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Ron Gilbert: A New Adventure
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Ron Gilbert: A New Adventure


December 21, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next
 

I was talking to Chet Faliszek from Valve, and he was saying it's been almost a revelation for them with Left 4 Dead 2. They've never had this experience before where they immediately just make a sequel this quickly -- they've learned so much that is still applicable, that isn't five years out of date.

RG: I think that's very, very true.

You said one reason this game isn't episodic is because DeathSpank is sort of an epic character. Do you find from a writing standpoint that there's sort of a line that has to be straddled between ironically epic and genuinely epic enough that the character feels real?

RG: I've never found that to be a problem. I think ironically epic and genuinely epic are actually, you know, the same thing.

Yeah, certainly in video games.

RG: [laughs] Yeah, that's right.

How long did this character and world take to really congeal? It seems like it's been a years-long process.

RG: Yes, that was a very slow process that lasted several years. It's one of those things where I don't sit down with a blank sheet of paper and just start writing. You think about it in the car, and you think about it in bed, and you think about it while you're watching TV. It just all slowly, slowly builds up.

It took a while to figure out what his world was like, how the people in the world acted, how they reacted to him, and how they reacted to situations. It was just a slow build with that stuff.

Do you think that happens much in studio game development? After a studio finishes a game, they have to immediately be making another one. You don't have many free agent designers just hanging out until they have a new project, like in film. A publisher or even a developer says, "There was Halo, and that really worked. We want you to make that."

RG: Right, right. And then you say, "I just wish there was this other weapon in Halo and stuff. I'm going to put it in my game."

But the same thing was actually true with Monkey Island. I started working on Monkey Island, and I spent a couple of months really thinking about the character and the world, and then I went off -- because of some timing issue with the [latest Indiana Jones] movie -- I went off and did the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade game, which took about a year to do. That whole time, Monkey Island was just percolating in the back of my head.

I'd think there's a lot of value in having the luxury to just let something bounce around in your head like that.

RG: Yeah. That's really important. If you're taking a game that exists in a very large world, you really want to be able to have time to flesh that world out. Sometimes, that stuff just takes time to figure out. There's a lot of stuff with DeathSpank that I thought of and I really like but that I threw out at the end because as I sat with it for a while, I realized, "You know what? This really isn't going anywhere." I think if you have the time to do that stuff, it can really help.

Did you end up going back and forth on complexity of combat systems? As a fan of Diablo-style action RPGs, it definitely seems that it's difficult for developers to really nail the right balance. It can't be so complex that you lose the fluidity, or so simple that you aren't doing anything.

RG: Yeah. That's a really hard thing. One of the things that I wanted to do with DeathSpank was to be able to get the combat working just as fast as we possibly could. So we got that up really quickly, and we've redesigned it three times already.

We'd done a combat system, and we lived with that for several months, and then we just threw it all out and started over. Then we lived with the [new] thing for several months, and then we just threw that all out and started with the third one, which everyone really likes now.

I think that was a really good process. It allowed us to play with these things. The whole system that I put together to build DeathSpank is really about very rapid prototyping. If we have an idea, we can get it in the game in a matter of minutes if it's just some funny little gag or funny little joke. Things like the combat system and how the user interacts with it, that probably took less than a week to completely redo, and we've done it three times already.

That is really important, because games are things you play. You have to touch them and feel them and see how they react to you. And if they don't work, you start over.


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