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Secrets from that island with a giant monkey head in it

This is the English Version! Se sei italiano clicca qui!
We all know almost everything about Monkey Island. At least I hope. For you. Because I’m writing taking for granted that many of the things I’ll say are no news for you. So, here are many oddities that will make the fans happy (it did to me, I feel a better Monkey Island fan, now – Ed. Er’ Pupo), but this may be interesting even for those who want to know how such ideas born and if are there any limitations in developing them. All the ideas, thoughts and hurdles that Mr. Ron Gilbert and the rest of his crew encountered during the development of the two masterpieces that made Guybrush Threepwood the most off-the-wall and genious anti-hero of the history of videogames.

WAIT! Before we begin… Let’s read a short summary about Pirate history!

Steve Purcell (graphics), Michael Land (sound), Dave Grossman, Tim Schafer and – most important – Ron Gilbert are those who invented one of the greatest sagas in the history of videogames. It was in the year 1990, when LucasFilm Games (now LucasArts) published on Amiga and IBM the silly tales of a silly character with a silly name: Guybrush Threepwood.
This fancy pants wearing guy wants to be a pirate and lands on a caribbean island named Mêlèe, known for being the capital of the “Tri-Island Area” and for being populated only by pirates. Guybrush’s adventure starts at the SCUMM Bar where, searching through the buccaneers, he finds three important-looking pirates, regular guests since the Ghost Pirate LeChuck began plundering the area. When was alive, LeChuck felt in love with the gorgeous Governor Elaine Marley, to impress her he sailed to Monkey Island but its ship sank, killing him and his whole crew. All the trio wants to do (as all the other pirates do) is to drink gallons of Grog (not the classic blend, an horribly modified one!) at the bar, since the fear to meet LeChuck force them to keep their boots on dry land. Guybrush’s look doesn’t convince them, but the lack of “personnel” drive them to help\exploit him. But first, he had to pass a little exam:


The Secrets of a Three-headed game

In 1987, Mr. Wilmunder, Gilbert and Winnick – with the help of LucasFilm Games – made themselves known thanks to a videogame named “Maniac Mansion” (that came out first on Commodore 64 and Apple II), where the player could let a bunch of characters interact with the surrounding world through few actions printed on the screen. Technical term for this type of inteaction is “Verb-Object Design Paradigm” and an engine called Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion (widely known with it’s acronym: SCUMM) was built on this Paradigm. This engine was originally created, in a simpler way, for an older project: a Labyrinth tie-in.
This engine will be used for almost all the adventure games made by LucasArts and for other Monkey Island installments.

The inspiration for the first two Monkey Island games, came into Ron Gilbert’s head thanks to Tim Powers’ book “On Stranger Tides” and to the Disneyland attraction “Pirates of The Carribbean”, from which takes few ideas for some game locations.
If watching “Pirates of The Carribbean” movies you can recall characters, situations and, why not, psychological traits referable to some of the game characters it’s because Disney took inspiration from Tim Powers’ book as well, buying its rights. There are whole scenes from the four movies that could be easily edited in such a way to pass off as Monkey Island movie! (Ex. Voodoo Lady scene)

  • Game’s original project didn’t feature all the craziness and hilarity that came out at the end of the production, rather, Ron Gilbert had something a little bit more serious in mind. Schafer and Grossman’s influence was fundamental in text drafting;
  • Monkey Island needed a main character (that Purcell already drawn into sprites and animations) but, having no idea for a name that could fit, all the sprites were named “Guy” and had a “.bbm” extension. Since Deluxe Paint software (I had it on my Amiga! – Ed. Er’Pupo) was used to create them, files were saved with a “brush” suffix, to distinghish them from the others. “Guybrush.bbm”. You know what happened, then.
  • For the surname, instead, they thought about something hard to pronounce because the misspell joke had to be present everywhere in the game. Threepwood was chosen by popular vote within a contest that involved the whole development team and it derives from a family of characters from P. G. Wodehouse. It is rumored that Threepwood was also a Dave Grossman’s RPG character.

