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Joystiq interview: Telltale's Dan Connors on XBLA, Wallace & Gromit

Following last week's announcement that purveryors of fine adventure gaming, Telltale Games, would be making its long-awaited Xbox Live Arcade debut with the upcoming Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures, we spoke with Telltale's CEO and founder, Dan Connors to learn more about the move. We talk about the company's platform strategy (iPhone?), its success with the capacity-challenged WiiWare service, and plans to bring older Telltale games to newly supported platforms like XBLA. So grab some cheese and/or your favorite sociopathic lagomorph and strap in for an interview more outrageously exciting than a T-Rex flying a biplane through a no-fly zone!

Joystiq: Xbox Live Arcade – why now? You guys have been around for a while and you've obviously done GameTap, you've done PC, you've done Wii and WiiWare. So why XBLA and why now?

Dan Connors: Well, I think it's just kind of happened in the natural growth of the company. We started in 2004 and we were eight people in an office and we've progressively grown. Each time – when we first launched on the PC, it was a challenge; and when we first launched on WiiWare, it was a huge challenge; and now getting everything to the place where we're self-publishing on WiiWare and now Xbox Live Arcade, it's just a great accomplishment for the company and opening up more channels.

Gallery: Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures | 17 Photos

The Wallace & Gromit franchise also, it seemed like a really good fit because we really wanted to go after the look of the franchise and it felt like XBLA would be a good place and would allow us to do that at this time. We're going to continue to open up new channels just as the business continues to grow, and we're certainly on track to continue growing and make it possible to release Telltale games on every platform. That's our ultimate goal; just managing the growth is really the issue we're just getting to Xbox Live Arcade now.

So are you guys looking at other platforms like PlayStation Network, MacOS, those being kind of the two big ones that you're not on currently?

Yeah, and I guess you could throw iPhone in there too.

"iPhone is interesting because it's really brought the handheld up to the level of a gaming device ..."

Alright, good point.

iPhone is interesting because it's really brought the handheld up to the level of a gaming device from a processing power standpoint.

Not to mention you've got the audience, you've got digital distribution built in really easily, so there's a lot of opportunity there. I for one wish they had a ScummVM Emulator, but I know Apple has some rules about emulation on the system.

Yeah, I don't know what it would take to get past that. [laughing]

Have you looked into DSiWare at all? Nintendo's new DS handheld is going to have a digital distribution store similar to WiiWare.

Yeah, I had just been told about that, probably a month ago, and it is certainly interesting. We are not DS developers, our internal staff doesn't develop for the DS, but we are certainly interested in publishing towards it if we can find the right partners to take our content there. It's just really a focus and putting the business plan together and understanding the economics of how it's all going to work but it's very exciting.

So how much of this was based on engine considerations? I know you guys have a platform that you've used for your games to date and you brought that to Wii, obviously for WiiWare and for the retail release of Sam & Max. Is this all still running on the same shared platform or common platform

"Now that we've moved the engine over to support XBLA, our entire back catalog now runs on XBLA ..."

Yeah. A huge goal of the company – and a huge way that we see as building value in the company – is to be able to build a platform that can be agnostic, platform agnostic; we drop a product out and then, in the creation of it, the engine supports it across multiple platforms. The beauty of it is, now that we've moved the engine over to support XBLA, our entire back catalog now runs on XBLA, and our entire back catalog runs on Wii as well. Getting it to run on WiiWare, had some asset compression stuff to deal with, but everything runs on Wii, everything runs on Xbox, everything runs on PC, and as we integrate the other channels, it's going to continue to be the case. So you know at some point, we'll be able to do that simultaneous launch across multiple platforms with any other franchise that we do.

So the bonus in all this is, like you said, getting these older games that are all suddenly Xbox 360 compatible, and you mentioned in the press release for Wallace & Gromit that you were looking to bring other games to that platform. Are you looking to bring those older games to the platform, like the Sam & Max games or Strong Bad games?

We'd love to get everything in the entire library onto every channel because in the digital distribution business, every time you moved to a new platform or a new channel, it's like a relaunch because of the way the audience behaves. That's what we've found throughout our history so far, and every time we've done it – whether it be from Telltale to Steam or Telltale to WiiWare – each new channel has it's own grown-in audience that likes to purchase from that channel. And being able to get the library in front of that new audience in that top slot in whatever system it would be where it gets its day in the sun and exposed to all those people, that's really what we want to do with all our entire library one day when this is all IPTV – or whatever wins on the set-top box – we'd like to have a channel up on interactive television that's just Telltale games and you have a whole library there ready to go. That's what has always been the vision for the company.

So on Wii, you never released Sam & Max on WiiWare, but instead on retail, and again, like you said, there are some size limitations with WiiWare. Any plans to do something similar on XBLA; bring, let's say, a whole Sam & Max season onto a retail disc for 360?

Well, nothing I can speak of at the moment, but certainly it's very interesting to us.

How about WiiWare in general? Obviously the Strong Bad game, the first season was your first foray onto that platform, and the platform has a really, let's say, eclectic mix of high quality games. So you have Strong Bad, you have World of Goo, and then there's, let's say, some less savory games on the service. How do you guys think you fair there and do you expect to have more success on other consoles platforms going forward?

I think we did really well there and we're big for WiiWare in general. Considering we had five episodes come up at the end of the day, it was a lot of data. So, that's something that, as they continue to figure out some of their storage things, we think the franchise is going to be able to get exposed to more and more people. It performed well for us from a sales standpoint and I know that having a critically-acclaimed title coming out once a month was a good thing for WiiWare to give it some momentum in it's kind of early, formulative days. I think if you look at if from a critical perspective, what the high quality titles were on WiiWare over the last seven or eight months, I think you would have to include all five Strong Bad episodes in the top tier. So we're proud of that, and I think that it helped WiiWare out and I know we'd love to get another series started with them here soon and continue getting Telltale quality and Telltale products up on that channel.

So in terms of bringing other products to the WiiWare channel specifically, you said that the look of Wallace & Gromit was kind of perfect for XBLA. Obviously the 360 is a more powerful console. Do you feel like the almost photo-realistic, claymation look of Wallace & Gromit, that you wouldn't be able to do something quite so high definition literally and figuratively on Wii?

As far as moving it to the Wii eventually, I think we need more space than the 40 megs that WiiWare would have allowed us to do the games, but as far as the quality of the graphics, it's just about jumping through the technical hurdles to make it show well on the Wii as well. Bringing it to XBLA as the downloadable platform just really seemed like a good fit to try to execute what we were trying to execute. Now we can solve whatever issues the engine needs to solve around getting the same feel on Wii, with a little more space I think.

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