zack Karlsson gaming in a new way. but about where the industry is going. My role. I think it’s driven a lot of innovation in the industry as a “knock-on” effect. I don’t think that Facebook games. I mean. such as the Playstation Network. like social interaction. or any of the stuff like Playstation Network would exist in the same form. to come forward and connect people in new and unique ways. I am deeply proud to have been associated with it. “I’d like to see more transpar- Double Fine’s Stacking .If I can be specific. it was the vision of two or three individuals who saw that as an opportunity. not just about sales. but I think that games like EverQuest and things that naturally flowed out from it at later times—including World of Warcraft—are things which allowed us to think about connected ency. They opened the door for a variety of services. I would argue that people were more willing then to talk about Facebook games and a variety of other things.
it was something that guys did in their garage. so he thought. That’s really what was happening. primarily. And belief was really the determinant in being able to figure out if you can get a job somewhere or not. I had two guys who had MBAs that worked for me—I’m high school educated. You need education and bonafides to be taken seriously now because it’s a real business with real money. before the money got big. I would say that that in no uncertain terms gave me no qualifications to judge the aerospace industry at all [Laughs] I also taught ski- not have been able to get to this point in my career if I was in another industry. and we hired him because he was good at customer service. Now it’s different. In my last job. And you had to explain to your parents that weren’t just sitting around wasting money or wasting your life. “We need more people like that.” That was the determinate back then. but my name is still in the credits and I’m really proud of that. at Boeing. “Do you have the cojones to move to San Diego with nothing but the clothes on your back?” and if you do. or other industries with individuals who try to get into them at their genesis. That was my first gig out of high school. I don’t think that bookseller really gives you any sort of perspective on any industry at all. I’m high school educated. I was getting in early enough. One of our guys was a clerk at the 7/11 near our office.ing to little kids. It isn’t like what I do now. I had a very brief stint—I won’t say other careers—working in a bookstore. One of the executives hired a guy who waited on him in a restaurant because he was really attentive. It was just a retail job at the mall. I can say that I personally would not have been able to get to this point in my career if I was in another industry. That’s how it started. was quite limited. as a result. It was. you got people who believed. so once again. I would say that my opportunity has been different because of the nature of the business. When I got into the video game industry. I worked as a temp. I have no formal education. you can have a job. So. I have no formal education. If you’re willing to take the risk. I’m high school educated. People thought it wasn’t really a valid career. mostly in the IT field. no real frame of reference. What is your favorite part about your job? to be clear.” Zack Karlsson “I can say that I personally would 29 . if I tried to get a job in the industry now—with no experience— nobody would hire me. I think that’s unique to this industry. Do you find that working on the “business side” of the video game industry is very different from that of other industries? I don’t know. Although. you can come have a job working in video games. in the video game industry. Really all I know is this industry.
It’s my role as an enabler of creative genius. in that game! 30 . that’s an amazing thing. Not just in terms of effort. I feel like doing it any other way would have been hypocritical. I don’t know if you’re familiar with them. They continue to make and do good things that they love. I had nothing to do with Psychonauts personally. I was also the one who called the client rather than getting the agent to do it. what would it be? I would say that it is more of a craft than you think. I don’t mind firing people. that sucks. have another job. There’s not a very big gap between crappy games and mediocre games. but that’s one of those ones where you can feel the people who made that game. Play Psychonauts. You fucked up. we’ve greenlit. or whatever it was. But when you have to cancel a project because your goals have changed as a publisher. I would like to call them and tell your client myself. When we greenlit a project. If I’m going to do good news. and be creative and brilliant.” It was one of the most wonderful feelings that you could have. “You’ve really screwed it up. the skill involved. You’re saying. the heart involved. You were enabling the studios to make their next game. The gap between good and great is astronomical. I don’t mean to pimp my own game. I would call the agent first and say.” It’s an amazing thing. in terms of craft. It’s like laying people off. which in this case is the agent. I don’t struggle with telling people that their project is cancelled when they’ve really screwed it up. I can get that joy of creation and that imagination. Yeah. it’s that the sixty-seven people who rely on me to make their mortgage payments. If by transference.” Then I would say. And excellence at it is even harder. probably from the movie side. Like. The curve is exponential from that point up. “I’m going to enable you to build your dream. it’s not just that I did a good job and it was successful. I get that there was no intent—no one goes into a project intending to screw it up—but you’ve really screwed it up!” That kind of stuff doesn’t bother me. and in games it works the same. So when we cancelled projects or had bad news to deliver. send their kids to school and make their car payment. Because. You’re good to go. “Ok. you’re out.That’s interesting…closing a deal. “Please don’t call your client. I have to do bad news. With that comes the requirement that you also be the individual who bears bad news. that’s tough. but in the other direction. Laying people off though. protocol says you call the business people first. if you ask any of the people who have dealt with me from my history—in the game industry there are people called agents. and I love that! I love that moment! On the other side of the table it was exactly the same. pay their student loans. When I play a game where I can feel the creator and the joy that they adhered to the game and the process. that’s an incredible experience. Also. but in terms of excellence. If there was one thing you could say to people who don’t know very much about video games or the development process. I had built relationships with all of the major agents in the business and they knew one thing about me that was different from most of the other business development people they worked with. I still felt like that was a fair trade off.
The Many Seasons Of elltale .
