Day of the Tentacle: The Oral History

Day of the Tentacle: The Oral History

The making of one of the greatest adventure games ever.

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Renovating the Mansion

Like Grim Fandango Remastered before it, Day of the Tentacle Remastered presents some hefty challenges to the team at Double Fine. Upgrading the intricately detailed pixel art didn't come as simple as slapping a filter over the visuals and calling it a day; special attention has been paid to each and every frame of animation with oversight by the original artists. For those looking to play a less-dated-looking version of DoTT, nearly every element of the game—outside of the overall design—has been retouched in a way that doesn't conflict with the spirit of the 1993 original. Of course, if you want to play Day of the Tentacle in all of its pixellated, early-'90s glory, Double Fine has also left those decades-old assets intact for their Remastered version.

Tim Schafer: It was really really different [than remastering Grim Fandango]. Grim was such a weird mix of trying to get in there and change things without really re-opening the engine and remaking the old stuff, but making things like dynamic lighting work on the characters. It was much more, I feel, a technical magic show. The things that they did with that game were kind of magic, and I think Day of the Tentacle was a little bit more of a model of what it should be like. We had the special editions of Monkey Island that came out, and, Oliver, our lead programmer, he had worked on those, so, he had worked on that system to crossfade between [the two different visual styles]. We had some idea of what it should look like because of that, what a remastered 2D game should look like. So, it was more of a challenge of just finding all the old 2D assets and just a lot of painting. Just a lot of painting all those frames. I don't know if you're going to talk to Matt Hanson, because he was the producer on the remaster, but he can tell you how many frames. A ton of animation.

Dave Grossman: I actually did the design for the achievements. They said, “Hey, we need somebody to do this, Dave, will you do it?” So, that was an excuse to kind of play through the whole thing again.

TS: I did do some early passes on it when it was reimagined, and we didn't like it. It was too rendered, too fancy. I felt what we wanted to do was just clean up the older art, like, take the jaggies off of it, but keep the bold broad strokes of color and not add a lot of fancy rendering to it. So, that's what we did, and I think it showed the art team a lot of restraint that they didn't repaint it all in the way that a modern piece of artwork would be painted. I think they kept it to those hard color barriers, but just smooth edges.

[Day of the Tentacle: Remastered is] the original engine opened up and new things added. A lot of the work went into the new interface... a streamlined, modern one that looks a little bit more like Broken Age, with a verb dial, like you might expect from some of the later Lucas games, mixed in with the interface, the inventory screen from Broken Age. But, you can also switch it back to be exactly like the old one. And these guys went the extra mile to do all combinations of those, so you can actually take the new art, but still have the old interface, so you can have the verbs at the bottom of the screen and the point and click, with the new art. And then, the crazy one is, you can do the old art with the new interface, so there's an 8-bit version of the verb dial. So, the new streamlined interface, but with the pixel art. So, you can configure that any way you want.

Matt Hansen: So, the game uses the iMUSE system, which is a dynamic music system that changes based on game events. So, we wanted to retain that, so, part of that process was creating a version of the music that sounds just like it did back in the day when you played it on your SoundBlaster 16. Also, we wanted to do a remastered version that would take some modern technology and make it sound really nice and clean. So, we went and we were able to, through some different programs and emulation, create a MIDI patch that sounds just like the original SoundBlaster 16 version, so we recorded out a bunch of PCM streams that we play dynamically through Fmod, based on the iMUSE events that the game fires off. So, it sounds just like it did back in 1993, which is awesome.

And you can seamlessly switch between that old music and the new remastered music, which, we've now taken high quality samples like you would for modern music composition, and used the old MIDI tracking to play back these new samples. So, it sounds like, this whole new revoiced version of the music.

TS: At the time, [LucasArts] had an archive room. They had two full-time archivists, even in the floppy days. And there was a room full of drawers with floppy discs where the game wrapped, and even milestones in between, before the end, you would take it down to Wendy and—they're credited as being the "burning goddesses" in the credits—because they burned all the CDs. It was the burning room. They sat there burning CDs all day long. But, in the old days, there was a whole room, and two full-time positions of archiving stuff.

I feel like there was the feeling at LucasArts, because Lucas himself had that archive, the barn, and that's where all the LucasArts stuff is now, is in the barn at the ranch. So, there was that feeling of, take care of the artifacts of the thing that you're making, because you'll want them someday.

Back to Going Back to the Mansion

TS: We always had ideas for another [Maniac Mansion] game, me and Dave both had ideas, but I think those characters seemed pretty happy where they were at the end of this story, and I don't feel like there's other stories to tell.

DG: I think the experience was remarkably formative for me as a game developer. Certainly, by the time we did that project, I understood some things about game design and story. I'm always learning new stuff about that, I still am. That was the first experience with trying to lead a team and trying to bring something to life from the top. So, yeah, I think that was a super important experience for me as a designer was, only my third game and the first one I was more or less in charge of. And, just in terms of the final product, I still think it's one of the best things I've ever done. It holds together really well and does what it set out to do very effectively, for all of its cracks and crannies, I think it's something that came out really well.

TS: It's such a special thing about [the original] Maniac Mansion, one of the things I like about it, is that it's this little tight compact little Rubik's Cube, of a three by three little environment that you just twist and go around in different directions and angles and see all the different sides of it. But definitely, I think that led to criticism of the game when it came out as being too short. And I think, because it's not, I don't think, shorter than lots of the adventure games, but it definitely feels like, it feels shorter, because it's in one location. The main reward when you're playing an adventure game is a new piece of background art. You solve a puzzle and you get into a new room, and, I think people, whether they realize that or not, are basing their progress in the game and their excitement on, how long ago was it the last time I walked into a new room.

And, with Day of the Tentacle, you don't do that, but there's so much more going on, with the puzzles and the characters and stuff, it still, it doesn't really need that, but some people might want to go on these big epics. But I think that's what's special about DoTT, that it's not this big epic journey across the land. It's tight, it's this one focused little point.

Special thanks to Liz Lerner for the interview transcriptions. Original Day of the Tentacle background images courtesy of neurotech's Imgur account. All other assets courtesy of Double Fine Productions.

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