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Traveller's Tales' Earl On WB Acquisition, Making Lego Batman

The just-launched Lego Batman is the first fruit of UK-based Traveller's Tales and Warner Bros, and Gamasutra talked to TT producer Richard Earl on life, post-WB acquisition, and using Lego's own Maya models to create Lego Batman in just 12
The just-launched Lego Batman is the first title from UK-based TT Games and Warner Bros, following the acquisition of the veteran UK developer by WB in November 2007. The game raises a number of interesting questions about how TT Games will continue to work -- both the Traveller's Tales development studio and TT Games' own publishing arm now operate under Warner Bros., and Lego Batman incorporates the DC Comics property as well as Lego's toy products. TT Games' Richard Earl, a publisher-side producer who talked to Gamasutra about Lego Batman and the studio, calls it an "interesting relationship". According to his description, TT Games still acts as a publisher, maintaining closeness to the game -- indeed, according to the acquisition information -- TT Games itself holds the Lego license -- but still works with other larger publishers on distribution, sales or PR. So is TT Games bound to doing solely Warner Bros. titles now? What about the Lego tie-ins that initially beckoned Warner's interest to the tune of a reputed $207 million? Will Lego Be Overexposed? TT Games won't necessarily work only on Warner Bros. titles in the future -- "They've been letting us do what we do well, and we still also get to explore what we want to do in the future," says Earl. "[Warner Bros] certainly hasn't come in and sprung their ideas about dictating what we should do, which is really cool. As long as we continue to be successful at what we do, there's no reason why they will." This also means continuing to work on properties from outside the Warner Bros. stable, like Lego Star Wars. So with more Lego games a possibility, how long before the series becomes overexposed? "It's a very fair question to ask, and it's a question we ask ourselves a lot, basically," says Earl. Originality's the key, he says: "What we have to do is that we have to make sure that no one can ever review or play our game and rightfully accuse us of [only] re-skinning Star Wars." "I think as long as we can continue to make fresh, fun games with new ideas in each one and continue to evolve the series, there's no reason why we can't continue to make Lego games. We've got a lot of ideas for what we would like to do in the future." Balancing The Elements When heavily dramatic properties like Batman are re-built as Legos, it adds an element of humor -- and an additional layer of accessibility -- to an IP which is, at its root, rather dark. Earl says that this humor element is actually a key defining trait of the Lego games. "Initially, I would say that there's fantastic humor just in the fact that you've got these mini-figures running around, brought to life, doing fun, crazy stuff," he says. "I think the key things that run through all of our games is that... we do make games for young gamers that are accessible for all, and there's lots of fun things to explore." It's always a difficult balance when working with a license, as far as staying true to the original property -- but with Lego Batman, TT Games is tasked with both pleasing DC Comics and Lego. "We're in constant contact with them, and we have a very consistent approval process," Earl says. The game's primary inspiration is the Lego world first and the Batman property secondarily -- Lego had already been creating the toy concepts around the Batman world at the time the game was conceived. "We were able to work so well with them that we can utilize the files that they create and design, and basically drop them into the game." They Design Legos With What, Now? How? Apparently, Lego uses 3D tool Maya to design their toys now, making the migration into the game world much easier. "If there's anything where it doesn't exist in Lego, we have a complete library of Lego parts, so our designers are able to build brick-for-brick any of the items you see in the game," Earl says. And while Lego items may be used to build kid-friendliness onto a nuanced comic property like Batman, they also extend the appeal of the game to an older audience -- Earl recalls being surprised how many adult gamers, both hardcore and casual, picked up Lego Star Wars. "When you were playing with [Legos] as a kid, you were bringing them to life and acting out your fantasies with all these characters," he says. "Obviously, for the first time within a video game, this was realized." "These characters were brought to life. Their limbs move. You can interact with them. So we suddenly found that we had a broad appeal with this game." Building It Quick Though Earl says the studio had a bit more time to spend on Lego Star Wars, about 100 people within Traveller's Tales 200-person staff developed Lego Batman in only 12 months. "Putting our toe into the water," as Earl says, with Lego Star Wars helped lead to a more "aggressive" development schedule with Lego Batman. So was the team crunching at all? "No, not at all. The guys are all able to make sure that they get the best game done in the time that they've got," Earl says. "We like to set challenges for our team, but we've also found that they seem to come through, and they've done a fantastic job of realizing this Lego Batman universe."

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