And they’ve been focused on those two things— episodic and digital distribution—ever since. I got in touch with Alan Johnson. in pretty short order. I was introduced to Dave Grossman. It turns out I’d been walking around the building for the last few minutes. “We’re expanding pretty quickly. I began to panic: “Is this the right place?” I thought to myself. Pajama Sam. Dan Connors and Kevin Bruner. they went out and got some seed money and founded Telltale—it was a tiny office.” He takes me back to Dave Grossman’s desk. the Director of Design at Telltale and one of the video game industry’s most prolific writers. Day of the Tentacle. I was unable to find which offices were Telltale’s in the build- I ing lot. I saw concept art and renderings for some of their recent and upcoming games. and they’re working on games based on some of the biggest properties in pop culture. who came outside and found me. the likes of which include Back to the Future. they have nearly ninety people under their employ. Luckily.” A week after this year’s Game Developer Conference (held yearly in San Francisco) I visited Telltale Games at their offices in San Rafael. Jurassic Park. “We just started to take over part of the lower floor.” Johnson told me. Fables and The Walking Dead. The studio has a nice sense of community. Telltale’s Community Manager and my liaison for arranging the interview. cubicles exist but barriers between people and departments are relatively low. After I arrived. “So.” recalls Dave Grossman. “These guys decided they wanted to pursue this idea of episodic gaming and really try and leverage the emerging digital distribution space. a game being developed by LucasArts—experimenting with episodic storytelling and digital distribution—was cancelled. Sam & Max: Freelance Police. Grossman’s credits include The Secret of Monkey Island. as well as many other artists and programmers working on the project decided that they didn’t want to start over and do something else. tucked away between 32 . During my tour of the studio. After a couple of minutes we move to a small room at the back of the studio. Recently Telltale has been expanding. Director of Design at Telltale Games.n March 2004. California—although they aren’t so tiny any more. and even the hit game for kids and parents alike. Getting to Telltale was no easy task. As Alan brought me inside. I walked around for a few minutes and after no luck finding the place.
we release the episodes one at a time and the space in between them is really dramatically important. there was a big enough portion of the model of people who were willing to entertain the idea of getting games that way—in a more serious fashion. Telltale was entering the market just as the digital space was becoming a viable market for distributing properties. the captive market for downloadable games increased and truly became one that publishers could rely on. there was a little bit of a hump to get over with the audience in regards to the episodic content—they were a little suspicious. it is estimated that Steam accounts for 70% of all digitally distributed video games. if it hadn’t been for Steam. “Then when we’re finished the season we will bundle them up all together on a disc and put that out to retail…That was a more important part of the business “It’s not always 33 .” the greatest thing to have sixty hours of entertainment just plopped down suddenly in front of you. in September 2003. As the three of us get situated. Grossman briefly describes how the studio began and the core pillars that make up Telltale’s foundation—digital distribution and episodic content. Currently. I mean. to combat this. Microsoft’s Xbox Live Marketplace and Sony’s Playstation Store would probably not exist in the same capacity as they do now. Telltale was also taking a risk by trying to provide episodic content. As Grossman explains. At first many people did not like the idea. with responses ranging from “You’re trying to charge us more money for the same game” to “You’ll never finish the project and we’ll be left hanging. By 2004 or so. you feel like you’ve experienced a complete story and you want to play the next one. the interview begins. model early on. but you’re still happy with it. called Steam.two offices. it worked well while we were getting our feet. asking people how they felt about having their games released in episodic chunks on a monthly basis. “What happened is that the music industry changed all that. what with iTunes and so forth.” As Grossman notes. It was the success of Steam (which was only available on PC at the time) that led to digital games becoming available on many other video game consoles.” When Valve Corporation launched their digital distribution platform. even though a digital-only release was possible.” Of course. “We do this thing where we run a season like a season of television. If you look at the first season of Sam & Max. so by the time you get to the end of it.” states Grossman. Telltale had to incorporate a sort of stand-alone design into some of their first seasons: “We had to do a little work with the audience to try and reassure them. We actually design many of the games differently at the beginning to account for that. each case is designed to stand on its own.” In order to get over this hump Telltale turned to online forums for adventure games.
where you are focusing on a few very specific aspects. they’ve got more responsibilities. jobs. that sort of thing. You have to kind of make space for that. maybe over a couple of days. From an artistic standpoint it lets us get into the characters from more different angles—since we’re following them over time— you just get to round them out a bit more through different situations. From a company-business philosophy. it’s a different kind of story-telling. if you’re doing one larger title. Grossman replied: “Well. it’s not always the greatest thing to have sixty hours of entertainment just plopped down suddenly in front of you. So.” Many of their games have significant brand loyalty. Whereas. In fact. it’s kind of like a feature film. and then get some more. ‘Here is a thing you’re going to play for a couple hours. quite a few of their games are only available in a “Season- . it’s about maintaining relationships with your audience over a longer period of time. if it’s.When asked about why Telltale chooses to produce episodic content. or spend a little nightly time with and then think about it for a while. Whereas. “…Another aspect is that gamers are older now: they’ve got less time than they used to.’ That tends to fit people’s lives a little better.
