GS: Let's talk about humor in games. Obviously you have experience in this.
DG: Yes. I've written a few games that are purported to be funny by certain disturbed sections of the population.
GS: Yes, I have laughed at games you've worked on, and may or may not be disturbed. Is humor hard to do in games? Is it like acting? Is comedy hard in game design?
DG: I think not, actually. But I think that's very personal, because it seems like there are two kinds of people. There are the kinds of people for whom comedy is hard, and there are the kinds for whom drama is hard. I think drama is actually much harder to pull off effectively. If you're being funny, people are willing to forgive a whole lot of other stuff. Particularly, I'm designing a game by putting a puzzle that has a vaguely implausible element to it, and the best thing to do is to just call attention to it and admit it right in the game. Play it up! Can't do that in drama, it doesn't work, it really doesn't work and there isn't anything you can do about it. And I guess it's just the way that I think.
GS: So what are some examples of pointing out this absurdity? I mean, I remember quite a few instances of this in Monkey Island, were some of those your jokes?
DG: Oh, yeah, yeah.
GS: Like, the T-shirt, being just sort of a useless inventory item that you find when digging for gold.
DG: I have a lot of trouble remembering whose jokes some of these are. I do know that we actually, and it was an interesting situation working on Monkey Island because you really had a lot of opportunity to expand on things as we were building it. So, basically because so little had to be decided in advance, the art didn't really take a whole lot of time. There were only sixteen colors, you didn't have to worry too much about "oh, I'm going to have to change this animation, it's never going to work," because the animations were so simple, they were just kind of characters walking around like little puppet theater things. So things like, there's a bit where Guybrush is walking around on top of a giant pinnacle of rock, and there's sort of a dangerous looking bit over the edge. Well, it had just been drawn into the art that way, we didn't really intend for it to be dangerous, but it was easy enough for me to make the little piece of rock crumble down, and jump him off, and copy the little Sierra screen as a little dig at Sierra, and then he bounces back…
GS: "I bounced off a banana tree."
DG: "Rubber tree." [laughs] Oh. And there's that whole scene that happens behind a wall? You're in the Governor's mansion and you have to get the idol? We went back and forth for a week or two, we just kept trying to design that part of the game. It was like, there had to be some puzzles in the mansion, and you have stuff going on with the guard, and some ants and a trail of honey, and it just wasn't working. And finally, I was just joking, I just said, "Well, let's make the whole thing happen behind a wall." And Ron [Gilbert, lead designer] was like, "Hmm! Let's try that!" And I'm like no, I'm just kidding! Really! And he's like no no no, just mock it up, it'll work, you'll see. And…it was good!