I have begun to think of upcoming Nintendo DS/3DS action title Adventure Time: Hey Ice King! Why’d You Steal Our Garbage?!! as a perfect storm of awesome. It combines my favorite Cartoon Network property with the game design wizardry of acclaimed developer WayForward Technologies (an organization that counts among its ranks Jake “virt” Kaufman, one of the finest game music composers on this side of the Atlantic) and is being published by D3, the same company that brought us the positively brilliant Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords.
With the release itself merely days away, project director James Montagna and the aforementioned Mr. Kaufman took some time to talk to me about the game’s origin, the unique world of Adventure Time and how the team at Wayforward brought Ooo to your favorite handheld.
Z: How did WayForward Technologies become involved in this project? Did Cartoon Network specifically seek you out to work on what’s become a highly anticipated game based on one of their hottest series?
Montagna: Our partners at D3Publisher actually hit us up with this amazing opportunity! I suspect it was really a number of different factors that led to our involvement from there. We’ve had a great working relationship with D3Publisher since our previous projects, and they felt WayForward’s sensibilities were a great match for the brand. However, the seed may actually have been planted much sooner. I heard some fans personally recommended us to the creator of Adventure Time, Pendleton Ward. Thankfully, Pen was also familiar with some of our previous work too, so when our name came up again for this opportunity, he was especially on board.
Kaufman: My music room happens to be conveniently located between WayForward’s snack table and the programming area, so I am able to intercept nearly every request for a soundtrack and just compose it before anyone realizes what has happened. Suckers!
Z: WayForward is actually bringing Adventure Time: Hey Ice King! Why’d You Steal Our Garbage?!! to both the Nintendo DS and the 3DS. Is development being handled by two completely different teams in-house, or is there overlap?
Montagna: The same talented team has actually managed to produce both versions of the game concurrently. The game experience is very similar in both, and our tools actually make it easy to test either version of the game at any time.
Z: Many comparisons have been made between the game’s over-world map/2D sidescrolling elements and NES classic Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. How much of this title’s inspiration was drawn from a similar retro gaming aesthetic?
Montagna: We’re all really fond of classic games! And it’s natural to draw a comparison to that game specifically, but I wouldn’t really say we’ve set out to mold the entire experience after any one particular game. It’s just that WayForward looked at classic games with Pen, and we agreed that the common ground for Adventure Time was something similar to Zelda II. As far as our inspiration goes, I know savvy players will find aspects that are nods to other game experiences that we love as well. For instance, the quirky humor of the Mother series influenced us in a big way.
Kaufman: Just so you know, I would have been perfectly fine with Zelda II being the only influence, even just a direct re-skin of Zelda II. It’s near and dear to my heart container; for my sixth birthday I got the NES and a copy of Zelda II! It took a while for me to come to grips with the fact that other “Nintendo tapes” were not gold colored. My mom used to ask me to “go play Link” on the living room piano, because she loved the different songs. A couple decades later, pretty much everything I do as an adult is drawn from retro gaming aesthetics. It’s inescapable!
Z: How different is the gameplay experience between the DS and 3DS versions?
Kaufman: The soundtrack is pretty much the same, but since the 3DS is all newfangled and high-tech, we were able to cram in some extra music tracks, just for fun.
Montagna: As much as possible, we worked to represent the exact same game on both platforms. But naturally, there are a few differences. For instance, players on the Nintendo 3DS version can enjoy stereoscopic 3D effects. As for myself… I always get really excited about 3D… I want everyone to turn up the 3D Depth Slider and see the Land of Ooo all up in their face.
Z: Are Finn and Jake the only playable characters, or will we get a chance to take control of other Adventure Time favorites?
Montagna: In this game, you’ll be playing as Finn and Jake working together as a single unit. They each have their own set of abilities, but Jake is kind of feeling lazy. He’s too lazy to even walk around or anything, so Finn has Jake riding in his backpack. When Jake becomes motivated, you’ll be able to reach new places and try new abilities. As for controlling another character at some point, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility entirely… we’ll see what happens!
Z: Jake, how hard was it to transition the unique music of the series into the realm of the video game?
Kaufman: Oddly enough, I wasn’t all that excited when I first heard about the game, because I was still an Adventure Time noob, though I’d heard it was great. I think it’s very important as a game composer to become familiar with the source music for a licensed game, even if I’m not a fan — so I got around to watching an episode. Then another. Then five. Then the entire series. In one manic weekend, I fell madly in love with this show. I quickly realized what a monumental task lay ahead: to make game music that would fit into such a bizarre, brilliant universe. I’m just this random guy, this is serious stuff.
