The Secret of Monkey Island
"You Fight like a dairy farmer," says the Pirate. How appropriate, you fight like a cow! says Guybrush Threepwood From: Insult Sword Fighting, The Secret of Monkey Island Games used to be funny. Not funny in that knowing, eyebrow-raised, ironic, ooh-aren't-we-clever-and-oh-so-self-referential way that infests so many of today's games. Just funny in that plain, ordinary, knockabout, laugh-out-loud funny kind of way. None more so than the adventure titles so regularly chucked out of the fabled Skywalker Ranch - home of LucasArts (nee LucasFilm).
Games such as Maniac Mansion, Day Of The Tentacle, Zak McKracken, Grim Fandango, Sam And Max and the Indiana Jones adventures. All classics, all hilarious (even Indy). But when it comes to comedy pointing 'n' clicking, one series towers above the others like a King Kong to the rest of the industry's Fay Wray - The Secret Of Monkey Island. Say it loud, say it proud. A true gaming legend.
A legend? Fortunately for the health of my inflatable ego, the reality is that hardly anyone I run across in the course of my day-to-day life has even heard of Monkey Island," says its co-creator Dave Grossman, with typical self-deprecating humor (spelt that way because he's American). Of course, within the games industry plenty of people are familiar with it, and I suppose that's sort of like how I imagine it would feel to be, say, one of Doctor Seuss's parents - proud of our boy, yes. But he never writes, and nobody ever wants to hear about my prize collection of antique hose nozzles.
Fun And Games
Monkey Island began life in the fertile mind of legendary game designer Ron Gilbert, allegedly following a visit to Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean theme park when younger where he wanted to get out of the ride and play in the ships. LucasFilm was fresh from the success of transforming the third Indiana Jones film into a point 'n' click adventure and was looking for a fresh idea. Something that would capture the glory of working at the home of George Star Wars' Lucas.
Well, if by glory you mean the sort of fun but relatively unprofitable place that produced things like Monkey Island, I will say that I think one thing that helped us back then was that even if we wanted to, we were not allowed to build games about Star Wars" confesses Grossman. The fact that we had to come up with original properties let people express themselves a lot more freely, and I think it showed. Contrast that with the Star Warsob sessed, varying-quality LucasArts of today, and you could say you have a snapshot of the entire history of the games industry in microcosm. Gilbert fleshed out his pirate idea and brought in the equally fertile minds of Grossman and Tim Schafer to help brainstorm on the puzzles, develop the story, write the dialogue and do all the million-and-one jobs that small programming teams used to do back in the day. Not that anyone resented taking on so much work when you were based in such a picturesque environment.
The games division was only a couple of dozen people then. You knew who everybody was, and something interesting always seemed to be going on, Grossman recalls. We worked hard, but nobody acted like they had a job. It felt more like making Super-8 movies with your friends at summer camp - and I'm sure being out at Skywalker Ranch didn't hurt that image any. Occasional sightings of snakes and mountain lions certainly kept things lively." The atmosphere was typical of the industry at the time, even if the setting wasn't - small teams making games for the love of the craft, not the bank balance. It was kind of like being at a start-up, except that we also had the security of actually being part of a larger, more stable, and considerably wealthy company, says Grossman. While we were working on the first Monkey game nobody seemed to be particularly concerned with whether or not it made any money, which is such an unusual situation these days as to be almost completely incomprehensible.
The setting for the first Monkey Island game was a typical boyhood dream tale of a young scurvy knave dreaming of, and eventually becoming, a mighty pirate (at least in his mind). The player was introduced to the legend of Guybrush Threepwood in the simplest of manners.
Dpaint Wooster - Mighty Pirate?
We are somewhere in the Caribbean. It's a dark night on a rocky outcrop. A young lad enters, stage right, and approaches a blind lookout man (a taste of the humour to come). He tells him he wants to be a mighty pirate and is pointed in the right direction. Hey presto! An entire legend is bom in a handful of lines and silly jokes.
Although destined to become one of the series' longest running jokes, Grossman confirms his name was an unplanned accident rather than an act of grand design, as all the best ideas usually are. Artist Steve Purcell drew the as-yet-unnamed hero using a computer paint program, and he saved the drawing as a brush' to be loaded in later and used for painting over backgrounds. We had just been referring to him as the guy' up to that point, so this file, which was the one from which everybody got their first look at the character, was called Guybrush.' People got confused and said, What, his name's Guybrush? That's a strange one.' It stuck, and although we tried to think of something better, the longer he was called Guybrush, the better we liked it.
Threepwood* came later, and was taken directly from a role-playing game character operated by my cousin, Charles. It was a couple of years, I think, before any of us realised it was actually a reference to PG Wodehouse, which is, in my opinion, entirely fitting."
Other characters had equally bizarre origins. The Ghost Pirate LeChuck, for instance, came about simply because Gilbert had always wanted to have a character called Chuck' appear in a game, and adding a French prefix simply made it sound more exotic.
