[Adventure game veteran and Monkey Island creator Ron Gilbert talks to Gamasutra on the production processes behind his once-episodic title DeathSpank, and how the very nature of game development influences creative direction.]
Ron Gilbert is best known, perhaps, for his
work at LucasArts on Maniac Mansion and the Monkey Island series, as well as creating the SCUMM scripting language for the studio. While Monkey Island may have recently been
revived by LucasArts and Telltale Games, the series would have endured without
that revival; it's never been far from the minds of its fans ever since its
However, Gilbert, who founded Humongous/Cavedog after his LucasArts departure, before striking out on his own earlier this decade, has his own project in the
works: the awesomely named DeathSpank.
with Hothead Games (Penny Arcade
Adventures), it's a blend of adventure gaming and Diablo-style dungeon crawling; it's a humor game with the clichés
of video games squarely in its sights. Originally announced as an episodic
game, it has been reformulated into a more traditional release.
Here, Gilbert discusses the genesis of the DeathSpank project, how rapid
prototyping has allowed him and the team to redesign its combat system
repeatedly until they got it right, and how the production process for games
can shape their contents -- in good and bad ways.
How is DeathSpank's
development going? How long have you been working on it?
Ron Gilbert: I've been working on the game for almost four and a half years, and
it started out as a concept on the Grumpy
Gamer website, which is my website where my friend Clayton and I were doing
this series of Flash cartoons
parodying the games industry.
We needed this video game character for one of
them, and he needed to be completely over the top and completely ridiculous. In
a way, we wanted to come up with the dumbest name we could think of for him,
and we called him DeathSpank.
He just took
on this life of his own a little bit. We started talking about him, and I
started thinking about his world more and his stories around him. I put
together a little adventure game design around him. That blossomed into what DeathSpank is today, which is this mix
of Monkey Island and Diablo.
pitching that to a lot of publishers, and it met a lot of resistance because it
was just weird and different -- weird aspects to the art style, stuff like
that. Eventually, I ran into the guys at Hothead, and they really liked it.
They decided to make it with me. I went to work with them a year and a half ago
or so. It's really been worked on for about a year and a half. That was a very
long answer to your very short question.
What phase are you guys in now?
RG: I don't
know what phase [laughs]. I can't put a word to that. We're getting very close.
The whole world is completely carved out, totally textured. Everything's all
done. All the adventure game is done. All the monsters are placed. It really is
just about playing and tuning, playing and tuning, over and over and over, just
making sure everything just works perfectly.
When the game was originally
semi-announced, it was going to be episodic. Now it's not. Why did you
originally want to do it that way, and why is it no longer in that format?
RG: I like episodic stuff. I'm still very interested in that. I would still
love to do episodic stuff at some point. With DeathSpank, as we started fleshing out the whole design, we had all
these episodes done for him. He was this very large, epic character. We were
always pushing the edges with these episodic things. He always wanted to be
with this for a while, we sat down and thought about it -- "You know, what
if it weren't episodic?" We played around with that a little bit. We took
all the episodes, and we didn't stack them end to end linearly. We merged them
into one big, very non-linear story, and it just worked so perfectly. So, we
just said, "You know what? We should probably not make this
When you look back to games like the Monkey Islands you made, and I think particularly Monkey Island 2,
that almost is an episodic game. You have these acts that are very defined, and
they have their own arc within the larger one. Is that part of the reason for
your interest in that in that format?
RG: I don't know if that's the reason itself. One of the things I do like about
episodic, which is ironic given the DeathSpank
stuff, is that I would like to make a lot of games really fast.
That was one
of the things that I really enjoyed about the adventure games I did at Humongous
Entertainment. It took us [fewer] than nine months to make those. It allowed us
to do a lot of games over a very short period of time and learn a whole lot
from that. That is what I really like about episodic, being able to go in and
build a whole bunch of things very, very quickly.