Why Gilbert & Grossman Returned To Monkey Island (Unfinished Business)

Why Gilbert & Grossman Returned To Monkey Island (Unfinished Business) ...

Is Guybrush Threepwood still interested in becoming a pirate?

After all, this was the protagonists' very first proclamation 32 years ago: My name is Guybrush Threepwood, and I wish to be a pirate!

If you placed Threepwoods' pirate resume on the rejection pile, youd be forgiven. The former-LucasArts property still has one more story to tell.

Return to Monkey Island, in all of its point-and-click glory, will be released on Nintendo Switch and PC on September 19th. With the help of the taste-makers over at Devolver Digital, the writers will help with the original Monkey Island game.

Gilbert and Grossman spoke with PAX West on their long-awaited return to Monkey Islands, explaining why point-and-click games deserve a spot in 2022, how they settled on the new fairly divided art style, and what other LucasArts games they may resurrect in the future.

If you're sensitive to this information and want to read on, we suggest you skip the two answers before Gilbert begins discussing the game.

I'll begin with a general outline of my topic, which will lead me to my first question. For the first time since I was a kid, I went back and played with the original first two games. The graphics were also excellent, and the point-and-click controls forced me to immerse myself more in the dialogue.

None of this will be required in 2022. You don't necessarily need to finish hardware or point and click. Tim Schafer [editors note: Schafer co-wrote the original two Monkey Island games] went on to pursue other interests, while both of you have remained steadfast to the point-and-click tradition.

So, to 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 think point-and-click is a great way to tell stories. I like the way you interact with the world, kind of very viscerally. Like that these games are sort of like sandboxes in that way. I just really like point-and-click a lot I like 2D.

Adventure games are best when the player and the main character are on an equal standing of knowledge.

Dave Grossman: I prefer the writing part the most, because it's my favorite part. I enjoy adventure games in general, and especially in point-and-click, because it's an environment where you get to do a lot of what.

Im interested in structure and form, and the ways that you can use puzzles to shape the experience for the player without explicitly forking them out of 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 to the game, something struck me: the genre requires you to [use] a very specific interface. But what really aided in immersing me and [letting me] buy into that interface was that in the Monkey Island games, and to some extent Maniac Mansion as well, the characters had no clue what was happening in their world just as much as I had no clue what was happening. Was it intentional?

Gilbert: Yes, quite a lot of it came from doing Maniac Mansion. I remember playing a few of the Sierras games to see what they were like, and I remember playing Police Quest. And I remember going off your shift and I get to the police station almost immediately.

And at that moment, it told me that I am a police officer on a police force, and I should already know that I have to keep my pistol in my trunk. There was this intrinsic knowledge that the character should have, that I as the player did not have.

The first line out of Guybrush's mouth is, My name is Guybrush Threepwood and I want to be a pirate. So the player is learning to be a pirate at the same time Guybrush is learning to be 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 as a result of this? [laughter]

Gilbert: I mean, he knows how to be a pirate now, but they were asking him to do other things that Guybrush does not know how to do. So youre still at that level of, I dont have any more knowledge than Guybrush does.

Grossman: Enthusiastic mild competence.

Enthusiastic mild competence [laughter]

Grossman: Semi-competence.

The sequel to Monkey Island is a follow-up, but it is reportedly not a sequel. Before I ask you to explain what that means, Dave, you were involved with the earlier Telltale games. So how did you both decide where to start the story?

Gilbert: I think one of the most unbearable issues for me was that the game had to start 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 did a good job of avoiding that. But I really wanted to start there and sort of address the strange conclusion.

I dont want to spoil what happens, but the game does start at the end, right at that point. And things kind of get bizarre.

Can I say this? in a theme park? So the game literally starts?

Gilbert: Y-....yes. I meanwithout saying yesyes. [laughter]

Grossman: I don't know that we had much choice about that at all, because the whole point of the project is about unfinished business, and there's this thing left hanging in our own past. And our story starts with unfinished business, and it was probably the only thing that made sense to start it there.

The whole point of the project is to unfinished business, and there's this thing left hanging in our own past.

When you released the teaser, I pretty much had to ask this question. There was a lot of, uh, criticism on the artistic aesthetic.

Gilbert: [laughter]

Is this your answer, Ron? Is it appropriate that point-and-click games include pixel art? Or does it add something to the experience that people almost feel [cheated out] of when it's absent? I'd also add that the original Monkey Island games did not include pixel art.

