It’s a Cracking New Game, Gromit!

Telltale Games delivers an awesome new series of games for two beloved Aardman characters.

It’s a well-known fact that if you’re a game designer dealing with characters as universally revered as Nick Park’s Wallace and Gromit, you definitely have your work cut out for you. Fortunately, the team at San Rafael, Calif.-based Telltale Games that worked on the new Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures project knew exactly how to handle the beloved Aardman duo.

‘We had been working on our Sam & Max games but were looking to develop new games based on existing properties,’ says Dave Bogen, lead art director at Telltale. ‘Wallace & Gromit was one property that we were hugely interested in. So we basically built Wallace’s living room in Maya and borrowed lines from one of their films and showed them what we could do back in the spring of 2007, and I guess they liked our approach.’

Bogen points out that the previous games featuring the mild-mannered inventor and his clever dog were action platformers, while his team were going straight for the humor and the delightfully British style of stop-motion animation. ‘We went into great pain to make sure they did the same type of things they do in the shorts,’ he adds. ‘Our project as all about stories, puzzles, dialog and character interaction as opposed to Gromit running around with a gun!’

Art director Peter Sakel says Aardman was very concerned about the Britishness of everything associated with the characters. ‘They wanted the game not to be too Americanized,’ says Sakel. ‘They vetted the actual scripts and made sure that we got the language right, because so much of their charm is based on their particular regional origin.’

To that end, Telltale tapped Tristan Davis, a writer for popular British satire magazine Private Eye to work on the scripts. Aardman actually provided the studio with the characters’ original plasticine models, which have been faithfully re-created in-game, complete with the thumb marks and scratches from the real things. Perhaps the only thing that’s missing is the voice of Peter Sallis, who has portrayed Wallace in the past. However, chances are audiences will have a hard time noticing this detail, as the new actor doing the job does a killer imitation of Sallis’ calm and clueless tone.

Four Fantastic Adventures

As it has done before for the Sam & Max titles, Telltale will release the Wallace & Gromit games in waves. The first four episodes ready to hit Xbox Live and the PC this spring are Fright of the Bumblebees, The Last Resort, Muzzled and Boogeyman. ‘In the first episode, they are running a honey-making business out of their basement,’ says Sakel. ‘Of course, too much honey is ordered, so they have to get lots of flowers and giant bees!’

Fans will be happy to know that several new characters’including a new love interest for Wallace’have also been added to the mix. ‘They all have the same mouth shape and big googly eye balls,’ notes Sakel. ‘Of course, the character design had to all be approved by the team at Aardman.’

Bogen and Sakel lead a team of 25 employees through great lengths to make sure their CG animation came close to the charming stop-motion style of Aardman’s Bristol studio. ‘It’s a compromise,’ says Bogen. ‘When you try to do stop-motion on a computer, it doesn’t come close, so you have to pull back. What you want from a game experience is really different from what you look for in a movie experience.’

As Sakel also explains, the two companies have different approaches to their creative projects. ‘Aardman is an amazing studio that every one of us admires’their process it totally meticulous and is driven by quality,’ he notes. ‘We are a studio that has thrived on efficiency and delivering our games as quickly as we can, so we had to adjust to their process. They work two years on a short film, while we do four short films in four or five months! Our process is geared towards doing graphic, cartoony characters, so we could have gone for a more stylized version of Wallace and Gromit, but we really wanted to get something that was texturally close to the original world of the characters.’

In short, the Telltale folks are pretty thrilled that they’re giving families a series of games that will let them explore the world of their favorite plasticine heroes. ‘We do feel that we do a pretty good job with the other games that we have created, but this is our fast crack at something that will be reaching a wide audience of already-established fans,’ concludes Bogen. ‘You don’t need really fast fingers to play these games. A sense of humor and appreciation for their world is all you need.’ And that’s cracking fantastic news, mates.

To learn more about the game and sample it, visit www.telltalegames.com/wallaceandgromit.