Joystiq interviews Hail to the Chimp producer Jon Krusell

Wideload Games' Hail to the Chimp consistently delivered laughs to its audience of journalists at EIEIO. Being that the event was a large party, it was the perfect venue to try out a party game. The crowd got almost as boisterous during the gameplay sessions as they did later that evening, when the event metamorphosed from a video game press event into a concert.

The "concert" portion of the event was also the first chance I had to talk about the game with Wideload's Senior Producer Jon Krusell. He was kind enough to yell over the din in order to discuss the thought process that led naturally into a party combat game about animal presidential elections, his theories about the lack of comedy in games, and his revolutionary Robot Jox-based political platform.
You're doing a multiplayer party game. What influenced your choice of consoles?

We look at it as kind of a strength, because we're really the only game of our type on the 360 or PS3 right now. There's no other party game right now that caters to both adults and teens, so it was basically positioning -- positioning ourselves to stand out. We like to take risks, and so this seemed like a risk that could really work in our favor.

How have people reacted at the demo sessions?

The demo -- it always shows really, really well. It shows terrific, actually. Maybe it's just the season, you know? Like, everybody's getting so much political media. Even if you're not paying attention to it, it's always there. So the idea of a political satire video game -- we are, as far as I know, the only political satire video game -- really resonates with people. They get a kick out of it.

Is the election-year release intentional?

The original inspiration for the game was the design mechanic of teaming up, the idea that you have to cooperate to play. The next real vision point was "Let's make it with animals. Let's make the cast these animal-sized people." Then it was sort of looking at what we had so far, and the timing of things. You know, we have this design mechanic of temporary alliances, where you can then immediately betray your would-be running mate, and we're going to release it in 2008 -- politics makes sense. It was really sort of a train of thought that led to it.

Then that led into the fake television stuff?

There are other party games out there, obviously. What we wanted to do that was different was tell a story. Most party games are just a random collection of minigames. We wanted to do something that had a narrative thread. But it's hard to weave that into the actual gameplay. And we kind of wanted to do something that's a little bit passive, so if you don't want to pay attention to the storyline, you don't have to, you can just blow right by it. Out of that evolved the idea of GRR, which is the all-news animal network, and that's what our show is -- the UI. So as you run through the UI, it's as if you're watching CNN, but for animals. And that allows us to tell that story: there are cutscenes, political ads, debates, interviews; over 90 minutes of cutscenes and content that streams through there and tells you the backstory. So if you're interested you can check it out.

And the funny commercials?

The funny commercials ... that came from -- once we had decided to do GRR, the funny commercials just sort of spawned from that. Obviously they're not political in nature, but they're just continuing along the satire road. What would CNN play at 3 in the morning? They'd play a commercial for, you know, Don Schrendt, Attorney at Law; so we have our own version.

There really aren't that many funny games. Why do you think that is?

We really have two directives at Wideload. We want to work on original stuff, and we want to work on humorous stuff. We just want a direction to head in to stand out. And it's what we're really good at. We have some really talented writers on staff. But, even though we've sort of limited ourselves to humor, there's still a ton of stuff within humor to do. Stubbs the Zombie is a dark comedy, where as Hail to the Chimp is a political satire. So it's just sort of -- why aren't there more funny games? I guess maybe because it is a risk, you know. Like a funny game might not translate as well internationally. A funny game is more difficult to write, and there's not as many good writers in video games. Doing humor in games is a risk. Doing humor in films is actually kind of less of a risk, because the budgets are smaller. But in games, doing humor is a risk. That's why there's so much action. Action translates; you don't have to have someone rewrite it.

How does the atmosphere at today's event -- at the, uh, barbecue joint -- compare to other shows at which you've done demos?

Today went really well. Today was outstanding. There were some hurdles, though. We had a power outage; we had a leaky roof; we had a band doing a sound check; there was a meteor shower briefly. So there were definitely some random elements that added to the excitement, but the game showed really well, people responded -- it was a really good day. And you know, like, the Gamecock events are always kind of surreal. This is like my third or fourth time demoing with Gamecock for Hail to the Chimp, and it's always, you know, animals walking around, bands playing, trapeze artists, and people spitting fire -- they're surreal events. You just sort of have to let go and take it as it comes.

Do you think party combat is a decent venue for choosing our leaders?

Choosing leaders? I really like the -- have you ever seen the movie Robot Jox?


Okay, so the idea that, in the future, wars will be decided with, instead of war, but with giant fighting robots. You know, the country's obviously in a predicament right now. We have a war with Iraq. What if instead of troops, we just had giant robots that fought each other. I'm all for that. Let's dismantle the military complex as we know it, and their sole purpose will be to design a giant fighting robot.

So, to answer your question, I think it's a great idea.

Playing the game, it reminded me of Power Stone 2 a little ...

It would be silly not to learn from games that came before you, you know? So we definitely played Power Stone, even minigame games like Mario Party or Wario Ware, we played all sorts of different stuff. But we also tried to take inspiration from things that aren't as much of an analogue. Like taking inspiration from first-person shooters, taking inspiration from the idea of, instead of minigames, matching gametypes up with different maps. So while we definitely took inspiration from other party games out there, we took some inspiration from games you really wouldn't expect. And, also, we took inspiration from other media, you know, like the Onion. We used some writers for some contract work that work on the Daily Show and the Onion, so we tried to broaden it outside games as well.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.