LucasArts' Secret History #12: The Curse of Monkey Island Buried Treasures: Bills Eaken and Tiller
A story from two Bills
The Curse of Monkey Island was your next project after The Dig. Did it come immediately after?
No. I had some down time. Plus I think I may have worried Jonathan Ackley when were both working on The Dig, so I think he was concerned about me being the lead background artist on Monkey Island 3. So he and Larry definitely were considering me for the position, but they wanted to try out a few other artists first. But those other artist had never played any of the Monkey Island games before and were not really fans of Disney Movies or fans of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland, which I was - I even worked at Disneyland one summer. I had a decidedly stronger advantage. And I did a lot of heavy lobbying to get the job, which was technically a step down for me. On The Dig I was the lead artists, but on Monkey 3 I would only be Lead Background Artist. But to work on a Monkey Island game I almost would have done it for free.
What'd you do in between?
I tried out some new programs, experimented with Painter and the new version of Photoshop, caught up on some Lucas Arts games, re-played MI and MI2 and did a lot of pirate research- I was pretty confident that I would land the gig. But I am a ‘wear your heart on your sleeve' kind of guy and sometimes I am too passionate about my art – in other words I can be a pain in the ass. So I don't blame Larry or Jonathan about not hiring me right away. But by the end of the project Jonathan even said I was probably the most reliable artist on the team. That meant a lot to me.
How'd you land the job as Lead Artist on the game?
I lobbied Larry pretty heavily and I think I ended up doing the best art test. I even tried to bribe Larry and Jonathan with gifts I had bought at the Pirates of the Caribbean souvenir shop at Disneyworld, where I had just gone on vacation- a talking skull, some pirate swords, a few plastic toys to decorate their office. But I think it was my obvious love for the franchise and my knowledge of the art styles both Larry and Jonathan wanted that made me the strongest candidate. Larry liked more avant-garde art like Dean Taylor's work on Nightmare Before Christmas and he liked the look of the Duckman TV show, and Jonathan liked NC Wyeth and Howard Pyle. Now I am huge NC Wyeth fan and love Howard Pyle, and my lighting and color work are very similar to what they do. And I also had a love of the movie Nightmare Before Christmas ever since my friend Mike Cachuela, a story board artist on the movie, brought me into the studio to see the Nightmare sets and models. Plus it was Tim Burton movie and he is inspired by Edward Gorey, another one of my favorite artists. So I just think I was perfect for the game. I think it was just one of those rare serendipitous things that I was perfect for what they needed.
The technology of the time finally enabled the artists to scan painted backgrounds at a reasonably high resolution. How did this affect the way the art style was approached compared to the first two games?
High resolution was the big change because the color palette didn't change at all. We used 256 colors on Monkey 1 and used the same 256 colors on CMI. But MI1 was 320 x 200, and CMI was 640x480. This meant that two pixels next to each other in 640x480 could blend together in the eye making a new color that didn't exist in the palette, but in low res the pixels were so big you could distinguish the individual colors of each pixel clearly. We didn't need a lot of color, just higher resolution.
Now all the CMI art was digitally painted- none of it was water color. Only the drawings were done on paper. We wanted to have sketchy feel to the art. And because the 2d animation was going to have outlines we wanted the backgrounds to have outlines too. But in the past, the resolution was too low for pencil or ink to work, but now with higher resolution you could see subtle things like ink or pencil lines. I was inspired by an artist named Peter De Seve who does these wonderful illustrations in ink and water color. So we tried to mimic that. At one point Anson Jew, an animator on the team, came up to me while I was working on the hallway background and said "This looks like Peter De Seve." So at that point I finally felt we had achieved our goal of a unique look for the game that was also broadly appealing. The color was painted digitally using Photoshop after we scanned in the pencil drawings. Watercolor is tough and would have taken a long time to do, so in the end it was just faster to paint the background digitally.
What benefits/challenges come out of making an adventure game with hand-painted backgrounds and hand-drawn animations?
