Stemmle & Clark Interview #2
An article by Muppet, posted on July 21. 2003.
Muppet talks EMI just after the release.
Congratulations on Escape From Monkey Island (EFMI). You deserve them.
Gee, thanks! The whole team does!
Was EFMI released ahead of or later than scheduled? What was the reason for this?
We were, sadly, an entire week late. We’ve all been fired. Actually, only a week late is pretty good. The reason we only slipped a week, and not a year? Dedication. There are many forces that can make an undertaking as complex as building a game tough to schedule, and even tougher to manage. Every one on the team did an outstanding job of triage, and putting in insane hours to keep us from slipping to next year. And somehow, a lot of nice subtle touches made it in, too.
What do you think of the reviews for the game so far? Are there any that have picked up on something you hadn’t paid much attention to?
We’re very pleased with the reviews so far. Most of them have been flattering to the point of embarrassing us.
What’s been the best or worst reaction from gamers so far in relation to EFMI?
The best reactions are the ones that run along the lines of “I thought a 3D version of Guybrush would be the suckiest thing that ever sucked, but now I can see that I was horribly, horribly wrong.” The worst reactions are being distilled by our Marketing gurus, and will be presented to us when we’re in a less fragile state.
Was there any character or scenario you left out of EFMI for whatever reason?
The Spice Monkeys. But let’s not talk about that. Sean’s still bitter about it. Mike wanted more singing, but there never seemed to be a good moment for it.
What’s your favourite puzzle/scenario and why?
Well, there’s these five monkeys, and… oh, wait.
Sean’s fave is probably the Mystes O’ Tyme for pure puzzley goodness.
Mike tends to concur, though he’s becoming increasingly fond of the “bonk Herman on the head” puzzle, because you just can’t beat the sight of a brain-damaged old man getting repeatedly whacked on the head for Big Comedy Laffs.
Was it ever intended to use Spittle and Pinchpenny islands or are they just there to fill up space on the map?
Nope, they’re just set dressing.
Can you give us a little insight into the puzzle-making process? How do you devise the often intricate methods used to get just one object made - such as ‘making’ the Ultimate Insult?
First, we drink a lot of beer. Kidding.
Although everyone has a different way of thinking of these things, there is a basic approach that seems to work. Most of the big puzzle ideas come from the story. Most of the annoying, nonsensical puzzles tend to feel that way simply because the goal of the puzzle doesn’t match the goal of the main character. From there, we find ways of breaking the puzzle up into smaller puzzles, and find ways of integrating them with each other, and the locations we’ve designed. Puzzles we’ve identified as being more thematic we tend to make more complicated.
Then we drink a lot of beer.
Which character in the game is your favourite? I thought you did a great job with Herman Toothrot.
Sean’s is (this week, anyway), the LUA Bar waitress.
Mike’s is Miss Rivers. Psycho teachers are fun.
Looking back on production what were the easiest tricks and biggest problems in the change from 2D to 3D?
What we thought would be the hardest problem was getting the look of the game right. It had to be somewhat consistent with the 2D Monkeys, and yet evolve to take advantage of 3D. The art team did such a great job with this, it truly was painless for us. It just happened. That being said, they did put in a lot of effort, and we tried several approaches, but their instincts and abilities made the impossible easy.
Easiest tricks? Freedom to move the camera and re-render a background was great fun. We coulda played with that for another year or so! Having the characters look good from all angles, and be able to smoothly rotate and pitch was a huge benefit, too.
How big was the team working on EFMI? Were they all permanent staff or were some just needed for a couple of weeks?
Well, both. It depends on how you count staff; the size of the team varies throughout development depending on when it’s appropriate for, say, animators to be on the project. That being said, we’d estimate that the team was around 30-35 people for the better part of production. That does not include a host of other contributors that came on for the last few months.
What is the layout of the game office? For example, are the art department kept well away from programming, or is an everyone-in-the-same-room environment?
We try to keep as many people as close we can to each other. This isn’t always practical, however, so we end up creating groups of people spread around the development area in little communities. The communities tend to be organized by task, so that team members with similar tasks are close together.
Can you summarize the process of designing, making, completing and overseeing initial shipping of EFIM in a couple of handy bite-size paragraphs?
First, there’s an idea: “Hey, let’s build Monkey 4!”
This is often (but not always) followed by “Great! You’re brilliant!”
Then, we start the long, dark process of actually designing the thing. Stories are contemplated, plot points nailed down, characters conjured up (no, 20-sided dice are NOT used for this), and jokes/funny situations are summoned. Sometimes they even show up.
