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Ron Gilbert and Dave Grossman return to Monkey Island with (the aptly named) Return to Monkey Island.
The two worked together to create the 1990s original, The Secret of Monkey Island, one of the funniest games of all time. They then topped that effort with Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge in 1992. Now, they’re looking to tap into that secret grog-flavored sauce with the release of RMI later this year.
Prior to this, I had the opportunity to speak with both of them about this daunting undertaking. I asked them what it was like to create a modern experience on Monkey Island, and I also took the opportunity to learn a bit more about their adventure game design philosophies.
GamesBeat: Is it relatively easy to get back into the franchise? Did you replay old games before working on RMI?
Gilbert: I played Monkey Island 1 and Monkey Island 2 as we started looking at the new design. Watching the old game can be frustrating because there are so many little things I wish I could change. Adventure game design was much more forgiving back then. Battling your head against arcane puzzles was okay. This is no longer the case.
Disgusting man: It’s easier to go back to something that belongs to you than to start working on something originally created by someone else, but I still needed to do some research to put my brain in the right place . Coincidentally, I was already playing the first Monkey Island games with my son, who was 5 at the time and had completed all the Humongous titles, so we continued to do so with a little more focus from dad. . And then during production, I kept revisiting them, often because I was about to write dialogue for a returning character and wanted to remember their particular tone and cadence.
GamesBeat: There are a lot of recurring elements that fans expect to see in a new Monkey Island – characters like Stan, places like Monkey Island. Is it a fun challenge or a burden to have to work with these expectations?
Gilbert: Both. We’ve revisited some locations and characters, but you have to be careful that this is more than just a nostalgia trip. The game is not a remake or remaster, it’s a brand new game. We revisited locations and characters when it was important for our new story.
Disgusting man: Yes, it’s a good head start to have a character that has already been developed a bit, which can help guide your decisions about what to do and say. But it also creates limitations. Someone who wrote in support of a particular theme thirty years ago may not have much to say about what’s going on in your game today. If I try to list my favorite characters from Return to Monkey Island, in terms of the end result and the joy I had working with them, it’s a mix of new and returning.
GamesBeat: What are the most striking differences between working on a new Monkey Island today and developing the original?
Gilbert: One of the big things for me is reaching for a modern, more laid-back audience while making the fans happy. It’s a tightrope to walk. There is also the element of nostalgia. Monkey Island has had 35 years to make it something it wasn’t at the time. At the time, it was just a game we were making. It’s more than that now. We’ve been careful to honor that, but we’re also not afraid to push it forward. We were also young and naive. Everything was clear and shiny.
Disgusting man: We developed this whole game during a global pandemic, that was certainly important. Ron and I had a face-to-face meeting in January 2020, and everything has been done remotely since then with the team spread across various geographies and time zones. In 1989, it was as if we were a group of children in a summer camp spending all our time together; in 2022, communication is something we need to focus on and work on. We even schedule time to “hang out by the water cooler” with co-workers, because it’s – surprise surprise – important to be able to identify as people if you want to do things together. On the other hand, the team is generally older and more experienced now, and we waste less time playing Tempest and Millipede.
Gilbert: Marble Madness for me. I almost got fired for this game.
GamesBeat: What were your influences on writing Secret of Monkey Island? It was self-referential and satirical at a time when that seemed rare for a video game.
Disgusting man: We referenced things a lot, meaning not like sitting on a particular style, but more like romping around in a meadow and happily pointing fingers at all the other media we ourselves had grown up with. At Lucasfilm, there are nods to Star Wars and Indiana Jones everywhere, as well as to the people and things around the office. You may also spot us poring over TV shows and movies, used car commercials, and more. Stylistically I’ve always been a fan of PG Wodehouse, Douglas Adams, Lewis Carroll, there’s probably some influence there, but the rest of the team had their own backgrounds and I think we got together all influenced each other to a great extent. diploma.
Gilbert: I have always been a fan of parody. For me, Monkey Island was all about making fun of things.
GamesBeat: Is the advent of the internet and easy access to guides changing the way you develop puzzles?
Disgusting man: This primarily motivates us to embed a hint guide into the game itself, so that when players decide they want a hint, they don’t have to risk the muscle strain that might be caused by pulling out their phone. smart out of pocket.
Gilbert: I try to ignore that. If people want a walkthrough or spoilers, there’s no way to stop it, so I’m pretending it’s not here. As Dave says, the cheats guide is the main place to combat this. I feel like if the player leaves the game to look for something, we’ve lost. Giving them a built-in hint system helps. They stay in the game.
GamesBeat: Are there any puzzles from the original games that you regret making too hard/too easy?
Gilbert: Two words: wrench.
Disgusting man: The Monkey Wrench puzzle from LeChuck’s Revenge is notoriously unsolvable and was not a good design on many levels. Even if you’re an English speaker from somewhere where the tool in question is commonly referred to as a “wrench”, and you realize that’s what you need, you still have to take an amazing predictive leap on the how your actions will create this tool. . Nothing in the game sets it up adequately. I use it to this day as an example of what not to do with puzzle design, and it has influenced my thinking ever since. The player needs to be able to somehow visualize what they need to do, and if they give up and look at a hint, I want their response to be, “Oh, that makes sense, I should have thought of that!” rather than “How was I supposed to think about that, you bunch of ridiculous, unfair clowns?”
Conversely, I can’t think of anything I regret making too easy. The consequences are much less serious for this. It doesn’t stop the game, at worst it’s just not very interesting, and you forget that as soon as you start thinking about the next puzzle after.
GamesBeat: Do puzzles exist to serve the story, or does the story exist to serve the puzzles?
Gilbert: I’ve always thought of it as “the puzzle serves the story”. The story comes first, then the puzzles are layered.
Disgusting man: With an adventure game, it can be a bit difficult to separate the story from the puzzles in these terms. We start by thinking about things like theme and tone, and when we start breaking down the story, we do it in terms of the player character’s goals and actions to achieve those goals. These goals and actions are the puzzles, and they provide the mechanics by which the player drives the story. In this sense, you could say that puzzles serve the story, but they are in no way separate from the story, they are a structural element, like the plot. And the story is built with them in mind from the start, it’s a story you make, rather than a story you see and hear. It would be a different story if it wasn’t, and that’s one of the things that makes adaptations from other media difficult.
GamesBeat: Do you feel pressured to fix any issues or connect threads from previous games, or are you more interested in creating something new that can stand on its own?
Gilbert: I feel no desire to fix the issues unless it serves our new story. It may be more fun to hang them there. Let someone else tie them in a future match. Why should we have all the fun?
Disgusting man: A good, page-turning novel constantly solves problems and creates new ones. Like the tension and release in a musical score, there is a dynamic of curiosity at work that makes them very satisfying. I don’t feel any particular obligation to follow this, but it’s definitely something I’m thinking about.
GamesBeat: Monkey Island was inspired by Pirates of the Caribbean. Now, Disney is directly involved in the franchise. Does this open up interesting possibilities? Are you able to maintain creative freedom?
Gilbert: Monkey Island was inspired by the Pirates of the Caribbean ride from my youth. He was also heavily inspired by the book About Stranger Tides. They were both inspirations but very different things.
Disgusting man: If anyone is considering redesigning the theme park ride, they haven’t told me. But I think I would love to see it.
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Ron Gilbert And Dave Grossman Are Ready To Return To Monkey Island
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