Inside the mind of Ron Gilbert

Jordan Mallory
J. Mallory|06.18.12

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Inside the mind of Ron Gilbert
Sega's booth was as loud and vibrant as the rest at E3 2012, humming with the frantic energy of a beehive that had just been kicked. Lacking a quiet corner, it was in the middle of Sega's bustling booth that I struck up an impromptu conversation with legendary adventure game designer Ron Gilbert.

I told the Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion designer that I wanted to get inside his head, to find out where he gleans his inspiration from when starting new projects.

"You don't want to be in this head," Gilbert promised.%Gallery-156063%The prolific designer's creative process starts small, nursing new ideas for as little as half an hour before abandoning them to the ether. The Cave, however, kept cropping up while Gilbert worked on various other projects over the course of his career. "The Cave is an idea that I had 25 years ago, and I did a quick little design for it, and then I just kind of forgot about it, and every couple of years it showed back up again."

Once an idea has taken hold, inspiration can be jumpstarted by other forms of media, namely music and film. "I often listen to a lot of music when I'm trying to be creative and design; music distracts my brain a lot. I also watch a lot of movies when I'm starting to flesh something out, to get ideas flowing.

"When I first started doing The Cave, I definitely wanted to watch some cave-based movies," Gilbert said, naming films like The Descent and Journey to the Center of the Earth. "Little ideas show up here and there, and then starting to incorporate them into what the narrative of the game is."

Inside the mind of Ron Gilbert
For Gilbert, a game's narrative and the crafted world are essential elements used to inform puzzle design. "It kinda works like this: I usually start with the world. What is the environment? In Monkey Island, I loved the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, so for me that game was about 'Well, I want to live in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.' So I start with that environment, and then you start to start with character, and then Guybrush came about as somebody that could now live in that world.

"And with The Cave, you start with the world, which is this weird sentient talking cave, and then you start to create the characters; the twins, the hillbilly, the scientist. And then, as that goes on then I start in with puzzles. Once I know the world, and I know something about the characters, then I have this basic narrative framework. And, the thing about adventure games is, puzzles are the thing that moves the narrative forward. So, once I have that basic narrative, then I start building these puzzles on top of that that'll push the narrative through its different steps."

Even though there's not much genre continuity in Double Fine's varied history, people have expectations when playing a new game from the company – a fact Gilbert is aware of, if not overly concerned about.

"I think for Double Fine, peoples' expectations for Double Fine is that it'll be something that's wildly creative, that it's got really interesting characters, that's very funny. All of those things naturally fit with the types of things I want to do anyway, so it's not really having to force anything into the Double Fine mold. But, there's a lot of expectations."

Inside the mind of Ron Gilbert
There are higher expectations than those held by Double Fine fanatics that Gilbert must keep in mind; preconceived notions that reach into the nebulous, cerebral underbelly of genre classification that lies beyond the heart of the die-hard adventure game fan.

"People have a lot of expectations for what an adventure game is. Some people don't consider it an adventure game if it's not point and click, or it's not an adventure game because you're direct controlling the characters in The Cave. But the thing is, when I did Maniac Mansion, there were people who did not think Maniac Mansion was an adventure game because it was not a text adventure, it didn't have static pictures, the characters actually walked around the screen. 'That was not an adventure game!'

"You weren't typing in a parser because you were pointing at the verbs. So, people did not think Maniac Mansion was an adventure game, but I think adventure gamers today look back on Maniac Mansion as the seminal adventure game, so I think adventure games just evolve and they change, and I think you just need to do what's right for them."
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