One of the most famous games creator worldwide; Ron Gilbert is a programmer, computer games designer and producer. He is together with people like William Crowther, Scott Adams, Roberta Williams and Ken Williams one of the persons who changed games industry forever making the story and the plot as one more, if not the most important, gameplay element in videogames.
He is well known for being the creator of SCUMM, a scripting language exclusively designed for games development; as well as for the developer of best-selling games like Maniac Mansion, The Monkey Island series, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, among other. He is also the co-founder and founder of Homongous Entertainment and Cavedog Entertainment respectively, both extinct game development companis. Nowadays he is the Creative Director of Hothead Games, a Canadian Vancouver-based games company.
Ron Gilbert was born in La Grande, Oregon, United States. He is the son of David E. Gilbert a well known astrophysicist, professor and the former president of Eastern Oregon State College.
Unlike other children of his age, who usually had a big influence of sports inherited from their parents; due to the unusual occupation of his father, the influence of science on young Ron was bigger than the average. Gilbert confessed that conversations with his father didn't involve sports at all, but science subjects intead, like blackholes and quazars.
It was in 1977, when Ron was 13 years old, that his interest on the gaming world was born and that was partly thanks to a calculator and a film. Those two things, added to his potential and his father's scientific influence, would be the causes that would make him become a game developer, something in which the logical power and the artistic creativity are essential.
It was the same year the Star Wars franchise, created by George Lucas, was released. That film would influence a whole generation of children, but in some people it would also influence in a creative way as it happened with Ron. That film would change his life forever.
As he grew up in a small town, where they didn't get movies until they had been out for months, they didn't have the chance to see Star Wars as soon as it was released, so by the time it was available in movie theaters in La Grande, Oregon, it was already a success with fan magazines, pictures and all kind of products dedicated exclusively to Star Wars; thus a whole new world or subgenre was born.
At first he wasn't so sure about the movie and all this Star Wars thing; despite the comments of his friends he thought it would be a waste of time. But after weeks of listening his friends nonstop talking about the film, showing pictures and fan magazines of the characters and spaceships; he finally decided to give it a chance and pay the $1.75 it costed to see it. However, as he confessed, he was wrong since from the very first moment in that theater, while he was watching the movie, he was lost and changed forever. As he mentioned - "Seeing that movie, at that time, at that age, is an experience that is indescribable. Nothing like it had ever been seen before and it made my 13 year old head explode"
The other thing that would change his life was a calculator. Since his father was an astrophysicist he had access to all the then state-of-the-art technology and tools; that is how David Gilbert, his father; brought home a couple of times, a Texas Instruments TI-59 programmable calculator.
It was one of the first LED calculators with the capability and flexibility to take on many real-world calculation challenges, and quickly became popular with professionals in many fields. It also had a large memory compared to other devices of the time but all it contents were lost when the calculator was turned off; so it included magnetic storage cards too. It also was the first calculator with removable ROM program modules. This module contained several useful pre-programmed routines (used by his father) as well as a game, which drew the attention of young Ron.
It was a simple game, in which the player had to guess the location of a battleship by entering the coordinates and the calculator would answer if the player was high or low. But it wasn't the game itself what captured Ron's attention as much as how this simple calculator was capable of taking decisions and react to his choices. So that simple game and Star Wars gave Ron his first taste of computer programming.
But 1977 was also the year the Atari 2600 console was released and all of his friends had one of their own. Unfortunately for Ron, that was not possible so he had to wait two more years until his parents purchased a computer instead of a console, thus giving him and advantage over the average teens his age, he could not only play games but he had the tools to create them.
But there was another essential element that had to be added to the list of things that would make Ron Gilbert be one of those people who would change the way of doing games. During those two years, while he was waiting, for that Atari (that finally became a computer) he met in high school with something else that would shape his interest in games forever and that was storytelling.
Since La Grande was a small town in the mountains of Oregon, back in those days it was impossible to get TV signals, so the only way to get live TV was by cable. As the cable service included HBO (it was one of the first towns in Oregon to get HBO), which was free for a long time, it would be a big opportunity for Ron to cultivate his love and passion of movies, screenplays and storytelling, watching every movie that came on that cable channel.
The impact of Star Wars and his love for telling stories was so big that Ron Gilbert at the early age of 14 and his good friend Tom McFarlane, made a couple of films on a Super-8 camera. Since those two amateur movies were made before the era of video cameras and edition programs available for personal computers nowadays; they were edited manually with a razor blade and Scotch Tape. The camera they used did not have sound, so the sound track was recorded on cassette tapes as a post-production step.
The first film they shot in 1978 was Stars Blasters, it was directed by Ron Gilbert and acted by his friends Tom McFarlane and Tom Lang. In 1979 they filmed another movie Tomorrow Never Came, acted by Ron Gilbert, Tom Mc Farlane; it was directed by Ron Gilbert.
The story of this second film is strongly influenced by Star Wars and it is about an Air Force jet pilot, with precognitive powers, who steals a jet to build a secret spaceship which he plans to fly to another solar system and save a civilization from impending destruction. His friend after discovering accidentally the spaceship in the pilot's garage is shot with a tranquilizer and taken along so as to preserve the secret of the ship. However it turned out that his next door neighbor had also found the secret project of the pilot and was sleeping in the back when they took off but unfortunately he was doomed to die as the spaceship had only one extra radiation vest diying later on in the story from radiation poisoning. To make things worse the mission fails when they encounter a time warp and get sent six hundred years into the future so they turn around and head back to Earth. After encountering a mysterious radiation storm that catches the ship on fire, they safely land back on Earth. Another time warp in an abandoned underground cellar sends them backwards in time to one day after the day they originally took off and hence the title of the film.
So from the very beginning it was obvious that Ron had a gift of creativity and storytelling. It is also worth of mention that back in those days, in which digital home cameras and digital edition did not exist, not everyone had the chance to add in their resume the fact of having experienced with filmmaking.
It was the year 1979 when the North Star Horizon home computer was introduced; with a ZiLog Z80 8bit processor, an S-100 bus and 8 KB RAM Memory, running a CP/M operating system (created especially for Intel 8080/85 based systems) and a serial interface to which one could connect a terminal to interact with it. Soon after that the Gilbert family would be one of the first in the state of Oregon to get a home computer and it was a North Star Horizon.
His parents had also purchased a Dazzler graphics board, which was the first one available for microcomputers. It was especially designed for S-100 bus computers and when connected to the TV it was capable of giving up to 16 colors 128x128 pixel images.
So having an obsession with the decision taking power of programs, his fascination with Star Wars, his love of storytelling and this new tool that would allow him to combine all those elements into something; it was just a matter of days for Ron to start learning how to make his own games. While other teenagers his age would spend hour playing with their Ataris 2600, young Ron would make his own games. Actually he was lucky for not having an Atari like his friends, otherwise, perhaps, he would not have the chance to develop his programming skills so young and create his own games.
So at the age of 15, when other teenagers his age would spend hours in bars, pizza parlors and bowling alleys playing with coin-operated video games machines; he would study and analyze games for hours; capturing in his mind every frame of the layout of games like Donkey Kong, Pacman, Asteroids, Space Invaders or Robotron; taking notes of every detail and then trying to replicate them on his computer. Once the games were replicated he would start doing experiments with them, asking himself things like "What if Pac-Man could eat through walls, or the ghosts exploded." He also used to look at Atari 2600 games advertisements in magazines, then imagined what the game was like to play and tried to make them in his computer. Once the games were finished he used to bring his friends home to test the games and tell him what did they like or did not like.