Well in the low res games like Monkey 1, The Dig or Full Throttle we animators at the time had to do our own inking and painting, which was annoying but no big deal because the characters we so small. Painting a 40 pixels tall astronaut didn't take much time. But when we went high res we wanted to animate on paper just like a traditional animation studio. But that added a few steps that were slow. We had to scan the animation pages in and makes sure they were registered, meaning they animation didn't giggle or move around randomly. Then we had to clean up the lines and ink them with a color. Then the characters had to be painted in. The animators didn't want to do this, and it didn't make sense to have them do it. So we had to hire some art technicians and digital inkers and painters to do all the extra work.
Would such an endeavor be prohibitively expensive nowadays?
Yeah it would, and it wouldn't look as good as 3d. 2d is cool but the characters didn't blend all that well into the environment because they were flat and unshaded, and they wouldn't react accurately to light sources as they moved around the scene. Now with real time 3d characters fit better within the scenes. It just looks nicer. Don't get me wrong. I think 2d animation is great and has it's place. But for games, real time 3d animation is really the best solution.
What was the process of creating a piece of background art for the game?
I had to thumb nail the designs first, meaning I would have to draw 6 or so variations of a room and run it by the project leaders and scripters to see which small sketch looked the best and which ones worked the best for the puzzle. After that I would just enlarge the small drawing, do a final clean line version, scan it in and digitally paint it. It took about a week or more, depending on the size of the image.
At the time you became involved with CMI, did you consider yourself a fan of the Monkey Island series?
Yes. My first Lucas Arts game was HMS Pegasus and Rescue on Fractulus. But my first Lucas Arts adventure game was Monkey Island 2. I wanted to buy Indy Fate of Atlantis but it was not out yet, so a guy at the game store said I should get MI2. So my brother and I played it and we were thrilled! We played it all summer until I got hired at Lucas Arts. I continued to play it while I was at Lucas Arts during lunch because I didn't know anybody and I was shy, but people like Dave Grossman and Tim Schafer would come by and give me tips and hints, and they told me some inside stories about who did what and why. It was great. Then Jesse Clark, a fellow artist, said I should try MI1, and I loved it even more than Mi2. I thought both were great. I was in love with the games ever since then. I even recall telling Brain Moriarty and Steve Shaw that we should make a third MI game, but for some reason they thought that would be a bad idea. I think they sighted slumping sales for MI2, or something like that.
Did you feel any pressure to live up to "standard" set by The Secret of Monkey Island and LeChuck's Revenge?
Yeah sure, but not as much pressure as I did when working on The Dig. Spielberg is bigger name than Ron Gilbert so I was used to high expectations by that point. But I also knew that Larry and Jonathan were up to the task. They only thing we were worried about was the character design for Guybrush. We wanted to give the series a new fresh look that took advantage of high res. In low res you can't really do cool character designs because you have so few pixels to work with. So we wanted to give Guybrush a new unique look that fit his personality. Some people didn't like the initial designs so we went over it and over it ad-nauseum until we had a compromise design that I think fulfilled the goal of looking unique yet still being appealing. We knew we weren't going to please everybody with the change but we figured people would forgive us if the game were fun. Some people were upset that we even added voice and went with high resolution art. They seemed to just want more of the same without any improvements. I thought that was odd and it was certainly unexpected.
What sort of working relationship did you have with Larry Ahern and the other artists?
Like I said in the beginning, I had to earn Larry's trust. Eventually we were on the same page and had a great relationship. It was tough at first to get exactly what Larry and Jonathan wanted. That took maybe three months, but then we had it nailed. It was pretty much smooth sailing from there on. I got along great with the other artists too although in the beginning there was some rough patches concerning the final Guybrush design. After that was ironed out the game went along pretty smoothly.
How were backgrounds assigned to artists?
Three main people, and then two more came in toward the end to help us meet our deadline. I drew all the background by hand on paper. I then designed all the colors for the backgrounds and started painting them. I gave about half of them I gave to my assistant painters Maria Bowen and Kathy Hseih. Then toward the end we needed quite a few FMV backgrounds done but my arms were killing me. We brought in Bill Eaken and Chris Hockabout who did a great job and helped us get it all done on time.
Was there any ownership over certain sections of the game?
No. We didn't want the game to feel like certain sections belonged to anyone. Larry and I went over each background design before I drew it make sure it was designed correctly for the game. I would then do the final drawing and the initial painting. After that I would give it to an assistant to paint or finished it myself. During the painting process I would provide art direction for the painters. And when it was done I would go in and do touch ups, as well do the final object states. I would also do the color reduction from 16 million down to 256. This way the whole game feels like it was done by one artist.
