During this year’s E3, I had the great pleasure of playing The Escapists 2 and sitting down with Kevin Carthew, the Creative Director for Team17. We discuss Kevin’s role within the company, Yooka-Laylee, and The Escapists 2, which is set for a release this year. 

Ben Eberle: Hello and welcome. I am standing here with Kevin Carthew, who is the Creative Director for Team17. Kevin how are you?

Kevin Carthew: I’m good, thanks Ben, how are you?

BE: Not too bad. So we’ve just finished playing The Escapists 2. There are a lot of different kinds of games under the Team17 banner. Do you find yourself applying a single overarching principle or is each game examined differently?

KC: That’s a good question. I would say that each game absolutely is suited differently. I think the core thing or the one thing that our games have in common is that most of the time they are quite original games. There are interesting concepts, there’s usually something that makes them stand out from the crowd. But when it actually comes down to it, there’s not necessarily a formal process that we go about when we consider which games we’ll add to the label. It can literally be as simple as “do we enjoy the games? Do we find it fun to play?”. And yeah, each game is absolutely considered on its own merits.

BE: So you’ve worked as both the creative director and a designer for various games over the years. How do these roles differ and how does being a creative director affect your relationship with both the studio and the game?

KC: That’s another great question. Being a designer I would say you are actually a little bit closer to development or closer to one aspect of development. You know, you have your area of the game you’re more responsible for. As creative director, I’d say your time is spread much more thinly across a number of different other projects. It’s much more about managing your resources, managing the people that you work with and enabling the people that you work with to do what they do best. And it’s much more of an oversight role a lot of the time. If I’m working on an internal game I’ll spend a lot of time at the start going through the greenlight process, putting together pitch materials, helping the other designers prototype things, getting together any of the necessary documentation, anything that we need to get ourselves in good shape to move it into full development.

Throughout full development, I will take a little bit of a step back and will be handing it more over to lead on the project: the lead designer, especially, as well as the lead artist and the lead coder. I’ll be communicating with them regularly, trying to help keep things on track, help in any way that I can. Maybe more towards the end of the project, I’ll go back to it and we’ll work together a little bit more close together in the same fashion that we were at the start just to put the finishing touches on things and make sure we are in good shape right up until launch.

BE: A game like Yooka-Laylee was a passion project, both for the developers and the fans. I personally was really excited for it and I gave it a great review — I am such a huge Banjo fan. Do you hope to take on more projects like this in the future, that are just sort of nostalgia-based and “by the fans, for the fans”?

KC: (laughs) Well, I would hope to! Why wouldn’t you? Yeah, Yooka’s a great game. I guess it is a bit of a nostalgia trip, but it stands on its own merits at the same time. For us, it’s simply about great games. It’s not like we have a remit to work with more retro games or, you know, games that harken back to a certain era or anything like that. We loved Yooka just because it was a great game being developed by a great team – a very experienced team. We had a lot of confidence in it and I think it paid off in a big way — great game that got great reviews. You liked it, and a lot of people liked it.  

BE: Lastly, we just played The Escapists 2, I just got a nice demo with that. In The Escapists 2, how do you go about giving the in-game characters personality and how do you make the player care about them in a puzzle game with so many options and paths?

KC: So I think a lot of the personality comes from three directions. The first one is maybe the simplest: that is the customization. The characters can obviously be dressed up and made to look all sorts of different ways. There’s a lot of options for the player to make. Even though the graphics are simple and the characters are very cartoon-y and quite abstract. I guess it’s a little bit like Nintendo Mii’s – it’s abstract enough that you can still recognize characters just be changing the hair style or the hair color or the shape of the face.

On top of that, it’s the things that they say. So there are lots of different chat strings in the game, some of which have kind of procedural elements so they can say different things that will react in a funny way to things that happen in the prison. And then what pins that all together, what ties that all together is the AI. So the AI for The Escapists is actually quite complex. Inmates, guards, medics, lots of different characters — they all have their own personalities and they will react to things they see and events in the game in a way that’s kind of unique to them. What’s great about The Escapists is that, even now, as I play the game and I watch the NPCs interact with one another and reacting to the things that you [the player] has done and I still see them do silly things and do silly things that I’ve never seen before. That’s really cool because, as well as the game being fun to play, it just keeps those basic elements of the game really interesting and really appealing.

BE: The cool thing about The Escapists is that you can play couch co-op and online and you can actually seamlessly transition between the two. That’s something that has me really excited! So when can we expect to see The Escapists 2 released? Do you have a window?

KC: It’s coming this year. We don’t have a final date yet, but it’s this year. We are kind of in the final stages of production I’d say. We’re wrapping up, we’re in the final stages of QA, fixing a few bugs, going into submission fairly soon and it’s coming to a host of different platforms, so it’s available on Steam, Xbox One, PS4 and it’s also coming to Nintendo Switch. So it’s a multiple platform release, but definitely this year!

BE: Awesome, so look forward to that! Kevin, thank you so much for your time.

KC: Thank you, Ben, thank you for coming to see the game.