It was then, in the early 80s that Ron Gilbert understood that as games were becoming more complex a story and a plot were necessary and essential elements to make them more appealing.
It was also the time when personal computers were becoming more popular and thanks to that, the first games based on a story and a plot were entering the market. First they were text adventures and by 1980, graphics were introduced by On-Line Systems (which later changed its name to Sierra). Roberta and Ken Williams were the first ones to introduce graphics in an adventure game, Mystery House, and thus the graphic adventures subgenre was born. A few months later colors were introduced in Wizard and the Princess, a prequel to the later King´s Quest series. After that they would add moveable characters.
Nevertheless, during all this time, all the games released were based on the text adventure style with a parser or input-text system. So, each action was typed, thus slowing down the gameplay compared to their action and arcade counterparts. By the mid-80s a new input system emerged, the point-n-click. But it wouldn't be until 1987 that this system would find the most effective and efficient format, the SCUMM point-n-click input system developed by Ron Gilbert.
But let's return to the early 80s; by this time Ron was carried away by this new genre; so the games he started to play and program were based on a story, with a plot and characters. Those games had something that would chalenge the brain of players instead of their reflexes, in which the power of choices would take the place of jumping and shooting actions. He started to see games as something different from what people had been playing thus far; as something deeper and more artistic.
He attended La Grande High School. A former computer and math teacher of that school, Bob Gregory said about Ron: "Computers sparked Ron's imagination early. He and his friend, Tom McFarland, started working with them while in junior high, and by the time they reached the ninth grade, they were ahead of the game. I was kind of in the situation, where if I wanted to know something about the computer I would ask them"
COLLEGE AND HIS FIRST TASTE IN THE GAMING INDUSTRY
In 1982 he graduated La Grande High School and went on to Eastern Oregon State College, where his father David was the president by that time. He was a Computer Science major for two years in college.
When in college he first experienced with the recently released Commodore 64, which according to Ron is "quite possibly the best computer ever made" . He soon discovered its powerful graphics and sound capabilities, as well as its big potential for gaming; at a time when most PCs had text-only display adapter cards; monochrome monitors and low-quality sounds consisting of beeps and squeaks emitted by a tiny speaker. So he bought one.
The Commodore 64 had a great BASIC language interpreter, however it was impossible to access the graphics without long complex BASIC commands and functions or using assembly language. Ron discovered the potential and capabilities of this home computer but at the same time he found out its lack of a flexible library of commands to access graphics and sound. So he and his friend Tom McFarland modified the BASIC interpreter and created an extension which he called Graphics Basic.
Graphics Basic had all kind of new commands (over 100) and users could do everything, from controlling graphics and sprites to playing music. Then Ron submitted it to different companies, including to a California based company, named Human Engineered Software. It was a software and hardware developer focused mainly on the Commodore 64 and the Atari 8-bit.
The company purchased the rights of Graphics Basic and offered Ron a job. He accepted and in his second year at college, dropped out and moved to California. That was his first professional experience. There he programmed Commodore 64 games but after six months working in HESware he was laid off. Soon after that, since the company was in financial troubles, it sold its licence line to Avant Guard Publishing Corp. and went out of business.
So it must be said that Ron was lucky, because what was about to come was big, really big; a lifetime dream would become true.
A DREAM THAT BECAME TRUE. AN ACRONYM THAT CHANGED THE GAMING INDUSTRY FOREVER
After being laid off he went back home with his parents and before returning to college he was killing the time looking for a job as a programmer in some bank.
It was one day of October 1985, when he was at home about to go to campus, he grabbed the car keys, locked the front door and made his way to the car, but then suddenly the phone rang. So he decided to go back inside to answer the phone, but then he hesitated and headed back towards his car, when the phone rang again, he then hesitantly turned back but changed his mind again and went back towards his car when the phone rang again; finally this time (and fortunately) he decided to go back inside and answer the telephone.
It turned out to be the biggest opportunity he had thus far, because at the other end of the line somebody from Lucasfilm was offering Gilbert an opportunity to apply for a job as a Commodore 64 programmer. This was a once in a lifetime chance, especially for someone who is such a big fan of Lucasfilm products which Gilbert considers as "the foundations of what drove his imagination as a kid."
The next day Ron packed his things and moved back to California, because he was sure he could not fail in the interview, he was more than sure that he would get this job; something that happened by the way.
Thus, he started working as the Commodore 64 engineer at the Lucasfilm Games Division, which was at the time the name given to the video games development division of Lucasfilm Limited, the production company of George Lucas. Later in 1990, the Lucasfilm Games Division was renamed Lucasarts Entertainment Company.
Back in those days, when Ron started working, the games division consisted of nine people; including David Fox and Gary Winnick, with whom he would later work on the development of games like Maniac Mansion and Zak McKracken among others.
Gilbert defined this group of people as "the smartest people I'd ever met in my life." He also said "I've been frost into a world of smart and creative people, that pushed and challenged everything that I had known and believed about games, what they were and what they could be"
However there was something that surprised him when he started working at Lucasfilm and that was that they could not make Star Wars games because the company had licensed out the rights to make Star Wars games to a toy company. Instead of that, Lucas gave them the freedom to come up with their own ideas, they were free to do and create whatever they wanted.
Meanwhile, his first task in the company was to port two games that were recently released for Atari 800 to the Commodore 64, Koronis Rift and The Eidolon. Both games were developed by Lucasfilm and published by Activision and Epyx and they were released in December, 1985.
During his first year in the company, Lucasfilm Games was located in industrial San Rafael in a dull office park across the street from Industrial Light & Magic, George Lucas' special effects company. Sometimes, during lunch time, Ron walked through the sets and watched the outdoor sets being built. Once in a while he was also able to see effects being filmed on the giant indoor blue-screen.
Occasionally there would be casting calls for extras needed for various productions and one summer Ron was selected as an extra and he appeared in The Ewoks Adventure: Battle for Endor. Ron would comment later about how cheap were the costumes for the extras: "They looked like foil hot-dog wrappers held on with rubber bands."
During that first year, Ron lived an hour away from the office where he used to drive in his old Datsun 280Z. He used to stay at work until 2 AM.
Ron's first creative project during this time that never got materialized was titled I Was a Teenage Lobot which was inspired by one of the segments in the 1981 Heavy Metal movie, which consisted of a collection of stories of dark fantasy, eroticism and horror. It took place in the distant future, when it was discovered that robots did not have the power to work effectively. Meanwhile scientists had found that if the grey matter from lobotomized persons was taken and placed into regular robots, they could become pretty effective servants. So after being punished a person and found guilty, they would proceed removing the brain to insert it into a robot. The protagonist of this story is a guy whose brain has been removed and placed into a "shoe-bot", but they forgot to do the lobotomy procedure beforehand. Since the body was still somewhere there, the goal of the protagonist was to locate the body and get the brain rejoined with it before it was turned into dog meat. Fortunately, outside there was a friend of that would help the hero of this story; unfortunately, shue-bots were restricted to only certain parts of the station.
Unfortunately, something came up and its development was canceled. However soon later Ron would join with Gary Winnick, A short time later, Ron teamed up with Gary Winnick and they would design the game that would change the genre forever, Maniac Mansion.
