Brainstorming Like It's 1987

by David Fox
Feb 24, 2015

Last week Ron, Gary, and I spent two days together brainstorming Act 1 of Thimbleweed Park. I knew I was going to have fun, and wasn't disappointed. Just like old times, except it was at Gary's office in the Santa Cruz area instead of a Skywalk Ranch conference room. But the coffee drinks were way better. I don't think they invented coffee drinks yet in the 1980s, at least not at the Ranch. (My new favorite, Soy Mocha Chai Latte. Almost as good as Hot Butterbeer from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.)

The first step was for me to wrap my head around the game. Having been reading the Thimbleweed blog posts from the beginning helped a bit, but the overview design docs that Ron and Gary sent to me before our meetings really got me going. From a "character bible" with a paragraph or two on each of the "actors" (lots of backstory that may never make it into the game but really helps us write dialog), to the puzzle and location maps, magically unblurred from the versions you all have seen. But there were lots of gaps in my understanding, so for the first hour Ron and Gary walked me through the game, and I asked all the questions I had saved up.

Besides coffee and a big whiteboard, what else is needed for a successful brainstorming? I've been thinking about that for the past few days. There's definitely a mental mode brainstormers want to enter, but which you can't just turn on... So you have to prime the pump.

We started by drawing the game's map with all the locations, describing what the player has to accomplish by the end of Act 1, and listing what objects would be needed to get the player to that point. We then stepped back to see if it would be any fun playing through. When we noticed that we had too many puzzles where you could buy something at one location and use it somewhere else, we pushed our creativity buttons and came up with much more interesting solutions (unlike in Zak McKracken, there are no Thimbleweed pawn shops where you can stock up on a dozen needed items in this game!).

This felt very methodical at first, but then the magic began. We saw patterns that we liked and amplified them, ending up with some great running gags. We came up with crazy ideas that made us all laugh out loud (some of which may make it in the game). We didn't care if our suggestions would be stupid... no need to pre-filter at this point, just get them all out and see which ones connect and feel right. Then we entered that unfettered mindlinked state where more than one of us had the same idea at the same time... it didn't make any difference which one vocalized it, it just had to get up on that white board.

By the end of Day 2, we felt really good about our progress. The game was coming alive, and we could picture ourselves playing through and having a blast. Can't wait to start scripting!

- David

ChamKiu - Feb 25, 2015 at 12:46
You should try out Bulletproof Coffee once.

David Fox - Feb 25, 2015 at 13:06
Oh, buttered coffee! Thanks!

Brian Ruff - Feb 25, 2015 at 13:23
Thanks for sharing David. It's fun to hear about it from one more person's perspective. I hope you guys keep those LOL gags no matter how "hamster-in-the-microwavish" they may be.

David Fox - Feb 25, 2015 at 14:04
I'm sure at least some of them will make it into the game!

Vegetaman - Feb 25, 2015 at 13:44
Just an idea, but it'd be cool if character backstory that didn't make it into the game directly [or any other cut content, or even game hints for actual content for that matter] could be turned into something that was crafted in the vein of that awesome foldout poster that came with the NES Maniac Mansion (it was like a pseudo-bulletin board which had hints about radiation making plants grow and stuff of that nature).

Arthur - Feb 25, 2015 at 22:04

The Kickstarter said there would be a "Maniac Mansion style manual" and a "Feelie of some kind".  There's some hope.

Dial-A-Pirate remains the best copy protection scheme in a game ever.  The PC versions of Maniac Mansion and Zak McKracken had these codes that were just terrible to enter, but at least they tried to "gamify" it a bit.  Dial-A-Pirate perfected it by making it a proper feelie.  I still have my Dial-A-Pirate and I never minded using it.  It got me in the mood to play the game, and you can't say that about any modern DRM mechanism.

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy had the best feelies:

Some gamers might feel scammed to get what amounts to a flea circus ("Microscopic Space Fleet"), but I think it's hilarious and justified.  What a terrific gag...

