Day of the Tentacle: The Oral History

The making of one of the greatest adventure games ever.

Feature by Bob Mackey, .

Cause and Effect

While LucasArts' games always operated on their own off-kilter—but consistent—internal logic, Day of the Tentacle's use of time travel allowed players to also apply their own knowledge of cause-and-effect space-time continuum relationships popularized by movies like Back to the Future. Looking back on their work from 23 years ago, Schafer and Grossman still have their favorite puzzles—and both agree that a specific one didn't come out as well as intended.

Dave Grossman: [DoTT isn't perfect], but I wouldn't change it. I think that I have taken a tack over the years of just, do the best you can in the moment that you're doing it, and then move on to the next thing. I wrote a poetry blog for 19 years. It was actually just a weekly thing. And the whole thing was just an exercise in, have a deadline that's this week, and then work on something, and just stop, and move on to the next thing, because it can be really hard as a writer to know when to stop. It's the same thing with these games. I look at Day of the Tentacle, and I look at that puzzle about washing the car to make it rain, and that's a thing that, at my house growing up, that was a known piece of lore. Everyone understood that whenever you washed your car, it would automatically make it rain.

Tim Schafer: It was one of the [puzzles] that seemed a lot funnier at the time. Because of that, it seemed like, we thought that was a common expression, “How come every time I wash my car it rains?” It's not as bad as the monkey wrench puzzle in Monkey Island 2. I don't know how we expected anyone to get the monkey wrench one. But, the car wash one, as we were playing through it, we noticed a lot more hints. Like, if you try to do stuff with the car, it talks about how dirty it is, and it talks about how, "Oh, I hate to wash it, because every time I wash it it rains." He has a hint in there.

DG: Yeah, [it's the car wash puzzle], I think, from that game, that I feel the worst about. In Monkey 2, it's the one with the monkey wrench, and the lesson there was, in large part, don't ever base a puzzle on a pun, because it won't work when you translate it to other languages. And not even that, it doesn't even work cross-culturally, because if you go to England, they don't call it a monkey wrench at all. It's a very American thing.

TS: You definitely can't help but see all the mistakes when you look back at an old game, but if enough time passes, you also tend to get this acceptance for, it is what it is, and that's what it was, and, I wouldn't want to go back and change much. In the remaster, we're only looking to improve the fidelity of it, we're not looking to change the puzzles. And it's funny, though. With other games, [definitely with] Full Throttle, we're going to have to figure out something to do about that kicking the wall puzzle, and, Grim Fandango had that signpost puzzle. There's always this one puzzle that I know everyone quits on, every adventure game usually, whenever they say they don't finish I can usually guess where they stopped.

DG: I think the moments when that game shines—and I probably would give you a different answer tomorrow—but I like part about painting the stripe on the cat to turn it into a skunk, because that to me is an example of the game making you think like a cartoon character in order to succeed. So, that's a moment where you'd probably, you're feeling the most in tune with the material when you solved that puzzle. Now, the fact that you had to do it in this arbitrary way with the fence, and getting the paint on the fence first, I'm not as happy with that segment of the puzzle. But I like the end goal and idea of the puzzle more than the execution of it.

TS: I love the puzzles where you're changing America, because I feel like one of the things I like about adventure game puzzles is, when you finish it, and you're telling someone else the story of what you did in the game, that should be an entertaining story. And just telling someone that you changed the Constitution of America so that you can solve a puzzle in an adventure game, I feel like that's entertaining of itself, and that's what leads to all those puzzles where you did that being some of my favorites.

DG: I love changing the flag, and I loved changing the Constitution, and there's something about those where, again, not so much the puzzle as the very adventure game-y thing of mucking up something large in order to achieve some small personal goal. Adventure games seem to have a lot of that. You're always stealing things from people and ruining their lives, and you get the cook fired and you do this and you do that, and, "No, I just wanted this little trinket that he had, and ruining his life was the only way to get it."

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