Taming the Design

by Ron Gilbert
Jan 27, 2015

"Pillows made America great! Pillows helped win the war!" - Uncle Chuck

Gary and I did a daylong brainstorm session yesterday with the objective of taming the design.

The problem is we had too many ideas bouncing all over the place. We had the core of the story figured out pre-Kickstarter, but all the loose threads never really came together into a unifying theme. We'd come up with good puzzles, but they didn't feel like they were supporting the story. They were just fun puzzles.

We started by listing all five playable characters and asking ourselves "What is their story? Why are they here and what do they really want?" They can all want different things, but they have to be related and come together to make one larger and stronger story. From a puzzle standpoint, it also helps if they are all driving towards the same goal, even if for different reasons.

It was time to strip everything away and rebuild it.

The pillow factory has always played a crucial role in the main story's climax, so we started by asking "Why do each of the playable characters want to get into the abandoned pillow factory?" If we gave them all the same puzzle objective, they (and the player) can be working towards the same goal. Each character is looking for something different, but it all leads to the pillow factory.  In Maniac Mansion, all the kids were there to find Sandy, so the player focus was the same.

The other issue we faced were the two detectives. We hadn't fully fleshed out their stories or personalities. They were there to solve the murder, but we didn't really know who they were beyond a simple paragraph.

We wanted to make them different, not just male and female carbon copies of each other. They needed to have very different goals and deal with situations differently. We also felt it would be more interesting if they were working together, but also at odds, maybe some deep mistrust. Doing that would heighten the mystery of what was going on in Thimbleweed Park.

So we wrote all our ideas on two whiteboards and started to talk through everything. We'd have an idea that made sense for a while, then we'd abandon it in favor of a better one. It was a day of bouncing between "we're screwed", "this is genius", "we're screwed", "this is genius", goto 10.

The end result was we could talk through the story from beginning to end. We had five (six if you include the murder) different stories that all came together, then briefly separated for the epilogue.  All five stories are serving the same overarching theme, yet have their own little "moral" and meaning for the character.

This morning I set out to write it all down as a linear narrative, much like a walk-through (hyphen? no hyphen?). If we didn't know the details of a puzzle or location, I'd write something like "You need to make the phone ring (TBD) so the hotel clerk leaves his desk".  Seven pages later, it was all down and it all made sense and fit together better than it seemed to the end of the day yesterday.

The document is filled with (TBD), but now it's just a matter of filling those in over the next few months.

And lots of puzzle dependency charts.

* None of this is written in stone, any of it could change, names and locations are just temp brainstorm, so don't get too attached to it. By the time the game ships it will be a space shooter.

Iron Curtain - Jan 27, 2015 at 23:23
Was the "Space Shooter" remark a reference to another kickstarted Point-and-Click Adventure? *coughStarrMazercough*

Dennis Bratz - Jan 28, 2015 at 01:49
Whoa, did I read "cell phone"? Not set in 1987? Still, this all sounds fantastic.

Ron Gilbert - Jan 28, 2015 at 02:07
They had cell phones in 1987.

Falko - Jan 28, 2015 at 02:19
With cars around them for power and mobility.

Flowo1974 - Jan 28, 2015 at 06:09
They're FBI agents, I'm sure they have technology that is years ahead ;)

Derrick Reisdorf - Jan 28, 2015 at 10:12
I thought they were just regular old (and "washed up") detectives...not FBI agents.  Mobile phones in '87 could cost at least $2-3k, which in today's dollars would be well over $4k. And, in addition, you have to pay for the service which wasn't cheap by any means.  I wouldn't think their job would really require the need for (nor justify the cost of) a cell phone, but what do I know?

I was going to post here a couple links to some old print and video ads for cell phones, but I figured anyone interested can just do a internet search themselves.  There's so many of them- and, they're pretty entertaining.

Bobe - Jan 28, 2015 at 11:00
We're living in a new era where games are dissected before they're even made.

Flowo1974 - Jan 28, 2015 at 13:01
My bad...I was thinking of Scully and Mulder

tomimt - Jan 30, 2015 at 02:10
And why would that matter? I doubt this game is aiming towards historically accurate portrayal of detective work in the 1980's.

Flowo1974 - Jan 28, 2015 at 06:12
This is one example that was already available in 1987. No car need for mobility or power ;)


Hudden Rickshaw - Jan 28, 2015 at 03:34
My father had a suitcase cell phone in 1987. Really convenient for its time. He later had it installed in his car, making me feel that I came from a high-tech family. These days, he is having problems with the icons on his Ipad.

Dennis Bratz - Jan 29, 2015 at 00:16
My deepest apologies. What a fool I was to question you! I totally forgot about cell phones back then. I miss the good old phone booth tho.

Motorolan - Jan 30, 2015 at 01:13
Cell phones were indeed available in 1987. Motorola invented cellular technology and the first cellular phone--the DynaTAC 8000X--was made available to the public in 1983. See the following for detailed information, including a vintage commercial:


The DynaTAC 8000X was priced at $3,995 in 1983. Prior to cellular technology, there were also standards for non-cellular radiotelephones, much of the equipment for which was also designed and manufactured by Motorola for Bell Labs.

