Tales of Monkey Island: (Writer) I grew up loving Lucasarts adventure games and, along with Full Throttle, Monkey Island was on the top of a heap of classics. Guybrush said everything I wished I was smart enough to say, he wandered a world full of the unexpected that I yearned to wander, and he could hold his breath for ten minutes (an obscure skill I’m sure I would’ve found a way to put to good use). Then, years later, I found myself at Telltale Games writing for Guybrush in a reboot of the original series. There are jobs you take and then there are jobs you leap for. This was the latter.
Writing on the game was the highest profile thing I had done and put me on the map as legitimate writer in the business. That same year I spoke with Tim Schafer and Rhianna Pratchett on a writing in games panel at GDC.
Praise For Tales of Monkey Island
“To say that the supporting cast is hilarious and well-written would be quite an undersell. Leviathan [episode 3] is unrelentingly excellent, with dialogue that doesn’t just set new standards for Telltale—it goes to the level of the original Secret of Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle, and that’s not a statement I make lightly. There is almost no pause in the comic success of the dialogue; every character hits every note exactly right. I was not familiar with the writing of Sean Vanaman prior to this, but he is without question an immediate superstar in the realm of comic game writing, and has scripted a masterpiece.” - Adventure Gamers
“This is a genuinely funny episode…Even throwaway gags are laugh out loud funny. The few small bits of real pathos here are surprisingly moving and it’s to the writer’s credit that the romantic parallels and tender subtext aren’t strained too far.” - IGN
Epic Mickey (IP & Concept Development) In the summer of 2004 I interned at The Walt Disney Company and reported to the Director of Creative Development in their video game division. I had no official job description or daily deliverables and this being my first real job in game dev, I couldn’t figure out if that was normal or I had simply been hired by a free-thinking zen-minded media-mega-corp-subversive who kept telling me to “you know, create.”
That was the summer I learned the value of a closed door. After being put in a 15’x15’ room with some other interns and asked “what type of game would you play that featured Mickey Mouse,” we spent a few weeks tooling on some ideas inside of a room where nobody ever opened the door. What we quickly found amongst each other was not a desire to re-imagine Mickey as a new character that a bunch of early twenty-somethings would latch on to but a yen to steep ourselves in the complex visual and iconographic history of the mouse himself. No matter how many ridiculous outfits the company had stuffed him into during our lifetimes, we kept coming back to the mouse in the shorts, the one we remembered from t-shirts of our youth, who battled dragons in Fantasia and climbed beanstalks to slay giants.
Over the course of a few months we developed this idea: what if Mickey were forced to return to the shorts (in both fashion and narrative) and in doing so had to remember all of the skills, tricks and abilities that had endeared to him for audiences for decades? In the twenties and thirties especially, Mickey was the subversive. He pulled tricks and pranks and was a mouthpiece for a creator (Walt) struggling against his own goliathan enemies as he tried to give birth to the world’s first great animation studio. We liked that. We shared his spunk.
Because of Epic Mickey, I didn’t leave Disney after my internship was over. I was brought on to develop the idea, build a first playable and prototype, and usher it through the green-lighting process. It being my first title, I was exposed to an… inaccurate depiction of launching a multi-million-dollar video game title into development. Apparently you just pitched executives with story-boards and concept art and eventually you’d have pitched them all (including Bob Iger, the CEO of TWDC) and they’d let you make the game. That’s what happened, more or less.
Seven years later, the game Epic Mickey, helmed by industry giant Warren Specter, was released. Between those early creative development meetings and the final product, some things remained: the concept of Mickey’s journey into a cartoon wasteland filled with long-forgotten characters and his encounters with Oswald The Lucky Rabbit, Walt’s original animated creation. Of course much has changed. Nevertheless, I hold the creative development of Epic Mickey as one of the most exciting times of my career.