The Caves Ron Gilbert: The big GamesRadar interview

GR: So how much extra replay value have you got stacked in there, with all the unique sections only accessible by certain characters?

RG: So each character has their own quite large area of the cave, so if you play it again there are going to be three completely new areas you’d never seen before, and if you play it again there are going to be others. And that was part of the design goal we had for it, that you’d play it once and get glimpses into these areas that you couldn’t get into, and maybe that was a very enticing thing.

GR: One thing that hit me in the face as soon as I loaded the game and The Cave himself started his intro speech was that it immediately felt like one of your games in terms of the dialogue. There’s always that effortlessly conversational vibe to the sort of jokes you write. Is writing that stuff as easy-going as it feels when you hear it, or do you secretly spend hours agonising over it?

RG: You know I spend days agonising over it. [laughs] The Cave himself, he was particularly hard to write for. I rewrote a lot of the dialogue in the game, because originally The Cave just talked to himself. He didn’t talk to the player. It was just this internal monologue he had, and that wasn’t working. I felt when we got feedback from other people that when he was just talking to himself the player didn’t necessarily feel as connected to the game as they really should, so I went through and I rewrote a bunch of that dialogue so he now addresses the player.

And that made the writing a lot easier, because as a writer I now had something to latch onto, for The Cave to be talking about. And originally The Cave talked a lot more than he does in the game, and the feedback we got from people was “We really want The Cave to be quiet, because we’re trying to solve these adventure game puzzles and The Cave is sitting there talking all the time." So I went through and did a pass of cutting a lot of the extraneous stuff, because people were enjoying those quiet moments of silence in the game and I wanted to make sure there were enough of those.

GR: Having the selection of characters and the whole switching mechanic at first felt like a hark back to the days of Maniac Mansion and Day of the Tentacle, but then I found out that you’d had this idea back then…

RG: Yeah, it’s probably been thirty years. It was really before Maniac Mansion that I had this idea. Back then the original idea was that there were only three characters. You weren’t choosing from seven. And also they were these three kind of Indiana Jones rip-off characters; they weren’t this eclectic group. That’s something that I added very recently.

GR: So why did it take so long, and how much did it change along the way?

RG: You know it took a while just because I just have a lot of weird ideas in my head. I think about them, and they go away, and I think about them, and they go away, and so this was just one of those ideas that I just kept thinking about over time. And then a couple of years ago I was just hanging out with my friend Tim Schafer and we were just talking about games like we always do, and I mentioned this idea because it had come into my head recently. He thought it was just a really great idea and said “Well why don’t you come to Double-Fine and let us make that game?”

So the reason it’s been made was really just that it was this opportunity to work with an amazingly talented group of people at Double-Fine.

GR: How close is it now to what you originally planned? Has it evolved massively since then?

RG: It’s quite a bit different in some ways and very similar in others. It’s much more of an adventure game today than it was back then, because I had the idea before I did Maniac Mansion, which was the first adventure game I designed. Originally I hadn’t really thought of it as an adventure game per se, it was really more of a puzzle game. But there still were the three characters, there still was the sentient talking cave. That was all a part of the original idea, so that stuff stayed. But having you choose from seven characters, that was something that I added very recently.

And a lot of that came from always wanting to go back and revisit what Gary [Winnick, co-designer of Maniac Mansion] and I had done with the original Maniac Mansion with those seven characters, which I always thought was a lot of fun. And I haven’t seen anyone do anything like that, especially in an adventure game. So it just felt like I wanted to revisit that a little bit.

GR: If you were going to make a new Maniac Mansion now would you be going more in this direction, or is there something else you’d like to do with it?

RG: If I was going to do another Maniac Mansion now – and I kind of feel this way both about Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island - if I was ever going to make a new version of either of those games I would really want to do it as classic point-and-click. Because I think those games, they just want that. Both of those games are so steeped in the history of point-and-click adventures…

GR: They defined so much of it themselves that it’s hard to pull them away from it.

RG: Yeah, and so I think if I were ever to go back and revisit those games I would just do them as classic point-and-click adventure games, because they just need to be done that way.

GR: I know you’ve mentioned thinking about badgering Disney to get another Monkey Island on the go. It sounds like you’ve got specific ideas in mind. How different would what you want to do be from what Telltale did a couple of years ago?

RG: Well you know when I did the first two games I always planned that there would be a third game. It was always a trilogy in my mind. So if I was going to do another Monkey Island I would really want to go back and that third story, that actual story the way it was supposed to be done.

You know that poses a lot of complications, because the universe has moved on since the second Monkey Island game. So I would need to try to figure out “What do I do about the whole history that’s happened since the second game?” And the other thing is that I’ve just changed as a person. You know I’m not the same person as I was back then, so I really couldn’t just absolutely faithfully produce that third game because I would just do it differently because I’m different now. But if I ever got a chance to do a third one I would definitely kind of go back in time and make it that third Monkey Island game.

David Houghton
Long-time GR+ writer Dave has been gaming with immense dedication ever since he failed dismally at some '80s arcade racer on a childhood day at the seaside (due to being too small to reach the controls without help). These days he's an enigmatic blend of beard-stroking narrative discussion and hard-hitting Psycho Crushers.