An Hour With: Monkey Island 2 Special Edition

By Kieron Gillen on July 12th, 2010 at 9:36 pm.

The second special edition complete re-mastering of the Monkey Island games came out last week, and I thought since we’re not going to be Wot I Thinking it, it’d be worth having a quick look at and seeing how seaworthy this once-flagship of the genre is with its new lick of paint. Because… well, I’ll go out on a limb here and say that, for a sub-section of our readership, it’ll be their favourite adventure game of all time. Possibly the last great classic adventure they ever played. It’s certainly mine.

How can I say that when everything from Day of the Tentacle to Grim Fandango to The Longest Journey came years afterwards? Well, for the obvious reason – it was the last of the great adventures which appeared on the Amiga. After that, no-one bothered bringing them across. So for anyone who didn’t immediately jump from the Amiga to the PC in the UK – as in, anyone who didn’t have a grand to blow on a PC – it was the last one they got. When the graphic adventure was at its heights, when it was clearly pushing the edges of gaming.

(That said – go read the comment thread. My chronology is weak here. It is the last of the Lucasarts classics that got exposure in the UK in such a way.)

So I’m got enormous levels of nostalgia for Monkey Island 2. I liked it so much at the time that I played all (I think) eleven discs of it with a single-disc drive, swapping it as required and dealing with hilariously slow-frame-rates when it tried to load things. I also remember something awkward about it, even at the time. Even then, I wasn’t the sort who’d replayed games often – but even trying to replay Monkey Island 2 (when I eventually got a hard-drive) frustrated me. Half-remembering the solutions to problems proved more frustrating than simply not knowing them. Realising you forgot to pick up an item on the other side of the island, demanding another long rambling trip made it not particularly fun. It was a one-time-only trip for me.

However I also thought “that’s fifteen years ago”. What do I recall now? What would I make of it?

And the Special Editions… well, they’re really something special. The graphical remix is charming, but the way there’s an elegant zoom from that update to the original with a single button press was joy enough to make me drag in delightful fiancée for her to gape at it. Another button press to bring up the developers discussing the game. And chatting to Joe Martin – whose review is where you should head if you actually want a proper opinion on it as a game – reveals that controls are tightened up from the last special edition and the timing of the spoken dialogue is improved in a way which the lines just flow into one another. Plus, a development art gallery and all that.

Really, if you’re looking for a nostalgia trip or a curatorial experience of a period classic, you couldn’t ask for better. I wish that other games of the period – perhaps outside of the adventure – could have a similar treatment.

However, as a game, I didn’t like it much at all.

I liked it for the nostalgia. I liked it for the sense of humour. I liked it when I remembered the puzzles’ solutions – and I worrying managed to recall the way to deal with everything in the opening Largo Embargo section. I suspect this may have something to do with my first games writing regular was writing the Q&A section in Amiga Power, so having to recite this sort of detail for people who were struggling to exist in a world before GameFAQs.

However, every single time I couldn’t immediately recall a solution, the game lost its charm for me. It wasn’t that it was difficult. It was that it was awkward. I half had a solution, and could see the problem… but what was I missing? Well, I’m missing the one sole stick on the island, several rooms away. Finding myself in Largo’s room, knowing I have to stick the bucket on top of the door but the game even simply refusing it as an idea – even in a “No, I can’t do that yet” – until I remembered I have to fill it with mud. Mud from the swamp! The only place on the entire island where you could get something to dirty up Largo’s clothes. Not the sand on the beach. Or the soup. Or even dirty water. Yes, it had to be the mud or it won’t just do, and there’s no way that bucket will go on top of that door.

It’s just stupid.

You may say I’m damning this for just being an adventure game.

You’d be right. I’m totally damning it for being an adventure game.

Or rather, I’m damning it for being this sort of adventure game. I think the actually even-more-artificial approach of Resident Evil holds up better. Hell, I fear the mini-game approach of your average rendered adventure holds up better, in terms of tying meaningful actions on the player to a predictable outcome. “I want to get this door open” = “I have to beat this bloody sliding puzzle game” at least makes some rudimentary sense on its own terms. The second you wander into these kind of special-cased designed puzzles based on real-world elements, you quickly become ludicrous. Old Man Murray’s skewering of Jane Jensen is brutal (and brutally funny), but it nails a fundamental. If you’re presenting a world which should have an obvious solution with an in-world element, the game’s fiction breaks. In other genres, it’s the atmosphere breaking of only being able to jump over certain walls (ala APB) or having unbreakable doors in a world where everyone has bazookas (ala most things). The difference is that in this classic adventure set up every single interaction in the world is based on this nonsense.

