Ron Gilbert is a developer who needs no introduction.
So, The Cave, then. Gilbert's latest project fuses traditional adventure gaming with platforming elements, throwing players into a bizarre journey through a loquacious subterranean labyrinth. Dark secrets will be revealed. Brainteasing puzzles will be solved. Carnivals will be set on fire in fits of jealous pique.
We'd urge you to read our hands-on preview for a detailed overview of The Cave, before reading on for our chat with one of adventure gaming's most respected founding fathers. We'll discuss how The Cave came about, how adventure games have been faring this generation and ask the legendary designer what game he's most proud of.
Jonathan Lester (Dealspwn): You've mentioned that the concept for The Cave has been knocking about since since before Maniac Mansion. What's the story there? How has The Cave gone from an idea into a full game?
Ron Gilbert: When I originally had the idea, it was about three characters who went into a sentient talking cave. And it really wasn't an adventure game back then, it was a straight kinda puzzle game – a little more like Limbo was – where you'd be solving these odd logic and environmental puzzles, but there really wasn't a story to it. It was basically just a nugget of an idea.
It kinda evolved over the years, and slowly morphed into an adventure game. When I really started working on it a couple of years ago, that was when I merged it with some of the stuff from Maniac Mansion. You know: choosing three characters out of a group of seven. I've always liked over the years, when I've talked to people who liked Maniac Mansion, they have this set of characters they really like. Their Dream Team for going into the mansion. They always take Bernard, they always take Razor because they just love those characters. To be able to do a game that changes significantly depending on which of the characters you've chosen, was something I really wanted.
Dealspwn: So... why now?
Ron Gilbert: Well, it's an idea that would bubble up every year or so, and I'd think about it for an hour and then I'd go away again. A couple of years ago I was thinking about it again, and it bubbled up in my head, and Tim [Schafer] and I were having lunch and talking about games. I mentioned the idea to him and he really liked it, and wanted to know if I wanted to come to Double Fine and let them make The Cave.
They had the resources and ability to do a new project, so that's really what made it the right time. It was that random opportunity that just showed up.
Dealspwn: Excellent. So, we've got a roster of seven characters from which to choose three for a single playthrough...
Ron Gilbert: Well, four, I guess... if you choose The Twins!
Dealspwn: Ooh, yeah...
Ron Gilbert: Someone called me on that on Twitter when I mentioned that there were seven characters, and said, “whoa! There are two twins! There are eight characters, not seven. You think about that.”
Dealspwn: Well, in your defence, they certainly act as one character - I enjoyed the way they move as a single entity and help each other up ladders. Anyway, though, seven or eight characters. Three or four per playthrough. Will we only be able to experience the whole game by replaying it multiple times?
Ron Gilbert: Yes. For example, in what you played, if you didn't have the Hillbilly you wouldn't be able to swim through the long twisty underwater passage to open it up. You'd never be able to get to the carnival.
Dealspwn: Speaking of characters: The Cave talks...
Ron Gilbert: All caves do.
Ron Gilbert: I don't know what caves you've been visiting.
Dealspwn: Really boring ones by the sound of it. So, yes, the Cave is a character in its own right who talks, but the player characters don't. Why did you make that decision?
Ron Gilbert: The reason the characters don't talk is that I thought it would be a little more mysterious as to who they are, and why they're here, and maybe made their motivations for going into the Cave a little bit more suspect if they weren't just talking all the time.
As you saw in the Carnival, the Cave talks, but all the little characters running the carnival machines talk. You'll come across other people who do talk – but not having the characters talk make it a little more mysterious.
Dealspwn: You've described adventure games as being “the original multiplayer games.” How will The Cave continue that legacy?
Ron Gilbert: Multiplayer has always been a big part of adventure games, at least for me and my friends, because I was never playing them alone. I was always playing them with my friends. And something I've witnessed a lot is that you're in a house, there's usually a predominant gamer and someone else who enjoys it but doesn't do it as much. Often, if they're playing the game, the other person will sit on the couch and watch but don't want to play themselves.