Meanwhile Lucas was building a new office for the games division in the huge Skywalker Ranch, a 6000-acre property in an open country space of Marin County, California. Skywalker Ranch included George Lucas' private offices, Sprocket Systems (later renamed Skywalker Sound), Licensing, Legal, and of course LucasFilm Games.
The new office of the game division was in the back of the ranch, in a place known as the Stable House, a rustic building with rough-hewn timbers throughout the house, while the other buildings were decked out with oak or redwood trimmings. This ranch is the place where the next big projects of Ron would be developed.
When George Lucas started to build the ranch, he wanted its exteriors to evoke a fantasy story; as if it had a history behind. It was about a sea captain who decided to marry and settle down. He built the Main House and had three daughter. He also built houses for each one of his daughters. He raised grapes and cattle. As things went better for the family they expanded the main house. Behind the main house there was the Gate House, the Brook House, the Carriage House, and the Stable House. At the front of the property, guesthouses were also added. Back to the real and practical world, these buildings are connected by an underground garage with space for nearly 100 cars. The tech building that houses Skywalker Sound resembles a grape processing plant with a main entrance that looks as if train filled withgrapes used to enter the building for processing. Inside there are enough facilities to edit up to four films simultaneously.
Once Koronis Rift and The Eidolon were finished and the games division moved to its new place in Skywalker Ranch; Gilbert would have his first chance to show the world his creative power. He was a big fan of adventure games, partly because of the story element in the gameplay of these kind of games. He started playing text adventures when he was at college, in the university mainframes; his first experience was with The Adventure Colossal Cave, the oldest adventure game, created by William Crowther and released in 1976. He also liked the Adventure International and Infocom text adventures and the Sierra King's Quest graphic adventures. However there was a problem, they all were either text games or they had static graphics and those with dynamic graphics (like Sierra games) had a parser input-text system for the actions.
He wanted to make more interactive adventure games, with a strong story, graphically exciting, something like playing a movie or living a story when playing. He wanted to see dynamic graphics, something that Roberta and Ken Williams in Sierra had added to their games, but they had a parser and he hated typing as he said "he didn't like second guess parser games." He thought that if players are playing and interacting with games graphically, they should be interacting with the graphics; they should be clicking on the things they want to manipulate. So he planned to do something different, something new that would combine all the positive elements adventures thus far had separately, a strong story, great graphics, movement, interaction and of course a new input system, all point-n-click to get rid of the parser.
He would change the genre forever and maybe even the gaming industry, since his next game would boost the gameplay with stories and even cutscenes, the latter used only once up to that moment, in its current sense, in a game named Karateka; which was an action game. Ms Pacman had something similar, but it wasn't exactly a cutscene as we define it nowadays. So this would be the first interactive game to include so many dynamic cinematic elements, something that is common, if not essential, nowadays in almost every game in the industry.
As for the cutscenes, Ron didn't know how to call them, so he went to Steve Arnold, then president of Lucasfilm Games. Ron compared it to the between-level clips in Ms. Pacman and asked him what the filmmaking term was for scenes that cut-away from the main story. Steve pondered this and told Ron that these are called 'Cutscenes.' So that was the moment when the term was coined, and the script command 'cutscene' was added to the SCUMM language as a command to indicate that control was being temporarily taken away from the player.
Both, Gilbert and Gary Winnick loved bad horror movies, so they created the concept of a game about a group of teenagers going to a creepy Victorian-era mansion in search for a lost friend that has been kidnapped by a crazy scientist who is under the influence of a mysterious meteor that came to earth twenty years ago and made a crater in front of his mansion. So that's how the basic idea of Maniac Mansion was born.
Ron started programming Maniac Mansion all in assembly language, which was the only way to program the Commodore 64 for professional games. But after six months of work he realized that making such a big, content intensive and complex game just using assembly language would be impossible to finish or at least it would take ages. He needed some kind of tool to carry out such a task.
So it was Chip Morningstar, a fellow programmer in Lucasfilm who suggested Ron to build his own compiler, something like a game engine and a new simplified scripting language with all the necessary tools to pull off this big project. Chip was an expert writing compilers, so he first wrote the compiler and then Ron wrote the runtime interpreter for Commodore 64 and extended the compiler's functionalities.
Thus, the SCUMM system was born as well as a new era for the company, since it would be the main tool or game engine used to power all the Lucas adventures for the next decade and that would help put the company as one of the leaders in gaming industry.
Then fellow Lucasfilm Games employees Aric Wilmunder and Brad Taylor would help port it to the PC version.
Its name stands for Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion. The engine consisted of several tools or programs to make SCUMM-styled games. All of these tools were named after disgusting fluids; like MMUCUS, which was used to compress art in graphics; SPIT, the custom font editor; FLEM, which was used to define objects and walkable areas; BYLE, the animation tool; among others.
During the next years there were numerous enhancements, adaptations and extensions of the SCUMM engine for the new available technologies, resulting in various versions which were implemented in the next Lucas adventures. Ron worked on the SCUMM engine for those projects. He continued to upgrade it, and it always occupied at least half of his time, during his years working for Lucas.
After working for slightly over a year in Maniac Mansion (including the first six months of assembly coding, before SCUMM), its first version was released in October, 1987 for Commodore 64 and Apple II.
Maniac Mansion featured things never seen up to that moment in games. It was the first game to combine full interaction, a story, a cinematic introduction, the use of cutscenes that revealed hints at solving the puzzles of the game, great dynamic graphics (which in the case of Commodore 64 took advantage of its graphics and sound power), scrolling screens, a point-n-click intuitive interface, the possibility of playing with more than one character at the same time (each with specific abilities) which the player must select at the beginning and must swap during the game in order to perform multiple tasks, multiple endings, depending on the characters the player selected as each one had different skills and which ones survived.
The game is about a strange meteor that crashed 20 years ago nearby Dr. Fred's mansion. Ever since, Dr. Fred had been building strange devices and making bizarre experiments. Now his last experiment involved Dave's girlfriend Sandy. So it was now up to Dave and his friends to go save her from the mad scientist and his crazy family.
The rescue team includes three characters, Dave and two of his friends from a list that includes; Bernard the nerd in the gang who can fix almost anything, Syd and Razor both with great musical talents, Michael a photographer, Wendy a novelist to be and Jeff the surfer. During the game the player encounters the inhabitants of the huge mansion, who at least at the beginning, ignore the presence of the rescue team in their house. They roam around the house, get hungry, chat, etc. Among the character there are Nurse Edna, Dr. Fred's wife, who really needs a man in her life, weird Ed, their son, who is also trying desperately to stop the Evil meteor but without much success, Green and Purple Tentacles, who may become your friends or get killed or captured by them, depending of the situation. The tension in moments in which the player runs accross one of these evil characters and then must immediately run away is indescribable.
For the first time a game would implement a cinematic style so deeply as all the multiple characters featured had their own stories and reactions. Due to its story driven nature and its great graphics it could make use of mixed elements like humor and horror. In other words, this game was alive, skyrocketing the gameplay to levels never experienced before. It was like playing a movie.
This game was such a big success, as it was expected by Ron and his colleagues in the team, that it was soon ported to other systems; something that could be done easily thanks to the SCUMM engine Gilbert had developed. In March, 1989 it was ported to the PC with an upgraded version of SCUMM, in 1990 to Atari ST and Amiga with improved graphics as well as an enhanced version for PC.