A Fanboy Writes
Gilbert, Grossman and Schafer seemed to be born to a life of comedy, with a script ranging from buffoonery (You must master Swordplay, Thievery, and...er...Treasure Huntery), to schoolboy name-calling (I'm sorry I called you Cannonball Head. I meant to call you Chrome Dome), to knowing irony done right (WOW! This was well worth $59.95 plus tax), along with references to both the Indy game (Hi, I'm selling these fine leather jackets") and LucasFilm's other biggie of the time - Loom (I'm Bobbin Threadbare, are you my mother?).
It wasn't just the dialogue. The team played with all the conventions of gaming protocols. With Guybrush trapped underwater (and demonstrating his legendary breath-holding powers), the interface replaced the usual Give, Use, Look At and Talk To commands with the more appropriate Float, Bob, Rot, Bloat and (best of all) Order Hint Book.
The bottomless pocket syndrome afflicting adventure games was mercilessly mocked with a memorable moment when Guybrush pulls a giant ladder from his pocket. The infamous Rubber Chicken With A Pulley In The Middle was a classic piece of misdirection - remaining with you practically from the start of the game, queried many times throughout and finally being used - in the most obviously simple way imaginable. What, don't they I have those where you live? answers Grossman innocently when asked to explain.
Then there was the sword fighting. Naturally, this being a game about pirates there would come the time when your swash needed buckling - or is it your buckle being swashed? Whatever, every good pirate story has a swordfight and Monkey Island was no different. Except that it was very different. No Street Fighter style combos and blocks or intricate fighting routines here. Instead Gilbert and the team set about exploiting the more Douglas Fairbanks Jr elements of Hollywood swordplay - verbal dexterity.
I remember the insult sword fighting as being a fairly tricky writing challenge." says Grossman. You had to have something like 20 or 30 clever comeback lines, every one of which had to work as a response to either of two entirely different insults. And poor Janine Pitot, in the next office, had to translate it all into French, whereupon many of the witty bits fell apart so she had to make up new ones.
Behind The Laughter
It was going to take more than a few good jokes to turn Monkey Island into an all-time classic, still as fondly remembered today as it was well received on its release. For all the humour, without an engaging story, dramatic counterpoints and well-developed characterisations, it probably would have come and gone without a trace.
Luckily, Grossman and co were well aware of the importance of the standards of The Hero's Journey and how it had to be more than just gags to make an impact: For me, the key moment in the story comes with the shipboard conversation between Guybrush and his crew, where they threateningly ask him if he knows what keelhaul' means, he reveals: 99 percent of players will choose to respond with the smart-alecky remark which is likely to get Guybrush killed, but he simply won't say it. Normally I think fourth wall' humour is overrated and overuse but I like it in this instai because it's not only funny, it's a defining moment for Guybrush's character. He has been following your direction, lying, cheating and stealing according to your whims, but draws a line in the sand here, letting you know he has his limits. So, while he knuckles under to his crew, he stands up to you, the player, the Invisible Puppet Master', which is a far bolder thing to do, and with this act I think in a way he finally comes into his own and takes the first step on the road to becoming a hero." And you thought it was just a load of gags about monkeys.
I've heard plenty of rumours like that at various times, but if anything was actually in the works it didn't get past the talking-about-it-over-coffee stage," says Grossman about one of the inevitable consequences of making a hit. With gamers the world over revelling in Guybrush's adventures, it was only natural that the team would want to take it further. Although talk of a sequel was already well under way, being so closely tied with a Hollywood force like George Lucas prompted the rumours of a certain pint-sized. Back To The Future star taking the lead role in a live-action film.
Not that the silver screen was the preferred route for Grossman anyway: I was never too keen on the idea of doing Monkey Island with live actors - the style of humour just doesn't seem quite right for it somehow." Sequels, however, were another matter. For many, the immediate follow up, Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge, was even better than the first. Certainly the Gilbert, Grossman & Schafer (to give them their Law Firm name) magic worked enough for it to be just as fondly remembered, although as LucasFilm became LucasArts and the games industry began to grow up, what was once an exercise in creativity suddenly became a franchise'. The third and fourth Monkey Islands had little to no involvement from the holy trinity, who by this time had decided to move on to pastures new. Consequently, Curse of Monkey Island and Escape from Monkey Island bared precious little resemblance to the classics that had gone before.
Gilbert initially formed Humongous Entertainment in 1992, a spin-off from which was Cavedog Entertainment, producers of the much-loved RTS Total Annihilation. After Cavedog folded in 2000, Gilbert founded Hulabee Entertainment, developing interactive software for children.
Schafer remained on at LucasArts until around the same time, producing games such as Full Throttle, several Star Wars titles and the equally classic point-and-click Grim Fandango. Since leaving LucasArts, Schafer has gone on to set up Double Fine Productions and is hard at work on the Xbox action/ adventure title, Psychonauts.
