If you love adventure games, you love Ron Gilbert. Some of LucasArts' classic late eighties and early nineties games owe much of their success to Gilbert's writing; Maniac Mansion, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure, The Secret of Monkey Island and Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge were all written by Gilbert's witty hand.
More recently, Gilbert designed upcoming downloadable game DeathSpank. Although he's no longer with Hothead Games, the developer behind the project (more on that later), he's still doing the public relations rounds telling the world why DeathSpank's so great. So, we thought it would be nice to grab him on the phone and find out.
Eurogamer: Thanks for talking to us Ron. Why are you famous?
Ron Gilbert: [Laughs] Well, I guess a long time ago I created a couple of games called Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island, and a lot of people seemed to like those games quite a bit.
Eurogamer: Didn't people like them because they were funny games and you're a funny guy?
Ron Gilbert: Yeah, they were very funny. That's always the foundation of anything I've worked on, is humour. Both of those games were adventure games. They were very story-heavy games, which lent themselves a lot to humour. Adventure games and story-based stuff and humour are the kind of things I enjoy doing, the kind of games I like making.
Eurogamer: Tell us about your current game, DeathSpank. What kind of game is it?
Ron Gilbert: DeathSpank's a combination of things. It draws a lot from adventure games. It draws a lot from the way adventure games tell stories and the way adventure games do puzzles. Monkey Island, they way it did dialogues, the way you conversed with people - it draws really heavily from a lot of influences of Monkey Island. But it also draws a lot from other genres of games that I like. I like RPGs. I like games like Diablo. I like stat-based combat and those things. I really wanted to fuse those two things together - take two genres of games I enjoy playing quite a bit and make one game out of it. That's where DeathSpank started - fusing those two things together.
Eurogamer: I assume you didn't just wake up one day and decide that would be something that would be really cool to do. Is DeathSpank an idea you've had for a long time?
Ron Gilbert: [Laughs] Yeah, I was born to make DeathSpank! Actually, the character DeathSpank started out as a little comic character that a friend of mine, Clayton Kauzlaric, and I created for my website. We needed this videogame character who is completely ridiculous and over the top. So we created this guy named DeathSpank. We did a couple of cartoons about him, and then he really started taking on a life of his own in some ways. We just said, ‘You know what? He really needs his own game.' That's when I sat down and started designing the game and thinking about that marriage between the adventure game and the RPG game. That's where the game came from.
Eurogamer: When did you first conceive of DeathSpank?
Ron Gilbert: That was probably a good five years ago. There was a period of a couple of years of shopping the game around and looking for a publisher for it before I ran into the guys from Hothead Games. I was consulting on the Penny Arcade Adventures that they were doing. That's when the game became real. That was about a couple of years ago.
Eurogamer: Tell me about how you managed to green-light DeathSpank as a game that would be commercially released.
Ron Gilbert: Well I had been consulting on the Penny Arcade Adventures, so I got to know the guys pretty well. Joel DeYoung [director of game technology] was the person I worked with the most, so I brought up DeathSpank to him and said, 'Hey, I've got this game'. I gave him my pitch documents. I'd been working with them pretty closely, so they knew me pretty well and I knew them. It wasn't a really heavy business relationship since we had that personal relationship already.
They liked the game a lot. We figured the best way to get the game made was for me to actually go work for them for the duration of the game. I went and worked for them for the two years that it took to do the game, just so I could be right there and be really involved in the whole process and head up the project and all that.
Eurogamer: You recently announced on your website that you had left Hothead Games, but didn't explain why. Was the idea that you were only going to work for Hothead for the duration of the development of DeathSpank, and you were always going to leave after it was finished?
Ron Gilbert: Yeah, it was for the duration of the game.
Eurogamer: DeathSpank was picked up by EA as publisher. How did you secure that deal, and how has EA influenced the development process?
Ron Gilbert: I don't think it's influenced the development process much. By the time EA came on as publisher the game was essentially finished. We had done all of the work, the creative work and all of that stuff. Me working with EA has been mostly in the marketing and the PR end, which they have been really great.
Eurogamer: It must have felt great that EA picked up the game based on what you already had.
Ron Gilbert: Yeah, that's really nice. It is a little bit different because a lot of publishers are involved earlier, but this game was essentially done by the time they picked it up.
Eurogamer: What's the latest on the PC version of DeathSpank? Will it actually be released?