However. a testament to how well consumers trust Telltale. Grossman had worked on the original Monkey Island during his days at LucasArts. Philosophically. Telltale got the rights to produce a canonical sequel in the Monkey Island series. to coincide with LucasArts’ release of The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition. “A second thing that we do is lots and lots of research. “Staying true to the original source material is super important to us.” “Staying true to 35 . These fears proved to be unfounded and Tales of Monkey Island was both a critical and commercial success. we brought in for Monkey Island—actually we had quite a few people who worked on that. as a provider. until their most recent game. There are various ways that we try to make it right. You can do a lot of neat stuff. “Then the third thing we do is to try and involve the original creators if we can. we would probably be working in movies or at television studios. Telltale will usually pick one episode and release it for free to try and bring in new audiences to their unique brand of games. when all is said and done. and at first he was worried that people wouldn’t like the game because they had been building up their expectations for a sequel for so long. Ron Gilbert. Back to the Future.” It all comes back to Telltale’s focus on story over gameplay and how the studio really lets the personality of their employees come out through their games: “All of the people who Art from The Walking Dead started the studio were interested in…games as an artistic medium and as a narrative form.only” package. We like to find strong. as opposed to a possibly more mechanical approach. If we weren’t making games. “That’s one of the things we think makes us desirable as a studio. we’re all about that. One is that we find a property that already has fans in the studio…They are the kinds of people that are going to be pitched everything and give us a lot of feedback. If we’re going to work on some series. In 2008. the original source material is super important to us.” Grossman explains. ‘What are the pillars of this thing? What is it about it that really makes it sing as a license? What are the features of the different characters that are important?’ There is a lot of analysis at that point. but we like games! “I think that there are a lot of things about video games that you don’t get in other mediums—specific things that happen because you’re involving the player directly in the action. Tales of Monkey Island was their most successful series available—no doubt because so many of the creative minds at Telltale had worked on the original game itself. Then in meetings we talk about. In fact. We come at it from the other direction than most studios. including me…Every little thing we can do helps us stay in the narrative zone of the original. we make sure that lots of people have watched the entire series.
outside the realm of funny animal games. Just the past year alone has marked quite a few major milestones for the studio. an initiative that allows the studio to take smaller. Everybody knows we can do comedy well. in the same way a TV studio would make a pilot and shop it around to networks. “We were having trouble getting people to take us seriously.good licenses that already have strong characters and good themes—stuff like that—and really use those to express ourselves. we’ll just do one. then we get what happens with Puzzle Agent—our first Pilot Program and our first success—which is we make another one. “Then. that Telltale launched their Pilot Program. which is what Jurassic Park was about and what The Walking Dead is about.” Grossman elaborates. However. they also wanted to be able to give lesser known series a chance. “A big point of expansion for us now is into more serious titles. we make a pilot and we shop it around directly to the audience so they can basically vote for it with their pocketbooks. an increase of 90% over the year before.” As Grossman mentioned. “We’ll make a small game. If enough people are interested and actually play the game and post on our forums that they’d like to see another one. measured risks on more dicey properties. It was because of this.” describes Grossman. we won’t commit to a full season.” . In 2010.” There is no doubt that Telltale has certainly found their niche. but we wanted to show that we can do other kinds of storytelling just as well. Telltale had revenues of $10 million. Telltale likes to use properties with a strong narrative and strong characters.
Scripted Meet Dave Grossman: Telltale’s Director of Design .
I didn’t— I got into it by accident. It was sort of a 1-part programmer. now I want this character to say a line of dialogue.” and it would take care of it and show it on screen. So I stayed late and worked 38 . It was a little bit like screenplay writing with coding features in it. 1-part writer kind of a role. and then implement everything. It also took care of a lot of the little fiddly bits like. but it just didn’t sit well with me. It was easy for me to fall into that. Like I said. and then later. You know. I was interested in computers and was looking for something fun to do with them that did not involve designing missile systems or did not have an AI background. it was almost like an apprentice program. aside from the job. 1-part theatre designer. why did you decide to come to Telltale? My experience at LucasArts— well. Each game had a designer. so if you needed to do anything complicated you could figure something out. That was a great job—it was really fun. who come to the games industry on purpose. or that sort of thing.What was your experience like working at LucasArts. I just answered an ad for LucasArts. Basically you’d write one line of code and the guy walks over there. “Ok. such as the SCUMM system—which is what they used to build their graphic adventures on. who was basically the head of the project—from a creative and a production standpoint—and that guy needed a couple of assistants to help him work out story and puzzles. that was my first real “job” job. They were just looking for people to help. Unlike a lot of people these days. I was a young guy. “I want this character to walk across the screen to a point that I specify” and it would just happen! The system would take over from there. I was a kid without much going on. I was just out of graduate school. They gave us some cool tools.
As it turns out.” Dave Grossman 39 “Unlike a lot of people these days. “Eh.on those Monkey Island games like crazy and they were good. there was a little bit of oversight. I’m the what you call Director of Design. I liked the freedom of getting to work from home. Oversight was strange at that company at that time. which was also a super fun thing to do.” I was in at that point. who . Eventually they promoted me and Tim Schafer and they let us do a game called Day of the Tentacle. I mean. that sounds cool!” I never really liked the part where you had to go around and find the next piece you’re going to work on—so that was all kind of taken care of. “Cut three rooms and five characters and you’re good to go. Over that period of time I worked with Ron Gilbert a lot actually. I could just come here and it was. and a few projects that we did there. but there was a group of the project leaders—and this was everybody who had a project—and we reviewed each other. I left LucasArts in 1994 and then freelanced for about eleven years. There was of course some pre-approval. “This looks solid!” What is your exact position at Telltale and does that vary from game to game? It doesn’t anymore. I had the opportunity to get in a little earlier—like I said they were talking to me from the beginning—but I was doing something else for free and the company was just starting up. I thought. “Hey. it’s a little too risky. “Ok. we’re just going to make cool games all of the time and that’ll be neat. “Ok. here are the keys to the castle!” I mean. so I thought. and we designed some stuff together—Humongous Entertainment for example. The head of the games group could tell us what to do. you pitched it to that group at the weekly meeting and they would say. which was “Let’s make another game in the Maniac Mansion series. Don’t worry too much about sticking to the art style or the paradigms of the first one because it was five years ago and it’s a really old game now. And the other was that people I was already friends with were starting a company to make the kind of games that I was interested in making. One was that I was at a point where I was feeling that a little extra stability would be a good thing.” But a year later I thought. I didn’t—I got into it by accident. which means that I’m come to the games industry on purpose.” What about your time between LucasArts and Telltale? Well.” [Laughs] That was usually the response. So if you wanted to make a game. Just do something fun that capitalizes on all of the good stuff. The Telltale thing was really about two things coming together. That was about as hard as it was to get Day of the Tentacle going. It was sort of like. Over the years he had a couple of different children’s game companies. It was kind of a fun way to run my life. and then go for it.
