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Ron Gilbert

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Gilbert in 2013

Ron Gilbert (born Ronald David Gilbert[1]) is an American video-game designer, programmer, and producer. His games are generally focused on interactive story-telling, and he is arguably best known for his work on several LucasArts adventure games, including Maniac Mansion and the first two Monkey Island games. In 2009, he was chosen by IGN as one of the top 100 game creators of all time.[2]

While a student in 1983, he co-wrote Graphics BASIC, and he then worked on action games for HESware, which went out of business. He afterwards joined Lucasfilm Games (later LucasArts), and was given the opportunity to develop his own games. He invented SCUMM, a technology used in many subsequent games. After leaving LucasArts, Gilbert co-founded the children's gaming company Humongous Entertainment in 1992 and its sister company Cavedog Entertainment in 1995, where he produced games such as Total Annihilation for adults.

He cofounded Hulabee Entertainment with Shelley Day, releasing children's games between 2001 and 2003. After working with Beep Games between 2004 and 2007, he was creative director at Vancouver-based Hothead Games development studio between 2008 and 2010, also doing some work for Telltale Games and with Penny Arcade. In 2013, he announced that he would move on from Double Fine Productions, after releasing the game The Cave with them. In 2017, he announced Thimbleweed Park with Terrible Toybox, serving as writer, designer, and programmer since 2014.


Early career[edit]

Ron Gilbert was raised in La Grande, Oregon. He is the son of David E. Gilbert, a physics professor and former president of Eastern Oregon University (then Eastern Oregon State College). Initially, he thought of himself going into a career for film direction.[3] He became interested in games when he was thirteen years old thanks to a HP-65 programmable calculator his father used to bring home.[4] He found the ability to program games on the calculator interesting, citing an example of a Battleship-like game that was included on the calculator, leading him wanting him to learn how to program other games. Gilbert saw the potential to program games as a creative outlet as he continued his studies towards the film industry.[3][5] Another thing that made him approach the gaming world was the film Star Wars (1977). His fascination with programming technology, which allowed gamers to interact with characters and situations, mixed with his love for telling stories, like that of "Star Wars", were his main inspirations to start making games.[5]

The impact of Star Wars and his love for telling stories was so big that Ron Gilbert, at the age of fourteen, and his good friend Tom McFarlane made a couple of films on a Super-8 camera. The first film they shot in 1978 was Stars Blasters; it was directed by Ron Gilbert and acted by McFarlane and friend Frank Lang. In 1979, they filmed another movie, Tomorrow Never Came, acted by Ron Gilbert, Tom McFarlane; it was also directed by Ron Gilbert.[6]

In 1979, his parents purchased a NorthStar Horizon home computer. At the age of fifteen, he took his first steps in game programming. He used to study and analyze games for hours; capturing in his mind every frame of the layout of games like Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, Asteroids, Space Invaders or Robotron: 2084; taking notes of every detail and then trying to replicate them on his computer. Once the games were replicated he would start doing experiments with them, adding changes. He also used to look at Atari 2600 games' advertisements in magazines, then imagined what the game was like to play and tried to make them on his computer. Once the games were finished, he used to bring his friends home to test the games and tell him what they did or did not like.[7]


Gilbert began his professional career in 1983 while he was still a student at Eastern Oregon State College by writing a program named Graphics BASIC with Tom McFarlane. They sold the program to a San Francisco Bay Area company named HESware, which later offered Gilbert a job. He spent about half a year at HESware, programming action games for the Commodore 64 (C64).[8] None of them were ever released; the company went out of business. Shortly thereafter, Gilbert joined Lucasfilm Games, which later became LucasArts. There he earned his living by doing C64 ports of Lucasfilm Atari 800 games. In 1985, he got the opportunity to co-develop his own game for LucasArts together with graphics artist Gary Winnick. Maniac Mansion was about a dark Victorian mansion populated by a mad scientist, his family and strange aliens.[7]

Maniac Mansion features cutscenes, a word coined by Gilbert,[9][10] that interrupt gameplay to advance the story and inform the player about offscreen events.[11][12] Gilbert created a scripting language that was named after the project it had been written for, the Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion, better known as S.C.U.M.M.[13] The technology was used in all subsequent LucasArts adventure games,[14] with the exception of Grim Fandango and Escape From Monkey Island.[15] Despite being an internal production tool, the S.C.U.M.M. acronym became well known to gamers since a location in The Secret of Monkey Island, the SCUMM Bar, was named after it.

