Interview – WayForward deep-dishes on 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Danger of the Ooze'

Earlier this month, Activision announced a new Ninja Turtles game for Xbox 360 and other consoles called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Danger of the Ooze. The game will be a single-player exploration-based action platformer, and comes from fan favorite developer WayForward Technologies.

As a lifelong Turtles fan, I was thrilled to see the license paired up with a skilled developer like Wayforward. We promised some special coverage of the game would be forthcoming, so here it is: our exclusive interview with Tomm Hulett of WayForward and Director of Danger of the Ooze. Read on to learn how the game will play, what Turtles touches it will feature, and lots more!

Tomm and WayForward

Tomm Hulett WayForward Interview

Hey Tomm! Please tell us a little about what you do when you're not making games.

When I'm not making games I'm probably playing them. Otherwise I'm watching movies with my family, playing with pets, or reading. I should probably get out more. I really like hiking but don't have many opportunities to do it. I'm also at Disneyland a lot but I'd classify that as playing games; you can learn a lot about game design by exploring Disneyland.

How did you end up at WayForward?

I made friends with WayForward while working at Konami, where I Produced Contra 4! We kept in touch throughout the years and I worked with them again on Silent Hill: Book of Memories. Working together several times, it became clear that my Design approach was in line with WayForward's ideals. So when they had a Director position open, it made sense to join forces and become a super team!

Licensed games on the whole tend to be low-quality, selling primarily to consumers who don't know any better. Yet WayForward has turned out some memorable games based on shows and movies, such as Ducktales and Batman: the Brave and the Bold. How do you manage to maintain quality despite the development challenges of licensed games?

The short answer is that we at WayForward approach licensed games from the specific idea that every game is somebody's first game. So we aren't just ambassadors of TMNT, we're also ambassadors of video games as a medium. We take that mission seriously and strive to put as much passion and care into our licensed games as we would into our original creations.

As far as the more detailed answer, I think a lot of it comes down to proper scoping. There's a real temptation to design as much content as humanly possible, and then you get halfway through your schedule and you realize it's impossible to finish – so the end product is rushed and kind of haphazardly assembled.

At WayForward, we're pretty good at realizing how big a game we can make, designing to fit that, and then executing it efficiently so things come together relatively smoothly. That makes a big difference, since most licensed games have to hit a movie release window, the start of a TV season, etc. Every second counts in a schedule like that.

Shantae 1/2 Genie Hero

WayForward also creates original titles like the upcoming Shantae: Half-Genie Hero for Xbox One, 360, and other platforms. But the vast majority of your original games are unavailable on Xbox consoles. With the advent of the ID@Xbox program, might we start seeing more fresh WayForward games on the Xbox One?

We'd love to expand to other platforms. Obviously Half-Genie Hero is our first title on the newest consoles, but we're always interested in spreading the WayForward love to new audiences if the right opportunity arises.

The Ninja Turtles and their show

Now about those Turtles. Do you have any personal history with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?

I was a huuuuuge TMNT fan growing up, and I guess that never really goes away. Like every human being my age, I was obsessed with the eighties cartoon series and the toys. I also somehow snowed my parents into buying me an Eastman and Laird's TMNT omnibus that they didn't think to examine for content at the time. I even had a pet rat named Splinter!

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles NES game

What I remember most fondly about the franchise, though, is Konami's first two videogames. The NES Turtles game was probably the first licensed game most of us played. Maybe it wasn't the best, but we loved it so much despite that.

Of course, the arcade game was amazing. My friends and I spent so much time talking about (and playing) those two games… I'd be thrilled if modern kids talked about our new game in a similar fashion. Fingers crossed.

But! To read between the lines and answer your implied question: Raphael is my favorite. (That was the first question we asked people as they joined the team. Mikey emerged as the winner by quite a margin.)

Nick Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Mikey is my favorite too, but Raph is no slouch. Anyway, the current Nickelodeon TV series on which Danger of the Ooze is based has inspired enthusiasm among not just kids but also older viewers as well. What do you think makes Nick's incarnation of the Turtles so special?

Because it's so good!

The current show reminds me of Batman: The Animated Series in the way it collects years and years of history, across many different incarnations, and boils it down to the essence of the property. They really capture the "fun" of TMNT without sacrificing the cool ninja stuff, or how scary Shredder can be… but then you still have a mutant fly man.

Honestly the entire team was skeptical because we hadn't seen the new show when the project started – but we all fell in love with it immediately. We'd get together each week to watch new episodes, then work overtime to add in references to keep the game current and exciting.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Danger of the Ooze

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Danger of the Ooze logo

Danger of the Ooze bridges the gap between seasons 2 and 3 of the Nick show. Are you connecting specific story points between those seasons, or is the bridge more that the game takes place with the characters in the same state as when season 2 ends?

I'd say it's closer to the latter. The game's not really a "missing link" per se – but if you've seen all the episodes you'll understand where we fit in. It's something that happened off camera.

Works for me. And how much story content will be in the game? Will there be any voice acting, in or out of the story sequences?

There is so much voice acting! It was great being able to work with amazing actors like Rob Paulsen (Donatello in Nick's cartoon and Raphael in the original show) and Mae Whitman (April O'Neil in Nick's show)…

As for story – we really wanted to preserve some of the genre feel, where the story unfolds contextually as you play the game. But TMNT has a ton of great, colorful characters and that's a really important part of the brand too… so most of our story unfolds when you encounter a boss or an NPC. Those moments let us have a lot of fun with characters that fans love. However, when you're actively exploring the city and immersed in gameplay, we won't be interrupting you with radio calls or anything.

