Story Layout

by Ron Gilbert
Jan 12, 2015

Thanks for all the feedback in the last post about replayability. Bucking the trend of Internet comments, it was all very interesting and insightful.

A couple of people mentioned the dead-ends in Maniac Mansion, and I want to reiterate what Gary and I said in several interviews: There will be no dead-ends.  The design of Thimbleweed Park will follow my rules of adventure game design, formulated after Maniac Mansion and before Monkey Island. Dead-ends in adventure games are the product of bad game design, nothing more. IMHO.

So, our goal is to have different endings, but not require players to replay the game (or play meta-games with save games) to see them.  I agree with some of the commenters that people don't have the time or patience these days to replay a game to get different endings. The Stanley Parable took a very novel approach to this, but that whole game was very meta, so it worked in a way that won't for Thimbleweed Park.

One difference between Thimbleweed Park and Maniac Mansion (and The Cave), was that in Maniac Mansion (or The Cave), you picked the characters you wanted to play with before the game started. In Thimbleweed Park, you are always playing with 5 characters. You don't get to choose to be Ransome the Clown. You do get to choose how much you play with him and how much of his story you explore, but he and the other characters are not optional.

Please keep in mind that this is just what we're currently exploring. It might change as we flesh things out over the next few months.

When the game starts, you will be able to switch between the two detectives, but you won't know about Ransome, Delores or Franklin yet.  There will be a small 3 or 4 room intro that sets up the story and allows players to get used to and explore the interface (there will be no tutorial, but more on that in another post, so hold your rage/support).

On to the good bits...

Once you get into the town and start investigating the dead body, you will meet characters who will tell you about Ransome, Delores and Franklin, and when they do, you will play a short flashback that sets up their stories.  When each flashback is complete, you can switch to them at will.

The main story is broken up into 3 acts, with the final act triggering the ending of the main story.  Putting it in globally understood Star Wars terms: blowing up the Death Star was act 3, the medal ceremony was the ending.

Each of the 5 characters have their own sub-stories consisting of 3 acts. Character first acts are told through the flashback, the character's second act is required as the puzzles are intertwined with the main story's second act, but the character's 3rd act is optional. You can choose to play them or not.

Also, the acts are not linear, you will have to switch to other characters to complete puzzles, so it's not like players will be able to play all of Delores, then switch to Franklin and play all of his story. Like any good adventure game or story, it's all intertwined, related and connected.

When the main story ends, there will be a satisfying ending, discovery of the killer, justice, closure and all that, but you can keep playing. If you haven't completed all the character stories, you can go back and do those. Once they are all done, you will move into a small playable epilogue that ties everything together.

I know it seem complex, but once you're in and playing, it should feel fairly natural.

Please keep in mind that we're still brainstorming and exploring ideas. This is part of the messy screwed up process that is game design and making stuff. Sometimes things work, sometimes they don't and you change them and pretend like it never happened.

- Ron

Phil - Jan 12, 2015 at 18:47
Sounds like a plan to me :) How about the possibility of the killer being somebody else, depending on who you play the "first" ending with or is that out of question?

Mattias Cedervall - Jan 13, 2015 at 23:56
I think that's a good idea.

Lennart - Jan 12, 2015 at 18:49
It looks like you will be able to make a last minute decision on which ending you will get. I like the layout. There is no Adventue Game that comes to mind where the story is layed out that way. Except for maybe Zak, where Annie, Melissa and Leslie only came after the first few puzzles.
I played the The Cave again this weekend, and I must say, there is an incredible amount of attention to detail in that game. One really shouldn't rush it. It doesn't feel like an adventure game but it is fun to play.

Barf - Jan 12, 2015 at 18:56
My rage/support meter is tilting towards the latter. It sounds like a good solution.

J. Evans - Jan 12, 2015 at 20:08
So it starts with an Intro, then some stuff in the middle, something about a clown, justice is served, The End. Gawrsh, it's like I don't even need to play the game now. Seriously, we all know the clown did it, right?
It is cool to see how even the Greatest Game Designer Ever (not my words!) begins with a bare-bones process: some boxes, some arrows, some lofty promises. Very cool. This Diary is shaping up to be an interesting peek into the Machine, altogether different than what we got with the Double Fine production videos for Broken Age, but equally (if not moreso) fascinating. (Although who here doesn't love videos of Ron Gilbert closing the office door on people?)
Keep the little white boxes coming Master Gilbert!

Carlos - Jan 12, 2015 at 20:22
The Double Fine videos were too slick for me. I always felt like I was watching a staged version of what happened. I like how this blog shaping up, let's hope it doesn't loose steam! Keep them coming!

