Geek-On-One: Ron Gilbert, the Man Behind Monkey Island
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Credit: cc-by Electroguv

Master game developer, Ron Gilbert, shares his experiences and his insights into the then, the now, and the what will become of gaming

Credit: cc-by Electroguv

Credit: cc-by Electroguv

How did you end up in the gaming industry?

When I first learned how to program (I was probably 12 or 13) I taught myself by going down to the local arcade (remember those), taking notes on the games and then coming home and trying to program them on my computer.  Programming for me was always about making games.

When the Commodore 64 came out, I loved the graphics that it had, but the BASIC language it came with had no commands to access them, so I disassembled the ROM and figured out how to patch the BASIC language in ASM and extend it.  I called my extension Graphics BASIC.  I sold it to a small software company in San Fransisco called Hesware, and they offered me a job.  I worked there making games for about 6 months and then they went out of business.  A few months after that, Lucasfilms called me because they were looking for a Commodore 64 programmer.]

In your opinion, why did quest games disappear over time?

They didn’t really disappear.  Adventure games sell the same today as they did back in 1990, the problem is everything else is selling a thousand times more, so it seems like adventure games are dead.  But that’s changing…a lot more causal people are playing games these days thanks to things like the iPhone, and adventure games are very well suited for them.

How do you think mobile apps have affected the gaming industry so far?

They have radically changed it. It will never be the same.  What mobile gaming has done is rip all the power away from huge publishers like EA and Activision.  A small team of indie developers can make a game, publish it and sell 2,000,000 copies.  Never before would that have been possible.  It’s disrupting the power base…always a good thing.

In your opinion, what gaming demands were mobile applications able to replace? What was missing for the gamers that made the mobile gaming industry explode?

It’s not what was missing for gamers, it’s what was missing for 100,000,000 other people that didn’t game.  Mobile gaming gave them a reason to game.

You managed to raise over $3M with your Kickstarter project. In your opinion, how did that happen, and how can others mimic that kind of success?

I don’t really know.  I think it was just a perfect storm of events.  One thing I would point to is the videos.  We (or I should say Tim and 2player) did a lot of them and spent a lot of time making sure there were really good.  It got people excited.

What kind of projects do you think can benefit the most from Kickstarter and other similar sites?

Games and game generas that are having trouble finding a mainstream audience, but have a strong niche or cult following.  Or ideas that are completely off the wall.

What can you tell us about the new game you’re working on (With the DoubleFine team)?

Can’t say much about it, but we will be announcing it soon.

What’s your all-time favorite game (You own, or one that was made by others)?

World of Warcraft, although I forced myself to stop playing it 4 months ago.  I also love Animal Crossing.

How do you come up with ideas for new quest games?

Don’t know.  They slowly form over many years of thinking about ideas and stories.  Monkey Island was an idea that I played with in my head for years before it formed into something that I could finally make.  I have a constant stream is odd story ideas floating around in my head.  Most of them will die a quiet death, but others just never go away.  The game I’m working on now at DoubleFine was an idea I had back in 1985.  Every few years it would pop back into my head, but then about a year ago something about it clicked and it was time to make it.

How do you think the gaming industry will evolve over the next few years? (Fund raising, demands, operations and such)

Mobile (I hate that word) gaming really has changed things, but that too will change. Who knows where it will go? But that’s one of the things that makes making games so much fun. It’s a rapidly changing field, both creatively and business wise.  Compare that to the movie business.  It hasn’t really changed that much in 50 years.  Sure, technology has changed, but movies are basically made the same way today as they were in the 1960s.

If you could give one tip to the aspiring game developer, what would it be?

Embrace failure.  We learn far more from our mistakes than our successes.  If you’re failing it means you’re trying new things and pushing yourself to be better.

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Henn Idan

About Henn Idan


Lover of gadgets, apps and technology in general. Somehow among her many activities, which include, destroying cellular devices for the sake of science and an obsessive preoccupation with social networking, Idann finds time to write an article or two for Geektime on new applications, promising startups and product reviews for pretty much every new gadget that has ever hit the market – ever.

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