Monkey Island 2 Special Edition: LeChuck's Revenge Q&A
We chat with the original Monkey Island crew to get their thoughts on the upcoming release of Monkey Island 2 Special Edition.
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The band is back together. The upcoming release of Monkey Island 2 Special Edition: LeChuck's Revenge for the PC, PlayStation Network, and Xbox Live Arcade features a special commentary mode where the creators--Ron Gilbert, Tim Schafer, and Dave Grossman--of the original game share their memories and behind-the-scenes information as you progress through the game. We had the chance to speak with the original Monkey Island 2 crew as well as current Monkey Island 2 Special Edition producer, Craig Derrick, for some insight on Monkey Island's lasting impact on gaming and how they feel about the changes made for the special edition.
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GameSpot: Given how many years have passed since the original game's release, how do each of you feel about the game, and its rerelease, all these years later? How does it fit into the landscape of modern video games?
Ron Gilbert: It's great for me to see so many people enjoying Monkey Island 20 years later. Adventure games came close to becoming a lost art form, but they are a strong and engaging way to tell a story, and current gamers like story. Releasing these games for modern hardware is going [to] expose a lot of people to adventure games and hopefully keep them interested.
Tim Schafer: Every year that goes by, I get more nostalgic about the old games. I've always wondered if it was nostalgia for the game or for that time when we were all working together. But after playing the special edition for Monkey 1, I can honestly say that, in my opinion, it actually holds up. I had a great time playing it. Of course I'm biased, but the Monkey games have a personality that was unique at the time and even more unusual now.
Dave Grossman: Although there are some aspects of the puzzley gameplay of the early Monkey Island titles that feel distinctly "old school," I think the story, characters, and humor have held up remarkably well. Still fun after all this time! Who knew? And in the context of the modern gaming landscape, the Monkeys occupy the interesting and underutilized space between hardcore and casual, which may give them some good crossover relevance.
Craig Derrick: Monkey Island 2 was way ahead of its time and is a masterpiece that has undoubtedly inspired many games past and present, not to mention a few recent pirate-themed films. I think the lighthearted story, humorous characters, and puzzle-solving of the original game, along with the modern additions of high-definition visuals, voice-overs, and controls, will fit well into today's landscape and will feel just as fresh today as it did 20 years ago.
GS: How do you feel about the "special edition" treatment of the original game and the way it's presented?
RG: I think they did a fantastic job. The core game, story, and dialogue remained untouched and just the art was brought up to date and, of course, ported to platforms that didn't exist when we made the original. I also thought being able to flip back to the original art really showed the care, love, and respect that LucasArts has for these games.
TS: I loved that the original game was still intact for players who wanted to experience it exactly as it was. But then once I felt secure that the old game was in there, I started playing the HD version and really enjoyed it. I ended up playing it through twice on my Xbox and once on my iPhone. I think they've done a beautiful job with the repainted backgrounds. And the two versions of Guybrush's voice in the insult swordfighting was a great addition.
DG: It's cool to see the translation--if you want to call it that--of an older game to modern graphics and sound capabilities and gaming hardware design, as well as to different artistic sensibilities. My favorite feature is the one that lets you pop back and forth between the new and the old. I wish remakes of movies would let you do that. Also, I like the fact that we, as an industry, think of older titles as potentially being worthy of a "special edition." It means we're taking our craft seriously in a way that appeals to me.
CD: Be nice guys. Remember, we did fix Guybrush's hair and put a very flattering caricature of each of you in the game.
GS: Clearly, if game publishers are willing to rerelease the game this many years later, it's because the game is worth reintroducing to a new generation of players. Why do you think it has held up so well?
RG: It's because the game is primarily a good story about interesting characters woven together with humor. It wasn't a game built on a technical gimmick or some fad of the times. I also feel it's because we had so much fun making them.
TS: We had a rule back then: Monkeys are always fun. That's as true today as it was back then. People still love monkeys. And they always will…until the monkeys rise up and take over society. Then people will love them, but only because it will be illegal not to.
DG: Something built to leverage the nifty features of the latest gaming hardware may very well become dated two years later when the next console comes out, but the pillars of the Monkey series are all about strong story and characters and a good sense of humor. And those things tend to hold their appeal for a lot longer.