so I focused on that a little bit. It’s funny minute to minute. When I was freelancing that was sort of the main focus. the more I want the scripts to be about something. I’ve done Winnie the Pooh for example. mostly. even in The Secret of Monkey Island. like I said. I seem to be good at this” and the part that was the most fun was doing the writing. If it’s something where there is a license involved then I want it to feel right. The older I get. And at that point I actually was just in charge of a series at a time.A. now it’s unusual for me to do that. I’m responsible for all of the design and all of the writing that happens at this company and my tools for doing that are designers and writers. That’s a significant goal. At the very beginning. we’re going to be doing more than one series at once” [Laughs] And that changed the way things worked. Although. What are your personal goals/ambitions every time you start a new script? Wow. and then we expanded to the point where I thought. but mainly I pitched myself as a writer because I enjoyed doing the work. it was a little bit accidental due to the LucasArts thing. I think they hired me because I wasn’t your typical programmer. In retrospect. the company was smaller and we didn’t actually have a Director of Design.like the editor. occasionally I get to do a little bit of writing on one of the episodes—like Jurassic Park for example. However. there is a lot of that. Why did you choose to write video game scripts? Well. It used to be ok to just want to do something funny. the story is about this young man who has these career goals and he discovers love and figures out that this is more important to him than they are. I think about themes and broader scale narrative goals—things like that— and then put the funny on later. Hmm. that was really fun— and really soon I’ll be able to direct one of the episodes of one of our other series. And basically I said. Milne-ness for that one and that was a huge deal for me. I had a little bit more breadth and I did actually do some writing on the side. but now I find that when I think upfront. something I did when I was freelancing and I got complimented on my A. I mean I was offered to do some design and so forth. “You know. I was interested in these sorts of things. “Ok. but if you sit back and think about it. that’s not a funny story at 40 . I’ve got to give Ron [Gilbert] credit for that— that it works on multiple levels. I did The Great Cow Race and then the first series of Sam & Max was kind of my baby. well that I think changes over the years.
What was it like to write and create video games for children.” Dave Grossman be playing with their parents— that was kind of the goal. But then when I was in the midst of my freelancing days. which throw a lot of people off and they do kind of limit the extent to which you can use the 41 . not so great.” I didn’t have anything else going on at the time. Overall.” [Laughs] It’s good stuff! The success of that made me a guy that people called to do children’s games. You’ve got to do fun stuff for the kids (a little bit of slapstick and some silly jokes that they’re going to enjoy). Whereas. and we want it to feel a little strange and we think you’d be a good writer for it. one is money. Pajama Sam. And the other is that there are a lot of different restrictions about what you can and can’t do when you’re writing a game. That was kind of the big trick to Pajama Sam: Keep the parents entertained so that they will stay there and play with the kids. or will not notice going by over their heads. Now. I still hear from parents who say “I played with my kids during the day. Ron had gone off to form this company to make children’s games—and I almost went with him actually—but I had some other things going on at the time that kept me local. I wanted to do some stuff for adults. It’s actually a pretty serious one about people and how they live their lives. or stuff like that. So I wound up doing that and little interactive toys. so I said “Sure”.all. And you know what? It turned out to be super fun to write this game for kids who were going to “That was kind of the big trick to Pajama Sam: Keep the parents entertained so that they will stay there and play with the kids. I just didn’t want them to feel like they were missing something. And you know. for quite a while. which can work. but I will say that doing only the kids’ games began to feel restrictive. because that’s not a good experience for anybody. I think that there are a couple of different reasons for that. Ron called me and said. how do you feel the quality of writing is in the video game industry? Overall. only doing adult games I don’t feel the same way. and then after they went to bed I’d stay up and play by myself. I think there’s something about the range of experiences that can be provided by a grown-up game that I like a little better. he decided to move to Washington. it was another thing that I didn’t intend to do. such as Pajama Sam or Freddi Fish? That was super fun! Although. which experience do you like more: writing children’s games or games for adults? I enjoy both. and then some other things that the parents are going to appreciate that hopefully the kids will either appreciate as nonsense. “We’re working on this kid’s game. If you’re a good writer you can make a lot more money working in a different industry.
