Adventure Time is a comedic animated fantasy show that seems perfect for videogame adaptations. Last year, fan-favorite developer WayForward created an Xbox 360 game called Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I Don't Know! Despite the company's track record with quality licensed games, Explore the Dungeon didn't set the world on fire.
This year, WayForward and publisher Little Orbit are back with another entry for Xbox 360, PC, and other platforms that improves on its predecessor in every conceivable way. In fact, Adventure Time: The Secret of the Nameless Kingdom is the closest thing to a Zelda game that you can get on Xbox 360.
Adventure Time and Zelda fans, don't miss our latest Xbox developer interview with the game's producer, Ryan Rucinski of Little Orbit, complete with gameplay video!
Hi there, Ryan. Please tell us about what you do when you're not playing or making videogames.
A vast majority of my time is doing exactly those two things. I suppose you could throw sleeping in there somewhere. However, I do like to go to the movies and enjoy some fine dining establishments and that good food has inspired me to actually learn how to cook myself.
Do you get to the movies much? What was your favorite film this summer?
Surprisingly, I go to movies less and less. But there are certain films I have to see on the big screen, or I feel like I am missing out. My favorite film this year (and the first one I ever watched in 3D) was Guardians of the Galaxy. That was a really fun run and basically was the Marvel version of Star Wars (which I can't wait to see when it comes out in 2015).
Well, here we are, me writing about games, you making games. How did you get into the gaming biz?
It was kind of a fluke, actually. I was visiting a friend who worked at Virgin Interactive. On the way back home, I passed by Interplay, which happened to be on the same street. I had just been laid off from Pace (basically the Costco of the nineties) and I figured that I would just drop off an application.
They called two days later and I had an interview set up. I showed up in a suit and tie. After they finished mocking me and I answered all the technical and Monty Python questions, they hired me. I was literally out of work for three days, and have been in the gaming industry since.
Before we talk about your new Adventure Time game, what's your take on the show? Does it give adults much to latch onto?
I love the show. I think that any adult that played AD&D as a kid (or still does) can watch the show and relate to it. To me it feels a lot like the adventures that I thought up with my buddies when we would have a sleep over and play games all night.
Of course, the later seasons are getting more structured than the early seasons. Much like myself as a "Killer DM" – I was all over the place. Only as I got a bit older did I get structured.
Last year's Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I Don't Know! for Xbox 360 and other platforms received a tepid reception from critics. Did you guys take that criticism into account when making Adventure Time: The Secret of the Nameless Kingdom?
I actually talked about this a lot with the folks at WayForward. But I only know things secondhand, so I can't really comment on the exact issues.
What I do know is that there were some concerns on our end because we have this awesome license and we didn't know if we wanted to use the same developer [on Secret of the Nameless Kingdom]. Without being jerks about it, we asked WayForward honestly what would keep the game from going down that road again. Man, those guys are harder on themselves than we ever could be. They owned up to the issues and straight-up said that they would never allow that [negative reaction] to happen again. They were so passionate about trying to get to do another game with the license that we felt that they should get another shot.
You have to give WayForward credit. With a super strict timeline for Explore the Dungeon, they did get a game out that was solid. We also didn't have a lot of time to get Secret of the Nameless Kingdom out [by the end of] the calendar year, but they had all these assets [from the previous game] that were already approved by Cartoon Network and a now polished engine. They basically got to spend more time on game design and programming, and worry less about art.
I understand that Adventure Time creator Pendleton Ward acts as a creative consultant on the Adventure Time games. Can you elaborate on his involvement?
Pen told us the type of game he would like to have made, and also partook of our voice over sessions. Yes, that is the real Lumpy Space Princess in the game. (Ward voices the character in the show as well. – ed.)
We also had a ton of additional help from Cartoon Network. They gave us access to their writers, animators, upcoming story lines, unaired episodes, and concept art.
In the end, [everything in the game] has to be approved by Cartoon Network and Pendleton. Having the creators of the show involved with the development made the process pretty painless.
The show mixes comedy and adventure with dark and melancholy elements. Will any of those darker themes and ideas appear in The Secret of the Nameless Kingdom?
