"Thimbleweed Park's creators know exactly what they're doing — Gilbert and Winnick are two of the genre's original architects, after all."
Thimbleweed Park, a multi-platform adventure game that ran a successful KickStarter campaign in 2014, is the first game by newly-minted studio Terrible Toybox. Thimbleweed Park's lead designers (and Terrible Toybox's founders) are Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick, formerly of LucasArts. Gilbert and Winnick created Maniac Mansion and Secret of Monkey Island while at LucasArts, and Thimbleweed Park evokes the style, tone, and traditionalism of those two games and other adventure games of the genre's golden age.
The demo we played at E3 showcased three of Thimbleweed Park's five characters: detectives Angela Ray and Antonio Reyes, plus Ransome, an acerbic, unpleasant clown. Ray and Reyes are called to a crime scene with an unidentified corpse, eventually leading them to investigate the quaint town of Thimbleweed Park, a near-abandoned town that once held the largest pillow factory in the state. The 30-minute demo ended with Ransome receiving a gypsy curse and Angela being attacked by an unknown assailant. The dialog was sharp and consistently funny, particularly during a stand-up comedy scene where Ransome hurls crude insults towards audience members at the player's direction. It's impossible to tell at this time where the story in Thimbleweed Park is going, but the town clearly holds dark secrets that the complete game will explore in detail.
There are six parallel plot lines in Thimbleweed Park: one "main" story centered on the town itself, and then five centered on each of the main characters. Players switch between characters via a menu, and the story moves along as players make discoveries and complete events using all five separately. After the main story wraps, players may continue playing as each of the five characters to close their individual story arcs. It's an interesting storytelling device, with each perspective illuminating a different side of the mystery and (presumably) not leaving any plot threads unresolved at game's end. The puzzles in the demo would fit perfectly in a game from 25 years ago — locate items in a 2D environment, examine notes for clues and insight, and throw your inventory items at the appropriate people and places.
The user interface in Thimbleweed Park shows nine commands in the lower-left of the screen and the available inventory for the current character in the lower right. Those commands should be familiar to players of classic adventure games (PICK UP, TALK TO, USE, etc.), and each version of the game accesses them differently: mouse clicks on the PC version, touches in the tablet version, and shoulder buttons on the console versions. The Terrible Toybox coder showing us the demo mentioned that UI accessibility can make or break the game, and making different control schemes that all felt right was particularly challenging.
Thimbleweed Park's creators know exactly what they're doing — Gilbert and Winnick are two of the genre's original architects, after all. Their design mantras included making Thimbleweed Park feel like an adventure game of a certain age; designing its gameplay with modern sensibilities baked into its pointing and clicking; and featuring puzzle solutions that are less obtuse than, say, removing a waterfall with a monkey and a pump. The demo we played meets those goals, and if the final product delivers a great story to match its intriguing start, Thimbleweed Park's backers should be satisfied indeed.