Overlord surprised a lot of people on its release on Xbox 360, with its tongue-in-cheek story and RTS-like gameplay proving to be quite a success. After appearing on the PlayStation 3 in 2008 it's time for Wii and DS owners to get a taste of the minion-controlling fun. We caught up with Associate Producer Dean Scott to ask him about all the important issues - like if you can use the Wii Remote to kick the jester minion.
VideoGamer.com: When did work on Wii and DS versions of Overlord begin and was there ever a thought to simply try and port over the 360 game?
Dean Scott: We've been working on the Nintendo games since late 2007. We never considered a port, because we wanted to make bespoke Overlord games tailored to each platform. There are enough ports on Wii that don't make the most of the hardware, and we didn't just want to 'cut and shut' the control system in there. The way our levels have to be built is very different to on the original Xbox 360 game. And anyway, there's no 'save as Nintendo Wii' command on our magic game-making machine.
The Wii game is set before the first 360 game, and has an all-new story taking in classic fairytales and twisting them around. A bit of Cinderella, bit of Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, rampaging gingerbread men, and an army of minions intent on tearing it all to bits.
VideoGamer.com: The Wii seems like a great console for a game like Overlord. How has Dark Legend been designed to make the most of the Wii's control options?
DS: The pointer gives you a more tangible connection with the game world. It's the physicality and intuitiveness of Wii games that really draws people in, so you have to make that the starting point. So the player moves an on-screen pointer to command the minions: sweeping them around to break things and pointing directly at things they want to attack and interact with. Because you can aim anywhere, we give the player FPS-style control over where they're shooting off magic attacks and the like. Because of this connection, the player feels more like they *are* the Overlord. It really draws them into the experience.
Then we've got the throttle feature. The Overlord can snatch a minion up by its throat, and shake it around by waggling the Wii Remote. That charges the minion up and they start giggling maniacally, before you drop them down and they run off at an enemy and explode. Sort of a heat-seeking, suicide bomber with sharp teeth and bad breath. It's great fun. It'll bring people together, through a minion being blown apart.
VideoGamer.com: For anyone who's played Overlord on Xbox 360 or PS3, what do you think will be the biggest difference they'll notice when playing the Wii game?
DS: The Wii controls really add a new dimension to moving the minions around. It feels like the way Overlord was meant to be played, in my opinion. The core gameplay is Overlord as they know it. There's always the temptation with Wii games to stick big heads in, cel-shade it, and make it a mini-game collection. But we wanted to make a hardcore Overlord game. We weren't going to sell out what made the first game cool because there is this perceived wisdom of what Wii gamers want. I'm a Wii gamer: I don't want Wii Sports again. I've got that. It was with the console. I want something new and interesting, and something that's going to appeal to me as a gamer. And I don't think I'm alone in that. I hope I'm not anyway.
VideoGamer.com: The next-gen versions weren't slouches visually. Obviously the Wii isn't as powerful, so have you had to make any cutbacks in terms of level size or the number of characters/minions on screen at once?
DS: Overlord Dark Legend looks amazing. When people see this game in motion, they are going to be seriously impressed. It sounds like such a lame cliché to say "it looks like the 360 version", but that's true. Not exactly, but it's closer than we ever imagined possible on the platform. Quote me, and hold me up to internet ridicule if that's not the case. Of course we've made some changes to get that level of fidelity on the Wii, but the guys at Climax have been very clever with it. In terms of looks, it blows away just about everything else I've seen on Wii.
I'm not going to share the secrets of how we made that possible, the Climax art ninjas will take that to their graves. Or they might swap it for the recipes for KFC and Coke. Seasoned Overlord gamers won't get the feeling that there's something missing when they play this, and that's the important thing.
VideoGamer.com: The Wii is a social console, with lots of people playing with their friends while sat on the same couch. What multiplayer functionality have you built into the Dark Legend on Wii?
DS: Overlord is not Wii Sports. This is not a game you're sitting down to play with your grandmother. Like I was saying earlier, making Overlord Party wasn't what we were trying to do. We haven't dumbed any part of the game down to pander to this perceived idea of a legion of idiot gamers that can't handle anything more serious than shaking a remote and pressing one button as the game plays itself. And also, how would we make that work in the Overlord universe? The whole conceit of the game is that there is this ONE chosen guy that is going to take over the world. You can't then decide there are two, three or four. And would you want to play co-op as a minion? You go where the Overlord says, you fight a Halfling, and you might get killed. You'd get to wear some brilliant hats, though. No, we were focused on delivering a compelling single-player game. I'm not having a go at VideoGamer.com here - it's a fun website read by winners - I'm having a go at stereotypes. DAMN YOU, STEREOTYPES! A game can be single-player only and be good on the Wii.