Lukas - Feb 26, 2015 at 03:34
I also really enjoyed looking through the concept art section that's unlocked (I think) while playing through Grim Fandango Remastered. The locations that weren't included in the game were particularly interesting. Would be fantastic to get some of the unused (and some of the used) planning documents as unlockables.

Scruffy - Feb 25, 2015 at 14:57
The cash card is under the desk, in case anyone had forgotten.

Zak Phoenix McKracken - Feb 25, 2015 at 15:55
Is your name somehow related to Dick Gumshoe?

MrY - Feb 27, 2015 at 06:39
Hmmm can't tell if troll

Zak Phoenix McKracken - Feb 25, 2015 at 15:24
Nice post, Mr David Fox!
Today I am sad... I can't find my original Zak McKracken And The Alien Mindbenders™ box!! The one with Amiga floppies inside, with The National Inquisitor and the security VISA codes...
Last time I remember it, it was just before the moving in my new apartment, a few years ago. I carefully put it in a plastic box, then left in a precise location. And now, when nostalgia knoked at my mind... I wanted to open my box again and... I can't find it anymore!!! Sob.

David Fox - Feb 25, 2015 at 15:37
Thanks Zak! I'm sure the correct location of the box will come to you in a dream tonight...

Marco Lizza - Feb 25, 2015 at 16:57
Later that night, Zak's in bed... alone... again...


By the way, I still have my original C64 version ZMKATAM box with all the goodies. It smells like history...

David Fox - Feb 25, 2015 at 18:53
Save your ZMKATAM box! They're now going for a couple of thousand dollars on eBay!

Marco Lizza - Feb 26, 2015 at 08:11
Oh! Really!

I won't sell them for anything (yes, I have the C64's Maniac Mansion one, too)... but it nice to know we "own" a little precious piece of videogame history. =)

PrinzJohnny99 - Feb 26, 2015 at 05:30
Btw, I just played my original *cough* copy of Zak yesterday via ScummVM on my Wii, and there seems to be a bug. The first time I visit Mars with Melissa and Leslie, I try to get all the stuff from the van, but whenever I try take or do something, I always get the answer that they can't reach it. Is this known? Or a secret copy protection?
When I played the game four years ago, I didn't have the problem at that point.

Also btw, I backed TP for the 150$ collectors edition box. I hope, that gives me the salvation for any Lucafilm copies beside MI and MM :o)

Mau - Feb 27, 2015 at 05:11
I´m sorry, but the "Clean Your Sould Of Guilt" was for "Manic Mansion" and "Monkey Island" only. There was no mention about "Zak McKracken" during the kickstarter.

David Fox - Feb 27, 2015 at 11:39
@PrinzJohnny99, I don't think that's a bug in Zak, more likely a bug in ScummVM. It doesn't run our games 100% perfectly, being reverse engineered. And no, salvation is only for MI/MM. I'll grant you Zak salvation, though, if you buy my recent game, Rube Works: The Official Rube Goldberg Invention Game... :-) I promise!

PrinzJohnny99 - Feb 27, 2015 at 14:39
Ok, I got my salvation! I'll let you know what I think of at game when I played it more thoroughly, but it really, really looks fun!
Thanks for the tip and the salvation. It feels like a little halo has appeared over my head, but it can also be my decreasing hair.

PrinzJohnny99 - Feb 27, 2015 at 15:18
If Rube Works is a tiny glimpse of what TP might become, I'm totally happy. Although it is a little bit different, beeing an "Incredible Machine" clone, it is funny, has some good riddles and a fantastic mood. I just played the first three level, but I laughed out loud a lot.
I recommend it to everyone who reads this blog. For me, beeing a huge fan of "Incredible Machine", I give it an easy 10/10 and will definitely play it through.

David Fox - Feb 27, 2015 at 15:55
Awesome! You are redeemed!

Of course, Rube Works is not really a The Incredible Machine clone... definitely inspired by that kind of gameplay, but both TIM and RW get their inspiration from Rube Goldberg cartoons, only Rube Works is true to the source material (as you can see when you complete a level). TIM gives you more opportunity for sandbox type of gameplay. Rube Works is more of a casual puzzle game.

