Ron Gilbert On Being A PC Gamer, What’s Next

By Nathan Grayson on December 4th, 2012 at 9:00 pm.

The Cave is right around the corner. Well, not literally – unless you live inside a rocky outcropping in the frigid wildness or are being stalked by some kind of sentient, not-completely-immobile cave. But Ron Gilbert’s Cave is rapidly nearing its January 2013 release date, and naturally, that raises questions. Fortunately, I was standing right next to the very same Ron Gilbert when those questions came up, so I decided to ask him. Find out after the break why – in spite of its platform-y looks – The Cave’s a PC game at heart and how that ties into Gilbert’s plans for whatever he ends up making next.

“I’m primarily a PC gamer,” Gilbert replied when I asked him about The Cave’s PC functionality. “I boot up my Xbox once a month. Mostly I play PC games.”

“To me, making sure that PC game felt really good and natural to play with the mouse – and not just, like, a bad console port to PC – was personally very, very important. So yeah, I want to do as much as humanly possible with the mouse and all that. On the PC version, you’ll just be able to click with your mouse. Characters will walk to wherever you click. Switching characters with the keyboard by just hitting the number keys [is also an option]. So there’s some streamlining like that that happens with the PC version.”

Which is tremendously good news, because slippery, over-sensitive movement controls were one of the biggest downsides of the (sadly console-only) build I got to go hands-on with. That said, even though I’m not a fan of the near-final version’s execution on that front, I can’t entirely fault Gilbert’s rationale for giving his old-school adventure sensibilities a modern platformer facelift. Because that’s exactly what it is: a facelift. In truth, the similarities are only skin-deep.

“I don’t particularly enjoy platformers,” he admitted. “I’m not a platformer player. I get really frustrated when I’m missing jumps and I just want to go somewhere. I know what I want to do, [but I can’t do it]. Adding that thin layer of platforming was about making that movement more fun. Giving the players something to do while they’re thinking around things and solving puzzles. They can still be jumping around the screen or swinging from ropes. But I didn’t want it to become this full-blown puzzle platformer. I didn’t want that to distract from it being an adventure game and what adventure games are all about.”

“Part of it was just kind of looking at where people are playing games. Consoles are still really popular, so part of it was just kind of being able to address that. I don’t play a lot of console games, but I do find them very fascinating in a way. There’s more of a direct connection between the character and the player, because you’ve got that controller. That stuff’s always been interesting to me, and I wanted to kind of play with that.”

Gilbert’s heart, though, remains in our hallowed hardware forest of towering cases, motherboards, and supercooled graphics cards, and developing one game with consoles at the forefront certainly hasn’t caused him to lose sight of that.

“Yeah, absolutely,” he replied when I asked if his next project will be more PC-centric. “Absolutely.”

“I definitely am [happy to see PC back in the limelight],” he added. “It’s where I play a lot of my games. And, you know, console games are kind of in a downfall because we don’t have anything new from the major hardware manufacturers… well, OK, maybe Nintendo. But not Sony or Microsoft yet.”

The tricky part, though, is figuring out what exactly that next something will be. And unfortunately, adventure game design isn’t like playing an adventure game. You can’t just haphazardly throw items together until something suddenly (and, let’s face it, oftentimes bafflingly) works. Gilbert, though, takes that measured, methodical development approach to nearly legendary levels. He’s fairly notorious for obsessive tweaks and puzzle overhauls mid-development, so unsurprisingly, his new project brainstorm sessions have been known last longer than some games’ entire development cycles.

“It’s been, I think, 25 years since I first thought of the idea for The Cave. So that germinated for quite a while. I tend to think a lot about that stuff,” he explained. “I tend to work on games, and by the time I get to the end of them, I’m so burnt out that I need, like, a month to just kind of let my mind go.”

“Even Monkey Island, I thought about that game and did work on it for almost two years before it ever went into production. Just kind of mulling stuff through my head about different ideas, who Guybrush was, the pirate theme – that just sat with me. So yeah, I tend to let ideas sit with me until something just pops up or something makes it right.”

Most recently, that something was a talking cave. Meaning that both the effectiveness of his method and its latest, hopefully greatest result speak for themselves. So take your time, Ron. Take your time. (But maybe not another quarter-century.)

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42 Comments »

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  1. aliksy says:

    “There’s more of a direct connection between the character and the player, because you’ve got that controller. ” – What madness is that? I guess it’s subjective, because playing with a controller usually feels like I’ve been crippled in some subtle but vital way.

