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.