On Stranger Tides

Sep 19, 2004

I was sorting through some boxes today and I came across my copy of Tim Power's On Stranger Tides, which I read in the late 80's and was the inspiration for Monkey Island. Some people believe the inspiration for Monkey Island came from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride - probably because I said it several times during interviews - but that was really just for the ambiance. If you read this book you can really see where Guybrush and LeChuck were -plagiarized- derived from, plus the heavy influence of voodoo in the game.

When I am in the early stages of designing, I'll read a lot of books, listen to a lot of music and watch a lot of movies. I'll pick up little ideas here and there. We in the business call it 'stealing'.

This book really got me interested in pirates as a theme. Fantasy was all the rage back then and I wasn't keen on doing another D&Dish game, but pirates had a lot of what made fantasy interesting without being fantasy.

After some early failed starts, I shelved the idea and began work on the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade adventure game. When it was finished I went back to work on Monkey Island and re-thought much of the design and story. Although 're-thought' is a strong word since I didn't have much to begin with.

The bulk of the motivation for Guybrush's character being so naive stemmed from wanting him to know as little about the world as the player. One huge problem adventure games had/have - Police Quest being the most frustrating example for me back then - was the character was supposed to know all this information that the player didn't. I hated playing games like Police Quest where I get fired for not signing out my gun (or such and such craziness), when I was supposed to be a cop. I should know that stuff? Shouldn't I?

I figured if Guybrush didn't know anything, then the player wouldn't be frustrated when they didn't know how to do basic pirate tasks. Which was the whole genesis for the opening line:

"Hi, my name is Guybrush Threepwood and I want to be a pirate"

It told the player that Guybrush didn't know any more then they did, and they were going to learn together.

The recently played Hitman had this problem. I am supposed to be this kick-ass hitman - Agent 47 - who is, as stated on the box: "brutally efficient". But I wasn't. I sucked. And badly.

Not that I'm recommending that Hitman starts out with:

"Hi, my name is Agent 47 and I want to be a hitman"

It's trick that works a few times, but it can't become a whole genre of games. Guybrush also took this to the extreme in that he was also kind of a fool. It works well for comedies, but not for a game trying to be more serious.

I don't mean to pick on Hitman. The box is just on my desk. I recently bought an Xbox and have been wearing out my Blockbuster card and this problem is prevalent in a lot of games.

Rockstar's Red Dead Revolver got this part right. You play the son of of famous gunslinger ( I might have this wrong, I skipped the long cut-scenes) who is avenging his father's death. The main character starts out inexperienced and his skill grows with the players.

I am a very strong believer that games need to break out of the 'hard-core gamer' only mold and attract a larger audience of 'soft-core gamers' if we're truly going to grow the appeal. To do this, we need games that are more accessible and friendly to someone who isn't willing to beat their head against the game for five hours just to figure out how to be competent (i.e 14 year-old boys, or people who still think like 14 year-old boys).

These games need to slowly bring people into the world, the story and the game-play.

People have to feel like they are succeeding every step of the way.