Dave Grossman is an adventure game legend. While at LucasArts he wrote and programmed The Secret of Monkey Island and Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge together with Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer. He later co-designed Day of the Tentacle. Now at Telltale Games, Dave's focus is on episodic gaming - releasing games as episodes in TV series fashion. And he's turning his adventure game talent towards the quintessentially British animated show Wallace & Gromit, having already dished out the episodic treatment to Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People and Sam & Max for Wii and PC. Not only that, but Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures, due out this spring, will be Telltale's first Xbox LIVE Arcade game. Here, in an exclusive interview, Grossman dishes the dirt on how the game will work on the 360, answers questions on his old games and tells us why he wouldn't change a thing. For more information, be sure to check out the official website.
VideoGamer.com: Wallace & Gromit is coming out on XBLA as well as PC. How will it translate to XBLA?
Dave Grossman: We designed it specifically for the Xbox. So there is a new control system, which is a little bit different to our usual one. It's just a little better integrated with the Xbox controller.
VideoGamer.com: We're used to moving a cursor around in a fairly traditional point and click style way with Telltale's games on PC and Wii. How will it work with the 360 pad? Will you move the cursor with a thumb stick?
DG: No, you will for driving the characters but there's a different kind of a system for interacting with objects on screen. It's a little bit of a hybrid system that I think probably works better than either the traditional method right now on the Xbox or the old method.
VideoGamer.com: How exactly will the control system work?
DG: You'll essentially use the two thumb sticks, one to drive the character and then the other one lets you fly around between selectable objects on the screen. You point in the thing's direction, so you're not moving a cursor, it's a little more organic than that. And then you use a button to select things.
VideoGamer.com: What can you tell us about the plot?
DG: Each episode has its own standalone story and they fit together so it's more rewarding to play the entire series, but each one does wrap up on its own. The first one is Wallace has got this crazy new idea where he's got a honey delivery business, keeping bees in his cellar to produce the honey. Things get out of control as usual. He winds up essentially invaded by giant bees. It becomes maybe a cross between a World War II film and a comedy.
VideoGamer.com: Where did the idea for that come from? Did you dream that up yourself?
DG: Yes, we spent a lot of time actually pitching plot ideas at each other and at Aardman. There was a lot of back and forth early in the process. It was internal but with help from outside.
VideoGamer.com: What kind of involvement has Aardman had in the development of the game?
DG: It's basically feedback on many levels, actually. They've been helping us from the beginning just to make sure everything fits into the Wallace & Gromit universe. It's a very specific style of humour, the look of the characters and the nature of the kinds of things that will happen, of course. So we would come up with a hell of a lot of ideas and run them past them and they would say something we wouldn't expect, like Wallace would never say that, Wallace would never do that. So it's been productive for us to be working with them, and the look and the feel of the game is markedly improved as a result.
VideoGamer.com: How would you describe the British sense of humour?
DG: More specifically the Wallace sense of humour, is kind of loony, but friendly, small town sense of humour and it's based more on the quibbles of the characters than on the things that they might say. The things that we're used to from Sam & Max are a more sardonic kind of humour. That's not really what Wallace & Gromit's about.
VideoGamer.com: How big is Wallace & Gromit in the States?
DG: I think it's not quite as huge as it is over there. It's certainly popular. I'm hard pressed to find people who have never heard of it. The new film's not out over here yet, we're a little behind. It's definitely the biggest thing we've ever worked on in terms of the sheer popularity.
VideoGamer.com: What attracted you to Wallace & Gromit? What makes it ripe for a Telltale game?
DG: Well, what I didn't say about it is Wallace & Gromit is particularly popular with animation geeks, and there are a lot of those here. I think we have a higher percentage of Wallace & Gromit fans in the studio than the general populace. So we all like it to begin with. When we're looking for a license to work on, we look for something that's going to lend itself to the gameplay we're good at. With Wallace & Gromit you've got situations where, Wallace does things that wind up getting him into more trouble, solving one problem then causing another, and then Gromit gets him out of it. And that really lends itself a lot to the style of gameplay that we use.
VideoGamer.com: I understand Wallace & Gromit will be much more character driven than your previous games. How will that translate to players?
DG: Yeah, Wallace does a lot of the talking for you. You can play actually as both Wallace & Gromit in the game. Wallace gets to talk a little more. Like our other games you enter a theme where there is a character and you will be involved with the dialogue with them. We're pushing that a little bit so it's going on the whole time you're in the scene as opposed to just when you walk up to the character and talk to them. It's a little more proactive I guess about hollering at you as you walk by and getting your attention.
VideoGamer.com: What will the puzzles be like? Is the game aimed at younger gamers or is it being developed for your average Xbox 360 owner?
DG: It's definitely not aimed at a younger audience. I would think that a younger player would be able to get through it. Our general approach is to present the puzzle and let you knock around in it for a little while, but if it seems like you're not getting it then more and more information makes itself available. Part of our general philosophy is we do want people to finish the game eventually, even if you have to work things out.
VideoGamer.com: What are your favourite puzzles or scenes in the game?
DG: There's a part later in the game where you've got some bees that are getting in the way and Gromit has to figure out how to trap them. You have to set up an elaborate trap and that's something that feels right to Wallace & Gromit, the idea of contraptions.
VideoGamer.com: When is the game coming out?
DG: Soon! Sometime in the spring.
VideoGamer.com: Will it be released on XBLA and PC simultaneously?
DG: That's still TBD. We don't know yet.