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      Arathain says:

      I seem to be in the minority in this, but I feel a lot more connected to a character’s movement using a controller than mouse and keyboard for an FPS. The mouse undoubtedly is more fluid and responsive, but I always feel essentially weightless. With a controller I have more of a sense of having to actually move something that has weight, when I try to aim at something. I like the analogue stick for moving as well. The variable speed thing is far more natural.

      It’s about design, though. Playing a game on controller that was designed for a mouse is not so great.

      • krisanto says:

        I wish someone would invent a mouse with haptic feedback and “active brake pads” which applies friction to a mouse ball (used only for this purpose and not for cursor movement) depending on the game event. Now, go and make one Razer!

        • Sobriquet says:

          Around the turn of the century, there were several. Immersion (http://www.immersion.com/) had libraries for haptic mice, and there were various Logitech passive (variable-speed vibrating which gave the impression of increasing frequency by making it less comfortable), and active (attached to a base so it can fight back, do a Google for “Logitech WingMan Force Feedback mouse”).

          Due to the lack of app support, you’re only going to get the fun from coding up something yourself (as I did for my 4th year project).

          • karengossage6 says:

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          • kansdmwb says:

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        darkChozo says:

        I feel like it all depends on the context. Controller movement is weight compared to mouse and keyboard; there’s more resistance in moving the stick, and it’s first order motion most of the time so it’s not 1 to 1 with whatever you’re controlling. That makes it work better with weighty, slow motion, like whole body movement, just because it feels more like you’re controlling a real body. Mouse movement is much lighter and is 1 to 1, so it works better for precise movements and looking around, just because those feel automatic and quick by nature. Digital input is somewhat in between; it’s still technically first-order but only kind of, but lacks the weight of an analog stick. That makes it good for movement, particularly when it needs to be very quick and precise movement, but isn’t quite as impactful, and also means that you lose higher level analog control.

        Of course, that’s all just my theory. A lot of the time, whatever you’re used to feels best; I’m a PC gamer primarily but do dabble a bit on consoles, and I used to be a full time console gamer, so I switch based on whatever feels better (usually M&K for first person anything, more negotiable otherwise).

    • webwielder says:

      Gamepads are devices that have been designed to be the instrument by which one controls a video game, with action, platforming, fighting, and racing games being the most common use cases. Keyboards and mice are devices that have been designed to be the instruments by which one types text and interacts with a graphical user interface on a computer.

    • Yosharian says:

      If you’ve grown up on consoles (Super Nintendo, etc) using a controller feels natural. But when it comes to certain game types (FPS, RTS) the keyboard + mouse is king, that’s for sure.

      • Ruffian says:

        ^ this is pretty much where I’m at personally in regards to controls. Fps and rts i use the M+KB and most third person, platformers, and console ports i use my xbox 360 controller.

      • Xzi says:

        I grew up with both. I still own both a gaming PC and a current gen console. But the PC is the only one of the two that continues to get use primarily for gaming. The control scheme comes into play, certainly, but there’s nothing that feels more unnatural or immersion-breaking than playing a game with low framerates or lower resolution textures than what the game as it was designed is capable of. Certain genres do feel better when played with a controller, but that’s why you plug one into your PC and get the best of both worlds in those situations.

        For competitive online gaming of any genre, nothing even comes close. Playing with a keyboard and mouse is not just suggested in those situations, it’s REQUIRED. And for good reason.

    • Droniac says:

      There’s a decent argument to be made for his case. When it comes to movement in many cases a gamepad responds more ‘fluidly’ than a keyboard, plus in certain genres (especially platformers) a gamepad is a much more accurate control mechanism. So in that regard, a gamepad would give you a more direct connection with the character in a semi-platform game like The Cave, even if it doesn’t provide you ideal control over other elements like the game’s interface.

      As such I think he intended his comment to be with regard to this specific game.

      Now when you extend his comment to all games and genres, it’s an absolutely ludicrous statement. Almost every genre knows a control method that’s utterly superior to the gamepad in terms of providing a direct and natural connection to the character. And limiting yourself to just a gamepad, or even a gamepad and keyboard & mouse, is robbing yourself of experiencing some excellent games in the best way possible.

      They’re both fine input devices if you don’t know that any alternatives exist. But for a Flight-sim or Mech game you need a joystick, a Racing game demands a driving wheel, and a Fighting game requires a fight-stick. The gamepad has its Platformers, Action games, and Sports games. And the keyboard & mouse has its FPS, RTS, TBS, RPG, Adventure, and Simulation games. Those are the best possible input devices for each specific genre, in almost every case. And nothing else comes even remotely close to those input devices in those specific genres.