“That’s the stupidest name name I’ve ever heard!” – Mancomb Seepgood

Peepwood, Seagood, Tropweed, Seepgood e Thriftwood sono solo alcune delle storpiature con cui Guybrush viene chiamato nel corso delle sue avventure. Un pò come capita al nostro disegnatore, che di solito viene chiamato Giaminetti, Giannetti, Giannelli, Gianmarco ed ultimamente anche Giangretti.

  • Do we really need to explain why Gilbert chose the period key to skip dialogue lines? I don’t think so.
  • The insult swordfighting idea came while Gilbert-Schafer-Grossman trio watched old pirate movies featuring Errol Flynn. Ron focused more on the insults that pirates threw at themselves while fighting. Gilbert said that if he ever will have to insert insult fightings again, he’d leave more freedom to the player, so that he could use more answers instead of just one, obviously, still adequate to the insult received.
  • Formerly, the scene behind the wall in Governor’s house, to take the idol, had to be fully playable. In the end, by the way, it was cut from the game because LucasFilm had a 5 floppy limit support. With this scene the game could have been too big (for both floppies and – as Gilbert said – players).

According to the scene, the room features a quarrelsome rhinoceros (that will be – we don’t know how – hypnotized, and then deprived of his nails with a raspy metal file), a red button, a hairy yak wearing wax lips, a shredder, gophers, a funny little man, a heavily-armed clown and, obviously the Idol of Many Hands (that in CD-ROM version is shown as a golden statue without any hand!).

  • The randomly generated forest used an advanced technology for that time, and the result was great
  • Gilbert would have used more the Fettuccini Brother’s Circus. That scene was also extremely useful for upgrading SCUMM for two main reasons: it was the first level with automatic scrolling of the shot from a location (forest) to another one (the clearing with the circus’ tent); it was the reason why Schafer worked to insert new fonts for text, before then the engine didn’t supported others from standard, so he created the “upside down” font!

“I’m Bobbin, are you my mother?”

This phrase, pronounced by Guybrush after the disastrous performance at circus is only one of the many references to other Lucas’ games. This one is from Loom!

  • Easy puzzles are just few, in Monkey Island. One of these is the one where Guybrush has to touch the ugly monster segregated by Meathook. The idea worked and allowed to save space on the floppies.
  • Some deleted puzzles in Monkey Island were used by Gilbert in Deathspank.
  • Grog vending machine at Stan’s used shipyard was realized exactly as a Coca-Cola’s: white wave on a red background, but with a “Grog” sign on it. LucasFilm lawyers blocked this one for copyright reasons and Gilbert had to change the “wave” with something else.

Absolutely worthy to be mentioned is the “Grog XD” thing. There is a Facebook Page named “Grog xD” and it had the grog recipe as described by the three important-looking pirates at the SCUMM Bar (Kerosene, acetone, etc.), an Argentinian news channel found the page and broadcasted a news item where the journalist blames the young teenagers who drink this stuff, without knowing where the recipe came from.

Well, in Tales of Monkey Island there’s a Grog vending machine that sells “Grog XD” too! Indeed Guybrush refuses to drink it because he thinks that it could be some sort of teenager crappy drink.

Pure genious!

  • Underwater puzzle of Guybrush tied to the Idol, was directly inspired by Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade’s leap of faith: the solution is so simple that is hardly taken into account by the player.

Here’s also the only possible death in the whole Monkey Island saga (apart from the rubber tree Sierra-death parody). We know that one of the main skills that Guybrush has, is to hold breath for ten minutes. As 10 minutes pass, he becames blue (literally) and begin floating underwater, dying. Game Over!

