Double Fine’s Costume Quest (our review
) is preparing to take gamers on another adventure with the release of the Grubbins on Ice DLC pack (released this week on Xbox Live and next week on the PlayStation Network). This past week, we got a chance to pick at the brains of a couple of the members of the game’s development team to find out just a little bit more about this incredible project.
Could you introduce yourself and talk about your role at Double Fine and on the Costume Quest project?
Gabe: I’m Gabe Miller, Senior Producer at Double Fine. My job is to make sure we deliver excellent games on schedule. For Costume Quest and Grubbins on Ice, I also contributed heavily to the design and writing.
Tasha: I’m Tasha Harris, Lead Animator at Double Fine and Project Lead on Costume Quest. I came up with the original concept of CQ and oversaw the team to make sure all the pieces came together and stayed true to the original vision. I also helped out with the art & animation. And naming characters…I like coming up with names.
Do you have any thoughts or comments on the positive reception that the game has garnered from both the media and the public since its release?
Gabe: Of all the games I’ve worked on, CQ has received the warmest welcome. It seemed like we struck a chord with people and their childhood Halloween nostalgia. I felt like I was in bizarro world when I saw all of the forum curmudgeons extolling CQ’s virtues with words like “cute” and “charming”.
Tasha: It’s been awesome. I especially love reading comments from people who play the game with their kids, girlfriends, or wives who aren’t normally into gaming. It seems like a lot of different types of people can relate to the game in different ways. I also love fan art! Send more fan art!
Were there any concerns in designing / making a “seasonal” game like Costume Quest? Do you feel the subject matter (Halloween) but pressure on the team in terms of the targeted completion and release date?
Gabe: A couple of people posited that we might be limiting our audience by doing a seasonal game, but we always felt that it was a strength rather than a weakness. Who doesn’t like Halloween?! It’s like saying that a game about food limits your audience! Even for countries that don’t necessarily celebrate Halloween, I think the content will be compelling. As far as time pressure goes… yeah, that was definitely there. We would have loved to cram a lot more in, but at the same time, having a firm date forces you to distill your design down to the fundamentals, so there were also some benefits.
Tasha: I don’t feel that Halloween is limited in that way- it’s a holiday with almost a cult following, and people can enjoy the themes of the holiday all year round. For example, kids love dressing up in costumes at any time of year, the only difference is on Halloween they get to wear their costumes to school without getting made fun of. I think during the fall season it will naturally be more appealing to people, but the game is still fun no matter when you play it.
How does the development process differ in making a downloadable / digitally distributed title versus a full fledged retail release? I know it's early but which do you prefer?
Gabe: We spent 4+ years making Brütal Legend and less than a year on Costume Quest. A smaller team size makes you more efficient, and a smaller schedule forces you to trim the fat in the design early. On the flip side, it reduces your ability to make any major direction changes mid-project if you come up with a better way to do things. There’s a lot less people involved and almost no wiggle room. I think overall I still prefer doing smaller games because the effort is more proportional to the time that the game is getting public attention… and it’s nice to cleanse your creative palette more frequently. I would still love to work on another epic game if the idea was right though.
Tasha: Yeah, the main difference is the length of time you’re working on it- it’s pretty cool to think that about a year ago I pitched the game to THQ and now it’s out, and people are playing it! It’s also cool working with a smaller team because people get the opportunity to try things they might not have on a larger project. For example, a couple of our animators helped out with design, and one of our environment artists got to build a couple characters. The downside is that you don’t get as much time to experiment and try different approaches to things. There was no real “pre-production” time. So if you have an idea, you just have to run with it!
Costume Quest seems like it would be perfectly suited for what many in the industry call the “Wii” audience, why only a PSN / XBLA release? Was the Nintendo Wii ever considered as a viable platform for the game's release?
Gabe: When this idea was hatched, we knew the scope of it would be suited for a downloadable title. Ultimately, the people who invest the money decide which platforms make the most financial sense. Internally, we want to release our games on as many platforms as possible. I think the question we get the most is, “Are you guys doing a PC version for <insert excellent Double Fine game here>?”. We’d love to! We just need someone to float it! We’d have done a Game & Watch version of Costume Quest if it was economically viable.
Tasha: I would love to make a Wii version. And a DS version, and a PC version, and an iphone version, etc etc…it just takes some engineering time to port the game to those platforms (and UI changes to account for different control schemes), and someone just needs to give us money to do that.
Can you speak a little bit on what gamers can expect from the upcoming “Grubbins on Ice” DLC for Costume Quest?
Gabe: For Grubbins, the timeline is roughly real time with the release of the game, so Halloween is over and things are more wintery. Without giving too many spoilers, the kids find themselves in the monster world, Repugia (ree-PYOO-gee-ah), actually working with the monsters this time to overthrow their oppressive ruler, Araxia. They’ve got new enemies to face, but they’ve got some awesome new costumes and battle stamps to counter them. We also put a spin on the Halloween-centric gameplay, finding new motivations for the CQ mechanics. Size wise, I’d say that Grubbins on Ice is at least another 33% more (like one of those King Sized Snickers)! There’s also a patch that will release alongside Grubbins that has some features to address some player feedback. We’ve added save spots so the player can save at will, and the ability to pause cutscenes if the dialog text is moving too fast for you. We also optimized the performance a bit more.
Tasha: Basically it’s a whole new level to explore, with all that entails- a new storyline, new costumes, new enemies, etc. I think players are really going to like the new costumes- they were super fun to animate and our VFX artists did some really amazing stuff for them in combat mode. And the writing is just as funny as the core game. There are also a few new achievements/trophies if you’re into that sort of thing.
Is it possible that we could see further DLC packs that will adapt the game to other holidays throughout the year?
Gabe: We would love to do more, but at the moment, no further dlc is planned.
Tasha: I think that’s a really cool idea…you never know!
Do you envision Costume Quest carrying on as a possible series? If so, do you think that it carries on using the strength of its established characters or on the concept itself (costumes)?
Tasha: I would love to see the world of Costume Quest continued in some way- whether it’s a full-fledged sequel or more DLC packs. We have a lot of ideas for more costumes & environments that would be fun to explore. I feel that the strength of the game comes from both the concept itself (costume transformations) and its overall charm, which is a bit harder to define. But that’s basically the art direction, humor, animation style, attitude, etc…everything that makes the game appealing and genuine. So any sort of expansion would need to include these things.
Could you talk about your next title Stacked a bit? What lessons did you learn on Costume Quest will you be applying to Stacked?
Gabe: Hey, I’m working on Stacking too, so I can say that it is awesome! These games were being worked on concurrently, so most of the lessons were learned together. The closing process for CQ will be fresh in our heads, so that will benefit Stacking for sure. Oh yeah… I guess there is a little secret thing in Grubbins that we “gleaned” from Stacking… you will have to play it to find out what that is though! Also, Ron Gilbert contributes heavily to all of our games in the category of moral support.
Will Ron Gilbert be contributing to this title or not?
Tasha: Ron is working on his own, separate thing right now…which I can’t really talk about, except to tell you that it’s cool.
Any chance there's a full retail game in the development pipleline?
Gabe: Let’s just say that we would not kick a full retail game out of bed.
What's it like to have two legends of the game development world (Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer) in the same studio?
Gabe: It’s great! When one of the legends is sick, we now have a substitute legend.
All of us here at Gaming Nexus would like to thank both Gabe and Tasha for taking the time to answer our questions, as well as Raha Bouda at THQ for setting everything the interview up for us.