E3 2012: The Cave Interview – Talking Adventure With Ron Gilbert
Written Wednesday, June 20, 2012 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
With a career spanning almost 30 years, Ron Gilbert has an enviable video game CV that includes seminal adventure game classics like 1987's Maniac Mansion, The Secret of Monkey Island, LeChuck's Revenge and the first two DeathSpank games. Instrumental in devising the staple adventure game interface, better known as SCUMM (Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion), Gilbert has been a driving force in the adventure genre and still is to this day.
Now Gilbert's back with former LucasArts colleague Tim Schafer at Double Fine, to realise an idea that's been laying dormant in his brainpan for the last 25 years. Called 'The Cave', the adventure features seven characters who explore the titular cavern as they each search for something unique to them.
We managed to take a few minutes out during E3 to talk to Ron Gilbert about The Cave and the culmination of his dream adventure game, due to release on XBLA early next year.
You have seven characters in The Cave each with their own storyline, including the Knight and the Time Traveler. Playing as three characters in a single playthrough, will you see each storyline through to its conclusion?
Yeah. All the characters have their own stories and the Knight has his. The reasons that they're in The Cave aren't always what they state they are. At the beginning of the game, the reason the characters say they're there isn't always the real reason, and that's what you'll figure out as you play through the different character's storylines. There's a little bit of deception going on, so in the Time Traveler's case she's out to right this wrong a million years in the making, and as you're helping her, you'll be wondering what this other devious thing is that she's trying to do. But you do get to work through all of the character's stories.
And for whatever reason, they're all drawn to this same point?
It's kind of this thing that beckons people in to learn something about themselves when they go down there.
As there's seven characters to choose from in The Cave, does that mean there's potentially hundreds of different story permutations?
There's probably hundreds of permutations of combinations, but there's a story for each of the characters, so there's really seven main stories. Each of those stories has its own ending, so you're getting seven unique stories for each of the characters.
In The Cave, there's no punishment for dying, which seems like quite a nice thing to have in an adventure game. What are your overall thoughts on the traditional device of death being punished in video games?
I think in adventure games particularly, I've always disliked death. Starting with Monkey Island, there's no way you can really die in that game. I mean, Guybrush could hold his breath for ten minutes and die, but that's kind of a joke reason, right? Because to me, adventure games are about exploring and living the story. Death just feels like this unfit punishment, and if you do just one thing wrong you suddenly have to load your game and you might have forgotten to save, so you've lost hours worth of play. That's just not fun to me. Every adventure game I've designed since Monkey Island has not had death in it. I kind of felt that the characters in The Cave needed to die when they did stupid things, but with the cave resurrecting them, it's not really death as there's no real punishment.
I don't think that holds for all games. Like if you're building a first-person shooter, I think having death in that is probably good. But I don't think death has any place in adventure games.
Does setting the game in the confines of a cave with platform jumping elements present any challenges from an adventure gaming perspective?
The thing about jumping around is, it's not really that hard. You're never going to miss a jump unless you really try, so I wasn't trying to build a game that was a platformer. That's not really part of the game. It does take place in a cave, so there is a certain amount of climbing up things and climbing down things, but the platforming isn't really part of the game as such.
Is it fair to say that The Cave is generally comprised of claustrophobic tunnels, dark narrow passages and the like?
There's a giant medieval castle, and if you'll look at this thing on the wall here (shows us a huge concept painting showing a cross-section of a laboratory/silo environment), there's this whole underground missile silo that's part of the Scientist's story and you'll explore all of this. And you'll meet other people down in the silo and stuff.
So, if you're not playing as the Scientist, will you not end up in this silo area at all then?
You'll get to see little pieces of it. You might be running around and maybe you'll see the tip of that giant missile right there, but you won't know exactly what it is. Or with the Hillbilly, his whole story revolves around him and a carnival, so you'll go down into the cave [as a different character] and you'll start to see this weird carnival going on, but you can't really get into it and you're just getting glimpses of it. Hopefully players will play and they'll see those things and think, “wow, I really want to play with the Hillbilly,” so they can get into the carnival and see what that whole thing is about.
Was it challenging to design The Cave as one seamless whole where there's all these varying routes and paths through it, while ensuring each of the seven characters' journeys are unique?
That was actually a really difficult thing, to do that. And the whole cave is a complete streaming world with no loading or anything like that. We had to create something where you could just seamlessly descend deeper and deeper and deeper, but make sure that the puzzles are constructed in such a way that you're never leaving one of your three characters miles away near the top. Because then you'd have to spend like ten minutes getting that character back to your party. The puzzles keep your characters grouped together and moving through the cave.
Other things like seeing the Scientist's area and just making sure that it's very obvious or un-enticing at some level, where people aren't just banging their heads trying to get into the Scientist's section without the Scientist on their team. So that was kind of tricky to make sure that all worked right and felt very natural to players.
Is The Cave an idea that's been gestating for some time or is it something that came about quite recently?
It's an idea I had probably about 25 years ago. It actually pre-dates Maniac Mansion, and it's one of these ideas that every two years would just pop into my head with these three characters who visit this weird, mysterious sentient cave. About a year and a half ago, I was just hanging out with Tim [Schafer] and we were just talking about games – that's usually all we talk about – and I kind of mentioned the idea to him, and he said “that's a really great idea. Why don't you come to Double Fine and make that game?”
I just said, “yeah, that sounds like a great idea!” And here we are at E3! (laughs).
It must be gratifying to see The Cave finally come to fruition after all that time then.
Yeah, that's always really exciting. You have something that's in your head and you have ideas of what it looks like, what it plays like, and there's always this kind of trepidation of whether it's going to work, how it's all going to come out... It's really cool to see everything come together and it's been really fun.
The Cave will be descending into the dark recesses of the Xbox Live Arcade in early 2013. You can check out our E3 preview of The Cave here.