The recording process was mainly me writing songs on ukulele, guitar, and bass, improvised from scratch in the studio, while James looked on in either glee or mortal terror, I’m still not sure which. We recorded original vocal tracks featuring ultra-pro singers; at some point all of us managed to beatbox through Auto-Tune, and yell in the manliest, most warrior-like of voices. I feel like one of the big big recurring themes in Adventure Time is the idea that you should be true to who you are, even if other people think you’re weird. So I abandoned my usual hyper-detail-oriented, 200-track, mega-orchestrated compositional style, and simply let myself go to weird, spontaneous places. What you’re hearing is inspired by the show itself, by my dear friends Anamanaguchi, by the great Terry S. Taylor (The Neverhood), and by my very odd guitar-pickin’ dad.
Z: Will fans notice lots of familiar melodies from the show in the Hey Ice King! Why’d You Steal Our Garbage?!! soundtrack?
Kaufman: Only the title theme, which is an ensemble of all the singers from the game, singing the show’s theme. I actually avoided making specific remixes or arrangements of the show’s music, because I felt like it would be extra special to try to contribute new material to Adventure Time‘s musical legacy, instead of just playing the songs that everyone already knows, as beautiful and hilarious as they are. So what you’re hearing is all original stuff (wrote lyrics and everything) for which my main guideline was “Would Pen think this is completely awesome?” Silly singing and drum machines and clarinets and chip-rock party anthems.
Z: So how involved were Pen Ward and the rest of the series staff in the creation of the game?
Montagna: We’re fortunate because Pen was able to be involved in a hands on capacity from the start. Pen is… an endless fountain of creativity. That, combined with the fact that he himself is a gamer, makes sure there are no shortage of ideas for us to incorporate. He’s always happy to draw out designs and story scenarios, and he even came up with the main storyline of Ice King stealing Finn and Jake’s garbage. Pen and I also teamed up to write the script, and I would always look forward to getting his edits to our draft because the lines would become increasingly ridiculous. I’d read out lines thinking “Wow, what are we even doing… this is so stupid… I love it.” As far as other involvement goes… it has mostly just been Pen taking time away from working on the show to be involved with us. But other members of the show staff have given their words of encouragement and support along the course of development as well.
Z: Who were your favorite characters from the television series going into the game, and have they changed as a result of this project?
Kaufman: My overall favorite is definitely Jake — not just because he has my name, but because he is one extremely chill dude, and kind of looks like my dog, Nugget. Nugget also has crazy stretchy powers and burrows his way into my shirt sometimes. As I watched the series while making the soundtrack, I had a new favorite character each day — Marceline since she plays the bass like a boss, Ricardio since George Takei is my hero, LSP because she talks exactly like everyone in Southern California! If I continue on this path I will just list every character, because they are all excellent in some way or another.
Montagna: Around WayForward… BMO is also a favorite, naturally, because of our love of games! But personally, I’m a fan of one-off characters that are cute and dumb. The passion for obscure characters may have influenced the decision to have so many faces pop up in the game… but it’s just that, Adventure Time has so many amazing characters! It’s impossible to incorporate all of them, so we tried really hard to get a balance of fan favorites, along with surprises from out of nowhere… I also have a new appreciation for Lemongrab after contributing his lines in the script. In order to make it happen, I had to channel my innermost Lemongrab, viewing the world through lemon eyes… look forward to it.
Z: From LIT and Mighty Switch Force! to A Boy and His Blob and Contra 4, you guys always have something interesting in the works. What else can we expect from WayForward Technologies in the near future?
Montagna: Yeah! It feels like there are always new and exciting projects around the corner at WayForward. One thing I can tell you is we have the new Mighty Switch Force! Hyper Drive Edition coming to Wii U. The 1080p HD visuals look completely stunning. If you played the original Mighty Switch Force! on Nintendo 3DS, it’s worth enjoying the game in a whole new way. That’s all I can talk about today, but obsessively checking our website and following @WayForwardTech on Twitter is always a great idea.
Special thanks to Jake and James from WayForward Technologies, Eduardo from D3Publisher and Lauren from Turner Broadcasting for their assistance in this piece as well as for their overall awesomeness.