VideoGamer.com: So you didn't take opportunity to use the series' tongue in cheek humour to include any fun mini-games? We can see potential in a jester kicking mini-game, for example.
DS: Oh no. You went there again. There are no mini-games, for the reasons I talked about earlier. Does that mean Dark Legend isn't funny? No it does not. We've got the same scriptwriter and voice actors on board from the Xbox 360, so the humour is consistent. The minions themselves are hilarious enough. Imagine reaching into your horde during a chaotic battle and pulling out... a minion in a sombrero with a stuck-on Mexican moustache. You send him off to attack, and he jumps up onto a zip wire and slides along it to kick a bandit right in the face so he flies off a ledge yelping. We had enough humour in the gameplay without feeling like mini-games were required.
Funny you should mention the jester minion, though. He's in there. As the Wii game is a prequel of sorts to the Xbox 360 game, we explain how the jester minion came to be. That sort of attention to detail will let fans know this is a credible Overlord game. But for people that don't get the reference, it's still an amusing little maniac in a hat with bells on.
VideoGamer.com: Moving onto the DS game, Minions. Surely trying to squeeze what made Overlord great fun onto the handheld hasn't been easy?
DS: We took an entirely different approach. Rather than try to make the established idea of 'Overlord' work on DS, we decided to make a DS design that would work and fit the Overlordness around that. It's an important distinction. The gameplay is very different to on the Wii. Minions is more of a puzzle game with action elements. The pace is slower, it's less chaotic, and it focuses on four different-coloured minions only. The player *is* the Overlord, so there's no Overlord on screen. Your stylus swipes move the minions around, again giving the player a tangible connection to the world and making him feel in control.
Every decision we took was geared around making the best DS game we could for the franchise. We loved the old 16-bit platformer Lost Vikings, and knew that kind of multi character gameplay would suit Minions perfectly. The different minions have different abilities, and we use them to layer puzzles as they co-operate to get through the levels. Puzzle elements took a back seat in the original game, and we wanted to bring those to the fore to give the DS game a personality all of its own.
On a basic level, the red minion might light green minion's fart to blow open a blocked doorway. But by the later levels, the interactions get really complex. There's a lot of fighting along the way, of course. The levels are teeming with Dwarves and Halflings for you to obliterate. You can send brown in first, stealth green in from the rear, hit them from afar with the red minion... it's a lot of fun. And if you take a beating, the blue minion can heal you.
VideoGamer.com: Have you tailored the game to a different audience or will Overlord fans enjoy the DS game as much as the home console versions?
DS: The minion abilities are as Overlord fans would expect. The other minions haven't learned to swim or anything like that, it's still just the blue guy. Brown is the toughest in combat, they'll get it right away. We've given them new abilities to expand the gameplay, but it all fits with the archetypes we've established. Green gets a noxious fart ability, brown can shift heavy blocks, that sort of thing.
We're not really aiming at a different audience. Again, we've used the same writer as the Wii and next-gen versions to ensure consistency of humour. We've deliberately broken the gameplay up into discrete levels, because we think that suits a DS game. There's no game-wide persistency to keep track of, no long treks between save points. Think Mario Vs Donkey Kong or Lemmings: each stage is a self-contained challenge, and when you crack that you're onto the next one.
VideoGamer.com: Do you have any plans to release a demo for the DS game via the demo channel on the Wii?
DS: It's not something we'll be doing before launch. We're just focused on getting the game out, that's perhaps something we'd look at afterwards.
VideoGamer.com: For fans, can they expect any new minions in either game and where do their stories fit in to the original game?
DS: The stories for the Wii and DS game are interlinked. So both are set before the events of the original game on 360. With that in mind, there would have been continuity issues in introducing new colours. How would we explain them not being in the original game? Just have a footnote at the end of each game: "P.S. And then the Overlord ate all the orange minions because they were yummy. The end." No, the established four types gave us plenty to work with.
The games are set before the original game, but some time passes between the end of the Wii game and the start of the original Overlord. We're introducing the idea that there have been a series of Overlords throughout time. In the same way as not every Link in a Zelda game is the same Link. But there are constants: the minion master Gnarl is once again present to advise the Overlord, and we have woven in lots of little strands to link the games together, like the jester minion stuff I mentioned earlier.
VideoGamer.com: Thanks for your time Dean.
Overlord: Dark Legend and Overlord Minions are due for release on Wii and DS respectively in the summer.