  • The key to open the giant monkey head on Monkey Island, had to be named Q-Tip (american cotton bud brand) but, due to unusal legal reasons, the team had to drop this idea. In facts, it would have been OK if they used Q-Tip in a “correct fashion”. Maybe taking a giant Q-Tip and sticking it into a stone monkey’s ear is not “correct usage”, indeed the Q-Tip box states: “Do not insert cotton swab into ear canal”. They were really using it wrong!
  • In a specific game location, Guybrush finds mushrooms and says “I had a feeling in hell here would be mushrooms”, this is a Tim’s quote. He, in facts, hates mushrooms.
  • Governor’s name is Elaine thanks to David Grossman. Former idea was to call her “The Governor” throughout the whole game, then this changed when Grossman wrote the Church scene where the three characters meet themselves. One of the possible lines that Guybrush can use to stop the wedding is “Elaine!”. This idea was inspired by “The Graduate” movie and it was broadly liked, so they kept the name. The surname you can easily figure where it comes from (if you listen to the saga OST).
  • During his trip to Monkey Island, there was supposed to be ship combat, with a top-down view but they cut it off, maybe due to space reason or because they didn’t like very much the idea.

To cook the soup during the trip to Monkey Island, the developers trio discussed about using Meathook’s tattoo instead of the Jolly Roger. The idea was rejected

  • Monkey Island’s map had a different perspective compared to Mêlèe one because Gilbert would have made that part of the game to feel more like a RPG, in fact you have a top-down view. While developing the game, this RPG idea was rejected, but the map stayed.
  • SCUMM didn’t featured animations other from those who costantly repeat during the game (walkcycling, picking items, talking, etc.). The animations that were different from those one, were called “Special Case Animations” and were first used in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. Developing them, every pixel was worth, since they always had the 5 floppy limit haunting their backs.

Everybody hates me!

Well, we have to say, loading times and continous floppy swapping was, at the time, not only a real pain in the arse, but also an enormous limitation, as you read above. Many missing parts of the game were not even included into the Special Edition! This title had many different versions, even a custom Sega-CD one!

  • The early released game versions featured a line that was removed due to legal reasons. Into the Voodoo Lady’s house, there’s a skeleton statue. Formerly, Guybrush would have described it with a “Looks like an emaciated Charles Atlas.”. Then, this was changed with “No, thanks. I’d rather not touch any of this creepy voodoo stuff.”.
  • The rubber chicken with the pulley in the middle, was created because they thought that a regular chicken would have torn into to. Someone, simply, decided to put a pulley in its middle, during a brainstorming session.
  • The fight with LeChuck is the second simplest puzzle of the game. This choice was made by Gilbert to award the player and to let him enjoy the yearned (and deserved) ending scene.
  • The very last scene of the game, where Guybrush and Elaine are watching LeChuck blasting into sparkling fireworks, never really convinced Gilbert who, even admitting that it was greatly drawn, was maybe too much different from the main graphic style of the game.
  • A Three-headed monkey! Maybe it refers to the Gilbert-Schafer-Grossman trio? Who knows!

The Three-Headed Game Revenge

The success of the first Monkey Island game, pushes LucasFilm to commission Gilbert-Schafer-Grossman trio to develop a sequel, without many restrictions with the floppies!

With the hard disks’ arrival and Amiga expansion cards, I remember with affection the old Amiga 500 of my neighbor. Playing Monkey Island 2 was infuriating, the wild swapping was excruciating. Now, it runs on any device (really, even on a Nokia with Symbian 2.0) that can run the ScummVM, provided that you have an original copy of the game, buyable on any Digital Delivery service. Face it, you have no excuses to avoid playing!

  • When Guybrush arrives in Woodtick on Scabb Island, he’s robbed by Largo LaGrande. This scene was developed at the beginning of the game to let the player immediatly feel “angry” and sucked into the story. This was, furthermore, also a funny way to continue the first game’s leitmotiv of treasure collecting.
  • Largo LaGrande seems inspired by the typical italian gangster mob, but actually his name cames from an american place where Gilbert grew up. It is in Oregon.
  • In Monkey Island 2 the iMuse (Interactive MUsic Streaming Engine) made his debut. And it’s a system that synchronizes music with the visual action in the game, and transitions from one musical theme to another. It seems that the team who worked on this engine regretted working on it, since they said that the players didn’t even notice the hard work they did.

