30 years of The Secret of Monkey Island

My beloved The Secret of Monkey Island is now 30-years old. Since being released back on 15 October 1990, it has grown become one of the most well-known and loved point-and-click games and is often cited as an inspiration for modern adventures.

Regular Later Levels’ visitors are likely to know why I adore this title and how much it has influenced my gaming habits over the past three decades. That’s why I’m celebrating Guybrush Threepwood’s birthday today with a tag post that any pirate would be proud of! Whether you played back in the 90s or have only recently discovered it, everyone is invited to answer the prompts below and share their love for The Secret of Monkey Island. And if you haven’t played it yet: what are you waiting for?

How did you first come across The Secret of Monkey Island?

The Secret of Monkey Island, Monkey Island, Guybrush Threepwood, Elaine Marley, pirates, monkey, swordsI was lucky enough to receive an Amiga 500 from my parents for Christmas when I was nine-years old. My dad spent most of the morning trying to hook it up to our television before asking me what I wanted to play first; and I pointed to a box showing a mysterious skull surrounded by a ghostly ship, fierce-looking pirates and a young swashbuckling hero. The rest of that day was spent exploring Mêlée Island and meeting the other characters, all of which blew my young brain because it was as if the books I’d been reading had come alive on screen.

What’s your happiest memory of the game?

The Secret of Monkey Island, video game, prison, jail, Otis, Guybrush, pirates, cells, candlesMy granddad got roped into playing with us on that Christmas day and we came to the section where you need to break Otis out of the prison cell so you can add him to your pirate crew. We struggled with the puzzle for a while before my dad and granddad eventually drifted away. I was so proud of myself when I managed to figure out that you needed to use the various mugs scattered around the Scumm Bar with the grog on my own– something had clicked and it was like I finally understood what the game wanted of me.

Who’s your favourite character?

The Secret of Monkey Island, Elaine Marley, woman, pirate, face, Guybrush ThreepwoodMy favourite character from the entire series is Murray but, if we’re sticking to the original title for today’s post, then Elaine Marley comes a very close second. Guybrush can be a bit of an idiot sometimes and it’s the poor Governor who has to put up with that crap. If was she who saves the day in The Secret of Monkey Island before her partner comes along, mucks it up and manages to defeat LeChuck through sheer luck – and I think that makes her worthy of being a playable protagonist in her own game.

What’s the best location in the story?

The Secret of Monkey Island, video game, map, top-down,  Mêlée IslandAlthough it’s not really a location in itself, the scene I liked most as a kid was the moment you were given access to the top-down map of Mêlée Island. It felt as though the whole island had suddenly been opened to me and I was so certain that places other than the obvious landmarks were concealed within the trees, that I spent ages searching every path for hidden entrances. I loved the part where you had to follow the Storekeeper through the map and into the forest to track down Carla.

What’s your favourite puzzle?

The Secret of Monkey Island, video games, Guybrush, insult-swordfighting, piratesLucasArts perfectly captured the cerebral nature of the point-and-click along with comedy in a puzzle which let us express our inner-pirate: insult-swordfighting. Guybrush must track down opponents on the roads of the map mentioned above and challenge them to a duel, picking up new insults and testing out collected responses to build his repertoire. The formula is then mixed up when you take on Carla when you can’t just reuse the same lines and if you end up being good enough, you’ll be rewarded with an ‘I beat the Sword Master’ t-shirt.

Which is the most confusing item in your inventory?

The Secret of Monkey Island, video game, voodoo, dead, head, eyeballs, Navigator HeadForget the rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle – for me as a kid, the most confusing item was the Head of the Navigator. I appreciated the How to get Ahead in Navigation pamphlet pun but was a little grossed out by the fact that Guybrush would have to carry around a wrinkly face wrapped in an eyeball necklace. It did prove to use useful though: without the Navigator, I’d never have found my way through the underground lava maze on Monkey Island and then been able to turn myself invisible to hide from the ghosts.

