Working with the Kinect, can you talk about how that translates to a game that features puppets?
NM: For us the biggest thing with Kinect games, a lot of our design lessons are very similar to what you hear any Kinect developer talk about: it's important that the interfaces be intuitive -- the activities for us that are really successful are the ones where you don't need to do a lot of instructional video.
Generally speaking, with Kinect games, the more physical they are, the more fun they are. Our original design had an even mix of physical activity, music activity and aesthetic activity. And it'll still have a mix of all of those. But what you'll find is the aesthetic and musical activities become more intrinsically physical with Kinect, and more fun to do with your body.
We actually went and twice visited Jim Henson's shop in New York where they built every Sesame Street Muppet ever created. So they're actually in the studio, you see them lined up and meet the people who made them.
We tried to be very faithful to the construction of the Muppets. Actually, the game has a dynamic fur system, a bunch of puppet geometry simulators under the hood, a lot of stuff to keep that sense of interacting with Muppets come to life, rather than just stock CG characters.
That said, the game is not primarily about being a Muppeteer. Because Elmo and Cookie Monster, they're not puppets -- they're living, real-life creatures -- that's why you can see them on TV! They have attitude, personality, so we prefer to focus on interacting with them. They're very much alive and vital parts of the world, not just things for you to control.
TS: And that trip to Henson's studios was really inspiring, and a little intimidating, because we were in the room with Cookie Monster and Snuffleupagus over there, and those are two of my favorites from when I was a kid. And I asked them, "Which Snuffleupagus is that? Number 50 or whatever?" And they said, "That's it, that's the first one that we ever made. That's it over there."
And I also realized that there were just a couple Cookie Monsters. Standing there, I could touch the fur on the Cookie Monster that I had seen as a kid, and Snuffleupagus, and you just... it was really meaningful to me to see these things from my childhood. Then I felt this responsibility, just how serious it is to work with the characters, and how important they are.
Sesame Street is all about learning and having fun and all that, but as far as kid properties go, it's huge. What more can you say about that responsibility of doing it justice?
TS: I put up a dumb video of me on our website of me playing with a Cookie Monster puppet. ... That is my Cookie Monster puppet from when I was a little kid. I've kept that and have always had that around, so I've always felt really close to those characters.
And when you really study them, you see the body of work of these characters, and all the things they've been through, and you realize you can't just wing it -- you can't just do a half-assed job.
Can I say "half-assed" in a story about Sesame Street?
TS: Pardon me! [laughs] You really have to love the characters and you feel an awesome responsibility to live up to it and not just stay on canon, but also create something that adds to the body of work of these characters.
NM: Yeah, absolutely. For me there's another aspect where it's not just about the characters, but also staying true to the mission of Sesame Street. It's interesting if you read some of the original interviews when Sesame Street was going on the air -- between the chairman of the FCC, Henson and the educational founders whose general feeling at the time was that television was going in a bad direction -- that most of what was on TV was not very enriching. Even the kid stuff was Cowboys and Indians -- disposable fare.
People felt really convicted about wanting to do something uplifting, that would feel better for their medium. Frankly, I feel kind of the same way about video games right now, that we're not nearly as creatively broad as we could be. We often stay very safe, and safe in some pretty often reprehensible directions, or at least thoroughly uncreative.
You know, we're known for space marines who like violence, primarily. And I think our medium can do many more things than that. And I think that mission of Sesame Street, that original vision of a medium being a force for good -- one that can make people feel better about their lives and one that they can learn from -- I feel incredibly beholden that we make a product that lives up to that pretty audacious, inspirational goal.
TS: ...and still be funny.