The creators of Return to Monkey Island talk us about the design of puzzles in graphic adventures in the modern era


The fact that Return to Monkey Island is happening is a modern miracle of the video game industry. In the three decades since Ron Gilbert and Dave Grossman last created a Monkey Island game, the adventure game genre has exploded, been given up for dead, and finally been resurrected. When Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge was all about stunning players with elaborate puzzles, clue lines were still a real thing, because online guides were still in their earliest infancy. I spoke with Gilbert and Grossman ahead of Return to Monkey Island’s release next week to talk about how puzzle making has (and hasn’t) changed ever since the duo left would-be pirate Guybrush Threepwood.

Back then, the sensitivity of puzzles was differentGilbert says. “We were new and the puzzles were new and the adventure games were new. I think the rules hadn’t really been established. The public was quite different back then.” Therefore, when designing Return to Monkey Island in 2022, the approach of the two designers has evolved along with the audience they are creating the game for. “You still want to have fun, challenging and rewarding puzzles, but I think people don’t have a tolerance for frustration anymore,” Gilbert began. “I think people have a lot of media, from TV series to movies to games. When the original Monkey Island came out, there were probably ten or five games coming out at the same time. Now there are 500. They want to play, but they don’t want any. frustration“.

And so, Gilbert continued, “you still want to give them a challenging experience. You don’t want to give them a click-through experience. But you want to build puzzles that are more logical, that make sense. You want when someone solves a puzzle or accepts a clue to a puzzle to say, “Oh, I should have thought of that.” You don’t want them to say, “I never would have thought of that.” So I think the main thing that Dave and I try to do with the puzzles is to make sure that everything makes logical sense for the game.“.

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“You want when someone solves a puzzle or accepts a puzzle clue to say, ‘Oh, I should have thought of that.’ You don’t want them to say, ‘I never would have thought of that.'”

I think a lot of that has to do with clarityGrossman added.Be clear about the objectives and what the tools are for. We haven’t always been good at it.” When asked to explain, he said: “There are a couple of them that are based on puns or idioms that don’t translate well for everyone. The wrench puzzle comes to mind“.

Gilbert continued with this topic of conversation, His voice took on a very humble and self-reflective tone.: “I think you want to challenge the public, but you want to challenge it fairly. I’ve talked to people who have played Monkey Island 1 or 2 for the first time recently, and they really complain about the puzzles. It’s the only thing they complain about. It is not that there are puzzles, that they are challenging puzzles, but that they do not make sense because they are not really planned. And for people who are huge fans of Monkey Island, sometimes that’s hard to understand because they’re so into what Monkey Island is that they don’t remember that something can be super confusing. I don’t want games to be difficult for players to understand. I want you to enjoy the game and the story“.

“You want to challenge the public, but you want to challenge it fairly.”

To that end, Return to Monkey Island will also see the (ahem) return of Monkey Island Lite, known here as Casual Mode. Then, Is that version of the game going to be “too easy” on purpose? How easy is the goal? “I don’t think any of us are worried about Monkey Island Lite being too easy.Gilbert said.I think people who play Casual mode are probably very inexperienced in solving puzzles to begin with, or just interested in the story. We don’t simplify or make it so easy that they’ll beat the game, but I’m not worried about it being too easy.Grossman added: “Sometimes [el modo Casual] has its own puzzle. It’s not just about saying, ‘Oh, one day we came by with an ax and cut things up.’ We actually spent a lot of time on both versions… So we were really making two games for a while.“.

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Ultimately, Gilbert and Grossman they hope to make a nice game that blends perfectly with the original two, especially since Return begins right after LeChuck’s Revenge ends. “The story of this game is more closely related to the stories of the first two than to anything that has been done since.“, says Grossman.”In general, everything is canonGilbert said of the other Monkey Island games, referring to Curse, Escape, and Tales.There are some pieces of canon that don’t fit with what we’re doing. And I think Dave’s rule was, ‘If the canon fits, we’ll use it, and if it doesn’t, we’ll ignore it.’ We will not disagree with it. We’re not going to do anything to attack canon that doesn’t particularly fit our story. But let’s slide things around“.

We don’t want facts to get in the way of telling a good story.“said Grossman laughing. “Especially when it comes to fictional events and not real events“.

You can read more of our interview with Ron Gilbert and Dave Grossman focusing on the development of Monkey Island 1 and 2 here.