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Joystiq interviews DeathSpank's Ron Gilbert


Described as "the perfect melding of a Monkey Island style adventure game with the wicked RPG gameplay of Diablo," Ron Gilbert's episodic endeavor also formed part of our recent GDC interview with Hothead Games. Though the Orphans of Justice still have quite a bit of growing up to do, we quickly quizzed designer Ron about Deathspank's upcoming lampooning of adventure game heroes, as well as the series' inevitable downward spiral in quality after the, uh, 600,000th episode.

How much can you say about DeathSpank at this point?

Ask and I'll say "no comment" if I can't. [laughs]

You initially said that you had this idea for the game and went from publisher to publisher until you finally got Hothead to say, "Okay, we're gonna make it." How did that come about?

Well, I started working with them on the Penny Arcade stuff for several months or so, and I thought "You know what, I'm gonna run DeathSpank by them." They're doing the Penny Arcade game which is very funny, and the sensibilities of the Penny Arcade game I think match very well with Deathspank. I sent the design off to them and they really liked it, which was really good to me because I think they saw in the humor of the game, you know, what was going to be really interesting about it. That was the thing I was having a lot of trouble with at other publishers. Also, I really wanted to do the game from the very beginning as an episodic game. Larger publishers, EA, Activision, all these people, are just not set up to do episodic games. I was kind of being pushed by a lot of people to turn it into a very large game, which I didn't want to do, and since Hothead is really focused on episodic, I think that just worked out really well.

And from Hothead's perspective, what did you see in this game that made you want to work on it?

Joel DeYoung, producer of Penny Arcade Adventures: Well, it's hilarious. We think it's going to be a funny game and, like Ron said, we are focused on episodic and this is very well aligned with what we're already doing with Penny Arcade. We just think it's going to be a great game.

How does the gameplay compare to that found in Penny Arcade Adventures?

Ron: It's a little bit different in a couple of areas. The RPG that's in Penny Arcade is kind of a turn-based, almost Final Fantasy-like RPG. The RPG in Deathspank is much more like Diablo or Zelda. It's all action-based, and it's about collecting items and growing your character in those ways. The adventure game part of Deathspank is probably a lot more of a hardcore adventure game. People who have played Monkey Island are really going to recognize the intricate puzzle structure that goes into Deathspank.

We've spoken to a lot of adventure game developers here at GDC, and Erik Wolpaw told us that he hates adventure games because the puzzles are so obscure and ridiculous. What do you think about that?

Well, I would say what he really hates is bad adventure games, because I think in good adventure games, the puzzles aren't obscure. In good adventure games, the puzzles really make sense. They dovetail into the story properly, the kind of things where you have to figure it out, but when you do figure it out, you don't feel like the game design just screwed you over. You kinda feel like, "Oh yeah, I should have seen that." That's kind of the right feeling to have when you solve a puzzle. So, if he's hating adventure games, he's hating bad adventure games which, you know, isn't a bad thing.

How much of the quality of an adventure game do you think is entrenched in the puzzle design? Do you need good puzzles to be considered a good adventure game, or could you get away with no real puzzles like in games like Fahrenheit? Those are closer to interactive films, I suppose.

Well, you know, I'm pretty dogmatic about that. I think an adventure game is about the puzzles. I think if you take away the puzzles you don't necessarily have a bad game, but you don't have an adventure game. I think because of my history with that stuff, I have this classic definition of an adventure game and it's about puzzles. It really is.

How far ahead are you planning DeathSpank in terms of number of episodes? Have you figured it out yet?

We're gonna do a million episodes.

A million?

One million.

How many of them will be good?

[laughs] Yeah, we're gonna run out of ideas after 600,000 so...

The shark is jumped at about episode 592,000.

I don't know how many episodes, certainly I think that one of the reasons I wanted to do it episodically is that the character of Deathspank just has so many little stories that need to be told. I didn't want to do a really large game, because I'd really get to tell one story. I'm just going to keep doing those as long as people enjoy them.

When we first saw DeathSpank on Grumpy Gamer, he was part of a satire on gaming. Is the game itself going to take on the industry?

Yeah, I mean the whole character, right from his name, is a parody of adventure game heroes and how ridiculously seriously seem to take them. I definitely want to make a whole lot of fun of all those things in the game.

Any idea when we'll see more or when the game might be done? Will it be done this year?

We haven't announced any release dates yet.

Thank you so much for your time, Ron.

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