Tomimt - Jan 13, 2015 at 04:08
I like DF videos, but one big problem with them is, that as they don't want to spoil things, especially in the videos that came before the release of part 1, the keep talking around things, instead of just showing the whole process fully, at least what came to actual ideas inserted into the game.

But anyhow, this diary is great. I like how it opens up the design process in greater detail.

fizzbuzz - Jan 12, 2015 at 20:28
I have Coulrophobia. Not sure if I can manage to play the clown.

Joost - Jan 15, 2015 at 03:58
One of the most beautiful words in the English language. However, I agree; I think there's something deeply wrong with an adult dressing up in order to make children like them.

Huxi - Jan 12, 2015 at 21:10
That sounds like a really good plan. I fail to see any downside so far.

Charlie - Jan 12, 2015 at 21:33
Although not fully similar to what is presented above, Resonance (2012) handled its four-character storyline quite well.

Ron Gilbert - Jan 12, 2015 at 21:46
I've wanted to play that, but it's Windows only.

Brian R. - Jan 12, 2015 at 22:35
Ron, Parallels works surprisingly well for playing PC games on a Mac. I've been playing South Park: Stick of Truth and there's no slow down.

Ron Gilbert - Jan 13, 2015 at 00:05
Yeah, I know, it's just a pain. I'm a gamer of quick opportunity. One click and I want to be playing, otherwise there is something else one click away.

mat - Jan 13, 2015 at 01:15
The GOG Version is OS X too
(havent heard of the game before, just read it here)

Ron Gilbert - Jan 13, 2015 at 01:19
Odd, I wonder why the Steam version is Windows only...

spaceman - Jan 13, 2015 at 04:21
GOG puts the game into Wine for you, all you need to do is install it and launch the game.

Another adventure game that does a good job of having the player control multiple characters is Goodbye Deponia.

Momomomo - Jan 13, 2015 at 06:24
Most of Wadjeteye games are not OSX native because the engine it's not ported yet (well in fact it was already ported, but I think they had problems with the Allegro' renderer not being compatible with newer OS versions, so... they are working on it), but the GOG version through Wine run perfectly. It's not like those games need too much resources anyway :)

Resonance is on my TOPLAY game list, now that those god-send fan translators from Guías Pat & asperet finished their localization into Spanish. I heard it's a hard game though.

Other games with multiple players from Wadjet are Gemini Rue (two character/story branch without interactions), and the Blackwell series (coop gameplay from the 2 characters). I liked Gemini Rue a lot, impresive one-man work, smart use of limited assets and things like that. Played those on the iPad... quite convenient for adventure playing ^.^

I recomend Primordia too for your everyday scifi fix.

MarcusG - Jan 13, 2015 at 07:09
I didn't like Resonance all that much. It started out okay: The multiple characters were fun, the puzzles decent enough. But the story soon drifted into outlandish territory. The entire plot feels immature and very artificial, the ending is rushed and the characters are too stereotype.
Gemini Rue did better IMHO. Primordia, for me, was somewhere between those two. The Deponia games were good fun, the second one being the strongest entry in the trilogy. Currently, I'm really looking forward to playing The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, even though it's no classic point&click-adventure.

Bed - Jan 13, 2015 at 04:23
I've come across this before - most recently with Quest For Infamy - only Windows and Linux (!) on Steam - but has OS X support on GOG. The devs originally promised it in late July on Steam - then in September said they were having trouble integrating Steam's APIs. I guess this is why.

Ben Henson - Jan 12, 2015 at 22:34
I'm liking the direction this is heading :)

delMar - Jan 13, 2015 at 01:14
I think your approach is ingenious. I love seeing it come to life and can't wait to play it!
And: thumbs up for "no tutorial". Come on, it's verbs and a scene with clickable objects. Nobody wants to waste his time with a needless tutorial.

Bobe - Jan 13, 2015 at 13:38
I don't think he means tutorials in the strictest sense, but I could be wrong.  Tutorials in adventure games can take the form of being stuck in a small room/scene with limited or zero inventory items, few objects/hoverspots in the scene, and a clear path to take.  

For instance, in Maniac Mansion you know you have to enter the Mansion.  You can talk to the kids in the gravel pit, play with the mailbox, examine the bush, and that's about it.  That left the rug/doormat to experiment with.  In Day of the Tentacle, most of the doors are locked and you really have to just explore the foyer/main room area.

