Friday Questions #2

Jan 12, 2018

A lot of good questions this week, I'll chock that up to being the first week. I might do a bonus post on Wednesday answering some of the ones I couldn't get to, and of course, there is next week to eagerly look forward to. Let's get going...

Let's start off with Octavi. I wonder where I know that name from?

Octavi: When making any kind of artistic work we know there's always a disappointingly huge difference between our first idea and the end result: which one of your games you'd say it's the most faithful to your original vision?

None of them. I've mentioned this before, but the creative process is a messy process and everything I've done has changed significantly from idea to finished game. I can't think of an idea that ended up being something horribly distorted from my original idea (or maybe I just blocked it out). I don't tend to work with publishers, so I've never had a 3rd party come in and take my idea in a direction I disagreed with. The important lesson for anyone making something is: don't be afraid to let your idea evolve during production, even radically. There is no prize for stubbornly sticking to your vision.

Romulus: When deciding on 2D vs 3D was money the only factor? We all know 3D sucks eh? Also, how you decided what were the components required on the engine? Based on your previous scumm experience?

To start off, I don't dislike 3D, it's just not something I have the skill set to do at a reasonable level of quality. 3D is more expensive, but it's not massively more expensive if you make good tech and artistic choices. I'd love to make a true point-and-click adventure in real 3D (not that fake 2D/3D). I don't think anyone's done it well yet, and it would be a fascinating challenge. But my tech skills are in 2D, so I would need to partner up with someone who had good 3D chops. The problem is finding that person. They need to share a vision and passion with me and not just be a work-for-hire gig.

Jensan: Could you see yourself coding a C64 game from scratch in 2018? If so, what type of game?

Oh god no! Don't get me wrong, I love the C64, but I'm too used to modern tools and platforms. Only 2G of free RAM! WTF!

Kim Jørgensen: What was the best and worst design decision for TWP?

Best: Having a hard and easy mode. When I did it for Monkey Island 2, it was more of a joke than anything else, but in today's more casual/grown-up world, I think it was greatly appreciated by a lot of players with less time than they had as kids.

Worst: I wish we would have had custom responses for every verb and object in the first few rooms of the game. Players were just getting used to the interface and mechanic and default responses threw people off sometimes. We couldn't realistically do this for the entire game, but we could have done a better job of setting the mood without misleading expectations.

Bonus: Not shipping with a hint system. We fixed this in an update, but it should have been part of the release. I fought against it for most of the project, and I was wrong.

Yrface: If you were to punish a visitor for unauthorized copyright infringement of your website, how/who would administer the punishment?

Me. Human dismemberment is a hobby of mine.

Jon N/A: Hey Ron. There used to be posts here - "excerpts" from a novel you have not been writing. I loved those! I found them hilarious and very inventive. Would you put them back up again? And better yet, write more of those?

Those were part of a daily writing exercise I used to do in the mornings. I would sit down with a pad and paper and just start writing, never pausing and never thinking about any direction. I'd then go through and grab a sentence or two that I liked. I stopped doing the writing exercise and they never got moved to Grumpy Gamer v2. Maybe I'll go find them and do a single anthology post.

Paul: What is Ron Gilbert's ultimate goal in the gaming industry? Eg: To make a big popular game and then be able to make whatever you want off the back of it? Continually make great games for a loyal smaller audience (eg. PnC fans) within budget and with reasonably healthy profit on each? Branch out and make games in different genres? Build Terrible Toybox further and make it a main game studio? Put out artistic games that push boundaries, but don't necessarily find a large audience?

Holy crap is this is a deep minefield of a question. Why do we do what we do? Doing any commercial creative venture is done for one of five reasons. 1) To make money, 2) Critical acclaim, 3) Peer approval, 4) Personal fulfillment, 5) Player enjoyment (or any combination of those). At a core level, why do I make games? If I was going to be honest, I'd say it's 4, 5 and 3, but I need 1 due to not being independently wealthy. Thimbleweed Park did 4 and 5, didn't really do 3 and did 1, but only at a breakeven level. You can't run a risky business like making games at breakeven. No matter how good you are, you will have failures and you need to make enough to endure those without destroying the company and yourself. Part of 3 is making something that your peers and the industry take notice of, something that "moves the meter". Doing point-and-click adventures at breakeven doesn't do that, and I think that's always been a motivator of mine. This is an honest answer that it's easy to read too much into, so don't do that.

uriel: From what I read is my understanding that Thimbleweed Park sold fine but it was not a resounding success. Do you think a bigger marketing campaign would have increased revenue to the point of making enough money to fully fund the next game? I guess I'm wondering how much do you think marketing can influence the success of a game. Thanks for doing this btw.

