I would like to invite you all to invest three minutes of your day/night to read the following text.
It’s a transcript of a part of the keynote that Ron Gilbert did at PAX Australia 2013, before the TWP project started.
There has been a lot of discussion about the ending of Thimbleweed Park. I think that the following statements about Ron’s personal vision of art might be enlightening.
You also need to be willing to endure the pain of failure.
I spent several tormented months trying to come up with the genesis for Monkey Island but if I had not taken that trip into my own personal pit of despair…
When I read on Stranger Tides I just would have put the book down, thought it was a good story and moved on. But instead when I did finish reading that book everything made sense to me, it was immediate and it was overwhelming and within a half an hour of finishing that book everything fell into place. I just knew exactly what I needed to do.
For me, it’s probably not true for everyone, but for me something is perfect not when everybody loves it but when half the people love it and half the people hate it.
I’m not saying that creating something everyone loves is easy but in some ways it really is the easy way out. If you want to create something everybody likes, take a picture of a cute puppy and a kitten.
Everybody loves puppies but what have you really told the world? You’ve told the world that puppies are cute. How have you challenged your audience, what part of their imagination have you fired up? What part of their soul have you stirred and engaged?
Now, for me such a thing is the ending to Monkey Island 2.
That ending really polarized people. Half the people love that ending and half the people just hated that ending and really nothing can make me happier.
Now, the basic gist of that ending is this, for those of you haven’t played it…
Guybrush has been battling the evil pirate LeChuck for two games now and we finally come to the final showdown. They both find themselves in these strange concrete tunnels on Dinky Island and the LeChuck is tormenting Guybrush with a voodoo doll.
Now, Guybrush is slowly making his own voodoo doll over LeChuck through the magic of puzzle solving and once this doll is complete Guybrush begins poking at it but isn’t having any effect on the evil pirate LeChuck. So Guybrush pulls the leg off the doll and LeChuck falls to the floor.
Now, at this point the game becomes a complete parody of the scene of a new Return of the Jedi, where Luke pulls the mask off of Darth Vader to see the true face of his father. So if Lucas wasn’t gonna let us make Star Wars games, then we were gonna make fun of Star Wars. That’ll show George.
So LeChuck is lying on the floor missing a leg and on the brink of death and he begs Guybrush to come over and remove his mask. So reluctantly Guybrush kneels down beside the legless LeChuck and removes his mask to find his brother, Chucky.
Guybrush asked LeChuck why he hates him so much and Chucky/LeChuck says it’s because guy brush broke his Ultra Soldier Commando Assault Vehicle.
Now before things get too sappy, a janitor comes in and says “Hey you kids you can’t be down here.”. We then cut to an amusement park and these two kids come out of a door and meet their parents who are upset that they’ve run off to play. And we are clearly not in pirate times.
Now as the four of them walk off screen to ride a roller coaster and just as Chucky/LeChuck gets to the center of the screen he turns to the cameras and his eyes glow with little sparks of voodoo magic and the game just ends there.
To this day not a week goes by that I do not get one or two hate and profanity-filled emails from people over that ending.
I also get emails from people that tell me how much they loved that ending. And that ending really polarized people and that it means the ending meant something. I could have done it anywhere Guybrush and Elaine live happily ever after but no one will be talking about that ending 20 years later, no one would be sending me ranty emails about how much they loved how happy Guybrush and Elaine were.
Ranty emails really start my day in a lot of ways they are, they are my morning coffee.
Now the thing is I didn’t really have an ending from MI2 for a long time, we were almost done with the game and I still had no ending. It’s not like I didn’t have a bad ending that I hope I make better or
a mediocre ending. I just had no ending and I was starting to panic. Now panic can be an amazing motivator. Panic and fear often the lubrication of the creative engine.
So then one morning I was laying in bed and I was just staring at the ceiling and the ending to Monkey Island 2 to just hit me. Not with all the details like the Star Wars parody but the basic gist of it and it just felt absolutely perfect; it was odd and it was strange and I knew a lot of people would have just hated it.
But I also knew a lot of people would love it and it just felt right, it was kind of the ending that the game was waiting for. So next morning I got got back to the office and I sat down with Tim and Dave and Steve Purcell and we worked through all the details. I don’t remember who came up with the Return of the Jedi parody but it was perfect and it just fit.
When you were creating something, don’t be afraid to enrage your audience, don’t be afraid to make them hate you, don’t be afraid to challenge them and make them feel uncomfortable, it means you’re creating something that has meaning.
Now, you don’t want to do this all the time. You want to do it just enough to keep everybody thinking and unsuspecting. Art should challenge us. Art should make us think and it should make us examine who we are. Art is an object riddled with smart with sharp edges that can cut you, it’s like you can pound all those edges away and make it smooth and make it safe but we are left with is just the shapeless blob, it’s safe and it’s smooth but it’s uninteresting.
You shouldn’t enrage your audience all the time just to enrage them, you need to enrage them for a reason. I love cute pictures of puppies just as much as everyone else but I also like to read or watch or play things the make me stop and think “what the fuck was that?”. It’s like I never want to watch or play that again but I can’t stop thinking about it.