Monkey Island 3 trapped you in the cannonball room, and then once again in the bottom of the capsized ship.  You have to get out, so you set about figuring a way to do it.  The first two Monkey Island games were much more open-ended.  I probably spent 20+ hours exploring before I solved even a single puzzle.

Anyways, I really like these kinds of areas in the game.  Once the game opens up, it can be pretty overwhelming if there aren't clear objectives.  Zak McKracken was the worst about this.

Ron Gilbert - Jan 13, 2015 at 13:44
Yeah, that is what I mean. The game won't have silly pop-ups telling you to click this, then click that, etc. It will just start out with one thing to do and then slowly add new things that use the UI a tad more until you understand it.  You learn through exploration.  There will be a "help" menu/button that will bring up instruction like you would have found in an old-school game.

peterszky - Jan 13, 2015 at 16:50
The receipt is easy for the tutorial: reverse the mindbender mechanism from Zak McKracken :D

delMar - Jan 14, 2015 at 08:24
Yes, start with limited possibilities and have the whole game unfold after that. That's good.
The very often mentioned Deponia also did this. You weren't able to leave the first location until solving a handful of puzzles. I like that

Mario Faross - Jan 13, 2015 at 02:24
would be cool,, if one of the characters you play with would be the bad ass killer. and the outcome of this at the end.

Diego - May 25, 2015 at 16:24
I have thought the same idea! like in my favorite book of Agatha Christie (I don't say what book is to avoid spolier ;)

MarcusG - Jan 13, 2015 at 02:31
The flow chart suggests there will be only one ending, instead of the previously mentioned multiple outcomes. Plus the epilogue. Ransome, Delores and Franklin will get their own optional chapter, while Detectives A and B's story will form the core 3rd act.
A different reading would suggest one "story ending" and mutliple "character endings". Either way, I'm cool with it. I was just wondering...

Tomimt - Jan 13, 2015 at 04:10
That is a solid plan to start with. Keep these kinds of blog posts coming.

GamerG - Jan 13, 2015 at 04:11
I think posts like this have too much spoilers

GamerG - Jan 13, 2015 at 07:10
"When the game starts, you will be able to switch between the two detectives, but you won't know about Ransome, Deloris or Franklin yet. "

Bed - Jan 13, 2015 at 04:18
Great dev blog so far - enjoying seeing your thought processes. This solution for multiple endings sounds *perfect* to me - I never replay a whole adventure game just to see another ending, occasionally I will via save points (i.e. with the aforementioned Resonance, and also Primordia, another great WadjetEye Game). Its still annoying though - this sounds fantastic. :D

LichiMan - Jan 13, 2015 at 05:03
In your "Stuff and Things and Monkey Island" post you talk about maps. You said: "I love maps.  For me a game design always starts with a map." Will there be maps in Thimbleweed Park game? Or just in the game design and not in the actual game?

Rob - Jan 13, 2015 at 05:04
Glad to see puzzles will rely on multiple characters, I loved that aspect of DOTT

Zak Phoenix McKracken - Jan 13, 2015 at 05:24
Very good.

Soong - Jan 13, 2015 at 05:45
When I read your solution for multiple endings, I was not so excited.  It seems to me that your solution hurts replayability since there are whole parts that are optional, but can be completed in one single playthrough even after the ending.  So not doing them would feel like not really completing the game.  I prefer parts that I can only access by making different choices in another playthrough.

Then I realized that I am not a game designer, but you are.  I can play a game and point out reasons why it is or isn't fun or suggest improvements to a game.  However, I don't think I'm all that qualified to say something won't be fun without having tried it first, especially not as qualified as you are.  So I trust you; you have designed games for a long time and so far, I've enjoyed your games immensely.  I guess I might have not liked the idea of an easy mode before I played Monkey Island 2 and now I think it was an awesome idea.  So I will try not to criticize your idea here before I know exactly what it feels like in a game.

Soong - Jan 13, 2015 at 05:47
P.S.:  I love that characters will have to work together to solve puzzles, but then again, I guess I kind of expected that from one of your adventure games.  (Damn you, high expectations!)

Momomomo - Jan 13, 2015 at 06:38
Good approach with the optional side-quest branches :) I prefer to complete the game on one playthrough. I don't mind replayability as I play the adventure games from time to time (like Fate of Atlantis, once a year :P).

By the way... I have to ask, Delores... is that a name? Is it used in the US?

I know the name "Dolores" (Spanish) and some variants from it like Lola (but this is just a shortcut of Dolores).

Zak Phoenix McKracken - Jan 13, 2015 at 08:38
I suggest "Dolores DePansa"... it's kinda ironic :-)

Ron Gilbert - Jan 13, 2015 at 11:56
Her name is "Delores", it was misspelled in this port. It is an american variation.

