Is Guybrush Threepwood still interested in becoming a pirate?
This was the very first proclamation made by the Monkey Island protagonists 32 years ago: My name is Guybrush Threepwood, and I want to be a pirate!
If you placed Threepwoods' pirate resume on the rejection pile, you might be forgiven. The once-LucasArts property still has one last story to tell.
Return to Monkey Island, in all its point-and-click glory, will be released on Nintendo Switch and PC on September 19th. With the help of the taste-makers at Devolver Digital, the writers have made a newfound collaboration.
Gilbert and Grossman spoke at PAX West about their long-awaited return to Monkey Islands, discussing why point-and-click games should be renewed in 2022, how they came to terms with the new bizarrely divisive art style, and what other LucasArts games they might revive in the future.
If you're sensitive to this information and want to read on, we advise you to skip the other two responses before Gilbert begins discussing the game.
Nintendo Life (Alan Lopez): Id like to start off with a broad statement, which will lead me to my first question. In the beginning, I played with the original first two games for the first time since I was a kid, and the animations were also ahead of their time.
In 2022, none of this stuff will be required. You dont necessarily need to complete hardware or point and click. Tim Schafer [editors note: Schafer co-wrote the original two Monkey Island games] has gone on to work within other genres, while both of you have maintained a fairly steady state of the point-and-click genre.
So, before I begin the interview, my first question to you is: Why? What does point-and-click as a genre bring to the medium of games in 2022?
Ron Gilbert: I really like point-and-click as a way of telling stories. I like the way you interact with the world, kind of very viscerally. I like that these games are sort of like sandboxes in that way. I also like 2D.
Adventure games are more effective when the player and the main character have an equal knowledge base.
Dave Grossman: I like the writing part the most, it's my favorite part. I like adventure games in general, and especially in point-and-click, because that's where you get to do a lot of that.
Im interested in structure and form, and the ways that you can use puzzles to shape the experience for the player without specifically forcing them to go A to B, and you can force them to do that without meddling too much in the details. That has never gotten old for me.
When I returned and played the games, something struck me: the genre forces you to [use] a very specific interface. But what really helped immerse me and [let me] buy into that interface was that the characters in the Monkey Island games and to some extent Maniac Mansion had no clue about what was happening in their world just as much as I had no clue what was happening.
Gilbert: Yes, very much. A lot of that came from when I was doing Maniac Mansion. I remember playing some of [video game publisher] Sierras games to sort of see what they were like, and I remember playing Police Quest. And I remember coming off your shift and going into the police station, and I was almost immediately fired from the police force.
What it said to me was that I am a police officer on a police force, and I should already know that I have to keep my revolver in my bag. There was this inherent knowledge that the character should have that I as the player did not have.
The first thing out of Guybrush's mouth is, I'm Guybrush Threepwood and I want to be a pirate. So the player is learning to be a pirate at the same time Guybrush is becoming a pirate. I think adventure games work best when the player and the main character are on an equal standing of knowledge.
Do you think Guybrush is becoming too savvy in relation to the new game? [laughter]
Gilbert: I mean, he knows how to be a pirate right now, but they were requesting him to do other things that Guybrush does not know how to do. So youre still at that same level of, I dont have any more knowledge than Guybrush has.
Grossman: Enthusiastic mild competence.
Enthusiastic mild competence [laughter]
The second Monkey Island is a follow-up, but the new game is apparently not a sequel. So, Dave, you were involved with the earlier Telltale games. So how did you both decide where the story should begin?
Gilbert: I think one of the unmoveable difficulties for me was that the game had to begin right after Monkey Island 2, because the game sort of left on a weird, weird cliffhanger and I think the other games did their best and tried to avoid it. But I really wanted to start there and sort of address the strange ending.
And then, I dont want to spoil what happens, but the game does start at the end, right at that point. And things start to get weird.
Is this how the game begins? at a theme park?
Gilbert: Y-....yes. I meanwithout saying yesyes. [laughter]
Grossman: I don't know that we had much choice in terms of whether or not to proceed with the project. It's all about unfinished business, and there's this thing left hanging in our own past. And our story begins about unfinished business, so it's sort of wrapping them together, and it was probably the only thing that made sense to begin it there.
the whole point of the project is about unfinished business, and there's this thing left hanging in our own past.
When you released the teaser, I'm pretty sure you've to ask this question, because there was a lot of, um, feedback on the artistic aesthetic.
I guess my question to you, Ron, is that pixel art in point-and-click games to be trivial? Or does it somehow add something to the experience, which people almost feel [cheated out] of some specific kind of experience [when it's absent]?
Gilbert: I think the originals are what people today refer to as pixel art. Back then, those were words that never entered our vocabulary. We were just looking at the hardware we had and trying to make the most of it. And you know, when you look at Monkey 1, it was all EGA art, 16 colors, and then we switched it to VGA art when Monkey 2 was released, and we always kept pushing things forward.
