Deathspank Roundtable Interview


posted 7/9/2010 by Tina Amini
other articles by Tina Amini
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What has been the biggest struggle through the process from turning the Penny Arcade to an action RPG featuring a more open world gameplay style?
Vlad: I worked as a producer on Simpsons: Hit and Run which was Radical's first attempt at an open world, I then went on to Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, which was ranked as one of the best super hero games of the time (and was open world). Other people on the team worked on Scarface and other open world games.

Although most people don't think of Radical as an open world company, we made a lot of those games. Dennis, who is on the call, was a co-creator for Prototype (another open world game) before he finished the game and left Radical to come to work as the RPG designer of DeathSpank. We have a lot of experience in understanding the pacing, challenges of an open world, trying to keep people active by giving them choices and things to do. That background we felt very comfortable with, but there are some challenges with regards to the turn-based RPG that we started with and wanting to go action RPG.

Darren Evenson (Lead Designer): From a design standpoint, one of the big struggles or changes between the two was going from the turn-based or semi-turn based, more static style of combat to a more action-oriented fluid combat. While they're both considered RPGs, they're two drastically different systems. Making that adjustment took some time and took a few tries to get it right, even the pacing of the moment to moment gameplay as you're going through the world fighting enemies. It's a very different system, so that took a little bit of adjusting.

Dennis Detwiller (RPG Designer): DeathSpank is a larger than life character. We wanted to get this kind of rocket action going in there where he got waved into combat with a dozen people. Turn-based just doesn't lend itself to that very well. We were hoping to make it much more action packed ,and that's what the game has been built around: player choice, moment to moment, as opposed to plotting and planning, and basically sitting back and relying on the interaction. It's much more action packed.

Vlad: The difference is that we thought our first experience was more laid back, you were in the back of your chair. We wanted to create something that had you are at the edge of your seat and more involved. Then there are moments where you break that up with the dialogue and the adventures so you can relax. It mixes up the pacing in a very unique way.

What was the original inspiration for the DeathSpank universe? What inspired you to translate it into video game form?
Vlad: I touched on the action RPG: the Monkey Island mixed with something we've already been trying to think through. Even while we were working on Penny Arcade, we were thinking of what we wanted to do next. It seemed like the table was well set while we were working with Ron at that time as a consultant.

Darren: Originally, this character was Ron's idea and it first appeared on his blog in cartoon form. When he became a consultant with us on Penny Arcade, he really instructed us on how to create adventure games. He gave us the DeathSpank pitch, and it was a natural fit for where we were wanting to go as a company and the style of games we wanted to make. It was kind of Diablo meets Monkey Island and it was exactly where we wanted to take this game and this character.

There are a lot of references in the trailers that poke fun at quintessential video game components similar to the humor of the Grumpy Gamer comics. Is this a common theme throughout the game?
Vlad: I would say no. We're trying to make sure that the humor comes across with the videos that we've given so far. There's definitely some of the conventions of self referential commentary and jokes throughout the game where we do play with some of the conventions. We took the RPG elements very seriously, however, so we also wanted to create something serious in that regard.

I think Ron said in other interviews that it's subtle. We don't beat you over the head with it, but it's definitely in there and there are a few times where I guarantee you're going to be laughing out loud as a result. I'm not going to spill what those moments are going to be, but they are there.

Where did you get the inspiration for the character DeathSpank? He reminds me of the hilariously self-righteous Captain Hero from the Drawn Together series.

Darren: It was originally Ron's idea. The team at Hothead here flushed that character out, but really what helped drive who DeathSpank is was largely in part due to the voice auditions. As we went through the different auditions we realized what we did or did not like about different aspects. There was one that completely defined him as a character, and we're incredibly happy with that.

How big is the world of DeathSpank?
Darren: Definitely big enough to support 10-15 hours of gameplay, that's for sure.

Dennis: It's filled with dungeons and locations and monsters. It's huge.
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