Interview: Scott Pilgrim production manager Marc-Andre Boivin

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Interview: Scott Pilgrim production manager Marc-Andre Boivin
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World has been selected as one of Joystiq's E3 Standouts this year. It's got everything an old school gamer could want: a 2D beat-em-up foundation, pixel art by Pirate Baby's Cabana creator Paul Robertson and a chiptune soundtrack by Anamanaguchi -- not to mention it's based on Bryan Lee O'Malley's seminal rock and roll Canadian comic. Can it get any more geek chic than that?

We spoke with Ubisoft production manager Marc-Andre Boivin to learn more about how this nugget of awesomeness came about, the PSN timed-exclusivity agreement and our one disappointment so far: the game's lack of online co-op. The full interview follows.

Joystiq: This Scott Pilgrim game is sparkling with indie charm, and yet it's being made by Ubisoft -- a big company. How did this project come about at Ubisoft?

Marc-Andre Boivin: From my understanding, Universal first proposed a project to Ubisoft, and it was the vision of the initial director and the initial team. They worked with [Scott Pilgrim creator] Bryan Lee O'Malley, with the creative team in place, and they found that the beat-em-up style with the pixel art style was a good direction to go.

I think everyone agreed at that time that this could be interesting, and I think the creator of the books, Bryan Lee O'Malley, liked the genre as well. So they started the project that way. Since the beginning, that was the vision -- a beat-em-up with the pixel art style that we have.
The game is based on the comics, and not the movie, right?

The game and the book and the movie are based on the same universe, but they're three different universes. That's something that the game team and the creator of the book, who's working with the movie team as well, that's something that he wanted; to not just copy the line and the style of the movie -- something that normally, often the game companies will do for a game that goes with a movie. But this time, he was purposely creating three different universes. So they are not exactly similar, but they complement each other.

So, how does the game universe differ from the universes featured in the comics and upcoming movie?

It's different because, though you have to go through the same adventure Scott is going through, we have some flexibility, and we want to invent some worlds, invent some enemies, that are not all in the books. So we have some flexibility. But the storyline, it's pretty much the same -- he has the seven evil ex-boyfriends.

But we had some flexibility. Bryan Lee O'Malley was involved in the game design and in the design of the story, where we go, and the message we bring to the player.

How did Paul Robertson get involved, then? Did O'Malley point you in his direction?

I don't think it was Bryan who referred Paul, but Paul was a choice of the original team that started at conception. Paul was the art director, and personally I have so much respect for his work. A lot of people came by [at E3], because we've got some fans of the artistic style of Paul, some fans of the beat-em-up style and some fans of the book. So we've got many different kinds of people that have been interested in our game.

But to get back to Paul: he played a big, big, big role in the team and helped define the style that we got. He delivered the work as well -- he delivered a huge amount of work during the production.

Paul's style is great, but it can also be very trippy and weird. Was there anything he came up with that you guys were like, "Um, that's a little too crazy for us"?

*Laughs* Honestly, the only thing we had to look out for and make sure it was clear to Paul was that we were aiming for it to be Teen-rated and to be 12+ in Europe. So we wanted to make sure that we stayed within the limit of the age rating. But no, it was all fine, and everything was super cool. We're very happy about Paul's contribution to the team. And the team members -- we were just talking about that before you called. He did a great job, and the team really appreciated his work.

How did Anamanaguchi get involved?

This was also one of the choices that was made early in production; to go to a band that is directly in the style of producing music that goes very well with the visual style -- and we thought that this band is pretty unique. So we approached them, they were interested, and they delivered a very good quality soundtrack. The final mix sounds super good. I'm sure the fans will love it and be very happy to listen to their music.

How did the soundtrack process work? Did you show
Anamanaguchi a stage and say, "We need music for this," or did they just give you a bunch of tracks?

They worked very closely with the sound designer on the team and the Ubisoft Montreal music department. We tried to give them as much information as possible, and then they found the style with the visual reference and delivered music that sounds good with the level. But it was very close work with the Ubisoft team and the musicians on that.

Beat-em-ups were all the rage twenty years ago, but the genre has generally faded out of popularity. Why did you choose to make Scott Pilgrim a beat-em-up?

It was a choice that they made right at the beginning -- since Scott is such a good fighter. Our game is based on many, many games, like River City Ransom, and many games from the past -- I think we have more than thirty referenced -- and the design team studied those games and introduced moves and vintage stuff for the players.

The people that know those games will really connect and see and remember quite easily. So that was something that we wanted to do, and the beat-em-up style sits very well with the attributes and the strength of Scott and his super fighters as he wins against all of the evil exes.

Did you bring any modern innovations into the design, or is the game strictly vintage? Is it different in any major ways from the old games it references?

I think we did inspire ourselves from those games, but the moves and the look are all brand new. The design team created that all themselves.

The game has local co-op, but you don't have any online co-op in the game. Why not?

Honestly, it's because of the the time frame we had; because we were coming out on PlayStation the same time as the movie -- and we wanted to make sure that the quality of the gameplay would be super good and the fans would be happy about the gameplay. So at some point, it was a production decision to do that.

Since the old-school games were local multiplayer, we went that way. But there was a decision that was made partly because of the production and partly with the design team. We would liked to have had it, but there was a risk at some point, and we wanted to make sure that we got great gameplay in time.

Scott Pilgrim is a timed exclusive for PlayStation 3 on PSN. Was there a reason for going with PS3 first, or did Sony just throw piles of money at your door?

Sony was very interested in our game, and we have exclusivity with them. We wanted to make sure that we came out at the same time as the movie -- during that time is the Xbox Summer of Arcade -- and PlayStation was the one that gave us that opportunity, and we're very happy about that.

Are you designing the game specifically for PS3? Will it be different on other platforms as it comes out?

I don't know if I'm allowed to say anything, as I'm on the production team and not a marketing or PR guy. But right now, I've been told that we're talking about the PS3 version, and that's it.

Final question, and this is important: Is River City Ransom the most underrated NES game of all time?

Whew. That's a big question for me. I have to be modest about that: I'm not the ultimate expert. If I answer you "yes," that would be -- for me, I think it's great, but I don't know all of the games, so I cannot say. I cannot answer that myself.

You can answer "yes" -- we've got a lot of readers who are River City Ransom fans.

I can answer "yes," then. Yes.

It's agreed then!

There's tons of influences in the game -- there are thirty at least. And we think that, for the people that are old enough to have played those games when they came out, maybe it'll be a good souvenir. But for the younger people, maybe they'll think, "Oh, maybe I should try to go online and try the beat-em-ups of the past."

Yeah, maybe Scott Pilgrim will also sell some copies of River City Ransom on Virtual Console. Thank you so much, we appreciate your time.
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