The Curse of Monkey Island Retro Interview Bonanza A Chat With Chris Purvis

Part I - Introduction
Okay, to begin with, can you tell us a little about the world of Chris Purvis?
My world? I suspect it is much like your world. Mostly green, 2/3 of the surface covered with water, etc.

What led to you getting your job at LucasArts? Had you have any previous experience with developing games?
Pure luck. I answered an ad in the paper for video game testers. As you might imagine there was a heavy response. My boss got so many resumes that the pile on his desk was too tall to move at once. The day he phoned me for an interview he moved the pile from one side of his desk to the other. He picked up the top half, and set it down. Then he put the bottom half on top of it. I ended up the resume on the top of the pile. I am not making this up.

Before LEC I worked at The Software Toolworks but not as a developer. I was pretty much a glorified data entry guy.

You worked as a lead tester on The Dig - is the life of a beta tester as hard as it’s rumored to be?
Yes, it is very hard. Very long hours, very low pay. And no respect at all.

What were the best - and worst - things about working at LucasArts?
The best things? Well, it can be a very fun place to work. Almost everyone there is really great, especially when I started there in 1994. The company was still really small and everyone knew everyone else. LEC is really too big for that now.

The worst things - you'll have to wait for my tell-all book. Think Microserfs, but with Star Wars. And it's all true.

Do you visit LucasArts fan sites? If so, what do you think of them?
Honestly, and don't hate me for this, no, not very much. I mean, I did a lot more often when I was working there. I think the fan sites are great. It's fun to read about what you are working on when there isn't that much information out there and everyone is speculating about it, although usually people are so off the mark when they try and guess what you are doing. It's entertaining. Although sometimes the forum participants can get a little nutty. I mean, search through your own archives if you have them going back to, oh, March 1996 or so. There was some guy on your forum who kept comparing the Monkey Island series to American involvement in the Vietnam war. I mean, this guy was totally nuts. We were glad he didn't know where any of us lived because it was a little scary.

Was there any game at LucasArts you wish you'd worked on but didn't?
I would really like to have gotten a chance to work more on The Magic Box (working title) which was an original adventure game Larry and Jonathan were doing after they finished CMI. I started working on it right after we finished Grim Fandango. It was Randy and Michele from Monkey 4 plus myself doing all the programming, and I really was having a good time working with them on it. But Jonathan ended up leaving, and the project ended up cancelled.

What made you decide to leave LucasArts?
Well, after almost seven years there I was just ready to move on to something else.

Part II - Curse of Monkey Island and beyond

How did you get involved with the Curse of Monkey Island (CMI)?
Jonathan and I had worked together getting the DIG out the door and he liked my work ethic. He also thought I might be good at writing jokes. I was already going to move from QA to programming and the timing just worked out right. I was understandably excited at the idea of working on the next Monkey game.

You were one of the co-designers alongside the project leads Jonathan Ackley and Larry Ahren. How much input did you have on the development of the actual story?
Well, next to none on the core plot itself. The critical path was all designed and the pre-rendered cut-scenes were already written, so the backbone of the story was already in place. What did not yet exist, and what was essentially divided equally between Jonathan, Chuck and myself was the interactive dialogue. So all of the jokes, all of the look-at responses, all the dialogue trees, we did all of that.

Were you worried about continuing the Monkey Island series without Ron Gilbert's influence?

Not in the slightest. The tone of the games was already set.

Can you describe for us what a typical day working on CMI was like?
A normal day would be divided between adding in new art and animation which had been completed and writing dialogue for it. For example, when we got a piece of background art, all the detail in it would be there visually but no one planned in advance what Guybrush would say when he looked at the Comedy Mask, or tried to give the map to Blood Island to Lemonhead. That was what Chuck and I spent most of our time doing.

As co-designer, you must have designed a lot of the puzzles in the game. Is there a typical method for creating puzzles (get object A to use B on C)? What is your favourite puzzle in the game?
Actually, almost all of the puzzles were all designed in advance of me coming on the project. My design work was mostly development of characters. I did work on some of the puzzles, however. Most of the puzzle development I did was more to make them more logical and also to extend the game by allowing you to keep inventory items until it was no longer possible to keep them. Originally you could not give the maggoty biscuit to the dog, for example. I also was heavily involved in cutting out sections of the game for the lite version, and designing it so it didn't screw up the continuity of the game.
My favorite puzzle? I don't think I have a favorite puzzle, per se. My favorite part of the game is the exchange between Goodsoup and Guybrush that goes " it's up to me to keep the dream alive, booking rooms and mixing drinks." "That's stirring." "Oh, alright, stirring drinks..." Chuck wrote that, and it is my favorite line in the game.

