Telltale Autumn Sale

Questions for Mike Stemmle? Post 'em here!

EmilyEmily Telltale Alumni
edited July 2009 in Private Pirates Club
While the Q&A with the team thread is quite possibly the coolest thread in the history of Telltale's forum, we wanted to give you guys a chance to get a little more in depth with the folks working on the game, so starting this week we will be doing Q&As with specific members of the Tales of Monkey Island team... starting with designer Mike Stemmle!
During his decade-plus tenure at LucasArts, Mike was kept as far away from Star Wars as possible, instead acting as lead designer on titles like Escape from Monkey Island, Sam & Max Hit the Road, Afterlife, and the never-released Sam & Max: Freelance Police. After several years working as lead writer on Star Trek Online, Mike came to Telltale, where he co-designed Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People. His disturbing blend of dry wit, convoluted syntactical constructions, and bathroom humor have added a healthy helping of absurdity to the Tales of Monkey Island proceedings.

Mike's the lead writer/designer on the first Tales of Monkey Island episode, Launch of the Screaming Narwhal, so you should definitely pick his brain about that. But also feel free to ask about other projects he's worked on, his favorite color, his favorite Star Trek character, etc.
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Comments

  • edited June 2009
    Hey Mike! Glad do see it's not just Dom thats being mdae to answer all our questions none stop now :P spread the pai... fun!
    How much have you been influeced by the original Monkey Islands in not just the first episode, but on other games you have worked on?
    Is it truely a landmark franchise that you are glad to finally be working on again?
  • edited June 2009
    Hey Mike!

    I have a lot of questions, but I won't give you a ton of homework in the first post. My question is this: You, of course, made Monkey Island 4. What was it in that project that you wanted to achieve (how did you wanted to make it 'your' game while at the same time keeping it in the spirit of the previous games), and what's different in style/atmosphere this time around? In a semi-related question, how do you do differently in this project then you did with your previous project, Strong Bad? Both are of course episodic, but they have a very different sense of humour.

    I have a lot more questions, but I'll let the rest of the forum members have a chance first.

    EDIT: All right, one more question. Seeing as how you're the lead designer on the first episode, what do you do after that one is finished (which, I guess, is right about now, except for all the bug-hunting etc.)? Do you stick around to help on the other episodes, or are you going right into the next project (Sam & Max)?
  • edited June 2009
    Wow awesome! How important would you say technical knowledge is for a games writer?
    I'm guessing for you the 'designer' part of your job title is referring to more technical skills.
  • vizviz
    edited June 2009
    I've got one for Mike "Sea++" Stemmle, what is your favourite game barring the ones you've worked on of course?
  • edited June 2009
    Q&A's with specific members of the team? Great idea!

    Hey Mike!

    Since you're a designer/writer for a single episodie, how much collaboration do you have with the designers/writers of other episodes? Is it all kind of worked out in an outline beforehand, or is it kind of developed as you go?

    If you're working on the first episode, would your decisions for that episode end up affecting later ones, or are all "overarching" and repeating series gags talked about beforehand?

    In fact, what really is your role in it? We know that you dessode, wign and write the first episode, so we'll know we thank you when it's great. But how's that work into the grander scheme of the season?

    Who's your favorite Star Wars character?
  • edited June 2009
    I have a couple of questions if that's okay.

    1. One thing has perplexed me since I bought EfMI (and enjoyed it :)). What was the purpose of Pinchpenny and the other non-playable islands/was there a purpose/was there an idea to use these in a later game?

    2. Is there much more to the island we see in ToMI (Flotsam iirc?) than we have seen already, or will the episode be built largely on the dock-area?
  • edited June 2009
    When you were working on SBCG4AP, did anybody ever come into the room and say "Hey Mike," and then both you and Chapman said "hey" at the same time?
  • edited June 2009
    I'll leave you alone on Escape From Monkey Island *booming voice* FOR NOW. Mwahahaha. What I really have questions about are the Sam and Max series.