Gilbert created many successful adventure games at LucasArts, including the classic The Secret of Monkey Island and Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge.[16] In 1992, he left the company to start Humongous Entertainment with LucasArts producer Shelley Day. While at Humongous Entertainment, Gilbert was responsible for games such as Putt-Putt, Fatty Bear, Freddi Fish, Pajama Sam,[3] and the Backyard Sports series.[8] Many of these games continued to use an offshoot of the S.C.U.M.M. engine.[17]


In 1995, Gilbert founded Cavedog Entertainment, Humongous' sister company for non-kids games. In 1996, GameSpot named him as the 15th on their list of the most influential people in computer gaming of all time.[18] In 1997, Computer Gaming World similarly ranked him as number 15 on the list of the most influential people of all time in computer gaming for inventing the S.C.U.M.M. engine.[19] While at Cavedog, Gilbert was the producer of Total Annihilation and worked on a game titled Good & Evil. Widely regarded as his pet project, Good & Evil was said to incorporate many different themes and gameplay styles. The game was previewed by several publications, but the project was cancelled when Cavedog closed down in 1999. In an interview with GameSpot conducted a while after Cavedog's shut-down, Gilbert said the Good & Evil project had suffered due to him trying to design a game and run a company at the same time.[20][21]

As of 2005, Ron Gilbert was independently designing an unspecified new adventure/RPG, which he was pitching to publishers. He also started a blog "Grumpy Gamer", offering game industry commentary, occasionally in the form of animated cartoons that he created with Voodoo Vince designer Clayton Kauzlaric.[22]

Ron Gilbert at PAX 2009

In 2007, Gilbert created "Threepwood", an exclusively Monkey Island-themed guild on the World of Warcraft server Quel'Dorei,[23] and Gilbert began to collaborate with Hothead Games on Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, a game based on the webcomic Penny Arcade.[24] He was chosen to be the Keynote Speaker for Penny Arcade Expo for 2009.[25]

In January 2008, he joined Hothead Games as creative director, with whom he was developing DeathSpank, an adventure/R.P.G.[26] Although still working at Hothead Games, Gilbert contributed to the design for Telltale Games' Tales of Monkey Island, taking part in the brainstorming process early in the development of the game.[27] The episodic fifth entry in the Monkey Island series marked the first time Gilbert worked on a Monkey Island game since 1991's LeChuck's Revenge. On April 6, 2010, on his blog he announced that he left Hothead Games but that he would continue to promote DeathSpank with Electronic Arts.[28]

In September 2010, it was revealed that Gilbert had been hired by fellow former LucasArts game designer Tim Schafer, to work at Schafer's own Double Fine Productions. In February 2012, Tim Schafer confirmed he will be working with Ron Gilbert on a new adventure game. In May 2012, the game was revealed as The Cave, which was released as a downloadable title by Sega in 2013.[29]

After the buying of LucasArts by The Walt Disney Company in 2012, the rights to the Monkey Island series became the company's property. Ron Gilbert has been quoted in November 2012 as not being optimistic about the franchise's future, believing that Disney might abandon the franchise in favor of Pirates of the Caribbean;[30] however, in December 2012, he was also quoted as wishing to contact Disney, hoping to "make the game he wants to make".[31]

In March 2013, Gilbert left Double Fine Productions revealing that his joining the studio was purely for the creation of The Cave: "I was telling him [Tim Schafer] about The Cave and he really liked it, so he said 'come to Double Fine and make it'. It was really all about making that game." Most recently he worked on the iOS and Android game Scurvy Scallywags with DeathSpank co-creator Clayton Kauzlaric.[32]

On November 18, 2014, it was revealed that he had reunited with Gary Winnick, with whom he created his early critically acclaimed point-and-click games at LucasArts, and that they were working together on a new point-and-click game called Thimbleweed Park. The game reached its funding target on the crowd sourcing site Kickstarter on December 18 and was released on March 30, 2017, in full "talkie" mode for Windows, Linux, Mac and Xbox One. A port to iOS and Android was confirmed after the project met its last stretch-goal.[33]

On May 23, 2016, Gilbert took to Twitter to express a desire to buy back earlier LucasArts franchises saying "Please sell me my Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion IP. I'll pay actual money for them.".[34] In 2017, fans of the series launched an online petition in support of Ron Gilbert, asking Disney to sell the franchises to him; as of December 2021, the petition has gathered about 29,000 signatures.[35]

