Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion creator Ron Gilbert was at PAX 2009 to talk about his upcoming action RPG meets adventure game DeathSpank, discussing melding the two genres and accusing me of witchcraft.
Before we could talk about DeathSpank, we had to get past the subject of my magical pen. I use a Livescribe pen during interviews, which records sound while I take notes, allowing me to later touch the pen to the text and play back exactly what it recorded while I was writing. Ron was astounded to the point of accusing me of cavorting with the devil.
"It's magic! That's not technology - you're a witch."
Having established my unholy status, I moved on to asking Ron exactly what DeathSpank meant to him.
"DeathSpank to me is Monkey Island meets Diablo. Obviously I love adventure games a lot, and I wanted to take some of the really great things about adventure games - the way they tell stories, present dialog with characters, and include puzzle solving. But I'm also a big fan of action RPGs like Diablo, and I wanted to marry those two things together."
The marriage of classic 2D adventure games and a 3D isometric action RPG like Diablo carries over into the art direction for the game as well, with 3D characters, NPCs, and enemies doing battle and interacting amidst 2D scenery, creating something that almost has the look and feel of a pop-up book.
Ron walks me through a little combat, showing me how any of DeathSpank's powers and abilities can be mapped to any action button, allowing players to play however they want. Powers like the ability to summon a pack of wild chickens to attack your enemies. It sounds like a great power to have, but it has a major drawback - if you accidentally hit the birds with an attack, they'll turn on you.
"One of the guys on the project summons 100 chickens, gets them to attack him, and then runs around with this horde of 100 chickens following him everywhere. It's amazing to see."
So Ron's trademark humour is intact, and seems to translate well into a 3D action game, but what of the adventuring elements? He warps to a place further along in the game, where DeathSpank has to talk to a retired hero in order to get a new weapon. Like the classic Monkey Island games, the dialog options aren't simply decisions you make, but a way to flesh out the story, with humorous exposition that is only there to entertain the player. Eventually DeathSpank gets the old man to tell him what he wants in exchange for the weapon - "A tank! No wait...a taco!"
It's more than you'd expect from a 3D RPG, with more than you'd expect from an adventure game.
"Adventure games and RPGs share a lot in common. They tell stories. They're both about collecting items. RPGs have quests; adventure games send you off to solve puzzles, and I really just enjoy them both. Why should I play two games when I can just play one?"
That one game is coming from Hothead Games sometime next year, playable on everything Ron can possibly release it on.
"Everything with a chip on it. It'll be on microwave ovens."