HOST THE JOLLY ROGER
Most games designers look to movies and books for ideas, but very few are inspired by theme park rides. After a visit to Pirates Of The Caribbean, which is apparently the best thing about Euro Disney, the development team at Lucasfilm Games let their combined imaginations run wild. Until the release of The Secret of Monkey Island, the 'average player' usually stayed well clear of this style of product. While other games take themselves far too seriously, this one cleverly poked fun at swashbuckling folklore, stories and films The attractive graphics didn't do it any harm, either.
Like the old saying goes, you can't have too much of a good thing. So, with customary style and flair, the only game publisher with a direct line into the movie making business decided to produce a sequel with more gags, gameplay, graphics and, erm, reggae music. Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge is the result.
Hailed as a masterpiece on the IBM PC, some pundits claimed the lack of 256-colour visuals would seriously hamper the Amiga adaption. Fortunately, the boys and girls in charge of this conversion had other ideas. Bearing in mind the immense size of the game, it's split into four separate parts to make life easier, and the people at the helm of this Amiga translation have done a marvellous job. While the yam comes on a hefty number of floppy discs, those players who lack the luxury of a hard drive are promised the bare minimum of hassle. Moreover, the programmers are currently devising an intelligent loader to prevent the single floppy drive user going spare with needless frustration.
Following his ghost-busting antics in The Secret Of Monkey Island, Guybrush Threepwood is thirsty for the thrills of more high seas adventures. Taking the role of our boastful hero, the player directs the actions of Guybrush in his quest for the biggest treasure of them all. Tales of the Big Whoop have tempted him back to the cutthroat career of wise-cracking adventurer. He is not sure why, but Guybrush knows this legend is somehow real and ready for the taking.
On his way to the seedy town of Woodtick to find a crew and boat, Guybrush immediately encounters his first obstacle: Largo LaGrande, extortionist extraordinaire and obnoxious minion of the evil LeChuck, is putting the squeeze on Scabb Island. Nothing happens without Largo claiming a large slice of the pie. Before you know it, this horrible little bully has grabbed the stake money and made a quick exit. Shocked and penniless, Threepwood must charter a ship and find a way to crush the Largo Embargo. The situation soon takes a turn for the worse. LeChuck rises from the grave, yet again, and puts a tempting price on your head.
Luckily, Guybrush can rely on the help of old friends like the Voodoo Lady and Elaine Marley, but the task ahead is no picnic for wannabe pirates.
As Ron Gilbert, the creator of Monkey Island 2 puts it, 'revenge is a motive everyone understands' - and Guybrush has a heck of a time avoiding the consequences of LeChuck's anger.
WALK THE GANGPLANK
Trying to appeal to as wide an audience possible, players are subtly guided through the humorous ventures of Guybrush. There's also an optional easy mode for beginners.
While creative challenges draw players into the whole experience, a good plot is essential to prevent their interest from gradually waning. A magical formula for creating a tasty blend of the key elements seems to have been hit upon here. According to the guys responsible, they concentrate on the story first and the characters fall out of that. All the puzzles are then carefully crafted to fit in with the story.
The script writers and programmers tend to come up with a lot of funny and bizarre ideas at this point. Artists in the group are asked for their opinions, too. It may seem as though the entire team is 'goofing off' but this is a demanding and crucial part of the project. Gilbert was so absorbed by the process, in fact, that he even solved tricky problems in his sleep. No wonder Monkey Island 2 is so weird. How many times have you ahd to spit to succeed or seen a monkey playing a piano in perfect time to a metronome?
SCUMM, the much talked about operating system used in every graphic adventure from the firm, has undergone a few tweaks since the original outing of Guybrush and his pirate pals. This continues the trend to streamline and enhance the user interface and inner workings of every new game. Why is this revolutionary game engine called SCUMM? It's actually an acronym, and stands for the Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion. This high-level scripting language allows the writers to focus on being creative rather than worrying about technical mumbo jumbo. Constructed of many small programs simultaneously running in the background, SCUMM manages the locations and activities of characters and objects populating every fantasy world that's created by Lucasfilm.
BLACKBEARD AND BUCCANEERS
Control over Guybrush is a breeze, allowing any novice to instantly get to grips with the system. Simply point the cursor where you want Guybrush to go, click the mouse button and he'll walk to that location - automatically avoiding any obstacles along the way. Unlike those weak text parsers employed in the past, players don't waste any time guessing which words they have to enter because all the commands are displayed beneath the main window.
Actions like 'give', 'pick up', 'look at' and 'talk to' are activated with a single click, the desired character or object is then highlighted, and the operation performed before your eyes with one more depression of the mouse button. Keyboard shortcuts further improve the workability of this control mechanism. Sentences like 'Use pins in voodoo doll' or 'Talk to parrot' are constructed within a matter of seconds.
