By Brad Cook
Little did designer Ron Gilbert know that a funny adventure game released in 1990 would become a seminal work demanding the release of a Special Edition. He was simply searching for something new when he drew on his enjoyment of Disneylands Pirates of the Caribbean Ride and the 1988 pirate fantasy novel On Stranger Tides. The former provided ambience, while the latter supplied the games take on voodoo and magic.
Pirates were horrible people youd never want to meet in real life, let alone play a game about, Gilbert acknowledges. That thought led him to temper his initial sources with a healthy dash of lighter influences. He continues: Monty Python is a great influence on my humor in general and a lot of people have commented that the humor of Monkey Island feels like it. I also grew up watching shows like SCTV and the original Saturday Night Live and listening to Steve Martin stand-up records.
Who Wants to be a Pirate?
That style of humors bread-and-butter is the everyman who finds himself in situations full of funhouse mirror caricatures. In The Secret of Monkey Island, that protagonist is hapless Guybrush Threepwood. I wanted him to know nothing about the world he was entering because the player wouldnt either, Gilbert explains. I always hated games that cast the player in the role of some professional, like a policeman, and then punish them because they dont know police procedure.
He adds: I wanted Guybrush to be as lost as the player was, so they would learn together. From that came the opening line of the game: Hi, Im Guybrush Threepwood and I want to be a pirate. That laid out the entire game in one sentence.
As you revisit Guybrushs adventures insult swordfighting! the Men of Low Moral Fiber! a quest to save the beautiful Governor Elaine Marley from the clutches of the undead pirate LeChuck! youll experience his tale in new ways, thanks to updated, hand-painted art in widescreen resolution, a re-recorded and remastered musical score, and new voice recordings that replace the previously-unspoken dialogue. If you ever feel nostalgic, you can flip between the new and old versions on the fly, even in the middle of the action.
I wasnt involved in the Special Edition, Gilbert says, but they did show it to me toward the end of production and I was very impressed with the care they had taken with it.
Seeking the Bottlenecks
The LucasArts team also streamlined the games interface enabling you to summon the command menu when needed, rather than having it take up a large chunk of screen space and introduced a three-level hint system that points the way to go with a large yellow arrow on its highest setting. If youre new to adventure games, you may appreciate a nudge in the right direction while pondering a puzzle.
Asked for his puzzle design philosophy, Gilbert responds: I usually start with the problem and work backwards into the solution. I also create these huge charts that fill up whole walls and show how every puzzle interconnects. That way I can see how the whole thing flows, where the bottlenecks are, and how many choices the player has at any one time.
He adds: As for the difficulty of any one puzzle, I dont know how to decide if its too hard or too easy. There have been many times when I have created a puzzle only to later find out its too easy and add a new layer, or that its too hard and remove one. Its a very fluid process.
Of Doom and Rubber Chickens
Looking back on his time at LucasArts and the classic adventure games he helped create, Gilbert says that initial burst of activity in the genre began to fade in the 90s because of the rise of the first-person shooter, led by 1993s breakthrough title, Doom. When that game came out, it was amazing and it grabbed a huge new audience that dwarfed that of adventure games, Gilbert recalls, so publishers turned their attention to where the money was.
But now that the market is expanding and everyone, even the President of the United States, plays videogames, we can now have a wider selection of games that find an audience. Not everyone wants to play first-person shooters.
The Monkey Island audience certainly hasnt abandoned their love of the genre or their favorite series, continuing to talk about it on message boards and document every bit of minutiae at such web sites as Monkey Island Wiki, The World of Monkey Island, The Monkey Island SCUMM Bar, and Tales of Monkey Island. A few even put on a stage version of The Secret of Monkey Island.
Gilbert remembers his favorite experience with fans: A couple years ago, I was going to Europe for a quick vacation and thought Id mention it on my blog and see if any fans wanted to get together and chat about adventure games and Monkey Island. I honestly figured five people would show up.
It ended up being a huge party and we took over a pub in London. It was a ton of fun. People brought odd things for me to sign, like rubber chickens. I had similar experiences in Amsterdam and Paris. Monkey Island fans are the greatest.
Check out our systems for your best gaming experience.
Monkeys to Go
Pirates! Adventure! Monkeys! With The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition for iPhone, re-live the hilarious swashbuckling misadventures of the wannabe pirate Guybrush Threepwood as he attempts to become the most infamous pirate in the Caribbean.
If you liked this game, check out:
- A Vampyre Story
- The Abbey
- Ankh: Battle of the Gods
- Jack Keane
- Pirates of the Caribbean Online
- Sid Meiers Pirates!
- Tales of Monkey Island
- Mac OS X version 10.5
- 1.8GHz Intel processor (2GHz recommended)
- 512MB RAM (2GB recommended)
- 128MB video RAM (256MB recommended; Intel integrated graphics chipsets not recommended)
- 2GB hard disk space
A Pointer Or Two For Ya, Matey
If The Secret of Monkey Islands hint system doesnt provide the help you need, you can always peruse this text walkthrough or watch this video walkthrough to figure out some of the games trickier puzzles. No, you wont uncover the fabled secret of Monkey Island, nor will you learn Gilberts plans to rule the world. If I told you that, he says, it would ruin it.
Wait, if he told us what? The secret of Monkey Island or his plans to rule the world? Ron? Darn, he hung up. Now well never know.