At a recent event they held at their Los Angeles offices, Electronic Arts revealed that they’d gotten the writers from Robot Chicken, Adult Swim’s stop-motion sketch comedy cartoon, to write some adventures for the upcoming Spore expansion, Spore Galactic Adventures, which EA will release for free on June 23. But the announcement left us with more questions than it did answers, such as Who’s idea was this? How is writing for a game different from writing for a bunch of action figures? And did EA give them free games? All questions we later posed to Robot Chicken co-creator and (reluctant) voice actor Matt Senreich and the co-head writer Tom Root.
G4: How did you get involved in doing new adventures for Spore Galactic Adventures?
Matt Senreich: There’s a guy who works at Maxis, Kevin Kurtz, who has been talking to me for years about us doing something with him. He likes our sensibility and our sense of humor, and he’s been he’s been looking for a while for a project for us to do. He used to work over at LucasArts, and when we went over to EA to work on Spore, he just thought it really spoke to the Robot Chicken style of writing. So he sent me a little tease of what they were doing with Spore Galactic Adventures, and I just bit. Then I presented it to the writers, who all signed on.
G4: Now Tom, as one of the writers, when Matt came to you with this idea, what did you think?
Tom Root: I had heard of Spore because there was such excitement when it first came out. But I missed it because I’m a Mac user, I always just assume that every computer game is just for PC. Like World Of Warcraft has just passed me by because I don’t think of playing games on computers, I think about playing them on consoles.
So I wasn’t super psyched about this initially, but when I learned more about it, the idea of getting to design your own video game was really appealing. One of the most fun things I ever did as a gamer was when Lode Runner was out in the ’80s and you could build your own levels. That was just endlessly cool.
G4: Were there any specific Robot Chicken sketches that the developers cited specifically as ones that made them thing this collaboration would work?
Senreich: Since you can built your own adventures that people can play online, these short little bits, they were looking for some short, funny nuggets, and that really speaks to the Robot Chicken format.
G4: You spent the day at EA’s L.A. offices, playing the game. I imagine that helped a lot.
Senreich: Yes. I will go on record as saying that’s one of my top five most fun days of work ever.
Senreich: I know. I laughed more that day than ever thought possible on a day I was getting paid for.
Root: Yeah, it was just a situation where we could gather our favorite people and we were supposed to have fun. It was a pretty neat day.
Senreich: We just sat there playing the game.
G4: How was writing for Spore different from writing for Robot Chicken?
Root: Robot Chicken is more targeted. You’re trying to draw the viewer to one specific thing, you want them to listen to one specific joke, and you’re making one specific point. But when you’re writing for a video game, you’re writing an immersive environment where it’s up to the player to decide what they’re going to see first or next, so you’re juggling all these possibilities. It’s a much different kind of writing, which was quickly apparent when we started working on Spore. Spore, luckily, doesn’t have anything like dialog trees, but every supporting character could have up to five lines of dialog when they’re just passive, and five lines of dialog when you talk to them…
Senreich: …and there’s the pressure of making every one of those lines funny…
Root:…and if you’re just walking past a character, maybe you’re only going to catch one of those lines, so they all have to be equally weighted. There’s all kinds of considerations like that you never have to think about when you’re writing for TV.
G4: Were any of the writers were either particularly good or especially bad at writing for the game?
Senreich: Dan Milano, who was the creator of Greg The Bunny [and now writes and does voices for R.C.], he picked it up really quickly. He was like the guru, everyone looked to him.
Root: Dan is the kind of guy who, if you tell him he gets to make his own video game, he will latch onto it and squeeze every little bit out of the experience because he was so excited about it. I think he probably had the best day out of any of us.
Senreich: Yeah. So who had the hardest time?
Root: I’m going to say Hugh Sterbakov.
Root: Just because he would tell you that he had the hardest time. He actually did really well, but he would pretend like it was just another miserable chapter in his life, ’cuz that’s the kind of guy he is.
Senreich: Yeah, as much as he’ll say he had the hardest time, his adventure was one of my favorites.
Root: Oh yeah, “Banana Monkey War” was fantastic.
Senreich: I don’t think anybody really struggled, I think some people just took a little longer to figure out the mechanics.
Root: Yeah, we’re all video game players, so we were all excited by it. It wasn’t like having your parents write a video game. Everyone in that room can set the clock on their VCR.
G4: Was anyone a big Spore fan going in?
Senreich: I know Mike Fasolo had played it. And his big criticism of it when it came out was that you build these worlds, but there weren’t many adventures for you to go on, so I think Galactic Adventures fulfilled his dream for what he could do with the game.
G4: Did working on this give you guys any ideas for a Spore sketch for Robot Chicken?
Root: We actually won’t stop writing the next season for while.
Senreich: Yeah, we literally just finished post-production on season four, so we won’t start the writing process for a while.
G4: Since the DLC is going to be available to people for free, did EA try to pay you for your work in free games?
Senreich: Yes! We got lots of free games.
Root: What they did was probably the neatest part of the day. They took us down to the EA store…
Senreich: …and we thought were paying for the games, just getting them at a discount, which is how the store works for EA employees, so we just picked out stuff we really, really wanted…
Root: …right. So I got the new Tiger Woods, and The Simpsons Game.
Senreich: And I got all the sports games. You name it, I probably got it.
Root: And everyone was super excited to get this stuff at a discount, but then they told us it was free.
Senreich: And what I love is that Hugh Sterbakov was being hesitant and didn’t pick out the game he really wanted because it was the one game that wasn’t discounted for some reason, and because of that he didn’t get it for free.
G4: What game did he want?
Root: I think it was Left 4 Dead.
G4: By the way, did either of you guys play the game that Seth [Green, the co-creator and main voice actor of R.C.] was in, Mass Effect?
Senreich: Y’know, I tried, but it was so long, and there’s not enough time in the day.
Root: I have it, but I got it when I was in the middle of Fallout 3, and I still have a lot of time left in Fallout 3, so I just haven’t gotten to it.
G4: Now besides the DLC for Spore Galactic Adventures, you guys also have the DVD for Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode II coming up. Have you started work on Episode III: The Search For Duck yet?
Senreich: Ha! That’s something that Adult Swim and LucasFilm have to figure out if they want us to do. But if they come to us, we won’t say “no.”
Spore Galactic Adventures + Robot Chicken = WTF