I think it's fairer to say Thimbleweed Park "sold well". I had a range of what I thought would be acceptable and sales were towards the bottom, but not below. I don't think more marketing would have helped. We had good (even great) PR and we got picked up by all the major publications, so I don't know if there was anything more we could have done. I think there were three core issues with Thimbleweed Park:

  1. Point-and-click has a huge stigma attached to it and I vastly underestimated that. I figured that if you designed a really good point-and-click game, people would respond. And that is partly true. For the people who took the plunge and played it, they were pleasantly (and often overwhelmingly) surprised. But, too many other people (and a fair number of industry people) just wrote it off.

  2. Influencers (press and widely known devs) in the industry are craving deep, meaningful and grown-up narrative games, and they will latch onto games that even hint at that, even if they do a crappy job at it. Thimbleweed Park is not that game. Thimbleweed Park is the best Scooby Doo story you've ever played and doesn't pretend to be a deep soul searching reflection for the player.

  3. We struggled with what was needed to do a successful Kickstarter and what's needed to release a successful game. Doing the Maniac Mansion art style and layout was key to invoking the right nostalgia and ending with a highly successful Kickstarter, but some of those choices also limited its "market success". I'm very proud that we delivered on what we promised for the Kickstarter. We talked about dropping the verbs and dropping the dollhouse Maniac Mansion layout but ultimately decided not to in favor of being true to the campaign. In the end, maybe we made the wrong "business" decision, but I feel we made the right "personal creative" decision and I don't regret it.

  4. Or... maybe we didn't make a very compelling and interesting game. You always have to consider that.

Sushi Will we ever see a Terrible Toybox logo? If not, why not. If so, when? If maybe, just improvise something funny.

Not knowing if this would be a one-game company (still not sure about that), we decided to focus all our branding on Thimbleweed Park and not Terrible Toybox.

Lancelot's Hangover: Hey Ron! In the TWP podcasts, you talked about the importance of the "sense of space" in adventure games and its importance for immersion. Could you tell more about it? Could you give practical details on how you can add more sense of space within games? Could be useful for adventure game designers.

The number one rule for creating a sense of space is: Don't teleport the player around. Let people explore the world and create an internal map of the space in their head. Even something like "fast travel" can destroy a sense of place. Don't jump players inside a building without letting them discover the outside and where it exists in the world. In Thimbleweed Park, you had to walk/run around the world for a good ¼ of the game before we introduced fast-travel with the maps. Often players will just want to jump around the world, avoiding "pointless travel", but I don't think it's pointless. It's an important part of that sense of space that makes the world and game more enjoyable.

Antony: How do you justify the lack of support of Android on your game Scurvy Scallywags while complaining about the lack of macOS support on Steam games?

That's a fair question and I assume it's in response to this. I think it's different for a couple of reasons and I'm sure a lot of people's perspectives will be different. I didn't mean to criticize other indie devs, I know building multiple platforms is hard. To me, Mac and Windows are 99% the same. Building for Mac after Window just isn't that hard, just don't litter your code with dx calls. Also, maybe I've gotten spoiled due to Unity projects being super simple to release on Mac, so we're seeing a lot more of them. Also, we did build Scurvy for Android. It was a complete flop and made a few thousand dollars, despite costing us tens of thousands of dollars. Google changed some part of the OS and the game started crashing, so we removed it from the store. It just wasn't worth the time to go in an fix it given it was making around a dollar a week. iOS, on the other hand, continued to make money and porting up to iOS 11 made sense. I also think (as Mac user), there is a bigger sting due to Steam being a single store that sells Windows and Mac platforms. If there was a Windows store and a completely separate Mac store (like iOS and Android), I don't think I'd have the same negative feelings. In the end, it probably was a little unfair to the devs of Cogmind, but I just really wanted to play their game. But point taken.

Well, that's it for this week. If you have any questions for next week, put them in the comments. I'll try and answer different types of questions each week so they aren't all questions about Thimbleweed Park or my old games. If you ask a question for next week, please start it with Q: so I can quickly filter them.

Romulus Jan 12, 2018
Q: Thanks for answering the last question! As a 3D programmer, I often think people didn't go to 3D due to the high costs of making something good (animations, textures, of course it depends on style). I would also love to see a proper 3D adventure (so far only Grim Fandango did it for me, but the tank controls killed part of the fun)! Jumping to next question though: What your programming environment looks like? Headphones and music while doing? How you divide your time between making games and living "real life" ?

Superkimsay Jan 12, 2018
Q: Hello Ron. in your opinion, what is the best way to learn about gameengine architecture? Implementing a subset might be easy but I feel like having the big picture in mind is a real challenge. Can you maybe give some hints how you design a beast like that? Even do a coding twitch stream with a few tricks, eg implementing a messaging system. Novice programmers/designers could benefit from that I think ;)

JadiimJedi Jan 12, 2018
Do you have any other game properties you want to bring back?  If you do another nostalgia project what do you think would sell well?

