The Secret of Monkey Island, now nearly 20 years old, remains worth studying because it spawned a highly successful franchise. Although it is ostensibly set on a Caribbean island in the 1700s and concerns a young man who wants to be a pirate, the game features anachronistic touches and is played for laughs. In that respect, it seems a lot like certain Disney animated films—The Jungle Book, for example—although slightly edgier.

When Ron Gilbert, the designer of The Secret of Monkey Island, started work on the game, he had already created an adventure game engine called SCUMM, an acronym for “Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion" (an earlier LucasArts adventure game).

SCUMM represented an important innovation for graphic adventure games: It put the possible actions on the screen so players no longer had to guess what their options were, and it did away with typing. More important for the developers, SCUMM enabled them to create new adventure games easily without programming them from scratch each time.

Three of the five Monkey Island games used the SCUMM utility in addition to Maniac Mansion itself and several other LucasArts games.

The Secret of Monkey Island includes a number of other innovations as well, most notably an insult-driven sword fight between the avatar, Guybrush Threepwood, and a master swordswoman. Rather than making the fight a physical challenge, which would have required a lot of additional programming and would have turned off some players,

Gilbert chose to use (and make fun of) the way adversaries always insult one another in old swashbuckling movies. When his adversary insults Guybrush, the player must choose an appropriate comeback quip. Choosing a good comeback gives Guybrush advantage in the fight; choosing the wrong one forces Guybrush to retreat. For Guybrush to win the fight, he must choose enough correct quips. The insults themselves contain clues as to which reply is correct, so players don't have to find out by trial and error.

It's this kind of lateral thinking about the design that separates great adventure games from merely good ones. The Monkey Island series belongs among the greats. The origi­nal game has since been remade with higher quality graphics and has been released as The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition.



One of the most famous graphic adventure games of all, Myst, used a first-person perspective. You may be familiar with the look of contemporary first-person games, but unlike these, Myst did not render a three-dimensional game world in real time even though it used a first-person perspective. The Myst world consisted of a large number of prerendered still frames that appeared one at a time as the avatar walked around. Prerendering made finely detailed and highly atmospheric images possible. On the other hand, Myst couldn't depict continuously moving objects or changes in the sunlight as time passed, and the number of angles from which the player could look at things was limited. The world was rich but static.

A real-time 3D first-person perspective gives the player the best sense of being in the world but doesn't let the player see his avatar unless he happens upon some functioning reflective surface in the game world. This perspective also tends to encourage a more action-oriented approach to playing the game, running around without paying much attention to the surroundings. Because much of the enter­tainment of an adventure game comes from seeing the avatar explore the world and interact with other characters, the first-person perspective doesn't offer as many opportunities for visual drama as other perspectives do.

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