Maniac Mansion 3 By Any Other Name: Thimbleweed Park

are you OK, sir?

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the crowdfunding waters – the Old Men Of Videogames are back, and they want your cash so they can pick up where they left off. Again. This time it’s Ron Gilbert & Garry Winnick, creators of Lucasarts point’n’click grandparent Maniac Mansion (not to mention a little game called Monkey Island), and they’re after $375k to make a spiritual sequel named Thimbleweed Park.

A couple of years ago, this would have been cause to take the Happy-tank for a turn around around the block, but after Double Fine’s massively multi-funded Broken Age somewhat underwhelmed it’s perhaps hard to raise quite the same enthusiasm for another Lucasarts revival effort. Still, I’m not sure we’ve seen Gilbert and his fizzing imagination working entirely on his own ticket, free from traditional commercial expectations or studio constructs, so plenty of reasons to be optimistic despite past burns.

Let’s take a look:

That sure looks like a 90s SCUMM game, eh? Retromancy has its upsides and retromancy has its downsides, but at least this lo-fi approach means there’s less risk of eyes-bigger-than-stomach than some other projects. Gilbert and Winnick will be the core of the team apparently, so $375,000 might even be a realistic amount of money to get it made.

The pitch, which is currently $114k in after just one night so will almost certainly succeed, pointedly avoids making any promises about genre reinvention or visiting strange new worlds of pointy-clicking. It’s straight-up ‘classic’ adventure gaming from the blokes who played a big part in inventing that stuff.

Fortunately, it’s not quite ‘hey, look, it’s like Monkey Island in a different setting!” and instead harkens back primarily to Maniac Mansion (and to a lesser extent its sequel Day of the Tentacle), with its multiple protagonists and more convoluted puzzles. It’s also a oddball murder mystery that might have a touch of the Twin Peaks to it. Here’s the summary:

“Thimbleweed Park is the curious story of two washed up detectives called in to investigate a dead body found in the river just outside of town. It’s a game where you switch between five playable characters while uncovering the dark, satirical and bizarre world of Thimbleweed Park.

Lost along a dusty stretch of highway, the town of Thimbleweed Park once boasted an opulent hotel, a vibrant business district and the state’s largest pillow factory, but now teeters on the edge of oblivion and continues to exist for no real reason. It’s a town that makes you itch and your skin crawl. It’s a place no one ever looks for, but everyone seems to find. “

Multiple endings, a big, long story, hundreds of locations and easy and hard modes are promised.

One of the early reward tiers promises and absolution of guilt for pirating Monkey Island, so I guess if you back this you can stop having nightmares about that photocopied code wheel you had in the 90s.

Also, the copyright caption on this makes me feel so weird:

47 Comments

  1. Janichsan says:

    More like Maniac Mansion *3*, I’d say. Forgetting about “Day of the Tentacle”, hm?

    Anyway, that could satisfy the need for a good old LucasArts style point’n’click adventure that Broken Age (as much as I liked it) didn’t quite fulfill.

  2. TheBigBookOfTerror says:

    I bought Monkey Island (in fact I’ve bought it three times) so I’ll just wait and pirate this on release instead. (Kidding!)

    That it promises to be so big is hopeful. The old adventure games could be finished in a matter of hours once you knew the puzzles so multiple endings and more locations make it an exciting prospect.

    • Furius says:

      well yeah, but working out the puzzles is the whole fun of it. folks are battering through Dark Souls in 50mins these days mind…

  3. KestrelPi says:

    Not sure it’s entirely fair to say Broken Age underwhelmed. The majority of backers were very happy with act 1 and with act 2 around the corner and still looking great I’m still excited about it.

    What fails to excite me about this project is that it’s pure throwback, pure nostalgia. I don’t want to play something like a lost LucasArts adventure in a dusty old desk drawer as they put it. I want to play the game they’d make today. Part of the joy of a LucasArts game is that it was a wonderful thing to look at. I get none of that feeling from what I see here.

    Plus all the talk in the middle of the pitch about how this is for “real adventure game fans” is horribly patronising. Not like us “fake adventure game fans” who like the new stuff too, eh?