      • Mo6eB says:

        a gamepad is a much more accurate control mechanism
        Funny you should mention that. Personally, I find gamepads frustrating. My mind is used to dealing with 4 or 8 directions each on its own finger (meaning the wasd standard). When I pick up a gamepad I try to push the stick in one of my 8 comfortable directions, but I lack the coordination to do that reliably, so I always push it with some degree of error, which translates to a feeling of playing a very drunk character. Additionally, all the buttons are on my thumbs. I’m not really used to pushing things with my thumbs.

    • Prime says:

      My girlfriend and I had a fun conversation about this the other day. She played Portal for the first time (I know, right?) and stuck to her trusty gamepad to do it (she owns an Xbox 360), which my PC-loving mind flat out insisted could not be done in Portal. But she did it, and far more fluidly in some of the trickier momentum puzzles towards the end than I would have believed possible. And let me put this in context: I’ve been using pads happily in certain games for most of my gaming life, as well as proudly labelling myself a PC Gamer – for me it’s the far superior choice for games like Arkham City. And yet I was surprised by their capabilities in the right hands.

      What was also fun was trying to switch her to Mouse and Keyboard. That experiment lasted about five seconds before she recoiled from the strangeness of it. Fascinating how you get used to a certain control scheme and come to think of it as ‘natural’; I honestly thought she’d pick up KB+M and not even glance back at the pad.

      • NathanH says:

        Yes, surely by far the most important point is familiarity. I’ve never owned a gamepad, and so am completely hopeless with it. I’m sure that with a lot of practice I could get competent (but a fair bit of practice—it seems harder for adults to pick up new control methods than for kids), but I’m not really going to put myself through that distress.

  2. Lanfranc says:

    [Gratuitous, yet insightful comment about the Freudian symbolism of caves.]

  3. luukdeman111 says:

    Gimme!! Gimme now!

  4. Pazguato says:

    As a Ron Gilbert fan, I hope this turns to be great… please!

  5. MattM says:

    “And, you know, console games are kind of in a downfall because we don’t have anything new from the major hardware manufacturers… well, OK, maybe Nintendo”
    That is a pretty harsh burn on Nintendo.

  6. derella says:

    I love Ron. Playing The Secret of Monkey Island is one of my favorite gaming memories, and I’m just happy to see Ron doing stuff that interests me.

  7. Caiman says:

    I keep reading variations on the phrase “My/our next game will be more PC centric”. I’ve been reading it for about 10 years. Then the next game comes along and… well, “Ok, our NEXT game will be more PC centric, really!”

    That said, I’m really looking forward to The Cave.

    • MattM says:

      I was pleasantly surprised when I played Borderlands 2 last week. They talked up the PC port in previews, but I wasn’t expecting much follow-though. They pretty much hit all the items on my PC technical competence checklist. FOV control, adjustable frame rate cap, DOF and motion blur toggle, proper mouselook settings, AF setting, AA setting. It really makes the game more comfortable to play.

      • aliksy says:

        I don’t know what borderlands you played, but mine had a really shitty inventory interface.

  8. AlonePlusEasyTarget says:

    There’s also a recent interview with Dr Strangelove:

    http://www.dreisechzig.net/audio/veteranen-podcast46.mp3

  9. Urthman says:

    “I’m primarily a PC gamer,” Gilbert replied when I asked him about The Cave’s PC functionality. “I boot up my Xbox once a month. Mostly I play PC games.”

    Which is why he insisted that DeathSpank be released on PC at the same time as (or sooner than!) the Xbox version.

  10. f_zul says:

    I got it. That’s why they still haven’t released Brutal Legend for PC. Ron is primarily a PC gamer that’s why.

    • Zarx says:

      Did Ron even work on Brutal Legend? And the publisher is the one you would need to talk too about that anyway.

    • Pindie says:

      That’s the problem with gamer designers, he was not interested in playing it so he did not get it ported.

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      stahlwerk says:

      You got your ex-LucasArts-now-Double Fine employees mixed up. Ron’s the grumpy one.

    • Didero says:

      I was led to believe the main problem with porting Brutal Legend is the hassle with the music rights. The fact that it was published by EA probably doesn’t help either though.

      But yeah, I would love to see this game on PC.

    • derella says:

      Ron should’ve kicked down the door of the company he didn’t work for at the time, and insisted on a port for a game he had no role in designing! Because that’s his duty as a designer who prefers PC gaming over consoles, damnit.

  11. Prime says:

    [comment moved – my bad, I forgot to hit reply!]

  12. FranticSociety says:

    The Kb&M/Gamepad debate basically breaks down to one’s personal preferences. There’s truly no “best,” out of the 2 for any genre of game. It depends on the players’ choice and what he/she finds most comfortable.

    • NathanH says:

      I suspect mouse is objectively better for point and click games.

      But, not being facetious this time, mouse is better for most things that require selecting things.