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Interview: We chat with Telltale's co-designer about the Back To The Future episodic game

Making a movie-based game is in many case just a chance to drum up some PR and marketing for the movie itself. That doesn't appear to be the case for developer Telltale Games' upcoming five-part adventure game series based on the classic Back to the Future movie trilogy. From what we can tell this game was made with lots of love of the original films (hey, even Christopher Lloyd is back voicing Doc Brown. Great Scott!)

Starting on Wednesday gamers head back to Hill Valley (what state is Hill Valley located in, by the way?) for the first episode. We catch up with the ultimate reluctant time traveller Marty McFly as he takes the DeLorean out on yet another 88 MPH trip back in time. In the first episode he heads to the 1930s to rescue his old friend and creator of time travel Doctor Emmett Brown, but first has to deal with a younger version of the Doc. This promises to be heavy.

Big Download got a chance to ask some questions to Telltale Games' co-designer and writer Andy Hartzell about the game ahead of its Wednesday launch for the PC and Mac. Will he tell us about all the time twists and turns in the game and working directly with the movie's co-screenwriter Bob Gale? Check after the jump to find out:
First, how did the Back to the Future game franchise come into Telltale's hands?

I'm afraid I don't have a window into the magical world of Business Development. My assumption is our guys "took a meeting" with their guys, and everybody sat in a big Jacuzzi and called each other "Baby", and at the end of the day a contract was signed.

When Telltale started working on the game was Bob Gale already involved or did he come in later?

Bob Gale was involved virtually from the beginning. He's understandably very invested in "Back to the Future". He knew we were serious about it too...we were eager to write the next chapter in the saga, and so was he.

How much input did Gale have on the storyline for the game?


While we were busy cooking up possible storylines, he emailed us some of the notions he and Bob Zemeckis had toyed with over the years. One of these involved a visit to Prohibition-era Hill Valley. Meanwhile, one of our favorite plotlines involved a teenaged Emmett Brown. These two ideas eventually dovetailed into the story you're about to experience.
Was the idea always to have the game tell the story directly after the events of Back to the Future III?

No, we considered other ideas as well. One of them began in the 90's at Marty's wedding, and another picked up with the story of Marty's daughter in the present day. Both had a lot of possibilities, but ultimately we realized that-after a wait of over two decades-fans of the franchise were longing for a reunion with the teenage boy in the bubble-vest.

In terms of gameplay, how does Telltale's brand of adventure game design dovetale into the kind of game that the Back to the Future audience might want to play?

The Back to the Future movies feature dense, twisty, fast-moving plots. Fun and twisty we do well: consider "Tales of Monkey Island" and "The Devil's Playhouse". Fast-moving is another issue...a good, brain-tickling adventure-game puzzle can keep a player rooted to one spot for a long time. For "Back to the Future", we've sought ways to keep the plot percolating even as you're puzzling.

How hard was it to come up with the art style for the game?

I think we all had the same idea of where we wanted to fall on the style spectrum. A realistic style would have weighed down the fantasy...Back to the Future is all about broad characters and stylized acting. But Hill Valley has to feel like a real town with real-world problems, which would have been undercut by a too-cartoony style. Ryan Jones, our brilliant concept artist, found the happy medium: caricature, but with texture.

Can you give us an example of the kinds of puzzles and challenges that people can expect from the Back to the Future game?

Like so many other cities at the time, Prohibition-era Hill Valley is overrun with organized crime. One gangster, with the familiar Tannen pedigree, will be particularly troublesome for Marty and Doc. You'll be going up against him in a variety of situations: infiltrating his lair, thwarting him in a shootout, chasing and being chased.
The movie trilogy, obviously, has a lot of time travel involved. How interesting was it to come up with storylines that let us see more of the Brown, McFly and Tannen family?

And Stricklands! Don't forget the Stricklands. Coming up with storylines was a lot of fun...fun AND challenging. Back to the Future is all about playing new variations on familiar themes. We're revisiting all the well-loved tropes from the movies, but in surprising ways.

As we plot out the story, we occasionally get tangled up some time-paradox or another. We'll realize that our story requires character A to move one step to the left, but we've set up the situation such that moving one step to the left will cause another character to have never been born...that kind of thing. Trying to resolve the paradox, we'll get sucked into an endless loop of argument. That's when Bob Gale will zoom in and rescue us.

Is it fair to say that there will be some surprise twist and turns in the five episodes for fans of the movie trilogy?

Eminently fair.

Finally is there anything else you wish to say about the Back to the Future game series?

It's been a great privilege to work on this series. There are legendary movies, and there are well-made movies-the "Back to the Future" trilogy happens to be both.

The way I see it, if you're going to turn a classic franchise into a game, you might as well do it with some style.

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