    • Premium User Badge

      Lars Westergren says:

      Yep, loved Broken Age, still love Double Fine.

    • Premium User Badge

      Earl-Grey says:

      Pretty much.
      You’ve basically articulated all my relevant opinions and emotions.

    • Pazguato says:

      Liked Broken Age (or at least the first chapter), but the sentence: ” there’s less risk of eyes-bigger-than-stomach than some other projects” it’s sadly true. Literal and metaphorical. Absurdly (and expensively) pretty but embarrassingly shallow.

      • KestrelPi says:

        Well, yes. It is less risky. The art style, for one, makes it so. I don’t know what engine they are using but it’ll clearly be cheaper and faster to produce the artwork for this game. And the smaller team will clearly make a big difference to the budget. In fact it seems, so far like a very unambitious project in every way, and that’s I think what bothers me most about it. Those old adventure games NEVER felt unambitious.

        But as far as ‘eyes too big for belly’ I was never bothered by what happened with Broken Age. I backed it, I’ve never been asked to put more money in, and I’m still getting finished game, likely within the next 3 months, possibly less. And like you, I enjoyed part 1, part 2 sounds like it’s shaping up both longer and better, and frankly, that should be the take away here – in 10 years it’s not going to matter which game was most on-time and on-budget, except from the perspective of being learning experiences for the studios involved.

        Don’t get me wrong, I’ll play this and I’ll probably enjoy it as pure nostalgia. But I can’t really get excited about it.

        • Pazguato says:

          But you seem to forget one thing: Broken Age, now we know, was only ambitious graphically (it’s a work of beauty), but in content is well below other contemporary graphic adventures in extension and complexity. And part 2 will not change that.

          In that respect, it’s possible that we’ll see more original things and twists in this new effort with old graphics. Who knows.

          • KestrelPi says:

            Firstly, I don’t agree – the puzzles were pretty simple in part one, sure, but part 2 was always intended to be more difficult, and apparently that is how it is turning out. But also I have not been so over-enamoured with puzzles of modern adventure games that I’d describe Broken Age as ‘well below’ them.

            Secondly – I don’t think originality is required for ambition. One of the things that was ambitious about LucasArts game was that they were highly individualistic and ambitious in how they were presented, especially for the time. And that’s not to be sniffed at. After all, after Monkey Island changed the approach to adventure game puzzle design (removing the dead ends, turning it into a puzzle box you progress through rather than a house full of traps) adventure games by that company didn’t do MANY more things to innovate puzzle design. DOTT was about the closest.

            Thirdly – While it’s possible there might be originality in this new project the pitch doesn’t suggest there’ll be any ambition at all to bring new things to the genre. It specifically says “Thimbleweed Park is a game for true lovers of adventure games. This is a Kickstarter for fans who loved Maniac Mansion, Monkey Island, and everything else that made that era great. It strips away all the cruft built up over the years and is distilled down to what we loved about the genre.” Which I read to mean: we’re trying to make something exactly late 80s/early 90s graphic adventures.

        • Ravey says:

          “It strips away all the cruft built up over the years and is distilled down to what we loved about the genre.”

          Goddamn it.

        • Pazguato says:

          In more simple words: Strip the pretty new artwork off Broken Legend and you’ll have a fairly short, straightforward and really easy classic adventure. Where’s the ambition? In the artwork.

          And the pitch of Broken Legend, remember, didn’t promised either an ambitious new state of the art adventure, just a classic one for old fans. Just like this last one.

          In this sense, the remark: “Double Fine’s massively multi-funded Broken Age somewhat underwhelmed” is spot on.

          • KestrelPi says:

            The game is called Broken Age.

            Did you play it? More to the point, none of us have played part 2. It’s part of this project- Kickstarter backers and people who bought part 1 are not paying extra for part 2. It’s not out, and is reportedly both harder, more complex and longer than the first half, and so I think it’s rather worth reserving judgement until the rest of the game is out – which is not too long now.