Dear iMuse team, trust us. We players DID notice that, thanks to some kind of ear orgasm! And we have to say that it’s far more recognizable in the original version than in the remastered one!
Anyway, it seems that LucasArts really appreciated this engine to such an extent that it used it in Star Wars: Dark Forces.

  • Tim Schafer admitted to have took inspiration from Monkey Island 2 for many choices made during Full Throttle’s development. The first scene, for example, is inspired to Largo LaGrande’s visit at the Swamp Rot Inn in Woodtick.
  • Wally the chartographer is one of the unluckiest characters of the entire saga. During the scene where LeChuck’s fortress explodes, he had to end up on a raft but the scene was cut.
  • When Guybrush has to dig up the bones of Largo’s grandfather from Scabb’s graveyard, Tim and Ron argued about the fall of his pants once he had the bone in his hands. Schafer would have liked to give a meaning to the animation, Gilbert, instead, placed it just because it was fun. And he was right.

We do believe that these kind of choices were part of the serenity atmosphere in which at the time developers worked: this scene lasts just a second, but it’s so non-sense and stupid that is screamingly funny! Another example of this is the epitaphs on the pirates’ graves in Scabb’s Cemetery:

“Marco Largo LaGrande,
Hell on sea or on land,
The good news is, he’s dead,
The bad news is, he bred.”

“There once was a girl named Carrie
Who thought that she soon should marry
She went into town
And flirted around.
She didn’t get wed she got buried.”

“No man commanded Jean Louise.
Not on land, and not on water.
Jean did whatever he did please,
Until he kissed the gunner’s daughter.”

“Here lies Daredevil Jim McDow.
Hand of steel, leg of wood…
… Jim took every risk he could.
A life of action– that was Jim’s.
Too bad he ran out of limbs.”

“The Grave of the Unknown Cabin Boy.”
“The Grave of the Unknown Pirate”
“The Grave of the Unknown Drunk Guy We Found Face Down in his Own Vomit on the Beach”

“These spots reserved for our privileged customers.”

“Here lie the Gordo Brothers…
…too big for any ship.
Let’s hope the earth can hold them.”

“Stan’s Casual Crosses™:
For graves that don’t need to dress up.”

“Here lies Hank Plank…
Does anybody recognize that name?
He didn’t have any money on him when he died, and somebody’s got to pay for the funeral.
– Stan”

“Here lies Nibble the Dog.
He was a bad dog. We’re glad he’s dead.”

  • The idea for Captain Dread’s chartering came directly from the first Monkey Island game: those sea battles we talked about earlier, had to happen on a chartered ship.
  • The design and production of Monkey Island 2 settings was far more complex compared to those made for Monkey Island 1. This is due to the use of newer (at the time) scanners. This complexity is contrasted by a minor detail for edges and coloring: polishing and finishing of the sprites became a neverending work and, speaking of graphic definition, the game suffers a bit. Anyway, the Gilbert-Schafer-Grossman trio was satisfied and that’s all!

The telephone in the Dinky Island’s jungle comes directly from the real world: in the U.S.A., at that time, there were many telephone services that, paying a fee, would give hints and solutions to games’ puzzles. Gilbert said that, for a span of time, this was the most profitable activity of LucasFilm Games. Noah Falstein, furthermore, told a funny story that involves the hint-line and Mr. Lucas himself. Lucas wanted to play The Last Crusade, so they give him their office number, so that he could avoid the official hint service. He was so fond of the game, yet so noob at it, that he began calling them every 5 minutes asking for help!
I remember that the only similar service here in Italy was the Nintendo hotline! My father’s still cryin’ for that phone bill…

  • The “Wanted” poster on Phatt Island is a little expedient to let us keep track of what happens during the adventure. Looking at it we’ll read a list of “bad deeds” that Guybrush made until that moment. There’s a similar thing in the fourth episode of Tales of Monkey Island.
  • Prison puzzle is 100% inspired by the Disneyland “Pirates of the Caribbean” attraction.

