You mentioned that you have a lot of writers working on Hail to the Chimp.
AS: We've got about ten writers working on the project. Our lead writer is Matt Soell, and we've got some guys who work on The Onion and The Daily Show and that sort of stuff.
Do you think people pay attention to writing, or do they just skip over all the cutscenes?
AS: It depends on the game, and the quality of the writing. You asked me what I've been playing, and I've been playing Puzzle Quest. It's got all the RPG story stuff, but it was the circle button for me! That's just because I wanted to do the puzzles.
Well, the story in that game is not that great, but what I find is that just the fact that I'm on a quest gives me more of a reason to actually do it. Even though I don't care about the story, just the fact that I have a reason makes me more interested. Otherwise I would just play Bejeweled.
AS: The escalation of abilities is the reason why I keep playing it. The guys you fight get tougher and tougher, and there's a little bit of strategy that evolves. The one thing that I thought about the story that was good was that there were some points where you make moral decisions, and apparently that has an effect, but I've been skipping all of the text, so I'm not sure exactly what effect that has. I like that idea. But if you're into a game like Halo or whatever, I'd want to watch and listen to it.
If you're into a survival horror game like Silent Hill, you want to know what's going on.
AS: Even a game like WarioWare that has no dialogue but has little cutscenes and stuff, they're short and goofy enough that I want to watch them. I want to see what I unlocked or what happened. I think Hail of the Chimp is a mix of those two things. We have this concept for in-game dialogue, which is to put in a bunch of triggers and have a ton of permutations for what each of those triggers do, and you try and make them odd or funny enough so that the ones that you hear over the course of playing the game can sometimes either hit the nail on the head and make you laugh, or so bizarre that they make you laugh.
There's also a bunch of rare ones in there, so you can play the game for two months, and you're still hearing new stuff. We've taken that idea and brought it to the cutscene layer, so when you launch the game, you launch into the news and it's all driven by the same trigger system with a ton of permutations per trigger. So what you're doing in the UI will actually trigger news stories and different lines of dialogue. When you choose characters on the character select screen, there's pundits that are talking about their political party.
Are you talking about full audio clips, or chopping up sentences?
AS: We built this system that's an interactive dialogue tree, that drives not just the audio, but it drives the character animation and the face effects and all that. It looks like you're watching the news, but all the dialogue is triggered based on this logic.
But you're not chopping up sentences in the middle, right?
AS: No, not in the middle, but bit by bit.
Is it more difficult to record for that?
AS: It's easier to record for, but difficult to write for. You have to decide what points of user interaction are going to be triggers, and then you have to write a lot of triggers that are funny. One thing that I think we're doing with our party game that I don't think anybody else has done before and what I hope is going to be one of the really cool parts is that there's this whole world with a backstory.
The ten candidates in the game have their own backstories, and there's rivalries between the candidates. All this stuff you don't have to know about when you launch the game, but as you're watching, you'll see a debate between the four characters break down into a fistfight between the armadillo and the hippo, because they've got this rivalry with each other. Then two days later, you'll see attack ads and commercials and stuff like that, and it's all part of this big world and the story that's delivered completely through this metaphor for the election. I think it's going to work pretty well.
It seems like you really thought out the universe and dialogue, which again makes me wonder why you didn't put a message in it. But that's your call, not mine!
AS: (laughs) It'll make [players] think whether they should team up with an octopus or an armadillo, pretty much.
That is an important life choice, and one that I have to make every day. And it doesn't get easier with time.
AS: Experience is all that you can rely on.