and then you put it down and you get a little more.what kind of content you can put in. So if you’re not in direct control. Gameplay to Cutscene” and then wobbles back and forth. For example. of the pacing or the sequence of events— because you have allowed the user control over some of these things—then that can kind of screw up your narrative flow. you’re still involved in the scene. very frequently writers will get called in later in the process. all the time. I think that the goal for the designer and the writer should be that you never put the controller down. It’s not a super meaningful choice. They’re entertaining to make. and it’s not the focus of a lot of studios. some of which only last five seconds. Do you feel that you need to have cutscenes in your game in order to tell a stronger story? I’ve been curious about whether or not you think that cutscenes are a help or a hindrance to storytelling in games. I think that they help if they’re properly used. “We need to get our game mechanics working. there’s a lot of conversations in that game where you make some choices that are ultimately kind of pointless. and we need to do sneaking and shooting” and since that is what you do in the story. They’ll be focused on. 42 . Any scene—and we are guilty of having plenty of scenes that are longer than they should be—where you drop your hand off of the controller means that traditional tools of movies or TV. You’re also very limited in terms of you have become disengaged in a way that’s probably not best for how you should tell stories in games. if you’re not paying attention. the story has to be about those things—any extent to which it feels not about those things it feels awkward or forced. and you never put the controller down. Something like a graphic adventure is a little better because you tend to get lots and lots of little cutscenes. but they don’t ultimately affect the flow of scene. in The Secret of Monkey Island. Because we gave you that choice. but it doesn’t always work. “Pick which of these four things you’re going to say now” and then it responds differently for one line and then immediately goes back into the main narrative flow. you never take your hand off the mouse. What you want to avoid is a structure that goes: “Gameplay to Cutscene. but it keeps you doing something. That unfortunately is something that you see a lot. We’re always trying to make them shorter. It’s typically just. There are also often other business realities. Frequently you’ll see a really long cutscene where you put the controller down—you don’t pay attention—and then you pick it up and you play for a while and the story doesn’t advance.
“Oh yeah.” And those fears usually turn out to be unfounded because people go. [Laughs] for the game industry. the actor who plays this role is sick and is going to be out for a month. Even two days isn’t good when you work on such a strict schedule like we do. When we got Tales of Monkey Island in here I thought. that are going to put a hitch in your schedule. we can’t slip things for a month.’’’ Dave Grossman If there was one aspect of the game industry you’d like to see changed. were things such as license fidelity. It doesn’t matter what we do. what would it be? Well. This is a good time for the game industry. we like this. We didn’t really have them in the early days and that was hard. ‘Everything is terrible. “Everything is terrible” and “We’re all making clones of the same game. to keep them useful for those two days. For example.What have been some of the biggest challenges that you have faced during your time at Telltale? It seems like here. I think it would just be more breadth of experience and I think I’m seeing that change. I think if you’d asked me that question five years ago I would have said. I think if you’d asked me that question five years ago I would have said. I think it’s the producers here who really take the brunt of all of that stuff—now that we have them.” Now. they’re not going to be happy. We’ve got to figure out all of the things that people were going to do that was dependent on that guy’s lines and give those people other things to work on. Well. the things I thought were going to be the biggest challenges. what do we do? We have to re-cast that guy with somebody who sounds like him and we’ve got to do it in two days. and then backtrack as soon as we do get some lines in. I just feel like there are all of these “This is a good time . “Oh no! People have had all of these years to build up their expectations about what we’re going to do.” What tends to really be challenging is keeping to the episodic schedule and being flexible enough to respond to the usual little things that come up.
I’m on Kongregate constantly playing all of these Flash games. so if you’re going to do it. If there was one property you could write a script for. The writing. more than a lot of other things. What game are you most proud of? You know. there are different ones for different reasons.interesting platforms for games. I don’t know what I would do if people were not strangely interested in the products of my imagination. were all pointing you towards: “I am now inhabiting a cartoon. People are empowered to do new stuff and the tools to make games are cheap and available—almost anybody can do it. what would you be doing? You mentioned that you accidentally got started. If there was one thing you could say to people who don’t know very much about video games or the development process. The thing that I liked about it is that it felt like a complete package. what would it be? I would say that making games is art. probably shouting obscenities and handing out poetry on little scraps of paper.” So you go out and you paint the stripe on the cat to turn it into a skunk. And it’s hard work and it doesn’t pay as well as other things. but it may be colored by the luster of nostalgia—I have not gone back and played that game for about fifteen years. If you weren’t working in game development. what might you be doing? I would be that guy on the street corner. I’m in an old Chuck Jones/Warner Brothers cartoon. and that’s like a thing that reenforces that experience for you and wouldn’t work in any other kind of a game atmosphere. There are lots and lots of little. and people are doing the whole two-or-three-guys-in-theirgarage thing. I think Day of the Tentacle sticks out for me. Yeah. and the visual design and the design of the interactivity (of the things you had to do). tiny games. and not science. That’s what excites me. what would it be and why? Can I just say I would do an original one? [Laughs] That particularly makes me the happiest. so if you hadn’t gotten started through LucasArts. you should love it! 44 .
I’m sitting at my computer trying to decide on what sessions I want to go to at GDC 25. to “The Development Process of the Nintendo 3DS”.For The Love of Development It’s Thursday February 24th. a conference-goer favorite. Hundreds of Fun New Ideas”. almost midnight. Talks ranging from “GDC Microtalks 2011: One Hour. with some of the industry’s highest profile designers. the 2011 edition of the Game Developer’s Conference. There is an almost endless list of options. writers and more. a look into how the company made their latest handheld system that boasts glasses-free 3D. Ten Speakers. even to “Seven Ways A Video Game Can Be Moral”. an in-depth speech that looks at how design- 45 .
Photos by Mark Rabo .