While we’re tightening the design, a small band of rogue conceptual artists begin visualising the locations and characters. We work with them to get the look consistent and in tune with the design.
During all of this, of course, there are a series of approvals with management and the other Directors to keep us honest. Once we get approval to go into production, lots of people, artists and programmers at first, join the team and we start building in earnest. Sets are built; characters, props, and models are built; code is written; and dialog writing is started.
This quickly becomes barely-controlled-mayhem for many months. More people are added - sound designers, musicians, testers, voice editors, internationalisation specialists, etc. There’s a very loud scream that lasts for several weeks, then, suddenly, all is quiet. The smoke clears, we sign off, drink champagne, and complain about the game being stocked in the kid’s section.
The voice actors are a diverse crew - with the game having lengthy voice over credits. Did anyone particularly stand out amongst them?
They all, without exception, did an outstanding job. Dom stands out as having turned in yet another perfect Guybrush (he IS Guybrush!), and we would say that Edie McClurg was terrific (it was EXACTLY how we had written it).
Rumour has it that Nick Tate recorded his role of Ozzie Mandrill in Australia. If so, did this cause any problems with the ease of production of the game?
That’s the first we’ve heard of that rumour. If it’s true, the boys in Voice did a great job of shielding the expenses.
It was fantastic to hear Edie McClurg playing Miss Rivers: she’s a great character actress. Did she approach you or did you ask her to join the cast?
We had designed the character with her in mind, never thinking we would actually get her. In our character description notes, she was mentioned by name, and Darragh O’Farrell, our voice producer took us quite literally.
Did the cast act the lines as you’d imagined them or did a joke end up not working because of the way it was delivered?
When you have over 10,000 lines of spoken dialog, you would expect there to be lots of lines that aren’t read right. We are truly impressed just how few lines didn’t come out the way we intended. In some cases, the actor improvised, actually making the joke better.
EFMI has several modern culture references - e.g. the Bill & Ted “Iron Maiden” joke. Are there any more subtle jokes we simple gamers might have missed out on?
Subtlety and Monkey Island go together like truffles and motor oil. If there’s a subtle joke in EFMI, there’s a good chance that we don’t want to publicly acknowledge it.
At the other end of the culture scale were you worried that with Starbuccaneers, Planet Threepwood, etc. that each new culture joke might be one too far? How did you decide what joke stayed and what didn’t?
Even though Monkey Island exists in a sort of “timeless” setting that allows for a few topical jabs, we always try to keep a tight reign on that sort of stuff. That having been said, we intentionally went a little bit overboard with the pop culture references on Jambalaya Island, since it was supposed to be an over-the-top, consumer-oriented heckhole. We’re only sorry we didn’t think to include a “Boarder’s Books” gag.
Personal film geek question: are Mungle, “not in the face!” and Miss River’s comment “I hope you brought enough for everybody” Blazing Saddles references?
Not consciously, but if it makes us seem more clever, sure. At least we’d be cribbing from Mel’s early, funny movies.
Is there anything, given the relatively short period of hindsight, that you’d change about EFMI?
We wish we’d written a line or two explaining why the solution to the final puzzle works. Oops.
Is there going to be a soundtrack CD?
No plans at the moment.
What differences were there making EFMI together compared to making Sam & Max as project leaders? Was it more difficult?
Both projects were unique in their own special ways. Sam & Max was a small, intimate affair; managing it often felt like organising a family trip to Disneyworld, complete with fireworks, crying children, and crowded hotel rooms. EFMI was more of a comedic leviathan; pulling it together was akin to co-ordinating a two year long “Monsters of Rock” tour.
Approximately how many people have already asked you about Monkey Island 5?
Are you working at the moment or taking a good long rest?
At the moment, we’re answering interview questions. It’s not really working, but it’s not really vacation, either!
Do you know what your next project is going to be yet?
Mike: No. But there’ll probably be a musical number.
Have you ever discussed ideas for a Sam & Max 2? Do you think you’ll ever make a sequel?
Yes, we have discussed it. Right along with sequels to “Faster, Pussycat, Kill Kill", and “The Very Last Remake of Beau Geste”.
Future is unclear; try again later.
Finally, if you had the chance to make a sequel/prequel to any adventure game currently residing in LucasArts’ canon, what would it be and why?
Sean: Full Throttle. Big bikes, big bars, big Ben.
Mike: Besides Sam & Max? Zak McKracken. I’d turn him into a poor man’s Hunter S. Thompson.
nothing has happened in ages...
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