Could the success of the Monkey Island Special Editions herald LucasArts' return to straight adventure games? I spoke to Monkey Island 2 Special Edition: LeChuck's Revenge project lead Craig Derrick about the new remake and the possibilities it raises.
It's a time of resurgence for Guybrush Threepwood and the cast of the Monkey Island series. The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition was released last July for Xbox Live Arcade, PC and iPhone. Telltale Games added a new chapter to the saga with the episodic release of Tales of Monkey Island.
Now LucasArts is gearing up for the winter release of Monkey Island 2 Special Edition: LeChuck's Revenge. Like the first SE release, it takes the original game and gives it a current-generation makeover, with updated graphics, new voice work (mostly from the original cast), a hint system, an art gallery and a reworked musical score.
It's a larger, more complex game than the Secret of Monkey Island Special Edition, but lessons learned and tools developed while creating the first game helped speed the process along.
"I believe that leveraging all of the skills, technology and tools developed for the first SE was the ONLY way we could have evenly possibly created a Special Edition as complex and large as Monkey Island 2 while adding NEW features in the same time it took us to create the first game," said Derrick, further explaining that much of the development was handed over to LucasArts' Singapore team this time around.
"The distributed nature of the teams between San Francisco and Singapore introduced some new challenges, but since some of the first Special Edition was created there they understood what to do and I've very proud of the amazing job they've accomplished."
It was this distributed development system that paved the way for the inclusion of a Special Edition commentary, recorded for the game at the 2010 Game Developers Conference by original creators Dave Grossman, Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer.
I asked Derrick to detail how this entertaining new feature would work.
"The commentary is an optional feature that works very similar to those found on film DVD's. After turning the option on from within the bonus features menu the player will be given a choice to listen to select scene commentary while playing through the game," he explained. The player will be prompted via on-screen cue when there is commentary available. Pressing the button causes the game audio to lower, the screen to go letterbox, and silhouettes of Grossman, Gilbert and Schafer to pop up on the screen to deliver their comments, Mystery Science Theater 3000 style.
"On most occasions the commentary appears as you enter one scene or another, but it will also appear after a particular moment has occurred providing further commentary or anecdotes about the scene. It's fantastic and I fully expect to see this feature to continue to be in more and more games."
That feature alone should be more than enough to get fans lining up for the game when it hits the iPhone, Mac, PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 this winter. What, no iPad? Did I waste $US500 on this silly thing?
"Yes. Yes, you did," quipped Derrick. "I'm kidding! I have one too and I like it. It does seem to be missing something, though. Not sure what. Maybe I'll go think about that and let you know if I come up with something."
Teasing iPad comments aside, could the strong fan reaction to these remakes indicate a more adventure-oriented direction for LucasArts?
"We've always been in the action AND adventure game," Derrick responded. "It just seems that we've been emphasising one over the other lately. The Special Editions and Tales of Monkey Island have been a way to measure the audience's reaction to us doing more straight adventure games and to see how the audience reacts to Monkey Island so many years after the first and last game in the series. It's been pretty successful so far."
But don't expect a new pure, point-and click adventure title from the company any time soon.
"But if we were to truly get back into the "adventure" business then I would say we need to take some of what we've learned from the "action" side of the business a little bit, look at today's audience sensibilities and reinvent the genre just as we did with Maniac Mansion 23 years ago."