As Jason Scott. “game developers didn’t have the same sort of structures that. Brian Moriarty. The conference returned to San Jose in 2006. originally the Computer Game Developers Conference (CGDC) was an attempt by game designer Chris Crawford to encourage game developers.” This year’s conference. the conference actually began with extremely humble roots: “GDC. The conference’s advisory board The first group of GDC goers. however.ers can create moral choices in games that resonate with their audience. and contributor to GDC.” says Scott. “Chris Crawford and other developers founded CGDC to help encourage discussion and cross-pollination within game design. attracted an audience of 47 . say. a frequent attendee is also comprised of many of the industry’s most prominent and trusted names. “Even though games were a big industry [in 1988. the proceedings moved around from San Jose to Santa Clara to Long Beach and finally to San Francisco in 2005. Even as the conference has grown since its inception in 1988. being held in a hotel and all. He invited folks to come to his home to hang out and discuss things. as GDC gained popularity and established a name for itself. Some of the other developers Scott mentions include Ernest Adams. with this year’s event taking place from February 28th to March 4th. throughout twentyfive iterations. to share ideas and discussions about forwarding the art. the goals have remained the same. writers might have at their disposal. at the time a solitary and hard-toiling bunch. GDC Historian explains. When GDC first began in 1988. After spending well over an hour deciding my schedule. “The second CGDC was held later that same year. it wasn’t nearly what it is now. GDC 25. attended the first CGDC and has since also been a frequent contributor.” Jason Scott explains.” Over the years. and was more of what one would consider a ‘real’ conference. all subsequent GDCs have been held in San Francisco. I glance through the list and eagerly anticipate the following Monday. who is also the founder of the IGDA (International Game Developer’s Association). who gave a speech at this year’s GDC in defense of Roger Ebert’s declaration that games are not art. when CGDC began].
showing just how much of an industry cornerstone it has become. GDC 2011 was the first GDC where I embraced what I should be: a student.000. Patrick Klepek. one that I’ve come to realize I’ve been misusing. and tried to let everything sink in. explains. His game.” needs to start trending towards creating experiences that adults “GDC is great not only as a fun will find engaging. Network!” knowledge that is directly applicable to my understanding.” says Andrew Pfister.” cess to the press. “There’s no “[…] I don’t know if there will better place to go than GDC be another GDC where I’m for someone just getting their able to indulge nearly as much start in games. EGM[i]. former writer at 1UP. the President 1UP. You shouldn’t have to be a respected game designer to talk or criticize videogames.” remarks Alan entirely reasonable. free of charge. listened.azine. be another GDC where Many (most) developers are not I’m able to indulge neargiven much acly as much this year. as well as the higher level “It’s the family reunion I actuconceptual trends. com and Community Manager of Telltale Games. that I found particularly striking about his experience at this year’s GDC. to my own detriment. “I’ve had the pleasure of attending the Game Developers Conference for several years now. I truly finest companies in the indushope so. Currently. does just that. that doesn’t Johnson. “For those working on the writing and reporting about media side. of dollars for the same privilege. “There are and CEO of French developa lot of friends and former colment studio. The tension between games writers and developers has more to do with a fundamental misunderstanding of each side’s job. time to see all of my industry Heavy Rain. Quantic Dream. much happen. Executive Editor of Electronic In preparation for writing this Gaming Monthly’s digital magfeature. as many of the this year. but GDC proPatrick Klepek vides an excellent venue for the opsome of the brightest minds in posite. than I’ll ever get importance for forecasting from the next year of publisher. one that each could stand to I don’t know if there will learn more about. friends in one place but as a Playing as four different charfantastic learning experience acters—Ethan Mars. because of the wrong priorities—albeit ones that have been largely out of my control (which I’ll get to in just a minute). GDC is of utmost videogames.” Frank Cifaldi. Norman Jaden and Scott “ 48 . A few days after the conference. For reasons I think are video games.” ally want to attend.over 19. sometimes thousands. I also asked other writ. Almost everyone else forks over hundreds. process on a nuts-and-bolts level. because I absorbed try do their recruiting there! more over those five days. “It’s a window ers in the industry what they looking in at the development felt made GDC unique. but you should understand how they work and the processes behind their creation. former News Editor of David Cage.where the industry is headed driven press events. took notes. “For five days. leagues I only see once a year. wrote a blog post. a well-known video game journalist. something that I feel captures the essence of GDC.” creatively. And it’s exactly that: a privilege.com. Madison as I get to sit in on talks by Page. believes that the industry and it’s all because of GDC. but I hope so. I sat. the conference’s motto is “Learn Network Inspire”.