On March 15, 2018, Gilbert announced he was in the early stages of developing an RPG called A Little Something.[36][37]

On April 4, 2022, Gilbert announced that he had been working on Return to Monkey Island for the past two years in secrecy. The game was released later that year on September 19, by Devolver Digital and his company Terrible Toybox.[38]


Name Year Credited with Publisher
Koronis Rift 1985 programmer Lucasfilm Games
Ballblazer 1985 programmer
Maniac Mansion 1987 writer, director, art and programmer
Habitat 1987
PHM Pegasus 1988
Pipe Dream 1989 writer
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure 1989 writer
The Secret of Monkey Island 1990 writer and director
Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge 1991 director, designer and programmer[39] LucasArts
Putt-Putt Joins the Parade 1992 director, designer and programmer Humongous Entertainment
Fatty Bear's Birthday Surprise 1993 director, designer and programmer
Putt-Putt's Fun Pack 1993
Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle 1993 writer LucasArts
Putt-Putt Goes to the Moon 1993 director, designer and programmer Humongous Entertainment
Fatty Bear's Fun Pack 1993
Putt Putt & Fatty Bear's Activity Pack 1994
Freddi Fish and the Case of the Missing Kelp Seeds 1994 producer, designer and programmer
Let's Explore the Airport 1995
Let's Explore the Farm 1995
Let's Explore the Jungle 1995
Putt-Putt Saves the Zoo 1995 interactive design, producer and programmer
Freddi Fish 2: The Case of the Haunted Schoolhouse 1996 producer and programmer
Pajama Sam: No Need to Hide When It's Dark Outside 1996 interactive design, producer and programmer
Putt-Putt and Pep's Dog on a Stick 1996 programmer
Putt-Putt and Pep's Balloon-o-Rama 1996 programmer
Freddi Fish and Luther's Maze Madness 1996 programmer
Freddi Fish and Luther's Water Worries 1996 programmer
Big Thinkers 1st Grade 1997 programmer
Big Thinkers Kindergarten 1997 programmer
Backyard Baseball 1997
Total Annihilation 1997 producer Cavedog Entertainment
Spy Fox in "Dry Cereal" 1997 creative director and programmer Humongous Entertainment
Putt Putt Travels Through Time 1997 producer and programmer
Pajama Sam's Sock Works 1997 programmer
Putt-Putt Enters the Race 1998
Freddi Fish 3: The Case of the Stolen Conch Shell 1998
Total Annihilation: The Core Contingency 1998 producer Cavedog Entertainment
Total Annihilation: Battle Tactics 1998 producer
Blue's Birthday Adventure 1998 Humongous Entertainment
Pajama Sam 2: Thunder and Lightning Aren't so Frightening 1998 creative director and programmer
Pajama Sam's Lost & Found 1998
Spy Fox in Cheese Chase 1998 programmer
Backyard Soccer 1999
Blue's 123 Time Activities 1999
Blue's ABC Time Activities 1999
Total Annihilation: Kingdoms 1999 producer Cavedog Entertainment
Spy Fox in Hold the Mustard 1999 Humongous Entertainment
Blue's Treasure Hunt 1999
Spy Fox 2: "Some Assembly Required" 1999
Pajama Sam 3: You Are What You Eat from Your Head to Your Feet 1999
Backyard Football 1999
Total Annihilation: Kingdoms – The Iron Plague 2000 producer Cavedog Entertainment
Blue's Reading Time Activities 2000 Humongous Entertainment
Blue's Art Time Activities 2000
Freddi Fish's One-Stop Fun Shop 2000
Pajama Sam's One-Stop Fun Shop 2000
Putt-Putt's One-Stop Fun Shop 2000
Backyard Soccer MLS Edition 2000
Putt-Putt Joins the Circus 2000
Spy Fox 3: "Operation Ozone" 2001
Backyard NBA Basketball 2001
Backyard Football 2002 2001
Pajama Sam's Games To Play On Any Day 2001
Moop and Dreadly in the Treasure on Bing Bong Island 2001 creative director and programmer Hulabee Entertainment
Ollo in the Sunny Valley Fair 2002 creative director and programmer
Sonny's Race for the Chocolatey Taste 2002
Piglet's Big Game 2003
Flying Leo 2005 Beep Games
Zodiac 2006
Four Houses 2006
Realms of Gold 2007
Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, Episode One 2008 story and design consultant Hothead Games
Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, Episode Two 2008 story and design consultant
Tales of Monkey Island 2009–10 "Visiting Professor of Monkeyology" Telltale Games
Word Spiral[40] 2010 designer, programmer Beep Games
DeathSpank 2010 design Hothead Games
DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue 2010 design
The Big Big Castle![41] 2012 designer, programmer Beep Games
The Cave 2013 director Double Fine Productions
Scurvy Scallywags in The Voyage to Discover The Ultimate Sea Shanty 2013 Beep Games
Thimbleweed Park 2017 writer, designer, programmer Terrible Toybox, Inc.
Delores: A Thimbleweed Park Mini-Adventure 2020 writer, designer, programmer
Return to Monkey Island 2022 director, designer, writer Devolver Digital