And so there was a reaction to [Return to Monkey Island] not being pixel art, but I think its nostalgia reasons that people have. A lot of peoplethey want to experience this Monkey Island exactly like they experienced Monkey Island 2, and thats simply not possible. Even if we had done a pixel art game, there would be a large number of people who would be upset that we did not do that art style.
I think it's just a fact that with a (franchise) with such a large following, you're going to offend a lot of people no matter what you do. And the conclusion that Dave and I had originallywas, should we do pixel art? Should we not do it? And what we ended up with was, no matter what we do, we're going to offend a lot of people with our choice. A choice that sort of propels things forward.
Grossman: Pixel art is a form of nostalgia. As soon as you see it, you realize that it's intended to make you feel nostalgic. But this game isn't attempting to create anything new.
What do you think a non-Monkey Island aficionado who has never played will get out of this game, as opposed to a hardcore fan?
Gilbert: I hope that people who have never played [Monkey Island] have a super enjoyable experience, and they may think, Oh, this is what Monkey Island is about.
Should we do pixel art? Should we not do it? Regardless of what we do, we are going to offend a lot of people.
Grossman: Weve tested it on a few people who have never heard of Monkey Island. And yes, there are people who have never heard of Monkey Island, they exist, and we discovered them. And they played the game.
Is it a stand-alone experience?
Gilbert: No, it's a very standalone experience. That's not to say we'll abandon a lot of things and continue [old] stories and characters, but we've tried to reintroduce characters and scenarios. We don't just assume that after you enter a room you'll recognize who Otis is,we always strive to do that.
Grossman: I think every game in the series has done that. You can start with any of them.
I realized that I must have had a similar reaction as a child to Maniac Mansion and [its sequel] Day of the Tentacle, where I thought to myself, Why does this look different? But there was no social media. [laughter]
Gilbert: You had no one to be enraged with!
There was an online petition to sell the Monkey Island property to you, specifically, Ronnot, saying this is how it works, but my question to you is, how did we get from that point to today?
Gilbert: I meanthe petitions are fun. I mean, a petition does not guarantee that Disney will sell us something.
Grossman: It's a wonderful way for people to express how they feel.
Gilbert: Yes, and you know, I poked around initially, right after the Disney acquisition of (LucasArts games). I was sort of familiar with some people, and basically I was told, No. No, they would not sell it. It's not for sale. So I'm not concerned about money. I mean, if I approached them with a billion dollars, they might sell it. But there's no reasonable amount of money to sell it.
[Disney] would sell its products for a reasonable amount of money.
I thought, okay, im not going to do this. I went on to do other things, I made Thimbleweed Park, and other things,but then Devolver contacted me. [Nigel Lowrie, co-founder of Devolver Digital], mentioned some people at the Disney licensing department, and he wanted to know if I would be interested in making that game.
I had a lot of fear about it. So I called up Dave and told him what the game might be. We wanted it to be a meaningful game, not a generic one. We wanted it to be a meaningful game.We wanted it to be a meaningful game.
So, back to Devolver, I said, okay, if you can achieve this goal, please do this.
And they made it happen!
Gilbert: They made it happen. And it was a lengthy (process). It took us almost nine months before (we began development) between contract negotiations, Disney, and everything.
Grossman: There are a lot of Is and Ts in these things.
A quick anecdoteI was sitting in a PAX media room and saw someone I knew there. While talking to him I told him I would interview you two and asked if they had any questions I might add. And an older gentleman on the other end of the room said, Why did they take so long?!
[laughter] Group: [laughter]
Grossman: We figured we'd take the first step, didn't we?
Did you work directly with Disney?
Gilbert: A lot. We worked a lot with Disney on this game. One of the stipulations I had on Return to Monkey Island was that I wanted to make the game we wanted to make. I did not want anyone to interfere with Devolver or Disney. I wanted to make this game.
Disney said no, and they were very true to their word.
Have you been a member of Monkey Island for the last two years?
Gilbert: Yeah, we had to keep this secret. I didn't want to give any hint that I'm working on a new Monkey Island game.
Devolver said previously that there were a large number of individuals within their own company that were unaware of it.
Grossman: I told my wife, but not my son.
[laughter] Group: [laughter]
Gilbert: I received an enraged email from one of my best pals, who was like, "How could you not tell me?"
[At this point Devolver's PR assures us there's only time for one more question]
The final question is when will Maniac Mansion 3 be released?
[laughter] The group
Gilbert: I think every game Ive ever worked on, I get to [the end] of game development and I'm like, I'll never want to make another game again. I'm done. I'm leaving. And then three months later Im like, yeah, okay, this is a lot of fun.
So I'm unable to answer that question right now. Please contact me in three or four months. [laughter]
Ron and Dave's thanks for their time. Return to Monkey Island will be released on Switch and PC on the 19th September.