Tim Schafer and Ron Gilbert Gabbin’ About Games

'Whatcha thinkin' 'bout?' 'Games. You?' 'Games.'
John spent this weekend glowing after interviewing Tim Schafer on Friday evening. He’s listening to it right now, so he can make text zaps for your eye goo. But that’s this afternoon-ish. In the here and now I have an interview, the first in a series it seems, by Double Fine’s Tim talking to Double Fine’s Grumpy Gilbert about a genre of game called “Adventure”. It was filmed before the Kickstarter madness propelled their old-school 2D adventure game upwards, so it’s rather humble and nice. I expect the next video to be shot in 3D on a beach, with Tim reclined in a sun lounger while George Clooney reads out the questions and instructs the interviewee to not look directly at Tim. Until that day, here’s everyday Tim and Ron talking about adventure games, in the Double Fine offices.

There’s a lot of fascinating stuff here: where Gilbert got the idea for pirate adventure games, what makes an adventure game, and how to do it on a budget. Oh, hindsight: you crazy.


  1. dangermouse76 says:

    I dont think they have the money for it. But a point and click with visuals like Trine plus a few physics puzzles would be amazing. Either way. I am looking forward to seeing a relatively large developer have another go at the genre.

    • povu says:

      What do you mean? If they thought they could manage it with $300,000, I don’t see how they couldn’t with 2.2 million.

    • Enso says:

      No thankyou. 2D, Handrawn all the way. Physics puzzles still available.

  2. alsotop says:

    35 minutes is a lot of time to invest. Summaries or good points, anyone?

    • povu says:

      There’s a shorter 6 minute version here:

    • SnoozeFest says:

      I think what you meant to say was that 35 minutes was not long enough. I was so upset (in my hazy white russian fuelled nostalgia trip) when the video clip stopped. I’ll just have to wait for the next one I guess, I just hope there will be more of the same i.e. actual design conversations with Tim and Ron.

    • resignation.speaks says:

      They talk about the short attention span of todays gamers and how they are unwilling to invest themselves and their time into more complex/meaningful puzzle solving and story e.g. you used to get stuck in a game for 3 days and kept pondering the solution on your way to work, in the shower etc. and got rewarded with the glorious “A-HA” moment when you finaly cracked it – in contrast to modern gamers who stop playing the game completely if they at some point get stuck for, say, 35 minutes.

      Also, Amy R. Briggs was Ron Gilbert’s babysitter.

    • Wizardry says:

      And how game designers should be programmers. Even the writers. Or at least Gilbert did.

    • Dervish says:

      A bit of history about one of Ron Gilbert’s comments: he says “backwards puzzles” are a common problem, and the term comes from his 1989 “Why Adventure Games Suck” article.

      link to grumpygamer.com

      His 2004 introduction to this article says “Adventure Games are officially dead,” but in the video he’s changed his mind on that.

    • Urthman says:

      From that Ron Gilbert article: Real time is bad drama … The key is to use Hollywood time, not real time. Give the player some slack when doing time-based puzzles. Try to watch for intent. If the player is working towards the solution and almost ready to complete it, wait. Wait until the hat is grabbed, then slam the door down. The player thinks he ?just made it? and consequently a much greater number of players get the rush and excitement.

      One of the most fantastic uses of this trick is in an interactive fiction game that everyone should play called Photopia. Photopia uses several magic tricks and cheats to give the player a dramatic experience. If you spot the tricks and play it again, it’s not as dramatic, but even then it’s impressive to see behind the curtain at how you were fooled.

      link to ifiction.org

    • Phydaux says:

      The only part that was bad was that they pronounced niche – “nitch”, not “nishe”. ;)

  3. dee says:

    Tim Schafer is hot.

  4. The First Door says:

    Well that was like a lovely warm bath for the brain. Just what I needed on a sleepy Monday morning to avoid work. Thanks, Craig!

    • resignation.speaks says:

      Came here to say exactly that! Took a break, made some coffee and pressed play..
      Lovely warm bath for the brain, indeed!