Almost everybody in LeChuck's Revenge has something to say. Gilbert first dabbled in the art of conversational computer games when the script for Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade landed on his desk. Apart from the dialogue solely included to add atmosphere, you can learn a few tips from these rather peculiar chats. When words need to be spoken, a selection of possible phrases replaces the panel of verbs and inventory icons. Any snippets of speech are displayed in the panoramic view of your immediate surroundings at the top of the screen.
There is no limit to the number of objects that can be carried. The tricks is to spot any goodies lying around, they're bound to prove useful somewhere down the line. It's particularly amusing to see Guybrush attempting to squeeze a giant monkey figurehead inside his coat pocket.
One thing that annoys me about, say, Space Quest IV from Sierra On-Line is the way your character will frequently die searching for the next clue. Gilbert also hates this technique and believes players don't want to be whacked over the head every time they make a mistake. Thankfully, Guybrush is a pretty robust fellow. He cheerfully walks away from a massive explosion without so much as a scratch during a later section of the game. Players can therefore focus on the story and puzzles, not waste time saving the game in fear of potential danger.
If you do encounter any difficulties attempting to claim the prize of Big Whoop, US Gold's handy guidebook containing the complete solution costs a tenner.
SKULL AND CROSSBONES
It should be obvious by this stage that LeChuck's Revenge is something special. Striking visuals have become the hallmark of a good graphic adventure and LeChuck's Revenge is head and shoulders above the rest. Yeah, it maybe make-believe but the attention to detail is breathtaking. This lively production claims to have over 6.4 million pixels on show. From a myriad of lengthy planning meetings, the artwork and music were painstakingly fashioned to complement the storyline.
Programmers worked with a team of artists, animators and composers to make the story come to life. Scrolling panoramas and rich spot animation give the game a very distinctive look. This, coupled with refined film-like techniques and proportional character scaling, help to smoothly transport viewers into the illusion. For this part, Guybrush plays his role brilliantly when questioning other characters. The body shrugs and raised eyebrows, and other gestures are sheer perfection and significantly add to the immense entertainment value of this product. Not that the supporting cast haven't got a few neat moves of their own.
Attempting to improve the look of Monkey Island 2, the art studio tried a different approach to creating the numerous bits of background scenery. Prompted by the success that Sierra Online and Dynamix had from utilising scanning and video-frame-grabbing equipment to produce startling backdrops and sprites, the designers wanted to adopt a similar methodology on a trial basis. Sadly, it wasn't easy to implement at first. After mucking around with acrylics and various types of pencil, the artists eventually found a workable and effective procedure.
Once the scene had been drawn with coloured marker pens, they overlaid certain features with paint for added force and effect. Coloured pencils were used to sharpen any soft edges before the next step. The finished artwork was then directly scanned into their computers and touched up with graphics packages and proprietary software tools. Using this method, a single background took anywhere from an afternoon to three days to complete. Lead artist Steve Purcell made sure the overall look of both Monkey Island Games remained consistent. The end result, as I'm sure you will agree, was well worth the effort.
Not that the soundtrack's merely thrown in as an afterthought. If anything, more attention was fondly lavished on the composition and code than ever before. For this is the first game to have the spanking iMUSE to accompany it. That's Interactive Music and Sound Effects to you and me. In other words, the music score cunningly reacts to events that happen in the game to further enhance their impact. Thus, new sequences are invoked as the mood and situation of LeChuck's Revenge changes. Tunes follow the action with seamless ease thanks to the cooperation of programmer and composer. They determine how iMUSE will intelligently alter the raw musical data at the right time and place.
Origin is the main competitor to support and develop the concept of interactive music. However, those loud Texans prefer a louder more raucous sound, as heard in the PC incarnations of Wing Commander and Ultima VII. As you would expect, iMUSE also has dynamic supervision of sound effects for doors opening, creaky floorboards, birds chirping, piano playing, etc.
It's early days as far as the Amiga and digitised speech is still missing from the equation. Perhaps the crazy characters will speak in a CD-ROM adaption? Lucasfilm Games is already at the forefront of such enticing developments. Loom, the first CD-based 'talkie' game, uses the voices of actors instead of printing lines of text on the screen.
SHIVER ME TIMBERS
Thanks to a noticeable increase in awareness and sales, publishers are flooding the market with graphics adventures. In the confusion, it's difficult to choose an overall winner. Which one should you go for? Monkey Island 2 has genuine wit and oodles of charm. Fine tuned to perfection, everything is up-front for all to see, hear and read. The story alone should keep you gripped to the very last word. By the way, there's a big surprise at the end of play. Sworn to secrecy by the oath not to reveal 'Game Over' sequences, this is all I can say.
LeChuck's Revenge is truly a masterly mix of wacky humour and stunning images. I'm a massive fan of adventures and I can honestly say that they just don't come any better than this. Unless, that is, Guybrush makes a comeback in The Secret of Monkey Island 3. But, until then, this will do me nicely...