Motorolan - Jan 30, 2015 at 01:26
Incidentally, the microprocessor used in the Commodore 64--the MOS Technology 6502--ALSO had it's origins at Motorola:


The later Commodore Amiga models used actual Motorola microprocessors.

Brian R - Jan 28, 2015 at 02:21
Please put Tuna-Diver 2 in at the bar. Please.

Brian R - Jan 28, 2015 at 08:46
...or an old copy of Meteor Mess.

Ciantic - Jan 28, 2015 at 02:56
From the looks of your interest on massive graphs and whiteboards, it would be smart move for Microsoft to donate one of those just announced Surface Hub's (84" 4K digital whiteboard), with no string attached of course ;)

Brian S - Jan 28, 2015 at 12:41
Speaking of which, did you use whiteboards when working on Maniac Mansion?  I don't think they became popular until the 90's, although they were available.

Ron Gilbert - Jan 28, 2015 at 14:51
We all had whiteboards at Lucasfilm. I remember using them years before that when was in school, so I think they've been around for quite a while.  What we didn't have were camera phones to quickly capture the image, so before anything was erased, someone would have to copy it down.  Now we just snap a picture and move on.  Once the game ships, our plan is to put all the images up on this blog.  There will be hundreds of them.

Brian S - Jan 28, 2015 at 15:21
That's great news!  Those will be fun to see.

Derrick Reisdorf - Jan 29, 2015 at 00:35
Like button.

Vili - Jan 28, 2015 at 04:30
Not sure about the hyphen, but I think there is an "r" somewhere in that word.

Anyway, what I really wanted to say is that these posts as always a pleasure. Thanks!

ElChapucero - Jan 28, 2015 at 04:52
Thanks for this post! It awesome!

Alessander - Jan 28, 2015 at 05:19
Great :-)
Maybe this is a dumb question, as the adventure masterpieces have a positive answer for it, but are Chuck the Plant and Loom seagull included in the game? (It seems a necessary condition for the successfulness of Thimbleweed Park)

pookie wocket - Jan 28, 2015 at 08:05
I assume that everything blurred out is nudity.

Mike McP - Jan 28, 2015 at 20:28
Thanks for the laugh!:)

Jammet - Jan 28, 2015 at 08:15
Oh cool! A space shooter!  Do we get to play as the meteor police?! :D

Zak Phoenix McKracken - Jan 28, 2015 at 10:46
So, each character will have its own story and its own ability, like in The Cave? With the difference that all the characters could be played in the same game.
I can't wait to see the final result!

Lucas - Jan 28, 2015 at 11:15
I run out of Ram Memory in my brain when dealing with multiple characters. I love the genre but I enjoy single characters adventure games most. Why is it that we think of multiple characters selections from the get go? I start the game feeling I'm losing something from the beginning. I'm enjoying the blog. Thank you!

Christopher Griffin - Jan 28, 2015 at 12:22
For Maniac Mansion, I liked it, the concept just "worked".  Probably because of getting thrown in the dungeon repeatedly, but still.  The Cave also lent itself to the concept of switching characters in real-time.  I think I'm comfortable letting Ron drive, that's why I gave him my child's college fund.

On a more serious note, I do agree that a single character game draws you INTO the narrative much easier.  It's easy to feel disconnected when you're bouncing around in different scenes, using different characters, and trying to keep up with the big picture story, though.

Ron: Love the blog. Wanted to ask if you and Gary plan on recording a couple of your "significant meetings" as the game develops, just for the express purpose of letting us see some of the critical moments of the game's design after the release?

Mattias Cedervall - Jan 28, 2015 at 11:24
Will the game have different save files in case several people share a computer for example?

Please let me know if you want me to translate the game into Swedish for free. ;-)

Second best regards, Mattias

Pietz - Jan 28, 2015 at 15:03
Translation for free... sounds like a nice offer... hmm... just an idea, Ron:
Maybe you should design the translation feature as kind of "open source". There will be hundreds of fans who just want  (or even love) to translate the game into their native language for free. Give them a platform for this and you'll get the game around the world easily...

Zak Phoenix McKracken - Jan 28, 2015 at 15:48
Fully agree with this idea!
Of course, the official 5 languages are included in the game, with the easy ability to let someone translate in other languages (at last, supporting latin character set).

Mattias Cedervall - Jan 28, 2015 at 23:12
Thank you for your comments. :-) Maniac Mansion for NES was
translated into Swedish so I think it would be appropriate to tran-
slate Thimbleweed Park as well. I'm Swedish, but I'm very good
at Swedish. I translated Zelda 1 and 2 into Swedish just for fun.

Dan A - Aug 24, 2015 at 21:05
That was a pretty bad translation, and the game didn't contain much dialogue anyway. See my comment below for further opinions on the matter.

