If you’ve played an adventure game in the last 27 years, it has most certainly been influenced by the work of Ron Gilbert. Modern games like Machinarium and Broken Age borrow heavily from the ideas pioneered in Ron Gilbert’s early graphic adventures like Maniac Mansion and The Secret of Monkey Island. Ron has since had a long and successful career spanning numerous different genres, but at long last, he is returning to the realm of point-and-click adventure games with a Kickstarter project dubbed Thimbleweed Park.
I grew up on the classic Lucasfilm/LucasArts adventure games, and so I was pleased as Punch to see that Ron Gilbert was teaming up with Maniac Mansion co-creator Gary Winnick to make an all-new adventure that looks and plays like a game made back in 1987. I immediately tossed my $ 20 towards the project, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I wanted to know more about the process of making an old-fashioned game with new tools, so I asked Ron for an interview, and here we are. Today, Professor Gilbert is here to drop some science on all of us.
Everything old is new again
Grant Brunner: Are you using a third-party engine, or making the entire game from scratch? What drove that decision?
Ron Gilbert: I haven’t made a final decision yet, but I will probably use my own engine. I have a pretty deep and robust library of code that I’m comfortable using. It’s not an “engine,” but it has most of the building blocks I need.
GB: If you had access to the original SCUMM source code, and Disney gave the thumbs up, would you want to build Thimbleweed Park on the old tech, or would you prefer to start fresh?
RG: SCUMM was a great system, but it’s 25 years old. There has been a lot of evolution in tools and production since then. I think we’ll be able to get something that looks and feels like an old SCUMM game, but still is leveraged on modern development techniques.
GB: In terms of the scope and self-imposed limitations, how close are you attempting to stick to early adventure games from the late 1980s? Specifically, I’m wondering about things like the resolution, the number of colors on screen, RAM usage, and the number of sprites. Do you have a specific spec in mind?
RG: Some of the things you mentioned were also some of the most frustrating limitations we had. We fought RAM constantly and often made creative choices we didn’t want to because we ran out of disk space. Being able to do a classic point & click game, but with what amounts to unlimited RAM will be nice. We’re sticking to a limited palette, but not limiting ourselves to 15 colors. Our goal is to make a game that’s how you remember those old games, not how they actually were. Our brains filled in a lot of details back then.
GB: One of the stretch goals is mobile support. Do you have strong opinions about how a traditional point-and-click adventure game should be ported to touch-based machines?
RG: Touch is natural for point & click games. The mouse was just an extension of our finger pointing, and with touch screens, we can really point. There are some UI issues, like your finger getting in the way, that we’re going to be looking at. Some games have done that well, some have not. It is an issue we want to think about from day one and not just treat the mobile version as a “port.”
GB: Another stretch goal is the addition of optional voice acting — something that wasn’t part of your early work. Since you’re willing to take that step, what about the music? Will it be limited to fit the 1987 concept, or are you looking for a higher fidelity soundtrack?
RG: Music is the one area that we’re going to go “full modern.” There is so much emotion that is conveyed through music and we want to be able to use that. A lot of backers have asked for a true 8-bit soundtrack and if we go enough over our goal, then we’d like to add that as an option. We can’t make any promises, but I’ve talked to the musician about it.
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