Look behind you! A three-headed monkey!

This will be an atypical post, as I’m not going to talk about music. I’m going to talk about video games. And music (ha).

I don’t know if I have mentioned this in the past, but I’m a point-and-click adventures enthusiast. Most people I know are not familiar with those type of games, so I rarely speak about it. To make a long story short, they are based on solving enigmas, talking with other characters in order to gather valuable clues, examining locations, finding objects and using or combining them to go ahead with the story. It’s very much like an interactive movie. It appeals to me, as it’s more brain-oriented rather than action-based gaming (as you can imagine from the definition point-and-click). Usually, they are also pretty humorous, even though it depends on the story; some are deeper than others. The graphics are very creative, ranging from old-school pixel art to 2D cartoonish backgrounds and characters, or 3D design.

An authentic milestone in the adventure games world, and the very first point-and-click I have ever played (on floppy disks nonetheless, using an Amiga 500 computer), is The Secret of Monkey Island (1990) from LucasArts Film Games. If you haven’t played it – well, I can’t recommend it enough. You will thank me later. I’m going to quote Wikipedia with some basic info about the game:

The Secret of Monkey Island is a 1990 point-and-click graphic adventure game developed and published by Lucasfilm Games. It takes place in a fictional version of the Caribbean during the age of piracy. The player assumes the role of Guybrush Threepwood, a young man who dreams of becoming a pirate, and explores fictional islands while solving puzzles.

The game was conceived in 1988 by Lucasfilm employee Ron Gilbert, who designed it with Tim Schafer and Dave Grossman. Gilbert’s frustrations with contemporary adventure titles led him to make the player character‘s death almost impossible, which meant that gameplay focused on exploration. The atmosphere was based on that of the Pirates of the Caribbean theme park ride. The Secret of Monkey Island was the fifth game built with the SCUMM engine, which was heavily modified to include a more user-friendly interface.

Critics praised The Secret of Monkey Island for its humor, audiovisuals, and gameplay. Several publications list it among the greatest video games of all time. The game spawned a number of sequels, collectively known as the Monkey Island series. Gilbert, Schafer and Grossman also led the development of the sequel Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge. LucasArts released a remake of the original in 2009, which was also well received by the gaming press.

Why am I talking about this? Because I’m very excited after the announcement of a new Monkey Island instalment, to be released later this year, helmed by original creator Ron Gilbert. Ron has worked on the first two; other games have followed (3, 4 and 5), but despite being enjoyable, fun and entertaining products, Ron and the original team were not involved, and I definitely missed their input. I could tell that some of the magic wasn’t there. From the third game onward, Gilbert’s cryptic, surreal sense of humour got overshadowed by parody; everything became quite harmless, so to say, not as grotesque as what I got used to. Just my two cents, of course: some gamers are very passionate about this specific topic, sometimes a bit too much!

A note I have found recently, that I left to my mum in 1997 (I think). I presume this was part of an assignment for English class at school…

What I find fascinating about Ron Gilbert is the unique, inventive approach that comes across in everything he does. He maintains a blog called Grumpy Gamer, where he has finally announced the new Monkey Island. The funny thing, is that he casually announced it on April Fools’ Day, writing:

For 18 years the Grumpy Gamer blog has been April Fools’ day-free because it’s a stupid tradition.

So to mix things up a little I’m taking this opportunity to announce I’ve decided to make another Monkey Island.

A lot of confusion ensued. As soon as I read that, I suspected this was going to be true – after all, he would write an April Fools’ post every year, always stating that his blog was April Fools’ day-free. It all made sense! That’s genius, if you ask me. In his own words, “the announcement was a joke 18 years in the making”. Isn’t it brilliant? The anticipation got crazy. A few days later, this short teaser appeared everywhere, confirming the news and cementing the hype. I don’t know what to expect, really, but I’m sure it will be good. In case you’re interested, you can read a recent, comprehensive interview with Ron and co-writer Dave Grossman about the forthcoming Return to Monkey Island at this link. It will give you a lot of much needed context.

But it’s not only Monkey Island. Sierra On-Line’s Gabriel Knight is another graphic adventure that I love (the first instalment of the series came out in 1993). I recommend it, also. Compelling, well-researched story (written by author Jane Jensen), memorable characters, engaging gameplay. A few days ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Robert Holmes, the composer behind the timeless music of the game. We had a very enjoyable chat (and found out we have some mutual friends in Seattle); Robert shared lots of insights about scoring the series, current and future projects, and much more. Here’s the video:

All in all, I think my favourite Gabriel Knight game is the third in the series – quite an unpopular opinion, it seems. The 3D graphics haven’t aged too well (it was a time when point and click adventures had to be done in 3D, in order to reach a broader audience), but the UI and gameplay were absolutely innovative. It strikes me as very odd that those innovations have been so thoroughly ignored. I would spend a long time roaming through the streets of Rennes-le-Château, soaking up the calm, relaxed atmosphere of the small French town, and immersing myself in the exquisite sound design. I suggest you listen to Robert’s Grace’s Theme – a beautiful piece of music.

Ok, there would be so much to say, and many more games to list and discuss, but I’m going to end the post here. Let me know if you get to try any of those, or if you were aware of those games already. Always happy to talk about point-and-click graphic adventures!

Un pensiero su “Look behind you! A three-headed monkey!

  1. Hey Marco — good to hear from you!

    My gaming days were back in the 90s, starting with Myst, Riven, and variety of other games in that then-new genre. Like you, I enjoyed these much more than bang-bang-shoot’m-up games.

    So why did my gaming days end in the early 2000s, you ask? Because I found another hobby that I liked better: playing bass!

    Ciao, Lee

    ____________________________________

    Lee A. Kirkpatrick Professor, Dept. of Psychological Sciences William & Mary Williamsburg, VA 23187-8795 (757) 221-3997 ________________________________

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