Use Questions on Developer: A Ron Gilbert Retrospective

Monkey Island creator Ron Gilbert reflects on 30 years in the industry, and a new chance to revive his old brand of point-and-click magic.

Retrospective by Bob Mackey, .

Before his professional career started, Ron Gilbert didn't think he'd be making video games for a living. But when an interest in filmmaking transitioned into a love of programming, a plucky upstart developer named Lucasfilm Games would soon enter Gilbert's life and dramatically change his trajectory.

That was 30 years ago, and, in the passing decades, Gilbert's more than made a name for himself in the video game industry. While he started at Lucasfilm Games as a humble programmer of Commodore 64 ports, it would only be a few years before Gilbert spearheaded some of the most beloved entries in the point-and-click adventure game genre: Maniac Mansion and The Secret of Monkey Island. And when his Lucas-branded employer found itself in what many would call its Golden Age of Adventure Games, Gilbert made a bold move by leaving to form Humongous Entertainment, a brand that undoubtedly holds a lot of nostalgia for people currently hovering around their mid-20s. Just as Guybrush Threepwood and Purple Tentacle evoke certain memories to people of my generation, characters like Putt-Putt, Pajama Sam, and Freddi Fish are just as special to those a little bit younger.

Ron Gilbert. (Image courtesy of Adventure Gamers.)

After more than a decade of making games for the younger set, Gilbert returned to the sphere of gaming we're more familiar with, consulting on Penny-Arcade Adventures and Tales of Monkey Island, and designing the action-RPG series, DeathSpank. But it's only been in recent years that Gilbert's returned to his true calling: adventure games. 2013 saw The Cave, a Double Fine-published project that adapts classic adventure game mechanics into something more akin to a side-scroller. And if The Cave represented a step towards Gilbert's reunion with adventure games, his upcoming project, Thimbleweed Park, amounts to a zero-gravity leap. Even in its early stages, this upcoming, crowdfunded adventure game—which also features the work of Maniac Mansion artist and collaborator Gary Winnick—is already living up to the promise posted on its Kickstarter page: "It’s like opening a dusty old desk drawer and finding an undiscovered LucasArts adventure game you’ve never played before."

Though Gilbert is currently knee-deep in development, he recently set aside some time to speak with me for the purpose of a full retrospective on his long career. And if you notice that we steer slightly away from his most famous creations, Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island, there's a good reason for that. Since he's already discussed these subjects at great length publicly—including with me—I decided to instead concentrate on some of the lesser-explored avenues of his time within the games industry. What follows is a discussion that spans decades of gaming history—one that may reveal things you never knew about this storied creator.

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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #1 VotesForCows 3 years ago
    What a wonderful article title! I'm saving this one to read at work tomorrow, but just thought I'd chime in on the title. :)
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  • Avatar for jmroo #2 jmroo 3 years ago
    HOLY - Seven Pages!? Better brew some more coffee for this!
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  • Avatar for pjft #3 pjft 3 years ago
    Tremendous work, Bob and team. I was just catching up today on my Retronauts backlog and was listening to your recent episode with Ron Gilbert (and ended up changing my phone's ringtone to a Secret of Monkey Island one...), so this couldn't have come at a better time.

    Thanks for putting these long-form interviews and deep dives out - both you and Jeremy have done some great ones recently.
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  • Avatar for GigaPanda108 #4 GigaPanda108 3 years ago
    Hmm... interesting. Yes. I like it! It's simply perfect! Not only is it well thought out, but it's also VERY well put together. As pjft might say, tremendous work. Keep it up!
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  • Avatar for DiscordInc #5 DiscordInc 3 years ago
    Finally had a chance to read the whole interview and it was worth the time. I really enjoyed listening to Ron on the Monkey Island episode of Retronauts and it was great to hear more stores from him. I may need to break down and preorder Thimbleweed Park.
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