Having spent a lot of time playing adventure games during my teenage years, it is exciting to see the genre continue to have a place in the modern gaming ecosystem. Developers like Telltale Games offer a more story-based type of adventure game while The Odd Gentlemen have resurrected the beloved King’s Quest franchise. However, my heart lies with LucasArts. Games like Maniac Mansion, The Secret of Monkey Island, and The Dig won me over with their addicting gameplay and quirky style. Today there are many homages to these types of games, but most of them are simple in comparison to the obtuse nature of point-and-click adventures. Thimbleweed Park is a return to the original LucasArts adventure style, even featuring a command verb menu at the bottom of the screen.
The core team of Thimbleweed Park is made up of Ron Gilbert, Gary Winnick, and David Fox who were also behind 1987’s Maniac Mansion. Fans of LucasArts adventure games recognize these names as being some of the most important people in the genre. In addition to Maniac Mansion, Gilbert and Winnick were involved in the development of many games including the highly-influential Secret of Monkey Island, which is generally hailed as one of the best adventure games.
Thimbleweed Park is said to be a spiritual successor to both Maniac Mansion and The Secret of Monkey Island in its characters, puzzle mechanics, and art style. Modern adventure games such as Machinarium and The Cave are certainly great in their own right, but lack the distinct feeling of 90’s adventures. Of course, no adventure made in the modern age is going to replicate the distinct feel of the golden era of Sierra and LucasArts, but Thimbleweed Park comes close. In an article from The Verge, Ron Gilbert has this to say:
“I want this game to be how you remembered those games, not how they actually were. There was a beauty to them, but they were really crude”.
The fact of the matter is that going back to these games in their original forms can be jarring and difficult for modern players. Their obtuse nature and overly complex (and sometimes nonsensical) puzzles can keep dedicated players stumped for hours. In fact, I find it nearly impossible to complete most classic adventures without relying on a guide. How else would I figure out how to escape the dungeon in Maniac Mansion or know that guessing the gnome’s name in King’s Quest involved inverting the entire alphabet. This absurd puzzle logic is apparent in most 80’s and 90’s adventure games, which is off-putting to most casual gamers. While the idea of going back to these games is always exciting, the reality is that they are just far too obtuse.
Puzzles aside, this genre is revered for its boldness and style. Many of the games featured great settings and memorable characters. Video game storytelling was certainly not as common as it is today, which is where adventure games really shined. The adventures of Guybrush Threepwood and Leisure Suit Larry were fun and engaging, and they never took themselves too seriously. Thimbleweed Park features five playable characters, who need to work together to solve puzzles and progress through the game. They each have their own quirks and personalities, from FBI agents Ray and Reyes to Ransome the foul-mouthed clown. Not the mention, the game will be filled with cameos and references to past LucasArts games, which is an added bonus for longtime fans.
Story-wise, Thimbleweed Park takes heavy inspiration from Twin Peaks, The X-Files, and True Detective. From the way it sounds, the story will be inherently dark with some bizarre and humorous overtones. This type of storytelling is perfect for game veterans Gilbert and Winnick, who have demonstrated their knack for insanity and tongue-in-cheek references. Since the game is a Kickstarter project, they essentially have full control over it, which preconceives a lot of promise.
Having followed the work of these developers for many years and being a huge fan of their work, I know what to expect from the game. It’s a passion project in the purest sense — made by people who love adventure games for people who love adventure games. As if I needed any motivation to purchase this game at launch, the Thimbleweed Park podcast has really sold me on the project. Certainly not the most conventional podcast, it consists of three jaded and very content game designers speaking about the game’s development in the most casual sense. Each week they discuss what they did last week and what they are going to do this week in the development process. If this sounds boring that’s because it really is, and they’re well aware of it.
Ron Gilbert, Gary Winnick, and David Fox discuss all aspects of their silly game on the Thimbleweed Park podcast. They walk listeners through the tedious process of wiring rooms, developing animations, and writing dialogue. While it is somewhat interesting to learn about how an adventure game is made, it’s their personalities that really click with me. They have been working together for so long during such a crucial era of gaming that it seems second nature to them. Discussions ensue of the early days working at Skywalker Ranch and stories about the development of Maniac Mansion, Monkey Island, and Zak Mckracken. If you have any connection to these niche games, you’ll appreciate it. It isn’t hard to tell where the wacky aesthetic of LucasArts adventure games comes from after hearing these guys talk for a while.
The look and feel of Thimbleweed Park seems to be the perfect homage to the golden era of point-and-click adventure games. “In a town like Thimbleweed Park, a dead body is the least of your problems” is the tagline, which resonates with me, especially knowing the history of these developers and what they are capable of. Adventure games are very much alive in 2017 and Thimbleweed Park is leading the charge. Look for it sometime within the next few months!