Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Adam Tierney (WayForward game director; director of BizDev and publishing). He answered some questions about his early gaming memories, influences and over two decades of working in the gaming industry.
Adam started at WayForward back in 2004 and has worked on many games since (River City Girls, Batman: The Brave and the Bold: The Videogame, Aliens: Infestation, Lit, Cat Girl without Salad: Amuse-Bouche and many more). Today, he is head of BizDev and publishing. He’s written, designed and directed some great games at WayForward.
Adam has also worked in other creative fields (TV, books and more). Check out the exclusive interview below.
What are some of your early game memories? Which games were influential to you, both old and new?
Adam: Oh wow, where to begin? Two of the earliest games I remember playing that probably helped influence me in my game-design sensibilities were Mario Bros. (not Super) on Atari 2600, which is the ultimate troll/competitive 2-player game, and Montezuma’s Revenge on Commodore 64. Both games were fantastic in their own way. My favorite games are ICO, Flashback, and recently Hades. And with regard to my writing style and use of VO in games, Portal 1 & 2 and the Harvey Birdman game were all big influences.
How did you get your start in the games industry? What skills did you acquire in school and along the way?
Adam: I’ve always been a writer and artist since I was a young kid. I went to college at UC Riverside with a BA in English/creative writing, so those classes taught me not only how to be a better writer, but also about production (editing, casting, VO recording, etc.), all of which helped me later in video games.
As for games specifically, I started doing art and animation for mobile games around 2000, then got hired at WayForward in 2004 originally as an animator, before graduating to assistant director, director, and now also head of bizdev and publishing. The skills I use in games today came from what I learned in college, my personal writing projects as a kid, and playing pretty much every 8- and 16-bit game in existence growing up.
Is there a correlation between the games you’ve worked on and the ones you play? What are your favorite game genres?
Adam: I like immersive games with compelling characters more than anything. I enjoy playing all kinds of games, and have most recently spent hundreds of hours each in Hades, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and Animal Crossing. I’m also pretty good at Pac-Man 99.
A lot of the games I direct are for genres I’m not personally that well-versed in, like dungeon crawler (Silent Hill: Book of Memories), shmup (Cat Girl Without Salad: Amuse-Bouche), baby simulator (Shrek: Ogres and Dronkeys), brawler (River City Girls), etc. But I always find the opportunity to put my own spin on the genre in each of these titles.
Which projects, in and outside of gaming, have influenced your work? How do you “recharge” your creativity bucket?
Adam: I’m a big movie and comic book guy, even more than I am a gamer. I think I was probably better suited to write for TV and film, but somehow fell into video games instead. But I love comic books especially, ever since I could read. I recently bought a Kindle Oasis and loaded it up with thousands of comic book pages, and that’s been amazing to go through and catch up on everything I’d missed recently, as well as old series I love like Usagi Yojimbo (my life-long favorite). I find taking a night to occasionally binge on Netflix or Amazon Prime also helps recharge me creatively when I’m not actively working on games or other projects, like writing horror books (my current hobby passion).
I take influence for my games from just about anything — movies, TV, music, games, plays — but overall I’ve been most recently focusing on having a heavier story component, more VO and more humor, but in a way that doesn’t slow down or get in the way of the gameplay.
You have been able to work on some incredible existing properties and franchises in your career. Are there any dream projects you still want to work on?
Adam: To be honest, I’ve already worked on many of my dream titles. Silent Hill was my #1 dream brand for many years, and while we didn’t get to make a traditional Silent Hill game, I did get to at least put my mark on that brand. And then a few years later, I got to create an original horror game from scratch with Til Morning’s Light for Amazon Game Studios.
Looking forward, I can’t really cite anything specifically because we’re actively pursuing the brands that I, and the other directors at WayForward, would like to work with. I can say I’d like to see WayForward do more Adventure Time games, to come up with one example, though. We created the first four Adventure Time games and now that the series has wrapped, and is doing some really interesting things with the Distant Lands movies, I’d love to see us return to that universe for more games.
You got to write a few episodes of Teen Titans GO! How’d you end up with that gig? What was the process like?