  5. Etherealsteel says:

    I watched the whole thing earlier. It sort of gives an insight and history of adventure games of what works and what didn’t work. For example: Puzzles, can’t make them to hard to solve or to easy. I’m thinking maybe with this game they are probably going with 2D instead of 3D to keep it old school, but likely give it an updated feel to it. You guys probably need to realize this game they making is likely at least a year away. I’m just happy to be part of it, be interesting to see how “The sausage factory” of developing a game works.

  6. Tyrone Slothrop. says:

    I listened to the interview last night and felt somewhat saddened by the exchange, especially the perceptive question about whether people enjoyed the adventure games as gaming constructs or the concept of those games. Looking back, the classic staples of the genre from Broken Sword to Grim Fandango, Blade Runner to Monkey Island captivated me with their imagination, settings and atmosphere, never the unintuitive multi-stage puzzles, pixel hunting, try X against everything, the extremely specific delineation of what can work with whatever else and a host of other problems, both specific and fundamental.

    It does strike me that there were obvious reasons that ‘adventure’ games died out, legitimate ones in addition to corporate disinterest and they’re similar reasons as to why the genre came about in the first place. The fidelity of player interaction with a world could be more easily conveyed with certain scripted actions than naturalistic and direct mechanics. Technological improvements have rendered the mechanics of adventure games anachronistic and honestly, not at all entertaining in any inherent manner.

    Warren Spector considered Deus Ex to have elements of the adventure game genre, and I can certainly see the debt owed. Sneaking around offices, reading secret documentation and engaging in non-essential conversation I can easily see in some verb-button directed adventure title. L.A. Noire also had many commonalities with adventure games. Limbo is definitely an adventure game but without the cursor. Developers should find ways to integrate the ideas, scenarios and concepts into new frameworks rather than return to the thankfully abandoned structural qualities of adventure games.

    TL: DR; I think we shouldn’t be so nostalgic over the genre though we should revere the sheer creativity and genius that many of the games possessed in their gameplay scenarios, concepts and writing.

    • Apples says:

      I remember as a kid I would just play through adventure games with a walkthrough beside me (I’m too young to really remember a time when you had to ring a helpline or consult a friend, unfortunately). I wasn’t interested in the puzzles so much as the interaction between you and the game; sure, I would solve the puzzles, but the part I ENJOYED was just wandering around talking to people and looking at incidental stuff. I didn’t enjoy the puzzles because they were puzzles and they made me think, I enjoyed them because they gave me reason and purpose in the walky-talky bits (and that’s why I’ve always hated ‘adventure games’ where all the puzzles are sliding-tile puzzles or maths puzzles. You know the ones.) And I think you’re right, a lot of that has been absorbed into other genres; but it’s not often the FOCUS in the way that it is in adventure games. I think there’s still a place for them in that regard, that they put dialogue and character and setting rather then pure gameplay at the forefront like most other genres do.

      Also, I was surprised that Limbo could be considered an adventure game. I’ve never thought of it that way, it’s much more like a platformer to me. Why do you think it is definitely an adventure game? (that sounds confrontational but I’m not trying to argue haha)

    • Tyrone Slothrop. says:

      Well Apples, whilst it obviously has platforming elements, it’s inundated with puzzle solving, yet highly refined puzzle solving that recalls the process of the adventure puzzle. Your character arrives onto a certain scene and you have to deduce which elements can be interacted with, how your character should interact with them, the cause and effect of said actions and how these elements synthesise into a solution to progress. The only differences are that there’s no artifice that distances the player from the character with a verb-selection grid or indirect control and the puzzles were incredibly well playtested to be highly intuitive and comprehensible with at least a Valve-level of quality in terms of subtle player-training and visual cues.

    • Dervish says:

      You could have just said they’re really easy. “Highly refined,” lol.

      And Limbo is a puzzle-platformer, like The Lost Vikings or Abe’s Oddysee.