That is pretty much how I did it on A Vampyre Story and Ghost Pirates of Vooju Island and the way I am doing it on A Vampyre Story 2.
For someone who has no idea what "Art Director" really means, what's the difference between the Art Director and the Lead Artist?
None. The only reason Lucas Arts had Lead Artist versus Art Director was for legal reasons. ILM was part of a film union and Art Directors legally had to be a paid a certain amount if they were called Art Director. Since Lucas Arts was part of ILM for a while, or they were part of the same company, Lucas changed the Art Director title at Lucas Arts to Lead Artist so they would have to pay them as much as the ILM union Art Directors. At least this is what I was told.
To what extent were the first two games an influence visually?
Very much so. I was fully prepared to make Monkey 3 look like Monkey 2, but Larry wanted a more updated, unique look. So I tried my best to copy elements from both games and incorporate them into CMI, and to use similar colors and dissimilar elements. But at the same time we wanted to go with a new look too, so I didn't do that everywhere.
Was the work of Steve Purcell and Peter Chan looked to when realizing the style of CMI?
Yes and no. We wanted the game to have elements of the first games, but have its own look. We didn't try to copy Peter or Steve but I definitely looked at their art quite a bit. I tried to learn from it, and then apply what I learned to this new unique style.
Did you have any freedom to contribute to the story, writing or puzzle design to any degree?
Not so much to the puzzles but to the story and storyboards, did contribute a bit. For the FMVs I did a lot of work with the story and how it was storyboarded, but less on the in game animation. I really wanted to be involved more in that aspect, but it made more sense for me to stick with the background art. But I have to say designing the backgrounds in many ways was a major part of the game design. I had to be very careful that the backgrounds worked well with the puzzles. We even redesigned some puzzles after we realized the particular background that we wanted wouldn't work with the puzzle. We did the opposite too. I also had to work with the animators to make sure the art worked with what they need to do. So the game as a whole was very much a focus of mine.
You and Larry Ahern drew the game's superb cover art. Is it true that Steve Purcell turned down the offer to do so himself?
Thanks! Yes he did turn it down, but not because he didn't want to do it. He liked the style we came up with so much that he felt Larry and I should do it. At first when we heard he didn't want to do it we were a bit bummed. I think even Jonathan was bummed. But when we talked to Steve we had the opposite reaction, it was a big compliment, especially coming from him.
The game's artwork and the game overall was extremely well-received by fans, and continues to be recognized today as one of the all-time great games. What do you attribute to the game's immense success and durability? (I replayed the game recently, and it hasn't aged a day.)
The SCUMM engine was perfected, that meant we had to pay very little money on engine programming which can be very expensive. This freed up a lot of money for art and more puzzles. You had two very experienced project leaders, though it was their first game, they had been part of several major games already. We hired a funny scripting crew in Chris Purvis and Chuck Jordan. We had two great games that came before CMI to draw inspiration from, whose legendary status pushed us to try and be even better. And we hired some very talented animators, some of whom had just finished their own short animated pirate film for school. I was very into pirates and into the styles Larry and Jonathan wanted for the backgrounds. We had some of the industry's most talented musicians and sound people. We had a budget of well over a million dollars (which was a lot back then). The game was also a popular genre. It's not perfect but it pretty much ‘hit on all cylinders,' as they say. It is rare for that to happen.
Do you remember any cut material from the game?
The big dance number at the end of the game was cut. I can see why though. It would have been tough to animate all those characters dancing. Also we had a cut scene when LeChuck and Guybrush get pushed in to the rollercoaster and Elaine escapes. But that is about it. There was some earlier idea about LeChuck's summer house, but that got changed into the fort on Plunder Island.
Any interesting production anecdote/war story you're up for sharing?
Yeah, I brought in some pirate stuff I had bought at Disney World when I was on vacation (The same vacation that inspired A Vampyre Story), and one was skull that screamed whenever anyone would walk by. It scared the crap out of most people. I thought it was hilarious. So I put it outside the door of our meeting room just for fun and I laughed every time it went off. After a while Jonathan and Larry got annoyed by it and made me turn it off. I think that skull eventually became the inspiration for Murray the talking skull.
