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Game Writers: Are they the spirit of the game?

I'm writing this due to my new understanding of the Monkey Island series of games.

As an introduction, the Monkey Island games are a very popular adventure game series that originated as being very original at that point of time with its point-and-click interface.

It has now 4 in its series, in order; The Secret of Monkey Island (SMI), LeChuck's Revenge (LCR), The Curse of Monkey Island (CMI), Escape from Monkey Island (EMI).

The game is developed by LucasArts, creators of the Sam & Max series, and Grim Fandango to name the more recent and noticeable ones.

Now, Monkey Island is a great series with an unbridled sense of humor. But to the observant, one may see the 4 year gap between LCR and CMI. This is actually because of the departure of the game's conceptualiser and essentially, writer, Ron Gilbert, before the finish of LCR.

Thus, after playing the games, I noticed the distinct difference of taste between the first two and the later two. Graphics, and even character designs and plot differences aside, this distinction is actually present in the overall flavor of the games.

The first two were true to their pirate nature. It was truly swashbuckling, despite the references to used-car (in this case, used-boat) salesmen, novelty T-Shirts, even Coke. Guybrush Threepwood was a true wannabe pirate, and pirating was present.

This can be said of LCR as well, though it was more confusing to the departure of Ron midway.

A look at CMI and EMI and you can see the difference. Suddenly, pirating doesn't seem all that important. In SMI and LCR, you could FEEL the salt in the air. In CMI and EMI, I feel like I'm in a pirate novelty resort somewhere on Bintan island.

Yet again, does this necessarily mean the newer ones were bad?

Plot holes studied, one can see the very drastic attitude change between the Elaine Marley in SMI and in LCR, and then in CMI (her personality was kept the same in EMI). In SMI, her personality wasn't really fleshed out, but we could all conclued she was a nice person, but very tough when the occasion calls for it.

In LCR, it was my opinion she was like a woman PMSing for over 2 months. This sounds crude, but I seriously her overall attitude very strange. This is NOT concerning the cold shoulder she gives to Guybrush, though it is a by-product of this attitude.

Her attitude switch was not fully explained by Ron then, and her metamorphis of attitude towards Guybrush in CMI was even more confusing.

However, I would like to point out that at the very least, her personality is this time kept constant between the games CMI and EMI.

This same situation happened to Guybrush between SMI and LCR, and then between CMI and EMI (though it is my personal opinion her becomes progressively more...numb in the brain with each game).

In LCR, he was a very egoistical bearded pirate, obviously following in the footsteps of all the other bad-teethed and scab-ridden bunch he often associates with. In CMI and EMI, he is least to say, despite all his claims to being a mighty pirate, a pansy.

Worse, a pansy who is called by everyone by his wife's firstname (not like there is anything wrong with that, but if you want to argue woman's lib, at least let the guy have his own firstname, well, FIRST), hit by his wife (actually, as an otaku, I find nothing wrong with this, but I understand that people not associated with anime culture are not used to spontaneous acts of violence on males by females), is taking instructions from his wife, is actually noticed to be a pansy by his wife (the nitslips from Elaine and that book she wrote in the Phatt library are dead-giveaways) and...well, his a pencil-neck.

Yet again, we see that Ron's style has an advantage and quality missing from CMI and EMI. That of REALISM.

Guybrush WANTS to be a pirate. Pirates all have an ego! That's basic of all pirates! Him growing a beard, becoming a bit more buff with a blue coat, and acting big of himself, that's development of his personality which is actually totally reasonable when you give it some serious thought. Besides, Guybrush was 18 in SMI, and what, 19 in LCR? A bit of an ego is natural in a guy at this age. Give him another year or two, and probably, he'll be more confident and mature.

In CMI and EMI and probably onwards, he's stuck on a permaneat puppy-love basis.