  7. Burky says:

    Schafer: “some people don’t like the complexity they’ve added to games, they don’t want to think about navigating a camera with a right thumbstick, they may not want to worry about survival”

    it strikes me that they’re not trying to make A Game so much as a nostalgic piece for people who didn’t keep up with progression and expansion of gaming outside of the incredibly stagnant adventure game genre

    doubly confusing because Double Fine have been consistently attempting to push into more relevant genres since Psychonauts, and so has Gilbert with DeathSpank, so it all feels rather regressive

    • InternetBatman says:

      They’re just making a game inside a genre that they like to play and love to develop. Yes, they’re making it for a crowd of people that appreciate the genre. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not backwards and regressive, it’s just serving their niche.

    • The First Door says:

      I actually agree with them though. I love modern games and gaming, but I have a few friends who used to be huge gamers and now struggle to play modern games because of the complex controls and rather arbitrary standards you are just supposed to know.
      I’ve never quite understood the view that more buttons equal more interesting interactions with the world. It’s the same fallacy that better graphics make a better game. It gives you more options, but not necessary better ones.

    • Acorino says:

      I like it that adventures generally don’t require fast reflexes and good hand-eye coordination.
      There should be the danger of death if it’s appropriate for the story of course, but there’s no need that I have to become agitated to save my in-game life.
      I prefer this leisurely mode of play adventures offer.

    • Enso says:

      Couldn’t disagree with you more, Burky.
      link to en.wikipedia.org
      I also reccommend the fantastic Sci-Fi novel ‘First and Last Men”

  8. StickyNavels says:

    I liked Gilbert’s comment on whether designers should be programmers. Visual programming is important because it can be a tool to help ensure that everyone has, at the very least, a vague idea about what programming is and how you approach it. I can’t recall the name at the moment (Kiba?), but I believe Microsoft has been developing a visual programming language for children – and it’s actually pretty impressive in the way it helps kids wrap their heads around coding. Outside of engineering and games development, I’m not sure there’s a comprehensive alternative for “adults”.

    • InternetBatman says:

      I absolutely agree with his comment about programming. I’m a shit programmer and I hate it, but it has a certain way of clarifying your thought processes, and I think you gain a greater appreciation for the capabilities of the game.

      If you want a super easy to learn programming language for kids and adults, try Net Logos. It’s super easy to use, so in some of my classes we would just use it to test algorithms without all the fuss.

      link to ccl.northwestern.edu

    • The First Door says:

      Google App Inventor was really good for visual programming. It was like programming by clicking together jigsaw pieces and gave you a really good idea of structure and logic. I think it was based on Scratch, the MIT visual programming language, although it might still be quite child focused.

    • Bobby Oxygen says:

      It’s called KODU. Sadly it suffers from the same problem that most other Microsoft products do; crap interface. Granted, I only spent one day using it, but it didn’t feel intuitive to me at all. And I’m a grown man with no major intellectual defects, not a fifth grader.

    • StickyNavels says:

      I see! Have you tried Scratch, MIT’s baby? Or Waterbear (I believe it’s based on Scratch)? There’s also something called Alice, which I haven’t had the opportunity to try yet.

    • Bobby Oxygen says:

      I haven’t tried any of those. I only tried KODU because we had one of their project leads visiting us. If it hadn’t been work-related, I don’t think I would have spent any time on it at all.

  9. Turkey says:

    They touched a little bit on it, but I feel like the main thing that most developers have failed to bring from adventure games is their ability to tell personal stories. Games scale so far up in scope now because of their blockbuster nature, that it’s hard to relate to anything going on in them.

  10. Ruffian says:

    These guys are awesome.

  11. Captain Hijinx says:

    This interview made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

  12. Berzee says:

    This post is poorly tagged! (Tim Schafer’s name being spelled differently that all other tags FOR INSTANCE CRAIG!!!)


    exclamation points: !!!!

  13. Berzee says:

    Also, Ron Gilbert likes designing puzzles but not playing adventure games. I think it’s time for….outrage!