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Q&A With the Design Team

posted by Chuck on - last edited - Viewed by 4.8K users

Hello, honorary Freelance Police! Thanks for pre-ordering the game.

I'm Chuck Jordan, designer and writer of "The Penal Zone", the first episode of "The Devil's Playhouse." I'm also the guy responsible for making sure all the season's stories fit together in some semblance of order.

This thread is for your questions about the new season, as well as "Beyond Time and Space" and "Save the World," and general Sam & Max design-type stuff. I'll be starting out, and as we go on I'll try to rope in the other designers: Mike Stemmle, Andy Hartzell, Joe Pinney, and Dave Grossman.

I'll be answering your questions whenever I've got the time & know-how, with a super-bonus semi-live Q&A today (Monday Mar 15) from 2-3 PM.

So ask away!

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  • All right! Here goes ...

    1) If you could choose one episode from the previous seasons to revisit/recreate using the resources Telltale currently has at its disposal, which would it be? Why?

    2) The animation student/hobbyist in me is curious: As far as you can answer, how much of what's involved in creating an animated short or feature film translates into how you create games? Especially now that you're able to use a more cinematic approach?

    3) From what we know so far, The Devil's Playhouse is continuing a pattern we've seen in all of Sam & Max's incarnations -- Max gets to stumble onto and wield great power while Sam maintains something of a Badass Normal status (all minor deviations from which notwithstanding). If you could think of a good enough plot- or character-related reason to buck that trend in a major if non-permanent way, would you do it? Or do you guys think this particular dynamic is too important or intregal to tamper with?

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    Ben Telltale Staff

    How difficult is it to program for PC and Mac at the same time? I seem to remember someone saying back when TTG first started that it was like making the same game twice.

    What changed?

    Hey a question for me! As we've done games on the Wii and Xbox, our engine has gotten better and better about keeping platform specific code isolated. The Mac port definitely builds on the architectural work we've done for past platforms. I wasn't at Telltale at the time, but I hear the first non-PC game we did was quite painful.

  • [quote=Remolay]Were you going for any other strange animals before Skun Ka'pe[/quote]
    Telltale tries to be species-blind and cast whoever's best for the part, whether they're human or animal. General Skun-ka'pe is an evil intergalactic warlord who just happens to be a gorilla.

    [quote=Remolay]Is there any chance of an appearance by Mack Salmon?[/quote]
    There is if you truly believe in him!

    Actually, it's unlikely. Mack Salmon (and Commander Blip and the Rubber Pants Commandos, too) is a great character, but he kind of works best as a one-shot. They did a pretty good job bringing him back for an episode of the cartoon series, but in the games we're trying to hit a balance between hitting all the stuff you like from the comics and also introducing new stuff.

    [quote=Hassat Hunter]Apparently I am not keeping up with TTG too much. What's this horrible puzzle in 204 you guys were talking about?[/quote]
    I believe it's mentioned in one of the commentary tracks. The puzzle where you had to make young Max not like girls was originally intended to involve a game of spin-the-bottle. It was changed into a much better idea.

    [quote=Hassat Hunter]What locations of NYC will we get to see? Famous ones too?[/quote]
    Sam & Max avoid the touristy spots, but you can't have a game set in New York without running across some familiar locations.

    [quote=Hassat Hunter]Does the writer already include some puzzles, or get all of them added in afterwards? Or does the writer actually write story around puzzles already designed in the spinning session mentioned before?[/quote]
    Writing and design are more closely tied together at Telltale than a lot of other companies, since the games are so heavily story-based. Usually the writer and designer are the same person, or the writer is at least involved in the design meetings. We always (so far anyway) start with the story, and then try to figure out how the big story moments could break down into obstacles that the player can get solve.

    [quote=BenjaminHayden]I know that this is a very long ways off, but have you guys thought of doing a "Make-Up an Episode" contest for season 4 of Sam & Max? I only ask because some of the fans of the series might have some very weird/funny ideas for future episode that you guys might like to use.[/quote]
    Episode 1 of season 3 isn't due out for a while, so we haven't even begun to think of season 4. We'll probably think up some way to get the forums involved in season 3, although it can't be as huge as an entire episode since we've got the storyline pretty much wrapped up.

