The Cave | Pointing and Chatting with Ron Gilbert

Published on January 10th, 2013

We talk to the creator of Monkey Island about his new downloadable game, .

The Cave | Pointing and Chatting with Ron Gilbert

Ron Gilbert has been designing games for over thirty years, and is best known for his work at Lucas Arts where he developed Maniac Mansion, The Secret of Monkey Island and Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge.

Any point-and-click adventure fan would be a fool to turn it down the opportunity to interview the legendary creator of the Monkey Island series and when SEGA came to us with that exact opportunity we frankly couldn’t turn it down. Meeting the father of the adventure game genre was an honor nobody at GamerZines had enjoyed before, so we RSVP’ed as quickly as our dainty fingers could muster.

We caught up with Mr Ron Gilbert in the thematically suitable setting of a theatre/club/pub located underneath London Waterloo station. The dark, candle-lit cavern set the mood for our encounter perfectly as it not only emulated the atmosphere of his next game The Cave, but it also more than slightly reminded us of ‘The Scumm Bar (TM)’  admittedly without a drunken sailor twirling impossibly on an anchor suspended from the ceiling. We had a thousand questions for the modest, bearded storyteller, but we did our best to remain professional in our fifteen minutes with the brilliant mind that gave the world Guybrush Threepwood. Here’s how the first seven and half minutes of that conversation went down…

A lot of The Cave seems to be designed to directly tackle the problem adventure games have addressing the modern shift in attitudes that says it’s no longer okay to get stuck for long amounts of time in a video game – hence you guys stripping out inventory management and only using local items to solve puzzles. Is that the whole ethos behind the way the game is structured?

Not so much the getting stuck part. I do kind of agree with you that people don’t like to get stuck today, but there’s a weight to that that makes people feel okay about being stuck. When you’re stuck in adventures games that moment when it all clicks in your head is a really wonderful moment. It’s really about pacing things so you’re ‘stuck, stuck, aha!, stuck, stuck, aha!’. It’s just about pacing, we did a lot of play-testing for the game and we brought a lot of people in who hadn’t played an adventure game before and it was really fun to watch them, because they really weren’t sure what the game was. They played the game and there’s a bunch of stuff they couldn’t do, but the moment they solved their first puzzle they were just hooked and they just absolutely loved the game after that. So, I think it’s just about pacing the puzzles and giving a nice curve of difficulty, as you’re playing through The Cave.

The Cave | Pointing and Chatting with Ron Gilbert

The Cave stars seven different playable characters all venturing into the titular cavern to find what their heart's desire most.

The fact that The Cave has four-player local co-op also feeds into that idea as well, as you’ll have multiple people talking through the problem at hand.

Right, you’ve got two minds working in unison, or three of them which is really good as that’s how I used to play when I was a kid. Just to have that other person or two people in there actively following you around also really helps. People get through the game much faster in co-op compared to single-player.

From the trailers at least the narrator seems to have a big part to play in the way The Cave plays out. He seems like the perfect mechanism for some kind of dynamic hint system, is that his role in the game?

Not really, his point is just to tell a little bit more of the back story of the characters. When I first wrote him I had him talking a lot and he really was a hint system, but the feedback that we got from him was’I wish that cave would shut up!’;

‘I’m trying to play this game and I’m trying to think through this problem and this cave is just talking all the time! Yeah it’s funny but please.’

I kind of did a secondary pass and rewrote a lot of it, just make him talk at important points. [Now] he’s more about keeping you focused, more than he is about offering hints.

The Cave | Pointing and Chatting with Ron Gilbert

Part-platformer, part-puzzle game; The Cave borrows from lots of different genres and looks quintessentially Double Fine.

Each character’s back story also unfolds via paintings on the wall which unlocks comic-book like animations. Did you ever have grander plans for that mechanism, like using actual cutscenes rather than rigid story art or was that merely a budget constraint?

Well, everything is a budget constraint at some point right? The motivation behind the cave paintings was wanting to tell a bunch of back story. The cave paintings aren’t about the characters’ journey into the cave, they are really about what brought the characters to the cave. Yeah maybe we could have done some little cutscene vignettes that other developers do, but more of this comic book style just allows people to very quickly dismiss them or if you really like them spend a lot of time looking at all those little things; ‘Wow okay I get the Hillbilly character now, I see that little thing in the background’. It allows people to go as deep or as shallow as they want to with those.

You can rely on Double Fine to create amazing art to pad that out as well, right?

Yeah and you know we can come out with a book later, ‘Art of The Cave’ (laughs).

The Cave | Pointing and Chatting with Ron Gilbert

Players can choose only three of The Cave's seven different characters to take with them on each playthrough.

Obviously you’re working with Tim Schafer again at Double Fine, and you’re doing some work on the Double Fine Adventure as well…

A little bit, but not a lot – mostly Tim does that and I do The Cave, but we talk a lot.

What was that whole experience with Kickstarter like? People giving you guys lots and lots of money without even knowing the concept behind the game their funding!

I hate it when people give me money, I hate that! (laughs). I think what the Kickstarter effort showed was that there is a big market out there who will gladly give money for something that they love. That’s the power of Kickstarter, you don’t have to convince a giant publisher who has an ROI (Return of Investment) [in mind] and all this other stuff. You just need to convince the people that the game you want to make is worth buying. You know with Kickstarter you’re in it for $10, maybe $50 or $10,000 if you want to go bowling [with the dev team] – but usually it’s going to be a small amount of money that you invest. It’s really all about going out there and hitting the fans directly with that stuff. Some games are perfect for Kickstarter, other games are just better for publishers. Some other games are better for more of a venture capital route and that for me is the genius of Kickstarter as it’s another [viable] way to get games funded. I don’t think if every game was funded on Kickstarter it would be a good thing, as there would only be one type of game being made. The more ways we have to fund games, the more different types of games get made and that’s always good.

Due to the growing relevance of crowd-sourcing and services like Kickstarter, there’s a growing anti-publisher feeling amongst the gaming masses. Do you think that kind of feeling is necessarily a good thing?

The Cave | Pointing and Chatting with Ron Gilbert

Double Fine and Gilbert's humour are more than apparent in this downloadable game.

I think it’s a natural thing. SEGA has been wonderful to work with, at no point did they ever come in and say, “We want you to change this”. They’ve been really great to work with. I do think publishers often get a bad rap, sometimes very deservingly, but they do and can provide a very valuable service. I’m over here in Europe promoting The Cave, and that wouldn’t happen without a publisher. Some of them are complete dicks, some of them have no respect for the creative process, they really are just about churning numbers through a spreadsheet and that’s just bad for anything, so it’s about finding the right game for the right publisher and making sure that that all works together well.

This is just the first part of our exclusive chat with legendary games designer Ron Gilbert. The second part will go live on GamerZines.com tomorrow and features Ron reflecting on his time in charge of Hothead Games, more thoughts on what drove The Cave’s development and what it would take to get the Monkey Island license out of Disney’s vice-like grasp. Needless to say you’d be mad to miss it!

The Cave will be released on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and this January. It’s also coming to the WiiU shop in the near future.

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