What are your thoughts on Escape from Monkey Island?
Good game but not great. I am probably prejudiced about it because I wanted to be the project leader. But I had run in with management at the time on another unrelated issue and they didn't like me at the time. So there went my shot to do MI4. So management gave the game to Sean Clark and Mike Stemmle. Both had just come off projects that had to be put on hold, and both games were action games which Sean and Mike had never done before. Management thought that they would probably do a great MI game since both had worked on Sam and Max Hit the Road which was great. They had worked in Indy Fate of Atlantis and Sean had finally finished The Dig. I can understand the decision. But I felt it was wrong. Both of these guys really wanted to do their own game ideas, not a sequel to Money Island and I don't blame them. Who wouldn't want to do their own game idea? After doing adventure for years they wanted to try something new. I felt I would have been a better co-project leader on the game because I was DYING to do it! I had a very, very strong desire to do another Monkey Island game, because I loved it and I love pirates and the whole ghost pirate genre! But I was in the management dog house at the time and I was in the middle of Indy and the Infernal Machine. I was pretty bummed. I had a whole story worked out too. It was sort like the Mr. Mom movie, with Guybrush being a stay at home dad while the wife, Elaine went off and defeated threats to her islands. I wanted Guybrush to long for the glory days, annoying everyone at the SCUMM bar with repeated stories of the glory days. Until one day a sexy voodoo woman came up and Guybrush where he could find his long lost parents. Guybrush sets sail for adventure leaving his kids with Murray. I was going to have Guybrush Junior sneak aboard and help Guybrush out of jams later.
I thought it was a cool story. Larry and Jonathan and even Hal Barwood thought it was cool too. But I am not good at politics, so that sank my chances of doing MI4.
So hopefully you can see why I can't give an unbiased assessment of MI4. My guess is that it is a good game that wasn't quite as good as others in the series. But it still was much better than most games at the time. I thought the art and continuity could have been better but it was still good. I obviously have a bunch of mixed emotions about the whole thing. There I go again, putting my heart on my sleeves. I will never learn!
CMI came out at a time when LEC was at the height (and, as it turned out, the end) of its powers when it came to making adventures, and in some ways it was one of the last of its kind.
Grim Fandango came out a year later, so I would say that was the height of Lucas Arts. But I think Lucas should stick with making adventure games even if they lose money because it's their heritage and it would be great PR for the company.
How has the increase in development costs affected the ability to make "epic" adventure games like CMI, and how do you think the genre has continued to survive in a (relatively, at least) niche marketplace?
Well, the development costs have gone up really only in one area, the engine. 3d engines are, by large margin, more expensive that 2d ones. But what really affects games now is the number of sales. I think since 1997 CMI sold 700-800,000 copies, which is great. But now if you sell 60,000 to 200,000 copies it's a big hit. So the million dollar budgets are gone forever I'm afraid. No way could you make a game as good as CMI now or Grim Fandango. Publishers would laugh you out of the building.
I think adventure games are here to stay but they can't garner the budget and sales number like they did ten years ago, And that will affect the quality of the game and the game play experience for sure.
As someone who's gone on to helm his own graphic adventure epic, how was your work on CMI an educational experience?
It was yes and no. CMI did not teach me how to read a publishing contact, do a budget, set up a company and mange a whole company by myself. But it did help me find my own art style, a voice that I can call my own. And it helped me with adventure game designed. I also watched how Jonathan and Larry managed their team, and learned from their successes and mistakes. So it was and it wasn't a good learning experience. I am very jealous of those guys because they had this incredible support system at Lucas Arts that I didn't have which made my job a lot tougher than theirs by far. They might disagree with me, but seriously, running a company is full time job, and so is designing and directing games. I feel like I have three jobs. I just wish I had the help all the project leaders had back in the mid 1990's.
Could you give us a recap of what you did after CMI wrapped up until the time you founded Autumn Moon?
I wanted to work on an Indy game and work in 3d because I had not done that before. So I talked Hal Barwood into letting me be Lead Artist/ Art Director on that game and it was a lot of fun. It was tough, but I stayed current on the new game tech, made some great lifelong friends and learned a lot from Hal. I just wish we had had a more robust and reliable game engine for the project. That was frustrating. Then Larry was asked to do a new Full Throttle game for Playstation 2. He and I sat down for five months and worked out a game design. But Randy Breen was being difficult to work with so Larry and I quit after several frustrating months dealing with his style of management.
