Interview: WayForward’s James Montagna on “Adventure Time” video game

adventure time

On Tuesday, November 20th, we will see the DS and 3DS release of “Adventure Time: Hey Ice King! Why’d you steal our garbage?!”  WayForward director James Montagna was nice enough to answer our questions about the upcoming game, and gave us insight on what it was like to create a game based on the popular series.  We would like to thank James Montagna, WayForward, and D3 Publisher for granting us this interview.

To our readers, make sure to check out the theme song for the game.


How did WayForward end up getting involved with Adventure Time? Did D3Publisher approach WayForward and ask you to develop the game? Or did WayForward approach D3Publisher?

If I had known there was an opportunity for an Adventure Time game out there, I would have hysterically pleaded within WayForward to have us pursue it. Thankfully, it didn’t have to happen that way… our friends at D3Publisher hit us up right away, and together with Cartoon Network, we got the ball rolling to make it a reality. We had meetings at Cartoon Network Studios Burbank with series creator Pendleton Ward involved in order to figure out our approach to the project. That’s the moment everything started to sink in for me, like… “Dude… We’re making the Adventure Time game!!”

Would it be difficult for a gamer to jump into this game if they have little knowledge of the show?

Not at all! In fact, the game is actually a great introduction to the Adventure Time universe. So, gamers that are not well-versed in the show should feel comfortable to jump in and get a taste of what Adventure Time is all about… but on the flip side, I really hope that Adventure Time fans who perhaps aren’t seasoned gamers will explore the experience we’ve put together for them. We’ve taken specific measures to keep it accessible and easy to learn for those players, but with enough depth for the hardcore audience. The humor alone should be able to carry both crowds through the experience!

How did the Zelda 2 gameplay come into question? Given that Pen has put out sketches of a hypothetical Adventure Time game, did you incorporate any of those ideas into the game? And in what ways was Pendleton Ward involved on the game? Here’s some gameplay sketches by Pendleton.

Pendleton is so full of ideas that it’s likely the early sketches are just one variation on the many possibilities that an Adventure Time game represents to him. WayForward’s talks with Pen really started with just sharing the many classic games that we’ve found inspirational ourselves. After considering the gameplay style of Castlevania, Metroid, and more… Pen felt Zelda 2 was closest to what he envisioned for this particular game.

We’re thankful that right off the bat, Pen was really enthusiastic to give WayForward a hand with development! Having his involvement in everything from drawing enemy designs, to writing character dialogue really helps the experience in game be as authentic as possible. And getting Pen doodles is always a treat.

What is the average length of the game? Are there any side quests separate from the main quest?

If you’re like WayForward’s Quality Assurance ninjas, and you know EXACTLY what you’re doing… you can go from starting a new file to completing the first run of the quest in a matter of a couple hours. That being said, savoring the experience with a 100% complete file and seeing everything there is to see in the Land of Ooo is actually much more involved. The level designers are crafty dudes, and the Wizard Stars you’ll use to level up Finn and Jake have been WELL hidden! … That was totally a hint, by the way… Oh! We’re also looking forward to seeing how long it takes players to find the Enchiridion Book. There’s only one in the game, and finding it will take some serious hero scouring. Unless someone extreme finds it on day one, which is also cool, I guess.

What are the biggest challenges in creating a game based on such a popular license?  Did you regularly watch episodes of Adventure Time to get the characters, world, dialogue, and humor perfectly nailed down?

The greatest challenge is matching the desires of so many fans, each with completely different perspectives about how Adventure Time can translate into a video game. For us, the idea is not to simply meet expectations and call it a day. For the sake of Adventure Time, it has to be something that comes out of nowhere, takes their expectation, and turns it on its head.

As far as nailing the fundamentals down… I had the chance to work closely with Pen in the process of writing the script to the game. The task requires an inside out understanding of the humor, personality, and tone of each character! I watched episodes of Adventure Time daily, but I honestly wasn’t watching episodes any more than I normally do simply as a fan of the show. Therefore, I wouldn’t say there was a lot of extra effort made in the way of researching. It doesn’t hurt to have the world’s greatest Adventure Time expert on your side though. That’s where the magic really comes from.

