Going Back To The Future with Telltale Games’ Dan Connors
We sit down with Telltale Games’ Dan Connors to get the lowdown on the developer’s upcoming Back To The Future episodic series and find time to chat about the future of Jurassic Park, Nelson Tethers and Monkey Island while we’re at it…
How did Telltale’s relationship with Universal begin?
Telltale’s goal has always been to work with great franchises with interesting characters and stories around them. We’d been talking to Universal for years trying to figure out the right franchises there that should be made interactive and would be the right fit for Telltale. We started talking, really, about Jurassic Park first because Telltale was working on some new game mechanics that would allow us to do more dramatic, realistic, almost scary content. Jurassic Park made sense for that and when we started talking to Amblin about it, that’s when the subject of Back To The Future came up. That rang completely true for us as being perfect for the audience that plays Telltale games, as well as the studio, which has about twenty raving Back To The Future fans. So when Universal brought it up as an option we just jumped at it.
What is it about the Back To the Future property in particular that appealed to you?
It’s so character driven and Telltale in the past six years has really invested in technologies to create characters and virtual actors that give strong performances. We’ve invested in great writers and in tools that allow us to bring great dialogue to our games and Doc Brown and Marty are such hugely expressive characters. So realizing those characters using our toolset is a great fit and is going to be really good fun. Then, of course, the time travel nature of it is something that ends up in every series that we do at one point or another. So that brings opportunity for interesting storytelling and fun ways of interacting with the world.
Properties like Back To The Future and Jurassic Park have a much greater presence in popular culture than anything you’ve worked on before. How has that affected you?
I think it’s interesting because, in a way, we’ve used those other franchises to show that games can be made in a different way than what you would normally think of as a traditional licensed videogame. So Jurassic Park especially has had a pretty rocky history with traditional games and Back To The Future had one where Marty was riding around on his hoverboard picking cherries from a tree. Even with the size of those franchises, Telltale is the perfect company to work on them because those games need to be something different. We think there are a lot of franchises like this; that don’t have a footing in the interactive space and that Telltale can create widely popular games for, much as we’ve done with CSI. On the other side, it’s a huge opportunity when you say “Back To The Future” and every single person you talk to knows what you’re talking about. So, really, figuring out the right way to deliver the Back To The Future and Jurassic Park experience so that they get what they’re expecting is the biggest challenge for us. So we’ve been going after the talent and the music that you’d expect, all those elements that are true to the film. That’s another level of negotiation and “Hollywood-nes” that is definitely new to us. But there’s a ton of excitement, and it’s reciprocal because the more you talk about Back To The Future the more excited people get because they have such fond memories of it. So we’re excited about the opportunity to create a game that is relevant to every single person on the street.
You’re right when you say that people will expect familiar elements, like the DeLorean or Huey Lewis. How difficult has it been to pursue licenses like that in addition to the core Back To The Future license itself?
I think it’s been really interesting. When you start these projects you never really know what’s going to happen. But Bob Gale, who is one of the original writers, showed a great interest in the game because he had a fear that we were going to distort the license in a way that wasn’t appropriate. So we got together with him real early and started kicking around story ideas and concepts with him. And at that stage of the game, having an ally like Bob on board allowed us to construct a story that feels as much like Back To The Future as possible. We’re not just ripping off the license but really creating the next chapter in the franchise. That’s created a lot of excitement for him and having his help has given us a lot of traction with everyone else. Following up with others has been a lot easier with his stamp of approval.
Were there any specific dos or don’ts that Bob Gale suggested?
Oh yeah. We had probably the funnest meeting of my career with him. We brought our creative team and writers to a meeting and spent all day talking about Back To The Future rules with him. He had to write three scripts and consider the paradoxes and all the different things they found that were important to adhere to… That was taking things to a deep level but we spent about three hours talking through our basic concepts. Really the biggest thing he told us that made the most sense was to delineate the character motivations, and where they’re coming from, and to base everything around that and those relationships. We’ve really lived with that advice and, since then, every time we get a big chunk of content finished we get together with him to gauge his opinion on it.