Deathspank Roundtable Interview


posted 7/9/2010 by Tina Amini
other articles by Tina Amini
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Hothead Games, the independent developer based in Canada, is well known for its development of the undeniably popular Penny Arcade episodic, digitally distributed video game series. However, when confronted with the idea of developing Ron Gilbert’s DeathSpank character introduced by his Grumpy Gamer comic series, the Penny Arcade duo gave the go ahead to Hothead to transition gears from their series to start work on the action RPG game.

We had an opportunity to delve more into the back story of both the development of DeathSpank, as well as the details behind the gameplay itself via a roundtable discussion with Executive Producer Vlad Ceraldi, Lead Designer Darren Evenson and RPG Designer Dennis Detwiller. We even got some interesting insight to their opinions on the industry itself (particularly the future of digital distribution), and their other game in development named Swarm. Read on to see what we learned.

I know a project can change a lot from its initial concept to final product. Was mixing classic adventure games and action RPGs what you started out trying to do?
Vlad Ceraldi (Executive Producer): Everyone here is an RPG fan. We're also old school adventure fans. When we first formed the company in 2006 we were trying to think of what we wanted to create. What were we most excited about? We looked at pure adventure games and thought that we wanted to do something new and different with adventure games. We didn't know what to change exactly, but we didn't think they would stand alone and create the experience we wanted to create.

We were also looking at RPGs and at some point we said, "Adventure games are really good at bringing across character and story. Could we mix the two and bring some of the puzzles and some of the humor?” We had already been dealing with humorous games in our past history working together. We thought that was going to be a nice mix. RPGs are something we are fans of. Regarding our first title we were working with, Penny Arcade was interested in doing a Japanese style or older school RPG, which was totally something we were excited about and had already been discussing. We started blending those two together, and we made that pitch to them and they were excited. So that's how that started. Our initial goal was to try to re-invigorate adventure games, or what they can be expected to be and how they could add something new and exciting to existing genres and what's already out there.

Since this is Hothead's second game, were there any particular lessons that you took to heart after the first Penny Arcade that you're implementing this time?
Vlad: Absolutely. What we first tried doing was mixing more of a Japanese RPG flavor in with the adventure gameplay. Although we are connoisseurs in the sense of gamers, none of us had created an adventure game in our careers at that point. We actually got in contact with Ron Gilbert and he started consulting with us and walking us through the different dialogue structures and gameplay structures with regards to how to map out the story and plot, and how that can affect puzzles and how things interact. He really gave us a really great lesson on how to approach that kind of gameplay.

Still, it was our first take on it so we wanted to do a better job with regards to how to present the dialogue. Some things we improved. We did full voice acting with the experience with DeathSpank, which was a huge win. The other thing was that although there are a lot of Final Fantasy fans here, we mixed a little bit of Paper Mario semi-turn based gameplay. The pacing wasn't what we wanted to continue forward with. We wanted to get something that was more exciting, more action focused, but still had RPG roots. We were all Diablo fans, so we wanted to mix the action RPG and the classic Monkey Island humor and dialogue structure from the get-go. Our second take was to take the more action RPG approach rather than the Japanese RPG approach to come up with a unique mix that we hope becomes a Hothead RPG style.
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