What it seems to have inspired the “Pirates of the Caribbean” first movie prison scene, as well! Some sort of eternal return of this analogy. Gilbert himself, Davy Jones too took inspiration from LeChuck, in attitude and appearance. (“If I’d thought of the squid tentacles for a beard, I would have done that.”, says Ron on his blog). Other similarities: Tia Dalma as a more slim Voodoo Lady, Cannibals, Keira Knightley’s outfit, just to name few. Sure is that Disney’s movie can’t compete at all with the extremely funny charge of Monkey Island series.

  • Walt is the name of the prison dog. This is because Steve Purcell had a dog whose name was Walt and, actually, that name was chosen to somehow tribute Walt Disney.
  • The fingers puzzle to win at the Phatt’s wheel of “fortune” is directly inspired by a trick\game that Tim Schafer’s brother used to do to him.

Size Matters!

Guybrush’s sprites on Phatt Island’s pier is totally different from those used throughout all the game. This is due to a scaling error during the drawing of the fisherman, that turned out to be bigger than Guybrush.
This technical problem was possible because, at that time, there was no technology that could increase the sprite scaling as needed, but it was capable only to decrease it.
All this, forced the developers to create a new set of sprites only for that scene.

  • To realize Stan, all the sprites were copied and pasted from Monkey Island’s first installment. They only changed the color of his dress.
  • Tim Schafer had a problem with the scene in which the cook chases Guybrush around the Governor’s mansion on Booty Island. Each game’s character had an ID that the SCUMM engine would consider, but he used the same number for the cook and Captain Dread’s ship. When he tested the scene, Guybrush was being chased by the Dread’s ship through all the island, without any chance to get rid of it. Gilbert stated (ironically) that he would have left this bug in the full released game.
  • LeChuck’s speech in his fortress’ prison is inspired by some H.R. Giger’s works (sculptor and designer who worked to the Alien’s movie special effects, winning an Academy Award in 1990) and by some W.S. Burroughs’ writings.

You be in a heap of trouble, Threepwood.
Now that you’re mine, you will pay for what you did to me.
There is only one thing more painful…
..than being resurrected from the dead and…
There is only one thing more painful…
..than being resurrected from the dead and…
…crammed into a rotting body.
Do you know what that is?
It is what is about to happen to you!


You will go down into the pit of acid.
Do you know what happens next?
I will then take your bones…
…still alive and in great pain…
…and make them into a chair…
I will call it my screaming chair.
Every morning I will sit in it and listen to you scream.
Prepare to die!

  • The discussion around Monkey Island 2’s ending was long. In the end, Dave Grossman persuaded Ron to choose the ending we all know during a dinner. Gilbert was persuaded because is one of the most controversial endings in the videogames’ history.
  • Here are the original scans of the buglist for Monkey Island 2:

Tales of a sad Monkey

After the first two masterpieces, Gilbert, Schafer and Grossman take their own road. Gilbert founds the Humongous Entertainment and throws himself into educational games for kids, until DeathSpank. Schafer stayed with LucasArts for a lot of time, developing masterpieces like Day of The Tentacle, Grim Fandango and Full Throttle (The first videogame I’ve bought in my life! – Ed. LostTrainDude), then worked for a never announced adventure game, never released for PS2, until he chose to leave LucasArts and found Double Fine Productions, that debuted with Psychonauts and continued with, among others, Brutal Legend, Stacking (Pure Genious! – Ed. Er’Pupo), Costume quest and Iron Brigade. Dave Grossman too stayed at LucasArts a bit (working at Day of The Tentacle’s development) then followed Gilbert at Humongous Entertainment. Thanks to Humongous he writes and publishes books with stories for kids based on the characters he and the others created in their lifetime. After a couple of selfpublished projects, he joins Telltale Games, where works at the most famous episodic series of games made by the team: from Sam ‘n’ Max (by Steve Purcell) to the latest Back To The Future game. Obviously, he worked on Tales of Monkey Island, too.