  • Playing on this last post, are there any plans to do linux ports of any of your games?

  • [quote=pwblaine]I've read on some previews that you're slightly changing the way we go about solving puzzles in this season over last, any chance of a little enlightenment on what that could mean?[/quote]
    It's probably in reference to Max's psychic powers. The idea is that a lot of adventure games work by having you collect a ton of stuff in your inventory and then making you figure out what each item's specific purpose is. In the new season, we're putting more emphasis on Max's powers -- there are fewer of them, but you know exactly how they work, and you can use them in multiple different ways.

    One example is Max's future vision power. He can use it on most characters and some objects to get a short scene showing their future. The idea is how does it change traditional adventure game puzzles if you get the solution first, and then have to work backwards from that?

    [quote=pwblaine]I've also seen that we have more control over max in this version does that mean we'll possibly be seeing a switch character control button in the regular environment vs just in dialog?[/quote]
    At just about any point of the game, you can hit a button and switch control from Sam to Max (and vice versa). In Max mode, you enter Max's mind and can look around through his eyes. Max mode is where you use Max's psychic powers. Sam mode works pretty much like it always has -- you can walk around, look at things, add stuff to your inventory, start dialogues, etc.

    [quote=Gman5852]What all old characters will we see, like will sybil, abe, Bosco, etc... be in, or will some of the characters not return?[/quote]
    I can't tell you all the characters that'll show up, or it'd ruin the surprises later on. I will say that some of the characters from previous seasons will be back, and several won't. Some of the characters' stories were pretty much finished in season 2, so there's not much point bringing them back.

    [quote=Gman5852]Will we get to combine items like in tales.[/quote]
    Nope, still no inventory combination in Sam & Max. It's something that's inherent to Monkey Island games, so it would've felt odd if it hadn't made it into those. But the Sam & Max games never really seem to need it.

    [quote=Gman5852]Will we get to use max's powers on sams items.[/quote]
    No, most of the powers work on characters or objects in the world, or Sam & Max themselves. The stuff in Sam's inventory is usually pretty straightforward and just works on its own.

    [quote=Gman5852]because of the computer trying ot move maxes inventory istems, will he have an inventory/be a playable character. [/quote]
    I may be misunderstanding your question, but: Max's "inventory" is his psychic powers. He is a playable character, but you don't use him to walk around and look at/use things around the world, because that would be overkill. Sam already does that, and Max already chimes in whenever he has something to say.

    [quote=Secret Fawful]So I notice some plain references to Howard Lovecraft in the image and title of the final episode. Without giving any spoilers away, how much inspiration from Lovecraft or references to him has actually been used in this season?[/quote]
    This season mashes together a bunch of stuff we (and Sam & Max) think is cool, so the references are all over the place. There's some science fiction, horror, film noir, mystery, pulp adventures, and some more stuff that I'm probably forgetting right now. Lovecraft is one of the influences, so good catch just from the title.

    [quote=lombre]Are any of the villains from the previous seasons going to return to get their revenge on Sam and Max?[/quote]
    Some characters are definitely going to be back, including some of the villains.

    [quote=GinnyN]Now seriously, what do you first in designing? The Puzzles or the story or everything at the same time?[/quote]
    Because Telltale's games are so story-heavy, you can't do puzzle design without story, and vice versa. So it's all done at the same time, and the goal is that the obstacles fall naturally out of the story without feeling like "puzzles."

  • @unknownrightnow said: From the beginning of the teaser, I've wondered to myself "Why psychic powers?" how did this brilliant idea get formed and why wasn't it used sooner?

    -splash1

    To elaborate on what Chuck said, in the comics it's been hinted/insinuated that Max has latent psychic abilities, and they made a very public appearance in the comic "Beast from the Cereal Aisle," wherein Max does weird psychic battle with... a beast from the cereal aisle of a local grocery store.

    Here's a panel:

    MaxPowers.jpg

    So not only is it weird, but it's canon as well :) ... if there's such a thing as "canon" in Sam & Max.


    (PS: If you're a Sam & Max fan but haven't yet read the comics, you definitely should. And yes, in fact, we do sell the comic collection right here in our store.)

  • @Chuck said:
    Sam & Max avoid the touristy spots, but you can't have a game set in New York without running across some familiar locations.


