Monday, 28 April 2014

The History of Monkey Island [Final]

For the personal enquiry part of my researched I wanted to talk about one of my favourite games series, Monkey island, a series of five adventure games. These are games fairly dear to me as it's something that my sister,dad and I would play together, and is what eventually got me into adventure game genre in general. Throughout the history of games lectures we've had, amongst new information the one company name that stood out for me was Atari. My dad would frequently tell me of how he and my mother played the secret of money island on the Atari ST, until they got stuck and gave up. This inspired me to do more research on Atari as a company as seen in my blog post "The history of video games part 2".

The monkey island games were produced from 1990-2009 by LucasFilm/Arts with each game  reflecting the change in video game technology at the time. Monkey island develops from VGA pixel art, and side scrolling based game play, to full on 3D animated worlds. Though this game is mainly part of my childhood gaming experience, it also recently resurfaced in adulthood, with "The Tales of monkey island" (Monkey island 5).  The charm and humour of monkey island is present in all of its games, though as I'm older some things that amazed me from the games make me cringe now.

To start my research I figured I needed to find all of my old Monkey island CDs, Unfortunately upon putting in all of the CD's I found that none of them actually work on my PC so I had to find an emulator for this to play my games. Fair enough, these games are 20 years old. Throughout this post I'll be focussing on the overall look and game play of Monkey Island throughout the years and how this reflects the game industry.So to get people in the mood:

The Secret of Monkey Island (1990) and Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge (1991)

The Secret of Monkey Island was developed and published by Lucasfilm Games. It takes place in a fantastic 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.
Secret was developed in 1990 in an age of arcade adventure games such as Space Ace and Dragons lair ( both released in 1983) Secret was an answer to the frustration felt playing these games, as some were insanely difficult due to how easily the player could die, one hit deaths and death due to quick timed events were common in games, the difficulty of these games is partly due to the aim of getting kids to keep putting money into the arcade machines, and partly because games were short, a game that takes hours to master, with a perfect play through would only take 10 minutes to get through. You would never reach a dead-end. Though process could be slow going, there was never a penalty for getting things wrong, Loosing a sword fight wouldn't kill the player, you could surrender and try again.There was never a death screen that led to restarting the whole game.  In fact I believe that there are only two ways to die in monkey island, ones's an Easter egg of sorts (Threepword lists in his special skills that he can hold his breath for 10 minutes, later in the games you can test this and if you are underwater for more than 10 minutes you die.) The other way is a spoiler for the last game,(and doesn't really count.)

This is the first scene of The Secret of Monkey island, and sets the main goal for the beginning of the game. 
The style of Monkey island 1 is pixel based VGA graphics. The aim of the game (and later games) is to guide the hero, Guybrush Threepwood through the world using commands such as "talk to" (for communicating with characters) "look", "use" "pick up"(for collecting items) in order to successfully solve puzzles and complete the game. While conversing with other characters, the player may choose between topics for discussion that are listed in a dialogue tree. Secret is one of the first to incorporate such a system.
In the 1990s gaming technology was limited, so certain aspects of games just weren't possible so Lucasarts had to come up with solutions for it. One of these solutions became an iconic task in the game, and something that always made me smile. Insult Sword Fighting.

When you try to become a pirate in this game, one of you tasks is to challenge the sword master Carla to a sword fight. A lightning reflex based sword fight was not possible with the SCUMM engine and point and click controls. Instead LucasArts decided to take advantage of the dialogue tree present in the game and make the fight about insults thrown at the opponent or player. If you were successful in your insults and comebacks you opponent would be thrown off and you would eventually win.
Insult sword fighting is probably one of the most popular parts the the Monkey island series, and has been feature in all of the games, with some changes. For example,in The Curse of Monkey Island, while fighting on board ship, all insult comebacks must rhyme with the attackers line.In Escape from Monkey island Insult Arm Wrestling replaces Insult Sword Fighting.

Le Chucks Revenge didn't differ much from its predecessor  in game play or graphics. Though The game was one of the few adventure games that offered the player a choice in levels of puzzle difficulty. In some versions, before starting the game, the player can choose between regular version and "Monkey 2 Lite", (1) The graphics updated from 16  to 32 bit graphics but besides that the game didn't have any significant changes. in game play and aesthetics. 