            Also, once you strip away the rose-tinted nostalgia glasses, most adventure game puzzles were very poor. Sorry, but they just were. We remember the scant moments of puzzling genuis, amidst hours of either knowing what to do because the solution was obvious, or getting hopelessly stuck because the puzzle made no sense. In between there, there were a few gems of puzzles which were just clever enough to provide an ‘a-ha!’ moment, but not so obscure as to be obnoxious. But that is not the norm. There are maybe a couple of examples in every great adventure game. Even a design classic like DOTT has tons of silly like ‘close door you wouldn’t usually think of to close, to find some keys behind it’ propping up occasional moments of puzzle design genius. And that one’s better than most!

            I’m not saying it wasn’t tightly designed, I’m just saying that if you’re looking for amazing innovation in puzzle design, then adventure games ain’t it – usually.

            Luckily, they have plenty of other charms. I love adventure games, but the adventure games I love most I know like the back of my hand by now. But despite knowing the solutions to all the puzzles, I’m somehow not kept from going back – and I suspect that it’s because of all that stuff you say ‘strip away’ – the art and the world will still look and sound beautiful in 10 years, and the story will still have things to say. But there’s only so many times I can legitimately ‘solve’ a puzzle before it’s lodged in my brain.

          • mukuste says:

            First of all, the thing is called Broken Age.

            And if you strip away the artwork (which I don’t see why you would, since the art, world building, atmosphere was always the major draw for me in the classic LucasArts games, not the puzzles), you’re still left with an interesting story with way more subtleties and subtext than the old games had.

            EDIT: Basically, I agree with KestrelPi’s opinion on adventure game puzzles above. They were usually more of a required nuisance to pad out the plot than really a pleasure.

          • Pazguato says:

            KestrelPi, all I’m saying is that Brütal… erm Broken Age it isn’t that ambitious as you proclaimed dismissing this way this new adventure. And all that part 2 will bring remains to be seen. Crossed fingers.

            mukuste, then you’ll enjoy Telltale choose your own adventures without puzzles ;)

          • mukuste says:

            Probably I would enjoy some of the Telltale games, yes… problem is, their settings rarely interest me.

          • Barchester says:

            What Telltale is doing these days hardly has anything to do with adventure games (in the classic sense). They’re putting out stories based on big budget IP’s, where you progress through QTE’s. Which is probably what you’re saying as well. ;) Couldn’t resist replying though, just to be able to tell people how much I’m disappointed at what Telltale has become lately.

          • Pazguato says:

            Barchester, I totally agree.

          • KestrelPi says:

            I -do- enjoy Telltale’s games. Sometimes, at least. I also enjoy old adventure games. They were some of my first loves in games. Monkey Island, LeChuck’s Revenge, Fate of Atlantis, Full Throttle, Grim Fandango, these are all games, and others, that I know like the back of my hand. They were formative, for me.

            But I can like two things, for different reasons. And I -most emphatically- think Broken Age is far closer to those old games than to what Telltale is doing. It’s just not a slave to them.

    • somnolentsurfer says:

      I want to play the next chapter of Dreamfall, basically.

      Don’t get me wrong, what I wouldn’t exactly that Broken Age underwhelmed, Dreamfall Chapters is the first Kickstarter i’ve backed so far with which I am unqualifiedly happy.

    • Rikard Peterson says:

      Well said. I haven’t regretted backing Broken Age for a second, but this one isn’t for me. If it gets very good reviews, I’ll consider it, but otherwise there are many other things that excites me more.

    • AXAXAXAS MLO II: MLO HARDER says:

      The people who were disappointed by Broken Age were people who were expecting hair-pulling brain teaser. Personally, I think toning down the puzzles was an absolutely perfect idea, since I don’t remember a single adventure game puzzle that made me feel smart by solving it (if I solve it by myself I don’t feel smart, and if I don’t solve it by myself and have to look up clues I definitvely don’t feel smart). But of course that’s a valid opinion, and since Ron says focus will be on the puzzles I think you’re right this will be a great choice for those who felt disappointed by Broken Age.

    • alms says:

      Well you know what Kestrel..? Ron Gilbert has been making games and none of them were PnC adventures, so maybe this is the game he’d do now?