    On Hit the Road.

    1. How much creative input did you have on the game?

    2. What's your favorite puzzle?

    3. Any interesting or funny stories about the production of the game? Where did the idea for the Andy Griffith/Don Knotts twin come from? I always wondered how you guys got this idea. :D

    4. What made you switch to that interface instead of the old SCUMM interface?


    On Freelance Police (yep, I have to grill you on it. whether you answer me is a different story.)

    1. With you guys and Lucas finally in good terms again, do you think you'd consider or rather would LA consider remaking Freelance Police with updated graphics? I know you tried a long while back to obtain the rights again and failed. And if not....that brings me to Question 2.

    2. Can you give us any good snippets of some funny moments out of the game? :D Or a general idea of what it was going to be about? Or are you constantly finding red beams of light flashing over your forehead every time you're about to type the words Freelance Police?

    On you-

    What did you think of the new Star Trek movie?

    On Tales of Monkey Island-

    1. Which game in the series would you compare it the most to?

    2. Is the bad guy going to be big mean and scary?

    3. Who is your favorite MI character?

    4. What was your main goal when writing for the game versus when writing for Escape? Okay, I brought it up once. Did you have a general idea of how it would go in your head when you started out?
  • edited June 2009
    What should someone new to the Monkey Island Series know?
  • edited June 2009
    Now that the first episode is nearly to its conclussion, (and considering its the first one, the one that starts the whole thing):
    Wich were the hardest parts, the things that took really a lot of work and time? Also wich were the lightiest (is that a word?) and funniest.

    Anticipated thanks and congrats for the great work!
  • edited June 2009
    Hello Mike!
    There is something that you would change on EMI today?
  • edited June 2009
    How often did you think, that the first episode is going to rock while on the other hand nothing was finished yet (except for some scripts)? How was the time with Ron Gilbert after all these years of MI-abstinence? Are you still in touch with him while you're putting the final touches to the first episode (Problematic story issues? Talk to Ron and not to tissues.)?
  • edited June 2009
    Hi, Mike! I just wanted to tell you that I loved that small musical masterpiece that is Baddest of the Bands. Its ending sequence was probably the best ending sequence I've ever played in a game by Telltale: hilarious, captivating and with a completely unexpected twist. Will we have the pleasure of finding one of your trademark musical numbers in ToMI? Why wasn't anything similar included in EfMI? What is the lyrical adventure game of your dreams? And your favourite musical film?
    Thank you!
  • edited June 2009
    What esrb rating do you think this game is going to get? M, right, cause blood and gore is the only way to get teenage males to buy video games.
  • ttg_Stemmlettg_Stemmle Telltale Alumni
    edited June 2009
    serweet wrote: »
    How much have you been influeced by the original Monkey Islands in not just the first episode, but on other games you have worked on?
    Is it truely a landmark franchise that you are glad to finally be working on again?

    I'd say that the spirit of the original Monkey Island's "irreverence masking a genuinely dire situation" has stuck with me in just about all my design endeavors. There's no situation so grim that it can't stand a well-placed joke from an appropriate character. And that includes my Star Wars work.

    And yes, I'm really, REALLY happy to be working on it again. It's the only porject I could imagine delaying a return to Sam & Max for.
  • ttg_Stemmlettg_Stemmle Telltale Alumni
    edited June 2009
    Tjibbbe wrote: »
    Hey Mike!

    I have a lot of questions, but I won't give you a ton of homework in the first post. My question is this: You, of course, made Monkey Island 4. What was it in that project that you wanted to achieve (how did you wanted to make it 'your' game while at the same time keeping it in the spirit of the previous games), and what's different in style/atmosphere this time around?

