Telltale Games caused quite a stir amongst the gaming world when it first revealed its plans to resurrect the Sam & Max franchise. Then upon securing a license to become a Wii developer, long-term fans starting putting two-and-two together. Now the company has its first Wii game under its belt in the form of CSI and Cubed� decided to catch up with the team to discuss various different subjects�
Cubedł's Adam Riley: First of all, can you please tell us how long you have been working on the CSI project for Wii and what was the reasoning behind bringing such a game to the system?
Mark Darin: When we were nearly finished with the PC version of CSI: Hard Evidence, Ubisoft re-evaluated the game and took notice of all the improvements we had made to the gameplay, graphics, and cinematic presentation. They decided that this game was ready to release to a wider market and that the Nintendo Wii and Xbox 360 would be good fits. The Wii was a natural choice because its unique control system would allow players to feel as if they were actually using the forensic tools in a more natural way.
Greg Land: It’s been about five months since we started shifting to put CSI4 on the Wii. The Ubisoft executives made the decision after seeing the PC version, and they knew a large release that coincided with the launch of the TV show would be a good thing, so that was the goal we worked towards. I believe the Wii audience was also particularly appealing, since they both are a more diverse and more casual gaming market.
AR: How does this new version of CSI differ from previous versions you have worked on? And how will the Wii controller be used for the interface?
MD: This is the first CSI game that I have worked on, but I was in charge of redesigning the interface for the console release. The first thing that players familiar to the previous games will notice is that the interface has been overhauled to be less cluttered and easier to navigate while graphically looking more modern and appealing. The Wii controller will be used to intuitively navigate menus, search crime scenes for evidence, and use the forensic collection and detection tools in a more realistic manner than has been possible in the past.
GL: Our initial goals were to improve the presentation throughout the game, and to make the cases sexier and more edgy. The extra time allowed an extra level of polish to the product, and I think the fans will notice the difference immediately. Another difference players will notice is the re-addition of bonus items. There are a few other fun gameplay additions and surprises. As Mark said, the interface was well overdue for an overhaul and thanks to him and our artists it is absolutely gorgeous and very intuitive now.
AR: How close to the TV show will CSI4 be and does it relate to any particular story line that has already taken place or has a new story been concocted especially for this game?
MD: CSI: Hard Evidence uses the likenesses of the main characters in the TV series, and most of the TV voices. We also use the trademark CSI crime reconstruction videos and music from the show. We paid close attention to lighting, cinematography and overall presentation of the episodes and matched those as closely as possible. Hard Evidence features brand new storylines and crimes, some of which were inspired by actual case files.
GL: It's always been a goal for us at Telltale to make something as close to the show as possible. The presentation improvements Mark mentioned really helped achieve the look and feel of the show. Early in production we got to work with some of the actual writers of the series, to develop our cases. Their feedback was invaluable. We also worked closely with Daniel Holstein, one of the show�s technical advisors, to foster more ideas and ensure the authenticity of our processing. Max Collins, writer of the CSI novels, was also on-board again to ensure our dialogue was true to the show.
AR: If this proves successful, do you see this being just the start of CSI on Wii? Will we end up with lots more CSI action on the system?
MD: The CSI games are great mysteries and appeal to all kinds of gamers who enjoy the challenge of crime solving. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more CSI games on all platforms!
AR: On a different note, LucasArts is notoriously tough to negotiate with when it comes to acquiring their licenses. Considering this, what were some of the hurdles involved in obtaining the Sam & Max intellectual property?
GL: Actually I think we got really lucky in how things worked out. Steve Purcell owns the rights to Sam & Max. LucasArts had a contract to make a game based on the characters within a certain timeframe. When they didn't release one, their contract to use the license expired. Since Steve already knew many people from Telltale, some of whom he had worked with at LucasArts and some who had been working on the Sam & Max game that LucasArts cancelled, he was very interested in licensing Sam & Max games to us.
AR: And how about the chances of acquiring any other dormant adventure game licenses?
GL: I can’t speak to the chances, but I agree it would be great for everyone if we were to get one of those old licenses. I was fortunate enough to work on Full Throttle 2 for a while before it got cancelled, and it was probably the most fun I had at LucasArts!
AR: What sector of the market do you see the Wii being aimed at? Do you feel more cartoon-oriented titles are best suited, or can more serious games (such as CSI) appeal to the Wii audience?
GL: I absolutely think CSI will appeal to the Wii audience. Nintendo aims at expanding its audience as much as possible. The Wii seems targeted toward a more social and family experience, so that appeals to all ages of both men and women. CSI is also a great game to play on your couch with a friend or loved one.
AR: Have fans been clamouring for more than just the possible conversion of Sam & Max on Wii lately? Perhaps either Bone or Ankh?
Emily Morganti: If there's one thing fans are good at, it's clamouring! We have heard loud and clear that fans want our games on consoles. Besides Sam & Max on the Wii, which is a very popular request, we also get a lot of questions about DS ports. There are a lot of DS owners at Telltale and we'd all love to see our games ported to the DS, but because of the platform's capabilities and the unique nature of the dual screens and touchpad, porting a PC game to DS is not as straightforward as doing a Wii or Xbox port like we did for CSI. There are a lot of PC games being ported to DS and we're watching closely to see how those developers do it and how the games turn out.