Give us your favourite quote from The Secret of Monkey Island

The Secret of Monkey Island, video game, pirates, Guybrush, Carla, leather jacketMy favourite line has to be ‘I’m selling these fine leather jackets.’ This originally came from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in 1989 when Indy tries to talk his way out of danger and then went on to be parodied in every Monkey Island game afterwards. Guybrush uses it in the first title when he greets non-player characters (NPCs) and in the sequels to try and get himself out of trouble. It’s now a quote that I occasionally throw out myself when I’m not sure what to say!

What’s your favourite soundtrack from the game?

The Secret of Monkey Island, video game,  Mêlée Island, night-time, stars, skyIt’s hard to pick just one track; I immediately want to go and play a point-and-click whenever I hear any of the music from The Secret of Monkey Island now. The opening theme is probably the most memorable and easiest to recall though, and I’ve always like the Scumm Bar and Voodoo Shop themes too. I think they’re excellent at capturing the atmosphere of their locations and the characters within them – you’d immediately know what sort of place you were in without even seeing where you were.

What’s the most memorable moment in the game for you?

The Secret of Monkey Island, video game, fight, yak, Governor's MansionAfter getting past the piranha poodles outside Elaine’s mansion, you’re confronted by the evil Fester Shinetop. The great thing about this battle is that it takes place in another room you can’t see so all you can go on is sound-effects and imagination. Verbs appear in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen as though Guybrush were selecting them himself, and I thought him ‘using a stapler on the tremendous dangerous-looking yak’ and ‘using gopher repellent on the gopher horde’ was hilarious when I was a kid.

Do you own any Monkey Island merch?

home, picture, LeChuck, Cave of PixelsWhen we went to the London Gaming Market in early 2018 (back when you could attend a physical event and COVID-19 wasn’t a thing), I came across the stand for Cave of Pixels and immediately snapped up two of his works. The bead-art pictures of Guybrush and LeChuck have hung on our hallway walls since. At some point we’ll be creating a dedicated gaming space at home and I’ll move the frames into there, and I’d love to be able to pick up an additional one of Elaine to finish the trio if it’s ever made.

Has The Secret of Monkey Island shaped your gaming habits in any way?

genericI’ve adored point-and-clicks since first playing The Secret of Monkey Island 30 years ago. It showed me back then that the kind of stories I thought only existed inside of books could be brought to life through a video game and inspired me to go on to try other adventures. The genre remains my favourite to this day and is the one I find myself returning to most frequently. You could definitely say that Guybrush and the rest of the crew turned me into the gamer I am now – and gave me a lifelong love for wannabe pirates.

Create your own swordfighting insult!

“Being around you is as tedious as using the WordPress block editor.”

Got a good comeback for my insult above? Then leave your response in the comments below! And if you’re looking for more Guybrush goodness, why not join us over on Twitch tomorrow from 15:00 BST for The Secret of Monkey Island 30th anniversary stream. Bring your three-headed monkey along – he’s going to love it.

Please, Disney: I want to be a pirate

Jonez from NekoJonez’s Gaming Blog and I have much in common when it comes to video games. We both grew up with LucasArts’ adventures, he with archaeology professors and me with wannabe pirates, and these have influenced our gaming preferences since.

When Jonez was nominated for a Real Neat Blog Award last month, he was asked the question: if you could revive one series of works that has been abandoned or dropped by its creators for any reason, which series would it be and why? Among mentions of anime shows, I wasn’t surprised to see him say he could talk about his wish for a new Indiana Jones game; but he followed this by saying he wasn’t going to because a revived series may never live up to expectations.

I understand where he’s coming from. Alongside The Secret of Monkey Island, the Fable franchise is one of my favourites and I have admiration for Peter Molyneux where a lot of other people don’t. I adored 2008’s Fable II and was so excited for 2010’s follow-up – but it was disappointing. New features which didn’t feel like previous content were awkward, raising enough gold to save everyone in the kingdom was boring, and the end battle was an anti-climax over in a couple of minutes.

Does that stop me from being excited about the possibility of a Fable IV though? Not at all. Although I’m a little sad it’s being developed by Playground Games and that Lionhead didn’t get the chance to make the title fans have been waiting for, it won’t stop me from eagerly buying it upon release. Microsoft revealed nothing during their E3 presentation last year so it seems we’ll have to wait a while; but I want the opportunity to get sucked back into the adventures of Albion, even if there’s a chance it won’t meet expectations.