As for Grossman, writing, poetry and consulting work have kept him nice and busy since leaving - mostly working alongside Gilbert at Humongous and Hulabee. So what of future Monkey Islands? Rumours of a fifth title have been floating around more often than oil slicks off the Spanish coast, but nothing to date has ever been confirmed. Grossman has his own view though: They should sell the rights to Ron and let him build it. He's always saying he'd like to." Now that we'd raise a mug of grog to.
What Has Happened To The Adventure Game?
Sadly, the classic adventure game format has all but died out these days. As technology grew and the inevitable march towards the third dimension threw effective narrative engines to the wayside, the adventure game has had to settle for having elements absorbed into the world of first-person shooters. All proof of the dumbing down of our society, according to Grossman.
Point 'n' click adventures are like Woody Allen films, he laments. There's not enough action to suit everyone, but certain people really enjoy them. They can still draw an audience, but will have to be made inexpensively - mainstream hits are unlikely because most people would rather be driving cars and busting heads.
Who has time to play adventure games anyway? They take forever! he continues, warming to the theme. The Adventures of Sean 2, a Hypercard game by Andrew Tegelaar. Now there's a game. It's incredibly crudely drawn, with nearly zero animation, no flash or sizzle, no production values, no nothing - just a short story and some fun puzzles. Every game designer ought to be REQUIRED to make a game withou spiffy technology or a team of any sort handed a big budget to do something more upscale. If only.
Download The Secret of Monkey Island
Shiver me timbers, laddie. Youngsters like you need to be careful if you wish to survive Monkey Island. Fates worse than keel hauling await those not up to the challenge. Voodoo curses, ghosts, and witch doctors are but a few of the many obstacles you'll encounter. Landlubbers listen closely, and I will tell ye a tale of treasure. Long ago a vicious pirate named Chuck found a secret entryway into an underworld. Filled with lava; it was. He met an awful fate, but he left behind more booty than you can imagine. Guarded by his ghost, no one has ever been able to steal his treasure. Will you be the first?
Lucasfilm Games, best known for a line of historical flight simulators (BattleHawks 1942, Battle of Britain and Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe), is a name that has become synonymous with quality computer entertainment. Both of their previous role-playing releases, Loom and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, were phenomenally successful, despite the fact that the former suffered from a lack of endurance. The Secret of Monkey Island is an intermediate-level adventure that falls between its predecessors in terms of difficulty, a benefit it gains from an extremely friendly interface.
Players assume the role of Guybrush Threepwood, an intrepid young man in search of fame and fortune, somewhat misguided and influenced by the less savory inhabitants of the Scum Tavern. Our man aspires to become a pirate by completing three quests: stealing an idol from the governor's mansion, finding some lost treasure and defeating the Sword Master in combat.
Naturally, the first order of business is to explore the surroundings. Fortunately for those who detest mapping, elaborate note-taking is not required for most of this adventure. Several areas are not readily accessible to the player initially, such as the governor's mansion. In addition, even after the Sword Master is found, she will have nothing to do with the player (Lucasfilm should be applauded for using a female character in a role that many would consider only appropriate for a male hero). Solving these dilemmas is just part of the fun.
The initial problem to face is the severe lack of funds. To correct this, take a trip out of town to explore the wonders of nature. Somewhere out there lies a circus. Get an act together, and it might be possible to make enough money to buy the treasure map and a few digging tools.
While journeying abroad, the player comes upon a bridge guarded by, of all things, a troll. Combat is not in order here, which is good, since the character has yet to develop a proficiency at swordsmanship. Instead, try to appease the troll by getting what he is looking for. You will then be able to cross the bridge, where combat skills may be learned. While abroad, it is also possible to find something of use to fend off the dogs guarding the governor's mansion.
Once the initial three quests are solved, the ghost of the infamous pirate LeChuck appears and kidnaps the governor. The player must now initiate the rescue. This requires a ship and crew. Finding a boat is the easy part, one has only to visit "Stan's Previously Owned Vessels." The crew can be recruited from the various vagrants that remain on the island, but don't expect to sail the Spanish Main with these inferior tars.
From this point onward comes the meat-and-potatoes portion of the game, and it would be unfair to spell things out too explicitly.
The control interface for Monkey Island is superb. Standard adventuring commands appear on a control bar under the main display. Also, the player can point and click on items on-screen to have their character walk over and take them. The frustrations experienced in other games, where one has to lead their characters through furniture-strewn rooms to stand on precisely the right pixel, are not part of this game.
The colorful locations used are just as colorfully illustrated, particularly in VGA, and the overall thrust of both the content and graphics reminded me of the Disney ride Pirates of the Caribbean.
The Secret of Monkey Island is an amusing game and is fun to play as well. All gamers who even remotely enjoy this type of adventure will delight in hours of fantasy enjoyment.
Snapshots and Media
Sega CD Screenshots
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