Written works[edit]

  • Gilbert, Ron (December 1989). "Why adventure games suck - And What We Can Do About It". Journal of Computer Game Design. 3 (2): 4–7.


  1. ^ "I guess I should think about getting a new passport. Probably should have thought about that a while ago". mastodon.gamedev.place.
  2. ^ "IGN - 81. Ron Gilbert". IGN. Archived from the original on April 20, 2014. Retrieved November 14, 2023.
  3. ^ a b c Mackey, Bob (November 9, 2015). "Use Questions on Developer: A Ron Gilbert Retrospective". USgamer. Archived from the original on November 10, 2015. Retrieved November 9, 2015.
  4. ^ "An Interview with Ron Gilbert". Game Bytes. No. 9. March 13, 1993.
  5. ^ a b GameSpot, "Storytime with Ron Gilbert - PAX Australia 2013 Keynote" Archived March 17, 2016, at the Wayback Machine, Ron Gilbert, July 7, 2013, accessed March 21, 2015
  6. ^ McFarlane, Thomas (January 2, 2009). "Tomorrow Never Came". Vimeo. Archived from the original on November 9, 2011. Retrieved February 20, 2010.
  7. ^ a b "Ron Gilbert's biography". Youbioit. Archived from the original on May 13, 2010. Retrieved February 20, 2010.
  8. ^ a b "81. Ron Gilbert". IGN. Archived from the original on April 20, 2014. Retrieved May 24, 2012.
  9. ^ Gilbert, Ron (April 12, 2007). "Maniac Mansion in 9". Grumpy Gamer. Archived from the original on April 15, 2007. Retrieved March 3, 2011.
  10. ^ Buecheler, Christopher. "The GameSpy Hall of Fame". GameSpy. Archived from the original on March 11, 2011. Retrieved February 2, 2011.
  11. ^ Summer, Paul; Rignall, Julian; Jarratt, Steve (December 1987). "Maniac Mansion". Zzap!64 (32). Ludlow: Newsfield Publications: 12–13. ISSN 0954-867X. OCLC 470391346.
  12. ^ Laurel, Brenda (1987). Maniac Mansion manual. San Rafael, CA: Lucasfilm Games. pp. 1–5.
  13. ^ Edge Staff (August 6, 2010). "The Making Of: Maniac Mansion". Edge. Bath, Somerset: Future Publishing. p. 1. Archived from the original on August 6, 2010.
  14. ^ "Behind the Scenes: Maniac Mansion + Day of the Tentacle". GamesTM. The Ultimate Retro Companion (3). Bournemouth: Imagine Publishing: 22–27. 2010. ISSN 1448-2606. OCLC 173412381.
  15. ^ "SCUMM makes a comeback in Indie Indy Game". Kotaku. Archived from the original on February 13, 2010. Retrieved March 25, 2012.
  16. ^ "If I Made Another Monkey Island". Grumpy Gamer. April 13, 2013. Archived from the original on December 9, 2017. Retrieved January 24, 2018. It would be called Monkey Island 3a. All the games after Monkey Island 2 don't exist in my Monkey Island universe. My apologies to the all talented people who worked on them and the people who loved them, but I'd want to pick up where I left off. Free of baggage. In a carnival. That doesn't mean I won't steal some good ideas or characters from other games. I'm not above that.
  17. ^ Alexander, Leigh; Boyer, Brandon (March 25, 2008). "Majesco To Bring Humongous Point And Click Adventures To Wii". Gamasutra. Archived from the original on May 11, 2012. Retrieved May 24, 2012.
  18. ^ "The Most Influential People in Computer Gaming of All Time: #15 Ron Gilbert". July 4, 2008. Archived from the original on July 4, 2008. Retrieved November 19, 2015.
  19. ^ CGW 159: The Most Influential People in Computer Gaming
  20. ^ DeMaria, Rusel. "An Interview with Ron Gilbert". GameSpot. Archived from the original on June 19, 2000. Retrieved September 1, 2006.