A friend from Lucas Arts, Bill Stoneham, lured me up to work on Guild Wars in Seattle. I did that for six months but they weren't ready to do any serious art work on the game yet and I didn't care for Seattle's incessant drizzles. It was about this time I decided to start A Vampyre Story. This was around 2000.
Gary Bruebaker got me a job on The EA Lord of the Rings game. I loved Lord of the Rings but my heart wasn't in it. I wanted to do A Vampyre Story. So after a while I cashed out my savings and started working on the game full time.
But after six months I ran out of money and had to get job that paid. Midway needed a 3rd party art director. It is a job in which you go around and give unwanted advice to developers on how to fix their art and then they ignore it. That was three years of fun, fun, fun! I didn't learn a lot but I met some great friends and people who would later help me with A Vampyre Story. So even though Midway was a nightmare but I learned a lot about business and made some great friends.
So in August, 2006 I finally got to start on A Vampyre Story. So all those people who keep saying the game was in production since 2004 are wrong. We announced it in 2004 but didn't sign with a REAL publisher until 2006.
If a Monkey Island 5 were ever made, what would it ideally look like to you?
Sure, but I'd have give up Autumn Moon and work at Lucas Arts again. But I am not about ready to give up my company just yet. Some days I am, I have to admit, but most days I am not. So I would like to work on it, but currently I don't see that happening, though you never know. Never say never. Now that I have meet Ron Gilbert and gotten to be friendly with him I really think HE should do Monkey 5! He is a funny guy with a billion good ideas for the game. So go Ron! I would do the art for him, but he should design it.
Would you jump at the opportunity to work on a hypothetical future installment of the series if offered?
Sure. I'm just not sure if it could ever be possible for me or my company. Plus I think Ron Gilbert should be given millions from Lucas Arts to do it. Plus I have this Ghost Pirates of Vooju Island I am working on that is helping me get my pirate fix.
Right now you and the rest of the good folks at Autumn Moon are hard at work on the eagerly anticipated AVS2. What can we expect from the company in the future?
Actually we are three months away from finishing Ghost Pirates of Vooju Island and that team is feverishly working making our deadline. Look for articles and official announcements about Ghost Pirates in the next few months. I think readers will like it. AVS2 will be out sometime after that game is released, so they don't compete for market share and shelf space.
Describe how you got involved with the third Monkey Island game, which presumably came directly after your time on The Dig. (If not, what'd you do between the time production wrapped on The Dig and when you got on board Monkey3?)
When I left Brian Moriarty's Dig I freelanced for a while illustrating a book, and working on some other games for other companies. Several of the artists on Curse of Monkey Island were all having health problems (like carpel tunnel syndrome, things like that) and Larry Ahern and Bill Tiller called to see if I'd be interested in doing a bunch of the backgrounds to help with the schedule. I was doing a lot of freelance work at the time and it sounded like fun. I think it was some time after The Dig; a year, or two, maybe.
Like Fate of Atlantis and The Dig, Monkey Island 3 is an epic-sized adventure game with a high number of 2D backgrounds. Do you remember how many you drew? Would you be able to point them out?
I think I only did about 5 or 6 at the most. Maybe even more like 4. I also think they were mostly "cut scenes," or cinematic scenes, rather than regular background art where the characters move around in. I remember two of them, but to be honest, I'm not sure what the others were. It might jog my memory if I saw them.
I'm not sure how much input you really had on this particular game's art direction, but to the degree that you can comment, what sorts of influences shaped the game's style? How important was the work of Steve Purcell, Peter Chan, Bucky Cameron, etc. on the older games to the Monkey3 artists as far as inspiration/faithfulness?
I had no input at all. I think most of the stylistic direction came from Larry and Bill, and some of it from other artists they admired. I don't remember much about it. Sorry. I think Larry art directed the animation more, while Bill was more in charge of the backgrounds. A few things might be interesting, though. Larry wanted Guybrush to be tall and lanky, which I personally liked just fine, though some of the animators didn't. They were saying Larry was designing himself as Guybrush, and to be honest, they might be right, whether Larry realized it, or not! I actually took an image of Guybrush and modified it slightly to create a caricature of Larry. It was pretty funny. But I want to repeat that I liked Larry's approach to the animation so it was just poking fun. I've always liked Larry's artistic sense. He's a smart, and creative, guy.