      When you’re done defending-slash-fanboying Broken Age put back away the White Knight suit, please? it’s going to be needed again for the next post where, shock! horror! somebody will be less than enthusiastic about something Double Fine, because that is what that terrible word, underwhelmed, boils down to.

      • Premium User Badge

        zapatapon says:

        I am less than enthusiastic about something with using the expression “white knight” (also: “apologist”) at someone expressing their opinion in a polite and constructive way

  4. Premium User Badge

    basilisk says:

    Still, I’m not sure we’ve seen Gilbert and his fizzing imagination working entirely on his own ticket,

    We have. With The Cave, which Double Fine people made happen but which was always billed as Ron’s personal project first and foremost. And it was not good. In fact, it was astonishingly poorly designed (and burned a lot of my goodwill, unlike Broken Age I have to say).

    Let’s not forget that the Monkey Islands were very much group efforts. And if Ron Gilbert working with Tim Schafer’s studio couldn’t find the mojo again, maybe the mojo is gone. I don’t know.

    • tomimt says:

      Wasn’t the Cave funded by Sega, it has their logo on it after all. So the question is how much did they influence in the game in the end. It was at places a pretty good effort, but I do agree that the clunky design brings it down quite a bit.

      • Premium User Badge

        basilisk says:

        It was funded by Sega, but I don’t think that can be used as an excuse. The design is broken on a very fundamental level; it’s a game that’s built on repeated playthroughs in which any given playthrough is from about 75% identical with any other. I know I’m just an anonymous armchair designer on the internet, but that’s ridiculous. And I can’t quite imagine this being something Sega ordered them to do.

        • tomimt says:

          Of course, we can’t really put the design choices on Sega and for what it’s worth, Ron was pretty happy about the game himself, as he states here: link to grumpygamer.com

          But then again, with the Cave he was trying to do something different. It just didn’t work out as well as it could have. And what I’ve understood they did cut out some stuff from it, like additional characters, so that might be a reason why it did became so repetative.

    • Deano2099 says:

      I could live with The Cave not being very well designed – studio constraints, attempt to do something different and all that.

      But the thing about Maniac Mansion and the original Monkey Island? They were really funny. And The Cave was really not. I’d have put up with the poor design if it was filled with a tonne of witty dialogue. But it wasn’t.

      So while I can accept that this new one might actually be a well-designed adventure game, I have greater doubts about it actually being funny.

      • Barchester says:

        Then again, the first Deathspank was funny. Or I thought so, at least. Humour-wise, The Cave was less funny, but overall Gilbert has been consistently funny in my opinion.

  5. rustybroomhandle says:

    Soapbox time:

    “Tell us about the old days, granddad!”

    So glad you asked! Some thoughts on pixel art in general. My computing childhood included a ZX81, ZX Spectrum, C64 and later on Amiga. I later wrote for a games column in a magazine and also had a SEGA MD/Gen on loan. I used all of these on interlaced CRT screens. And on these interlaced CRT screens the pixels were never square.

    When I first encountered some Sierra games on a friend’s DOS PC, I was quite taken aback by just how ugly these square pixels looked and might even have let out a smug little inward chuckle. Of course, the display on a proper VGA monitor was crisper and generally “better”, it really made pixel art look like teh uggles.

    Most modern pixel art is not really “retro” per se. Bigger palettes, lighting effects, gradients, etc. Anything that slavishly tries to replicate styles of that era on modern systems will come off looking ugly to me since they’d be mismatched with how I remember the stuff looking. Not due to “rose-tinted lenses”, but due to the fact that I grew up with different hardware.

    Fin.

    • jrodman says:

      The right amount of blur on the pixels sure does help.

      There are some modern graphics filters that try to do a *little* justice, by rendering a few conceptual piixels into a really large number of real pixels that are intended to look a bit blurry, but the original hardware was obviously the target.

    • LionsPhil says:

      “Art so retro it will make your eyes bleed”, says the Kickstarter.