Pietz - Jan 29, 2015 at 13:39
I hope it will be done in UTF-8 to also give japanese and chinese a chance for translationg. We are not in the 80s anymore ;-)

Ron Gilbert - Jan 29, 2015 at 13:48
The engine uses utf-8, but the challenge with Japanese and Chinese are the fonts.  Our c64 font only has the latin characters. We'd like to support other languages, we just need the fonts made. It's on our list.

Dan A - Aug 24, 2015 at 21:01
And risk ruining the entire flow of the dialogue (and the jokes, for that matter!) by hiring translators who aren't qualified. The price to pay would be far more than 0, I can assure you... (Besides, I'm Swedish myself and see no need for this game to be translated into Swedish. We've played games in English since the beginning of time - well, since the beginning of adventure games, at least! - and I don't think the old Lucasfilm/Lucasarts games would have become as popular had they been in Swedish. Especially not if translated by dilettantes...)

Dead Ted - Jan 28, 2015 at 11:26
Do I see another chainsaw without gas joke with the executive's guns without bullets?

5 - Jan 28, 2015 at 12:09
These blog posts are great. They make me want to make my own adventure game.

No hyphen, no space.

Brian S - Jan 28, 2015 at 14:30
Well, thanks to my (unhealthy?) interest in this game, I just detoured and spent a not-insignificant amount of time googling pillow factories, and pillow manufacturing and automation equipment.  Also, evidently, a Springfield pillow factory was involved in at least two Simpson's episodes. Ron and Gary, I hope you guys are enjoying the work of bringing this game to life at least half as much as we are.

Ron Gilbert - Jan 28, 2015 at 14:52
I didn't know that.

Peter Campbell - Jan 28, 2015 at 18:27
Mr. Gilbert, during your Maniac Mansion retrospective presentation that you gave at Game Forum Germany 2011 (which can be found on youtube and I highly recommend for everyone to watch) , you discussed how much of a nightmare it was for you guys to plan and design MM around seven different playable characters with their own unique puzzles, cutscenes, endings, etc.  I imagine that Thimbleweed Park will be giving you, Mr. Winnick, and Mr. Fox all sorts of unpleasant Vietnam-types of flashbacks of those MM design days at LucasArts lol, especially with TP being an even larger and more complex game than MM was.  After TP is finished, if you want to use any remaining kickstarter money on hookers and booze to celebrate your hard work, I say go for it =)

But seriously,  reading this blog and seeing just how excruciatingly tedious and complex the design processes are that you guys have to go through in order to put the game together is both fascinating to read and makes me respect and appreciate you guys even more than I already do.  Take your time with designing and making Thimbleweed Park, I think everyone here on this blog and all of the backers of the game could care less about the release date if it means having more time to polish TP into an even more fun, or funner (is that a word?) game lol.

Ron Gilbert - Jan 28, 2015 at 20:46
We enjoy punishing ourselves. :-)

We've learned a lot since Maniac Mansion, so designing with multiple character is going to be a lot easier. Also, we felt that if we were going to do a true spiritual successor to Maniac Mansion, it had to have multiple playable characters.

Death Becomes Characters - Feb 01, 2015 at 01:09
If this is to be a true spiritual successor to Maniac Mansion, does that mean there will be ways to die, as there were in Maniac Mansion?

Averell - Jan 29, 2015 at 03:05
a great idea with these cell phones - maybe you should create an iridium phone with their very big antenna.
Could be very funny like that ACME-Comic style, if one character is called and gets the big phone out of the small trouser pocket.
Of course an Iridium phone naturally never fits into a small pocket... :-)
Using an Iridium phone make character look like an extraterrestrial.

MikePiko - Jan 29, 2015 at 03:34
Thimbleweed Park :
The point and click Space Shooter by the People who brought you Maniac Mansion !

Dive deep into a Action Loaded Suspence Murder Story full of HD sprites that needs own ZIP Codes.
Join two Detectives in Spaceships who shoot their way all the way down from Betelgeuse deep into a mysterious Pillow Factory on Earth!
Is it really a Pillow Factory ?
What is a point and Click shooter ?
And what the Hell am i writing here ?
Find it out in Thimbleweed Park !
--- Coming 2016 to a Computer Screen near you ---

Sebastian - Jan 29, 2015 at 16:34
Yo everybody, if you want to get an email in your inbox as soon as there's a new blog post, check out this IFTTT recipe I made: https://ifttt.com/recipes/251736-get-email-notification-for-new-blog-posts-on-blog-thimbleweedpark-com

Brian S - Jan 29, 2015 at 20:39
That sounds a bit more efficient than my current method of checking the page every couple of hours :)

Plus, it's hard to tell when older posts have updates.  I'm going to revive my IFTTT account to set this up.  Thanks!

MarcusG - Jan 30, 2015 at 02:30
Also, you have the option to subscribe to the Timbleweed Blog RSS channel. If you're using some kind of RSS reader or aggregator.

longuist - Jan 30, 2015 at 04:29
After google omited rss it seems forgotten for a lot of people. Blogs are last century, so using RSS is a perfect fit :)
(Pillows are great too)

Brian S - Jan 30, 2015 at 11:36
That's a good point.  I decided to take that route instead and got by RSS plugin set up again in Chrome.