So with The Cave, that second person can pick up another controller. They don't necessarily have to do anything, they can just follow the other person around, but it keeps them engaged in the actual game itself. I think that's a really important thing.
Dealspwn: So is that why the screen doesn't split when the characters separate? I was rather taken aback by that at first, since I couldn't see what my character was doing unless I grabbed camera control away from player one.
Ron Gilbert: Yeah. Our big concern with doing splitscreen is, what would happen is that two players would end up playing two completely different games. You'd spend all of the time on the left side of the screen and your friend, wife or girlfriend on the right side of the screen. By not having splitscreen, we're encouraging you to stay together. We're encouraging you to explore the cave as a very cooperative experience.
It just felt a lot cozier to have everybody together.
Dealspwn: I take it that there won't be online multiplayer, then.
Ron Gilbert: No, no online multiplayer.
Dealspwn: Just out of interest, will you be adding extra functionality to the Wii U version?
Ron Gilbert: We do some stuff with the little touchpad, we use some stuff... I can't talk about exactly what we're going to do with it but we do use it. Yes.
Dealspwn: To be honest, I was actually going to ask why you added the platforming elements to the adventure game formula – I've underlined the question – but it sounds like you originally intended it to be a puzzle-platformer and the adventure gameplay crept in.
Ron Gilbert: Actually, most of the reason that the platforming stuff is there is for the nice moment-to-moment gameplay. It's always giving you something to do while you're playing the game.
Dealspwn: It's interesting that you'd say that, because point & click adventure games are sometimes criticised for not doing that particularly well. Has adventure gaming had a hard time resonating with the modern gaming audience over the last few years?
Ron Gilbert: Gaming is changing. You know, gaming twenty years ago was a very niche thing. Most people back then thought gaming was something that children did. There was a very small audience of people who played games like Maniac Mansion or Monkey Island, we were adults.
But what we've seen over the years is a lot more people gaming. Everybody plays games. I take the train to work, half the people on the train are playing games. Adults on their way to work. Playing games! And what that's done is that it's opened games up to a much wider audience, and I really do believe that's one of the reasons why there's a resurgence in adventure games.
Dealspwn: So you do feel that there has been a resurgence, then? Do you feel that there a period when they declined?
Ron Gilbert: Well, they never really declined. They did this [mimes a horizontal line], while other genres did this [mimes a steep upwards curve]. I think that it felt like they were in decline, but they just weren't growing at the same pace as other games. As we enter this much more mass market, they're now starting to climb up. But you know, I think they need to change to some degree.
Ron Gilbert: Well... look at what Telltale's done with The Walking Dead. That's not your typical adventure game. At its core, it's an adventure game. With the [platforming] stuff in The Cave, it's just addressing modern gamer, and the way that they always need to be engaged in something all of the time.
Dealspwn: Do you think that Kickstarter will help to... well... Kickstart the genre again?
Ron Gilbert: Kickstarter is great! You know, it's really a different way to fund games. I do think that if every game was started on Kickstarter, that would be a bad thing, but now that we have this brand new ways to fund games – the more ways we have to fund games, the more different types of games are going to be made – and I think that's ultimately a good thing.
What Kickstarter does is allow developers to take weird quirky ideas that don't appeal to nostalgia, stuff that publishers don't want to fund, and lets them go right to the fans. I think it's really going to change a lot the types of games being made.
Dealspwn: Looking back at your previous games and collaborations, what are you most proud of and why?
Ron Gilbert: Probably the game that I am most proud of is Maniac Mansion. You know, it was my first game, and there are so many special memories for me making that game, it was just magical.
Monkey Island is certainly a super-important game for me, you know, Monkey Island in a way was a culmination of a whole bunch of experiences and missteps with designing games and locking down the rules of adventure game design which I tried to apply specifically.
But if I had to choose one, it would definitely be Maniac Mansion.
Dealspwn: Many thanks for talking to us, Ron.