Lancelot's Hangover Jan 12, 2018
Thanks for your answer! :)

Giorgio Novelli Jan 12, 2018
Why did you leave Lucasfilm? I never found a satisfying answer on the internet and it still kind of haunts and confuses me.

Giorgio Novelli Jan 12, 2018
Q: Why did you leave Lucasfilm? I never found a satisfying answer on the internet and it still kind of haunts and confuses me.

PiecesOfKate Jan 12, 2018
Considering the potential benefits of social media (such as Twitter) for promoting a game, versus your personal dislike of those channels - if you were to make another game would you rejoin, or avoid it? For clarity I'm referring to a personal Ron Gilbert presence, not the game brand.

LowLevel Jan 12, 2018
Q: Oh, very clever, Worf. Eat any good books lately?

Gustavo Jan 12, 2018
Hi Ron. I have always wondered about the "Extra 5 USD for Guilt Absolution" tier on the Kickstarter campaign that I and 3047 other people choose. Where did that idea come from? Did you expect to have so many people voluntarily choose to pay 5 USD more than the "standard" tier?

Gustavo Jan 12, 2018
Q: Hi Ron. I have always wondered about the "Extra 5 USD for Guilt Absolution" tier on the Kickstarter campaign that I and 3047 other people choose. Where did that idea come from? Did you expect to have so many people voluntarily choose to pay 5 USD more than the "standard" tier?

PS: Sorry for the repost, didn't read the "Q:" part. Also, I'm having a lot of issues with the antibot.

Nathan Jan 12, 2018
Q: Given the engine and assets of TWP, would a sequel be significantly cheaper / quicker to produce?
If it helps, I would back a new Kickstarter for it :)

Thomas Mølb Jan 12, 2018
I couldn't agree more about careless design ruining the sense of space.
Recently I was replaying Skyrim on the Switch, deciding to completely ignore the fast travel option, and just take it all in. It felt great!
That was until I realised that most quest lines scatter themselves all over that world, because they were all designed with fast travel in mind....

LostTrainDude Jan 12, 2018
Q: Hi Ron! Where do you think improvement and evolution lie in the future of adventure games, considering their heavily-scripted nature? Is it in technology or in better design? What is it that you would like to see in an adventure game and didn't yet? This discussion rises from my curiosity in Chris Crawford's work on Interactive Storytelling (which you may be familiar with as well).

Zak Phoenix McKracken Jan 13, 2018
Q: which are the most bizarre things you had to sign, to please your fans?

Jack Jan 13, 2018
Q: What's your personal favorite video game? (Is there anything that makes you feel joy and/or nostalgia whilst playing)

Darius Jan 13, 2018
Q: You said last week that Thimbleweed Park is the best Scooby Doo story ever played (which is a great simile), while influencers are craving deep, meaningful and grown-up narrative games. Have you considered such a grown-up narrative game; and, if yes, would you like to tell us what is was? (May I suggest the best Kafka story ever played?)

Leak Jan 13, 2018
@Jensan (and maybe Ron) - take a look at what Sarah Jane Avory is currently doing:

Not only is she the main developer behind the NPC AI for Elite: Dangerous, she's also writing novels in her spare time and is currently working on a C-64 RPG for said novels (plus what seems to be a SHMUP, and earlier on the devtools needed for the C-64... )

DZ-Jay Jan 13, 2018
Dear Mr. Gilbert,

I commend you for your candor  It is exceedingly refreshing to read such fair and honest responses from a passionate creative individual as yourself.  Thank you very much.


Jerden Jan 13, 2018
Q: What is it that you like about answering questions on your blog?

AK Jan 14, 2018
Q: What are some of your personal goals for 2018 ?

Something of the Head Jan 14, 2018
Q: About creative process. I'm sure you know this magical moment from "Ratatouille":
That's the closest representation I've seen of how I feel when I see and hear this:
As a creator, you can feel something similar for a while when working on your creations, but being behind the scenes gives you a very different perspective of your work and ironically you are one of the few people that will never be able to feel what you get your audience to feel, especially if they are children. That's probably why people keep asking you about Monkey Island as if they didn't want to let you move along. It's something that goes beyond the game itself.
The question Is: is there something of your childhood that makes you feel like that? Why do you think that's the way it is? What is the "real secret" of Monkey Island that moves something inside me and inside a lot of people? Why, when I played "The day of the tentacle" some weeks ago, I couldn't stand in remastered mode more than 3 minutes? In short, where do you think lies the magic in cretive works?