After Maniac Mansion, a new era for the genre had begun and even maybe for the entire gaming industry. Since then a new way of making adventure games would dominate the industry for the next decade until the advent of FPS and action adventures which in big part inherited the interactive cinematic flavor used in adventure games and first implemented by Ron Gilbert in Maniac Mansion.
Immediately after the release of Maniac Mansion, Ron joined the team of the next Lucas adventure, Zak McKracken and the Aliens Mindbenders. David Fox was the creator of this story as well as the project leader. Ron Gilbert was one of the designers of the game, he would also adapt the SCUMM engine for this project.
Since SCUMM, was created with a number of "hard-coded" features specifically designed for Maniac Mansion, Gilbert removed every one of the game-specific features, and generic commands were added in their place. This changed the system from a code-base just for one game, to an engine that would allow multiple teams to use the same system he had created to build different adventure games. Thus, the original version was named "Version 0" and this one "Version 1". Then, the improved versions of both Maniac Mansion and Zak McKracken for PC used an upgraded version of this engine named "Version 2."
David Fox confessed that the original plan for Zak was to be fun, but not as crazy as the final game turned out. The craziness was increased after a brainstorming session with Ron Gilbert. Fox said, "He has a keen eye for what's funny, and he probably helped sell a lot more copies of the games. But the extra craziness means you have to look a little harder to see the deeper, mind-expanding side of Zak." He also said, "I don't think I was ever aiming to make Zak a serious game... Just more serious than it turned out to be. Ron wanted it to be much more wacky, and that's the direction we took it in after that brainstorming session."
Unlike the previous adventure, for which Ron first had to develop the scripting language. Zak used the next generation of SCUMM, so there wasn't as much engineering needed there, so it took 9 months from concept to completion. It was released in October 1988.
When Zak was over, Ron went on to another project, this one would have been titled, Space Party Aliens. Ron had worked on the designs of the alien characters and was ready to enter production. However, at that point Ron was required in other project immediately so he was pulled from his project and thus Space Party Aliens, would have the same fate as his other canceled game, I am a Teenage Lobot. It seems he wasn't so lucky with science fiction games. He was also working on the design of another project about pirates, but he had to stop it too; temporarily though, as it would turn out to be The Secret of Monkey Island.
This new project turned out to be Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The project had begun in 1988 when George Lucas wanted an adventure game based on the then upcoming Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade movie. The development of the game had begun, but the original design made the player, at a certain point, open the accompanying book to a particular page and follow the story along from there. However after months of work this format was rejected and they had to start all over again.
That's the moment in which Ron is pulled from his Space Party Aliens project as well as from the Monkey Island plans (which might have come out one year earlier if it wasn't for this Indiana Jones adventure), since they required urgently his help on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, as there was a hard deadline of about seven months to finish it and release it in time with the movie.
The new team leaders for this project were Ron Gilbert, David Fox and Noah Falstein. The three of them were the most experienced project leaders in the company; but Ron was the master programmer of the team. Before starting they sat down with George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, and worked directly from the movie script. So they had the script to work from, but still the puzzles and situations were not the same as in the movie, since that would have been an advantage for those who have seen the film.
During the meeting, the three designers asked Lucas and Spielberg if there were any constraints on the development, but they gave them complete freedom to do whatever they wanted, even adding new scenes to the original story. They gave them a few suggestions too. Steven Spielberg suggested doing something much bigger than what was featured in the movie, having Indiana Jones traveling across the globe getting caught up in a bunch of mini-adventures; something that never happened of course, due to the lack of time.
Although the game follows the movie script closely, it emphasizes the action over the drama. So they picked the parts of the script they thought would adapt well. But they still changed enough, so it's fresh and interesting, yet it's familiar.
The designers also had the chance to go to the Paramount Studio in Los Angeles to see an early screening of the film about a month before it was released.
The Commodore 64 was abandoned in Indiana Jones, and the PC became their primary target platform. Moreover, the SCUMM compiler only ran on SUN workstations (a workstation is a computer for technical applications) and they used a proprietary system to transfer the data files onto other machines. So for Indiana Jones they decided to convert the SCUMM development system to run on a PC. This was the "Version 3" of the game engine. From that moment they could pack up a PC and all the software and develop SCUMM games wherever they wanted. That way, the production of this game was accelerated.
There was an issue during the end of the project, when they were making the final scene. Ron had coded a funny version of the ending, while Falstein thought it was too far from the essence of the movie and that Indy fans might be offended by such an irreverent ending. So during a meeting, David Fox, who agreed partly with both of them, suggested keeping both ideas using a random number generator to decide which response would appear randomly. Thus, Ron and Noah Falstein agreed and both systems were kept.
Another thing they did in order to avoid personality conflicts, was to randomize the order in which the three designers' names appear in the credits during the beginning of the game at the railroad car.
Finally the game was released on time, in just seven months, in May 1989 together with the movie. It was available for PC DOS, Amiga and Atari ST, later in 1990 it was ported to Macintosh and FM-Towns, the latter in a CD-ROM format. Then in 1992 it was also available for Commodore CDTV. Two version for PC were released, one with 16 colors EGA graphics and one with 256 colors VGA.
Being a big games enthusiast, Steven Spielberg, once the game was completed tested the game.
It included a new feature, for the first time the players had the possibility of talking, compared to the upcoming games, it was still primitive, but it would be improved by the next Ron's project. It also featured a multi-path design whereby the player could choose between different types of gameplay, resulting in alternative parallel game paths. A score system which assigned points to solved puzzles and accomplishments, named "I.Q. System" (Indy Quotient), as in Sierra adventure games, which was only used again in later Indiana Jones adventures.
By the time Indiana Jones was finished, Ron resumed the design of his next project, which would hit the games hall of fame, becoming one of the most popular in history.
This project was already being planned before starting to work on Indiana Jones, but he had to put it off for about seven months. However he had some rough idea of what it would be about; pirates.
Ron got several stories about pirates, partly inspired by the Pirates of the Caribbean ride in Disneyland, partly by the Tim Powers' novel On Stranger Tides as well as by all the knowledge he got about piracy from tales and movies. He also has mentioned that he wanted to avoid the typical fantasy games theme. So all he had to do was to combine those stories he got in his mind and make them fit into a game.
What the Pirates of the Caribbean ride inspired was the ambience, while the story itself as well as the characters have a big influence of On Stranger Tides, which he had read in the late 80s. At the beginning, before working on the Indiana Jones project, he had a few ideas, that he later would retouch when returned working on the plans for Monkey Island.
Finally the story was born and it would take shape in the form of a young inexperienced pirate that shows up one night and says -"My name is Guybrush Threepwood and I want to be a pirate". That's how Monkey Island was born.
The name given to the game was The Secret of Monkey Island and it would become one of the biggest legends in the gaming world. Almost no gamer in the world has never heard about this game; it is together with games like Pong, Pac Man, Donkey Kong, Ghosts n'
Goblins, Doom, Quake and WoW, among others; one of those milestones that must be mentioned in any historic timeline or all times top list.
The game begins with an intro nightly view of an island and opening introduction that says "Deep in the Caribbean. The Island of Mêlée." After the credits our hero shows up. He's name is Guybrush Threepwood, an eager, clumsy, pony tailed young guy who has just arrived to Mêlée island, to seek his fortune by fulfilling his lifelong dream to become a pirate.
