Ron Gilbert is the legendary name behind the even more legendary Monkey Island point-and-click graphic adventures - a series that not only popularised the sadly dwindling genre but pushed the boundries of in-game story-telling with its genuinely hilarious characters and script. Oh, and it had a ton of monkeys in it too.
The first game in the series, The Secret Of Monkey Island, was created by Gilbert, along with Tim Schafer (who most recently gave us the fantastic Psychonauts) and Dave Grossman. Gilbert was also the inventor of the SCUMM (Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion) system that popped up in other Lucas classics such as Day Of The Tentacle.
Gilbert has spent the last year looking for a publisher for his new project - a comedy RPG/RTS - but has now decided to self-publish with the help of private investors. He also spends time ranting against the evils of the games industry on his personal website, as well as meeting up at Monkey Island fan conventions around the world.
We caught up with the great man himself to talk point-and-click, puzzles, pirates, voodoo and, most importantly, monkeys:
How did you come up with the idea for the SCUMM visual interface? Was it your frustration with adventure games up to that point?
Firstly, I was a big fan of text adventures, but I didn't like typing or reading everything. For example, King's Quest was a graphical adventure game where you still had to type everything in. I thought: "This is crazy. I can see everything on the screen, why am I still typing?" So that was the light bulb in my head. When I sat down to do Maniac Mansion I vowed that it would be an adventure game with no typing - which is where the interface came about, moving the cursor over the screen to highlight things, for example.
The Secret Of Monkey Island was huge. Where did the idea come from?
I wanted to do an adventure game but I didn't want to do fantasy - trolls, wizards and so on. So I thought - pirates! You've got the swordfighting, the same feel of fantasy and it's not set in modern day. I also liked the Pirates Of The Caribbean ride at Disneyland and wanted to recreate that in a game. Plus there's a book, On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers, that mixes voodoo into its pirate story. You can see Monkey Island in that book!
Monkey Island was also just very funny. Most adventures around that time were very po-faced...
Yeah, I probably couldn't do a game that wasn't humorous in some way. Having Tim Schafer and Dave Grossman on the project - which was just sheer luck - helped enormously, as they're fabulous writers. I had a miniature half-size pool table in my office and the three of us would play pool for hours, coming up with puzzles, working out the plot points and laughing ourselves silly. It was a lot of fun.
Can you remember coming up with the rubber-chicken-with-a-pulley-in-the-middle?
Some of it was too silly and too ridiculous, but others would stick. The chicken-with-a-pulley-in-the-middle was just an off-hand comment - we all laughed and moved on. Then later on we'd think, hey, that chicken with a pulley, that's kinda funny. So we'd go back and figure out how it'd work in game...
What about the 'stump gag' - where the game asks you to insert non-existent game disks?
That was something I put in. We were trying to think of things in the forest, which was kind of a maze - it was late and I wrote that stump gag and we all laughed. We debated it though, whether we should leave it in or not. We thought: "Ah, nobody's going to fall for this!" So we left it in and tech support soon started to get phone calls about it... I wasn't well-liked by them...