Thinking about what @LowLevel said about re-evaluating the game in 25 years time, I’m interested to revisit it in a couple of months once all the initial hype has died down, and after I’ve stepped away from it for a bit (though I’m enjoying the forum so much it might be more like a year’s time ).
I think it’s difficult to have a true, unbiased opinion on something in the midst of all the buzz and excitement - it’s easy to get caught up in all the positive reactions, especially after such a big build-up and following all the developments.
I’m not saying I’ll suddenly decide it’s a bag of crap, but I think I’ll be a bit more critical.
I think it’s even harder to imagine how game designers manage to do this (well, if they do). They are always working on implementing small details in the game and still have to keep track of the overall thing. In case of adventure games for instance you can have puzzle chains which change over time and if you are as easily confused like me it’s easy to mix all this stuff up later…
It’s much easier for most other type of products (e.g. movies having more linearity and no interactivity; or other software and engineering projects with more clearly defined goals).
Now I wonder too, is this a recommendation?
The main character has a nice sounding name (disgusting spelling though).
Absolutely! It´s a very slow last man on earth story from new zealand that ends very ambiguously. Really hard to describe, you´d have to see for yourself. Check it out!
It is! One of my favourite films of all time, because it´s one of a kind. But not for everybody. It´s not exactly The Road Warrior. Rather slow, but with many interesting ideas. Most people love the beginning where the main character is completly on his own and does things many of us probably have thought about.
I liked the ending. Because I thought: Ok, they are kids. That’s great and genius surprising. Then you (Ron) wrote somewhere that you had planned a third part - and I was (and am) completely irritated. Because the ending of MI2 still makes sense to me. (For me it was a perfect ending for the Monkey Island series.) Yes, I know, I’m alone with this opinion.
I discussed that sometime ago in the blog: I won’t say that. One big problem is, that a lot of authors/writers just begin to write without knowing the end. And that leads (most times) to a horrible/bad ending. If you write down the ending first, you know where you would like to end - and then the ending isn’t difficult to get right.
After playing TWP the second time I still have the feeling that the games tries to tell two different stories: The murder an the “ending”. (Please note that this is only my personal opinion!)
Actually, this is quite common, it’s not an anomaly. Writers start with an ending in mind, then as they write, the story takes you in a new direction. This happens all the time. A wrier needs to go where the story takes them, if you rigidly stick to your initial idea, it’s not going to be as good.
From day 1, we knew the murder was not important, it was never planned to be. Initially, there was a different ending, but the theme was the same, then as I wrote, this ending felt better and more salient, and matched the theme of what was happening better. The act of going into the wireframe world was initially an easter egg, but as I got to the end, it made more sense to require it.
The ending of MI2 came to me about 2 months before the game shipped, mostly driven by the panic of not having an ending, or more correctly, having a crappy ending I hated.
My point is, endings change as you write, because you start to understand your story better. People like to think books, movies or games are fully formed ideas that just pour out, but that’s not true. It’s all made up anyway, so why not change it as your creating.
Yeah, and it’s also a pretty safe bet to follow it because people really, really like the Hero’s Journey.
Going through it, Monkey Island hits almost all of the beats of the Hero’s Journey…
The Call to Adventure: "I want to be a mighty pirate"
Supernatural Aid: Voodoo Priestess
Crossing the First Threshold: Bridge Troll
The Road of Trials: The Three Trials
The Meeting with the Goddess: Elaine
Atonement with the Father: LeChuck
Apotheosis: Finding LeChuck’s ghost ship
The Ultimate Boon: Defeating LeChuck
Master of Two Worlds: Guybrush and Elaine together at the end
Another very, very popular story template that is often used is the “Lester Dent Formula” (Lester Dent was a popular pulp fiction writer in the 1920s-50s)… always fun trying to spot if a writer has been using any of these kinds of templates!
I´d like to point out for anyone following this discussion that I absolutly don´t think that this a bad thing. Not even a sign of uncreativity, there is a ton of different and exicting things you can do with these basic templates. I think of it like with music where there is so much you can do just with variatons of 8 notes that you can pick from.
It´s just these are things that work and I don´t immediatly call out a writer who obviously reaches for these premises conciously or unconciously. Constructing something interesting out these things is still a lot harder than it looks.
Also, even if a writer has never heard of these templates before, they will still often use them subconsciously, because they are just so common and pervasive in stories.
It’s often best to know these templates so that you are at least aware when you’re using them, and to know when to use them or when to subvert or avoid them.
The music analogy is good because everyone uses the incredibly common major and minor scales… and every so often you might want to use something a bit more exotic, but you still normally need to know them and how they work.
I´ve been thinking music mainly because of the Stairway To Heaven trail and how ridicioulous that was to anyone with even a basic understanding of music (it was like three consecutive notes and everything else was totally different). And I´m confident that the basic plot templates in fiction have been brought up in plagiarism trials before.
I did need to let TWP’s ending sink in for a while, but then concluded that it fit the game and its tone. It also didn’t come as much of a surprise for me since there was more and more foreshadowing. The fact that this ending doesn’t go out with a bang, but that you basically play it through, getting individual endings and some kind of closure for each character and then eventually venture into the wireframe world, made the big difference which made it a satisfying experience for me.
