Interview: Don Bluth's Return To Games With Tapper World Tour
Don Bluth will be the first to tell you he's a filmmaker, not a game maker. But despite the fact that he has just two titles to his credit, the Hollywood veteran has still managed to make a lasting impression on the video game industry.
Dragon's Lair, in some ways, was the front runner for the modern graphics era. While Dirk the Daring & Co. were hand-animated, the title let players and developers know that games could be just as eye-popping as works on the big screen.
Now, 28 years after that arcade classic, Bluth and his artistic partner Gary Goldman are working on another title, teaming with Warner Bros. and Square One Studios for Tapper World Tour, an iPhone/iPad app that updates the classic Tapper arcade quarter-gobbler from Bally Midway and blends it with Bluth’s distinctive animation style.
While Bluth says he always kept an eye on gaming, he chose to stick with the Hollywood path, directing features like "An American Tail," "The Land Before Time" and "All Dogs Go to Heaven." He never really gave a lot of thought about exploring games further, he says. So what drove him back this time?
"I think failure at making movies," he half-jokes. "When we did 'The Secret of NIMH,' it didn’t do what we thought it would. It did not do well financially. The thing that bailed us out was making Dragon’s Lair, the game. So when we made [our] last picture with Fox – 'Titan AE '- and Fox decided to go into CGI animation, I said 'well I guess we’re not making pictures any more. Let’s look at games.'"
For Tapper World Tour, (due out later this spring) Bluth designed each of the game's characters and hand animated various segments that appear throughout the game. It's the first time he has done animation in years, he says. The game will also feature 100 levels centering around the same basic gameplay of the original game – firing drinks down to thirsty patrons before they reach the end of the bar.
Bluth, of course, has had a long career in Hollywood and didn't need to return to games, despite the lack of demand for traditionally animated films these days. There were a few things that intrigued him, however.
The first was the diversity of the team. The wide range of talent in today's game business and the way those developers and artists work together, he says, was intriguing to him. Warner and Square One have had 50 people working on the app since last June – far from the quick turnaround and nimble teams that typically work on iOS apps.
Primarily, though, it was the chance to focus on characters. Few games today focus on the characters, he says. Rather, the attention is entirely on action.
“With games, it seems there’s a great similarity in all of them,” he says. “They are violent. I have a sword or I have a bat or I have a hammer and I can hit you with it. The interesting thing about a game is when you can go deeper into [the lead character] and he has a [purpose or driving desire]. That pulls me in.”
(Several gamers will likely take issue with his thoughts. It's worth reiterating that at age 73, Bluth is not a player.)
Tapper World Tour is a remake of an arcade game, but its creators say the game will try to distinguish its characters though their unique look and characteristics.
"The character side of [the game], and the entertainment side of it – that's the stuff that gets me interested," says Bluth. "To me, that is entertainment and it's more like the movie business. That's the thing that pulled me into this whole project."