Why the makers of ‘Monkey Island’ returned to the classic game from the 90s

When Ron Gilbert and Dave Grossman first unleashed their swords, voodoo and pirate epic “The Secret of Monkey Island,” it was sold on floppy disks and released for long-forgotten home PCs like the Amiga.

Three decades later, they’re back with “Return to Monkey Island,” a sequel with flashier graphics and orchestral scores available for download only.

“In 1990 we had an office and we were all in it all day sharing space,” Grossman told AFP in a joint interview with Gilbert.

“Now we’re all remote — and not just because of the pandemic, we’re going to be remote anyway.”

The two men worked together on the first two editions of the game, released in 1990 and 1991, before the group broke up and went their separate ways.

The second edition ended with a cliffhanger that was never resolved, with the hero, Guybrush Threepwood, facing his nemesis LeChuck.

And the secret referenced in the title of the original has never been revealed.

It has kept fans in suspense ever since and gave Gilbert and Grossman a reason to return to the franchise 30 years later.

“I think there’s unfinished business for Guybrush because he never found the secret, and I think there’s unfinished business for Dave and me too,” Gilbert said.

– ‘Colored by nostalgia’ –

The enthusiasm of fans around Monday’s release showed how strong feelings still were for a game with blocky graphics and text prompts.

While most reactions were positive, some disapproved of the new game’s cartoon aesthetic and vented on social media—something makers of the 1990s had no business dealing with.

“Adventurous gaming fans have always been really nice and I felt like they changed a bit,” Gilbert said.

“It affects you on some level, but it doesn’t change how we feel about the game at all.”

Smooth graphics were never the appeal of “Monkey Island” – instead, players solved puzzles and riddles and progressed through strange landscapes with surreal humor and plenty of pop culture kinks.

It largely set the template for adventure games to follow, but the “Monkey Island” franchise watered down with a few later entries published without Gilbert’s involvement.

While the pair are polite about these next editions — “we’d never shit the canon,” Gilbert said — their new game picks up on the story where the 1991 game ended.

But before they could even begin the story, they had to negotiate the licensing rights to the game from Disney.

“It was a long process, simply because lawyers get involved and then everything takes a long time,” Gilbert said.

A core team of 25 people then spent two years on the game, dealing not only with the rigors of the game design, but also with 30 years of expectation among fans.

“Their memories are unrealistically colored by nostalgia,” Grossman says. “That makes for us a kind of unattainable goal.”

Instead, they decided to make a game that they would enjoy themselves.

– ‘Golden Age’ –

Despite starting their careers when the gaming industry was still in its infancy, Gilbert and Grossman are still immensely inspired by the current landscape.

“Almost anyone can just get three friends together and make a game in their garage, go on the Internet and find an audience for it,” said Grossman, calling it “the golden age of video games.”

Their original games from the 90s have already found a second life in this golden age through apps and online emulators.

And both creators are quietly convinced that “Monkey Island” will continue in one form or another in the future.

“I think we should do one about every 10 or 15 years,” Grossman said.

“Yes, until 2035,” Gilbert replied.

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