Ron Gilbert on Return to Monkey Island: “We’re just as excited as Guybrush to be back in this world”

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Return to Monkey Island, a new point-and-click adventure from Terrible Toybox, is coming soon, and the team includes experienced developers such as Ron Gilbert, Dave Grossman and Rex Crowle. During an interview, PCGH was able to ask a few questions about the technology. Tip: Our colleagues from PC Games have very own questions about the new Monkey Island provided, which we recommend at this point.

PCGH: Can you tell us how developing an adventure game is different now compared to the 90’s?

Steve Grossman: There is more going on, there are many more individual parts. In the ’90s it was like doing a little play in a shoebox. There were a lot of pixels on the screen – you could do a lot with that. But: The music had to come from small PC speakers (Note: Grossman imitates sounds from the PC speakers), which was difficult to manage. And now, technologically speaking, you just have a lot more ways to play with it. Because there are so many parts, we have to be much more organized about things and the order is also important. How do we avoid taking a path that leads us to a dead end? You want to do it as efficiently as possible.

The other thing that’s different: We’re scattered all over the world. The team works completely remotely. So we have to work very hard to make communication the way it naturally happens when you’re in an office together. We plan many things, not just business meetings, but also random interactions at the water cooler. For example, I schedule half an hour with Rex just to chat.

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PCGH: For Return to Monkey Island are you still using your own engine?

Ron Gilbert: Yes, it’s basically the same engine we used for Thimbleweed Park. But we modernized the graphics to get very high resolution and other things. But it’s essentially the same engine. And even that engine is very much based on the philosophy of the SCUMM engine: how to program it and how to build the game in it. It’s just something I’m really comfortable with, and so we’ve evolved the engine for Return to Monkey Island.

PCGH: Is it perhaps more difficult to convey a certain art style because modern graphics are becoming more complex and there are a multitude of options and opinions about them? Can nostalgia sometimes be an obstacle?

Rex Crowle: We are in the era of gaming where true realism is achieved. You see things like Unreal Engine 5 just looking more real than real. You can try to achieve that, but that’s not suitable for this game. It’s about the world, the interesting silhouettes of the characters, and each setting of a point-and-click adventure is like a prize. You have solved the puzzle and now get a new room. It’s really fun as an artist to fit everything into this space because you basically only have one camera. A lot of that depends on the art style. What weird things can we do with perspective to make players feel like the room is much bigger than their screen? Also, it needs to work well on the Nintendo Switch, a small-screen handheld. In some ways it must be quite daring. But when you connect it to TV or play it on PC you have to make sure there is a lot of detail in the textures so it doesn’t look like a cardboard world.

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PCGH: Your first Monkey Island game dates back to the early 90’s. Please describe from a developer’s point of view how it feels to come back after such a long time.

Ron Gilbert: I consider it great. I have really enjoyed returning to Monkey Island for the past two years. When we came up with the name, it worked on many levels. Because Guybrush is returning to Monkey Island, but perhaps more importantly, we’re returning to Monkey Island. We are just as excited to be back in this world as Guybrush is.