Ten Years Ago: LucasArts' Monkey Island Duo

curseof.jpg After taking a look at what Peter Molyneux and Demis Hassabis were up to ten years ago, the final instalment of this 'how did their predictions turn out, a decade later' feature series asks some adventure game veterans.

Specifically, it chats to LucasArts' Larry Ahern and Jonathan Ackley, who were just about to complete 1997's The Curse Of Monkey Island, the first post-Ron Gilbert version of the franchise, and the last to use the famed SCUMM adventure game engine. Read on for what they said and whether they were right... What do you think of the recent move backwards from point and click interfaces to text parsers?

Larry Ahern: I can't spell; I think it's very danjerous.

Jonathan Ackley: Seriously, I think it's a little silly. When you make a modern game, you're not competing with old text games from the 1980's. You're competing with the memory of old text games from the 1980's. People remember all the fun they had banging their head on their computer desk trying to figure out the proper input for the game's two-word parser. But if you play those games now, you enjoy the nostalgia factor for the first ten minutes and then you realise why interfaces have evolved in the way they have.

(My question here was particularly referencing Douglas Adams' Starship Titanic, and as such, the game's Spookitalk was hardly a trend. In fact, Starship Titanic was the only big title that every tried this method. So, although text adventures are still made, the graphic adventure is still ahead of them in terms of sales.)

Traditionally, the Monkey Island series was the work of Ron Gilbert. Is the game noticeably different without Ron?

Jonathan Ackley: We have no idea what Ron would have made if he had worked on this, so it's hard to compare. But, being big fans of the first two games, we tried to be as true to the characters and style of the series as possible. We'd like to think that we've taken the next step with the story and helped tie it all together into a satisfying trilogy. I don't know why it is, but for some reason trilogies seem appropriate here at LucasArts.

(Gilbert's loss was a shame, but The Curse Of Monkey Island was still received very positively by fans. Gilbert himself went on to found Humongous Entertainment (known for its kids games, and still operating as an Infogrames-owned company) and Cavedog Entertainment (the creators of Total Annihilation). Nowadays he's advising on the Penny Arcade Adventures game and blogging at Grumpy Gamer.)

The industry increasingly sees spin-off merchandising, cartoon series, and so on from the most popular and character-led games. So where's the Guybrush fluffy toy and animation series? Or did the Maniac Mansion TV series put LucasArts off that angle?

Jonathan Ackley: I think we haven't gone that route because it has nothing to do with selling computer games, which is the real business that we're in. We like to focus on what we do best, without having to worry about what someone else might be doing with characters that we licence out to them. There's so much room for error with things like that. Crucial issues are at stake, like how fluffy should a Guybrush fluffy toy be? Should we have real flaming beard action on the LeChuck dolls, or will kids just use them to set each other on fire? Things like that.

(Since the Monkey Island series is mothballed, there's not exactly a lot of merchandising out there for it. However, the Wikipedia article for Curse does note: "After 'CMI' shipped, a Monkey Island movie was in the works. This was only brought to light when Tony Stacchi, a concept artist for the project, sent his work to The Scumm Bar, a Monkey Island fansite. The movie was cancelled in the very early stages of development." Nuts.)

Where do you see adventure games 5 years from now?

Jonathan Ackley: It can be a difficult and expensive style of game to produce, so we've seen fewer on the market recently. However, LucasArts has a long and successful tradition with the genre, and we're very fond of it here. each time out we make some alterations to the style and gameplay, so I'm expecting it to continue evolving, but at the heart of it all is always a strong sense of character and story. The balance is between providing enough story to draw the player into the world, and then opening up the world enough for the player to interactively become a part of it.

(Unfortunately, both Ahern and Ackley left LucasArts before the debut of the fourth Monkey Island title, 2000's Escape From Monkey Island - which was also the last pure adventure game the company ever produced. Adventures are starting to return via casual gaming and Telltale's Sam & Max series resurrection, though.

Nowadays, Ahern appears to work at Microsoft on titles including the Flight Simulator series, and Ackley, according to a recent lecture, is a a Director at Walt Disney Imagineering Research and Development, working on Epcot Center rides and other interesting projects.)

Interview: LucasArts Duo [GameGeekPeeks]


    I still rate The Curse of Monkey Island as one of the best games ever made!

    Yeah, definitely, I still pull it out and play it every year. Such a great game.

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