“When you think joy and fun, you can’t help but to think about Jim Henson”
“Our industry is very monotonous, emotionally. It’s all burly adolescent, testosterone-filled dudes who conquer death and shoot it in the face. That’s awesome, but how about a game about joy, a game that’s uplifting and fun. When you think of those kinds of emotions, you can’t help but to think about Jim Henson. That guy left his mark.”
Once Upon a Monster asks players to duck and jump as Elmo runs through a forest on monster-back. Another sequence is a dance-off with Grover in a white disco suit, and later you’re required to shout “Happy Birthday!” at a party scene and help blow out candles.
Interestingly, it didn’t start life as such a diverse title, and originally was intended to be a Muppet-free music game.
“The original name was Happy Song,” says Martz. “We were talking among ourselves, asking, ‘Don’t you have a happy song?’ I said wouldn’t it be great if there was a game where cute monsters could help you make a happy song. That was the genesis – to make this creativity accessible” to kids.
“We realised it had to be more than music and needs a whole range of activities,” he says. “Once we had a range of activities, we needed a story to unify them, and a world to base it in. The last piece was Sesame Street.”
One of the greatest challenges was authenticity, and Martz says the developers were lucky to work so closely with the Sesame Street people (and monsters). “We visited the Henson Creature Shop in New York. We refined the fur and their arms. I can tell you the difference between Elmo’s arms and Grover’s arms, who’s handed and who’s got strings.
“We’ve tried to be really faithful to the designs. Because we’re on a powerful platform like Xbox, all the fur has a vivid system for each character. There’s even a Muppet tissue simulator, so when their limbs move, it feels . . . Muppety!”