Happy Tree Friends Q&A
Sega has announced that Happy Tree Friends: False Alarm will hit the Xbox Live Arcade on the 25th of June, while there also is a PC version coming out. Here's a crazy interview from XCN with the some hilarious guys from the development team, mentioning lots of blood (sausage), "death funnies", the Manson family and of course tons of other things.
Interview by: Graeme Boyd, Xbox EMEA Community Manager
Answered By: Kenn Navarro (creator/art director), Ken Pontac (story editor/writer), Warren Graff (writer)
· How did you come up with the design concept?
Kenn N: It was mostly the guys at Stainless that came up with the current design concept. We wanted to come up with something that was a little off the beaten path than a fighting game, first-person shooter, or moss growing simulator. The game actually has gone through a few different versions with completely different game-play mechanics before settling into this final version.
Ken P: We came up with the design concept the way we always do: by staring up at the ceiling until an idea drops down and lands on our heads. This results in severe neck and brain injuries, and at that point the ideas just flow. Or at least, the blood does.
Warren G: They didn’t like my ideas. I thought it would be great to make the game a MMORP. I wanted to make it a game like World of Warcraft.
· The series features great characters and humour. Was it difficult to implement this in the final game?
Kenn N: It is definitely a different challenge than working in the more linear format that we’re used to. When we do the animated shorts we have full control over timing and pacing, right down to the frame! It’s a totally different ball of wax when dealing with those concepts in a game because so much of those elements are variable and driven by the player. I also found it a bit more difficult working on a process that shifts and evolves while production is going on. Every production will change and evolve over time but with the game it seemed like it was in constant flux. Things that we thought were true in one build might not be there or completely changed in the next one for various reasons. So, it was a bit of an obstacle to try and hit a moving target.
Ken P: We were really pressing for crappy characters and an educational message; sort of like if PBS had developed the game, but that idea died in the focus groups.
Warren G: Not really. Death, gore, and violence are really universal concepts that transfer to all mediums really well. The characters are really just vessels that covey those messages. The fact that we are incredibly funny also made it easy.
· Will the game be suitable for children? What will the PEGI rating be?
Kenn N: Much like the animated shorts the game will not be suitable for children or big babies. We didn’t want to skimp on the trademark humor and blood that our fans will expect in the game. Besides, we have barrels and barrels of cheap, wholesale blood that we need to use up before it goes bad.
· Can you give us any insight on the different ways you can dispose of your "enemies"?
Kenn N: There aren’t any “enemies,” per se in the game. In fact, the whole point is to try to save the characters from gruesome demise. With that said, it wouldn’t be Happy Tree Friends if it wasn’t rife with possibilities of getting chopped in-half, squashed, gassed, burned, irradiated, electrocuted and blown up!
Ken P: I generally disable the brakes on my enemies’ automobiles so it looks like an accident. Oh, do you mean enemies in the HTF game? There are no enemies in the HTF world. They’re all friends. Warren G: I’m really not big on giving things away. Although, I should point out that there are no enemies. This is the Happy Tree Friends game, not the Happy Tree Enemies.
· Is the audio design original or have you taken some sounds from the animated series?
Kenn N: We’ve got Jim Lively who does all the audio for the shorts. So all the voices, music and squishy sounds are 100% pure and unfiltered! With that said, it’s a mixed bag of both newly recorded sounds and some stuff that we’ve got in the library.
· Is it possible to play co-op online via Xbox LIVE or trade some Happy Friends?
Kenn N: Unfortunately, “False Alarm” is a single player experience meant to be enjoyed alone in a dark room with some candy and soda (cornerstone of any respectable gamers’ diet!). We would have all loved to make it multiplayer but the realities of budget and time just didn’t allow us to make that happen.
· What do you think about Xbox LIVE Arcade?
