Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Monkey Island Memory Trip

I wrote this little piece for the LucasArts fansite Mixnmojo. They currently have a complete retrospective on the classic The Secret of Monkey Island, featuring interviews with project leader Ron Gilbert and artist Mark Ferrari. I think it turned out rather nicely, so I'm posting it here, too.

Hope you enjoy it!

The Secret of Monkey Island was the first adventure game I ever completed. I first read about it in issue #2 of Amiga Power, and became mesmerised by the promise of being able to play a character in my own little movie. I needed this game, but unfortunately it required a 0.5 megabyte RAM upgrade in order to be played. There was nothing I could do. So I obsessed about playing it, re-reading the review over and over, waiting for my birthday to come around so I could get the upgrade.

Finally, when the day came, I amazingly (and this has never happened to me since) wasn't disappointed. In fact, if anything, I was even more blown away than I'd imagined I would be. From the moment I heard the opening plinks and plonks of the xylophone and saw the 'LucasFilm Games' logo appear at precisely the right moment, I fell absolutely, head over heels, in love. I sat listening to the buoyant, joyous music and, enthralled, watched the entire opening credits (and doing so became a ritual every time I loaded the game, feeling it would be sacrilege to skip them). Then came the opening conversation (the first time Guybrush Threepwood was introduced to the world!), and it was simple, earnest and funny; a perfect description of the game I was about to play.

I remember finding myself on the moonlit pier of the beautifully and romantically realised Mêlée Island and, attempting to introduce myself to the interface, did the first thing the developers had intended me to do: LOOK AT POSTER, I told it. "Vote Governor Marley", Guybrush read, "When there's only one candidate, there's only one choice". The tone was set and the game continued from there. It was almost a spiritual experience, I couldn't believe I was seeing something actually smart, clever and genuinely funny in a computer game. I felt like I was playing a movie. My favourite movie. It was like Indiana Jones and Star Wars rolled into one.

It's important to remember that, back in those days, adventure games were almost entirely made up of dry, humourless, unforgiving experiences. I'd tried plenty and they'd all promised me the same thing; the freedom to lead my character through an exciting and entertaining adventure, but only The Secret of Monkey Island succeeded. It created a wonderfully welcoming universe, filled with little surprises and nice touches. Every single character, for example, had a perfectly rounded personality that could be appreciated in just a few lines of dialogue -- without the need for a tedious back-story (much in the same way a character like Dr Hibbert in The Simpsons can). Even today this is a rarity. The presentation, the characters and the overall sense of fun completely engulfed me, and I loved every minute of it.

This was an adventure game, no, a computer game, that had charm, wit and personality. An adventure game that didn't take itself too seriously, but at the same time didn't fall into the easy trap of being self-referential or fourth-wall busting, either. No, this was a genuinely joyful adventure that stayed true to its storyline and characters, while letting you feel you were part of the fun. I'll never have that experience again, but I'll always cherish The Secret of Monkey Island. After all, you never forget your first love.

1 comment:

Nick said...

Hi Johnny

I know this article is a couple of years old now, but I figured maybe you get some email alert to new comments on your blog.

I just tried to email you at indyguide@mixnmojo.com
with regards to your guide for Last Crusade - but the email bounced.

While looking for someone else on mixmojo.com (I site that I discovered independantly of your guide only a week ago, coincidentally) I stumbled into the forums, looked at the post with the newest posting "Secret of Monkey Island - CD Talkie Edition Project" and what would you know.... but the latest posting is by your very self with a link to your blog!!

So hopefully this message gets to you - I'll just paste my original email as I sent it to you:-

Hi Johnny

Just thought I would write to let you know that I have just played through Last Crusade using your excellent guide - thanks for spending the time to write it all out as I think it is just too "illogical" a game for me...with too many trial and error parts for my patience.
All those little facts of interest that you add in just make it all the better too.

I wanted to let you know of a minor error in your guide that would be a very quick fix:-
In the section for Castle Brunwald is a link to the "Fighting Tips" section of your guide. The link on this page is actually incorrect and leads to a dead page. The link ends with "fighting.htm" instead of "fighting.html" - I didn't even notice the seperate link in the contents section to the left of the screen until after I finished the game (although I was aiming to get through the game without fighting anyway).

Hope you can fix this without too much trouble.

I'm already on to Atlantis - trying to get at far as I can without using your guide this time.

Carry on adventuring ;-)