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Tales of Monkey Island Q&A with Telltale Designer Mike Stemmle

5:40 PM on 06.25.2009 // KestrelPi

[Editor's note: Community member SurplusGamer did a little Q&A on Tales of Monkey Island with Telltale's Mike Stemmle. -- CTZ]

In their heyday, graphic adventure games were one of the most popular PC genres around. Sadly, that heyday is fifteen or twenty years ago, leaving a lot of people like me pottering around the Internet and grumbling about how good things were in the 'old days'. If you played adventure games when they were popular, chances are you have fond memories of Lucasarts' classic Monkey Island series which arguably set a new benchmark for writing and humour in games.

In 2009, most fans had given up any expectations for a Monkey Island sequel, having heard nary a peep about it for nearly a decade. The news of Tales of Monkey Island, then, an episodic sequel from Telltale (a veritable haven for ex-Lucasarts employees and fans of the same) was incredibly exciting.

One of those ex-employees, Mike Stemmle, lead designer of the upcoming first episode, Launch of the Screaming Narwhal kindly took some time out to answer some of my burning questions about what is in store for the series which you can check out after the break.

Many adventure fans had thought that Lucasarts had forgotten their old franchise but now that seems far from the case. How did Monkey Island end up being licensed to Telltale?

From what I can gather, there’ve been behind-the-scenes talks going on for a long time. The first time I heard anything substantial was late last year, when Dave Grossman [Telltale Design Director and co-writer on the first two Monkey Island games] discreetly pulled me into a darkened conference room and asked me if I’d like to work on Monkey Island.

Some of the people now on the Telltale staff are the same folks I used to talk with excitedly in IRC chatrooms about the Monkey Island series, before even the third game came out. What is it like to have such people watching over and being part of the development?

It’s like being in a fishbowl, but it’s one of those really cool fishbowls with bubbling deep-sea divers and shipwrecks and treasure chests that open and close every few seconds. Now if only we can make sure not to get Ich all over everything ...

I've heard comments that some screenshots released at E3 look a lot more 'finished' than others. Is there some more visual polish to be done or are we seeing the final look of the game?

One of the blessings and curses of the Telltale “Insanely Rapid Production Process” (that’s IRRP™) is the fact that we’re constantly tweaking the visuals until the very last moment. For example, the little bits of the season prologue that we leaked at E3, as cool as they were, now look approximately 9500x cooler a mere three weeks later. I mean, they’re freaking gorgeous.

Some fans feel like the sentence line ('Use key in door' etc.) is a classic element of the series. Will we see it return in Tales?

Since we really only have one uber-verb (“use”), we decided to forgo the sentence line in Tales, which really makes our localization guys happy.

Some of the puzzles in, say, Sam and Max and the Strong Bad games, are rather surreal as befits those series. What are you doing to make the puzzles feel familiar in style to long time Monkey Island fans?

From both a story and puzzle perspective, we’re all trying to keep in mind that, although the individual plot and puzzle points of Monkey Island can get rather silly from time to time, the high level story lines tend to be rather serious. This keeps us from going way off into goofy-land.

What is the secret of Monkey Island... ... ...'s long standing appeal?

It’s all about Guybrush. When written well he’s the perfect adventure game everyman, with just enough character to be charming but not so much character that he overwhelms the player’s natural desire to “be” the player character.

These characters have been around for nearly twenty years now. Is there a difficulty in introducing them to players who have never played a Monkey Island game before?

Hopefully, our intro will tell you all anyone needs to know. There’s a nebbish, cocksure pirate wannabe, his patient, resourceful wife, and an evil undead pirate. They have a history.

Finally, the series has been described as a sequel to a Monkey Island 5 that was never made --do you think there's a chance that game would ever be made, or is it best left to the players' imaginations?

Oh, I think it’s really best left to the player’s imaginations. From what I gather, the initial design incorporated several controversial retcons (Stan is Guybrush’s Father!?), time travel, and an extended sequence in which Guybrush argued (in Pig Latin) about the fairness of Pirate Tax Codes.


I'd like to thank Mike for taking time from that IRRP™ to answer my questions. The first episode of Tales of Monkey Island will be released on July 7th on PC and at a to-be-announced date on Wiiware. The whole season can be pre-ordered for a ridiculously reasonable price from the Telltale website.

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