Grumpy Gamer Ron Gilbert (co-creator of Secret of Monkey Island) recently posted something with which we agree whole-heartedly: "If I made another Monkey Island, I would rebuild SCUMM. Not SCUMM as in the exact same language, but what SCUMM brought to those games… I'd build an engine and a language where funny ideas can be laughed about at lunch and be in the game that afternoon. SCUMM did that. It's something that is getting lost today."
At Sierra, we had SCI, our version of SCUMM with many of the same features. At one point, I heard that Sierra had spent over a million dollars (back when that was real money) on SCI development. It gave us a huge head start, and even let me make a non-adventure game, Castle of Dr. Brain.
We knew we will need a new dialogue editing system, so we asked Rob to take that on. He could have just followed my spec and made us a useful tool. But you know these uppity programmers. Rob took the basic ideas, and is building a true Unified Design Editor, the Hero-U Composer. We saw his first prototype today, and it will let use craft the Hero-U design in ways we could only dream of back in the 1990's.
Meanwhile, Mike and Jonathan are working on a graphics tool that will let us patch together a beautiful-looking level from the background artists' tiles, and a "tester" that will let them check out their animation in the context of the game. We will also be building a combat simulator to make sure combat is balanced. Tools like these were at the heart of adventure game development in the 1990's, but the new ones are like supersonic jets compared to the bicycles we rode back then.