Listen in on conversations with some of the greatest minds in the game industry about how they got started, what they've been up to, who's influenced them, and much more.
This Episode's Featured Guest: Ron Gilbert
June 30, 2006: Legendary game designer Ron Gilbert speaks with GameSpot's Executive Editor Greg Kasavin about the secret of Monkey Island, the Commodore 64, why you shouldn't get into the games business, the problem of having too many buttons, and much more.
Following is an excerpt of the conversation with Ron Gilbert. Listen to the podcast for much more and check out Ron Gilbert's Web site at www.grumpygamer.com.
Game designer Ron Gilbert joined us in our studio. He's worked on many classic LucasArts games, well-regarded children's titles, and more.
Greg Kasavin: So, what are the main things that you think have changed in game development since when you were getting started working on Maniac Mansion, Secret of Monkey Island and stuff like that? How is it different now?
Ron Gilbert: Well, I think it's bigger, and I think that's probably the biggest change that's happened. It's just a much bigger industry. There's a lot more money at stake and as soon as you start spending millions of dollars to make something, it's a lot harder to just kind of go off with a small team and make something and see if it's interesting or not because you have a lot of money on the line. You have marketing departments. You have PR departments. You have all these people now because it's an event, in a way, and so I think that makes it a lot harder to just kind of rush out and do different things. You know, success is 90 percent failure and if you can't have the opportunity to fail, you're just not going to be able to do interesting things. I think that is one of the problems that the games business has now--there is just no room for that failure, to try new things.
GK: Well, but the failure happens anyway, doesn't it?
RG: It happens, but they're not good failures. You know, it's like you can look at any--
GK: ...They're not experiments.
RG: ...any kind of song, music, movie, anything, and you can go, "Yeah, that's really bad, but--." Right? And you can pull all these really good things out of it and go, "You know, I can use these in mine." Or "I know they're going to do it better the next time." But I think you have a lot of failures in games that are just failures because nobody tried, nobody cared. It was all about marketing. It was--you know, those aren't the right reasons to fail.
Gilbert was producer on the memorable 1997 real-time strategy game, Total Annihilation. His colleague, Chris Taylor, is now working on a game that's considered its spiritual successor.
GK: Right. But despite all this, you're still at it, right?
RG: You know, nobody's going to hire me to do anything else, so I've got--I'm stuck in this business.[laughs]
GK: Oh, well, but are you saying it's just a job?
RG: No, no. No, it's not a job at all. I mean, if I just wanted a job, I would go do something else. But I think it's fun. I mean, I've been in this business almost since its inception, and I enjoy it at some levels, frustrating as it can be. I don't want to do anything else. I like to do this.
GK: Just got to get some of the obstacles out of the way, huh?
RG: Yes. You know, it's pushing through. It's trying to find publishers that are willing to take a risk on different types of games, smaller budget games. So far, that's not really the mindset that they have, but I keep pushing forward.
GK: Do you think the circumstances are such that some of these guys who have been really risk averse are going to have to start taking more risks, just because you can't just put out another World War II-themed first person shooter and hope that's going to be a huge success anymore, right? It seems like people's demands are changing somewhat.
RG: Oh, I think they have to change. Will they change? I don't know, but they have to change. I mean, if this really is going to be a creative force on par with, you know, movies and music and a lot of other art forms, it has to change. It has to become a multi-tiered business, where you have the blockbusters at the top that are making a lot of money, and then you have all these other tiers of games that are being professionally produced by the publishers, being sold to people. When you get that kind of tiered system, it's a great system to have because you can bring in people at the bottom. You can spend a little bit of money getting their project made. You can help develop talent there. You can get new ideas. You can breed studios. There are all these things you do in that system, but we don't have that. We just have maybe the top two layers of that system. We don't have any of that other stuff underneath it, and that has to change in this business.
Ron Gilbert worked on many children's games, but to him, they were more than just games for kids. Maybe that's why they turned out to be good.
GK: Right. But you think others see it this way as well, right?
RG: I think a lot of people see it like this.
GK: So, what's going to happen? Someone could mobilize an army and make this work, or--?
RG: I think one of two things will happen. I think that either the whole business will collapse at some point just because it's so top heavy that it just cannot sustain itself and, you know, it'll be reborn in a different way or somebody will just do that and will win really big, and everybody will copy it. I mean, it's not going to...you could take somebody like Electronic Arts going, "You know, we're going to start another brand. It's going to be a whole separate brand, and we're going to fund lower budget projects and, you know, we're going to get these more independent developers, and we're going to give them the support, we're going to give them the money so the craftsmanship is up there." And all it's going to take is for them to win at that, and everybody else would do it. Everybody will see the advantages, but somebody has got to do it first.
Agree or disagree with Ron's views? Got comments or feedback about the format of Designer Threads? Suggestions for future guests? Let us know!
Designer Threads feat. Ron Gilbert - 6/30/06
Legendary game designer Ron Gilbert speaks with GameSpot's Executive Editor Greg Kasavin about the secret of Monkey Island, the Commodore 64, why you shouldn't get into the games business, and much more.