MK8bit Jan 14, 2018
Q: Do you think Thimbleweed Park would make a good novel too and what are your opinions on TP fan fiction and its publishing (fair use okay, but make-a-dime-with-em and be cease and desist'ed) ?

Nikita Sokolov Jan 14, 2018
Q: Hello mr. Gilbert. Thanks for our childhood! And my question is - who is your character in World of Warcraft? Is it an elf? Or an orc? Or a pandaren may be?)) And what is your class? A Mage?

Gudmundur S Jan 15, 2018
Q: Hi Ron. As a backer I was really happy with how TWP turned out. Well Done. One question. It turned out that most of the times I got really stuck at the game was when I was trying to use some of the "red inventory herrings".  When I finished the game my inventory was full of items that were never used. Was that a design choise or something that you ended up with after scaling down the game?

Federico Jan 15, 2018
Q: I feel TWP will keep selling in the coming years. Do you have the same perception? Can you reveal some percentage describing how much revenue an indie game makes in its first 6 months compared to the next few years?

Big Red Button Jan 15, 2018
Q: You announced recently that at least one TWP update + the uncensored Ransome voice-overs + a custom translation tool were upcoming. How extensive is the game presently being tested by play testers? Is the TesterTron3000 still in action?

Evan M. Jan 15, 2018
Q: Hello you magnificent human being, I would like to ask you about how do you plan to proceed after the creation of Thimbleweed Park. Is a new project already on your mind or even possibly on the works? If not, please elaborate on what the future holds in your career.

Paul Jan 15, 2018
Thank you for answering my deep minefield of a question with a stark honesty that amazed me!

Q: You stated, "Point-and-click has a huge stigma attached to it and I vastly underestimated that...", but is it the actual genre or more the presentation of the genre that counts against it?
I'm thinking of very successful games like Machinarium or Cuphead which basically take old, dated game genres but then add a new twist, and then instead of "oh this is an old throwback game" that is easily dismissed, people are wowed.
I also see it a bit like how cover bands (eg. a James Brown tribute band) are never taken that seriously and just play clubs, but if you rip off an old band and then rejig it with new production/twist (eg. Bruno Mars ripping off James Brown), it'll be accepted as this new popular thing people get behind.

Erik Jan 16, 2018
Q: Would you consider going back in the direction of Humongous Entertainment by creating games that are solely aimed at kids rather than "grown ups"? Do you ever think about that segment of games?

Gene Jan 16, 2018
Q: Can you please share with us how your engine is built (briefly, of course)? What technologies did you use?

Jorge Jan 16, 2018
Q: Before joining the game industry, did you have any other jobs as a software developer? How was it to make a decision to become a game developer? Did you ever feel lost about what you really wanted to do in software development?

Stephen Jan 17, 2018
Q: The first PC game I ever owned was Putt-Putt Goes to the Moon. Completely unaware it was your company, those Humongous games defined what I wanted from PC games from then on. What was one of your favorite games that Humongous made, and how much time were you able to dedicate to actually code them while also running the company?  I'm super excited to play these with my son as soon as he's old enough to work a mouse :D

Lancelot's Hangover Jan 17, 2018
Q: After betatesting, what do you do if you realise a series of puzzles doesn't work (i.e. players can't find the solution and, after telling how to solve it, they tell you they wouldn't figure it out themselves).

Do you cut off the whole series of the puzzles (meaning wasting time/art/effort)?

Do you try to make those puzzles easier by giving more explicit hints through dialogs and hotspot/object descriptions?

Do you keep most art and animations but rebuild the whole series of puzzle in a different way?

Other solutions?

Katie Parsons Jan 17, 2018
Oh crap, I forgot to put a Q at the beginning... Sorry for the repost!

Q: Considering the potential benefits of social media (such as Twitter) for promoting a game, versus your personal dislike of those channels - if you were to make another game would you rejoin, or avoid it? For clarity I'm referring to a personal Ron Gilbert presence, not the game brand.

Dryade Jan 18, 2018
I know you've talked a lot about Monkey Island, but i watched and listened to all the interviews and could not find an answer to this question.
Q: If you never manage to make Monkey Island 3, which would be a tragedy, will you divulge the secret of Monkey Island or will it just vanish with you and keep us all forever in anguish?

Ayime Jan 18, 2018
Q: First of all, Thanks. Thanks for all the moments you give me. I love your work. You are  gorgeous!!!

Here are my questions:

Any news about your New RPG Project? Has Disney contacted with you? Any news about your MI & MM rights?  Are there any posibility to see you on Spain soon?

Greetings from Spain ;)

Jensan Jan 26, 2018
@Leak thanks for blog tip, following now!