In the first of a three part interview, we’re talking RPGs with the producer of The Baconing, the third game in the series featuring Deathspank, a rather unique hero with a taste for thongs. Mike Inglehart from Hothead Games was kind enough to show our intrepid interviewer Rich Metcalfe their newest meaty treat and answer some questions about the game. We’ve got answers for fans and newcomers alike, so put your buns on a seat and start reading!
Rich: I assume that one of the reasons why the release date is slightly unclear at the moment is due to Microsoft’s XBL clearance?
Mike: So what I can tell you today is that we have a release date with Sony that’s August 30th, so that’s confirmed. We’re also releasing PC and Mac the same day. Right now, we’re working on clearing through the last of the red tape at Microsoft to get a final date with them. We’re trying to get it as close to Sony as possible, because of the strict sim-ship rules we have. I can tell you that we were selected to be a part of a new promotion on PSN soon to be announced called PSN Play [now announced] – it’s essentially the Summer of Arcade on PS3, so the best four titles were selected, and we were one of the four.
Rich: Sony putting their weight behind the game like this will certainly be beneficial, especially when it comes to advertising.
Mike: Essentially they’re going to be putting a significant amount of money behind marketing and advertising for each of the four games. If you buy all 4 games, you get a free boxed game in the winter. It’s awesome, because we’re still fundamentally a small indie studio. We have a marketing budget, but it’s nowhere near as big as Sony’s, so this has been a huge win for the company because it’ll give us a good chance to finally put Deathspank on the map and let more people know about it. There is a demand for it out there, but it’s harder to gain awareness when you don’t have unlimited money to spend on marketing and advertising.
Rich: It was interesting to note that the game had dropped the Deathspank name in favor of something a bit more meaty. What spurred the name change?
Mike: So the name change, we took Deathspank off the title. We thought long and hard about this, but EA published the first two versions of the game. When the second came out so close to the first one, a lot of consumers became confused about whether these were episodic or chronological, and essentially the first games were one game cut into two. Unfortunately the second game had a little bit of a drop off in numbers because new players thought they had to play number 1 and number 2. The barrier of entry goes up when you factor that into the equation.
The big message we’re trying to convey is that it’s not an episodic series. There are no prerequisites, it’s kinda like the James Bond series, you don’t have to have seen GoldenEye to enjoy Casino Royale. You can jump in at any time, so if people haven’t played 1 or 2 yet, jump into The Baconing, because it’s the best version of the bunch and we want you to play that. It’s got tons of refinements and improvements, it’s got all the same comedy that the first two had, but it’s a better experience.
If you played the first, but you didn’t hit up the second one, that’s ok. Just vault over Thongs of Virtue and play The Baconing. It’s the definitive Deathspank experience. If you played the first two, then you’re going to be happy. You’re going to get a product that lives up to the expectations the first two created, and we’ve delivered on the improvements: improved gameplay, new music, new voiceovers, new characters, new environments, new weapons, new mechanics. Some people were disappointed that Thongs of Virtue didn’t change a lot, but they also didn’t know that it was one game cut into two. So of course, there wasn’t going to be a lot of changes to the game design.
So that’s the real reason for the name change because if we’d left Deathspank in front of it, we didn’t want people to think “now I’ve gotta invest X amount of hours into the first two games in order to enjoy the third” Instead, this is sort of the new starting line for people. They can always go back and play the other games after. The Baconing is where we want you to start!
Rich: It was a nice touch reaching out to your fanbase so that the name eventually was determined by the community.
Mike: Yeah, we were banging our heads against the wall, trying to figure out what we’d call it. We had countless awful meetings, so in the end we decided to open it up to the fans. We had about 27 pages of names, endless titles, most of them not fit for human consumption, but The Baconing fit the story of the game perfectly. With bacon being such a popular meat worldwide, you know - epic mealtime! - we felt it was the best choice.
Rich: If you tend to go anywhere near meat references in video games, it does seem to attract a wide range of people. Cool phenomenon.
Mike: (Laughs) It’s true!
Rich: The storylines in the previous games were quite ridiculous, and The Baconing seems as if it’s not going to disappoint on that front, so can you sum it up for us without spoiling anything?
Mike: So the story for this one, Deathspank put on all six thongs of virtue at the same time in a fit of boredom one day, breaking a thongolith myth and unwittingly releasing a Galactus inspired evil version of himself, known as the Anti-Spank. It’s so ridiculous but it works, it stands flush with the rest of the Deathspank games. A non-sensical but appealing adventure.
Rich: And I see that the game has upped the ante with some excellent new armour sets and weapons, what can we expect, given that The Baconing has a distinct sci-fi theme?
Mike: The overall theme is sci-fi, so we’ve got all sorts of suits this time. You can expect to see Robocop, Aliens, Battlestar Galactica and Tron references as well as a bunch of others. We tried to work in as many as we could. We’ve got the sand people from Star Wars. They are not all “on the nose” so to speak. When we looked at the writing for this one, part of what we learned from the first two was that if a joke was too on the nose, you can end up alienating people. A lot of those films that make a farce of another film, it’s just too spot-on that it’s not funny, it’s trying too hard. So we try to hit things just around the centre, not be right on the button- but around it, so if you see something, it’s meant to make you smirk. If you rip anything off completely, it doesn’t fit the world and it loses it’s impact, so we’ve been very careful meshing those in.
Rich: We were impressed with Deathspank and Thongs of Virtue, we did recognise however that the gameplay in Thongs didn’t evolve much from the first game, even though it was fun. Can you elaborate on the improvements made in The Baconing?
Mike: So when we started production, we talked with the community a lot,and the gameplay was something they wanted to see fixed. With the previous games, it wasn’t substantial enough of a challenge, they wanted to feel that the gameplay would propel them forwards just as much as the next conversation, the next character. While they were motivated by the adventure, the art direction and the comedy, over 8 hours of button mashing wasn’t enough to keep people enticed, so we wanted to bring gameplay up to a level that was more in line with those expectations, so there is a good relationship between adventure comedy and good gameplay experiences. With the gameplay, we’ve focussed on three areas. Adding more gameplay mechanics that the user has at their fingertips, improving the AI so they’re a substantial challenge and also changing the fight environments so you have more tactical choice.
In Part 2 of this interview, we’ll be looking at gameplay mechanics, weapons, equipment and AI improvements. Stay tuned, folks!