Interview with Mark Darin, Video Game Designer
Mark Darin, one of the many designers at Telltale Games, started designing video games at his site Pinhead Games while at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, and later joined the team at Telltale Games after learning that many of his aspiration figures from the golden days of LucasArts adventure games had decided to form a new company, and he has worked there ever since. Mark has worked on several critically acclaimed games during his time at Telltale, such as Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People and Tales of Monkey Island. He is now currently collaborating with Graham Annable to create a game based on Graham’s popular Grickle characters, named Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent.
Earlier in the week I caught up with Mark Darin and asked him a few questions about Nelson Tethers and a couple of other things. And, thank god, he responded!
Cultural Zest: Hi Mark. Now then, let’s get right into it. Now, you’ve worked on many games for Telltale before, such as Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People, Tales of Monkey Island, and the odd Sam & Max adventure. But Nelson Tethers is a completely different art style compared to these games. How did you find development of Puzzle Agent compared to these previous titles?
Mark Darin: The development of Puzzle Agent has been pretty similar to the process of developing other Telltale games. We started with a premise, the kind of game we wanted to make, and from there spent a lot of time building a rich story around that.
CZ: How different is it to produce a puzzle game after so much experience in the field of general adventure games? Is it difficult to come up with original puzzles that hold a flame to that of Professor Layton’s previously established puzzles?
MD: It’s not that much different, we just have to have a clear picture of what we intend to create from the outset. What conventions from Adventure gaming are not going to work as well, and what things that we already do well are going to work for this genre?
Puzzles are everywhere! While professor Layton is a definite inspiration, there are plenty more out there! We are trying to delve into puzzle types that haven’t been used so much in Layton, and utilize puzzles that are going to enhance the storytelling of the game as well.
CZ: Who came up with the name “Nelson Tethers”?
MD: I’m not sure whether that was Graham Annabelle himself or Dave Grossman, our creative director. One of those two.
CZ: When was the idea to do a puzzle game first thought up?
MD: Oh who knows. We are always talking about doing different types of games around here. As long as we can tell an intriguing story with interesting characters, we’re excited about it!
CZ: Had members of Telltale been eager for a Grickle game before this project began?
MD: Of course! We have had Graham’s Dank/Dunk comic running on our site for ages! We are all big fans of his work.
CZ: Did the Telltale Pilot Program come about because of Nelson Tethers, or was Puzzle Agent a by-product of the creation of the Telltale Pilot Program?
MD: They both sort of came about on their own. They were each bubbling ideas getting attention from different people at different times. Luckily, both ideas kind of emerged at the same time and were a perfect compliment for each other!
CZ: Speaking of pilots, it has been rumoured that there will be four such “pilot” episodes. Are you able to divulge any information about future games?
MD: Nothing to report on future episodes at this time. Right now we have our hands full getting everything he have planned for the pilot in there! It’s gonna be a game like nothing else!
CZ: Do you believe Puzzle Agent will be successful enough to develop into a full series, or is that something impossible to tell until you can judge players’ reactions?
MD: If we didn’t believe in its success, we wouldn’t be making the game. Period.
All right then, that’s the end of the questions about Puzzle Agent and the Telltale Pilot prgram. But it’s certainly not the end of the questions!
CZ: When did you begin developing games, and when did your love for game development begin?
MD: Well, lets start with the last part of that first. My love for game development began when I was just a wee lad. I was always making games, of course they weren’t video games at first. I would make up games with my brother that used dice and action figures. Then, sometime in the late 80’s I got a Commodore 64. That’s when I started making games. My first game was a 2 screen parody of Maniac Mansion called Maniac Outhouse. Well, two screens including a title screen. No, it wasn’t a good game.
CZ: Do you draw inspiration from anywhere in particular?
MD: I can’t say any place specifically. Movies, books, all sorts of entertainment inspires me. (Reality TV does not count as Entertainment for me!) I think my biggest source of inspiration is my friends. I have such a talented and creative group of friends that I have to remain driven just to keep up with them!
CZ: There are many people in the world today who consider games as an art form, and those who do not. Where do you stand in this argument?
MD: Without getting into a whole debate, I’ll just say this: I have felt the sting of having to compromise my artistic vision to accommodate things like marketing, budget and so on. The very fact that those things CAN compromise the creator’s vision and that compromise can be the cause of tremendous stress implies that there is an artistic intent in there somewhere.
CZ: How much fun is it working at Telltale Games? Could you pick any particularly outstanding co-workers?
MD: I love working at Telltale. Best job ever! And I could never call out just a few outstanding people, but I can name all the people standing up right now: Will, Steve, Franklin, Greg, Joel, Sean, Seg and Andrew.
CZ: About SBCG4AP: Although it was about 2 years ago now, how would you describe working on this project and with the Chapman brothers?
MD: Amazing, just as you would expect. They are really cool guys and ridiculously talented! Weekly phone meetings with them were the highlight of the project for me!
CZ: And finally, you began Pinhead Games many years ago. Have you any plans to add to this site or have you essentially finished with it completely?
MD: Unfortunately, I’ve left it go without my attention for far too long! I always meant to keep it going strong, but I underestimated how busy I’d be here at Telltale. I’ll never be finished with it completely though. Ya never know what might pop up there one day!
Thank you Mark for your time, and we can expect to see the fruits of Mark and Graham’s labor hopefully sometime in June, so watch out for Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent! And maybe you should consider taking advantage of Telltale Games’ 50% off pretty-much-everything-in-their-store-deal when you pre-order Puzzle Agent at the same time, if you haven’t already! And hurry, because the offer expires on June 8th!