Kenn N: I LOVE Xbox LIVE Arcade! It’s not only a great platform to play games on, but also to make and release smaller, independent titles. It’s just another great outlet for more types of game play, and that’s a win-win situation for all gamers! The smaller scale and shorter production cycles really encourage a healthy attitude of originality and a somewhat different experience than the big blockbuster titles. Don’t get me wrong, I love big, giant, high explosive titles as mush as the next guy but sometimes I just feel like something different and LIVE Arcade provides that tangy zing of variety. Spicy!
Ken P: I’ve never played it, but I’m sure it’s very nice…
Warren G: I like it way better then what Sony has. I’m not just saying that to get free stuff from Microsoft either…actually, I have to admit it… I am saying that to get free stuff. I do like it though.
· Are there any offline multiplayer modes?
Kenn N: If sitting on the couch and watching one player try and save these cute and cuddle animals from getting terribly mauled to death is considered a “multiplayer” mode, then yes!
· How many characters will be in the game? Any special guests?
Kenn N: We tried to pack as many of the characters as we could in the game. Fan favourites like Flippy, Russell, Flaky, Handy and Nutty are all in there as well as Toothy, Giggles, and The Mole. Not everyone made the cut though as some of the other characters had prior commitments to appear in ads for farm equipment and topical ointments.
· What is your favourite Xbox 360 Game?
Kenn N: Hmm… tough to name only one. I’m never good at these “name your most favourite x” questions. Instead, how about I offer (more than) a few titles and why I love them so:
“Grand Theft Auto IV”. It’s an obvious choice but how can you not love its amazing freedom of game play, really engaging story and complete and utter disregard for societal norms! “Call Of Duty 4” is the pinnacle of first-person shooters, especially played over Xbox LIVE! “Bioshock” for its stunning design and bold story experience. “Rock Band” is the ultimate have-your-friends-over-game! “The Orange Box” for best deal of the century with games like “Portal” and Team Fortress.” “Gears Of War” for its gritty action and beautifully bloody game play. “Dead Rising” ‘cause beating up zombies with anything you can grab never gets old. On the Xbox Arcade, “Geometry Wars” and “Ikaruga” for its total simplicity in mechanic and design, yet boundless challenge in game play. “N+” is a really great Flash, 2D, platformer that stands its own ground against its 3D brethren. Finally, “Dead Or Alive: Beach Volleyball” for all the wrong reasons.
I told you this was hard for me…
Ken P: I’ve never played it, but I’m sure it’s very nice…
Warren G: GTA 4
· What gave you the idea to turn these gruesome comedic shorts into an arcade game?
Kenn N: I’m a rabid gamer (complete with foam in the mouth), when I’m not working on Happy Tree Friends. Much like you and your readers, I’ve been playing games since Atari 2600 so the idea is a natural step to explore. Also, the rise of independent gaming via avenues like Xbox LIVE Arcade provides a great place for more “indy” games in the market. I love meat and potato games like Halo and Grand Theft Auto but sometimes you just need a little bit of blood sausage on the side to get you through your day.
Ken P: We thought we could make a fast buck. Also, videogames are the new television.
Warren G: First of all, I take offence at the term “gruesome comedic shorts”. We prefer to call them “death funnies”. We’ve always thought that our death funnies lent themselves pretty well to videogames. People have always said that they want actually control the characters and have a say in how they live or die.
· It seems that this is a game that will appeal to all of the family, is this the case?
Kenn N: If your whole family enjoys hilarious antics that lead to gruesome and horrid deaths then yes!
Ken P: Maybe the Manson family…
Warren G: I guess it depends on the family.
· Are there any games out there which Happy Tree Friends compare too in terms of gameplay/graphics?
Kenn N: The closest game is “Lemmings” with a sprinkling of “Desktop Tower Defence.” We tried to stay away from more treaded genres like first-person shooters, platformers or the ever-popular paint drying simulator.
Ken P: I don’t play enough video games to know.
Warren G: It’s similar to Lemmings, or what’s that game called, Desk Top Castle? Like those games only sick and twisted…in a good way.
· What pleases you most about the game in its current form?
Kenn N: I was really worried about making the leap from 2D animated cartoon to 3D game and I have to say that the Stainless guys did a great job of making that transition.
Ken P: That it’s finally finished!
Warren G: I like that it’s fun. I was worried that it wouldn’t be fun, but it’s fun.
· Can you tell us more about developing for the XBLA?
Ken P: It takes a lot longer than making a cartoon.
Warren G: The fact that we were developing for the XBLA didn’t really effect the development of the game in what I did. I think the goal for everybody was to develop a fun game. I think no matter what the platform a game is for, or how it’s distributed, you want to just make a fun engrossing game.
· What are your views on Digital Distribution methods, will it catch on in the same way the XBLA has? Do you think the file sizes have a lot to do with the XBLA's popularity in terms of Digital Distribution?
Kenn N: It certainly seems like digital distribution is the way of the future (although, I didn’t see a mention of it in the “Back To The Future” or “Terminator” movies). I think once everybody sorts out digital rights management issues that seem to hinder its growth we’ll see a shift towards that form of delivering content to the masses. More than file size I believe pricing and game play really drive sales of Xbox LIVE Arcade games. The Arcade titles offer a different game play flavour and add much needed spice and variety to your game diet. Also, being below $20 is easier to swallow than $60+.
Ken P: Digital Distribution is the Future of Commerce. Soon, people will download food, clothing and shelter from their computers! Even babies will be delivered digitally, making messy “Natural Childbirth” a thing of the past. Don’t like your baby? Just hit “delete” and order another one! Of course, until we can increase the bandwidth, the babies will be action figure size.
Warren G: I can’t really discuss the technical aspects of it, I’m not smart enough. I do think that Digital Distribution methods will start to be more popular. I think all it takes is a couple of really strong products that people want.
· For gamers not familiar with the Happy Tree Friends, can you give them an overview of the characters?
Kenn N: Happy Tree Friends are cute, cuddly woodland creatures that end up in mayhem and chaos, with lots of blood and gore! There’s an ensemble cast of quirky characters like “Handy” the armless beaver carpenter; “Lumpy” the dim-witted moose; “Flippy” the shell-shocked bear war vet; and “Nutty” the candy-addicted squirrel. It’s all fun and games until somebody’s eye gets poked… then it just becomes hilarious! Warren G: There are 20 characters… we would be here all day with descriptions. I think it’s easy to say that they are all cute, they all have their little quirks, and they all die. Once you get to know them, you fall in love with them…until they die.
· Can you tell us more about the origins of the main title "Happy Tree Friends"?
Warren G: We really just wanted the cutest, sappiest title we could think of. We were fans of those extra long titles of Japanese game shows. The title used to be really long, and we had this bright idea to change it around every episode. Realizing that we would have to make new title cards each time we decided to settle with Happy Tree Friends.
· What kind of player will feel compelled to play Happy Tree Friends?
Kenn N: If you like cute, cuddly animals meeting grisly deaths… then you should play something else. Our game is all about helping, sharing and giving with the occasional spinning saw blade accident or electro shock mishap. Not to worry, there’s only as much blood in “Happy Tree Friends: False Alarm” as there is in your local butcher shop… and hopefully, more comedy. If that’s not the case, please tell us who your butcher is! Ken P: A smart player; one with excellent taste in games and the cocky self-confidence to say, “Hey! I’m compelled to play Happy Tree Friends and I don’t care what society thinks!”
Warren G: A player who is smart, good looking, and well liked. A player who knows what he/she wants and doesn’t take any stuff from any one. The type of player who I would call a hero.
· What can we expect from a Happy Tree Friends game besides the brutal slaughter of everybody’s favourite forest animals?
Kenn N: Suspense, drama, intrigue, mystery and a twist ending! Oh, wait… you said “Happy Tree Friends” game. In that case, it’s pretty much what you would expect.
Ken P: What else is there? Lemme think… more brutal slaughter? Warren G: Why would you expect anything else? All though there will be world peace if enough people buy it.
· Aren't you afraid you may cause some controversy among people who might not be familiar with the HTF series? The ratings system for XBLA games is kind of vague and in contrast with its cute and cuddly appearance, unwary people might get more than they bargained for.