Adam: I was just a freelance writer, not part of their established team. Those came from me having written and directed the Batman: The Brave and the Bold game on Nintendo Wii, which had about 400 pages of VO dialog, all of which I wrote. Warner Bros Animation liked my writing on that, and so Sam Register (head of WBA) helped set me up with the Teen Titans Go! showrunners to write a few episodes for them.
The process of writing those episodes was very different from how we work in games, because (at least with Teen Titans Go!) I brainstormed plots with the showrunners in a room for an hour or two, which is called “breaking story,” and then went off and wrote the outline and then the full script for each episode. With game scripts, at least how we do it at WayForward, it’s more of a solo writing process.
Are there any other creative outlets you are looking to explore?
(Film, TV, Art, Music, Gardening…)
Adam: I’d love to get more into music. I wrote the lyrics to the title and end credits songs in River City Girls, and that was a lot of fun. Because I worked on radio plays in college, I could see myself doing some sort of a VO radio play/musical at some point.
I do actually garden, like I’m sure a lot of people started doing during the pandemic. We have a vegetable garden on one of our balconies where we’re growing various veggies and that’s been fun, because I’ve never really done anything with plants before.
But most of my time outside of WayForward, aside from being a husband and father, is currently dedicated to writing children’s books, mostly horror-themed ones. I’ve launched three Kickstarters for that, and we’re currently working on that third book (Every Day is Halloween) in addition to a few other books I’ve written but haven’t made public yet.
I recently got to play River City Girls and I really loved it. It’s not just another Brawler/Beat em up. I really dig the art style, VO and writing. It brings back memories of the side-scrolling Beat ‘em ups I grew up on (Turtles, Double Dragon and Battletoads…), but with this whole new look and feel.
Adam: Thanks. Double Dragon II was one of the most influential games for me as a kid, and the Double Dragon universe overlaps with the Kunio-kun (River City) universe. I was also a fan of River City Ransom on NES, which really holds up today much better than most NES games have. It was incredible to be able to put our spin on both of those universes, reimagine their characters, and do so in such a flashy style with cool visuals, lots of VO, and catchy music.
Where did the River City Girls story come from? How did you get to create a game in the Kunio-kun (River City) universe?
Adam: I’d always loved the brand, but it was only a few years ago that I became aware of the Japanese-only Super Famicom game, Shin Nekketsu Kōha: Kunio-tachi no Banka, which as I understand it was the last game of that era made by the original Double Dragon and Kunio-kun creators. It’s unique in that it had two female playable characters (Misako and Kyoko), who I thought were just awesome in that game. Since WayForward games frequently focus on female protagonists, I thought an original game by us focusing on those two characters would be a fun project, and luckily Arc System Works (owners of the IP) agreed and ended up co-producing the game with us.
What’s it like directing games versus working on one particular aspect of a game (writing, animation, design)? What prior skills have helped you as a director?
Adam: That’s a really interesting question. And I think something many people might not realize is that in between games we design and direct at WayForward, it’s very common for our directors (myself included) to help out on our other titles by contributing level design, combat design, gameplay notes, or in my case, write up a dialog script for someone else’s game.
There’s not a huge difference between directing a game and working on another director’s game, other than in the case of the latter, you need to be serving their vision rather than your own. But none of the directors at WayForward have huge egos, so it’s very easy for us to go back and forth from being the lead visionary to a supportive, deferential creator (and in fact, it’s kind of a nice break before getting back onto the next huge project).
The fact that I started at WayForward as an animator, and have done things like level design, HUD design, menus, etc. all certainly help me as a director because I can more effectively communicate to my team what I want.
What’s next for WayForward? Any news you can share about current and upcoming games?
Adam: Although we can’t share specific details yet, we have already announced that we are working on more River City right now. Once again, I’m writing the VO script and it’s a pretty crazy adventure that builds off what we accomplished in the first game.
Beyond that, in my company-wide roles, I’m doing my best to line up interesting projects at WayForward for our teams to work on, and get our hands on the kind of dream brands we’ve always wanted to be involved with. I think people are going to be really blown away when they see which titles WayForward has been working on as they’re announced and released in the coming years.
Thank you to Adam Tierney for answering my questions and Chris Hoffman (Community Manager & PR at WayForward) for setting the interview up.