The Curse of Monkey Island (1997)
Curse marked the height of the Scumm engine, using   charming cartoon style animation to present the game. Curse is personally my favourite of the series due to this style. during this time game were actually making the shift towards 3D with games like GTA, FFVII and Tomb Raider II being released in the same year. Though monkey island kept with 2D style, this worked well in their favour. To this day Curse is considered to be the best out of the series visually.
Though The Curse of Monkey Island is still a point-and-click adventure game. The interface upgraded. It now consisted in a coin-shaped menu, with three icons: a hand, a skull and a parrot, representing actions related to hands, eyes and mouth, respectively. These icons implied the actions Guybrush would perform with an object. The hand icon would usually mean actions such as picking something up, operating a mechanism or hitting someone, the skull icon was most used for examining or looking at objects and the parrot icon was used to issue Guybrush commands such as talking to someone or opening a bottle with his teeth. The inventory and actions were thus visible on click, rather than on the bottom of the screen as previous point-and-click games by Lucasarts. The player controlled a white 'X' cursor with the mouse, that turned red whenever landing onto an object (or person) with which Guybrush could interact. Holding left click over an object, whether in or outside the inventory, would bring up the coin menu, while right clicking it would perform the most obvious action with this particular object. Right clicking a door, for example, made Guybrush attempt to open it, while right clicking a person meant talking to him or her.

SCUMM and GrimE
Monkey Island 1-3 use the "Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion" (SCUMM) engine. SCUMM is part scripting language, part game engine developed at LucasFilms/Arts to ease development of the graphical adventure game Maniac Mansion. the original version was coded by Aric Wilmunder and Ron Gilbert in 1987, with later versions enhanced by Wilmunder and various others. SCUMM was subsequently reused in many later LucasArts adventure games being both updated and rewritten several times. LucasArts finally abandoned the SCUMM engine in 1998 when they switched to GrimE, using the free software scripting language Lua, for the games Grim Fandango and Escape from Monkey Island. There are a few in jokes related to the engines used in the games SCUMM bar is the name of the first location you should travel to in Monkey island, renamed to the Lua bar in Monkey island 4 as homage to the scripting language used in the GrimE engine.

Escape from Monkey Island (2000)
Escape was actually the game that I started out playing, when my dad first introduced my sister and I to the series, and consequently point and click adventure games. Escape is the first monkey island game to use 3D polygon based graphics and was produced in the GrimE engine. The change of engine and graphics was in response to the rise in 3D games of 2000, the playstaion 2, Nintendo 64 and Dreamcast were all released around this time. The industry was settling into 3D. Back then I never noticed the graphics, though now replaying the game I'd say that visually Escape was the worst to look at (in fact I kind of hate the graphics now.) The controls were also an issue as LucasArts abandoned the point and click controls in favour of keyboard controls for this game. The famous insult sword fighting was largely replaced with “Monkey Kombat” a glorified “rock ,paper, scissors” type game. Because of the reasons above Escape is definably my least favourite in terms of gameplay as well, more so now as I've been learning about 3D modelling, at De Monfort. All the mistakes of the game are glaringly obvious, and a little cringe worthy to me. The first 2 Monkey islands were remade into "Special editions" with updated graphics and part of me wishes that they went a little further and remade 4 to fit in with the style of the 2009 release of The Tales of Monkey Island.

The Tales of Monkey Island (2009)
Nine years after Escape, LucasArts collaborated with TellTale games to bring The Tales of Monkey Island, the seemingly final instalment of monkey island. Now when I found out that there was going to be a monkey island 5 I was excited as hell, along with my family, especially as I knew Telltale would do good wok with it as shown by there game series a wolf among us. I was right, Tales did not disappoint. Tales used modern 3D graphics that I am used to now, whilst still very much keeping the humour and feel of the previous games. It seems the story of monkey island ends here,especially as LucasArts is no more, but then again that was said about Escape from Monkey Island.

My dad always joked about my sister and I making the "next Monkey Island” But now with myself learning about the art of games design and game development and my sister learning about the programming side of games, it could actually become something serious. One day I would like to make an adventure game, maybe if it hasn't been done yet, redo Escape. Even if its just a small thing made between my sister and I for our dad, that'd be a cool thing to do, Either way the game play and humour in the Monkey island games have made it my favourite games series to play, and I don't see that changing for quite sometime. 

1.'The Curse of Monkey Island - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia' viewed  April 2014
2. Bevan,Mike,"The SCUMM Diary: Stories behind one of the greatest game engines ever made." (2013) Viewed April 2014
3."SCUMM" Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia',viewed  April 2014

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