This is how I feel about Monkey Island too. The fourth instalment, 2000’s Escape from Monkey Island, was the last to be made by LucasArts alone before they co-developed Tales of Monkey Island with Telltale Games in 2009. I bought the episodes and tried playing them back in 2014 but gave up after half an hour and haven’t been back to them since. The current iteration of Guybrush just didn’t feel like the wannabe-pirate I’d come to love, while the controls and changing angles were frustrating.

My heart sank when I found out that LucasArts had been purchased by The Walt Disney Company in 2012. It may have millions of fans all over the world but I can’t count myself within their number. The reasons why are varied and perhaps the subject for another post at some point in the future; but let’s say for now their business practices and content leave much to be desired, and I agreed with Ron Gilbert when he said that he wasn’t optimistic about the future of Monkey Island as a result.

But there’s still a chance that Gilbert will one day get to make the game he wants to create. After Disney Interactive announced they would cease production on gaming in 2016, he took to Twitter to ask them to sell the IPs for Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion back to him. And an online petition created the following year by fan of the series Thaddeus Sharpe now has more than 24,300 signatures, so it’s clear I’m not the only one who’s eager to see Guybrush return.

Why do I want another game, when there’s every possibility it might not be what I’m looking for? I could be just as disappointed with it as I was with Fable III. As Jonez wrote himself in his award response: “There are so many things that could be revived but they might never live up to expectations. I don’t want a sort of Duke Nukem Forever situation on my hands with the franchises I adore.” A new Monkey Island title could be the best adventure game we’ve ever played. On the other hand, it could be the worst.

But we’ll never know what could be if we don’t get another title. And let me be clear here: I’m not talking about a game produced by Disney or another developer who’s simply interested in continuing an IP to rinse as much profit out of it as possible. We need a new instalment made by the original creators, who know what makes the series special and loves it as much as the fans do. We want to see where Gilbert will take Guybrush next and what new chaos he’ll find himself wrapped up in.

To quote Thaddeus Sharp: “Do the right thing Disney, give the intellectual property rights for Monkey Island back to its progenitor, who intends to make great content with it. Please, if you’re not going to do anything with it, let the original artist have back this proverbial paintbrush, he’s the only one worthy of wielding it. You’d be enabling the creation of art, the possibility the world would get to enjoy another adventure in a beloved land conceived back in 1988.”

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Get yourself over to change.org and add your signature if you haven’t done so already. If you need more convincing, keep your eyes open for an upcoming collaboration with Gao Li from Gao Li Occasionally Reviews because we have a plan to encourage as many people as possible to stream The Secret of Monkey Island on Twitch on the same date. There’ll be more news coming about that soon, and if it manages to get the petition a few more signatures then I’ll be a very happy gamer.

Please, Disney. I want to be a pirate.

Sam & Max hit the wedding (a QotM answer)

MJuly’s Question of the Month is brought to you by The Gaming Diaries: owner of the awesome Overheard in a Game Shop series and one of the loveliest bloggers in the WordPress community. To find out more about her and her site, as well as how you can get involved, take a look at this post.

Aah, wedding season. The time of year when soon-to-be-brides turn into raging bridezillas because the flowers are the wrong colour or they smudged their lipstick. Future grooms either cower in fear or find any opportunity to ditch their chores and slink off to the pub. Event venues double their prices because the word ‘marriage’ is added to their brochure. And guests are expected to shell out for presents, new outfits, travel and hotel stays for a day they’d rather be using to play video games.

I’ve laid it on thick with that opening paragraph but you get the idea. Weddings can be a beautiful thing and a joyous day to celebrate love and happiness; or they can be more about the event, the dress and the attention than spending the rest of your life with that one special person. They can also be a pain in the butt to attend. I doubt I’m the only person who’s ever got a numb bum from sitting a wooden bench while listening to your stomach grumble and wishing you’d brought a Mars bar.

That’s why I’d choose Max of the Freelance Police to be my plus-one. My reasons could sound selfish… but just think how much fun the day would turn out to be.

