Telltale Games is a production company that rose from the ashes of Sam & Max: Freelance Police's cancellation at LucasArts. Most of its employees worked on many classic adventure games, and it's no surprise that their mission is to deliver "visually appealing, character-rich, cinematic games". Telltale recently announced their first adventure game project, which will be the first in a series of games based on the comic book series Bone. Graham Annable, the company's artistic director, now unveils the first details on the project.
Can you tell us about your background and what you have been involved in before? How did you get on board at Telltale?
I had worked with nearly all the folks here before, during my days at LucasArts. I knew they had a stellar crew of people together and I was very excited to have an opportunity to work with them again. My background has been primarily as an animator. I graduated at Sheridan College, completing the Classical Animation program there long ago, and began a freelance career in film and TV animation. My connection with the games industry started when I was hired by LucasArts in 1994 and helped put some finishing touches on Full Throttle. From there I did a 10 year tour of duty with the company, working on many titles such as The Dig, Outlaws, and Curse of Monkey Island. I was Lead Animator on the cancelled Sam & Max: Freelance Police project before moving on to finish my stay at Lucas helping complete cinematics for the Star Wars: Episode 3 game. Outside of the games world I’ve been busy doing my own comic work. I’ve had three graphic novels published with Alternative Comics, titled "Grickle", "Further Grickle", and "Stickleback."
So what does a creative director do?
I’ve been doing concept art, storyboards, layout, animation, and overseeing model work on environments and characters. I’ve also handled pitching game designs, art direction on the website, input on press releases and making slightly weak coffee at the office. I’m not sure if this is what other creative directors have been doing but it’s what I’ve been finding myself doing on a daily basis at Telltale.
I’m also the person responsible for the overall look and feel of the products we create here. It’s been a very busy and fun job so far!
To those who are unfamiliar with Bone, what does this license bring to Telltale? How would you characterize the stories and visual style of Bone?
Bone offers a lot to Telltale and adventure games in general. The strong characters and storyline of the comic are very much in sync with the kinds of worlds and experiences that Telltale is interested in creating. The story is an epic tale, somewhat in the vein of Lord of the Rings but infused with a lot of humor and steeped in an artistic style reminiscent of Walt Kelly’s Pogo.
On which Bone comic(s) will the story of the game be based?
We’ll be telling the entire storyline outlined in the original comics, in an episodic manner. So the first game will deal with the beginning of the books, "Out from Boneville".
We're talking about a graphic adventure game, right? What kind of engine and interface can we expect?
Yep, it will indeed be a graphic adventure game. The interface and engine will be of the point and click variety.
What's your vision for the gameplay of the game? Are we looking at lots of inventory puzzles, or will the gameplay be a departure from the classical LucasArts style adventure most of you worked on in the past?
The gameplay will be centered around strengthening the storyline and characters of the game. There will be a healthy balance of classic adventure game puzzles and mini games that will continuously progress both the characters and story. It won’t be a departure from the classical LucasArts style adventures so much, as hopefully a natural progression of them.
Bone is known to have both funny and serious sides to it. How will that be reflected in the game?
We’re working closely with Jeff Smith to make certain that we stay true to the books and keep that great balance of humor and drama in the game. The dialogues that are presented, either interactively or in cutscenes, will be carefully written to support the appropriate themes and mood of Bone.
How do you expect this game to be different from some of the other adventure games that have been released recently?
I’m hoping the art direction in the game will certainly make it stand out. I think our art production process will allow for the game to feel very ‘alive’ and will make the most of our animation system. Pacing of the game is really important to me as well. Like a well crafted film, I’d like to see our adventure games build nicely to climactic moments in the story and have players really feel strongly for the characters.
How are you managing the transition from a 2D comic book character to 3D?
Jeff Smith’s designs are really nicely drawn and grounded in some very classical animation philosophies, such that transitioning them to 3D has been quite a natural process. There’s a solid sense of dimension to the characters and a lot of 3D toys have been made already. So a lot of the artistic design questions have already been answered and shifting them from the 2D comic pages into the ‘real’ world of 3D games has been relatively smooth.
You've just started a cartoon on Telltale's website starring Dank, The Caveman Inventor. Who is this guy?
Dank is a character that we’ve been batting around the office a bit. I’d be hard pressed to predict exactly what we’ll do with him in the long term. I’ll let Dank lead the way and we’ll see what avenues he leads us down!
Being a comic creator yourself, is it strange to be working on a game that is based on someone else's comic?
Not at all. I’ve been an animator long enough now that I’m very accustomed to taking other people’s designs and running with it. Jeff Smith’s work is pretty much a dream come true for anyone working in animation. His drawing style is so solid, and based on such classic animation sensibilities, it’s going to be great fun to move these characters around!
What's your target release date? Anything else you'd like to add?
The release date is still being finalized at this point in time and I’m certain it’ll be posted everywhere once it’s been signed off on.
I’d just like to say it’s been a pleasure doing the interview and I thank you for your time and interest. I’m extremely excited about working on the Bone project at Telltale and I expect it will be a very busy and thrilling time ahead as we march on through the production of it!