VideoGamer.com: Do you know how many MS Points it's going to cost?
DG: We don't know that yet either. I think it'll be in line with the other series that we've done. We haven't done games on XBLA before but on our website we sell episodes for $9. I think it's going to be in that same range.
VideoGamer.com: This is your first XBLA game. How have you found developing for the platform?
DG: The download size limit is pretty big actually, compared to the size of what our games usually are, because we do them episodically. So that was actually pretty comfortable. The graphic support is really good. It was a little strange to have to come up with a new control scheme, but I'm really happy with what we did come up with.
VideoGamer.com: Why did you decide to make this game for XBLA when your previous games have been on the Wii on the console side?
DG: We'd actually like to see them on all the download channels. It's always been in our plans to do something for Xbox LIVE. The graphic capabilities of the Xbox are a lot stronger, and we took advantage of that to really get the Claymation look. Xbox is a little easier because we had already done a CSI game that came out not for XBLA but on the Xbox.
VideoGamer.com: How many episodes are you going for with Wallace & Gromit?
DG: We're going for a four episode series. They're a little beefier than what we've had per episode before. The season as a whole will probably be about the same size as the previous games.
VideoGamer.com: How many hours do you think an average gamer will get out of each episode?
DG: It'll probably be four, five or six. We've done play tests and most people are done within six hours.
VideoGamer.com: And what kind of gap are you looking at in between the episodes?
DG: That's also TBD.
VideoGamer.com: Are the original voice actors involved in this project?
DG: Peter Sallis was not available for this, but we did what Aardman does, actually. They have an understudy who handles everything Peter can't do. So if you have a talking alarm clock or something it would be his voice on there. And as it turns out, he's really good! So we're working with him. The entire voice cast is actually British and we're flying people over to go handle the recording sessions in England at a studio that Aardman recommended. We're using as much of their infrastructure that we can.
VideoGamer.com: Would you say that the average gamer won't know the difference?
DG: Probably not!
VideoGamer.com: On a more general note, the adventure genre seems to be enjoying a renaissance of sorts. Why do you think these games are becoming more popular now when they haven't been for so long?
DG: Maybe people are tired of games without story. I think storytelling in general is becoming more important to new gamers.
VideoGamer.com: Would you argue that most "next-gen" style games have crap stories?
DG: I might be tempted to argue that! Compared with movies and even television, you find a lot of good stories. Games are behind the line on that.
VideoGamer.com: I've read Telltale described as the world's premier episodic game developer. Is it the future? Are traditional triple-A games dying?
DG: I think it's a future, it's probably not the future. I think you certainly won't see episodic going away by any means. I think there's room for those things to coexist. Kind of like the blockbuster versus indie film versus television kind of a thing. Not everybody can afford a $50 million movie and have a giant production. There's room for smaller projects. I think also episodic gaming is bringing something interesting to the table that isn't there in your blockbuster games that only come out every few years. It gives you a little more opportunity to delve into the character and explore, whereas if you only see somebody once every three years you don't get to know them that well.
VideoGamer.com: On a personal front, what licenses are out there that you'd love to do something with?
DG: Lots of stuff! Obviously I'm not going to talk about anything that we're really interested in!. I've always liked Veronica Mars (US TV series).
VideoGamer.com: What do think of the idea of going back to classic adventure games and doing Director's Cuts like Revolution is doing with Broken Sword? Is that something you'd fancy doing with some of the classic adventure games that you worked on?
DG: No. You know, people are always asking me if there's anything about those games that I would change and I always say that although there are things that are wrong with them, they aren't things that I would want to change. Part of the charm for me is where the warts are. I like them just like they are.
VideoGamer.com: So if the opportunity arose for Telltale to perhaps bring Monkey Island for example to the Wii or the DS or XBLA, would you take it? Or would you rather they were kept as fond memories?
DG: It would be cool to play it on the Wii, for instance! I don't know that I would really change much of anything, though.
VideoGamer.com: Where do the rights lie to those intellectual properties, is that LucasArts still?
VideoGamer.com: If LucasArts knocked on your door as said please do a Wii or downloadable version of Monkey Island of Day of the Tentacle, you wouldn't say no?
DG: I would think about it. In a way it's like an old girlfriend calling me up out of the blue.
VideoGamer.com: What about the idea of doing brand new Money Island or Day of the Tentacle games? Would it be the same sort of thing or would it be a different feeling for you, do you think?
DG: Well sure it wouldn't be exactly the same. I mean, for one thing I was in my twenties then and I'm in my forties now. I'm not the same person as I was back then. It would be almost like working with somebody else's intellectual property.
VideoGamer.com: LucasArts is just sitting on these games, it's doing nothing with them. I'm sure fans have been banging down their door trying to get them to do something with them.
DG: Yeah, and that's nothing new. People have been clamouring them about that for about 15 years now. More in some cases.
VideoGamer.com: Bringing it back to Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures, some Xbox 360 owners might be looking at this game with the same scepticism they do with other movie-licensed games. Are they going to enjoy Wallace & Gromit as much as Sam & Max and your other adventure games?
DG: Oh yeah, absolutely. We're not the kind of company that just takes a movie license and knocks out schlock. We care about the quality. We care about the characters and the story and the gameplay. We studied the film very closely, we even tried to ape the Aardman camera work. I don't think any of our existing fans will be disappointed in any way.
The first episode of Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures is due out to download on Xbox LIVE Arcade and PC this spring.