    By the time EFMI rolled around, the franchise was in a strange position, story-wise. Arguably, the main characters has achieved some sort of closure, with LeChuck meeting an appropriate end on Monkey Island, and Elaine and Guybrush well and truly married. As a consequence, we felt that we really couldn't just go through the "LeChuck's got a plan, Elaine and Guybrush are stuck in typically pirate-y situations" route, so we tried to shake things up (with varying degrees of success) with a new bad guy, a lot of metatextual commentary about the commercialization of the pirate lifestyle, and a giant monkey robot.

    This time around, of course, the air has been cleared by the lack of any MI games for the last decade. This frees us up to go "classic" with our storytelling. A pirate. His wife. An undead evil jerk. Lots of voodoo.
    Tjibbbe wrote: »
    Hey Mike!In a semi-related question, how do you do differently in this project then you did with your previous project, Strong Bad? Both are of course episodic, but they have a very different sense of humour.
    .

    The big shift in this project is the emphasis on tight serialization. Tales of Monkey Island is really one big epic story, split into 5 satisfying chapters. Strong Bad, not so much.

    Also, Strong Bad is much more absurd. Charmingly so. Most Monkey Island plots, when viewed from on high, are actually pretty spooky.
    Tjibbbe wrote: »
    All right, one more question. Seeing as how you're the lead designer on the first episode, what do you do after that one is finished (which, I guess, is right about now, except for all the bug-hunting etc.)? Do you stick around to help on the other episodes, or are you going right into the next project (Sam & Max)?

    What a timely question. As it happens, in about an hour I'll be holding the first design meeting for episode 4 of Monkey Island, in which a whole lotta horrible stuff happens to Guybrush. Mark and I will also be keeping a watchful eye over the whole season, to make sure everything continues to hold together.

    After that, there's a dog a rabbity thing I've just GOT to muck with.

    Mike

    After
  • ttg_Stemmlettg_Stemmle Telltale Alumni
    edited June 2009
    Azure wrote: »
    Wow awesome! How important would you say technical knowledge is for a games writer?
    I'm guessing for you the 'designer' part of your job title is referring to more technical skills.

    Over at Telltale, our designers are a varied bunch. While all of us have abstract game design and dialog writing chops, the other skills we bring to the table vary considerably.

    Some of us have honest-to-Oa programming degrees, and are dangerously unafraid of wallowing deep into the code, while others of us glaze over whenever someone starts talking about LUA's appalling lack of unary operations.

    Some of us are spectacularly accomplished artists, while others of us couldn't draw flies with a rotted dingo carcass.

    Some of us are beautiful singers, while others of us, well, aren't. Of course, that doesn't really play into game designing, but it bears mentioning.

    Mike
  • edited June 2009
    Some of us are beautiful singers, while others of us, well, aren't.

    Are you one of the singers? If so, are you singing songs while working and which song is / songs are in your head?
  • ttg_Stemmlettg_Stemmle Telltale Alumni
    edited June 2009
    viz wrote: »
    I've got one for Mike "Sea++" Stemmle, what is your favourite game barring the ones you've worked on of course?

    Games I played a lot:

    City of Heroes I'm a super-hero comic addict, so this thing was like crack for me. I deeply covet an account for the upcoming DC Online, but I fear that I will have no time to play it... ever.

    Sims 2 I love the way numbers are dancing in the background of this game.

    The Zelda Games They (usually) do a great job of hand-holding.

    Grand Theft Auto Evil, evil games that my sons will be forbidden to play until they're 30... but they're great.
  • edited June 2009
    Hello Mike!

    First, it's a great privilege to talk to you and I want to thank you (as I thanked everybody on the team) for bringing back our childhoods once more.
    Second, the questions (I'll try to keep them short):

    1. What was the first line that you wrote for the game (the first thing you actually put on paper)?
    i.e. One of Guybrush's lines, the plot summed up in one sentence, a minor detail regarding one character or something more practical such as "must buy milk" etc.

    2. How does a normal work day go for you? Do you enter work place - sit down - drink coffee - write ideeas - watch youtube - write some more - draw - go home? :) I'm really curious how much work there is to be done on a normal day.

