Longtime Geekscapists know that video game designers Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick have played a pretty big role in my life. They both designed the ‘Point & Click’ Adventure classic Maniac Mansion for LucasArts during the late 80s and Ron went on to work on the first two (aka “the best two”) Monkey Island titles. I spent countless hours playing through these games as a kid, and again as an adult, and so it was my pleasure to spend some time this past weekend talking with both Ron and Gary about their new “retro” Point & Click Adventure game Thimbleweed Park.
Thimbleweed Park is currently in development and you can follow along with the whole team on their blog (which includes podcasts, developer updates and more) and also donate to the ongoing creation of the game! There are still plenty of awesome perks left to get in on!
And as the team announced today on their blog, classic LucasArts artist Mark Ferrari (Monkey Island, Loom) has joined the team on Thimbleweed Park. To read our conversation with Mark, just head right over here! But first… let’s have Ron and Gary introduce you to Thimbleweed Park:
What is Thimbleweed Park?
Ron: Thimbleweed Park is a Kickstarted 2D point-and-click adventure game that harkens back to the heyday of Lucasfilm Games and the classic adventures. When Gary and I created Maniac Mansion, back in 1987, we didn’t really know what we were doing. We were just making stuff up, hoping it all worked and we didn’t get fired.We’ve learned a lot in the last 25 years and Thimbleweed Park is about bringing back the charm of those old games, but also the experience of years of adventure game design.
How is it like a traditional point & click adventure game and how is it unique? Which aspects will be familiar and in which ways are you using this opportunity to further the genre?
Ron: Thimbleweed Park isn’t about furthering, or reinventing, or modernizing the genre. It’s all about a nostalgic trip back in time to play a classic adventure game for the very first time. A lot of people love the old Lucasfilm games, they still play them and enjoy them, but none of it is new. Thimbleweed Park will be like opening a dusty old drawer in a long forgotten desk and finding a classic adventure you’ve never played before. That said, we have learned a lot about adventure game design over the years, and a lot of that knowledge will be used, but it all very subtle, yet amazingly important stuff.
What platforms do you see the game releasing on? What are the challenges for designing to multiple platforms at once (if you are) and how do today’s platforms challenge you and reward you as a storyteller?
Ron: I view platforms as very immaterial. Do I watch a movie Blu-ray or do I watch it online? It really doesn’t matter to the person making the movie. What matters is that as many people as possible can play the game. We do need to watch out for UI issues, like touch vs. mouse vs. controller. All of these bring small challenges, but they don’t fundamentally change the game or the story. I view them as primarily “technical” challenges, not “creative” challenges. Our goal is to make Thimbleweed Park playable on as many platforms as we can by as many people as we can.
Regarding The Cave, what portions of that project were you happy with and which ones do you wish had been more successful? What do you think were some of the strengths or drawbacks of that project? Most importantly, what did you learn from it and are those ideas something that you are taking into Thimbleweed Park?
Ron: The Cave was an odd project. I am very happy with it. It’s a great game that I’m very proud of. There are two things I wish I could go back and change. I really didn’t expect players to finish the game and then immediately start a new game with 3 different characters. I figured they take a break, then come back to it a few weeks later, but because players jumped right back into it, it got a little repetitive. I don’t know how I’d fix that, given the realistic constraints of budget and schedule. The second issue was the jumping. I would have made it a lot more forgiving. Jumping was how you moved around the world, but it wasn’t a game play mechanic, so it should have been dead simple.
Looking back at the LucasArts, Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island years, what is your favorite memory and also your biggest surprise? Why do you think that era in gaming is regarded as romantically as it is today (or maybe that’s just me, in my office, playing with my Guybrush doll while rewatching episodes of the Maniac Mansion TV show…)
Ron: First of all, I’m really sorry if you’re actually watching the Maniac Mansion TV show. 🙂 I have no idea why those games are so highly regarded. It is a little mind boggling to me. When Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island came out, they didn’t do that well. They were far from hits. They were just games that got good but not great reviews. I left Lucasfilm right after Monkey Island 2, and people often wonder how I could walk away from a huge hit franchise like that, and the answer is, it wasn’t a huge hit franchise. It wasn’t until around 2003 that I started to realize the huge following the Monkey Island game had slowly built over the years. It was not overnight. I do think those old games will fill with a charm and innocence.