When designing Rube Works, I definitely pulled in everything I knew about creating graphic adventure games. But as a casual game, you can complete a level in 10-20 minutes (probably less for everyone here since they know how to THINK).

I don't think Rube Works gives much of a glimpse of what TP will be... other than being fun, and hopefully lots of LOL moments.

PrinzJohnny99 - Feb 28, 2015 at 12:18
That's interesting, because I was wondering if the images at the end of a puzzle were done for the game and inspired by the level or vice versa. I think I have to learn who Rube Goldberg was, since I don't know him yet.
About the comparison to TP I meant the object related puzzles. They are awesome in Rube Works.

David Fox - Feb 28, 2015 at 14:50
The images at the end of each level were drawn by Rube Goldberg in around the 1920s-1940s and were syndicated in newspapers all across the US. We licensed his work, and wanted to stay as true as possible to them, and give the whole game a real 1920s retro feel.

Rube was an amazingly prolific cartoonist, having penned about 50,000 of them during his lifetime. He's a Pulitzer prize winner, song writer, screen writer (the first Three Stooges film), scultpture, but he's most known for his crazy chain reaction cartoons, and as a result, his name is in the dictionary meaning “accomplishing by extremely complex, roundabout means what seemingly could be done simply.” Which is why you get the most points for using every object in the toolbox. You can learn more about him at and on Wikipedia.

Many people are surprised to find out he was a real person, so you're not alone!

PrinzJohnny99 - Feb 28, 2015 at 17:03
Thanks for the info, I will have a look at it.
50.000 cartoons? So maybe there will be some extra level? :o) I almost finished the game.

David Fox - Mar 01, 2015 at 21:08
Most of Rube's cartoons were not chain reaction machines. But I found several dozen more chain reaction machine cartoons of his that would make great levels. Maybe at some point!

pumbaa - Feb 27, 2015 at 16:01
i played my original cough zak on scummvm on android one month ago. I could reach tape, fuse and stuff

Joshua Witt - Feb 25, 2015 at 19:23
Thanks for providing these updates I really enjoy reading them. It was interesting to hear that you develop a lot of back story to the characters the is never directly revealed within the game.

Mattias Cedervall - Feb 25, 2015 at 20:06
Thank you for the interesting post, David! Brainstorming? Watch out for zombies!

Have you tried tea with coffee flavor? :P

David Fox - Feb 25, 2015 at 21:40
I think that would Braingorging or something. Just storms for us.

Haven't tried coffee with tea flavor. I'm actually more of a tea drinker. Favorite is Earl Grey, and what we've named "Lemur Tea" from Trader Joe's, Vanilla and Cinnamon Black Tea (Google it).

Patrik Spacek - Feb 25, 2015 at 23:05
I happy guys you doing a great progress on the game, had a fun, and all feel like old times... it makes the game development even more exciting and you must be truly motivated.

Andreas - Feb 26, 2015 at 03:31
What a great update! It is nice to see the brainstorming breathing fresh wind into the game to make it perfect from every angle.

Zak was my first adventure game ever and set the stone for loving this genre above all other so very much. In fact there are only a few other games which can compete with it in regards of story telling and fun. I want to see this in Thimbleweed Park again and am excited about you being on board.

Regarding Brainstorming. Here is a fun idea for the game (dunno how copyright [tm] will play into this though):

Melissa and Leslie *need* to run a shop in Thimbleweed Park. Next to shop is their special van, which can bee seen from its back. Also in the shop they sell various stuff. They should also have diplomas on the wall stating like "First humans on Mars", "Degree in Alien Space Travel Engineering", "Saved the World from alien enslavement" etc. .  Of course they have a pet fish (Sushi?) swimming around in a lamp.

This is just an idea, however it would be so great to meet these characters in Thimbleweed. After all their role in Zak was a bit unappreciated. Also we never saw them coming home.