Ron Gilbert: We're not really talking about the PC version right now. We're focusing on the Xbox and the PSN versions.
Eurogamer: DeathSpank's a downloadable game. Quite a few developers reckon Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network herald the return of the bedroom coding era, and that we'll see loads of interesting, quirky games as a result. Is that over-egging it a bit, or are XBLA and PSN that important?
Ron Gilbert: Yeah, I think they are. I'm really excited about that. You have a lot of the mainstream titles, and they cost 30, 40 million dollars to make. When a company's investing that much money in something, it's very hard to take risks on things. Having a market like XBLA and PSN, where you can do titles for much less money, just allows people to take more risks and be a little more innovative. That's really good for the industry as a whole. So I'm incredibly excited about both of those services and downloadable games.
Eurogamer: At E3 2010 last month Kinect and PlayStation Move went big. What's your feeling on motion control? Can it be incorporated into the kind of games you make?
Ron Gilbert: I don't know. I have mixed feelings about those things. On one hand they seem a little bit gimmicky. But the other hand, they could be kind of interesting. The key to this - and I think Nintendo saw this with the Wii - is you need to design games for them from the core. You can't just take a game and go, 'Oh you know what? We're going to add motion control to DeathSpank, or we're going to add motion control to Monkey Island,' because the games really weren't meant for that from the beginning. I think if people can explore what those gaming interfaces can do I think they could be interesting. But I'm a little sceptical on them.
Eurogamer: Most of the Kinect and Move games are casual-focused, almost mini-game orientated. How do you feel about using Kinect and Move in a more hardcore-focused game like DeathSpank? Is motion control not applicable to traditionally core-focused genres? Or, if you implement motion control from the ground up as you say, can it be?
Ron Gilbert: I think it can be. The things you mentioned - more of the casual stuff and the party games - those are the easy things to do. It's not surprising those are the first things we'd see. It's going to be when designers and developers can really start to explore those things and do exactly what you said, which is apply that stuff to more of the hardcore games. But, it's going to take a little while to figure out. Hopefully those devices are around for years to come, so people really can explore those things. I think there could be.
Eurogamer: What about 3D? Sony and Nintendo both went big on 3D at E3 2010. Is 3D just a gimmick or is it a real game changer?
Ron Gilbert: Well I didn't see the 3DS, so I can't tell you about that specifically. I know that I hate 3D movies. I find them disturbing. Although I did see a demo of somebody playing World of Warcraft in 3D, which I thought was pretty cool. So I don't know. I haven't had enough experience with it and the games to really know. I do know wearing a pair of glasses as you play a game is going to be a big problem. Maybe, down the road, when TVs can do 3D without glasses and all of those things, I think that's when you might see it become popular. But I think wearing the glasses is always going to be a problem.
Eurogamer: What do you think about LucasArts' Monkey Island 2 remake, and them messing up all of the cool original graphics?
Ron Gilbert: [Laughs] You know I think it's wonderful that they're re-releasing them - on a lot of levels. I personally don't mind the graphics. I know some people don't like them. Even if you don't like the graphics and the games, you really have to commend them for re-releasing those games 20 years later, and introducing a whole new audience to adventure games, really. I think we should all cheer those things.
Eurogamer: Finally, looking to a future, DeathSpank's out soon and you've left Hothead. What will you do next?
Ron Gilbert: Right now I'm just taking a vacation.
Eurogamer: You going anywhere nice?
Ron Gilbert: No, I'm just sitting round the house doing absolutely nothing, which is something I haven't done in the last two years. I'm just relaxing for a while.
Eurogamer: So you don't have any plans for any future games? You haven't had any ideas you'd like to explore?
Ron Gilbert: You know I'm just having fun playing with the iPhone and the iPad games, just doing some programming stuff, but all that's just hobby stuff. So no, I don't have any hard plans yet.
Eurogamer: Do the iPhone and iPad intrigue you as platforms?
Ron Gilbert: Yeah, very much. I think those are absolutely wonderful platforms.
Eurogamer: So maybe we'll see a Ron Gilbert game on the iPhone and iPad in the future?
Ron Gilbert: Well, you can play Monkey Island on them already.
Eurogamer: I was thinking more like a new original creation.
Ron Gilbert: [Laughs].
DeathSpank will be available for download beginning 13th July on the PlayStation Network for $14.99, and 14th July on Xbox Live Arcade for 1200 Microsoft Points.