Jens - Jan 14, 2015 at 03:27
Absolutely unrelated question: Are uou using "Scapple" for these puzzle diagrams?

Laoena - Jan 13, 2015 at 07:30
No tutorials? Ha! We don't need no steenk'n tutorials!

Tomaog - Jan 13, 2015 at 08:36
The switch of characters in the same environment as a lot of potential!
Looking forward to see how the dialogues are changing depending on who is the main character I believe it could help building the mood of the Thimbleweed society somehow.

Flowo1974 - Jan 13, 2015 at 09:12
Awesome! I love the structure.
This post makes me even more excited to play the game1

lobopampeano - Jan 13, 2015 at 09:30
Ron: You wrote "Delores" on your chart and  "Deloris" on yor explanation.

Just in case you intended to use the female Spanish name allow me to correct you: it's spelled "Dolores".

I do know that some Spanish names have been modified and adopted by the Englsih language so maybe one of the two versions you used  is a valid English name I dont know about.

Flowo1974 - Jan 13, 2015 at 11:37
See Whoopie Goldberg's character in "SisterAct". Deloris and Delores are not that uncommon.

Ron Gilbert - Jan 13, 2015 at 11:56
Type, it's been corrected. Thanks.

Strawberry - Jan 13, 2015 at 09:39
Multiple endings add replayability, it's looking like the game will be very fun so far.
Switching between characters reminds me a lot of DOTT.

Carlos - Jan 13, 2015 at 10:09
Maniac Mansion did it before DotT.

longuist - Jan 13, 2015 at 09:41
Suggestion: As some infuences are from Twin Peaks, please let the detective be addicted to sth.

Here some examples from Twin Peaks:

It doesnt have to be coffee though. Gummi Bears, Mustard, The Bold And The Beautiful, ....

Giulio - Jan 13, 2015 at 10:17
Fantastic! I knew you would come up with a great solution to the problem!
I only have a few doubts left. Lets say I'd like to finish and explore all of the stories to the bottom end BEFORE seeing the epilogue. When I finish the first story will the epilogue be triggered automatically (spoiling it for good) or will I be given the option to switch to the other characters and complete their stories too before seeing the epilogue/ending?

Ron Gilbert - Jan 13, 2015 at 11:04
The epilogue would not be triggered until you complete the main story and all the sub-stories. The epilogue should be pretty low energy, as it's not a big conclusion. It should just be a satisfying little trip trough what happened to the characters. The end of The Wire is a good (great) example of how we'd like it to work.

Giulio - Jan 13, 2015 at 17:18
Perfect! I can't wait to get "on a whole new adventure"!

Pikomi - Jan 13, 2015 at 10:52

interesting - Jan 13, 2015 at 15:02
You can get from Act 1 to Act 2 without any Flashback or Detective Story?

Ron Gilbert - Jan 13, 2015 at 15:12
No, that's not the way dependency charts work.  Act 2 is dependent on Act 1 and each of the flashbacks.

Dan - Jan 13, 2015 at 16:34
I've been thinking about the replayability and the multiple endings. At first I was inclined to ask for having to play different times to get all the endings but I realized I am used to RPG's when doing that. If there could be som New Game + it might work to have us playing several times to get all then endings, but if not, it might become a little cumbersome and frustrating, I think it is a good idea to avoid such a need. Still, wouldn't be fatal, I still keep playing Maniac Mansion over and over, it just doesn't get old.

Tim Lammert - Jan 13, 2015 at 17:40
I thought about several solutions, but yours is really the best. That's the best solution I can imagin. Perfect !

Mathias - Jan 14, 2015 at 02:34
Doesn't sound overly complex to me, so no need to apologize (yet :-)).

Pietz - Jan 14, 2015 at 13:19
It is even more un-complex if you move both detectives to the most left position. And even more, more un-complex and better understandable if you put all five characters in the same second row. Try it - it untangles everything somehow ;-)

johnnyfreak - Jan 14, 2015 at 06:22
Interesting solution. I will definitely try it.

Just one consideration: it seems to me that this approach is not a solution to the replayability issue but it is like replacing it with longevity.

Looking at the chart it is not clear to me if you can end Act3 with every character or not.
If yes, will this mean that the ending is not related to who solves the case? (So replaying the game will not change the main storyline and its ending)
Otherwise it seems that the story is about the two detective solving the case and the other characters are just "sub-games" or "side-quests". In this case I wonder why having multiple characters is still a good idea.