This isn't the first time you've worked on a Monkey Island game – you were part of the 256 color conversion effort for The Secret of Monkey Island. Did you enjoy "reuniting" with the franchise? Would you consider yourself a fan of the Monkey Island games?
I love Monkey Island! Ron Gilbert, and the guys working with him (like Tim Schafer and Dave Grossman), had a quirky sense of humor that was very different. Not like Mel Brooks spoofs, or Monty Python, or Saturday Night Live. Naturally, I like the art and atmosphere in Curse the best. I wish I'd gotten a chance to do more on it.
What sort of relationship did you, Larry Ahern, Bill Tiller, and the other artists have with each other on this production? I know that this was neither the first nor last time you would collaborate with Tiller on an adventure game, for instance.
The relationship was great. We were all friends. When you work so long on a project, and find yourself spending late nights and weekends at the office during crunch mode, you have lots and lots of dinners with the others. There was a period of time at Lucas Arts where the artists were like a family. We partied together and I'm sure everyone has some good, and not so good, stories from those weird and wonderful days. We did things like beer nights at the local micro brewery, "cartoon jams" where we sat around drawing for fun, and demo nights where someone would draw or paint in their preferred way while everyone ate their dinner and watched. Even the guys from ILM got in on it. A bunch of really talented, and very smart, guys. I wish I had a group like that around me these days.
I think it's fair to say that CMI remains among the most gorgeous games ever. No amount of technology or ghee-whiz 3D can really compete with good old fashioned hand drawn paintings and animation, and by the time of CMI there wasn't a need to greatly compress the artwork in a way that was true of the early 90s games. What sorts of things did the tech of the time allow the artists to do that couldn't be done before?
I agree about 2D art having more "love" in it. That doesn't mean 3D can't be beautiful, too. But 2D really is more personal, and certainly more fun to spend time with. As far as the technology, you can see the difference between Secret of Monkey Island and Curse. When you have the ability to crunch colors down better it means you can use more of them, and have more of a natural look. And they could animate much larger objects by then. It allowed animation and painterly backgrounds that were just out of reach on games like Fate of Atlantis. Most of Atlantis was painted in Deluxe Paint using a mouse. For Curse we did it in Photoshop with tablets, painted over scanned drawings. Much prettier to look at, and more fun to make! Bucky used to complain that the animated characters were made of pixels the size of bricks. By the time of Curse you had animation that was more like the cartoons we grew up with.
You say you have some "nasty stories" related to this production. Let's hear the dirt.
Oh yeah. It's why I only worked on Curse for a short time. And I've told this story a little too much over the years during bitch sessions about the good old days so I'll try to keep it short. When several of the artists, including Bill himself, developed some health problems that were interfering with the game, they knew I could pick up the style quickly and help them get back on schedule. It's the sort of confidence, and challenge, any artist would enjoy. So I showed up at Lucasland and was being led back to the "Monkey Pit" by the producer working there at that time. She asked how much I would charge and I told her my going rate as a freelancer. She then informed me that she couldn't do that, that the new-hire artists were making less than a third of that [0.266 to be precise], and she couldn't justify to them why I would get more. I reminded her of the circumstances of why I was called, and "who I was," etc., but no go; I would be paid the same as the kids right out of art school, that's just the way it works. I offered to work for what I'd been making when I left Lucas. But no. Then I offered to charge what I was making when I first got hired! That was still too much. So I politely told her, before we even got back to see Larry, Bill, and Jonathon Akley, that I would have to decline working on the project. I remember Larry was really pissed about it. It's the kind of petty thing management often did. So I came up with a solution: I would bill them for the estimated time for each background, rather than how long it actually took me. That way I'd work for the pitiful pay, but actually get paid closer to my rate since I could do the backgrounds in a quarter of the estimated time. It was taking the artists a week per background, and I could do them in a day. I would just pad my hours and say I took a week. That way they get the art exactly "on budget," and actually ahead of schedule. And I get paid my normal rate. It was a win/win for everyone! Larry and Jonathon loved it. But then, when it came time to sign the contract, they handed me regular employment paperwork. I was supposed to be only a short-term contractor, like I'd always been. I was never, ever, employed at Lucas; I was always a contractor who paid my own taxes, and took care of my own health insurance, etc. I have been self-employed most of my artist life. The same producer told me I had to be an employer with no benefits, they would not allow contractors anymore. Again, I reminded her of the circumstances, but again, no go. I reluctantly agreed. That two weeks was the only time I've been employed since 1989!