When speaking of how point ‘n’ click adventures evolved, from variations brought by Gobliiins to Sierra and Lucas’ productions, I have to say that Stacking is the one and only modern incarnation of old school glory: you don’t need any familiarity or skill to play, you have only to be intuitive and willing for fun.

Situations and interactions with the world, even the marginal ones, are indeed perfectly in line with the typical humor and progression of the games of that time. Furthermore, the game is f’n brilliant under a technical and stylistic point of view.

A true masterpiece, available on XBLA and PSN. Coming soon, a PC\Mac version.

Monkey Island series, then, moved to Larry Ahern, Jonathan Ackley, Chuck Jordan, Chris Purvis and – the only one from the old guard – Michael Land. They developed Curse of Monkey Island. Unfortunately the game lacks many things. We’re not complaining about the whole Design (that for a 2000 game was even good enough) but we do it about the atmosphere, the story, dialogues’ cleverness, puzzles, characters charisma… All gone.

Curse of Monkey Island was the last installment of the saga to use SCUMM.

Dunno if this worked, commercially speaking, but for Escape from Monkey Island (last chapter of the series), the development was given to Michael Stemmle and Sean Clark, two names from the original team. Design and gameplay changed completely: instead of SCUMM, they used the new GrimE engine. Even this game – not because of the whole design or the gameplay change – wasn’t so good.

The GrimE is a LUA-based graphic engine. Its name comes from its first usage, for Grim Fandago: the last Lucas’ game made by Tim Schafer, that tells a dark comedy story from the Land of The Dead, based on the Aztec belief of afterlife, soaked in a noir movie atmosphere. This game is quite different from all the other adventure games we were used to. There’s even a “character relative” based gameplay, typical of the survival horror genre.
To play this game, thank them forever, some ScummVM developers, made ResidualVM, a software that makes Escape from Monkey Island and Grim Fandango playable on newer operating systems.
These games haven’t (yet?) received an official update nor a remake. Thank heavens for indie community!

The game, indeed, was a piece of trash: a continuous crib from the first two installments, made worse than ever thanks to current affairs political references. Furthermore, then, they raped some of the symbols of the entire saga (if I think about what they did to SCUMM Bar I’d start swearing like a trooper – Ed. Er’Pupo). A real mess. Guybrush Threepwood felt into oblivion, then.

Treasure Island

After years of “silence”, Telltale Games gets back on track with a episodic series named Tales of Monkey Island, split in five episodes. Speaking of gameplay, this game somehow follows Escape From Monkey Island’s tracks, but this brings the fans back to the series and here’s the reason: Dave Grossman had a direction role and he called, as consultant, a guy named Ron Gilbert.

That in the Tales of Monkey Island credits is mentioned as “Visiting Professor of Monkeyology”.

With Michael Land still working on music and Steve Purcell helping with the Game Design, all PC, PS3, X360, iPad and even iPhone customers can draw themselves into the adventures of Guybrush Threepwood, that bring fun, humour, nonsense and genious directly from the first two unforgettable installments.
The episodic series and the spread and feedback it had, pushed LucasArts to remake the first two installments, that came out on every gaming platform

This article was originally written by Andrea Passero, with help from Christopher Sacchi (for this poor translation), Giorgio Mennitto, Chiara Catalano (for proofreading) and Marco Giammetti for drawings! We hope you enjoyed!

We thank the whole Monkey Island fans communities around the web, and especially Monkey Island Wiki and Grumpy Gamer’s Blog

Un articolo di the TMO

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per gli amici Timo, è in realtà Marco E. Giammetti, sul pianeta terra dal 1979 e grafico dal giorno prima. Ha cominciato a mettere le appiccicaticce manine sui videogame all’ età di 3 anni con un Vic 20 e non ha più smesso di giocare da quella data in poi, frequentando sale giochi malfamate e rischiando più volte la bocciatura a scuola per tentare di uccidere quell’ ultimo maledetto boss.

05 Marzo 2012
Categoria: Speciale


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