When he started designing the structure of the game, he wrot several four of five pages stories, with different plots each. He kept the best ones throwing those not making sense. Then he showed the stories to people around the office, until he added an intriguing element to the story, ghosts, something that seems catched everyone's interest. At the moment he added LeChuck to the story everything started to take shape and make sense.
Then he divided the story into segments with a step-by-step outline of what the player has to do. He ended up with a four-page list of forty or fifty key points. Then he designed the puzzles. Each point had about three or four puzzles. Finally when he was done with the basic idea he managed all the necessary budgets and schedules and hired the members of the team.
The original team consisted of seven people and the entire budget of the project was U$S 135,000; which at those times was considered a lot of money for a game project, though nothing compared to current projects consisting of over 100 people and budgets of tens of millions of dollars. Gilbert said about making games back in those days: "There were no rules, everything was new, it was the old west, it was a creative frontier to be tamed. We made games because we had a good idea and inspiration was often our only approval process."
About the team, before starting working Ron used to train them for a full month, giving them daily instruction in the use of the SCUMM language. At the end of the training, they were each given access to all of the existing game assets and had to build a mini-game using the system. Then they tested each other's games, and fix the bugs that others found in theirs.
Ron hired David Grossman and Tim Schafer to be programmers together with him. The art and animation was done by Steve Purcell, Mark J. Ferrari, Mike Ebert and Martin Cameron.
Ron had already laid out the framework of the story that they called the key puzzles, the structural skeleton of the design. Then with the help of Grossman and Schafer, the three of them pushed and pulled the puzzles every day, adding and removing things until they were funnier than they were the day before, thus improving the game minute by minute during its design. They used to work out the design for the game over a half-sized pool table in Ron's office. Many of the puzzles came out while the three of them played pool for hours laughing themselves silly. They had a lot of fun during Monkey Island's design.
The intense humor of this game was nothing more than a reflection of the funny moments the designers had during every single day of the development of Monkey Island. Ron said about the development of Monkey Island: "The memory of working on Monkey Island is of the three of us sitting around and laughing ourselves to the point of tears, not once but just about every single day."
One of these funny moments involves Guybrush's name origin. Back in those days game characters or "sprites" were created in a program named DPaint, which saved the images as .brush files. So a sprite used to be called a "brush" as well. One day when the animators ahd finished working on the sprite of the games's main character, Ron Gilbert and the then division art director, Gary Winnick, were talking about what to call the guy. Steve Purcell entered in the conversation and suggested Fred the Pirate, but Ron wanted and action name instead, since he's an action guy. So Steve suggested Bob and Gary Winnick Flynn, as in Errol Flynn (the actor who starred the 1938 Robin Hood film). But Ron didn't like it, after that he told Martin Cameron: "We're going to need a girl pirate too. Just make a girl version out of the guy brush." (the character's file name was guy.brush) and suddenly Purcell answered "That's it! Call him Guybrush!" and Ron accepted immediately as his temporal name, until something better was found. However everyone started calling him Guy Brush and finally it was taken as our hero's name. The last name "Threepwood," was the result of a company vote, it seems to be that it was Dave Grossman's favorite choice when creating RPG characters.
Another componet of game design during those days was improvisation. Lots of parts of the game were designed out of improvised funny sessions between the designers and Ron. For instance, during the design, Ron used to go to the art offices and tell the artists his last ideas about what to do or not in certain situations of the game and immediately hilarious conversations full of crazy ideas used to arise which then were reflected in the story. Also a lot of it ended up virtually unedited in the finished product.
Another famous feature of the game was a chicken-with-a-pulley-in-the-middle, which just came out of a joke, which they later remembered and thought "hey, that chicken with the pulley, it's funny" and then they looked for a way to include it in the game.
But basically one of the most important components of Monkey Island, as well as other games designed by Ron, is humor. According to him, you need a dash of humor to keep the game from taking itself too seriously, while mystery and suspense games are trying too hard to be like a serious movie and they just can't pull it off, so they fall flat.
Ron also upgraded the SCUMM engine to its fourth version to make it comply with the requirements of Monkey Island and making the interface more intuitive than before. A new fonts system was added, whereby new upside down fonts, among others, could be added to games (this feature was needed in a gag in which Guybrush is used as a human cannonball).
This was the first time in which the player could not be killed or run into a dead-end. Thus complying with one of Ron's rules of thumb for adventure games, in which he thinks it is bad design to put puzzles and situations into a game that require a player to die in order to learn what not to do next time. Nonetheless there's a little exception in which Guybrush drowns if the player leaves him intentionally under the water for ten full minutes, which is his maximum capacity for holding the breath, however as mentioned before it must be done intentionally as it is not accidental (unless the player cannot figure out how to solve a pretty easy and obvious puzzle in less than 10 minutes).
Also in this game for the first time cutscenes are triggered by player events rather than an internal clock, for instance when Guybrush leaves the SCUMM Bar for the first time (the bar in the game was named after the engine), the first Le Chuck cutscene is triggered.
Due to space and time constraints several scenes were cut out including a ship-to-ship combat in their way (Gubrush's and his crew's) from Mêlée to Monkey Island; or a scene where Guybrush would have been on a dock surrounded by a group of ghosts and to get out of the situation, he needed to use the head of the navigator as a bowling ball and knock the ghosts over; or a zig zag wooden cliff face staircase at the pirate village in Mêlée at the cliff's base; among others.
A few months before Monkey Island's release another Lucas adventure was released, Loom (designed by Brian Moriarty), that's why Ron included some crossover gags in Monkey Island adding two characters of that game in this one; a seagull and a character named Cobb who in this game appears as a pirate.
The Secret of Monkey Island was released in October 1990 for PC, Atari ST and Macintosh using EGA graphics. Some months later, in 1991 a new VGA version was released and shortly after that an Amiga version. Ron upgraded again the SCUMM engine to a fifth version in which a new interface was made representing the inventory with icons as well as an enlargement of the verbs was done. In 1992 a CD-ROM version of the game, using the newest SCUMM version, was released. It featured improved CD digital format music as well as the new interface (also used in the sequel of this game). The CD version also removed three verbs from the interface (Walk To, Turn On and Turn Off). The CD-ROM version was ported to FM Towns and in 1993 to Sega CD. This later version for Sega was not a big success, so Lucas decided to cancel the plans to port upcoming games as well as the Monkey Island sequels to that console.
This game was a big success in sales, as well as for the legacy created around it making it (together with its sequels) one of the top games of all times. A real referencial point for games designers as well as players. It was translated to Spanish, French, German and Italian. Even nowadays after two decades since its first release it is a success and in 2009 Lucasarts released an enhanced version of The Secret of Monkey Island. Many of its gags have been reproduced in other games (Lucasarts games and not). There is also a school play inspired by this game and named after it.
Immediately after the release of The Secret of Monkey Island, Ron and the team of the former game started the production of a sequel that later would be named Monkey Island 2 LeChuck's Revenge.
Again, Ron joined with Tim Schafer and Dave Grossman, the latter was included in the project a bit late because he was working with Noah Falstein on an early design for The Dig. The rest of the Monkey Island team was there also as well as a few more people.
This was also the first game of the company to be released under the LucasArts name and logo, after the Lucasfilm games division was reorganized.
The game is a seamless continuation of the first, something that can be attributed to its immediate development after the release of its predecessor. But it is not at all a repetition of that one. There are new locations in this game, actually twice as many as there were in the former, actually the hero does not revisit any of the locations of the previous game.