Same goes for Elaine of course. What happened between SMI and LCR might have NOTHING to do with Guybrush, and everything to do with something else. Excuse me, but I consider a woman who often invites pirates to her own house for dinner or whatever to be very strange behaviour. Couple this with the fact she has a husband (yes, if you watch the alternate ending, you'll find out this fact), and you know what I mean. It has always been my theory that her husband must have been a sailor or pirate. And we know in realife a sailor rarely returns home. So what does Elaine do when she's lonely? We cannot assume, but it sure seems that way if you ask me.

Anyway, her sudden choice to move then can be attributed to divorce, emotional rage, that sort of thing. Being tied to the governor role through her family, she couldn't have meant to move to Booty Island on a permaneat basis, probably just to get away.

In CMI of course, we suddenly see Guybrush not only physically changed from all recognition (actually, there is the very possible notion that a.) he threw the coat overboard because overheating was eminent in the hot sun and b.) with no food, he'd probably lose a lot of weight. The only thing is the beard...) but also Elaine suddenly proclaiming heartfelt love to him? Very strange indeed.

But in marketing terms, it makes sense. Keep in mind that LucasArts had kept the game on hold for 4 years before CMI. There would be many in the market who wouldn't even know about SMI and LCR. Giving them that most basic of plots, that of some hopeless main character trying to save his love and so on and so forth, is a surefire way to keep questions out and draw in the customers.

Unless you're one of those who DO know of SMI and LCR of course, in which case CMI might seem a bit of a blasphemy.

But I would say that Ron did a horrible job on LCR. Seriously, the story seemed...well, desperate. The storytelling was bad in the ending at least, and then we see that just because he's the original creator, he has his faults as well. The fact is, he left before the project even ended. Now, I wouldn't know of any personal problems in his own life, but integrity would have told him not to do that.

So, here we also can sympathise with the ones left behind. LCR flopped in its ending because they had no idea how to resolve it, they didn't have the backstory or concept to do so. In CMI, they HAD to make a new story simply because the original one was no longer available to them.

The feeling in CMI was thus turned to a more cartoony feel, with less on the 'horror' expect of LeChuck's killing and so on. Plus, the die-hard sappy romantics dream of a damsel and her pirate fiance.

In EMI, this was further exemplified by the fact that Guybrush and Elaine are now married, and the circumstances for the whole adventure is tied to a political conflict reminenscent of Taiwan.

However, I would say that CMI and EMI were good in their own rights. I found them dead funnier IMO. But then again, I'm only 16, to those older and those of the SMI and LCR age, the two recents could be darn unbearable!

But CMI and EMI were amusing. It too, didn't take itself seriously, much less seriously. It was almost kiddy, but just not that kiddy. I personally loved these two the best, for the simply reason that I will confess. Hey, I AM a sappy romantic, okay? I LIKE the fact that Guybrush and Elaine are together. I don't really care what Ron says, because ultimately, when you make a game to sell, it's the customers that make it or sink it. It's harsh, but this corporate fact is true, at least partially. Realising a vision is all great, but Ron displayed a lack of commitment in LCR which I found disconcerting. I even kinda supported LucasArts lampooning of Ron with a book in the Phatt Library.

Bottomline, fans must see SMI & LCR and CMI & EMI as two distinct visions of the same world. Just because something isn't the original anymore doesn't make it bad, but it doesn't give it precedence over the original either.

Heck, since CMI and EMI have the fact that they aren't the original concepts hanging over their heads already, just give them both a chance. Some fans may not like the continuation of the Monkey Island world, but the fact is, that's how it changed, that's how it ended up, Elaine's will forever never have that technically right though aesthetically not as pleasing British accent, Guybrush will be forever and henceforth a near hen-pecked (but actually overtly compliant) pansy of a husband (yet still lovable), we never see the 2D style again due to the real world development of games, point-and-click may be all but gone, plotholes are here to stay because they are inevitable (and here we see the wisdom of the Final Fantasy series to keep having a new story nearly all the time) and yes, we will never, ever, truly know the Secret of Monkey Island.

Cove • June 14, 2004 • 1 Comment

Mac_monkey

Sam and Max are also costumes in the costume shop in monkey island 2

July 15, 2005 • 8:42 GMT

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