Sam & Max Hit the Road, dog, bunny, wedding, bride, groom

The floppy disk version of Sam & Max Hit the Road had copy protection that consisted of dressing either character in a particular set of clothes. One of these was a bridal outfit for Max so he’s aware of just how pretty he’d look in a wedding dress on such a big day. You’d therefore be likely to find him in the pews dressed in white, while the bride is frantically screaming about her stolen dress and running for him in her dressing-robe and curlers (cue the Yakety Sax theme).

Next, we have the vows. Max loses focus during lengthy exposition due to his short attention span so he’d be snoring from the back of the room while the other guests giggled behind their hands. I’m sure he’d wake up immediately when the words ‘if any person present knows of any lawful impediment to this marriage, they should declare it now’ were uttered. And then he’d find a hundred hilarious reasons the officiant would need to work through before saying ‘you may now kiss the bride’ – and it would be Max who planted a huge smacker on her lips.

Our hyperkinetic-rabbity-thing of a friend possesses a sharp mind and observational nature, so who better to sit next to during the wedding breakfast? He’d be able to point out all sorts of gossip such as who is clearly having an affair with who and which bridesmaid the best man has his eye on, and he wouldn’t be afraid to let everyone else in the room know either. Cue arguments between partners and food fights; much more fun than listening to boring after-dinner speeches.

So where would Sam be while Max and I were having all this fun? I’d need to enlist his help before the event in helping me choose the perfect outfit, and with his taste in 1950s suits and fedoras he’d hopefully be able to sort me out with a slinky little evening gown. That doesn’t mean he’d miss out on the wedding however; he showed he can hold a tune (somewhat) in Sam & Max Save the World so I’d expect to see him up on the stage providing the evening entertainment.

So that’s how the big day would end. The bride glaring at Max angrily across the room while wearing a ripped wedding dress smothered in rabbit fur. The groom completely drunk just to get through it all. The best man and his partner arguing in the corner after his affair with the bridesmaid was revealed, covered in the remains of lunch. And Sam crooning out a song with the line ‘all the girlies hear me and they swo-on’, while Max and I are killing it with our moves on the dance-floor.

What a way to celebrate love.

LeChuck: no villain, just misunderstood

My favourite character from the Monkey Island series is Murray, because he’s able to teach us so many valuable life lessons through his adventures. Take the importance of never giving up for example.

He may have had his skeletal-body blown to pieces by a cannon in a tragic accident which would have left many emotionally crushed; but our favourite skull turned it into the opportunity he’d been waiting for. He choose to become a demonic overlord and conquer the land of the living.

Murray could possibly have a run for his money (or pieces of eight) however as another character from the franchise has started to work his way into my affections. LeChuck featured in two of my answers to the questions posed by Read This Stance as part of a Sunshine Blogger Award at the end of April, and it was during writing that post that I came to realise how awesome he is. Evil, undead, and foul-smelling – granted – but awesome nonetheless, and simply misunderstood.

It can’t be easy being a ghost-zombie-demon-god-pirate after all and I can therefore understand why he’s a bit grumpy sometimes. He’s had to simultaneously put up with Guybrush continuously foiling his plans through luck more than genius, while never successfully securing the love of the woman of his dreams. LeChuck’s experiences and the way he deals with them are something to be learned from; and perhaps we should consider him a role-model rather than a villain.

Everything you do, do it for love

Elaine meant absolutely everything to LeChuck. So when she told him to ‘drop dead’, he did: our favourite evil pirate was supposedly killed after encountering a storm while searching for the Secret of Monkey Island, a quest undertaken to show her just how much he cared. His love for the Governor was strong enough to bring him back from beyond the grave and take the form of a ghost. He couldn’t bear to be parted from her even in death – how romantic is that?

Everybody deserves a second chance in life

The series may paint Guybrush as a hero but we should really admit it: he’s made some poor choices over the years and went into a profession he totally sucks at. So surely LeChuck helping him out by giving him a second chance at life was a noble gesture? At the end of Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge, the anti-hero casts a spell on Guybrush to return him to his childhood – thereby giving him the opportunity to start his life anew and make better decisions second time around.