The game uses the fifth version of the SCUMM engine, which implements a new interface with enlarged verbs, an image-based inventory (this was the first game to add this feature) as well as a brand-new sounds system named iMUSE (Interactive MUsic Streaming Engine) and designed by Peter McConnell and Michael Land who joined the MI team this year.
Particularly about the iMUSE system, this new technology added a new feature whereby the music responded automatically to the actions of the characters with gracefull and smooth transitions instead of static ones. This was a big enhancement, as in this game, with the exception of a few moments, the MIDI music plays continuously, making it to be an inseparable component of the story, especially because of the connection of different melodies with each location. It allows the game to trigger different melodies smoothly and spontaneously as a response to unpredictable player choices, creating at the same time a wonderful feeling of continuity in the music.
The title as well as several gags of the game are inspired partly by Star Wars. The title of the game is a reminiscent of the name of the movie The Return of Jedi which originally was The Revenge of the Jedi before being renamed to its release name.
The graphics really stand out in this game. While the style remains mostly the same with its predecessor there have been obvious qualitative improvements. Especially regarding the backgrounds, which are all scanned hand drawn illustrations making the environments and locations of this game truly amazing and detailed.
There have been also improvements in the animation, the characters and effects. Now the characters are more detailed and have undergone makeovers reflective of the game's tone and of the characters' individual growth (in the case of Guybrush from a wannabe pirate to a full-fledge pirate). They look and perform better than they did in the first game. They also have reactions, like head or beard scratching, sweat wiping and surprise faces among others. All in all the visual aspects of the game are gorgeous.
The game includes at the beginning a difficulty selection screen, in where the player can choose between a Lite and a Complete version of the game. Despite Ron wanted to add an intermidiate option, unfortunately due to space limitations it was left out.
The dialogs and jokes are very funny, as in the previous game it follows the Gilbert's rules of thumb of adventure games, in which the hero cannot die, thus avoiding the requirement of constant savegames. There are lots of characters of the previous game as well as new ones that will help Guybrush with his quest.
The game was released in December 1991 for PC, Amiga and Macintosh. The floppy disks version came in 11 disks, a number astonishingly high for the time. Later a CD-ROM version was also released. In 1994, it was released for FM Towns, being the last game of Lucas for that system.
It was a complete success and even today it is included among the best games of all times in different rankings and reviews magazines or sites.
This was the last project of Ron Gilbert in Lucasfilm Games / Lucasarts. After an eight-years period that left a mark in the history of games; he decided it was time to go on by himself and left Lucasarts to open his own company.
THE POST-LUCAS YEARS, HIS COMPANIES AND CURRENT ACTIVITIES
After eight years working in the company of his dreams, which skyrocketed his fame to the level of being included in the Hall Of Fame of the best game designers of all times; he thought the adventure games were dying, something in which he was wrong, as the 90s are considered the golden age of this genre until the 3D technologies allowed FPS and other action games to take over the market during the second half of that decade.
Then in 1992, Ron and his partner from Lucasarts, Shelley Day (producer of Loom, Monkey Islans 2 and Indiana Jones and the Fate of the Atlantis), started Homongous Entertainment; a company focused on making adventure games for children.
Ron wanted to do something different with adventure games. He had seen children playing Monkey Island and he realized there was something they really enjoyed when playing the game. However, they couldn't understand the humor, follow the text as an adult or do certain things that would make them play the game for real. He saw that things like going around, exploring, opening doors, getting new screens showing up turned on their curiosity; moreover the market of adventure games for children (and games in general) was almost a new frontier to be conquered.
Their first game was Putt-Putt Joins the Parade. The first one of a series of adventures for kids. It was originally created by Shelley Day as a series of bedtime stories for her son, Travis.
Putt-Putt Joins the Parade was released in 1992 and it used the SCUMM engine which branched off after Ron left Lucasarts and licensed the engine. From that moment on, the engine followed two separate evolution tracks, one of Lucasarts and of Homongous. The separate version of Ron, reached its eleventh version while the one of Lucas made it to the version 8, used for the third installment of Monkey Island, The Curse of Monkey Island, a project in which Ron did not work.
Putt-Putt, is an adorable purple car, whose dream is to join the Cartown Parade. However to achieve that, he must complete a number of missions triggering the adventure elements of the game. First he must earn money for a carwash, find a balloon, and get a pet who turns out to be name "Pep" the puppy. There are educative parts where the players must deliver groceries, mow lawns and learn things like waiting for the green light before crossing the road. In each location there are lots of objects and items to click on.
After this first game was released other installments of Putt-Putt came out, in many of them Ron worked as a designer, while in later ones he just performed direction o production tasks. The series was classified by Homongous for kids of age 3-8. All of them were available for Windows, DOS (only the first two installments plus two packs) and Macintosh.
Ron Guilbert considers that the most important thing in games for kids are the characters. In Homongous the stories had to be about things children could relate to. According to Ron, when he started making games for children he felt as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders since the target audience was not one with so many expectations. Since he did not have constraints and expectations to live up to, it was easier to try new things with the design, like click points, where the player could click on an item on the screen and have surpricing things happening.
At the beginning the company was too small to get a big repercussion. The first two Putt-Putt games didn't sell that well. Accounting about 15,000 sold copies. But after a few releases they started getting letters from parents and children (back in those days Internet wasn't so popular yet) and the feedback from them was exactly what Ron was expecting to get from these games. So they continued making games and kept growing.
Finally when the press started praising these products, the sales increased. But Putt-Putt was not the only game series they released. The company produced other franchises, including Freddi Fish, Pajama Sam and Spy Fox.
Since 1996 the company started making children focused sports games, including Backyard Baseball, Backyard Football, Backyard Soccer and Backyard Hockey. However the company was mainly focused on children adventure games.
The Woodinville, WA based company of Ron and Shelley Day, kept being independent until 1996, when it was purchased by GT Interactive for 4 million stock shares (about U$S 76 million), later in 1999 GT Interactive was acquired by Infogrames Entertainment. By the end of 20th century, Homongous was the third largest children's software publisher.
By 1995 before being purchased by GT Interactive, Homongous was already a big company with very talented people working on different project without the daily involvement of Ron. So Ron was missing the traditional gaming world and working on big projects, so that's why he started Cavedog, Homongous' sister company. This was a company focused on the hardcore gaming market.
Ron's partner and Homongous co-founder, Shelley Day, knew Chris Taylor, a developer who worked in Electronic Arts and who was leaving the company. He was planning the design of a 3D real-time strategy game so Shelley introduced him to Ron and they talked about their respective ideas. Finally he was hired and they started the first project of the company, Total Anihilation. The project and the company were funded from Homongous, but they did not have enough resources yet to expand the new company.
In 1996 by the moment they were halway through Total Annihilation, they needed to grow faster and fund the new company and the project on progress, that's one of the main reason why they decided to sell the company to GT Interactive, since that company had a great distribution capacity including mass-market channels. So that way they would sell their products better; so it was a big leap they had to make in order to have better success in the market.
Ron was the producer of this project, but since he is a big Command & Conquer fan, he helped a lot with the project working closely with Chris Taylor.