This isn't going to be short, is it? I'm trying!
Everything went fine for the first week. It took me a couple days to get up and running with the style and technique and then I was up to speed. I think I did two images that week, and charged them exactly their estimated time, at the BS rate they were paying. Everyone was happy. But the following week I did three more that were supposed to take a week a piece. They took me 1 or 2 days a piece, but I charged for the estimated time of about a week. Then that same producer called up with a problem. Because my hours showed that I'd worked 100 hours for the week it meant they had to pay me for over-time! I explained the situation and said that I was doing them a favor by getting them done ahead of schedule. But if they don't want that, I'll just do one a week, and work on other things in between, since I had plenty of work from other companies at my usual rate. She said that wasn't acceptable, that I had to bill for the time I was actually working, and that I had to work 40 hours a week, like everyone else. I got sarcastic at that point, and told her she should just fire everyone else, that I could do the whole damn project by myself, in a quarter of the time, at a quarter of the cost. She got sarcastic back so I quit. I called Larry and told him what happened. Again, he was pissed. I heard they had a meeting all day with management explaining that I was guaranteeing to be within budget, and ahead of schedule. I was doing them a favor, while also making what I'd be making anyway. Otherwise, why should I take a giant pay cut just to do them a favor, when I had plenty of other work to do. Should I complain that they aren't doing me a favor, or do only large, profitable game companies get to expect favors? But that one producer decided it was a matter of principle and refused to budge. They told her she was cutting off her nose to spite her face, but she wouldn't listen. So I only did 5 or 6 images for the game and walked away.
I'm not sure how angry Larry was at me over it, but I think he wanted me to bend a little since management wouldn't. Except that I had bent several times, and continued to be screwed. I think they wound up hiring a couple kids from college to do the work. It cost them far more money, and far more time, thanks to that idiot producer. Over-budget and way over schedule, all for nothing. Meanwhile, I went on to work on other projects with none of the BS.
Sorry for not making it as short as I said I would, but trust me, I left a bunch out!
Monkey Island 3 was the last LEC adventure game on which you have a credit. What compelled you to leave the studio after such a long stint?
I actually only worked at Lucas for 3 years. I had so many other projects I wanted to toy around with, including gallery painting and writing. The main reason, though (other than the idiots running the place), was that my son was a year old and I discovered that being a daddy was the most enjoyable thing I've ever done. So I spent mornings working on freelance projects, all afternoon hanging out with my little man, then working on personal stuff in the evenings when his mommy got home from work and was spending time with him. Those years were the happiest of my life (so far). Now he's a punk teenager. Just kidding…he's still a great kid, a straight A student, and an awesome basketball player! He loves Curse of Monkey Island, too.
Have you played Escape from Monkey Island? If so, what did you think of it?
I've never played it.
If there was ever a fifth Monkey Island game made, would you want to be a part of it? What would your ideal Monkey Island 5 look like?
Bill Tiller actually had a good idea for a Monkey sequel but never got a chance to do anything with it. He wanted to have Guybrush return for some wholesome piratey adventure after many years of being a bored family man, kind of like Mr. Incredible. As for the art, it probably ought to follow the technology a little. But I'd leave it whacky, like Curse of Monkey Island, with lots and lots of that Caribbean flavor to everything. I do actually have plenty of ideas, but I'm sure everyone does. For fun, why not spoof some of the new generation games out there? Have a "master chief" of some sort, and first-person "shooter" sequences, as long as they're funny. Have a sword fight where you get a chance to use a chain saw, and Guybrush declines it! I know, have Guybrush practice with it on a practice dummy and cut it in half. Then throw it away as he says, "Where's the fun in that?"