    Excuse me, but I'm pretty sure Telltale has made two episodic seasons' worth.

  • [quote=S@bre]Have you been able to integrate any of the ideas from Plunge Through Space you never had a chance to realise but wanted to explore further in The Devil's Playhouse?[/quote]
    Not really, partly because that game would've taken Sam & Max way into science fiction territory, and this season is a little more grounded. Besides, it's always more fun to come up with new stuff than cling to an idea that's a decade old at this point. Plus, the story for Plunge Through Space came from Steve, so it'd be better to let him do what he wants with it, if anything.

    [quote=light_rises]If you could choose one episode from the previous seasons to revisit/recreate using the resources Telltale currently has at its disposal, which would it be? Why?[/quote]
    Some of the other guys may have a different answer, but I wouldn't really redo anything. I think the new environments and characters look fantastic, and it's great to see everybody's hard work paying off and the chore guys' having more tools at their disposal. But I'm not an art guy, so the appeal of the other episodes was always the stories and the characters, which worked fine with the "old-style" environments.

    I saw a comment somewhere saying that the models hadn't been improved in season 3, which is disappointing since they got bumped up exactly where it counts: in the faces. They can do a lot of the expressions from the comics now, and it makes a world of difference. It would be interesting to see how the old scenes play out with the new facial animation, but I think the jokes carried about as well as they could even with the old models.

    (While I'm thinking of it: I've actually seen some people online complaining that Sam & Max should've been made "furry". That's just wrong!)

    [quote=light_rises]As far as you can answer, how much of what's involved in creating an animated short or feature film translates into how you create games? Especially now that you're able to use a more cinematic approach?[/quote]
    A lot more than I'd be able to tell you, since I don't really come from that background. The chore artists have a lot more power now to use more interesting camera angles and make more interesting camera movements, especially since we've switched over to direct control. And there's a lot more power on the lighting side of things as well, so Derek Sakai's been able to do some fantastic things with lighting the scenes and using dynamic lights. You'd think it's subtle until you see it in action, and it makes a huge difference. (We don't use pre-rendered screenshots anymore!)

    It's gotten sophisticated enough that there's now a separate "cinematic director" role at the studio, to look at the game as if it were an animated film and make sure all the scenes and setups work cinematically. Nick Herman handled that on 301, along with Dennis Lenart as lead chore artist.

    [quote=light_rises]From what we know so far, The Devil's Playhouse is continuing a pattern we've seen in all of Sam & Max's incarnations -- Max gets to stumble onto and wield great power while Sam maintains something of a Badass Normal status (all minor deviations from which notwithstanding). If you could think of a good enough plot- or character-related reason to buck that trend in a major if non-permanent way, would you do it? Or do you guys think this particular dynamic is too important or integral to tamper with?[/quote]
    Well, the comics treat Sam & Max as roughly equal in terms of insanity, but we have a harder time doing that in videogames. You can't have your "main" character be as completely unpredictable as Max, or you wouldn't be able to have any control over the story. So we've had to rein Sam in a little, and make him a little more Guybrush-y. We've been looking for ways to bring back a little of Sam's mania, though, and give him some more jokes instead of just handing them all over to Max. Over the course of the season, you should see Sam's character getting more interesting.

    But you know, Max just is, and that's half the fun of the characters.

    [quote=ubuntu_tyler]Playing on this last post, are there any plans to do linux ports of any of your games?[/quote]
    No plans at the moment. I think some people on the forum have had some success with WINE.

  • @Rather Dashing said: Excuse me, but I'm pretty sure Telltale has made two episodic seasons' worth.


    Do season 1 and 2 ever explicitly say they're in New York? In any case, in the past Sam & Max's street has been the focus. In the new season, we're making an effort to acknowledge that their street is part of a bigger city and let them do a little more exploring close to home.

  • @Chuck said: Do season 1 and 2 ever explicitly say they're in New York?


    No, I was just being snarky. :cool:

    You mentioned above that Plunge Through Space would take them far into Sci-Fi territory, while this is more "grounded". Is deep space the next logical step, though? For the story to get "bigger", do we have to...well, plunge through space? Or can we be content to have Sam and Max just drive to Mars once while globe-trotting?

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