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Finally, Secret Writing Project X… Revealed! (Or, Yesterday’s News Today…)

Jeff Lester

Okay, so some of you may remember me mentioning Secret Writing Project X (as far back as here) and some of you have been kind of enough to remember and ask, “When the hell are you going to tell us about Secret Writing Project X?” Well, that time has come. Yesterday.

Yes, yesterday would have been the perfect time to tell you about it, because yesterday is when Telltale Games released Episode 3 of “Sam & Max: The Mole, The Mob & The Meatball” for which I worked on the dialogues.

As you probably know, Telltale moved into the area of episodic gaming a while back, and their plan is to release a “first season” of interconnected Sam & Max games over a very short period (six episodes released over the course of seven months). Because they were working on such an ambitious schedule, they found themselves looking for a contract writer to help with the dialogues in Episode 3 to keep on schedule. And, through a confluence of absurd good luck, good friends, and hard work, I ended up working with Writers/Producers Dave Grossman & Brendan Ferguson on two of my favorite characters in the whole world.

Seriously. Look at my answer to Spurgeon’s Five For Fridays back in June, or this Savage Critic cancellation page from 2002. I’ve been a huge fan of Steve Purcell and his Sam & Max comics almost twenty years. And it’s not like there’s a lot of opportunities to work on the characters (unless you’re, you know, Steve Purcell).

It was a pretty intimidating gig, considering I’d never written for video games, had no programming experience, and was working on two of my favorite characters of all time, and it was strange coming into a game where everything was all mapped out, and only funny dialogue needed to be provided. But I’m pretty happy with the result. I guess Telltale was too, because I also ended up contributing to the dialogues for Episode 2, Situation Comedy. (I thought about making this announcement back when Episode 2 came out but considering I had even less to do with it than Episode 3, I thought I’d wait.) What made the difference is that Dave and Brendan are incredibly great guys–funny, and smart (to which their writing on Episode 1–and the resulting GDC nomination for Best Game Writing–will attest) and also patient and gracious–and that I got tons of support from Hibbs, Edi, Tim & Michelle Reardon, and all my friends. (Having a regular paying job where you can take a few weeks off each year didn’t hurt, either.)

It’s weird seeing the episode almost five months later; they changed the game design around, pulled some of my dialogue and rewrote other bits. (I was a little bit spoiled because although I didn’t write nearly as much for Episode 2, almost all of it made it through exactly as written.) On the other hand, Episode 3 has a truly amazing song I had nothing to do with: it’s like Tom Lehrer writing a song for a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant about the non-existence of organized crime… only funnier!

I could bore you interminably with stories about how great the people at Telltale are, how hilariously squalid their offices are, or how strange it was to go from someone writing “fire and forget” reviews to somebody who relentlessly combed Google to read any positive mention of a product I’d worked on, but my time at the comic book store draws near. If you’ve played either of the episodes on Gametap or directly, I’d be curious to know what you think: I’m in the perfect position of being able to take the blame for almost nothing (and, since it’s the Internet, the credit for just about anything). I’m not sure I can guarantee reviews (or replies) for the next day or two since it’s Edi’s birthday on Saturday, but, work willing, I hope to have more for you in the early part of next week.

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