Why does it look so different? And where have all the verbs gone? Ron Gilbert, Dave Grossman and Rex Crowle talk to voonze online about “Return to Monkey island”.
Personally, they didn’t make it: The “Monkey Island” creators Ron Gilbert and Dave Grossmann as well as Art Director Rex Crowle were connected to Gamescom from their home office to talk about “Return to Monkey Island”. In a long-distance team call from the Koelnmesse business halls, voonze online was able to ask the three developers about the new part of the legendary adventure series, which is due to be released on November 19 for PC and Nintendo Switch. The big graphics Controversy was also a topic: the first trailers for the modernized Point&Click adventure not only sparked anticipation, but even gave the developers hate mail.
Mr. Gilbert, you are active on social media and like to speak directly to your fans. You also wrote a lot on your channels about “Return to Monkey Island” until you were personally attacked in comments and finally even had to lock down your blog. Has your style of open communication backfired?
Ron Gilbert: I would not go so far. I actually like talking to the fans, I like to hear their opinions. This “Return to Monkey Island” controversy was simply unavoidable in our modern times. We live in a world where everyone has a megaphone. When I was a kid, I used to gossip about comics, movies, or games with my friends, too. But that never got beyond my few buddies. It works differently with the Internet today, so you have to come to terms with it somehow.
The graphic style in particular is controversial among fans.
Ron Gilbert: Everything we do will polarize the fans, including the puzzles, the story, the user interface and the art style. A game like Monkey Island has stuck in people’s memories for so long that everyone has a very personal idea of it. Any change to it will split opinions, we knew that from the start of development.
It was therefore particularly important to us that we believe in our game. And we do, we are all convinced of “Return to Monkey Island”. We love the graphic style, we love the interface and we love the story. This belief ultimately creates a good game that hopefully others will like too.
Recommended Editorial Content
With your consent, an external video (Kaltura Inc.) will be loaded here.
Always load videos
Mr. Crowle, as Art Director, how did you perceive the feedback?
Rex Crowle: For me it was intimidating from the beginning because the Monkey Island games are one of my favorite games from my childhood. I played them on the Amiga and then tried to make my own games inspired by them. So I already had a certain ballast on my shoulders when we started. In addition, the many sequels to “Monkey Island” had very different art styles, from pixel art to drawings to 3D. So there was no predefined look for the games.
You then decided on something completely new.
Rex Crowle: It all started with a fan drawing I posted online over a decade ago. Ron saw this and contacted me, so the whole process took off. In that first drawing, Guybrush looked very boxy, almost like a Minecraft character. This was my attempt at a modern take on pixel art, but it would have been even more controversial.
For the development of “Return to Monkey Island” it was then important to draw clear and legible silhouettes of the various characters that can be easily recognized on both the computer and the switch. In addition, the animations and facial expressions must fit well. That’s how we came up with this style, which is a bit reminiscent of a picture book. This fits well with the story of “Return to Monkey Island”.
Kickstarter games and early access games often implement feedback from active players. If you’d followed the fan community’s preferences for Return to Monkey Island so strictly, the finished game might have looked different.
Ron Gilbert: You shouldn’t let a community committee develop a game, it can only go wrong. Everyone has different opinions, different skills and their own perception. Games designed by communities can only end in chaos. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore people. We also did a lot of playtesting for Return to Monkey Island, so we invited people in and listened to their feedback. We then made design decisions on that basis.
There’s a wonderful “Simpsons” episode in which Homer is asked to design a car. It illustrates perfectly: You need someone who has a vision. But this vision should also be able to be modified based on feedback and data. You certainly can’t develop a game in a vacuum, but you also can’t just leave the game design in the hands of the community and say “do it!”
Screenshots from “Return to Monkey Island” (5 images)
For “Return to Monkey Island” you not only designed a new graphic style, but also got rid of the well-known action verbs. What is behind this decision?
Ron Gilbert: I’ve always been interested in the user interfaces of adventure games. Before “Maniac Mansion” you had to type words into text fields in adventure games to solve puzzles. We then replaced this system with the nine action verbs. And people hated it back then! They thought that by doing so, freedom of choice was lost when there were only a small number of real options beforehand.
Then as now, I wanted to optimize the gaming experience. Also for Return to Monkey Island, Dave and I talked a lot about how players interact with adventure interfaces. We thought about bringing back the verbs. We even reconsidered Monkey Island 3’s coin interface.
So the round pop-up menu with three icons, which largely correspond to the action verbs “use”, “speak” and “look”.
Ron Gilbert: What bothered us the most about this coin menu was the verb “use”. You combine that with an object and have no idea what is actually supposed to happen. It’s a pure shot in the blue. What happens if I “use” a candy bar? Do I eat it, do I unwrap it, do I mash it up? For “Return to Monkey Island” we tried as a first step to give the action context via the mouse pointer text, i.e. to call things by their names – instead of “use” for example “eat”.
But then we had the idea that the text above the cursor should reflect Guybrush’s thoughts. So if you want to eat the candy bar, the lyrics should be something like “that looks yummy” or “that’s disgusting” because that’s what Guybrush thinks. This opened up a whole new world of possibilities for us to bring our creativity to these texts and humorously explain to players what the mouse click should do.
Mr. Grossman, despite all the changes, how do you ensure that the “Monkey Island” identity is not lost?
Dave Grossman: A lot has changed in the past 30 years, but our sense of humor has stayed the same. Our ideas about the characters and their place in the world are also the same. This is a big reason why “Return to Monkey Island” still feels like “Monkey Island”.
The first part emerged from our common view of the world. The humor has always been to make fun of human nature and to mix in current events from our lives in addition to pop culture. For “Return to Monkey Island” we had to remember that and just try again. I think we’ve done a good job of resuming our former selves without neglecting our current experiences. The result is not just “another Monkey Island game” but a truly new Monkey Island game.
You had enough time to think of a new story. Have you been carrying your ideas around with you for decades now?
Ron Gilbert: I always had little ideas over the years. But it’s not like I’ve been mulling it over in my head for 35 years. In any creative process, be it a film, music, or video game, the real creativity is in the act of creation, not before. When we started development, all we really knew was that it would continue after the end of “Monkey Island 2”. Dave and I then gradually fleshed out the story throughout the development process.
Dave Grossman: “Return to Monkey Island” is a game about Guybrush wanting to close something from his past that was left unfinished. It’s the same with us: we’re going back to something we did a long time ago. I don’t think we could have done Return to Monkey Island 10 or 15 years ago. The game as it is was only possible in the here and now.
Mr Gilbert, on your previous game Thimbleweed Park you talked a lot about nostalgia. The discourse on “Return to Monkey Island” is also characterized by a retrospective look at the heyday of adventure adventure in the 1990s. How do point and click adventures get rid of this ballast?
Ron Gilbert: There are adventure games like “Firewatch” that are so different that they don’t get sucked into the nostalgia maelstrom so much. When it comes to classic point and click adventures, people always look for a comparison, and that’s hard to put down.
For “Thimbleweed Park” we even consciously got involved in nostalgia, that was the point of this game. But with Return to Monkey Island, Dave and I wanted to make a modern, interesting game. We really wanted to push the genre, try new things. That has always been my goal. There are certainly a certain number of fans who would have been thrilled if we had just made a retro pixel art game with Return to Monkey Island. But a much larger group would have been completely unaffected.