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Ron Gilbert and Dave Grossman return to Monkey Island with (aptly named) Return to Monkey Island.
The two teamed up to create the original 1990’s The Secret of Monkey Island, one of the funniest games of all time. They then surpassed that effort with 1992’s Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge. Now they’re looking to use that groggy-flavored secret sauce with RMI’s release later this year.
Before that, I had the chance to talk to the two of them about this intimidating undertaking. I asked them what it’s like to create a modern Monkey Island experience, and I also took the opportunity to learn a bit about their adventure game design philosophies.
GamesBeat: is it relatively easy to return to the franchise? Did you replay the older games before working on RMI?
Gilbert: I was playing Monkey Island 1 and Monkey Island 2 when we started looking at the new design. Watching the old game can be frustrating because there are so many little things that I would like to change. Adventure game design was much more forgiving back then. Banging your head against obscure puzzles was acceptable. It’s no more.
Dirty man: It’s easier to return to something of your own than to start on something originally made by someone else, but I definitely still had to do the research to get my brain in the right place. Coincidentally, I was already playing the early Monkey Island games with my son who was 5 at the time and had completed all the Humongous titles, so we continued to do that with a little more focus from Dad. And throughout production, I kept revisiting them, often because I was about to write dialogue for a recurring 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, locations like Monkey Island. Is it a fun challenge or a burden to have to work with those expectations?
Gilbert: Both. We’ve revisited some of the locations and characters, but you have to be careful it’s more than just a nostalgic trip. The game is not a remake or remaster, it is a brand new game. We revisited locations and characters when it was important to our new story.
Dirty man: Yes, it’s a nice edge to have a character that’s already developed a bit, which can help you make 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 current game. When I try to list my favorite characters from Return to Monkey Island, both in terms of the end result and the fun I had with them, it’s a mix of new and returning.
GamesBeat: What are some of the biggest differences between working on a new Monkey Island today compared to developing the original?
Gilbert: For me, one of the great things is catering to a modern and more casual audience while making fans happy at the same time. It’s a tightrope to walk. There is also the element of nostalgia. Monkey Island took 35 years to rebuild it into something it wasn’t then. Back then it was just a game we made. It’s more than that now. We were careful to honor that, but we weren’t afraid to push it forward either. We were also young and naive. Everything was bright and shiny.
Dirty man: We developed this whole game during a global pandemic, that has certainly been important. Ron and I had one face-to-face meeting in January 2020, and since then it’s all been remote, with the team spread across different areas of geography and time zones. In 1989 it was like we were a bunch of kids at a summer camp who spent 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 colleagues because – surprise surprise – it’s important to interact as people when you start making things together. On the other hand, the team is now generally older and more experienced, and we waste less time playing Tempest and Millipede.
Gilbert: Marble Madness for me. I almost got fired from that game.
GamesBeat: What were your influences on writing Secret of Monkey Island? It was self-referential and satirical at a time when that felt rare for a video game.
Dirty man: We referred to things a lot, not as imitating a certain style, but more like romping through a meadow and pointing gleefully at all the other media we had grown up with ourselves. At Lucasfilm, there are nods everywhere to Star Wars and Indiana Jones, as well as people and things in the office. You can also see us leaning towards TV shows and movies, used car ads and so on. Style wise I’d always been a fan of PG Wodehouse, Douglas Adams, Lewis Carroll, there’s probably some influence in that, but the rest of the team had their own backgrounds and I think we all influenced each other a lot. rank.
Gilbert: I’ve always been a fan of parody. For me, Monkey Island was about making fun of things.
GamesBeat: Will the advent of the internet and easy access to guides change the way you develop puzzles?
Dirty man: It mainly motivates us to build a hint guide into the game itself, so if players decide they want a hint, they don’t have to risk the muscle strain that could be caused by taking their smartphone out of their pocket.
Gilbert: I try to ignore that. If people want a walkthrough or spoilers there’s no way to prevent it, so I’ll pretend it isn’t there. As Dave says, the hint guide is the main place to combat that. I feel like if the player leaves the game to look something up, 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/easy?
Gilbert: Two words: Monkey Wrench.
Dirty man: LeChuck’s Revenge’s Monkey Wrench puzzle is notoriously unsolvable and was not a good design on several levels. Even if you’re an English speaker from a location where the tool in question is commonly referred to as a “monkey key”, and you realize that’s what you need, you still have to make an amazing predictive leap as to how your actions will affect that tool. to create . Nothing in the game sets it up adequately. I use it to this day as my example of what not to do with puzzle design, and it has influenced my thinking ever since. The player has to somehow visualize what 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!” instead of “How could I ever think of that, you ridiculous, dishonest clowns?!”
Conversely, I can’t think of anything I regret for making it too easy. The consequences are much less serious for that. It doesn’t bring the game to a standstill, at worst it’s just not very interesting, and you forget that once you start thinking about the next puzzle.
GamesBeat: Do the puzzles exist to support the story, or does the story exist to sustain the puzzles?
Gilbert: I’ve always seen it as ‘puzzle serves the story’. The story comes first and then the puzzles are layered.
Dirty man: With an adventure game, it can be a little difficult to separate the story from puzzles in those terms. We start by thinking about things like theme and tone, and when we start to break down the story, we do it in terms of player character goals and actions to achieve those goals. Those goals and actions are the puzzles, and they provide the mechanisms by which the player controls the story. In that sense you could say that the puzzles serve the story, but they are not separate from the story in any way, they are a structural element, like a plot. And the story was built with them in mind from the beginning, it’s a story you do, rather than a story you see and hear. It would be a different story if it weren’t, and that’s one of the things that makes adapting from other media challenging.
GamesBeat: Do you feel obligated to tie up loose ends or tie up threads from previous games, or are you more interested in creating something new that can stand on its own?
Gilbert: I don’t feel the need to tie up loose ends unless it serves our new story. It might be more fun to let them dangle there. Have someone else tie them up in a future game. Why should we have all the fun?
Dirty man: A good page-turner novel is constantly tying up loose ends and creating new ones. Like the tension and relaxation in a score, there is a curiosity dynamic at work that makes them very satisfying. I don’t feel particularly obligated to follow that, but it’s definitely something I’m thinking about.
GamesBeat: Monkey Island is inspired by Pirates of the Caribbean. Now Disney is directly involved with the franchise. Does that offer interesting possibilities? Can you maintain creative freedom?
Gilbert: Monkey Island is inspired by the Pirates of the Caribbean ride from my childhood. It was also heavily inspired by the book On Stranger Tides† They were both inspirations, but very different things.
Dirty man: If anyone plans to redesign the amusement park ride, they didn’t tell me about it. But I think I’d love to see it.
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