The TELLTALE Team TALKS ABOUT BONE
BY bECKY WAXMAN
Telltale Games was founded
recently by a group of developers that departed LucasArts to strike out on
their own. Their combined experience reads like a cornucopia stuffed full
of classic adventures -- The Monkey Island games, Full Throttle, Grim
Fandango. Their current mission: to create great new adventure games.
For their first adventure, Telltale has chosen to enter the world of graphic novelist Jeff Smith, creator of Bone. It’s a world of picaresque charm where friends are parted and terrors are brewing, yet even the smallest creature can be a hero.
GameBoomers talks to Telltale’s C.E.O. Dan Connors, Creative Director Graham Annable, and Designer Heather Logas about the first game in a multi-part series – this one based on the first Bone comic: Out From Boneville.
What is it about creating adventure games that made it worthwhile for your team to leave the security of LucasArts in order to found Telltale Games? As a smaller, independent development team, are you enjoying the freedom as well as the risks?
(Dan) With so many companies focused on the same types of games, all aimed at the same demographic, we saw an opportunity to reach an underserved market, and at the same time build content that The Telltale team is excited about. With all of the adventure game experience at the company, we have a good understanding of what is required to tell a good interactive story.
As an independent developer, we definitely have more freedom to try new things and innovate in the areas that we think are important. We recently launched “Telltale Texas Hold Em” which is basically a virtual personality game built around a poker table. Because of our size it is something we can build quickly and make available quickly and most importantly build off of.
What about Bone made it attractive to Telltale as a “universe” in which to create several games? Any idea as to why Jeff Smith (author of the graphic novels) chose a bone to be his chief protagonist?
(Heather) Bone has the things that make adventure games great: an interesting world to explore, fun and deep characters, and a great, adventure filled story. Even though it is a fantasy story, the characters are all very human (even the non-human ones) and it is easy for people to relate to them. According to interviews with Jeff, the Bones started out as characters that he drew in kindergarten. They developed personalities and he drew them in different little comics. They are characters that have been with him over the years. When he decided to publish his own comic, he decided to cast these characters in a big, epic fantasy story.
How will the graphics in Bone (the game) compare to the art style in Out From Boneville (the graphic novel)? Will you work with the same subtle palette which changes with each location?
(Graham) We’ve been studying the graphic novel very closely as we build each environment and character for the game. On some occasions we’ve pretty much stayed exact to the colors that Steve Hamaker has done and on others we’ve deviated slightly. All the decisions have been based on what we feel best accentuates the geometry created while still retaining the feel of the Bone comic. All the art has been shown to Jeff Smith for his approval to insure we’re keeping things in line with his vision. It’s been a very educational and rewarding process for Kim Lyons (environment artist) and me for sure!
Compare animating a bone to animating a human being.
(Graham) Animating the Bone cousins allows for more abstraction in their motion. Things can be a little more ‘punchy’ for timing and poses can be carried further to really help their emotions and actions read clearly. It’s the kind of stuff I think most animators live for, personally.
What is the most significant thing that can you do better in a game than in a graphic novel?
(Graham) The most significant thing I can think of is that the game grants the ability to the audience to choose its focus at any given place in the story. As a player you’re controlling the pace of how the events unfold and so there’s an opportunity to explore different moments from the main plot and gain a richer and more varied perspective on many of the characters.
What makes a good puzzle/challenge in a game like Bone? Should puzzles/challenges make the gamer empathize with the protagonist? Or help the gamer interact realistically with the environment? Or help advance the plot?
(Heather) Jeff’s work is fantastic as a comic, so when translating it to a game it is very important to think in terms of supporting the story Jeff has told, but at the same time making it a different experience than reading the comic. The challenges/obstacles in the game have to work on different levels: support the story, reinforce a sense of the characters, pull you deeper into the world, and also be fun for the player!
What percentage of the challenges will require using your reflexes?
(Heather) I try to let other people do math for me, so I don’t know if I can give you a percentage. But there is very little reflex-requiring gameplay. There is some, but not very much.
What have you done to make Bone attractive to both newbies and gaming veterans? To both young gamers and older gamers?
(Heather) Well, the convenient thing for us is that the story and characters themselves speak to both adults and kids, and really to a very wide variety of people. The challenge has been to make the game easy for new gamers to pick up, while still engaging to the under-served adventure game fan. To this end, we have been working on streamlining the interface and making it very easy to understand, and eliminating some of the obscure and tedious puzzling that plagued some of the late-golden-age adventure games. At the same time, I think the long-time adventure gamers will appreciate the dialog and challenges that the game offers.
How is creating a game with planned sequels different than creating a game that is stand-alone? How often are you planning to release the episodes? Will each individual game be a bit shorter than the typical adventure because of the episodic nature of the series? Are you considering nontraditional publishing methods (for instance, selling each episode through an online download)?
(Dan) The Bone story is already broken out into a series of nine books, and Scholastic will be releasing a new book every six months or so. So breaking the story up is something that has been done for us to some degree. We would like to have a new game with the launch of each book. The games will be 4 to 6 hours long and densely populated with great acting, music, interactions and gameplay.
We will be releasing the first Bone episode online from our website and through partners. Being able to approach the distribution non-traditionally is something that gives us the opportunity to build a game like Bone.
What is the projected release date for the first Bone game?
(Dan) Early Fall.