You've been credited for coming up with some of the funnier parts in the game - what is your personal favourite contribution to the game?
Probably Murray. He was just in a throw-away piece of temporary background art that wouldn't have made the final game until one day Jonathan said, "Make that skull talk to you, and make him kind of annoying." I didn't write all of Murray's dialog, Chuck and Jonathan wrote a lot of it. But I named him and got him started, and after that it became Chuck's and my mission to squeeze him in the game wherever we could.

Bill Tiller told us you were responsible for the whole "porcelain joke", a gag that has plagued the Monkey Island community since 1997 - can you tell us why Guybrush is afraid of porcelain?
Really? I always thought it had something to do with the time in Monkey 1 where Fester Shinetop hit Guybrush on the head with a vase.

Although some characters from Monkey 1 and 2 returned, no old islands were revisited. Was this idea considered, or were you always going to have fresh, interesting locations?
You would have to ask Larry or Jonathan that question.

Did you have any input on the actual look and feel of CMI?
The look was really all Bill Tiller and Larry. I did a lot of work on the interface, though, and I was adamant that we have a sentence line in the game. The trend was to get rid of that or make it really limited because now the characters could talk, but I thought it made the game a lot more accessible as well as provided another comedic outlet. I also wrote the ship combat sequence, so I guess you could say I'm responsible for the feel of that part of the game.

Can you share any jokes or unused ideas that for some reason (deadlines, etc.) never made it into CMI?
Well, we had planned to make the whole stage light puzzle sequence (where Guybrush is not visible and you just work the light controls) into a parody of the 11th Hour. We had this skeletal monkey-hand cursor that waved its finger at you and such, as well as an idea for some 11th Hour style music, but honestly it was all pretty mean-spirited, so after we got over being so smug about what a waste of 27 CD-ROMs the 11th Hour was we took it out. Also, the roller coaster finale sequence were originally planned to be a lot more elaborate than it was. There was this really complex series of animations needed to make Elaine fight a bunch of skeleton-pirates, and we just didn't have the resources to do it. So that got cut and the whole finale as a result was re-designed in a less ambitious way.

Was there anything that - after its release - you wished to change in CMI?
Actually, no. At least not the way I have with every other game I've worked on. I think we were all pretty happy with Monkey 3 - and in some ways more than happy. I was against the whole singing-pirate puzzle for example. I didn't think it would work at all. When I saw the final version of what Chuck had done with it, however, and especially after I heard Michael's fantastic accordian music, my reaction was that we should have done the whole game as a musical or at least had a couple more musical sequences. It's one of my most favorite parts.

Just between you and The SCUMM Bar readers - what is the Secret of Monkey Island?
You probably won't believe this, but I have never really pondered that question.

What changes have you noticed in the adventure games market since CMI was released?
Well, it hasn't gotten much better. Not too many adventure games since Monkey 3 have been all that great. I blame DOOM and Quake for that, really. Or more accurately, the short-sightedness of businesspeople who wanted to get a piece of the 3D shooter craze. Because of those games everything had to suddenly be state of the art and 3D. Just doing a game with a good story and nice 2D art wasn't enough anymore. All the big franchises got caught up trying to expand adventure games into some new frontier where they didn't need to go and most of them ended up focusing way too much on the 3D and not enough on what attracts people to a traditional adventure game. Look at Mask of Eternity or GK3. Those games sucked. I think that the colossal failure of those games really hurt the prospects of adventure games for a couple of years, and games that did it right, like Grim Fandango, got overlooked. Grim Fandango was another case where I was all wrong. I didn't think you could have a game that was so cinematic and so tightly plot-driven and have a good traditional adventure game at the same time. Full Throttle tried to do it, but what you got was an interesting story, but a pretty thin adventure game experience. Grim Fandango was both, and more than that I think it is probably the best adventure game ever made.

You have a credit as a programmer on Grim Fandango - how much input did you have on that game?
None. I didn't even know how the game ended until about 2 weeks before it shipped. Tim Schafer does all the writing and all the design on his games. They are his babies. Fortunately for us gamers, he's a damn good designer.

Have you played Escape from Monkey Island? If so, what did you think of it? Was there anything you would have done different?
I have not - it came out right when I left LEC, and I simply have not had the time. My copy in fact still has its shrink-wrap on it.

Part III - Cyan Interactive

You left LucasArts to work for Cyan Interactive, creators of the Myst series, what made you decide to work for them?
They were kind enough to hire me.

What are the main differences between working at Cyan and LucasArts?
Probably that we only make one product at a time. Also, Cyan is not a publisher like LEC, just a developer, so there's that whole side of the business that isn't present here.

Are you at all involved with the development of the online version of Myst?
You are trying to be sneaky, aren't you? It won't work...

Word has it you’re getting an MBA in Business Affairs - how’s that going along?
...and now I think you must be spying on me. You are following me around Spokane, aren't you?

What games are you playing at the moment?
What little time I have for gaming (and it is little) is spent pretending to be Sir Jack Brabbham in Grand Prix Legends, a 4-year old racing game.