The game does have lying, betrayal, manipulation, lots of combat, and fart jokes, but nothing too bad. Also, [the game has multiple endings] and one of them is surprisingly dark.
The game features fully-voiced dialogue. Were you able to use all of the established characters' actual voice actors from the show?
Not all, but we certainly got some important ones. As I mentioned, Pendleton Ward made himself available for a few of the characters. I didn't know he was the voice of Shelby the worm until we started casting!
We also had Jeremy Shada (Finn), John DiMaggio (Jake), and Tom Kenny (Ice King), as well as a bunch of talented folks whose names you will see in the credits that are not just from the Adventure Time shows.
The Secret of the Nameless Kingdom looks to have been influenced by The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. What led to that choice of game design?
It is funny you should mention this. When we had our kickoff call with Pen he said, "I want a Zelda game." Done!
We wanted to [capture] that adventure game feel with some new characters in a new land. The guys from WayForward really rocked it.
Series protagonists Finn and Jake will visit The Nameless Kingdom in this game. What is their overall goal in this new land?
Right off the bat, Princess Bubblegum gives Finn and Jake an important mission. Of course the two weren't paying attention, so they have to figure it out as they go along. Something about Princesses or something.
Finn is the main character in the game. How does Jake the dog fit into the actual game play?
Jake is used mostly as a tool. He can be Finn's shield, [help him] across chasms, and [sometimes he's even] playable. He is mainly used for two-part puzzles and story elements, though.
Zelda-style games traditionally feature new items and abilities that players can use to solve puzzles and unlock secrets in previous areas. What are some of the items and abilities that Finn and Jake will acquire as they traverse the Nameless Kingdom?
There are a few items that you will come across as you explore the world. Early in the game you can buy a Bananarang that will help stun bad guys so that you can either run away from or safely beat them up. Imagine a boomerang [like Zelda's] but much yellower. Eventually you will need to light some fires so you may turn to Flambo (a fire elemental from the show), who can also be thrown at the baddies for damage.
All the items can be upgraded as well. Later in the game you will be throwing multiple Banarangs, Jake the Shield [will gain the ability to] block magical attacks, etc.
What sort of Adventure Time touches can we expect from the designs of the enemies and bosses that Finn and Jake encounter?
All the enemies in the game have been seen in one of the episodes or a previous Adventure Time game. As for the bosses, there will be some familiar faces early in the game, but as you get further along, they will be brand new.
Each of the boss fights is very different [from the others]. There are some where you have to time your defenses then use a special move to retaliate. Others are puzzles. Some require you to split up Finn and Jake. And of course, there is the multi-phase run/dodge/defend type. They are all pretty unique in how they play out.
Which artists did you choose for The Secret of the Nameless Kingdom's soundtrack? Will the game incorporate any music from the show?
We didn't use music from the show. The game's music was composed by a number of big names in the video game music world, brought together by Brave Wave Productions. These include Eirik Suhrke (Spelunky), Chipzel (Super Hexagon), Keiji Yamagishi (Ninja Gaiden, Tecmo Bowl), and Ian Stocker (Escape Goat).
I hear the Xbox 360 version has one really tough Achievement. Can we blame you for that?
The one where you have to beat the game without getting a single upgrade was NOT my idea, I swear! The QA tester for that particular achievement wanted to slash my tires because he had to verify that it unlocked. Sorry Corey!
The Secret of the Nameless Kingdom recently launched on Xbox 360, Playstation 3, 3DS, Vita, and PC. Why not release it on Xbox One and Playstation 4 as well?
[When we started development], the new Xbox and Playstation had yet to be released. We weren't sure how [well either console would sell]. It didn't help that we didn't have any dev kits [at that time], either.
That makes sense, but… Can we please get a Zelda-style game for Xbox One from you guys someday?
Hey, listen! So far every Adventure Time game has been [part of] a different genre. The first (Hey Ice King! for 3DS) was a platformer, the second was a dungeon-crawler, and this one is [a Zelda-style] adventure game. Hmmm... Maybe, but no promises!