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Thimbleweed Park

Dialogue Options: An interview with Ron Gilbert

As the release of the Kickstarter-funded throwback adventure Thimbleweed Park approaches, we caught up with one of the genre greats, Ron Gilbert.

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Ron Gilbert may forever be remembered for some of his early work during his days at LucasArts, where he directed and wrote Maniac Mansion and The Secret of Monkey Island. In recent years, though, he has brought us games like DeathSpank and The Cave, but most recently of all he reunited with Maniac Mansion co-designer Gary Winnick, the project they are working on being the Kickstarted throwback adventure Thimbleweed Park.

We recently caught up with Ron Gilbert in Berlin to learn more about the game, what it's like growing old as a game developer, and much more.

Thimbleweed Park

Gamereactor: You have a lot of very dedicated fans out there. How do you handle their expectations? Is it a concern?

Ron Gilbert: I haven't really come across a lot of negative expectations. The only thing is, probably because I am so well known for Monkey Island, a lot of people are constantly asking: "Well, are you going to make another Monkey Island?" And it's like I like to do new things and I like to do different games, and sometimes it does feel like people are just so focused on Monkey Island. It's kind of all they want me to do. They could lock me up in a room, chain me to the bed and "Make more Monkey Island for me!" But I like to do different things, I've done all sorts of different games during my career. And while [Thimbleweed Park] is a point and click adventure and has a lot of similarities to things like Monkey Island, it's a very different game, it's a very different story, very different characters. And I kind of enjoy that.

GR: So for you it's not like you're travelling back in time to 1987 to create the game now that you couldn't have made back then?

RG: Not from a creative standpoint. I mean certainly as you've seen technically we couldn't have done this game, because of all the real time lighting, parallaxing, the speech, and you know the music is all digital music. So stuff like that we obviously could not have done back then. But there is nothing creatively about the game that we couldn't have done back then.

I think over the years I kind of look at what I've done design-wise and I feel like I'm probably a slightly darker designer. It's like I'm interested in stories that have kind of a darker underbelly to them, a little more deep, little more rich, where something like Monkey Island is essentially a cartoon. It's a cartoon story. I'm more interested in things like Thimbleweed Park where there's weird stuff, or I did The Cave about these very damaged characters, and I think those type of things probably interest me more, just because I'm older.

Thimbleweed Park

GR: When you grow older, you get more serious, but then again, you tend to become more boring as well too.

RG: (laughs) Yeah, it's about being more sophisticated and all that without being boring. That's kind of the goal. If you look at people who make cartoons for a living, like Rick and Morty, which I really like a lot, but that's a cartoon. But there is so much sophistication to that, so much weird, creepy darkness to that. I think that's just the kind of thing you do when... it's not only getting older, it's probably getting more experienced.

GR: It's also a gift to be able to continue doing what you love for as long as possible and grow old with it.

RG: I think that is true. You look at people who make movies. One of the best movies I have seen in the last couple of years was the new Mad Max movie. Which was an amazing movie. George Miller, the director, he is like 86 years old! And that was one of the best action movies I have ever seen. I think some people they don't get old, they just get better at what they are doing.

GR: That's a perfect example. Probably 80 percent of the people who saw the movie wouldn't know he's that old. Maybe even more.

RG: It's an amazing movie and I think he did so much with that movie, that it was just completely innovative. If you look at just how he did the shots and how he did all the action. And you look at kind of more modern, younger action directors and in some ways I think he just totally schooled them: this is how you make an action movie!

GR: One wonders how many young people helped him make that movie? If there were people sitting next to him saying: More bang, please.

RG: (laughs) I don't think so...

GR: Is there young people advising you, pushing you in new directions, aside from Jenn (Sandercock, game designer)?

RG: There certainly are, we have a lot of people on the team. There are people like Gary and David or Mark Ferrari and staff who are around during the Lucas stuff. But there's Jenn, who's doing programming and Octavi, our animator, he's probably in his what late 20s, maybe? So there are definitely a lot of younger people that help out, and I think you kind of need that. With George Miller and Mad Max, I think that was his vision. There were definitely younger people working on it, but the action was just so different and the action in that one is very much like the action in the original Mad Max movie and the second Mad Max movie that I see this thread that extends all the way to the new movie. I just have to believe that was really part of his vision for how to do that kind of stunt.

GR: What do you think about new tech, 4K and such? Is that of any importance to your games at all?

RG: Sometimes. I love HD, but I don't know about 4K. I think 4K is maybe pushing a little too far into the "who cares?" category. HD, though, is amazing when compared to standard NTSC or PAL is what they have here. Technological things do really interest me. I mean, even with this game, it's all pixel art, but it's using all of the hardware, shaders, real-time lightning, and that stuff is very interesting to me. How to use very modern technology to take a game like this and really make Thimbleweed Park kind of how you remembered those games, not how they actually were. Using technology to kind of advance that.

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