What mattered to me was the journey rather than the challenge.Shelby—you are shown the story of the Origami Killer and how far a father will go to save his son. I often hear gamers telling me that Heavy Rain is the only game they played with their wives or girlfriends. telling a complex story using this language would have meant using a lot of cutscenes. It helps to create identification with the characters. as long as I have a connection with my characters. ine and there is a good chance that no matter how hard I try. to start writing. I have never been confronted by a serial killer. Then the story can go in any direction. So we tried to stay away from the standard rules to invent new words for our narrative grammar. I did not want to create a game that would be a series of obstacles requiring skills. there was no possibility to tell a story using the traditional game paradigms. “Creating an Emotional Roller Coaster in Heavy Rain”. As a writer. mechanics and loops. I also believe it is important to create experiences that are appealing to a wider audience. David Cage calls this “Interactive Drama”—it’s one of the things he discussed this year at his GDC talk. Adults especially need characters that resonate with them in order to feel emotionally involved. that would reflect what he thinks and who he is. I don’t know what it feels like to be a rookie during World War II. inventories and puzzles. which is something I absolutely wanted to avoid. This is something I am definitely proud of. and even the gameplay is a departure from that in most other games. but I am a father loving his son. which makes the audience care for them. I had a chance to interview Cage about why he decided to create such a unique game. I wanted to create a journey that would change based on the player’s decisions. My goal was to let the player tell his story through his actions through gameplay. I also think that it is difficult to write characters that have no link whatsoever with me. The game shows its characters in everyday situations. In fact. that would maybe leave him different. Having ordinary people confronted with extraordinary situations is something appealing to me. Most games are based on violent interactions. I need to have a starting point that is familiar to me. a story that the player could own. Why did you choose to make the interactions in the game untraditional? I had no choice. which certainly helped me to imagine how my character would react if he was confronted with this situation. a feeling or a situation that I know. I can only imag- 49 . and why he feels that the industry needs to start trending toward creating content for adult players. I learnt from Indigo Prophecy that the simplest actions could become interesting Why did you choose to make a game about ordinary people? It is difficult for most people to connect with superheroes or people with extraordinary powers or skills. my script won’t sound right. I also wanted to work on role play. In Heavy Rain.
from very intense to very subtle or complex ones. Last but not least. Creating this emotional connection was my main goal in designing the game. working on these new ideas was something that was very exciting. If you have a great first person shooter. sometimes pleasant. For me. All the vocabulary to create this emotional journey had to be invented. but many things had to be invented regarding interface and non-linearity. Role Play allows the developer to create an emotional connection with the character. It is always a big challenge for me to explain 5 years of work on a project in one hour. I always considered Heavy Rain like an emotional rollercoaster. or if they can contribute to put him in the character’s shoes. I wanted to reiterate that storytelling is something that can improve any game experience. Please briefly summarize what your goals were for your talk at this year’s GDC. especially— and that was certainly the main challenge of the game. whatever we call it. the player will share what the character feels. it will only become better if you that storytelling is something that can improve any game experience. It takes me a lot of time to prepare everything because I need to decide what the key themes I absolutely need to talk about are amongst zillions of things I would like to share… Now that many people have had a chance to play the game. Many codes could be borrowed from literature or films. I thought it would be interesting for the audience to hear the key concepts behind the unusual game design of the game. sometimes unpleasant. I also wanted to give concrete examples of how these concepts were used to write a scene. Once this connection is established.to play and meaningful if they could tell the player something about his character.” David Cage “I wanted to reiterate . identification or empathy. an experience where the player would go through very different emotions.
but all these people love cinema or watch TV series. Our parents don’t play. we will need to reconsider what we do and how we do it. thank you for your time.add solid characterization and a good storyline. How can we get them interested in interactivity? You can give them Wii Fit or Farmville. we all have friends who have no interest in video games. another industry trend and frequently discussed hot topic at GDC 25 was the social games debate. As Andrew Pfister puts it: “There were no definitive answers. Looking forward at the future of the industry. but this is the truth… If we want to expand. but it is still far less than Farmville for example (more than 80 million units).” Andrew Pfister The question this industry needs to ask itself is whether having one game selling 20 million units is a valid business model for all. our wives “There were no don’t play. we will remain a niche market limited to teenagers. David Cage. and reaching out to an adult audience. but plenty of intriguing questions. If our industry continues to create exclusively violent games where the main activity is to kill as many enemies as possible to get to the boss and go to the next level. There are many others. Storytelling is one possible way to achieve this. the better. Any creator’s goal is to trigger emotions. the better the experience is. we must explore other directions. one of the most interesting places to hear a variety of different voices and opinions about the social games debate was at the GDC roundtable “No Freaking Respect! 51 . but plenty of intriguing questions.” Undoubtedly. It may be true for a certain audience. we are a niche market targeting mainly young teenagers with violent games and teenage themes. definitive answers. Some creators still think today that the more bullets and special effects they have. or you can conceive experiences that will be appealing to this larger audience. I believe that one way to make them want to play is to give them experiences based on storytelling and offer some level of sophistication and depth. which is great too. our grandparents don’t play. This is great. instead of focusing on our traditional ultra hardcore audience. but it is much less than Wii Sports for example (60 million units). We are not a mainstream media. knowing that most games sell less than 1 million units worldwide. but if we want to expand our market and convince other people to play. This is not my vision for the future of our industry. but still much less than a blockbuster movie like Avatar for example. but this is the one that felt the most logical and natural to me. The more intense. complex and varied the emotions are. Which is great again. I know this is not a very popular thing to say in our industry. In your speech you frequently mentioned a focus on adult themes. Storytelling can bring a new level of emotion in any game and make the experience interesting to a wider audience. There are many ways of triggering complex emotions beyond just adrenaline and fear. and try to imagine ways to convince the vast majority of non-gamers in the world to join us. Why do you think it’s important to make such a strong distinction? Can a similar effect be accomplished using different themes or gameplay methods? One of the most successful hardcore games in our industry sold 20 million units (Call of Duty).
