Q and A with Mike Stemmle, Designer of Back to the Future: The Game

Mike Riley: Who at Telltale came up with the initial desire of doing a back to the Future adventure game? What was their driving inspiration to add to the back to the Future story? 

Mike Stemmle: I’m not sure who came up with the idea. I know that the bigwigs at Telltale and Universal performed an elaborate courtship dance, and somewhere along the lines Back to the Future and Jurassic Park were settled on as the “Licenses Most Likely To Get People Seriously Jazzed.”

MR: What do you think makes the back to the Future stories so endearing to past and current fans?

MS: There are a number of reasons. From a purely science-fiction perspective, it’s one of the best time travel stories ever. It’s got crisp, heartfelt writing, memorable characters, quickly Oedipal undercurrents; all the things that make for an enduring classic. But for me, the key component is its nearly complete lack of cynicism. At its core, Marty and Doc are nice guys who are trying to make things better. This resonates with our better angels, methinks.

MR: The art direction in the game is unique, with its angular caricatures of the original performers, the faithful reproduction of certain memorable scenes from the movie series, and the colorful exaggerated settings found in the game. Why did you take this approach versus doing a straight-up motion-cap photorealistic stage alternative?

MS: We toyed with the photo-realistic take for a while (as well as some more wildly stylized approaches) before settling in our “angular caricature” approach. In the end, I think it works well for the Back to the Future universe, probably because Back to the Future itself is TEEMING with broad caricatures.

MR: Was it difficult to acquire the license and get some of the original characters to do the voice acting for the game?

MS: I really have no idea how hard it was to acquire the license (that’s a bit above my pay grade). As for the original actors, I’m not aware of any problems getting them to do the game. In fact, we might have even had to turn one or two of them away. Personally, I blame Christopher Lloyd for this. I think once the other cast members saw how much fun he was having, they all wanted to dive in.

MR: Were there any sequences or story elements that you wanted to include in the final game but couldn’t due to time or technology constraints?

MS: There always are. We had a whole bit in the final episode in which Marty got dragged around town on his skateboard by the Static Accumulator… sigh.

MR: What is your favorite episode in the 5-part series and what makes it your top choice?

MS: I’m not going to choose a favorite, but I will admit that I’m perversely fond of the second episode, mostly because it’s got a musical puzzle. I love musicals.

MR: Has the series officially concluded with the final release of Episode 5, or will gamers have a chance to continue their adventures in future back to the Future episodes?

MS: Who can say? The future, to tritely steal from a better writer, has yet to be written.

MR: Given the warm reception received by back to the Future fans and gamers, are there any other movie-to-game adventure adaptions that Telltale can talk about at this time?

MS: You mean aside from Jurassic Park, Walking Dead, Fables, and Kings Quest? I’m sure we’ve got some kicking around here somewhere…

Besides the work on Jurassic Park and other TV and comic to game adaptations, there’s a hint of more to come from Marty and Doc. Be sure to watch Back to the Future’s ending credit roll for the special surprise hinted at the conclusion of the credits! Keep up with all of Telltale’s game projects at www.telltalegames.com.Mike Riley is an advanced computing professional specializing in emerging technologies and new development trends. Contact him mike@mikeriley.com or follow him on Twitter @mriley.

January-February 2012
TOC Weight: