The Success Of Monkey Island

Interview: Telltale hails the return of point and click

Last week saw Telltale Games release the first episode in its brand new Tales Of Monkey Island series on PC (Wii coming soon we're told). Today marks the release of The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition on Xbox Live Arcade and PC. With that in mind, it seemed like the perfect time to catch up with Telltale's game designer Mike Stemmle.

Why is now the right time for the rebirth of Money Island and why not release it as one single product?

Stemmle: Monkey Island is one of gaming's all-time great series and has been a fave for different audiences of players over the years. Telltale and LucasArts feel the timing's good for bringing new Monkey Island for today's gamers.

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What about the way in which you're delivering it?

Stemmle: And as for episodic format ... a key source of inspiration for these kinds of games are the old serialized movies and TV shows from the early days of the industry. Tales of Monkey Island is the kind of experience that folks will want to stay involved with over the course of the full five month adventure.

You've confirmed the downloadable episodes for PC and WiiWare but not 360 and PSN. Tell us about your decision behind that.

Stemmle: With each of our recent series, we'll pick a lead console platform to accompany the PC release. WiiWare worked well for our Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People series and we're enthusiastic about coming back to the platform.

And, this is the very first time that a Monkey Island game will be on a Nintendo platform. As with other Telltale series, we want to continue introducing it for other platforms over time.

Personally, I loved the Money Island games when they came out. I was about 15. But now I'm 33. How are they going to appeal to me now I'm all big and grown up?

Stemmle: There are a lot more jokes in this Monkey Island about things that 33 year olds will appreciate, like capital gains tax cuts and yogurts that smooth out your digestive tract. On a slightly more serious note, I like to think that there's always been something in Monkey Island to appeal to all age groups, from 8 to 80.

How have you approached pacing the five episodes so that they each feel of equal value. Who and how do you decide when the consumer has had enough for one episode?

Stemmle: When we're designing each episode, we do a whole lot of meticulous (and tedious) flow-charting of our puzzle trees. After a while, we can tell just by looking at a tree whether (and where) it needs more branches, or where (and whether) it needs to be pruned. Usually.

This isn't your first attempt at episodic gaming. What have you found works and doesn't work using this approach to publishing?

Stemmle: Tales of Monkey Island is the first in a new iteration of Telltale's episodic gaming model - something we're internally calling "Telltale 2.0."

An important part of this is adding elements to bring players through the series in even more satisfying ways, with more connections from episode to episode. With each game and series we do, we look to carry forward elements that work best from previous games, and continue innovating in new places.

The concept of episodic gaming has been around for nearly a decade. What's holding it back from being a true driver of sales from the mass market? Technology? Broadband? Consumers?

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