One way to support replayability could be to make each character gameplay a different view/perspective of the same story (i.e. at same point you have to do something related to a car. One char will get into the car, another will play the scene from the outside and so on).

Giuseppe - Jan 14, 2015 at 09:11
Maybe I've missed something but..... Ron, you mention "discovery of the killer" among the many things. Will that always be the same? No matter which character you play the most, which you don't at all, whose ending you'll see.....
I assume the discovery of the killer is a big part of the whole thing and knowing that it might change when you play the game with a different character, would be definitely a plus.

longuist - Jan 14, 2015 at 14:44
Hope you dont want that the killer is someone else depending on your choices. This would get very complex, and probably not satisfying, see heavy rain.

Derrick Reisdorf - Jan 14, 2015 at 14:09
So, the epilogue is optional? Hardly. You know most of us hardcore adventurers will have to play through it.
It's going to be a difficult task to make the epilogue not feel out of place or fractured from the rest of the story (at least how pacing is concerned).

Ron Gilbert - Jan 14, 2015 at 14:30
I fully expect hardcore players to play the Epilogue, it's the casual players that can skip it. The final puzzles for the character arcs will be hard, it's going to take some effort to complete them. For casual players, once they have the ending (the death star is blown up), they will be satisfied and stop playing and that's fine. If you're hardcore, then keep playing and wrap everything up. The epilogue isn't going to be hard to play, but getting it to trigger might be.

Again, this is just want's in our heads right now. We're sharing our design thoughts. None of this may work or we'll think of something better...

longuist - Jan 14, 2015 at 14:50
hard -> hooray!!1
Will have to disconnect from the internet to not getting dissolved by a "solution"

Derrick Reisdorf - Jan 15, 2015 at 00:10
If anyone can make it work, you can!

So, will it be possible that a player has completed the final acts of all the characters prior to the main ending? And, if so, I assume the game rolls straight into the epilogue?

And, how do you plan on making the player aware that they can continue playing to get to the epilogue? Just some dialogue or narration? What mechanism (if any) will be in place to allow a player to simply end the game after the main ending? I think it would be weird if someone just turned off the game without trying to get to the epilogue.

Joost - Jan 15, 2015 at 03:55
spoiler, much?

Elizabeth of Jupiter - Jan 14, 2015 at 16:47
I love the idea of playable endings and epilogues. I felt like Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People pulled such a thing off quite well.

Noah Falstein - Jan 14, 2015 at 19:37
Hey, story expert, I think I found a flaw.  You've already mentioned at least one corpse and one ghostly player character.  You say you will absolutely have no dead ends.  Then what's on the, er, derrière of the corpse and the ghost?  Are those parts alive?  Eew!

Derrick Reisdorf - Jan 15, 2015 at 10:22
"Dead end"- I get it.  *rim shot*

Peter Campbell - Jan 14, 2015 at 23:30
I wonder if the difficulty mode that the player chooses to play on when beginning the game, whether they choose "EASY" or "HARD", if it makes any difference with how the story system works.  It'd be pretty cool if players who go through the game on the harder difficulty get a bonus ending or a few extra bits of story or something as a reward for the extra effort that they'll have to put in to solve the more challenging puzzles =)

Brian Ruff - Jan 15, 2015 at 00:40
Yes, it would be great to get rewarded for the extra effort.

KernelPanic - Jan 15, 2015 at 08:01
The ideas look great! *licks Ron*

salty ride - Jan 16, 2015 at 09:16
thank goodness for no tutorial!

i think the idea of playing with everyone is good, and also the thing about playing after the mistery has been solved so we can finish every characters story.


Me - Jan 17, 2015 at 18:56
I really like to see the multiple endings of a game (like Maniac Mansion or Indy Atlantis) but I really hate to replay the whole (or part of the) game.

Sounds promising the idea of reaching act 3 of the game, see the end and then have the ability to continue playing with the other characters in order to see the multiple endings. And top of that, you'll get an epilogue.

I think I’ve never seen this before in an adventure.

Good idea!

Christian - Jan 18, 2015 at 04:16
Sounds excellent!

RappScallion - Jan 31, 2015 at 19:21
That all sounds pretty great. Reading once more of your rules of adventure game designs I just recalled that I meant to write this for quite some time now.

Although there are the dead end jokes there is one part in Monkey Island 1 where you can get stuck. On board of the Seamonkey while trying to find Monkey Island (TM) the game allows burning the cereal in the fire. You then have some ashes in your inventory but can't finish the recipe because Guybrush won't pick another box up.
Is there a way out of this i didn't find or is it a solid dead end?