That said, the Turtles love to wisecrack as they fight in the show (and comics) and that is an element we've kept as well. There's plenty of banter as you fight!

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Danger of the Ooze

Danger of the Ooze is a single-player game in which players can swap between the four Turtles, not unlike the original NES game. Can you give us an example of how one Turtle's abilities differ from another's? And do the inactive Turtles recover life when not in use?

I thought it was really important to let players use their favorite Turtle exclusively (if they want), so you'll never encounter, say, a pit that you need Donnie to vault over. However, every Turtle has his own unique rhythm. Raph and Mikey have 3-strike combos while Leo and Donnie only have two, but the former pair has much shorter range. Each turtle also has his own specialty just to keep things interesting. Mikey can jump higher, Raph throws Shuriken faster, Donnie can block more easily, and Leo's counterattacks are the best.

Something that always frustrated me about the NES game was that Donnie was clearly the best—it was no contest. Best range AND best damage? Come on. This might just be jealousy because Raph was clearly the worst in that game, but I didn't want kids today to have the same experience. If I love Leo in the show, I want to love him in the game too. So we spent a lot of time trying to get it right. They all have their advantages.

Inactive Turtles don't regenerate health, but we do have a cool mechanic for when a Turtle is defeated. When this occurs, that Turtle is Captured, and taken out of the active roster. But, if you can locate where in the city he's been stashed and rescue him, he'll be back on the team and ready for action again. This means you essentially have unlimited lives, but if you aren't careful your favorite Turtle could be out of commission for a while. There's an upgrade that allows you to hone in on captured Turtles, so players will definitely want to track that down.

Nick Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

You mentioned Mae Whitman earlier. I take it the Turtles' allies April O'Neil and Casey Jones appear in the game? What role do they play?

Yes, [they are two of the] several NPC characters you'll encounter throughout the game. They primarily serve to teach the Turtles new techniques or impart different abilities. They may even have different messages depending on which Turtle you're controlling when you encounter them.

Can you go into a little detail about the game's combat mechanics?

One of my favorite parts of the Batman Arkham franchise is how you really feel like Batman when you play. In combat you don't need to "earn" your Batman-ness. You just feel Batmannish when you play. I wanted to accomplish that with TMNT – so the player really gets into the shell of their Turtle. Combat is a crucial part of that.

So every Turtle has his melee combo which is controlled by a single button. If they hold it down at the end of their combo, the Turtle will spin his weapons (a flourish seen frequently in the show). At this point, the player can perform a Shell Kicker by pressing one of the four cardinal directions. The four Shell Kickers each do something different – for example, forward SKs will knock enemies forward into other enemies. Downward SKs hit really hard and can break through an enemy's guard.

The player gains XP by defeating enemies, and this can be used to level up Shell Kickers so they're even more impressive and have additional effects. But there might be advantages to sneaking around your enemies too… if you defeat one without being noticed, it has a higher chance of dropping pickups.

In addition to the main attacks and Shell Kickers, the Turtles will find/learn various attacks, from Shuriken to Special Moves and navigational abilities.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Danger of the Ooze

Danger of the Ooze will feature an "interconnected non-linear game world." Does that mean it plays like what we think of as a Metroidvania game?

That's right, TMNT:DotO is an exploration-based action platformer. I've always wanted to create a game in this genre set in a modern city, so when Activision told us they were thinking about going this direction for TMNT, I felt incredibly fortunate. A great genre, in a setting I've wanted to explore, with a franchise I grew up with? Where do I sign? We certainly strove to do the concept justice.

We really tried to stick with the approach where most of your power-ups increase both your offensive capabilities and your navigation options. A good example of this is the Smoke Bomb. Not only will it teleport you instantly out of harm's way and stun nearby enemies, but it can also be used to reach higher areas or bypass laser barriers.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Danger of the Ooze

Do you plan to extend the game's playtime with collectibles, or will all of the items the Turtles collect be functional in nature?

There is one very well-hidden collectible, but for the most part anything you collect will be functional. We keep track of your completion percentage, which factors in items found and how much of the map you've traveled, so completionists will need to cover a lot of ground.

Obviously the game is grounded in the Nick series universe, but will there be any elements borrowed from other incarnations of the Turtles?

Shhhhh! Those are secret!

One game, three consoles

Danger of the Ooze is coming to Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Nintendo 3DS. Did you always conceive of the game as both a home console and portable release, or did that decision come later in development?

It was always discussed as a possibility, so we planned for the ports ahead of time.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Danger of the Ooze

Will there be any major differences between the big-screen and small-screen versions of the game?

We really wanted players to get the same experience regardless of their platform choice, so the only differences are the ones you'd expect: 3DS has stereoscopic 3D, whereas consoles have improved graphics and music, as well as Achievements/Trophies.

Finally, can you tell us about the Xbox Live Achievements players will be able to unlock in Danger of the Ooze?

My philosophy on Achievements goes hand in hand with WayForward's approach to licensed games – since this could be the player's first game (or certainly first Metroidvania), I want Achievements that reward them for progress, but also sort of hint at alternative ways to play.

When experienced gamers sit down in front of this game, they're going to be curious about speed runs, etc. But new players won't have that same frame of reference, so by having Achievements that reward fast completion times, it should goad them into attempting it. I try to have a good mix of both novice and expert Achievements.

Activision logo

This pizza's still in the oven

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Danger of the Ooze will arrive on Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Nintendo 3DS this fall. Please leave a comment to let us know you've enjoyed our latest Xbox developer interview! And tell us your favorite Turtle.

Paul Acevedo

Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!