Why so excited by LEGO Batman?
JS: It’s the best LEGO game we’ve ever made. We’re all fans of the DC Universe and a LEGO Gotham City is the perfect playground for LEGO game fun. It’s full of great action, vehicles and characters – all of which are of the highest quality.
There’s plenty of new moves and special abilities; we’ve brought the characters to life in a different and special way; the technology and gadgets are like never before; the split hero/villain mode tells the story in a new way: It adds up to a very special package.
TS: Also, this time round, Warner Bros. has allowed us to go direct to retail and show this off. It’s how we did LEGO Star Wars one and we’re very happy to have that relationship with the trade again.
Was that a Warner or a TT decision?
TS: We didn’t sit down and discuss it. We agreed it would be a good idea and went and did it. That’s an example of the sort of thing we can do very comfortably being part of the same organisation. It feels very natural.
JS: It’s great for us to get feedback from retailers – the guys who actually know what will sell – and to be able to feed that to the development team immediately. They deal with hundreds of games and they can give you really good guidance.
What are the main differences between working under Warner and working independently?
TS: There is almost no difference. It just feels very good to be part of this worldwide enterprise. We know that we can speak to the marketing people here and they listen. For instance, we’re getting trailers included on Warner DVDs, which is just brilliant. If we were working outside the organisation, all of this would be much more about drawn-out negotiations, which would be much more difficult. We’re in the family now and we all have a shared goal.
However, at the level of making the game, we are able to do that exactly as we did before. The level of corporate and marketing support we receive has just taken it to a new level.
Are there any plans for Traveller’s Tales to get its hands on more Warner IP going forward?
JS: We’ve loved all the games we’ve worked on so far and we’ve been lucky to work with the properties we have. We have genuinely exciting plans for the future – both for future LEGO games and games that don’t involve LEGO. We’re going to raise our game from year to year. We know we can’t stand still. Our speciality is working with big global characters and properties that we can bring to life as games in a way people don’t expect.
What set Warner apart from other publishers who were keen to do a similar deal with you?
TS: The reason Warner Bros were such a natural fit? Because of leverage, muscle, distribution, cultural compatibility, similar audiences, the personnel within the company, global brands – I could go on. The second reason, and what was even more distinctive about Warner, was that they understood what we had created here.
They said: Continue to do what you’re doing.” It is not part of their masterplan to come and change it – or make us attend large meetings where nothing gets done.
JS: It’s also about the intensity and the seriousness with which Warner Bros as a huge global media organisation take video games. Talking with them was an indication of that, and us saying yes was a sign of us advocating it.
[Traveller’s Tales boss] Jon Burton has mentioned a TV show in recent interviews – can we get an update?
TS: We have a studio called TT Animation run by Jocelyn Stephenson, who works with Jim Henson and was a co-creator of Fraggle Rock. There are a number of TV shows that the studio has underway. I can’t say precisely when or where it will appear – ITV, BBC, Nickelodeon or whatever – but stuff is happening. One show is being put to bed now and another is starting.
JS: The interesting thing from a games perspective is that those shows make use of Traveller’s Tales’ rendering engine technology and actually come from some of the animation individuals working there. They make use of some of our motion capture abilities. It’s a very interesting piece of technical engineering to put games and TV together, led creatively by Jocelyn as a television expert. I think everyone will be amazed by the results.
You’ve said your typical audience is an eight year-old boy. Do the impending post-Byron Review changes to age ratings worry you?
JS: The BBFC rated LEGO: Indiana Jones a ‘U’, which we’d happily endorse. We don’t have any worries. The process of getting that game rated by both BBFC and PEGI went without a hitch and we were happy with the outcome.
TS: The important thing is just to have an age rating, from our point of view. The consumer doesn’t care whether it’s BBFC or PEGI. But the debate over the best way to convey that message to parents is a worthwhile one.
Are you thinking of expanding?
TS: We don’t have any dramatic plans for expansion. If perhaps we pick up some franchises, and we make more games then we’ll have to create bigger teams to handle it – and do the bit of publishing we do here. That may happen over the next five years, but we don’t have one of those stated we want to be a million dollar business”-type ambitions. It’s not planned in that way.