Transforming Adventure Time into a dungeon crawler: our WayForward interview

By Gabriella Tato, Oct 09, 2013 9:00am PDT

Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I DON'T KNOW! transforms the popular Cartoon Network series into a classic Diablo-inspired dungeon romp. It's a licensed video game adaptation that, frankly, makes a lot of sense. We caught up with Tomm Hulett, director of developer WayForward, to talk about how characters were chosen for the game, and what it took to translate such a beloved property for real-time adventuring.

Adventure Time (the show) has the liberty to basically go wherever it wants to, in any crazy direction. With so many characters and worlds already represented, how do you pick which ones need to be included in a game?

Tomm Hulett (Director, WayForward): That's easy! "All of them." My initial designs involved lists of characters, so it might say "Bosses: 10" and then there was a list of 30 potential boss encounters. That way the difficult decisions were on Pen Ward during his early visits to go over design and vision for the game. (Just kidding--mostly.)

We had several meetings with Pen where he told us what he wanted the game to be like, and the types of experiences he wanted players to have... from there I looked at my long list of bosses (or player characters, or items, or Sub-Weapons, and so on) and found the ones that would create that experience. Pen also said since the first game was pretty heavy with Season 1 and 2 references, he wanted ETDBIDK to hit the later seasons. To that end, we were watching TV every Monday night and seeing what we could still fit into the schedule. You'll know where the game fits into chronology because the references will stop!

Cinnamon Bun's got a pretty amusing set of attacks. How did you decide which abilities best suited each character?

It depends on the character. Certain ones, like Marceline, were pretty obvious. Honestly I had a clear picture of her in my mind before I even knew what genre the game was going to be. She kind of predates my official employment at WayForward.

Others started with their role in “the party”. Finn was obviously the main warrior guy, Marceline a strategic mage... so we need a tank. Cinnamon Bun fits that role as a character, so what are tank-like attacks that fit C.Bun? And so on from there. Pen helped us solidify a playable-character list, so we slotted them in with the necessary roles for this type of game. This person needs a ranged attack… this person is more melee... Overall though we had to keep sight of their roles in the show, what type of character they are. I really want people to feel like their in-game options line up with things that character would do on the show.

Now, C.Bun's charge attack specifically? Early on Pen and I sent back requests to one another. I really wanted to use Demon Cat because I wanted to write his dialogue. Pen thought it would be funny if Cinnamon Bun reprised his "vomit" from the first Graybles episode—so it became a charge attack.

Do you expect people to try new characters based primarily on their class skills, or just affinity for the show characters? Are they differentiated enough that they'll go heavily to different play styles?

I'm sure the initial choice will be based on a player's favorite character from the show. And, with our Token and Sub-Weapon systems, you could tailor any character to your specific play style if you are adamant about it. In multiplayer, however, players will need to be mindful of the different roles suited to each character, and be a little more strategic. Teamwork can take you very far in this game!

Now, Marceline is the most nuanced character, so it takes some effort to really master her style. At the same time, I know a LOT of people love her and will want to play as her—including my young niece who plays games but isn't great at them. I am hoping the allure of destructive vampire abilities inspires less skilled gamers to put in the time and learn Marcy's quirks—if they do, they'll totally outclass their friends in multiplayer.

Some fans had speculated that this game would be an Adventure Time RPG. What influenced the decision to make this game a dungeon crawler?

Honestly it came out of feedback from the first game. D3 really did their homework to see what users wanted, and how they reacted to the initial game. What they found was people enjoyed it, but wanted a longer experience—a more challenging experience, as well as more characters to play as, and a multiplayer mode.

So while everyone was crunching the numbers to find the perfect genre that fit all those requirements, Pen said "Hey how about one of those top-down, endless dungeon games?" This is where a show creator who is a gamer comes in handy: it was perfect, so we went from there.

After the release of Adventure Time: Hey Ice King! Why'd You Steal Our Garbage?!, were there any aspects of the game where you thought, "this works," or "that didn't go over so well?" Did any elements from that game get carried over to or were purposely left out for Explore the Dungeon Because I DON'T KNOW!?

Well, I'm a huge Zelda II fan so I was bummed out initially when I was told we were going in a different direction with this new game--now I'll never get to create my loving homage! Overall though, it was a matter of seeing what resonated with fans about the first game and making sure we did those things bigger and better than ever. Once again, D3's research came in handy: people wanted voice acting! They wanted lots and lots of voice acting!!! So, we certainly have a ton of voice acting. Every line of dialogue on the console versions is spoken, and even quotes taken directly from the show are mostly re-recorded, rather than reused.

There's also a fun feature that was initially planned for "Hey Ice King" but got cut—so we made sure to get that into this game. (But it's mad secretive!)

Diablo has been cited as a big influence, but were there any other games that you looked to for reference?

While Diablo is certainly the most high profile game to compare ETDBIDK to, I really think my three biggest inspirations were Gauntlet, Nethack, and Smash Brothers. More recent indie games like Binding of Isaac didn't hurt either.

It's pretty awesome that the original actors are voicing the characters. Did they do any ad lib? Who worked on the script/dialogue?

They did a ton of ad lib in the studio—that's half the fun of voice recording! It's great being around these people who know their characters so well after so many years. Those are some of the easier days making a game, because they're so much fun. Pen created the overall story and many of the cut scenes, and then the script itself was collaborative between myself, Pen, and James Montagna (who Directed "Hey Ice King").

It was great having these amazing actors bring life to the script—especially once I realized certain characters like Choose Goose had far more lines in the game than they’ve ever had in the show (combined!). A lot of the actors were excited to have such big roles.

Tree Trunks is just the best, right?

Ha ha! I dunno... Tree Trunks makes me a little uncomfortable. She is a sweetheart, though. There were a lot of characters that I didn't like much from the show, but working on the game and getting inside their heads a bit changed that. Some of them are now my favorites! Tree Trunks though? She's so weird!

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