    3. What exactly did you work on in MI4? I am talking about an ideea that was 100% yours that made it into the game (i.e. the duck or Giant LeChuck Statue)

    4. Would you work on a Monkey Island Movie? (I know it will never happen, but if someone would just have sooo much money on his hands and was a MI fan?) :p

    5. What is the most dearest memory of them all, regardin the MI series?

    Thank you! For everything...
  • ttg_Stemmlettg_Stemmle Telltale Alumni
    edited June 2009
    Since you're a designer/writer for a single episodie, how much collaboration do you have with the designers/writers of other episodes? Is it all kind of worked out in an outline beforehand, or is it kind of developed as you go?
    Mark Darin and I have sort of "taken point" on the storyline for the whole season, laying out the big beats, big puzzles, and themes beforehand. Of course, we didn't do that in a vacuum, as nearly every designer in the building (and a couple NOT in the building) have contributed to the overall shape of the season, but by and large the overall plot structure was worked out before Chapter 1 ever got started.
    If you're working on the first episode, would your decisions for that episode end up affecting later ones, or are all "overarching" and repeating series gags talked about beforehand?
    The plot threads for the season have been worked out ahead of time (mostly), but running gags tend to be more organic, with writers seeing things they like in the first episode, then deciding to run with them. Of course, some running gags are so important that we DO plan them out from day one.
    In fact, what really is your role in it? We know that you dessode, wign and write the first episode, so we'll know we thank you when it's great. But how's that work into the grander scheme of the season?
    After the first episode, I'll be going off to design/write the fourth episode, all the while keeping a steady eye on the second and third eps, to make sure that there's a reasonable continuity of plot and tone. Not that they need my eye THAT much, since Mark, Joe, and Sean have a REALLY good handle on the story.
    Who's your favorite Star Wars character?
    Jar Jar Binks. What can I say, I LOVE the challenge of redeeming unlovable characters.
  • ttg_Stemmlettg_Stemmle Telltale Alumni
    edited June 2009
    Gryffalio wrote: »
    I have a couple of questions if that's okay.

    1. One thing has perplexed me since I bought EfMI (and enjoyed it :)). What was the purpose of Pinchpenny and the other non-playable islands/was there a purpose/was there an idea to use these in a later game?
    Frankly, I think we were just trying to fill out the map:o Of course, it's possible that there was a subtler plan at work, but that's an awful lot of brain cells ago...
    Gryffalio wrote: »
    2. Is there much more to the island we see in ToMI (Flotsam iirc?) than we have seen already, or will the episode be built largely on the dock-area?
    There's much, MUCH more to Flotsam than those two exteriors, you betcha.
  • ttg_Stemmlettg_Stemmle Telltale Alumni
    edited June 2009
    LuigiHann wrote: »
    When you were working on SBCG4AP, did anybody ever come into the room and say "Hey Mike," and then both you and Chapman said "hey" at the same time?

    Hey, are you insinuating that I've got a writing tic?

    Hey,
    Mike
  • edited June 2009
    It was commented in an E3 interview that you guys are all 10-15 years older now than when you last worked on Monkey Island and other classic adventure games. It also follows that most die hard fans of the classic Monkey Island games are also 10-15 years older now. How has that influenced your writing of the jokes and puzzles, if at all? Do you feel that you are purposely trying to go for more sophisticated humor to appeal to us old farts or trying to think 10-15 years younger to match the humor of the classic games?
  • edited June 2009
    That's an interesting question, yep :D Also, any big influences this time around like Pirate of the Caribbean was originally for the first ones?
  • ttg_Stemmlettg_Stemmle Telltale Alumni
    edited June 2009
    I'll leave you alone on Escape From Monkey Island *booming voice* FOR NOW. Mwahahaha. What I really have questions about are the Sam and Max series.

    On Hit the Road.

