Over the Hedge for Nintendo DS was supposed to be just another licensed movie tie-in game . . . perhaps an uninspired side-scroller, or a bland mini-game collection, or maybe something even more dire. However the directive from management was to "knock this one out of the park" and so that's what the team and I (as producer and vision holder) set out to do.
In addition to delivering a totally unique stealth/action gameplay setup which employed 3D on both of the DS's screens, we internally produced an astounding 2 minutes and 30 seconds of full motion video — extremely unusual for the platform.
The Lead Designer had excellent story ideas, but his ability to write solid cutscenes based on those ideas was limited. Mindful of our "out of the park" directive, I assigned myself the role of script doctor and did very heavy rework on the cutscenes, to the degree that I was ultimately functioning as a co-writer.
The results were undeniably positive. Reviewers called these FMVs "stunning" and "picture-perfect". In fact more than one reviewer mistook them for sequences from the movie! These cutscenes undoubtedly helped the game make IGN's 2006 "Games of the Year" list.
Click the image to play the opening FMV for Over the Hedge DS (scaled down because it was rendered for a tiny DS screen!).
We worked hard to make the transitions between the cutscenes and gameplay as seamless as possible. For example, the food items RJ dumps out at the beginning of this cutscene exactly match the items the player (as RJ) collected in the prior training mission.
Due to budget, schedule and ROM space restrictions, the rest of the cutscenes were handled via more modest (and more common on DS) static images with text captions. We knew it might be a letdown for some players at that point, but we wanted to start with a bang.
This initial cutscene was designed to introduce all the main characters and their general predicament, on the assumption that players had not seen the movie (which had just come out). It also led directly into the first level; a training mission in which the player uses RJ the raccoon to pick up some "human food" items that are laying around someone's house.
After the simple training mission, we introduce the inciting incident for our game and story (which is now clearly revealed as a sequel to the movie). Here the player not only discovers the main conflict, but also learns of the general approach the hedge animals might take to resolve this latest threat to their dwindling forest home.
Our strategy for storytelling and the game in general seemed to pay off, given our impressive sales and "Game of the Year" award from IGN. Other review sites also took note:
"As far as cutscenes are concerned, Over the Hedge — with its picture-perfect display and accompanying voices and sounds — is hands-down one of the best offerings for the DS." —Game Chronicles
". . . an engaging storyline that assimilates itself into the gameplay formula like it was made for it … excellent, fully animated and fully voiced cutscenes . . ." —Cheat Code Central
". . . stunning FMV . . . interesting and original story . . ." —Nintendo World Report