Kenn N: Violence in video games? What will they think off next? This “controversy” is not new to “Happy Tree Friends.” The paradox of sweet and cuddly versus gory and bloody is what makes the show what it is and, lamentably, will always be a hot button issue for other people. We’ve found that, for the most part, people are smart and intelligent and get what HTF is. They might not like it but they understand that it’s all done in good humour and fun. We have a lot of parents who have told us, “we love your show but we won’t let our children watch it.” I applaud these people for actually taking time to do their homework and be involved with their children and maintain boundaries that are appropriate for them! What a concept!
Of course, on the flip side, we get a very vocal minority of people who love to scream and shout and point fingers about what’s wrong in their world. Personally, I LOVE getting these letters and messages because they’re usually filled with such blind hatred and irony. One parent wrote us and told us that she, “…would rather put my child in a four-way intersection than let him watch this show.” GENIUS!
Ken P: Controversy is good!
Warren G: We are afraid of nothing, with the exception of spiders. Otherwise, we can’t really worry about people who don’t do their research on the game and know what they are buying. At this point, Happy Tree Friends is pretty well known as a violet show. We really shouldn’t be surprising anybody at this point. The slightest bit of research should reveal to the purchaser what they are getting. You can only hold somebody’s hand for so long.
· I always feel a little upset when Flaky or Giggles die, is there some way to spare the life of your favourite character in the game.
Kenn N: Wish granted! In fact, the goal of the game is to spare their life. It’s all about getting your group to safety with as little loss of limb as possible. But if you’re one of those people who enjoy seeing these adorable animals get mutilated in horrible ways then I can share with you the secret cheat code to unlock this mode. It’s all done by the simple press of the “start” button on the main title screen. Shhh… don’t tell anyone…
Ken P: No lives are spared. Man up and deal with it.
Warren G: Not only is there a way, but you get rewarded. Perhaps I’ve said too much.
· Some HTF episodes like "Eyes Cold Lemonade" are really disturbing, on a scale of 1 to 10, how disturbing is this game going to be?
Kenn N: Everybody seems to have a different threshold for what “disturbing” is. In your example, “Eyes Cold Lemonade,” we really play up eye injuries. We have very strong reactions to seeing eyes prodded, sliced, diced, gouged, etc… It’s almost an instinctual reaction, and we love to poke fun at that. For the game, it’s a little bit different in that we can’t really cut in close to somebody’s eye being cut open. The view of the playing field and game play mechanic doesn’t really allow us to do that so we tried to make the physical gags and injuries as big as possible so you can see it clearly. Maybe the fact that a “Happy Tree Friends” game exists at all is disturbing enough!
Ken P: Our game goes to 11.
Warren G: I think everybody has a different scale as far as disturbing goes. Personally, I don’t find “Eyes Cold Lemonade” as disturbing as say, “Out on a Limb”. That being said, I think the game will be around a 3 or an 11.
· Please tell us more details about the gameplay: Will there be a "story" and an integrated, funny multiplayer part?
Kenn N: In “Happy Tree Friends: False Alarm” you will be able to lay down elements like fire and explosives, as well as freeze and interact with certain objects on the level in order to clear obstacles and help rescue our trapped Happy Tree Friends. Players will navigate the characters through dangerous locations that range from abandoned mines, treacherous sawmills, pain-filled hospitals and exploded whale carcasses. Unfortunately, there is no multiplayer aspect to the game… unless you count a friend sitting next to you on the couch feeding you soda and chips while you play. As much as we would have all loved to include a multiplayer aspect, the budget and time just didn’t allow us to explore that venue.
Ken P: There’s a brand new HTF episode imbedded in the game. The first half is free. You have to win to see the second half. Aren’t we mean?
Warren G: Basically, the lives or the Happy Tree Friends are in your hands. You used the tools at your disposal to help them get from point A to Point B which shouldn’t be that hard. Oh yeah, between point A and Point B is nothing but death and destruction. That’s basically the story.