Real heroes never quit

LeChuck has been killed so many times during the Monkey Island series that it’s difficult to keep count of his deaths. But this doesn’t stop him and he just keeps on fighting: knock him down and he’ll get right back up again in the form of a ghost, zombie, demon or even god. He’s constantly getting blown up both mentally and physically, and yet he keeps coming back for more. This sign of resilience and determination is surely the mark of a true protagonist and shows us that real heroes never quit.

It’s what’s on the inside that counts

You know what they say about beauty being only skin deep? LeChuck understands it’s what’s on the inside that matters and is keen to point this out to Guybrush in Tales of Monkey Island. He says: “Har! My outer shell is meaningless, you fool! Within my decaying flesh courses more voodoo power than your pitiful mind can possibly imagine!” Forget Kim Kardashian and the rest of those fake ‘influencers’; here’s a true model to remind us what’s important. #bodypositivity

Hopefully I’ve been able to prove today that LeChuck isn’t the evil villain he’s portrayed as. He’s simply misunderstood: a man in love with a woman who can’t stand him, in competition with a bumbling pirate who’s beneath him, and in a body which changes form from one day (or death) to the next. That doesn’t stop him from putting himself out there and spelling towards his goals though! Move over Murray – I think I’ve just found my new idol.

Monkey business (a QotM answer)

May’s Question of the Month is brought to you by Pix1001 from Shoot the Rookie: a relatively new blogger on the WordPress scene but one who’s made quite an impact. To find out more about her and her site, as well as how you can get involved, take a look at this post.

JOB DESCRIPTION: TRI-ISLAND AREA GOVERNOR

About the company:

Here in the Tri-Island Area, we believe that piracy isn’t a career choice: it’s a way of life favoured by many salty seadogs. Our departments work hard to deliver a world-class service, immoral support and a range of pillaging opportunities to ensure our place as one of the most desired destinations for buccaneers all over the Caribbean.

With thought-leading Important-Looking-Pirates and dynamic learning solutions, we empower those seeking to take the first step on their violent voyage by offering a transformational experience to broaden their operational knowledge and global mindset. As well as preparing cutthroats of the future for the Three Trials, we run professional development courses for aspiring captains to help identify the strategic direction of their ships.

With the ocean in our hearts and the wind in our hair, we draw inspiration from the high-seas to attract a diverse range of deckhands, creating an abundance of opportunities to network with industry experts and motley crews worldwide.

About the department:

The Tri-Island Area’s Governors Office (TIAGO) oversees Mêlée, Booty and Plunder Islands, providing strategic, administrative, information, customer and assurance services from our primary location deep in the Caribbean.

Within TIAGO, we spend a lot of our time building relationships with pirates, demonic skulls and cannibals alike, trying to truly understand their goals and how we can best serve those needs. We respond rapidly to changing requirements, continuously asses our inventory for the best opportunities, and ultimately challenge ourselves and those around us to be the very best crew we can be.

We have a team of scalawags who support the whole community in their use of the nautical services we provide. In addition, we establish appropriate policies to ensure the Islands are compliant with all contractual and regulatory requirements, and our shores are kept safe from invading zombie pirates and three-headed monkeys.

About the role:

The Tri-Island Area Governor has overall responsibility for all three Islands, although they will have some influence in a number of other locations throughout the Caribbean. The role involves daily contact with our constituents, inspiring them to fulfil their pirating potential and fully open their emotional treasure chests.

Key areas of accountability:

  • Leading continuing investigations into Monkey Island with a view to discovering the location’s secret by the financial year 2020
  • Vetting all proposed sword-fighting insults for consistency, relevance and humour while avoiding undue bovine discrimination
  • Continuous improvement of the Thievery Trial to achieve maximum confusion and learning benefits for wannabe pirates
  • Responsibility for the regulation of voodoo magic use throughout the Tri-Island Area, and adherence to the relevant health-and-safety guidelines
  • Formulating plans to escape and defeat zombie pirates with continual oversight of the emotional wellbeing of junior buccaneers
  • Coordinating the Tri-Island Area’s grog production and exports, extending business reach while maintaining recipe confidentiality
  • Ongoing non-conformance to the damsel-in-distress stereotype and advocacy of equal opportunities for all pirates across the Caribbean
  • Ensuring policies and procedures are in place across TIAGO and the entire Tri-Island Area, to aid and drive pirating excellence
  • Qualifications and experience required:

