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The SCUMM Diary: Stories behind one of the greatest game engines ever made

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The SCUMM Diary: Stories behind one of the greatest game engines ever made

July 12, 2013 Article Start Previous Page 5 of 6 Next
 

Working with the inimitable Ron Gilbert

Working with Ron was tremendous fun.  Here are a few tales...

Much of our early artwork was done using traditional art techniques.  Pencils, pens, paper, and occasionally errors were corrected by using an Exacto knife to make a repair. One day Ron snagged one of these blades and spent the next few days playing with it at his desk. He took to holding the knife between his teeth with the blade out while he would write code. One day I heard a loud gasp and turned to see blood running down Ron's arm and onto the floor.  After helping to bandage the wounded hand, the conversation turned to tetanus and so I called my wife at home to see if Ron should get a shot.  What had happened was that Ron's hair had gotten in his face. He had forgotten that he had the blade between his teeth and he reached up to brush the hair away and stuck the blade right into his palm.  After this experience, the knives stayed in the art department.

***

Another time, Ron and I were working one evening at our building on Kerner Blvd. near ILM and we had some major disagreement about how to implement a bunch of code.  Ron and I would often work until 10 or 11 at night, so we got to know the cleaning crews pretty well.  One of them even went on to become a movie editor.  Anyway, this evening I was sure that my solution to a problem was right, Ron was sure that his approach was better, and for whatever reason this escalated back and forth and turned into a huge shouting match.  Ron finally stood up and I think cussed me out and walked over to the door and slammed it as hard as he could as he left.  I was probably thinking good riddance and went back to coding.about five minutes later Ron came back in and said quite calmly, "Ok, we got that over with.  Now let's figure out how we're going to solve this problem."  Within minutes we were back at the whiteboards working on solutions, listening more carefully to what the other was saying, and ultimately we developed a hybrid solution that took the best of each of our ideas and was better than either of us had originally envisioned.  Ron was a master collaborator.

***

Again, back in the early days, one of our co-workers was scheduled to give a presentation at a computer club in Berkeley.  We didn't have any looming deadlines, so we jumped in the car to head across the Richmond-San Rafael bridge and watch.  About half-way across the bridge, Ron pointed to a car in the break-down lane, so I pulled over and there was our co-worker with a flat tire.  He didn't have a spare and my tire wouldn't fit, but he wouldn't leave the car, so he handed us two boxes of floppy disks and asked us to give the presentation in his place.

Well, we had no notes for the presentation, just disks, so when we were introduced, I just started to pull out disks and loaded whatever I could find on their computer while Ron gave a completely impromptu presentation.   Ron had worked in radio back in college and was on the “morning team" so he was very much in his comfort zone.  I never liked public speaking but I could give great software demos.  The presentation was really well received and we went home that night feeling pretty good about pulling this off.  We were still feeling pretty good in the morning until about 10 a.m. when our co-worker showed up for work and he was pissed.  We couldn't figure out why.  We had covered his arse and the audience had a great time.  Well, it turns out that our co-worker had a friend in the audience.  When the friend was asked if we had demoed one particular piece, it turns out that we hadn't.  We didn't know what we were given, and we must have skipped it.  Instead of being thankful, our co-worker thought we had intentionally sabotaged his demo.

***

Ron Gilbert, Aric Wilmunder, Noah Falstein circa 1985 (via Mobygames)

There was the night of the Loma Prieta earthquake when Ron and I were going to drive into San Francisco to see if we could find his girlfriend. Bridges were down, we could see that fires had consumed over a city block in the marina district, and we were going to try to find someone.  My wife was very upset about this but I wasn't going to let Ron try this alone.  We were just about to head out the door when the phone rang and she had caught a bus to San Rafael and needed to be picked up.

***

At one point, Ron left LucasArts because his girlfriend went on a teaching job to China. This was in the middle of my work on Maniac Mansion for the PC, so when I would encounter parts of the code that Ron wrote that I didn't understand, I would literally convert the 6502 Assembly code straight to C so I could get the system to work even if I didn't understand what it was doing.  This code was re-written as soon as Ron returned, but even years later there were rumors of 6502 code lurking inside the system.

***

While Ron was away, he lent his new RX7 to another co-worker. Unfortunately one night while driving home, a deer ran across the road and the car spun off the road and went backwards through a barb-wired fence putting scratches in the paint and ripping off the moon-roof.  The co-worker had all of the body work done before Ron got back and the car was repainted.  Ron didn't know about the accident at first and was confused because he was sure his moon-roof had a different look to it.  Eventually the co-worker explained the whole story and Ron was relieved that he wasn't going crazy.


Article Start Previous Page 5 of 6 Next

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Comments


Chris Lynn
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Fantastic article. It is nice to learn a bit more about SCUMM and adventure games in general.

Also, does anybody remember how Monkey Island semmed to smoothly transition from one music to another? I loved that effect (which was sadly lost in the remake), but I never quite understand how they do it. Grim Fandango had something similar, as the song would dinamically change according to your actions.

It was a great effect that I don't remember seeing again. Anybody knwos anything about it?

Jeff King
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The music system was called iMuse. Info about it here: http://imuse.mixnmojo.com/what.shtml

It was pretty much ahead of it's time, and shortly after with the ability to include pre-recorded audio (as storage devices could hold more), dynamic music sort of went away. So, the SCUMM-era was a sweet spot for dynamically changing music.

Leandro Pezzente
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"The Dig" also used iMuse , IIRC from a short review on "The Next Step" about iMuse , you could build graphs that connected scenes with events with music , so all got pretty much synchonized.

Chris Melby
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The music for these games are king. I still listen to SoMI and The Digg on occasion; I own several copies of MI, and one of them is the CD version.

Monkey Island was one of the first games I played after building a 386 with a Sound Blaster, so it set the bar really high for my expectations when it comes to game music. I loved the smooth transitions between scenes and characters, especially with the music in Monkey Island 2.

I really didn't like the remake's music. It's good, one of the better aspects of these ... , but the mood just wasn't right after knowing the CD and Sound Blaster versions so well.

Rosstin Murphy
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SCUMM was ahead of its time! Looking forward to the new age of adventure games!

Rosstin Murphy
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Hahaha, the stories about Ron Gilbert are great.

John Trauger
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Reminds me very much of Sierra's Creative Interpreter.

Also scripting for Ultima Online.

Leandro Pezzente
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Yay .. Aric Wilmunder , than man has been may Game Programmer Hero since I was 12

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

David Richardson
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The importance of modular code you mean.

The two are not the same.

Maxime PAQUET
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I would love to translate this article into French.
Please let me know if this is possible. ^^

Jesse Joudrey
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I had the pleasure of porting a SCUMM game to the PS3 (Monkey Island). In general I was pleasantly surprised with it's architecture. Unfortunately the ps3 compiler actually generated a bug in the SCUMM engine and I had to debug the interpreted byte code without the benefit of the source it was derived from. Without an existing working copy of the game on another platform I would have been doomed, but I was able to step through the byte code instruction at a time on both platforms until they diverged. This might have been one of the most recent stories behind the SCUMM engine. Although I think other people have ported it to PS3 as well, so there may be a few versions of this story.

Sebastien Valente
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I love such kinds of articles!
Great stuff!

John Byrd
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What, no mention at all of the Z-machine? Without it, SCUMM would not have existed.


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