· Will there be as much blood in the game as in the series? Will the game be as violent?
Kenn N: Yes! We found a ton of cheap, day-old blood that was going bad so we’re trying to use it as liberally (and quickly) as possible. Spread it over anything like toast, doughnuts, your sister’s toy truck or even video games! Mmmm… salty!
Ken P: There will be some gruesome deaths in the game, but the series has the luxury of having hours and hours of content, so there’s more blood (statistically) in the series than in the game. Per capita, it’s a toss up.
Warren G: The answer could be yes or no, depending how you play. Player really decides how bloody this game will be.
· Will we see new, never seen before episodes as cut scenes or some stuff like that? Did you used the cel shading technique to give the series the most adequate look?
Kenn N: There is an all new episode (done in 2D) available in the game about Nutty (candy-addicted squirrel). He manages to finally kick his bad candy addiction but ends up latching on to another habit… video games! There are lots of fun tributes to some of our favourite video games as Nutty tries to keep his game high going and the usual mayhem ensues. For the leap from 2D to 3D, Stainless Games did use cel shading to ensure that the characters and environments look as close to the original shorts as possible. I’m really happy with the way the game looks. Those blokes did a great job of translating (what was sometimes un-translatable) 2D art to the 3D characters you’ll see in the game.
Ken P: There’s a brand new HTF episode imbedded in the game. The first half is free. You have to win to see the second half. Aren’t we mean? Warren G: Yes, there is a new never-before-seen episode in the game, and I think it’s a great one. I’m not even trying to sell it… it’s one of my new favourites.
· Gameplay looks very similar to Lemmings. What makes your game unique?
Kenn N: It’s MUCH bloodier than Lemmings. Also, Lemmings have feet and arms and Happy Tree Friends also have… oh, wait a minute…
Ken P: The lemmings didn’t die horribly.
Warren G: The fact that you have to save Happy Tree Friends makes it very unique. These are characters that are loved because they die, and die violently. It will be interesting to see players make decisions with these characters. They will be turn between helping them, or killing them. I think of it like the Knights of the Old Republic game. You can choose your path. You can either be on the good side of the force, or the dark side. You can think of our game as a video Rorschach test.
· There will be "10 disaster-filled scenarios". Which one do you like the most and why?
Kenn N: Two words, “whale carcass”. I rest my case, your honor.
Ken P: My favourite scenario is inside the dead whale, because nothing is funnier than a dead whale.
Warren G: No answer, haven’t played them all.
· What can you tell us about Achievements? Did you make something funny?
Kenn N: I have to confess I am I bit of an Achievement slut (don’t call me a whore!). Aside from the usual gold, silver and broze level Achievements for completing the game we tried to throw in some fun items like the “Whack-a-Mole” Achievement where The Mole must be the only casualty in every level or “Flippin’ Out” Achievement where Flippy must be the sole survivor. If you really want to get in touch with your destructive side there’s the “Playing With Fire” Achievement where you have to set fire to 200 characters. Good times!
Ken P: I can’t answer that.
Warren G: If you do well, you can unlock the never before seen episode.
· There will be in the game any cameo from Sega classic characters?
Kenn N: As far as I know, Sonic’s guts and eye balls will not grace the “Happy Tree Friends: False Alarm” game. At least, I think it’s not Sonic’s guts and eye balls…
Ken P: Not unless they did it behind my back.
Warren G: The paddle from Pong (the left one) makes a blink and you miss it cameo. Other then that, no.
· How was the game developed?
Kenn N: Very carefully in a mysterious and enchanted place called “The Isle Of Wight”.
Ken P: I’m not sure, but I think computers were involved.
Warren G: Very carefully.
· How many characters will gamers be able to control?
Kenn N: You get to control Lumpy as you lay down fire and explosives as well as freeze and interact with certain objects on the level to help clear obstacles and bring the Happy Tree Friends to safety.
Warren G: None. Well, technically, the player is Lumpy.
Thanks for your time!
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