When I heard that none other than Ron Gilbert was seeking funding for an all-new point-and-click adventure in the classic ’80s pixel style, I tried to not too get too excited. We’veall been burned by Kickstarter before. And yes, I'm looking at you Black Glove: playing with our emotions like that just isn’t fair. But thankfully this story has far more of a Disney ending, and Thimbleweed Park almost doubled its target back in December, not only greenlighting the game itself but also unlocking the magical stretch goals of full voice acting and mobile versions.
What we’ll all be left with is the tale of two detectives investigating a dead body that has been discovered just outside the titular location. With a healthy dose of the David Lynchs, Thimbleweed Park is a dark and twisted location. Once a busy town full of successful businesses and packed with visitors, it’s now a grim ruin of its former self. “It’s a town that makes you itch and your skin crawl. It’s a place no-one ever looks for, but everyone seems to find,” claim the makers. All captured in the glorious pixel style of our youth, it’s already looking like an exciting melting pot of references.
“The same way Maniac Mansion is a parody of B horror movies, Thimbleweed is a parody of Twin Peaks, The X-Files and True Detective with a bit of Stephen King tossed in as well,” art director Gary Winnick tells us. “In wanting to do a classic point-'n'-click game, it takes us back to our roots. We think there’s a charm and innocence to that graphic style. It was like playing a game with animated icons where the player immediately understands the visual shorthand and is able to fill in all the details from their own imagination. As far as it relates to development, it means I’m also capable of doing most of the graphics myself without requiring the associated overhead and management requirements of a large art department.”
Not only having to take on the roles of the Mulder and Scully-alikes, you can switch between five playable characters as you explore multiple locations. These unfortunate souls include the cursed Ransome the Clown, who lives on an abandoned circus ground and can never take his make up off – *shiver* – and Franklin, a dead man who has just woken up on the 13th floor of a once opulent hotel. The team promise not only intriguing characters and a rollicking story, but a challenging level of puzzling too, with the old-school verb interface reinstated firmly at the bottom of the screen. “Classic adventure games were really about the puzzles,” says writer and designer Ron Gilbert. “We want to get back to that. Puzzles drive everything and it seems that modern adventure games tend to get too lost in story, and puzzles are just something tacked onto that. Also verbs. I loved the verb interface and I do think something was lost when adventure games got rid of them.”
Promising a good old fashioned challenge synonymous with the genre itself, Thimbleweed Park has easy and hard modes for all levels of gamers. When asked if he thinks games have got easier since he started developing, Gilbert is typically honest. “Yes, I think they have. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, there are very different kinds of people playing games these days and they are a lot more ‘casual’,” he says. “But there are also people that like hard games, especially adventure games, and for us the difficulty is part of making a classic adventure game.”
The team wants the game to be like an undiscovered LucasArts project that you could just have found in a drawer and started playing, but does our world of constant internet news mean that we can ever truly experience surprises like in the ’80s? “That’s a good question,” Gilbert ponders. “Given that the game was funded on Kickstarter, there is this desire to really show people what our development process is like, but that probably involves a lot of spoilers. I’m not sure how we’re going to handle that yet.”
Gilbert and Winnick are making sure that this is an evolution, learning from their past games such as Maniac Mansion and The Cave in terms of storytelling, but with its feet firmly set in the style of 1980s adventures. “There is some strong nostalgia from the LucasArts adventure game era. It was a simpler time and players are responding to that,” says Gilbert of Thimbleweed Park’s Kickstarter success. “It churns up a lot of feelings in us as well. I don’t know if I can quantify what the charm of those games is, but we’re going to design it like we would have back in 1987 and we’ll see.”