  • The Three Trials Certification (distinction preferred, grade A minimum)
  • Previous gubernatorial experience, preferably gained in a piracy or other nautical environment
  • A positive leader with excellent interpersonal and communication skills, able to manage conflict and see the ‘big picture’
  • Must be driven and passionate about providing better solutions and support to pirates at all stages throughout their career
  • A competent user of compasses and treasure maps, able to captain their own ship and crew while effectively managing an inventory
  • Proficient in personal combat and battle strategy, able to adopt a ‘common sense’ approach and stay composed under pressure
  • Resources and benefits:

  • Personal use of the Governors Mansion
  • Monthly personal allowance (250 pieces of eight)
  • A pack of piranha poodles
  • A tremendous dangerous-looking yak
  • 50% discount at Stan’s Previously Owned Vessels
  • Annual cannon servicing plan

  • Rezzed 2018: the Schafer experiment

    Anybody who visits the blog regularly will know how attached I am to the Monkey Island series. The original was the first game I played on my Amiga 500 as a kid in the early 1990s and this was the title that sealed my fate as an adventure fan and wannabe-pirate lover.

    It was therefore with some excitement that I learned Tim Schafer, one of the designers of the franchise, would be giving a developer session at 2018’s Rezzed event. I knew my blogging partner-in-crime Ben would be hyped about this too; when we first met in person around five years ago, he launched into an enthusiastic in-depth discussion on why Day of the Tentacle and Full Throttle are some of the finest games ever made.

    We made our way over to the room in the Tobacco Dock an hour before Schafer was due to appear on stage and eagerly took our place at the front of the queue. We had the pleasure of bumping into Luke from Hundstrasse while we were waiting and sneakily edged him into the queue with us, before quickly heading down to the first row of the hall once the doors were opened (thank you to the lovely EGX staff who made this happen for us!).

    As Eurogamer editor Oli Welsh asked questions about his career, it became obvious that Schafer was the sort of guy who had plenty of experience along with great sense of humour: you’d love to take him to your local pub for a chat about his favourite video games over a pint or two. He gave some good advice for aspiring developers on how to handle crunch and avoid the mistakes usually made by people trying to break into the industry.

    When discussing his design process, Schafer picked up on the concept of ‘free writing’: “I use a pen and a notebook, and you just have to write for a certain amount of time – it can be two minutes or an hour – and you just can’t stop writing. That’s the only rule. So even if you’re just writing one word over and over, you have to keep writing. It’s a strange thing where putting your mind in that position makes ideas come out.”

    He continued: “I think it’s a similar thing to when you’re creatively stuck and then you go to lunch with somebody, and you’re telling them how you’re stuck. As you’re talking, you start to solve the problem out loud; they never say another word but you’re like ‘Thanks, I fixed it, that’s great!’. Sometimes it’s just the act of going verbal with your thoughts, it opens doors and it’s a weird phenomenon but it’s helpful.”

    Schafer then went on to explain where this process came from: “I learned it in seventh-grade English class. It was just like, we had to write for two minutes and I just did it. At first you’re like ‘This is dumb, why am I writing, I’m hungry, I really have to go to the bathroom’ – then all of a sudden, poof! Some weird idea comes out, then you get excited and you start writing, and you’re turning the pages because you just designed an entire game.”

    So on his advice (that everybody should try it because ‘it’s really cheap’) I’d like to propose a short experiment for anybody reading this who’s willing to give it a go. All you need is a timer, your keyboard and an active imagination. Simply set your stopwatch for two minutes, click into the comments box at the end of this post, write whatever comes into your head and don’t stop typing until the time is up.

    Will the WordPress community be able to come up with a groundbreaking idea for an awesome new video game that we can pitch to Schafer and Double Fine Productions? I’m looking forward to seeing what everybody’s free writing experiment produces. Even if it ends up being only thoughts on hunger or needing to go to the loo – hey, existing games have been developed on lesser concepts than that.

    Let’s end this post on a high point with a bit of inspiration for the rest of the day. In the words of the great man himself: “Do what you have to do, whatever it takes.”