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Interview: Hothead Games Talks  DeathSpank ’s Impending Sequel

Interview: Hothead Games Talks DeathSpank’s Impending Sequel

August 30, 2010 | By Tom Curtis

August 30, 2010 | By Tom Curtis
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Hothead Games recently announced DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue, a standalone sequel to launch only two months after the original DeathSpank. The property has been pioneered by Lucasarts veteran Ron Gilbert and is often described as "Diablo meets Monkey Island."

DeathSpank was originally planned as an episodic series, but after Hothead released Penny Arcade Adventures, the studio's first attempt at the episodic model, the game evolved into what appeared to be a standalone release, though the studio crafted the sequel while the first game was still in development.

Thongs of Virtue, which'll debut on Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network, follows the same format as the original game, but stretches beyond the first game's medieval fantasy setting to a more varied collection of time periods and locales, from the Wild West to World War II.

Hothead explained that after establishing a strong main character and world, the studio hoped to push the boundaries of those elements with the sequel.

"We thought of it like a great Bond film," Millar tells Gamasutra. "We came up with a wish list of all the amazing things we can do with this guy. From there, Ron [Gilbert] went through and crafted the story to bring it all together."

The game draws influence from a range of time periods, and sees DeathSpank wielding weapons ranging from medieval axes to sci-fi ray guns. "We didn’t make any assumptions about the world," Millar adds. "The reality is that there is a lot of non-conformity in this game; it doesn’t conform to the things a lot of people take for granted."

Thongs of Virtue follows the same formula as the original game, and promises to offer more quest variety, with a greater emphasis on "puzzle-focused and adventure quests." Hothead admitted that the first game featured too many fetch quests, and hopes to rectify that imbalance in Thongs of Virtue. "We always said this game was 'Diablo meets Monkey Island,'" Millar says, "but the reality was that there was a huge amount of Diablo and a little bit on Monkey Island. We worked out that balance in this game."

Since Thongs of Virtue was created alongside the original DeathSpank, Hothead was unable to use fan feedback to influence the direction of the sequel. "It was tricky and we had to do a bit of guesswork," explains Millar," We did a huge amount of playtesting internally at Hothead, as well as external quality assurance, so we weren’t flying completely blind; we had a good gut feeling of what the main things were to work on."

As DeathSpank transitions away from an episodic format, it's taken important lessons from Penny Arcade Adventures on the dangers of such a model: "With the Penny Arcade series, we quickly learned that when putting out episodic games, it’s almost impossible to convince people that they don’t need to have played the first one in order to enjoy the second one," says Millar.

Although Thongs of Virtue will release only two months after the original game, Hothead insists the game was not born from the series' episodic roots, but rather is the result of the wealth of ideas the studio wanted to incorporate into the original game. "There were so many ideas that we wanted to fit into [the game], and we knew there was no way we could include them all," Millar explains.

While the sequel's quick turnaround is unusual for the industry, Hothead wants Thongs of Virtue to appeal to the dedicated fans of the series. "I think there’s an addictive nature to this game," Millar says, "I hope that for the people that really loved and finished the first game, this would be great timing."

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