Total Anihilation was released in 1997 being a complete success, being praised by both gamers and the press, as well as receiving several accolades of "Game of the Year." Gamespot qualified this game writing "Cavedog has done a commendable job of taking the basic mechanics of real-time strategy and using them to create something new." Sales were a complete hit, so a number of expansion packs were released, including the 1998 Total Anihilation: The Core Contigency, Total Anihilation: Battle Tactics and later in 1999 Total Anihilation: Kingdoms and in 2000 Total Anihilation: Kingdoms - Iron Plague; the latter two did not fulfill the expectations of both the press and gamers, that being caused probably by the change of theme from science fiction to fantasy.
Also, the creator of the franchise, Chris Taylor, left the company in 1998 before the release of The Core Contigency expansion pack, to start his own development company.
Meanwhile, Ron had his own plans of designing a new game, but despite he is a huge fan of real-time strategy games his real passion are the adventures and any kind of game containing stories.
So he started designing Good and Evil, an anticipated adventure game in which he put a lot of passion but unfortunately never did it to the market. He was very excited working on this game, however during the two years of production before being canceled, he had to spend a lot of time on other projects of Homongous as well as on the expansion pack of Total Anihilation: Kingdoms.
There were other problems too, GT Interactive had lot of economics problems, so that's when Good and Evil, together with other projects, was canceled by Fall of 1999. In 2000 Gilbert and Day tried to get back Homongous buying it with external funds, however due to sudden tech stock chash of that year, the funding was pulled and the co-founders never had the opportunity to get their company back. Finally GT Interactive was purchased by Infogrames. So all the packet of acquired companies was restructured and finally Infogrames shut down Cavedog in 2000 focusing mainly in the children's market and Homongous products.
By that time Ron was disillusioned with the games industry of that time. He thought it had stopped being fun since everything was about people's egos and making money. He was also disappointed with fans who thanks to Internet could contact him with demands, complains and sometimes even swearing at him in e-mails; because they expected from Ron to do exactly what they wanted, as if making games was an easy task that could be done dedicated exclusively to each fan. He also thought there was a big lack of creativity, that games design was taking the backseat to technology; and that the industry was marketing driven instead of creativity, art and entertainment; creating a lack of interest in pushing boundaries and causing a big harm to the creative nature of the games industry.
Finally, both co-founders, Gilbert and Day, left the company in 2001. Ron though it was time to move on and try new directions, as he did back in 1992 when he left Lucasarts.
However there were a few projects out there that showed creativity was not a dead concept in the gaming world; moreover the decline of technology-based FPS reign was being reflected on sales; thus stories and creativity started to be included at least as a small element in almost all games. Games like The Sims, Call of Duty or The Elder Scrolls series, would appear during the first decade of 21st century as a replacement to purely action games like Doom.
Nevertheless, Ron was still cautious, so he would wait a little more for a full return to non-kids games development. Thus in July 2001 Gilbert and Shelley Day started a new company for children-focused games, Hulabee Entertainment.
Since he had not the opportunity to purchase his former company; he wanted to start all over again both technologically and creatively mainly focusing on games with a new cast of characters and stories and with the possibility of being downloaded.
In Hullabee Ron created also a new game engine since SCUMM was already 15 years old and they wanted something more up-to-date with the 21st century technology available, something more flexible for the requirements of the time. Also it was a good chance to start all over again from scratch, especially after a time he had been out of programming.
During all those years he was focused mostly on adventure games for children instead for adults mainly because they don't care that much about technological issues and they care mostly about the story, characters and game play; and that's what Ron loves to do with games, tell stories in a more interactive way.
In Hulabee Ron performed creative director tasks as well as programming. The games released by Hulabee are Moop and Dreadly in the Treasure on Bing Bong Island (2001), Ollo in the Sunny Valley Fair (2002) and Piglet's Big Game (2003); all of them being adventure games for both Windows systems and Macintosh.
In 2005 the company got into trouble when Shelley Day forged bank documents to secure large loans from a bank in Seattle, supposedly to finance some transactions between Hulabee Entertainment and two companies, which were contacted when Day was unable to repay the loans and denied any agreement with Hulabee. About U$S 1.5 million were used for the purchase of a house in Mercer Island, WA. After that, in December 2005 she was sentenced to 30 months in prison and five years of supervised release for her conviction on charges of bank fraud; that marking the end of Hulabee Entertainment too.
After that big drawback Ron started doing consulting works for other companies as well as designing and writing his own projects. In May 2004 he started a site grumpygamer.com, a domain name he owned for years and finally decided to make use of; and thus open a space where he can discuss with fans about the current situation of games industry, current trends and the possibility of a return of adventure games as well as post articles about Maniac Mansion, Monkey Island and other successful games he designed or worked on.
That same year Ron and Clayton Kauzlaric, who worked with him at Cavedog Entertainment, decided to make a series of online comics mocking the game industry clichés. They needed, according to Ron, a ridiculous over-the-top computer game hero for the series who was named Deathspank. Through Deathspank they mocked typical elements of current games like the excessive violence, cut-scenes, the lack of artistic depth among other game topics.
But as the character evolved they started spending gradually more and more time with his stories. They used to talk and write things about Deathspank all the time, until the idea of making a game about their hero came out.
So they starte working in 2005 on a game which would be a mixture of adventures and RPGs. Including all the concepts of a game like Monkey Island as well a role-playing elements. Making this game something different from the rest.
When the project was underway, he started looking for a publisher, something he never did until then, since when he worked in Lucasarts the projects were published by the same company and then in Homongous and Cavedog they were the publishers.
He offered the project to lots of publishers, but he met a lot of resistence because the game he was proposing was, according to them, weird and different; especially the art.
So after a long search he found a Vancouver based company named Hothead Games, which was working on an episodic series of games based on the adventures of Penny Arcade creators Jerry "Tycho" Holkins and Mike "Gabe" Krahulik.
Ron is a big fan of the Penny Arcade webcomic because he always considered their comic funny. So when he first heard they were making a game and were including adventure games elements into it, he contacted them to join the team.
Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness - Episode One was released on May 21, 2008. It is an episodic action-adventure game for Linux, Mac OS X, Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
In 2008 Ron joined Hothead Games as the Creative Director and moved to Vancouver, BC.
Once in Hothead, Ron and the company agreed that they would publish DeathSpank. The game is a blend of adventure game and Diablo-style RPG. It's a humour game respectful to the Gilbert style. At the beginning it was announced as an episodic game but then it was reformatted into a traditional individual release.
The whole production and development of the game required about four years and a half. Despite Ron loves episodic formats after several tests and discussions Ron and the team decided to merge the episodes into one big, non-linear story.
The whole design and story took a long time to take shape; first he had to figure out what his world was like, how the characters acted and how they reacted to the hero and situations. It was a long process. But as he confessed, it is something you think on everywhere, the game was designed not only at work; but the ideas came up in his mind in the car, in the bed, while watching TV, he couldn't just stop thinking on this project.
Just like the game style which is a mixture of adventure and RPG, the art style implemented is a blend of 3D graphics with 2D. While the world where the action happens is 3D, the characters as well as many objects around the virtual world are 2D.
As for the voices' actors, Michael Dobson plays DeathSpank while Brian Dobson plays Eubrick the Retired.
Meanwhile during the production stage of Telltale's Tales of Monkey Island a.k.a. Monkey Island 5, Dave Grossman, who is the project's Director of Design, called Ron on the phone to tell him about the new project, Ron immediately offered his his help as a guide or a brainstorming source. So despite working in Hothead Games, he spent a whole week with the team of the new Monkey Island game cooperating and giving some ideas for the game. After that week, Ron had to return to Hothead and resume his work on Deathspank; however he had the chance to put his two-cents in this new Monkey Island game.