I remember when graphics started to replace text. and an absolutely endless series of button mashes – Fight. and I resist the will 52 . “Games aren’t meant to be played like that. at the age of 15—delivered an incredibly powerful speech during the Social Game Developers Rant.” He had heard about Wizardry. it begins in 1981. it or this magazine will change how you think about video games and the people who develop them. because we loved games. not this game. to me. Brenda Brathwaite. Many of these people have stories that I believe are worth telling. but it was a reflection of the time we were in. Below you will find Brenda Brathwaite’s speech in all of its unedited glory. They didn’t. I resist its leading title. Parry. Parry. The entire game had maybe three puzzles in it. We have been through this before. For me. She touches on something that I believe has been a critical point throughout this magazine: a love of games. Hopefully. It was a challenging time. It wasn’t social like D&D was. They love to make games. they love to create. games would be nothing more than meaningless images incapable of transmitting any deep type of play. you and me. without interacting with any other human beings. Everyone in the video game development industry has a strong passion for what they do. “You’re ruining games. one of the industry’s most respected game designers—who entered the industry in 1981.Social Game Developers Rant Back”. you know.” My Dungeons & Dragons DM said this to me when I started working at Sir-tech Software on the Wizardry series of games. We stood together. how I could create 6 characters and take them on an Apple II adventure. Parry. and we didn’t. I remember when cutscenes first appeared in I resist this rant. and we worried that the game’s deeper meaning would be lost. and getting to meet so many of these passionate developers (and writers) throughout this process has been a truly amazing experience. never mind the feared complete loss of story. but we didn’t have mice on our machines back then. to fight. These are the real people and stories behind game development. They called us evil and said our games promoted Satanism. I remember lamenting the loss of the text parser and absolutely railing against keyword conversations because. I will not turn against my fellow developers who have supported me through 30 years of my career. what you have just read is what I hope to be the first of many more to come. It would have been a clickfest. and that soon. Working on this magazine. it wasn’t even particularly intellectually challenging. I remember people writing letter after letter after letter when they found the Lesser Demons and Greater Demons that haunted the lower levels of the maze. they dumbed down the whole game to the level of toast. Fight. Fight.
” Brenda Brathwaite foolish characters in front of the world. legislators have tried to class games with drugs as “harmful substances” in order to prohibit their sale. More recently. We’ve been called murder simulators. and that same year in front of the same Congress. there are nipples. most of us. God forbid. even if you can’t actually ever see them through normal gameplay. you and me. Thanks to a bunch of concerned legislators. When the powers that be asked us to work a little bit more. rape simulators. taking the game out of the hands of the player. you remember these things. In this very state. Then DOOM was released and blamed for Columbine and every police officer stopped asking. rape simulators. It seems so quaint now. and that games didn’t shoot people. insensitive and horrible. the ripping out of your opponent’s heart. sex simulators. Mortal Kombat and Night Trap were dragged to the floor of Congress in 1993. sex simulators. because we love games. we supported one another.games and we committed the cardinal sin. even if they just sat there waiting for it to pass. I remember these things. because they revealed that underneath a woman’s bra. because we knew that games were games. “Did he listen to Ozzy Osbourne. When seven days a “We’ve been called murder simu- .” and instead wondered. then a lot more and then seven days a week. and subjected to over 100 new pieces of legislation in response. I remember when we really started having fun and players were slapping each other silly in arcades and at home in Mortal Kombat. Some game developers made really bad games about sex and explored its frontiers. I remember these things. because we loved games. you remember these things. and the term “Hot Coffee” no longer referred to a steaming hot beverage but a steaming pile of shit as the game industry was once again threatened. because we loved games. We stood together. Fox News called Mass Effect a virtual sex simulator. Sega and Nintendo fought each other like two lators. Real guns and real bullets did. re-rated. We stood together. because we wanted to show something cool and wow them. And I remember Elder Scrolls getting re-rated. “Did he play GTA [Grand Theft Auto]?”. I remember when a cut feature was found and hacked. insensitive and horrible.
I have witnessed decisions made not for fun but for fortune. know that we look upon the very same horizon and see a great space of possibility. and for our families. the Marines storming the beach to take our medium. because we love games. because we are our players. and forwarded her call to everyone we knew. And these game developers here on the stage? We are not like them. and players churned and burned. we fought against allowing console game developers admission and vigorously debated letting our beloved CGDC become merely the GDC. I know the things that are upsetting to you. I hope you will someday be the occupying force. I have seen things I never want to see again. for our hours. for our companies. They do not care about fun. violence against women. And as you look upon these games and curse them. I remember the horrible month of September 2001 when flight simulators were blamed for the horror that was 9/11. We stood together. we did everything we could in public and behind the scenes to fight against the people in suits and for our games. We are not the ones making what some of you call “evil games” but rather the first fucking wave. They do not care about games. you and me. and we want hardcore. you and me. too. our creativity. I remember when on the floor of this very conference. we want compelling experiences. They do not care about players. They are not one of us or from us. These people do not care about gameplay.week turned to months and sometimes months turned to years. And then we moved to Facebook. hate crimes. Racism. I have seen them exploit technology and new platforms not for the purpose of crafting beautiful creative works but rather taking the audience for all they can get. I wondered what their definition of “addictive” was. children. We want to make a great game for the 43-year-old Facebook Mom. When they came for our products. because— damn it—she deserves a great game. I have seen the strip miners and their entry into games. And you know what? I dislike them just as much as you. and they do not understand this contract that we’ve had with our players since 1978. and our potential back. I’d returned from a morning spent volunteering at an alcohol detox center. EA Spouse. I have seen games gutted. we stood behind a lone courageous voice. because we love games. we want casual. we want good gameplay. and I can assure you they are also upsetting to me. and animals: all of these have been our burdens to bear. We stood together. 54 . and we do not come from that world. but rather from another space. I remember when I first heard games called “addictive”. Like you. our culture.
THANK YOU. YOU AND ME. Brenda Brathwaite . BECAUSE WE LOVE GAMES.WE STAND TOGETHER.
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