CD: Monkey Island 2 has held up so well because the game is easy to play, the writing is sharp, the puzzles are clever, and it never takes itself too seriously. You combine that with classic storytelling elements of adventure, romance, mystery, and fantasy and you have a game that will never go out of style.
GS: Adventure games are sadly not the booming market they once were. What was it about Monkey Island 2, back in its day, that helped it lead the charge for this once-popular game genre?
RG: It is a very strong and tight adventure game. The first adventure game I designed was Maniac Mansion and I think it shows in a lot of ways. The original Monkey Island was the result of an article I wrote called "Why Adventure Games Suck" that laid out a set of rules that adventure games should follow. We learned a lot from the original Monkey Island, and Monkey 2 was [the] culmination of many years of trying to figure out adventure games. Also, you can not underestimate the writing. Games tend to sport pretty bad writing, and the quality of the writing in those two games really made them stand out.
TS: Spitting. The spitting contest. No other game had spitting in their game, really. Maybe I'm just biased because I wired that part up. But I thought it was the best part of the game. Now that I'm thinking about it, "Spitting Contest" would make a great Natal game.
DG: Brilliant writing and design, of course. And art and music…the game really gave you a terrific sense of place, didn't it? For what was essentially shoebox theater with tiny pixilated puppet people, it was tremendously cinematic.
GS: What can modern adventure games do today to recapture some of that magic? Are there lessons that you feel game developers can pick up from works like this?
RG: World, character, and story. In that order. Create a compelling place people want to visit, populate it with compelling characters, and then tell a good story. Adventure games also need to realize that they are not a contest between the player and the designer. Puzzles should feel logical and satisfying to solve.
TS: Take a risk on stupid ideas, for one. And by "stupid ideas" I really mean ideas that seem stupid, but if you think about them long enough, you realize they're awesome. Unless you think about them so long that it's now 3 a.m.; then you got to watch out because everything seems funny at 3 a.m.
DG: Never base a puzzle on a bit of wordplay that may or may not translate to other languages or even to local dialects of the same language (sorry about that monkey wrench). I also think it's important to remember that a graphic adventure isn't just a random collection of the cleverest puzzles you could think of. First and foremost, it's a story, and it needs to have all the elements thereof, including heart, theme, change, point of view, consistent internal logic, and so on. Sometimes I am reluctant to think of them as games at all, though it's also important that the play part be fun.
GS: Is there a favorite moment you recall from the game's development or just a really memorable story from behind the scenes that each of you can share?
RG: Two hundred and fifty six color graphics. No one will ever need more than 256 colors, and I think history has proven that to be true.
TS: There was this time at a company party that we all dared Ron to eat an entire Lego pirate ship. He was so drunk, he actually did it. The resulting hospital stay was so painful, he completely blocked it out of his memory. I remember he was mostly mad because modern Lego sets have so many customized pieces, which have more sharp edges and so they're harder to pass. Gosh, I hope he doesn't mind me sharing this.
DG: Monkey 2 was when we got the scanner! One for the whole studio. I would gleefully use it after hours to make desktop pictures for my Mac, but during the day, its use was rigidly controlled, at least at first. It seemed like they were mostly afraid we might break it. I should mention that at the time, a good flatbed scanner cost about as much as a car. Nowadays, you can get a better scanner for less than $100, but cars are more expensive than ever. Highly suspicious.
CD: For me, the absolute best moment was getting Ron, Tim, and Dave all together in the same room at LucasArts for the first time in what, maybe 20 years, and just watching them interact and tell stories about the original games development during the commentary sessions. Just being in the audio booth for those few hours, watching and listening to them talk about the inside stories behind the making of the game, was one of those moments where you feel very lucky to be at LucasArts and a part of this whole Monkey Island franchise. Plus, they signed my original Secret of Monkey Island box!
GS: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add about Monkey Island 2: Special Edition, the original game, or adventure games in general?
TS: Guybrush's new hair is worth the price of the game all by itself.
RG: I want to know who stole the Lego pirate ship I had in my office. I know it was 20 years ago and I should move on, but I can't.
DG: People should buy more adventure games. My car needs a brake job.
CD: Please buy Monkey Island 2: Special Edition!
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