On September 9, 2009 he was chosen to do the keynote speech for the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) 2009. There he talked about his career, a synthetic history of his successful works, he also compared the games industry of today with that of the 80s and 90s. He said "The games industry today is very different--it is an industry. One of the shining lights is the indie game movement." He also pointed out the importance of small, light teams compared to big ones in order to get innovative and original games; something the big companies are not doing since they are afraid to fail; while Indie games have the freedom to be better.
On April 6, 2010; he announced in his blog, his departure from Hothead Games, where he worked for two years developing DeathSpank.
As a believer that games are an art form, he said that he believes that gaming medium is the most important since the film industry first planted its roots over a century ago. During the keynote he emphasized the importance of being creative and innovative within the gaming industry.
As a fan of both adventure games and RPGs, he believes that future is bright and that we have a big chance now to return to the glorious days, when the most important element of games were their art, the story and depth with some creative content to offer.
Maybe with the advent of this new decade in which a return of adventure games can be made out at the distance, the hardcore game industry has the chance to experience the return of one of the most important games developer of all times; Ron Gilbert, an artist that feels his art and knows how to transmit it to other people successfully.
- Professor Emeritus, Physics; President Emeritus - 1968.
- AB 1961, University of California, Berkeley; MA 1964,
- PhD 1968, University of Oregon.
Ron played at the company's softball team.
The house of Maniac Mansion was partly inspired on the Skywalker Ranch.
The library of Maniac Mansion and its spiral staircase, was modeled after the library at Skywalker Ranch.
In Maniac Mansion the car's license plate is THX 1138 in reference to George Lucas' first film. That number is also one of the possible phone numbers for the Meteor Police.
Maniac Mansion was the first game Lucasfilm both developed and published. Until then, the company only developed games and had other companies, like Activision, to publish its products.
A TV series was inspired on Maniac Mansion. It also had the same name of the game.
Since he grew up in a mountain area town, he learned how to ski since he was a child and he used to go to the mountains and practice ski.
During Monkey Island's production he used to play Poker with other members of the team at Dave Grossman's house. Now he plays with other member in Hothead who according to Ron are pretty big poker players. Although he considers himself a really bad poker player he recognizes that he wins a lot because he is very good at bluffing.
"Never own the most expensive house on the block; rather, let that house increase the value of your own."
"If you ever become content, then you aren't pushing hard enough."
"There is a state of mind called suspension of disbelief. When you are watching a movie, or reading a good book, your mind falls into this state. It occurs when you are pulled so completely into the story that you no longer realize you are in a movie theater or sitting at your couch, reading. When the story starts to drag, or the plots begins to fall apart, the suspension of disbelief is lost. You soon start looking around the theater, noticing the people in front of you or the green exit sign. One way I judge a movie is by the number of times I realized I was in a theater."
"It is bad design to put puzzles and situations into a game that require a player to die in order to learn what not to do next time. This is not to say that all death situations should be designed out. Danger is inherent in drama, but danger should be survivable if the player is clever."
"I still believe that the adventure game is the one genera that has the ability to attract a large mass audience. Problem is, no one with any money is willing to invest in one."
"The console makers have a stranglehold over what gets made and marketed for those machines, and they don't want adventure games because they aren't sexy for 18 year old boys or 35 year old boys that think like 18 year old boys."
"There's a lot in common between adventures and RPG with how they tell stories. RPGs are about quests, and adventure games are about going on little problem-solving missions. They are both about collecting items at some level. Adventure games are about stealing them from somebody's house, and RPGs are about killing monsters to get them."
"Artists will create worlds and unleash them to be absorbed and changed and personalized. Games are important personally, as a people, and as a society."
This is a list with games created by Ron Gilbert, produced and/or ported to new systems
- DeathSpank (2010), Hothead Games
- Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipe of Darkness (2008), Hothead Games
- Piglet's Big Game (2003), Disney Interactive, Inc.
- Ollo in the Sunny Valley Fair (2002), Plaid Banana Entertainment
- Moop and Dreadly in the Treasure on Bing Bong Island (2001), Hulabee Entertainment Inc.
- Backyard Baseball 2001 (2000), Humongous Entertainment, Inc.
- Blue's ABC Time Activities (1999), Humongous Entertainment, Inc.
- Total Annihilation: Kingdoms (1999), Cavedog Entertainment
- Freddi Fish 3: The Case of the Stolen Conch Shell (1998), Humongous Entertainment, Inc.
- Pajama Sam: Lost and Found (1998), Humongous Entertainment, Inc.
- Spy Fox in Cheese Chase (1998), Humongous Entertainment, Inc.
- Total Annihilation: The Core Contingency (1998), Cavedog Entertainment
- Pajama Sam's SockWorks (1997), Humongous Entertainment, Inc.
- Putt-Putt Travels Through Time (1997), Humongous Entertainment, Inc.
- Spy Fox in "Dry Cereal" (1997), Humongous Entertainment, Inc.
- Total Annihilation (1997), GT Interactive Software Europe Ltd.
- Freddi Fish 2: The Case of the Haunted School House (1996), Humongous Entertainment, Inc.
- Freddi Fish and Luther's Water Worries (1996), Humongous Entertainment, Inc.
- Freddi Fish & Luther's Maze Madness (1996), Humongous Entertainment, Inc.
- Pajama Sam: No Need to Hide When It's Dark Outside (1996), Humongous Entertainment, Inc.
- Putt-Putt and Pep's Balloon-o-Rama (1996), Humongous Entertainment, Inc.
- Putt-Putt and Pep's Dog on a Stick (1996), Humongous Entertainment, Inc.
- Freddi Fish and the Case of the Missing Kelp Seeds (1995), Humongous Entertainment, Inc.
- Let's Explore The Airport (1995), Humongous Entertainment, Inc., Random House, Inc
- Let's Explore The Farm (1995), Humongous Entertainment, Inc., Random House, Inc
- Let's Explore the Jungle (1995), Humongous Entertainment, Inc., Random House, Inc
- Putt-Putt and Fatty Bear's Activity Pack (1995), Humongous Entertainment, Inc.
- Putt-Putt Saves the Zoo (1995), Humongous Entertainment, Inc.
- Fatty Bear's Birthday Surprise (1993), Humongous Entertainment, Inc.
- Fatty Bear's FunPack (1993), Humongous Entertainment, Inc.
- Putt-Putt Goes to the Moon (1993), Humongous Entertainment, Inc.
- Putt-Putt Joins the Parade (1992), Humongous Entertainment, Inc.
- Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge (1991), Softgold Computerspiele GmbH
- The Secret of Monkey Island (1990), Softgold Computerspiele GmbH
- The Secret of Monkey Island (Demo Version) (1990), Lucasfilm Games LLC
- Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure (1989), Lucasfilm Games LLC
- Pipe Dream (1989), Empire Software, LucasArts
- PHM Pegasus (1988), Electronic Arts, Inc.
- Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders (1988), Lucasfilm Games LLC
- Habitat (1987)
- Maniac Mansion (1987), Lucasfilm Games LLC
- Koronis Rift (1985), Activision, Inc.
- Graphics Basic (1984)
On September 9, 2009 he was chosen to do the Penny Arcade Expo 2009 keynote.
He co-founded three companies Homongous, Cavedog and Hulabee.
His games have storytelling as one of the most fundamental elements of gameplay.