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Ron Gilbert & Gary Winnick interrogated about Thimbleweed Park

21 Nov, 2014

Thimbleweed Park is racing toward its $375,000 Kickstarter goal, but what do we really know about the game? Jason and Remi said "not enough", and put Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick to the wall, screaming, "What is this all about?!"

Maniac Mansion is the obvious frame of reference here, but will Thimbleweed Park go as far as to be faithful to its more merciless aspects (aka dead ends)?

Gary: No dead ends™ are planned at this time.

Ron: Despite this being a classic adventure, we are applying all the lessons we’ve learned over the years on designing adventure games. From a design philosophy, it will be more like Monkey Island.

Thumb "Plus, making game engines in fun. Right? Who’s with me!" - Ron Gilbert, while Zaarin feverishly tries to dig out Mojo's WONKY code and Jason fires up PowerPoint.
While Thimbleweed Park has been described as an old school adventure, will it be accessible for those who have jumped on to the genre over the last 15 years or so? Something as simple as combining inventory items seems to be a thing of the past.

Gary: I think the basic style of puzzle solving in this, as well all the classic games we worked on, has been designed to be something the player needs to think about a bit -- but usually makes sense -- and they typically have a related “ah-ha” moment that can be very satisfying. I believe that most game players, no matter what era of gaming they’re from, will be engaged by this. One of the puzzle design strategies we used in Maniac Mansion was to start with something fairly easy -- like the key under the doormat -- and as players work their way into the game (learning how to interact with the environment, objects and puzzles) they become more accustomed to the gameplay.

Ron: We’re also, like in Monkey 2, planning on having Easy and Hard mode. You can switch the difficulty if you’d rather not have the true, hardcore experience.

One of the things I admire about Maniac Mansion is the visual, unspoken storytelling by dent of the background art and props.  For example, the crate in the art room with the slime trail coming out of it, or the telescope that Dr. Fred presumably witnessed the landing of the meteor through.  Can we expect more of that sort of quiet detail, where players can piece together a story from merely examining their environment, from Thimbleweed Park?

Gary: Our intent in game design has always been to develop as rich and compelling an environment as possible, so the story and gameplay complement each other. That attention to detail and the connection to the environment and events helps shape the story, the player’s suspension of disbelief drawing them further in.

Ron: It’s important in games to do a lot of the storytelling with the environment. Players spend a lot of time looks at the screens, and it’s great to use that to get small or funny detail across, even if they are missed by a lot of players.

What sources of inspiration did you have for the story/setting? There seems to be a bit of Twin Peaks going on.

Thumb "We wanted a twisty little mystery that takes you places you might not have expected. But, it’s all a satire, in the same way Maniac Mansion was to horror films."
Ron: Yeah, for me it’s all about Twin Peaks and True Detective, with a little X-Files thrown in. We wanted a twisty little mystery that takes you places you might not have expected. But, it’s all a satire, in the same way Maniac Mansion was to horror films.  It’s about making fun of the clichés of the detective and mystery genre.

Gary: Maybe a dash of Stephen King thrown in as well.

We know there are five playable characters -- will these be able to interact with each other in terms of dialogue and puzzles?

Ron: Yeah, like Maniac Mansion, all the characters will interact with each other and you’ll have to solve puzzles using multiple characters, although there are some interesting twists that we plan on adding.

How large will the game be in comparison to Maniac Mansion or Secret of Monkey Island?

Ron: That’s a tough question. In terms of locations (in the biz, we call them rooms), I would say it’s going to be bigger than Maniac Mansion and probably around the size of Monkey 1. It’s a little hard to compare it to Monkey 1 due to Thimbleweed Park having 5 characters and 5 different endings.  Figuring out the length of adventure games is more magic than art or science.

How long has this game been in gestation? Is it related to anything you were pondering on during your time at LucasArts?

Ron: Gary and I have always wanted to work together again doing an adventure game. Thimbleweed Park is a new idea we’ve been developing for the past 6 months, but it builds on a lot of idea fragments over the years.

Gary: Yep, although we came up with the main story arcs recently, there are a whole bunch of ideas related to the characters and situations that go back to a number of brainstorming sessions we had over the last 20 years.

Are you using a pre-existing engine -- in other words, are we seeing SCUMM REDUX? Or something brand new?

Ron: I haven’t completely decided on the engine yet. I have a pretty stable engine that runs on Mac, Win, Linux, iOS and Android, but I want to do some deeper looking at other options. There are some interesting engines out there, I just need to see what they get me that I don't already have. Plus, making game engines in fun. Right? Who’s with me!

Who have you lined up to compose the music? Will we see something iMuse like?

Ron: The music will be done by Steve Kirk. He did the music for [DeathSpank co-creator] Clayton’s game, Voodoo Vince, plus he did the sea shanty in Scurvy Scallywags. Steve composed the music for the Thimbleweed Park trailer and we’ve had several conversations about doing some interesting interactive music for the game. I don’t know if anything else will ever be as interesting and cool as iMuse.

If the $375,000 is surpassed, will there be any enhancements that so far have not been announced, for example voice acting?

Ron: Yes, we’re looking at adding translations, other platforms, voice, etc. We have a short list of things we’d like to add, but we’re trying to stay focused and not get caught up in the hype and promise of stretch goals just yet.

Since the game is receiving a boxed version, will you be approaching Ken Macklin to do the cover art, for old time's sake?

Gary: We’ve stayed in touch with Ken over the years and he’s really excited about the Kickstarter and the possibility of doing the illustration for our box cover and poster art.

If you managed to come to an agreement with Nintendo to release the game on Wii U, will you include a clause that prevents them from removing reclining nude statues?

Ron: Yes, no one is going to censor our art again!

Gary: And they’d have to pay us a pile a cash to remove all the nudity we’ve got planned...

And just in case the Wii U is out, are there any plans for other consoles iOS, Android, etc.?

Ron: We’re looking at other platforms. We’re a small team and we’re very conscious of over committing ourselves. It’s really important to us that we manage scope and not over promise things we can’t do really well.

Thumb "And they’d have to pay us a pile a cash to remove all the nudity we’ve got planned..." - Gary Winnick, shacking his fist at the family-friendly Lucasfilm Games image.
Gary, Bad Dreams has been well received -- any plans of doing a comic book adaption of Thimbleweed Park?

Gary: Not really, but you never know, depending on audience reaction if enough people want it bad enough ….

Important -- will Thimbleweed Park have a soft drink product placement?

Gary: Probably... but for one we make up, unless someone else wants to pay us for it… hint… hint.

If the game doesn't prove to inspire a tenuously relevant sitcom adaptation starring various SCTV alumni for the Family Channel, will you be forced to conclude that you have failed utterly?

Ron: I went through years of therapy to forget that TV show was ever made.

Will Chuck the Plant be in the game? And might we suggest an appearance from Eddie the Weasel.

Ron: Chuck the Plant is contractually obligated to be in every game Gary or I make. There is no way he’s getting out of that!

Finally, Monkey Island 3a has been mentioned many a time. How about a Maniac Mansion 2a?

Ron: I’d love to revisit either of those games, but Disney owns all the rights and there isn’t much we can do. In some ways, Thimbleweed Park is about revisiting them, but more in the feeling we had making them, and hopefully that will translate into a interesting game and recreate the feeling everyone had playing them.

Thimbleweed Park can, of course, still be Kickstarted, but you've probably already done that.

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