      They got that right. It’s got weirdly out-of-place smooth gradients in places, and I hope pixels drifting off the grid is just a stupid trailer thing. But even if it were hardware-accurate, I wouldn’t say Maniac Mansion was ever a looker, even on the Atari ST (and presumably Amiga) port. There’s a lot of beautiful pixel art from the 16-bit era (within the genre, Future Wars comes to mind, but even Space Quest III if you want something restricted to the EGA pallette), but MM was not amongst it.

      Nice music, though. Guess they didn’t want to try for that retro feel there.

  6. Barchester says:

    Will back this, because of “use animal balloon on corpse” and the microwaving hamster jokes alone. And because it’s Ron Gilbert, and I still trust him to deliver. I quite enjoyed The Cave, and even though it was released by Double Fine, it was released on time. Or at least not way behind schedule, as far as I recall.

    I also did not know there was such a thing as a Happy tank, but I want one now.

  7. Shadowcat says:

    Back… to the Mansion!

  8. Alien says:

    *Looking at ‘Look at’ button*

  9. jalf says:

    One of the early reward tiers promises and absolution of guilt for pirating Monkey Island, so I guess if you back this you can stop having nightmares about that photocopied code wheel you had in the 90s.

    Monkey Island was actually the first game I bought, all proper and legit like, with real moneys!

    And yeah, I wasn’t crazy about The Cave (never even completed it), but eh. I’m still looking forward to seeing how this turns out.

  10. The First Door says:

    Ugh, I was really excited for this until I saw the silly verb selection thing. While I never really minded the slightly obscure, silly puzzles from things like Broken Sword or the Longest Journey, or having to sometimes rub every item on every other item, being told that I’d used the wrong verb just really annoyed me. Look game, if you are telling me I can’t ‘use’ a door, because I need to ‘open’ it, you already know what I’m trying to do, so just do it! And why give me an ‘open’ and ‘close’ verb when it’s obvious that I want to close an open thing, and open a closed thing?

    • Barchester says:

      Why would you ‘use’ a door when you want to open it and have an ‘open’ verb to use in the first place? You just ‘use’ ‘open’ on door. There is nothing illogical about that. I see where you’re coming from, but back in the days I could usually figure quickly enough what the mindset of the designers was when they were implementing certain verbs.

      • The First Door says:

        I fully admit I was in a bit of a grump when I wrote this and probably came on too strong, but I’ve always had a problem with it. It’s just bad UI design if the game/program knows what you are trying to do, but refuses to do it until you do it the way it wants you to. Plus, the old verb system just looks a bit ugly these days as it takes up so much screen.

        In the end, it just seems silly to go back to this system when having the five verb system that games like Gemini Rue (and I think some Space Quests, although it’s been too long) use gives you depth but without the silliness. Plus they look much nicer, design wise

        Give me a hand, a foot, an eye, a mouth, and the ability to use an item on things icon! Edit: Like LionsPhil said down there!

    • Humppakummitus says:

      Actually, in Monkey Island (and later Lucas adventures) you could do the obvious action to an object by right-clicking it. It was pretty nifty. You had the same, more detailed, verbs available, but no extra clicking.

      • LionsPhil says:

        Yeah, that was pretty neat, although really I think the streamlining adventure games got to five or six core actions (be they Sierra’s bar or LucasArt’s rotating cursor/verb coin) was for the better.

        And, honestly, Westwood showed it could work with just the one without being EASY BABY GAME FOR CASUALS. (Partially because both LoK1 and 2 had extra magic mechanics alongside.)

  11. rossy says:

    I like that there is a chainsaw AND gas in the inventory. I really hope this will turn out good.

  12. SD says:

    I *still* have my photocopied code-wheel… it was copied from yet another photocopied code-wheel, and looks somewhat dreadful. Well noted, Alec!

  13. AXAXAXAS MLO II: MLO HARDER says:

    The good news is that this was mentioned on Kickstarter’s newsletter, which is sure to bring lots of traffic. The bad news is, so was The Black Glove.

    Yes, I’m still sad Black Glove didn’t get funded, and I blame YOU personally.

  14. Fenix says:

    It took me a good 15 seconds of staring at the copyright caption in the last screenshot to get why it was there, and after it happened I felt sick as a dog