Other than 3D, are there any other differences between the DS and 3DS versions of the game?  Also, what was development like going back and forth between the DS and 3DS versions?

The experience is similar, but Nintendo 3DS players will enjoy stereoscopic 3D visuals and additional music tracks. Thankfully, our tools made it easy to test both versions of the game on the fly.

Will the game reveal anything that hasn’t been covered in the animated series?  For example, will we learn anything new about the history of Land of Ooo?  Can we expect most of the show’s characters to appear in the game such as Fionna, Cake, etc?  Or even characters like the bear and the snail?

The plot is an entirely unique story that Pen wrote for the game. We’ll touch on things that have never been covered before in the series, as well as going into further depth on some of the things that fans are sure to be familiar with. I’d rather not spoil too much about what characters players will encounter, but there’s so many characters in the Adventure Time universe… and if I had to estimate, this game maybe has more specific characters in it than any game we’ve ever done.

Some emphasis was made on giving attention to lesser seen characters. I’m personally fond of all ridiculous, useless one-off characters. In the episode “Conquest of Cuteness”, there’s this character that’s on screen for only a few seconds and explodes. That’s all he ever does. He’s the best.

If you were given a chance to direct another Adventure Time game, would you like to see the sequel continue doing Zelda II gameplay, or would you be interested in taking a sequel into a different direction?

It’s kind of heavy stuff to think about that right away, but… WayForward and Pendleton Ward would have to meet up again to discuss the details! Whatever Pen would have in mind… I’d really want to honor that vision again and have us work very close with him to make real.

Just vibing for a sec here, but… maybe a Noby Noby Boy-esque free-form experience… or, some of his early notes resemble something like the game Mischief Makers, a favorite of mine. That grab and chuck style of gameplay would be an interesting thing to explore using Finn and Jake. With Pen involved, there is no shortage of possibilities.

What was the process like to create the game’s soundtrack? How much of the game’s music is original music created specifically for the game, and how much is music taken straight from the show?  Also, can you name the composer(s) behind the game’s soundtrack?

Other than riffs on the Adventure Time title theme, the music in the game is original! WayForward’s own Jake “virt” Kaufman is the mastermind behind it all. Jake is known for his face-melting game soundtracks, and this one is no exception… though the approach was decidedly experimental this time. I’d describe the game music as a sensation that is very much complementary to the feeling of the show, but sometimes has a unique flavor all its own.

At the recording studio, Jake improvised with ukuleles, guitars, manly screams, and even beatboxing through Auto-Tune. We brought in some amazing vocal talent as well, emphasizing lyrical music throughout the game. Cristina Vee (, who has a great history of doing voice work in animation and video games, sings our epic final battle song… and Tommy Pedrini ( rocks out hardcore on the extended opening and ending themes… the music in this game still gives me chills when I hear it.

WayForward has had experience working on licensed games like Aliens: Infestation and Adventure Time.  Are there any other licenses or IPs that you personally think WayForward could do an amazing job with if they were given an opportunity to work on them?  For example, any games based on a specific TV show, movie franchise, etc?  Is there any video game franchise that you think WayForward could do justice if a big publisher gave them an opportunity to work on it?

Yeah! Many of us have wish lists of the types of games that we’d love to explore, many of which are tied to a particular brand or series. That being said, working on Adventure Time is already fulfilling a dream project for us!

There’s a great variety of tastes around here, but if I named my personal favorite ideas… I bet we’d make a pretty rad hand animated Lupin the Third game. Or, I bet Jake would knock it out of the park with a musical experience like Space Channel 5! But most of all, I’ve been dreaming of what we could do with the old NES puzzler, Adventures of Lolo. I grew up with that series, and Nintendo hasn’t given it much attention for a long while… but I feel there’s more places it could go.

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