    1. How much creative input did you have on the game?

    2. What's your favorite puzzle?

    3. Any interesting or funny stories about the production of the game? Where did the idea for the Andy Griffith/Don Knotts twin come from? I always wondered how you guys got this idea. :D

    4. What made you switch to that interface instead of the old SCUMM interface?

    1. Sean, Steve, Collette, and I pretty much teamed up to design the whole thing.

    2. I'm really quite partial to the "bungee cord out of Mt. Rushmore" puzzle, although the "pulling the tooth from the wooly mammoth" puzzle also has its charms.

    3. The Andy Griffith/Don Knotts thing was a Steve invention... at least I think it was.

    4. We'd been drifting away from the classic SCUMM interface for some time by the time Sam& Max rolled around. With machines getting more and more powerful, it seemed time to make the full break and present our games with glorious full-screen graphics, and to eliminate the 6 or so extra verbs that were cluttering up our designs.
    On Freelance Police (yep, I have to grill you on it. whether you answer me is a different story.)

    1. With you guys and Lucas finally in good terms again, do you think you'd consider or rather would LA consider remaking Freelance Police with updated graphics? I know you tried a long while back to obtain the rights again and failed. And if not....that brings me to Question 2.

    2. Can you give us any good snippets of some funny moments out of the game? :D Or a general idea of what it was going to be about? Or are you constantly finding red beams of light flashing over your forehead every time you're about to type the words Freelance Police?

    1. I kinda doubt that'll happen, cause the amount of work we'd have to do to wrestle down the old project into, say, the Telltale Engine really wouldn't be worth it. I wouldn't mind if LucasArts freed up the intellectual property, though, so that we could mine some of the funnier story bits with a clear conscience.

    2. My favorite lines that no one else thinks are funny:

    Max - "Don't look at me, I'm more regular than an atomic clock."

    Max - "Oh no, it's the Rapture, and I'm not wearing any pants!"
    On you-

    What did you think of the new Star Trek movie?

    On Tales of Monkey Island-

    1. Which game in the series would you compare it the most to?

    2. Is the bad guy going to be big mean and scary?

    3. Who is your favorite MI character?

    4. What was your main goal when writing for the game versus when writing for Escape? Okay, I brought it up once. Did you have a general idea of how it would go in your head when you started out?

    0. As a fan, I was quite pleased and relieved by the new Trek movie. As a guy who worked on Star Trek Online for a long time, I was amused by some of the plot, um, gaps that ended up in the final version.

    1. Monkey 2. It's a continuation, it's funny, and it goes into some dark places.

    2. Isn't LeChuck always mean and scary? Oh, you mean our OTHER bad guys. Well, they're mean and scary too. And crazy. And occasionally obnoxious.

    3. Elaine. She's a pain in the tuchus to write, but there's a hidden complexity to her that's fascinating.

    4. This time around I'm looking forward to introducing these characters to an entire generation of game players who've never played a Monkey Island game before, while simultaneously moving the overall saga forward in a surprising fashion. Previously, we weren't as concerned with re-introducing the franchise, since was still quite active at the time.

    And with that, my lunch is over for the day,
    Mike
  • edited June 2009
    How are you balancing a sense of nostalgia and classic MI while pushing the series forward? Is there a conscious effort to "bring it back" or is there more of an effort to create new worlds and characters and story devices.
  • edited June 2009
    Is there an effort to keep monologue and dialogue brief and to the point? That's one of the things I really enjoy about the first two games, there's not a ton of reading or overexplaining but the laughs still come. It's fast moving, and mostly one or two liners. It's like you either see the joke or you don't. It seems like a lot of adventure games since then have relied on paragraphs and paragraphs of reading.
  • edited June 2009
    Hey, are you insinuating that I've got a writing tic?

    Hey,
    Mike

    What? No. Just that you and Mike Chapman have the same first name. It was kind of an "I can't think of any good questions" question.
  • edited June 2009
    Mr. Stemmle, if you were a tree, what sort of tree would you be? Have you ever read any of the works of P.G. Wodehouse? If not, go right now and get Mulliner Nights and jump to "Strychnine in the Soup."
  • edited June 2009
    Hey, Mike.