Actually, it's funny you mention Ankh, since that's an adventure game that will be getting a DS port in the near future. (We sell Ankh from our site, but it's not a game we developed.) We're really excited to see what it's like, because from a technical standpoint, Ankh is very similar to our own games. Also CSI: Dark Motives is coming out for the DS soon. This is not a CSI game we worked on, and it's in 2D, not 3D like our CSI games, so the technical considerations are a bit different than they would be if we attempted to port one of our own CSI games to the DS. Still, it'll be really interesting to see how that port turns out, and it might influence our own opinions about whether or not DS ports are something Telltale should pursue down the road.
AR: When it comes to using Wii controls for a point-and-click adventure, how do you propose it could be used to its full extent? I previously wrote a piece about how a scene from the latest Broken Sword could work with the Wii-mote does this sort of usage appeal, or would mere pointing and clicking suffice, do you feel?
EM: If you're just developing for the Wii, the sky's the limit when it comes to mimicking real-life movement. But if you're doing simultaneous development for the Wii and the PC or other consoles or if you're porting a PC game to the Wii, there start to be constraints. In general, whether it's a port or a Wii-only game I think that in a story-driven game, the Wiimote's usage needs to support and advance the story. We're big advocates of gameplay that fits well with the story as opposed to puzzles that are stuck in the game for the sake of giving the player something to do. The Wiimote has a lot of potential for giving developers new ways to tell interactive stories, but it also has the potential to turn into a crutch if it's only used for its novelty value.
I haven't played the latest Broken Sword game, but I saw it demoed at E3 a couple of years ago so I know the scene you're talking about. The ways you've described using the remote in that particular scene all sound good, but on the flip side, I wouldn't want it to turn into a situation where the actions are too hard for the player to figure out or the player is left unsure of what they're supposed to be doing. Also, endless possibilities are great for a player but not so great for a development team who has to imagine all of those possibilities, programme them, and test them�particularly in a port of a PC game that was originally designed for different hardware and a different controller.
AR: What are you thoughts on Bill Tiller and Autumn Moon Entertainment�s current project, A Vampyre Story?
MD: Looks like a fantastic game. I can't wait to play it!
AR: Late last year, Cubed3 interviewed Bill about the possibility of seeing AVS on Wii and/or DS, to which he responded extremely positively. With the innovative control input methods of both systems, do you think they could be the platforms to re-ignite the popularity of adventure games?
EM: No one platform is going to reignite the popularity of adventure games. That's only going to happen if developers consistently release good adventure games. Games that focus on story can sometimes be more expensive to produce than other genres, and there's no question that some publishers think they're more risky than other genres, which means adventure game developers need to come up with new strategies that make sense from a business standpoint. Console development is often even more expensive than PC development, which makes it tough for any console to be the "saviour" of the adventure genre.
Episodic distribution is enabling us to come out with these types of games, and the consoles offer some attractive possibilities for episodic releases. In that sense, yes, the consoles will probably help bring story-driven games into the limelight more than they have been for the last several years. On the retail side, I think we'll probably see more ports than original adventure titles for a while, because of the costs and risks associated with retail releases, and as I mentioned earlier, porting a PC game doesn't always give you the freedom to use the consoles' unique features. At the end of the day, what's really going to "save" these types of games is the release of good ones and exposure to a wide audience, and the Wii and DS definitely create opportunities in both of these areas.
AR: Other than straight game development for Wii, Nintendo has now unveiled the WiiWare service. What are your thoughts on this particular approach, and would you consider taking this route at all - maybe for episodic content?
GL: WiiWare is definitely an exciting opportunity. It fits in perfectly with Telltale’s goals so I wouldn’t be surprised at all if we do something for it.
AR: Just out of pure interest as an adventure game fan, would you ever consider contacting other prominent adventure game developers to work in conjunction on a new project (the likes of Charles Cecil and the team at Revolution Software, or even Bill Tiller and AME)?
EM: Sure! For obvious reasons we have a lot of contact with former LucasArts employees (in fact, we keep hiring them: Chuck Jordan and Justin Chin are two of our newest additions), but we'd consider working with any good designer whose work and design vision is in line with what we're doing at Telltale.
AR: - Now LucasArts' contract for Sam & Max has expired, does this mean Telltale Games has picked up the rights to older Sam & Max titles?
EM: Nope. As I understand it, LucasArts was under contract to create a new Sam & Max video game within a certain period of time. When that didn�t happen, the rights to make a game reverted back to Steve Purcell. This doesn�t change anything for Hit the Road, since LucasArts still owns that game.
AR: Given how well Runaway 2 works on DS, what are your thoughts on bringing the older, 2D Sam & Max titles to the portable system?
EM: Sam & Max Hit the Road (and several other old LucasArts titles) can already be played on the DS using ScummVM, and they play pretty well! I personally think it would be great if LucasArts ported some of those classics to the DS. The same goes for the old Sierra games. As PC and other, non-handheld consoles have evolved, a lot of the older graphic adventures have been left behind because they can’t compete graphically, but that doesn’t mean they’re not great games. A lot of them are really timeless and I think porting those oldies to the DS could introduce them to a whole new audience - one that doesn’t necessarily see the games as inferior to other current releases, since they would make very good use of the DS's capabilities.