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Part 2: Dave Grossman
Peter Clausen: What’s more important in storytelling? Plot or characters?
Dave Grossman: It depends on what kind of story it is, but I guess when you get right down to it, I think the characters tend to be more important. But without a plot it isn’t really a story, is it? It’s something else. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. You have to change your thinking about both plot and character when you’re doing storytelling interactively, and I think the plot is the area where the changes are more interesting. Some traditional writing techniques don’t work because you don’t have much control over when events happen or in what order, and what you wind up doing is engineering a sort of elaborate negotiation with the player, in the form of a piece of imaginary plot machinery that responds intelligently when you poke it. Cool!
Peter Clausen: The whole new Sam & Max series is structured like a TV series. Could you cite any specific influences?
Dave Grossman: In terms of its structure, I tend to imagine the X-Files, because somebody brought that show up at some point, but it’s actually a fairly poor example. The idea is that each episode stands on its own and comes to a satisfying conclusion (often but not always true for the X-Files), but the stories are related to a larger, season-wide arc (sometimes but not always true for the X-Files) which itself comes to a conclusion at the end of the season (definitely not true for the X-Files). In Season One, Sam & Max investigate a series of cases that turn out to be related to each other as part of a larger conspiracy.
Peter Clausen: TV has had a noticeable narrative evolution in the past decade. Do you think games will have to go through the same kind of evolution? And are they even able to do so?
Dave Grossman: Well, not the SAME kind of evolution. TV is going through some changes, but it’s a fairly mature form, whereas games are still very young and growing. TV’s having a mid-life crisis, but games are still trying to figure out where their hands and feet are, particularly when it comes to narrative. But they can and will evolve, and I think as part of that we’ll see a widening of the spread between games that drive narrative and those that sit next to it.
Peter Clausen: How do you map out the season’s story arc? Has the entire story been planned in advance, or do you only know the broad strokes, and plan one episode at a time?
Dave Grossman: We start with the broad strokes and then work out the details. The whole season is a pretty big job, so there isn't time to work out all the details of the all episodes before we start production. The design team is typically working a couple of episodes ahead.
Peter Clausen: Will all episodes have the same length, or can we expect a longer season finale?
Dave Grossman: The length of the episodes is difficult to specify accurately since so much depends on the player, over whom we have no control, but they're intended to be approximately the same length as each other.
Peter Clausen: There have already been rumours about the publication of a “season-boxset”, as soon as this run is finished. Will there be any extras similar to TV on DVD-release like scene-specific commentaries, behind-the-scenes-stuff, or whatever?
Dave Grossman: You’ll get to see Max with his clothes off.
Peter Clausen: How does working at Telltale compare to the old days at LucasArts?
Dave Grossman: Some things are quite similar – it's a small company with a lot of talented, passionate people having fun making games, which is great. I can hear people laughing as I write this, which was also typical of LucasArts. There's more of a start-up atmosphere here since we don't have a wealthy parent company propping us up. It feels more professional at Telltale than it did at Lucas, and I think the average experience level is higher. The office building and the food were nicer at Skywalker Ranch, but I don't really miss that much.
Peter Clausen: How do you experience the media interest in Sam & Max? Has the enormously positive reaction so far been surprising?
Dave Grossman: I’m always surprised to learn that anyone has been paying attention. People have said a lot of nice things about the pilot episode, which is extremely gratifying. It’s good to hear we’re on the right track.
Peter Clausen: Could we possibly see beloved characters from the LucasArts-game like Bruno, Trixie or Conroy Bumpus in the new game, or will rights issues prevent this?
Dave Grossman: I think LucasArts may own those characters, though I'm not absolutely sure. I can tell you that Sam and Max themselves are the only characters from Hit the Road who appear in Season One. But we've got a whole bunch of fun NEW characters, so fear not.
Peter Clausen: Are there any plans for additional merchandising (a graphic novel from the new webcomic, for example)?
Dave Grossman: I wanted to do a Sam & Max embossed set of surgical tools, but I don’t think it’s going to happen.
Peter Clausen: What about sly references to previous incarnations of Sam & Max?
Dave Grossman: References, yes. We can’t help ourselves, apparently. As for “sly,” well... you may be giving us too much credit.
Peter Clausen: The first episode is titled Culture Shock. What does this title stand for?
Dave Grossman: Like any good title, it could mean many things. Perhaps it refers to what happens to two happy-go-lucky computer game characters when they suddenly emerge from a thirteen-year slumber and start working again. Or perhaps the jarring contrast between Sam & Max and other forms of entertainment. It could even have to do with bacteria, popular mass media, or the allegedly well-mannered upper stratum of society. And perhaps I won’t tell you, and you’ll just have to play the game to find out.
Text Copyright Peter Clausen 2006
Screenshots, Artwork Copyright Telltale Games, Steve Purcell