Bone - Interview with Dan Connors of Telltale Games

Interview by Rosemary Young (March, 2005)
BoneIf you are a bit behind the times as we were recently and you haven't already started following the Bone saga, then you might be in for a humorous awakening. In this game you're about to meet the Bone Cousins: Fone Bone, Phoney Bone and Smiley Bone, and join them on their adventures.

Fashioned by Jeff Smith as a comic book (sometimes called a graphic novel) this is the story of what happens to the Bone Cousins when they are kicked out of Boneville and are faced with the big wide world. They meet with an assortment of quirky characters and get tangled up in a mystery along the way, and that's enough of the story for the present.

Bone is the first offering from Telltale Games and it looks deliciously like being a lively trip. Just to whet our appetites here are the answers to some questions that Rosemary put to Dan Connors of Telltale Games.


Rosemary: Hello Dan :). Can we talk briefly about Telltale Games first, and then I'll move on to Bone. I've had a quick look through the Telltale team bios and LucasArts looms large in the background. Was the migration to Telltale a conspiracy or a coincidence? :)

Dan: Hi Rosemary, thanks for your interest in Telltale. In regards to your question, it is only a conspiracy in that LucasArts brought us all together in the first place. Kind of like the line-up scene in The Usual Suspects. Most of us arrived at LucasArts when Adventure Games were thriving, and there was an incredible creative atmosphere there. As priorities shifted at the company, things started to change. We tried to capture that original spirit in Sam and Max: Freelance Police, but when Simon Jeffery left and Sam and Max was cancelled the writing was on the wall.

Rosemary: The disappearance of Sam and Max was a big disappointment for us too. I see various members of the Telltale Team have worked on other classic adventures such as Monkey Island, The Dig, Full Throttle, and Grim Fandango. Not to be sneezed at! Does this put extra pressure on you to live up to the very real expectations of fans?

Dan: If we want to succeed, we have to live up to the expectations of our fans. The pressure is a good thing because it forces us to prove ourselves. That will end up bringing out the best in everyone. I am more concerned about narrow expectations of what Telltale "should be" or games we "should make." Telltale needs to take chances and try new things to thrive.

Rosemary: Ok, now on to Bone. I sampled the graphic novels when I boned up for this chat and Bone looks cute. What contact do you have with Bone's creator, Jeff Smith?

Dan: Jeff is working closely with us, he has a very strong vision and that helps in keeping the team focused. He is an amazing resource for us as well, because he is an expert storyteller and really understands critical story elements. As we build on our storytelling game engine this experience will benefit us greatly.

Rosemary: How did you decide on this franchise? It looks like it has some entertaining characters to work with, and an epic story as well.

Dan: Coming from Sam and Max we definitely were thinking of other cool comic book characters out there. Jon Sgro, our Director of Production technologies, introduced us to the Bone comic and the content made us very interested. Once we started researching it, we realized Bone was huge among comic book fans and had breakout potential into a larger audience.

Rosemary: Also Bone is a continuing story and the game will cover the first part. Will it be a full-length game, and will it have a conclusion or end with a 'cliff-hanger'?

Dan: We are going to structure it like a comic book, the game will have a conclusion but future games will build on it. Each game will be playable as a stand alone product.

Rosemary: As far as I can tell the Bone Comic Books have fans of all ages. What about Bone, the game? Will both big and little people have fun playing it?

Dan: Being able to create a story like Bone that is multi generational is something that's very special. We have a ton of respect for that and will definitely try to repeat it with the game. To have families playing together would be very rewarding for us.

Rosemary: Great. Bone is for everyone. So how will you handle this? Does it mean various difficulty levels as with Monkey Island?

Dan: I have noticed when it comes to computer game logic, kids can actually be sharper then their parents. We really want to create a world that is fun to be in and characters that you enjoy interacting with. We are less concerned about it being challenging than we are about it being interesting.

Rosemary: So can you tell us a bit about the puzzles and gameplay?

Dan: First, we have made the solemn adventure game vow that the puzzles need to make sense in the context of the story. Second, we are focused on improving our dialog system to make it more flexible and varied than what people are used to. Third, we are working on ways for the player to solve puzzles in a more active way.

Rosemary: Can you explain further what you mean by 'a more active way'?

Dan:We want our game worlds to really come alive for the players. That means that the world continues to move around them and doesn't just wait for players to interact with it. Ideally, we would like our puzzles to not only make sense within the context of the game world, but also within the pacing of the story.

Rosemary: Including younger players usually signals an arcade teaser or a mini game and this can mean frustration for some mature players. So we should expect such episodes in Bone? I managed Whack-A-Rat, so will I cope?

Dan: Action elements in the game will be mouse driven and will require more brain power then dexterity. If you managed your way through Whack-A-Rat you will be fine.

Rosemary: Going briefly back to LucasArts, I'm thinking Grim Fandango and Escape from Monkey Island. Both keyboard controlled, presumably designed with the console market in mind. What about Bone? And after the experience of the above two games, how do you feel about keyboard controlled adventure games?

Dan: Bone will be Point and Click and if we go to console we will adapt to the console controller. As for keyboard controlled adventure games I don't think it is much fun to drive a character that is walking. Some people feel like it adds to the immersion, but to me it just makes it harder to get where you want to go.

Rosemary: Exactly, you'll get no argument from me. :) What really tempts me with Bone are the characters and the humour. Is it more effort to make a humorous game; sustaining the humour must be a challenge. Will there be two levels of humour in Bone for the different generations? For instance, it sounds like the story could handle some political satire, maybe younger players will miss some gags?

Dan: The characters in Bone are distinct and they all have a humorous side. Adding more to those characters will be easy because they are so defined. Bone is definitely a more subtle humor than Sam and Max, but it definitely runs through the story. Our experience in building humorous games has given us some insight in how to pull off things like comedic timing and sight gags. Also hiring funny writers and artists helps.

As for the levels of humor, Jeff has already accomplished that. There is a great scene in the first book where the Dragon saves Fone from the rat creatures just by showing up and scaring the rat creatures away. Fone Bone starts giving the Dragon some lip because he didn't blast the rat creatures with fire. Fone asks, "what's the matter can't you breathe fire?". The Dragon proceeds to breathe fire past Fone's head leaving him quite stunned. The Dragon replies "never play an Ace if a two will do." I loved that line, and I don't think it was written for kids.

Rosemary: Lucky last. A slightly silly question. Is it more fun to make a funny game?

Dan: Making games is fun in general and making adventure games is really fun. Only in this business can you be sitting in a meeting room with a bunch of professionals and have the following conversation:

    "Well, we have a problem"
    "What is it?"
    "For some reason I can't use the banana in the keyhole"
    "Did you use the pencil sharpener first?"
    "Yes that's the problem, when I use the pencil sharpener the banana disappears"

But making a funny game is especially fun because you are always laughing and everybody feeds off of it. Eventually everything everyone does is funny.

Rosemary: Well thanks, Dan. I'm looking forward to joining the Bones in their first Adventure Game.

Watch out for Bone. Visit the official website for more information.

Copyright © Rosemary Young 2005. All rights reserved.