Cartoon Network wants to get more into mobile games, and it spotted an opportunity to do exactly that by combining one of its biggest properties with one of its closest development partner’s app.
Publisher Cartoon Network Games is working on an Adventure Time adaptation of developer Defiant’s Ski Safari for mobile devices. This will have Adventure Time heroes Finn the dog and Jake the human skiing down a slope to escape the villainous Ice King. Players will team up with familiar faces and use special power-ups to ski faster and jump higher.
Ski Safari is a mobile arcade-action game that has players racing down a mountain while trying to stay ahead of an avalanche. Players can hop on penguins or take piggy-back rides on yetis. The idea of the collaboration between Defiant and Cartoon Network is to bring that style of gameplay with the humor and characters of Adventure Time.
“Last year, we worked with Defiant on a Ben 10 project — a game we already launched called Ben 10 Slammers — it’s a collectible card game,” Cartoon Network Digital vice president Chris Waldron told GamesBeat. “And in the middle of making that game, it was turning out really well. We were like, ‘Wow! This is a very good card game.’”
Cartoon Network found that Defiant was not only capable of making a high-quality touchscreen game but were also able to keep the gameplay fun and simple. The experience was going well, and the two companies started talking about collaborating further.
At the time, Waldron found himself playing a lot of Defiant’s Ski Safari, and he thought very highly of the title.
“It’s just one of those games that is native to mobile and just gets it right,” he said. “And — most importantly — it has a sense of humor and fun that matches with us.”
If the two companies were going to go through with a collaboration, both knew which property it should combine with Ski Safari. Neither Defiant or Cartoon Network ever even considered one of the other shows — it was always Adventure Time. It was just up to Defiant to decide if it was willing to repurpose one of its existing games for something else.
“We’ve always been protective of what we do with the IP,” Defiant creative director Morgan Jaffit told GamesBeat. “There have been a lot of offers along the way, and we’ve turned pretty much all of them down, but with Cartoon Network, we’d actually worked on [Ben 10 Slammers] together and got a chance to know each other before we talked about partnering up, and Adventure Time made it a no-brainer.”
How much of a no-brainer? Well, one of the developers on Defiant has a tattoo of the talking Game Boy-like character Beemo from the show.
“There’s not a brand I could imagine that would work better with the tone and humor of Ski Safari,” said Jaffit.
How to adapt a game for another brand
Since the rise of mobile gaming with the iPhone, a couple of big brands have hopped on the back of popular apps. Disney has employed this strategy a number of times. It first contacted Temple Run developer Imangi Studios and had it create a version of Temple Run based on the Pixar film Brave. Disney later did the same thing with Imangi for a Temple Run version of Oz the Great and Powerful. Disney also uses its original Where’s My Water? game as a platform for its other properties. It has so far released Mickey Mouse and Phineas & Ferb-themed versions of that physics puzzler.
This method is an inexpensive way to get a movie-licensed game on the market without having to build something unwieldy for modern consoles.
Still, this is the first time Defiant is attempting something like this, so the developer took its time figuring out how to best mashup Ski Safari with Adventure Time.
“It’s always interesting to look at what you can keep — core gameplay– and what has to change — everything related to character,” said Jaffit. “At the same time, we’ve had a lot of thoughts along the way about what we can add to Ski Safari to make it better, and this was a good chance to put some of those ideas into the mix.”
Defiant is keeping a lid on most of the changes until it debuts the game, but Jaffit did say the team came up with an interesting idea for Jake the Dog. In the show, Jake has magical powers that enable him to stretch and grow forever. He can use that power in the game.
“So Jake is like the ultimate Ski Safari character,” said Jaffit. “He can keep stretching and fitting new characters on his back for as long as you can keep picking them up. When you crash though, he loses everything, so it’s a really nice risk-reward trade off that matches the gameplay and the Adventure Time feel.”
Speaking of that Adventure Time feel …
Yes, Defiant is making a few changes to the gameplay, but this project is mainly about updating the art and everything else to match the show. To accomplish this, Adventure Time creator Pendleton Ward gave Defiant full access to his production staff.
“From Pen’s original sketch that helped to inspire some of the mechanics, to episode reference, to voice over, to scripts, we were able to get access to resources really quickly,” said Jaffit.
That means the studio can’t put the blame on anyone else if the game doesn’t feel right. It’s all up to Defiant to live up to expectations. We asked Jaffit what that is like.
“[It's] tough,” he said. “We on the team are huge fans, so we know what it takes to make something feel genuinely Adventure Time, and we really held ourselves up to a high standard mainly because we know that the audience is going to be even more demanding. With everything we worked on we asked ourselves: ‘Is this good enough for Adventure Time? Is this good enough for Ski Safari?’ And if the answer to both questions wasn’t ‘Yes,’ it didn’t go in.”