Interviews// Telltale Games' Dave Grossman

Posted 23 Nov 2009 17:12 by
As one of the champions of digital distribution, Dave Grossman is no stranger to the online platform. One of the original writers and programmers of the Monkey Island series, he now works with Telltale Games, a studio founded by LucasArts veterans.

The studio has been hard at work establishing episodic gaming as a viable method for releasing games, with work wrapping up on Tales of Monkey Island, and Strong Bad's Cool Game For Attractive People and Sam and Max already under its belt. We speak to Dave Grossman about the last episode of the Monkey Island adventure, the studio's plans for the future and the lure of digital distribution.

SPOnG: Hi Dave, thanks for your time.

Dave Grossman: You?re welcome - thanks for your interest!

SPOnG: What are the plans for the final episode of Tales of Monkey Island? In what way will players get closure on the adventures of Guybrush Threepwood?

Dave Grossman: There?s some turnabout going on in the final episode. For much of the season, we?ve seen LeChuck as a ?normal? human. Now that he?s back to his old self, it?s Guybrush?s turn to walk a mile in someone else?s shoes - specifically, as a deceased person, which is familiar territory for LeChuck. Things get a little weird and LeChuck definitely has the upper hand. Naturally, events are going to come to a head and there is going to be a showdown, and it will be time for all the characters to work out just where they stand.

SPOnG: How do you think the Tales series has played out, for both you as developers and the players of the game?

Dave Grossman: It?s been a point of growth for us in the studio, in that we?ve taken advantage of the episodic format to tell a broader story than we?ve been able to do previously, and I think we?ve managed to take the relationships between the characters to some interesting places that people might not have been expecting. Feedback from the audience has been great and extensive - they?ve really been plugged in from the minute we released the first episode, or actually a bit before that even, and it?s been a fun time for all for close to half a year now.

SPOnG: You've just launched a few episodes of Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures on XBLA. What are the differences between working with Microsoft on XBLA and Nintendo for WiiWare?

Dave Grossman: The differences are mostly about how the pipelines work and what the processes and requirements are for airing things on the channels. I usually wave my hand in the air and say, ?details, details? about all of that - although of course the devil is usually in the details. What?s important is that they?re clued in that episodic gaming is part of the future of downloadable channels in general, and they?re willing to talk to us about what kinds of leeway or changes can help make that work better.

SPOnG: One of the big differences is that episodic gaming can bring together a different kind of fanbase, akin to that of a television show. Does that make the pressure to deliver on a regular basis harder or easier than for the average game developer?

Dave Grossman: Harder. Regular delivery is absolutely critical to episodic gaming, it?s easy to lose the audience if you don?t measure up to the expectations you create. Ask anybody who makes television, or publishes magazines or newspapers, or has to feed children or pets.

SPOnG: What's your take on Randy Pitchford's comments about the Steam distribution platform exploiting smaller developers, for taking a bigger cut? Is that something that concerns you at all?

Dave Grossman: I don?t know much about the deals Steam makes with other developers, so I don?t really feel like I?m in a position to comment generally. From a personal perspective, well, Steam makes money for us, and vice versa, and it?s hard to argue with that.

SPOnG: Where do you see episodic content and digital distribution going in the future? There's a big debate as to how soon it could become the dominant method of consuming computer games.

Dave Grossman: Digital distribution makes too much sense not to become the dominant method of game consumption. Software is intangible, so packaging it in a box and shipping it is kind of pointless and wasteful. Every new platform that comes out has some kind of internet connection, and more and more people have broadband, so I don?t think it will take very long for digital to take the lead over physical retail.

And once you?ve got that kind of direct connection with your audience, episodic content is a natural and rather compelling way to do things. Development is tricky, but I do expect you?ll see more of it in the future.

SPOnG: You clearly have a close relationship with LucasArts, leading to the Monkey Island and Sam & Max projects. Do you think there'll be more collaborative projects in the pipeline? Any Indiana Jones, perhaps?

Dave Grossman: I have a device attached to my ankle that is programmed to do something rather painful any time I answer a LucasArts question, even if my answer is completely noncommittal or that I can?t answer the-ow! Darn it!

SPOnG: Would it be crazy to imagine Tales of Monkey Island being released soon for Xbox Live Arcade at all?

Dave Grossman: I have a device attached to-OW!

SPOnG: Do you think there'll be an opportunity to cater for the PlayStation Network in the future?

Dave Grossman: We?d like to be on every downloadable channel imaginable, and releasing games on PSN has certainly been on the list of things we?d like to do someday. The list is pretty big, though, and it?s basically about identifying the right opportunity - you hit the word on the head.

SPOnG: With Monkey Island, Strong Bad and Wallace and Gromit done to name but a few, what's next for Telltale? Do you currently see yourselves tackling different properties, or maybe we'll see a new Sam & Max series?

Dave Grossman: We?ve got a few things cooking, but nothing I?m prepared to talk about at this time. OW! Hey, that?s not fair, I didn?t say anything! Somebody get me a pair of bolt cutters?.

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