  21. ^ "Ron Gilbert Timeline". Lumerias.com. Archived from the original on August 22, 2016.
  22. ^ Boyer, Brandon (January 9, 2008). "Hothead, Ron Gilbert Announce Episodic Adventure-RPG DeathSpank". Gamasutra. Archived from the original on January 10, 2008. Retrieved January 10, 2008.
  23. ^ Burman, Rob (January 29, 2007). "Pirates Invade World of Warcraft". IGN UK. Archived from the original on February 3, 2007. Retrieved January 10, 2008.
  24. ^ Boyer, Brandon (May 9, 2007). "Adventure Vet Ron Gilbert Working On Penny Arcade Title". Gamasutra. Archived from the original on May 20, 2007. Retrieved May 9, 2007.
  25. ^ Remo, Chris (June 30, 2009). "Ron Gilbert To Keynote 2009 Penny Arcade Expo". Gamasutra. Archived from the original on May 11, 2012. Retrieved June 30, 2009.
  26. ^ Ahrens, Nick (January 9, 2008). "Ron Gilbert Becomes A Hothead". Game Informer. Archived from the original on January 11, 2008. Retrieved January 10, 2008.
  27. ^ "Tales of Monkey Island FAQ". Archived from the original on June 5, 2009. Retrieved January 8, 2009.
  28. ^ "Grumpy Gamer Just so you know". Grumpygamer.com. April 6, 2010. Archived from the original on December 17, 2010. Retrieved May 24, 2012.
  29. ^ Matulef, Jeffrey (May 24, 2012). "The Cave Preview: Double Fine's New Game for Sega • Previews •". Eurogamer.net. Archived from the original on April 25, 2013. Retrieved May 24, 2012.
  30. ^ Yin-Poole, Wesley (November 30, 2012). "Ron Gilbert wishes he owned Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion". Eurogamer.net. Eurogamer. Archived from the original on January 3, 2013. Retrieved January 5, 2013.
  31. ^ Phillips, Tom (December 12, 2012). "Monkey Island creator will talk to rights owner Disney about new game plans". Eurogamer.net. Eurogamer. Archived from the original on January 15, 2013. Retrieved January 5, 2013.
  32. ^ Matulef, Jeffrey (March 12, 2013). "Ron Gilbert on why he left Double Fine". Eurogamer.net. Archived from the original on March 15, 2013. Retrieved March 12, 2013.
  33. ^ "Thimbleweed Park". Kickstarter. Archived from the original on November 30, 2014.
  34. ^ @grumpygamer (May 23, 2016). "Dead @Disney, now that you're not making games, please sell me my Monkey Island and Mansion Mansion IP. I'll pay real actual money for them" (Tweet). Archived from the original on July 20, 2016 – via Twitter.
  35. ^ Hughes, Matthew (May 15, 2018). "Monkey Island fans are begging Disney to sell the rights back to its creator". The Next Web. Archived from the original on May 19, 2018. Retrieved May 15, 2018.
  36. ^ "Ronzo downright announces his next game". The International House of Mojo. Archived from the original on April 3, 2018. Retrieved April 2, 2018.
  37. ^ Ron Gilbert (March 14, 2018). "A Little Something (blog entry)". grumpygamer.com. Archived from the original on April 3, 2018. Retrieved April 2, 2018.
  38. ^ Gilbert, Ron. "A little something we've been working on for the past 2 years in complete secrecy". Twitter. Retrieved April 4, 2022.
  39. ^ Credits Archived March 25, 2017, at the Wayback Machine at MobyGames
  40. ^ Molina, Bret (July 31, 2012). "Portable Picks: 'The Big Big Castle!'". USA Today. Archived from the original on August 1, 2017. Retrieved August 1, 2017.
  41. ^ Gilbert, Ron (July 9, 2012). "The Big Big Castle!". Grumpy Gamer Blog. Archived from the original on July 20, 2017. Retrieved August 1, 2017.

External links[edit]