    I have a question, but I don't know whether or not it can be properly answered until after the game is released to the public. While designing Tales of Monkey Island, were there many ideas that were tossed around, but in the end, left on the cutting room floor?
  • edited June 2009
    Hi, Mr Stemmle, I have one question for you. For a long and a difficult time, the adventure game was near to death. Then, Telltale Games in the USA and others in Europe have tried to reborn this kind of games... I hope successfully and for a long time... I won't ask you about the Telltale's Games (They are great of course !!!) but I would like to know what do you think of the european productions like Jack Keane or Runaway 1&2 (especially because they are tribute to MI and LucasArts productions) ? And Thanks to you and Telltale Games to be so close to your customers in this great event ! It's like participate in the game ourself ! Thanks again !
  • edited June 2009
    Thanks for the reassuring answer :)

    When you write/design/etc. on ToMI, how much freedom do you have in re: the MI franchise? Given that you guys seem to be driving character dev. forward, were there calls to make to LA, or are they quite cool about your creative freedoms?
  • edited June 2009
    Why did Stone LeChuck die at the end of Escape?
  • edited June 2009
    Are you also excited about Bill Tiller's Ghost Pirates of Vooju Island, the way he is excited about Tales of Monkey Island?
    2 games like that coming out soon; for Monkey Island (or MI-related) fans that's like heaven :)
  • edited June 2009
    - Since you've worked on both of the "3D" Monkey Island projects,
    I wanted to know which of the control interfaces did you prefer?
    The EMI keyboard or the TMI point & click?

    In case you answer point & click, I have another question.
    - Why wasn't there a point & click interface to EMI?
  • edited June 2009
    Hi.

    1. What kind of variables are you talking with your team about/thinking a lot about in the equation of making a good game?
    2. How do you react when you've put down shitloads of time in a project like MI 4 and then what you put out gets heavily critisized by the more hardcore fans?
    3. Where do you think the future of gaming is (in terms of gameplay)?
    4. I reckon you're very proud of your ToMI. Is it very hard to resist the urge of just spamming the forum with screenies, hints and spoilers? Do you have general guidelines to follow?
    5. How does creativity come to you; do you have it under control or do you get possesed by it?
  • edited June 2009
    i have to say that i'm currently replaying Escape, and while there's a lot that's making me smile there are still things in it that i don't like, and frankly i think i'm one of the much kinder people to the game. i love, for example, that you can throw pretty much every single thing in your inventory at Herman. i love howling at the moon by Meat Hook's. i love that mists of time puzzle (who doesnt?). some of the puzzles are just a bit too random though, not really up to the whole 'ah why didn't i think of that!' standard of old. like, the names on the bottom of the manhole cover rewarding you with the fake skin to get into the bank. i never got that one...

    anyways... i guess what i wanted to ask was given that Escape is seen as the weak link in the series, does that effect your approach coming in to Tales? i mean, Sam and Max Hit the Road is an absolute classic, and your Telltale episodes have been some of the strongest ones (i think).

    Escape is really the only thing on your record approaching a black spot. Are you approaching this as a shot at redemption? Are you worried about getting a similar kind of backlash? Are you trying to put it all behind you and just focus on making Tales as good a game as possible, or are you more doing the whole 'what went wrong? how do we fix that?' post mortem.

    in a weird way, you may well know better than anyone else what kind of jokes and puzzles work in Monkey Island game cause you mainly only hear the bitching about the ones that didn't.

    well apart from that swamp of time puzzle. everyone raves about that one. rightly so. i still think it's one of the funniest puzzles in any adventure game.
  • edited June 2009
    When you spend every waking day of the week working on these stories, do you ever dream about them at night? What's the weirdest dream you ever had?
  • edited June 2009
    Mike, having worked on so many successful games, are you surprised by how often fans seem to dwell on the games/things they don't like?
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