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Interview: SCUMM of the Earth

Ron Gilbert chats about Maniac Mansion, the current state of adventure games, and 300.

April 26, 2007 - This year marks the 20th anniversary of the SCUMM engine, the Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion, which powered most of the classic LucasArts graphic adventures. SCUMM streamlined the process for coding these intensive, epic games and greatly decreased their development times. IGN recently caught up with the man behind SCUMM, the Grumpy Gamer himself, Ron Gilbert.

IGN: You worked on the SCUMM engine with fellow Lucasfilm Games employees Aric Wilmunder and Brad Taylor. What was your contribution to the engine?

Ron Gilbert: I created it. It was kind of my concept because I really needed it to build Maniac Mansion. I did most of the Commodore 64 programming for the engine. Aric and Brad's contribution came in when we did the PC ports of the engine.

IGN: What do you think of the current state of adventure games? Anything you've been impressed by recently?

Gilbert: Well, certainly the Sam & Max games. Those are really, really good, and they show what a good adventure game can be -- especially with the writing and the humor. I think Sam & Max is kind of a shining light for adventure games. I do think for adventure games to succeed they need to be melded with some other game genre. I don't know if a pure, pure adventure game could really survive today. Maybe with different distribution mechanisms. I could see a very pure adventure game working distributed through something like Xbox Live Arcade, where people are getting them almost episodically.

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  • I prefer the mouse for adventure games. It just seems a bit more laid back than the keyboard. I haven't played Grim Fandango, but if its interface is similar to Escape from Monkey Island's, I probably wouldn't enjoy it as much. I think the main reason that most people don't like the keyboard w/ adventures is because with games like Monkey Island and Sam & Max it's more like watching a movie than playing a game (at least, it is for me.) Ever since I found The Secret of Monkey Island, I've always played adventure games for their stories or humor, and rarely for puzzles. Perhaps I shouldn't talk, because complaints for the new Sam & Max like "That was too easy!!" show that most adventure gamers are still in it for puzzles.
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    Grim Fandango was an awesome game! If there's one game that is strong in the story and character department, Grim Fandango is it! Lots of puzzles as well.
  • The Grime interface was far from perfect, but it was a necessary first step, imo. Escape from monkey island actually managed to improve it, and like I said before, GF and EMI weren't full 3d games, they were more like 2D1/2. I think that's part of the reason why the interface turned out to be so buggy.

    I understand the commodity of playing with a mouse on your pc, but to be honest, gamepads have been the norm for computer games and emulation for more than a decade now. Not that there's anything wrong with it, but I think it's gonna be hard for graphic adventures to really move forward as long as they're using the same basic mouse interface.
  • I'd rather only have the 2 buttons and where my mouse is moving to worry about than having to keep an eye on my character, what they're looking at when I go to examine it or whatever (that's more a complaint about Grim Fandango than anything though), change direction accordingly every time I get a new camera angle when I change scene, and having all the commands assigned to different keys.

    It's just easier with mouse control. And if Adventure Games are ever going to become as popular as they were again, they've got to be simple.
    I'm pretty skilled with a keyboard, but even then I had trouble keeping my eyes on the screen and trying to press the right keys to do each action. I had trouble even remembering what some of the keys did, whereas with SCUMM it was all on screen.
  • Knock on door
    Say password
    Ken Sent Me
    Enter door
  • I think point-and-click is ideal for the common design of adventure games; that is, selecting objects and interacting with them. If you're going to switch to a different control interface, but the gameplay is still a matter of selecting objects to interact with, then it's just a waste. Might as well use point and click.

    I guess my point is that if you're going to change the controls, you should have a reason.
  • Yes and no. Though I prefer using a mouse, it all depends on how well you project the story and the characters. At LucasArts they were wizards on that, and I could accept an interface like the one from Grim Fandango 'cause everything else was totally awesome. Differently, I played Ankh, which has a pure point and click interface but the rest isn't well done at all. A nice game if they just wanted to celebrate other great classics, awful if they meant to do a classic.
  • Badwolf;38326 said:
    change direction accordingly every time I get a new camera angle when I change scene
    Without addressing any of the other points (all perfectly valid criticisms) GF did have an option of "Character Relative" and "Camera Relative" controls.

    As I understand it, the theory behind the GF interface was to make it completely transparent (excepting the dialog trees), with the belief that it would allow the player greater immersion by not distancing them through command icons and inventory menus. I appreciated that it mostly eliminated the "pixel hunting" prevalent in many point-and-click adventure titles by using Manny's gaze to indicate areas of interest, though I will admit there were a few spots in the game where you had to be pretty precisely positioned to get him to look at something.
  • ReverendTed;38351 said:
    Without addressing any of the other points (all perfectly valid criticisms) GF did have an option of "Character Relative" and "Camera Relative" controls.
    Yeah, I tended to use Camera Relative because I was used to platformers as the time, and didn't like having to rotate the character before I could move in the direction they were facing (I just like being able to press the key and run in that direction straight away).

    Neither control system was perfect for me, but I chose Camera Relative at the time because it seemed more direct and less like I was trying to control a car.
  • Really thought the controls in games like Monkey island 4 detracted from the experience. You'd be walking around a whole lot and what you were walking towards might not be usable in anyway, would just be backdrop which looked like it could be used. Much easier to move mouse over and note that it's not an object I'd think.

    I liked the way Gabriel Knight 3 did it. Allowing you a FPS view to move around the world, but still point/clicking to move the character. Also Normality had fairly direct control in that you walked FPS style, but to manipulate the world you'd need to be in front of something and use the mouse to manipulate it.
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