Gilbert: I think the originals are what people today refer to as pixel art. Back then, pixel art was just looking at the hardware we had and trying to make every effort possible. And you know, there were limitations, and when Monkey 2 came out, it was all EGA art, 16 colors, and then we moved it to VGA art, and we always kept pushing things forward, always.

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 just not possible. Even if we had done a pixel art game, there would be a huge number of people who would be upset that we didnt create that style.

I think it's a given that with a (franchise) with such a history and fan base, you're going to offend a whole bunch of people no matter what you do. And what we settled on was, no matter what we did, we're going to offend a whole bunch of people with our choice. A choice that sort of propels things forward.

Grossman: Pixel art is a term used to describe nostalgia. You know, when you see something that is pixel art, you realize that it is intended to enliven your thoughts of nostalgia. However, this game does not intend to instill feelings of nostalgia in some individuals, but it is not the intention at all. Were trying to create a new thing.

What do you think a person who has never played Monkey Island would get out of this game, compared to a hardcore fan?

Gilbert: I hope that people who have never played [Monkey Island] will have a great time, and they might think, Oh, this is what Monkey Island is all about.

Should we do pixel art? Should we not? No matter what we do, we were going to offend a lot of people.

Grossman: It has been tested on a few individuals who have never heard of Monkey Island. And yes, there are people who have never heard of Monkey Island, they exist, and we found them. And they enjoyed it.

Is this a stand-alone experience?

Gilbert: Absolutely, its a very separate experience. We do not mean to relegate a whole bunch of things to new ones, and continue [old] stories and characters, but we have always tried to reintroduce characters and reintroduce situations. We do not assume that after you enter a room youll know who Otis is. We always try to do that.

Grossman: I think every game in the series has done that. You may start with any of them.

I realized as a child that I must have had a similar reaction to Maniac Mansion and [its sequel] Day of the Tentacle, where I thought to myself, Why does this look different? There was no social media. [laughter]

Gilbert: There was no one to be enraged at!

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: Yeah, I meanthe petitions are fun. I mean, I dont believe a petition will get Disney to sell us something.

Grossman: It's a great way for people to express how they feel.

Gilbert: Yes, and you know, I poked around initially, right after the sale of (LucasArts games) to Disney. I was kind of familiar with some people, and basically I was told, No. No, we will not sell it. It is not for sale, so I am not concerned about money.

There is no reasonable amount of money where [Disney] would sell it.

I thought, okay, Im not going to do this. And 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] knew somebody at the Disney licensing department, and he asked if I was interested in making that game.

And I had a lot of worry about it. So I called up Dave and told him about it, and we spent a weekend sort of brainstorming what the game might be. We wanted it to be a meaningful experience. We wanted it to be a meaningful experience. We wanted it to be something that we really enjoyed.

So I went back to Devolver and said, Okay, if you can do this, please do this.

And they made it happen!

Gilbert: They created it. It was a long (process). It took us about 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 in the media room here at PAX and saw someone I knew in there, and while catching up I told him I'd interview you two and asked if they had any questions I might add. And an older gentleman on the other end of the room yelled out, What took them so long?!

[laughter] Group: [laughter]

Grossman: We took advantage of the first opportunity, didn't we?

Did you work directly with Disney?

Gilbert: A lot. We collaborated a lot with Disney on this game. But one of my stipulations on Return to Monkey Island was that I wanted to make the game we wanted to make. I did not want interference from Devolver or Disney or whoever. I wanted to make this game.

And Disney said, okay, and they were very faithful to their words.

Have you been living on Monkey Island for the last two years?

Gilbert: Ah, yes. We had to keep everything so secret. I did not want to give any hint that I was working on a new Monkey Island game.

Devolver told me that there were a lot of individuals within their own company that didn't even know about it.

Grossman: I told my wife, but not my son.

[laughter] Group: [laughter]

Gilbert: One of my best friends sent me an angry email, and he was like, "How could you not tell me?" [laughter]

[At this point Devolver's PR tells us there's just time for one more question]

Alright, the last question is when will Maniac Mansion 3 will be released?

[laughter] Group: [laughter]

Gilbert: I think every game Ive ever worked on, I get to [the end] of game development and Im like, I never want to make another game again. Im done. Im resigning. And then three months later Im like, okay, this is a lot of fun.

So I can't answer this question right now. I'll respond to you in three or four months. [laughter]

Return to Monkey Island will be released on Switch and PC on the 19th September.