Let’s talk about the visual look of Thimbleweed Park? How would you describe it? How much of it has come from your first inspiration for the game and how has it changed through collaboration or implementation of the mechanics? How have those things informed each other? Are you far from the original inspiration?
Gary: Ron and I envisioned the game looking very much like the Commodore 64 version of Maniac Mansion. Very blocky graphics and bright colors. You can see much of that art in the original Kickstarter, but as the game got into pre-production, we’ve evolved the look a lot. It’s getting a little closer to Monkey Island and a deeper pallette, but we still want to keep it simple, iconic and pixely. It needs to tread a fine line between feeling like a old classic game, but not feeling hampered and limited by the old technology. It’s a fun problem to solve.
You’re working with original Monkey Island and Loom background artist Mark Ferrari on Thimbleweed Park. Have you collaborated since? Is he working in the same capacity this time around as background artist and how has his work grown over the years? Are you pushing his style from what he’s done in the past and is his style pushing your designs creatively in other directions?
Ron: Yeah, we just announced that. It’s the first time we’ve worked together since our days at Lucasfilm Games. Mark is a hyper-talented artist and it’s amazing to be working with him again. I always love working with people that are running 20 feet in front of me and Mark is one of those people. When Gary and I started talking to Mark about working on Thimbleweed Park, Mark did a quick test image and sent it to us. We opened it in and said “Holy crap!”. It was just stunning. Seeing that image made Gary and I take a step back and relook at the art style. That’s the kind of artist Mark is. I remember looking at the first Monkey Island screens he did and saying the same thing: “Holy crap!”.
Gary: I first met Mark at, of all things, a science fiction and fantasy convention being held at the San Jose Red Lion Inn. Everyone was talking about some guy in the art show who drew amazing stuff in colored pencils… I took a look at Mark’s work and was amazed, they practically looked like oil paintings done in prismacolor pencil. Being the art director of Lucasfilm Games at the time had its perks and I was immediately introduced to Mark. My memory’s a bit fuzzy, but I don’t think Mark really had any computer experience at the time. In those days I invited candidates out to Skywalker Ranch for lunch and an art test working on an IBM PC in Dpaint. To say Mark was a natural at computer graphics would be an understatement, he was constantly breaking new ground, first on Loom and then on Monkey Island.
The Thimbleweed Park blog – you guys are working to be as transparent and inclusive during this creation process as possible. What motivated you to want to give your fans that kind of access this time around? How do you see the resulting dialogue influencing the final work?
Ron: Sharing everything we’re doing on the Thimbleweed Park website (http://thimbleweedpark.com) has been a lot of fun, but it’s always fun while things are going great. As all projects do, it will go to hell at some point. We’ll see if it’s still fun then. A lot of the reason for sharing everything is because people backed this project and they desire to know how things are going. When you do crowdfunding, you’re taking on a responsibility to keep people informed. If we had a traditional publisher, we’d have to keep them informed as well. It would probably be work work then the time we spend on 2 or 3 blog posts a week and a podcast. It will get more interesting as the project continues. A lot changes over time and hopefully people who backed and read the blog will understand that. We cut and change all the time. Monkey island went through a lot of changes as it was being made, the difference is that you only saw the final version, in Thimbleweed Park, backers are getting to see all the versions. It’s never a pretty process, but it can be fun. We’re still taking pledges from backers, so it’s not too late to get in on the fun, get a copy of the game and other rewards. Come join us!
Remember! We’ve got our conversation with Mark Ferrari coming up on Wednesday and you can still donate to Thimbleweed Park here!