Over the years, there’s been games based on comic books and comic books based on games. But for Tales From Deep Space, a new game for Amazon’s Fire tablets made by Frontier Developments, the game and the comic are working-in-hand to tell the story. Which is why the following interview was done with both Frontier Developments’ John Law, the game’s Director Of Art, and Amazon Game Studio’s senior narrative designer Robert Ferrigno.
Let’s start at the beginning: What is Tales From Deep Space and how do you play it?
John: Tales From Deep Space is a comedic platform adventure set on Big Moon, the most eccentric space station in the galaxy. Players help E, a traveling salesman, and CASI, his loyal luggage drone, escape when Big Moon is thrown into lockdown. E and CASI must work together to fight dangerous battles, solve challenging puzzles, and unravel the nefarious plot behind the mysterious “Meek” uprising.
Where did the original idea come from?
John: The desire to create a space-based, comedic adventure built around the coming together of E and CASI had been around for almost a decade. The initial idea came while working on concepts for a male anti-hero, and being struck by the notion of a little guy who was the complete accidental hero, where even genetics were against him. The vision was of a short, plump astronaut who was the reject from a batch of a clones who were genetically designed as a galactic traveling salesman. That seemed a challenging enough beginning for an action hero. Even the name, E, isn’t top of the alphabet.
Being a salesman, E of course had to have a suitcase, except his is a reconditioned combat valet called CASI, which is pronounced “Casey.”
So what other games do you think Tales From Deep Space is similar to, and what makes your game different from them?
John: In game terms, I’ve tremendous regard for Michel Ancel’s and Shigeru Miyamoto’s work. But the core dev team never looked at another game as a definitive guide. We’ve been more inspired by ideologies of game making.
If I was trying to sum it all up, though, and speaking hypothetically, Tales From Deep Space is the game equivalent of Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro directing a Pixar film based on Hergé illustrating Zelda In Space.
In the press materials, it says that Tales From Deep Space will come with a free digital comic. Did you guys hire a comic book guy to write the game and the comic?
Robert: Yes, we hired a writer from IDW Publishing, Tom Waltz, who had previously written a series of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics. But the comic and the game were written by different people because they are different mediums, with different needs, though we all collaborated closely to ensure that the world and characters feel consistent.
Did you also hire a real comic book artist to draw the digital comic?
Robert: We worked with Italian comic artist Ciro Canglialosi, who has done a lot of comics for Disney. We used Ciro because his line and richly-saturated color palette was a great fit for the rich, dynamic world of Tales From Deep Space.
As you said, in Tales From Deep Space, you play as a traveling salesman named E. Now I’m a lot older than you, and I don’t think I’ve ever met a real traveling salesman, I’ve only ever seen them in cartoons. When creating the character of E, what cartoons or other things did you base him on and why them?
John: The notion of the traveling salesman is an interesting one. The classic man-and-a-suitcase role is actually still a powerful one, it’s the kind of person who never gives up. Inspector Clouseau springs to mind as having conflicting qualities of grim determination and ineptitude that our animators have expertly bestowed upon E.
But in Europe, we still get people coming to your door trying to sell goods from a hold-all. It’s a tough job of living hand-to-mouth where you are never welcome, surviving on wits, humor and tenacity. So I guess John Candy in Planes, Trains, And Automobiles would be a good example of what we’re talking about.
So is he named after the guy from the band Eels or Eric from Entourage?
John: Nope. Like I said, he’s a clone from a reject batch. E has siblings F, G, H…you get the idea. There was a first batch, but we don’t like to talk about A, B, C or D. Not pleasant at all, but that’s a whole other story.
In designing CASI, both the way she looks and acts, what robot sidekicks did you take influence from and why them?
John: CASI is smart and tough, like EVE from Wall-E. But the relationship between E and CASI has similarity to Jeeves and Wooster [the characters from the British sitcom Jeeves And Wooster], maybe even Holmes and Watson…if Holmes resembled a battle-worn PC case.
In the game, players can switch between E and CASI. But can you do this whenever you like, or just at certain parts?
John: You can do it whenever you like. In fact you’ll have to do it to beat some of the levels. You can also play in local, two-player co-op, where each player controls the reluctant heroes individually.
Why is it only local co-op?
John: It’s a character-based game and, as such, if two people played as E or as CASI, it wouldn’t make sense. Tales From Deep Space is also a game which encourages chatter and lively inter-play to beat puzzles or outsmart the murderous Meeks, and that is always more fun in the same room.
Tales From Deep Space is available for Fire tablets. Are there any plans to bring it to Fire TV as well?
John: Fire TV is a very exciting proposition, we wouldn’t want to deny any platform of the Tales experience.
Okay then. Finally, John, since Tales From Deep Space is not your first game, if someone really liked it, which of your other games would you suggest they play next and why?
John: We’ve created a large number of games of different types on different platforms. LostWinds is probably the closest in spirit to Tales From Deep Space…just don’t expect it to be a science fiction adventure.