Tim Schafer Hires Ron Gilbert, Gets FunnierS

Video gaming's best known funny men are back together again under one roof, having a "hell of a lot of fun," making jokes and, perhaps, even developing a game or two.

Ron Gilbert, known best for his work on the first two Monkey Island games, Maniac Mansion and this summer's DeathSpank, officially started work at Tim Schafer's Double Fine Productions last week, though Gilbert says he's still not getting paid.

Interviewing the two is like falling helplessly into a comedy skit as the straight man; every question becomes a launch pad for a routine, every answer needs to be verified with a "This isn't a joke, right?"

Take, for instance, when I asked Gilbert what his new title will be.

Straight man: "What's your new title there?"

Gilbert: "We haven't really talked about that. I'm the boss of Tim."

Schafer: "He's the official Ron Gilbert. Though he started out as vice Ron Gilbert, we want to make sure he works out."

Gilbert: "Yeah, I'd like to be executive vice Ron Gilbert one day."

Schafer: "Yes, eventually maybe director of Ron Gilbert."

The last time Gilbert and Schafer worked together at the same studio was back at Lucas Arts when the two, with David Grossman, created the beloved, pirate-themed adventure game The Secret of Monkey Island in 1990. The two also worked on Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge together. And a bit on Day of the Tentacle together.

While it's been nearly two decades since they've officially worked in the same studio, they've stayed in touch. Schafer even let Gilbert work out of Double Fine's offices over the years.

"I'm really horrible working at home because all I do is other things rather than work," Gilbert said. "Being able to come into an office and be surrounded by other people helps."

That's what led to the job offer, Gilbert said.

"For the last couple of months Tim has been loaning me his desk here, as he has in the past," Gilbert said. "We have just been talking about different ideas I've had for games, kinda going back and forth like we do, and then Tim suggested, 'Hey why don't you come here and build this thing.'

"It kind of sounded like a good idea."

Schafer said the timing was right for Double Fine because, unlike in years past, they studio isn't working on one single, all-consuming game, but rather four smaller projects.

Schafer said the current plan is for Double Fine to always be working on about four games, rotating in new ones as they finish up the latest project.

With THQ-published Costume Quest nearly complete and preparing to ship, there was space for a new game; Gilbert's new game.

What is it?

They won't say.

But that's not surprising, we don't know much about the three other games Double Fine is working on either. We know the next one will be published by THQ as well, but know nothing at all about the remaining three.

"Except for that they're awesome," Schafer corrects.

Gilbert says the game will be an entirely new concept, not a sequel or remake of an existing game.

"It's an idea that I've been batting around for many, many years," he said. "I've been talking to Tim over the last couple of months about it and it sort of percolated back up. It's very different than DeathSpank, it's a bit of a departure from that. It's going in a very interesting direction.

"Fans of those old adventure games will like it."

And, Gilbert promises, it will have the trademarks of his game design: It will be funny and it will have a very confusing ending.

While Gilbert declined to say if the game he is working on is an adventure game, he did launch into a strong defense of the fading genre and its future.

"One of the things exciting for me about this industry and where it's going is that it is becoming a little broader," he said. "You're not just dealing with this hardcore gamer who drives 99 percent of games now. That has opened up a lot of different genres.

"The old adventure games are something that could come back. The Monkey Island stuff did very well on the iPad and the rerelease on XBLA. I think there are a lot of people who really do enjoy that kind of game. I think they really could come back.

"That's not saying I'm making an adventure game."

Gilbert says he's never really left adventure games behind. Take, for instance, DeathSpank. His most recent title is a role-playing game with a lot of action, but, Gilbert points out, there are a lot of adventure game elements spread through it.

"I don't think I could ever leave that behind," he said.

Schafer said elements of adventure games are in everything that he and Gilbert have done.

"We care about characters and story and humor and we care about unique art style," he said. "I think those are things from the old adventure games that will be part of this, whatever it is."

Schafer said the new game will be all Gilbert's, but that he is part of the brainstorming.

"We're already brainstorming about it together," Schafer said. "I expect to be brainstorming a lot with Ron and helping to put the team together."

"The key to making really great games is having a hell of a lot of fun when you're making them," Gilbert added. "Tim and I always have a hell of a lot of fun when we're together, so I have high hopes."

Gilbert spent the last couple of months tightening up the design for the game and that Double Fine will be pitching it to publishers in the next couple of weeks.

The two declined to say who they would be approaching for the game. Do you know, I asked, in what order you will be approaching publishers? For instance, will you be going to THQ first since they are already publishing two of your games?

"I can't say who we will go to first," Schafer said. "I can say I try to go to the people who sued us last.

"But that's more of a superstition I have."