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In rare interview, Monkey Island designers tell Ars about long-awaited Return

Welcome back. We've been expecting you.
Enlarge / Welcome back. We’ve been expecting you.

Nine years ago, The Secret of Monkey Island creator and designer Ron Gilbert wrote a blog post laying out what he would do if he made another Monkey Island game. But now that Gilbert is actually working on Return to Monkey Island—his first work on the franchise in over three decades—he told Ars that the 2013 blog post seems like it was written by a completely different person.

“That article was just this weird stream of consciousness,” Gilbert told Ars in a recent interview. “I don’t remember the exact incident, but I remember I was feeling a little depressed that I wouldn’t ever get to make another Monkey Island and that really kind of spawned that article.”

“I think if I could redo that article, I would probably cage it a bit differently because these aren’t things that absolutely will happen or absolutely things I’ll do,” Gilbert continued. “Anybody who’s involved in any creative process knows that as soon as you start, everything changes. Coming up with ideas, you change the story, you change characters, you change puzzles. Everything is not written in stone.”

A long time coming

Today, Gilbert describes the process that finally led him back to Monkey Island as “a star alignment thing.” While Gilbert said he had considered a return to the series many times over the years, it wasn’t until a pitch from publisher Devolver Digital a few years ago that “the ball started moving forward on stuff.”

Before diving back into Monkey Island, though, Gilbert said he wanted to make sure any new game could live up to expectations that have risen sky-high after three decades of the first two Monkey Island games being hailed as the pinnacle of classic adventure game design. “That was my No. 1 concern when Devolver first approached me about this—just the weight of [expectations],” he said. “Was that something I really wanted to take on?”

To get past those fears, Gilbert consulted with fellow Monkey Island programmer and writer Dave Grossman to discuss whether revisiting the setting would actually be valuable. The pair asked themselves a series of questions before committing: “Do we have a good idea? Can we move this forward? Do we have… a story that fits the legacy?”

LeChuck’s ship being loaded up to set sail.
Enlarge / LeChuck’s ship being loaded up to set sail.

Devolver Digital

“For me, [the prospect of] working with Ron definitely was a big draw,” Grossman told Ars. “[But] just to sort of check ourselves, we got together before we definitely said yes to make sure that we had something to say with [a new game], that we were going to be able to take it in some interesting directions. So we met for a weekend and decided that, yeah, that was the case, and we should make a game.”

With that settled, Gilbert said Devolver took the lead in handling the business end of the deal with Disney, which owns the IP rights to the Monkey Island franchise through its 2012 LucasArts acquisition. Since then, Gilbert said he has had some “lengthy conversations” with Disney and ended up “very happy with the responses” and the assurances he got that his team would have full creative freedom on the project. While Disney “certainly have had feedback, good feedback, [and] we’ve taken some of their feedback,” Gilbert said, he has been happy that the corporation has allowed him to “build the game I wanted to build.”

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