Never the less, looking forward to read your next post!

- Andreas (tcmsurfer)

Andreas - Feb 26, 2015 at 03:33
Totally forgot!

Don't forget to have an awesome intro in Thimbleweed Park to set the mood for the game. It doesn't have to be in Zak style or length, however I hope you all can think of something good.

Tomimt - Feb 26, 2015 at 07:36
You know, David, now that you're here, is there any, even very so slight, possibility that there would be another Zak game at some point? With little less mazes this time. It would be lovely to get an another crack at being a tabloid reporter in the 80's, as that where the story should definetly stay.

MrY - Feb 27, 2015 at 06:36
lol Zak 2 is due imminent release.


Here you ah:

David Fox - Feb 27, 2015 at 15:47
Disney now owns Zak, and everything else from LucasArts. I really don't know if they're ever be another one, maybe only if there were enough demand, or other game relaunches of old LucasArts properties were hugely successful. If yes, then definitely way fewer mazes.

Estranged2 - Feb 26, 2015 at 08:16
Great news! With David Fox on board, the game will be even richer. As far as I know, he's responsible for wiring the interactions in MM and Zak in a way that unfortunately isn't present in later adventure games.

David Fox - Feb 26, 2015 at 13:55
I did a lot of the wiring/scripting on Maniac Mansion (Ron did a lot too), and shared scripting responsibilities with Matthew Kane on Zak. I also did about half of it on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure. I'm sure it will all come back to me as I dive in here.

Tim - Feb 26, 2015 at 12:04
It's been a while since I read the initial information on Thimbleweed's Kickstarter page. Maybe that's why it came as a surprise to see you collaborating with Ron and Gary on this project. But what a pleasant surprise it is! Can't have enough co-pioneers when it comes to recreating adventure history ;) Being a non-programmer I hope you keep expressing yourself as layman friendly as you just did. Wish you great success.

David Fox - Feb 26, 2015 at 13:51
Thanks Tim! There was an update during the Kickstarter that said I'd be onboard doing scripting (as I did in Maniac Mansion). I've kept a low profile since this is really Ron and Gary's show, but glad to be a member of the team!

badde - Feb 26, 2015 at 12:51
Will we get some easter eggs at the game?

MrY - Feb 26, 2015 at 14:01
Pics or it never happened!

pumbaa - Feb 27, 2015 at 02:30
could you add timestamps in the comments? Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeease???

enthusi - Feb 27, 2015 at 05:38
Wow, cool ;-)
In a two man team I am working on a free gfx adventure for teh c64 (yes, right, natively) and so much of this blog is exactly what we go through right now as well. It's super amazing. Scripting will be a tough one, too (still working on the engine, though).
We probably can't help but trying to catch your attention once it progressed further ;-)
This is all very exciting in more than one way!

pumbaa - Feb 27, 2015 at 16:03
link? some infos?

Philips - Mar 25, 2015 at 17:32
Funny to read through, tough and though so close to each other... :-)
I´ll assure, I´m not an english native speaker but I first had to ensure theese words don´t even have anything similar in their meaning, insured!

Dominik - Feb 27, 2015 at 11:40
Thanks for this additional view on the project!

Reading this blog is a little bit like meeting you childhood heroes, so it's really great to see you three in action and being able to have such a close look on the development process.

Also: No need to keep a low profile here  in the blog. I think every reader here absolutely craves for new entries!

David Fox - Feb 27, 2015 at 14:55
I'll be posting more after I get started. This is definitely something we didn’t have in the 80s -- direct connection to all of you. I like it!

MrY - Feb 27, 2015 at 13:18
Hope there's a hot ivy league babe the player can hook up with.

badde - Feb 27, 2015 at 14:40
please - don´t make different difficulties ! One game - one difficulty !

thetrond - Feb 27, 2015 at 15:57
When the game is finished, you should publish this entire blog as a book!

Stan - Feb 28, 2015 at 15:20
Can something like this be in the game? (The jacket)