MI2’s ending totally hit me by surprise. I had really grown attached to the game universe and characters over the course of two games and the possible interpretation in the lines of “And then I woke up and it was all just a dream” was really hard to swallow for me at first. Meanwhile, I’ve grown to accept it by considering it an open and ambiguous ending leading up to a so-far unrealised sequel. But back then I wasn’t aware that Monkey Island was envisioned by Ron as a trilogy, and even though I saw the ambiguities such as Guybrush not being aware of what had happened, the glow in Chuckie’s eyes and Elaine’s cutscene, I still took everything as “final”. Honestly, even nowadays I would still feel too emotionally attached to the atmosphere, world and characters of MI to be “taken out of the ride” and see all of it collapse in the very end. Not to say that I didn’t grow attached to TWP’s atmosphere and characters, but the level of (self-)awareness and “acceptance” the game’s characters eventually had, made me emphatize as well, and the difference that I still had a chance to walk around freely and eventually decide when to “pull the plug” instead of forcefully taken out of the setting, made the ending work out and feel self-containted for me. This is what most distinguishes it from MI2’s ending in my opinion.
While I think your approach and some of the ideas are interesting, the thing about suggesting “more elegant ways to pull of this kind of ending” is that it can easily come across as the kind of criticism the devs might take offense in. Even though, as @RonGilbert explained, endings change as you write, I can’t imagine at all that the devs put not enough thought into the way the game ends or the level of “meta-ness”. The ending it has is exactly how they decided according to their own reasoning. Of course, I only know about the game’s development from reading the blog posts, but those really give me the impression that nothing in this game is random, coincidental or not well thought out. Even in case the ending has only been decided on late in the development process, in my opinion it does match the theme of what was happening. However, it would be interesting to know how many changes the devs still made to the game afterwards?
Wow, this is really interesting to know! As I have written above, for a long time I found MI2’s ending to be quite drastic as I hadn’t seen it coming at all and later during the numerous re-plays found just a few hints that I would see as what I have called “foreshadowing” earlier, the most I can remember now being the tunnel locations, closed SOMI street and “lost parents” in the final chapter, which are only vague, especially when I compare it to TWP. Did you want MI2’s ending to have exactly that effect or, given that you hadn’t been driven by panic and had more time before shipping, would you still have made more changes to the game to reflect or foreshadow the events of the ending, as in TWP? Was there actually anything you have concluded or wanted to do differently as a game developer from the controversy surrounding MI2’s ending and you were now applying during the development of TWP, or would too much consideration for “streamlining” make you feel like having too little liberties as a creator?
…and yeah, asking Ron Gilbert this question feels almost as taboo as walking up the library staircase or finding chainsaw gas in Maniac Mansion, but after I have done both of that in TWP, I might as well dare… Ron, could you please tell us more about this inital crappy ending to MI2?
You will probably tar and feather me for the following, but I can’t resist to answer.
Yes, but then you have to revise the whole story. And in these cases the writer has an ending in mind, even if it changed at some point.
Or let me say it in other words: The writer has to stay focused on a goal and he has to make sure that all parts of the story are leading towards this goal. (This prevents him from unnecessary and boring subplots, by the way.)
In my (own!) perception the murder takes two thirds of the game. Solving the murder is the part of the story that I remember the most. So to me(!) it seemed important. I know that the murder was only a “hook” (don’t know a proper English word for that :)). So why haven’t you kept the murder part short(er) and extended the story on the will, the factory, Ray and Reyes “true” stories, …? For example you could have cut two of the tron machines, so Willy is arrested faster - and we all know that a fast solution of a murder is (very) suspicious. Or let the player do the murder in a way that the player knows clearly that he is the murderer - in this case the agents could investigate against the player - that would be very interesting to play - Ok, Ok, now I’m brainstorming …
And here comes the part where you can bring in the tar and the feathers (if you haven’t done that already):
Maybe this is the reason why a lot of people hated the end of MI2? In this case it would be another example of why you should have an end in mind when starting a story…
Yes, I agree with you. It’s a creative process. And sometimes you have to throw away the end. But the rest of the novel/story has to fit. I know that from my own experience: Every time I changed the ending of one of my stories, my readers don’t liked them - even if I was convinced that the new ending would be better. I had some of theses stories buried in a drawer (and not published). After a few years I read them again and I must admit: The readers were right. The new endings doesn’t fit to the rest of the story. That is one of the reasons I have an end in mind when I start a new story - and with these stories I had only positive reactions.
There are several techniques to keep you on the right track - @Paul mentioned the Hero’s Journey. You don’t have to use these things. But then you have to be a very good writer or you need a lot of luck.
I’m fascinated by this process that involves a continuous reshaping of the story.
From one point of view it seems the most natural creative process possible, on the other hand it seems to me that the writer must educate himself not to be attached to the first ideas that he had, and reaching this goal seems more the result of a (less emotional) disciplined methodology. Or maybe the bits that were discarded were less loved than the ones that substituted them.
You have already shown some of the rooms that you cut from TWP in your very interesting blog post “Cutting” but it was focused on rooms while I was interested to know which parts of the original story you discarded and changed along the road?