Not that I wouldn’t necessarily buy it.

Especially for the seven quid they’re charging, I would actually consider buying this. For the nostalgia and the extra materials – but mainly because I know if I play with a walk-through at hand, I’d get all the good stuff about the game. When everything about the game is something to be side-stepped, something has gone terribly amiss. I can’t mourn this sort of adventure. Everything that’s splendid about it was absorbed by the RPG (characterisation, plot, etc) with everything that was bad (its ludicrous puzzles) replaced with actual entertaining interaction. Because that’s the thing about the adventure game. It’s the one genre whose mechanics really were never part of its its core appeal. I mean, did we love Monkey Island for that fucking monkey wrench puzzle or attaching a banana to a metronome… or did we love it for the Cartographer/You do open heart surgery in here? or the every-relationship-I’ve-ever-had-redux of the Marley/Guybrush reunion? C’mon. Be honest.

In conclusion: No, I won’t be trying to steal Walker’s adventure-game-reviewing freelance away.

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136 Comments »

  1. Vinraith says:

    1UP’s review rattles off a laundry list of missing and changed content, even in the “classic” mode.

    http://www.1up.com/do/reviewPage?cId=3180274

    As someone that never played the original I’m sure I’d never have noticed any of that, but I have to admit that the idea of the classic mode failing to provide the original experience is off-putting.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Vin: Worth noting that it’s the 360 version they review. At least according to its comments, the Imuse-emulation works better on the PC.

      KG

    • Vinraith says:

      @Kieron

      Thanks, that’s exactly the kind of thing I wanted to know.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Vin: Reading more, I suspect it may be worth reading around a bit more.

      KG

    • Vinraith says:

      I was planning on it. It sounds like there may at least be a means to reproduce the full classic game via SCUMM VM and the files included in this version, based on what Dean says below.

    • Collic says:

      Scumm VM is the way to play it completely unchanged from the original. I wouldn’t know if you can buy the pure dos iteration , though.

    • Vinraith says:

      I wouldn’t know if you can buy the pure dos iteration , though.

      You can’t. The first two MI’s have been unavailable for years.

    • Dean says:

      From what I’ve read:

      iMuse is missing entirely from the 360 version. It seems to be a matter of a file being missed out (some guy has copied it over from the PC version to a hacked 360 and it then worked) so may just be a bug.

      iMuse is on the SE part of the PC version, but it’s digital iMuse. It has to be as they’re digital tracks, not MIDI tracks. So the number of transitions is reduced, and some are missed out entirely. You wouldn’t notice unless you were a huge fan of the originals. You just lack that fidelity of being able to control each instrument separately with digital music.

      Reports on whether iMuse works correctly in classic mode vary from it missing the same transitions as the SE, to it being perfect. Dig around some more if that matters.

      The intro sequence is missing in all versions. God knows why.

      If you want to play the original with nothing missing, you can buy this, get the tool here: http://quick.mixnmojo.com/monkey-island-2-special-edition-extract-the-music-browse-the-files , extract monkey2.exe and copy the two resource files in the classic directory (monkey2.000 and monkey2.001) to your Scumm VM folder and you got a legit copy running in Scumm VM.

    • Lilliput King says:

      I’ve been surprised by the internet’s reaction to the ‘missing content,’ given that all we appear to be missing is the into credits sequence (none of the actual intro, just the static screens with names on ‘em) and the original iMuse, replaced by a digital version (I didn’t notice the difference until I read about it later on). You have to be uncomfortably anal to care, considering what we actually get for that trade off.

    • Reverend Speed says:

      That sequence contains some beautifully drawn art, the only occurrence of the Monkey Island theme in the game (a beautiful version, by the way) and some amusing antics mit der monkays, accompanied by SUDDEN JAZZ IMPROV.

      Rarely have I seen actors in a cutscene suddenly abandon the supposed purpose of the sequence… and then, seconds later, the music jumping in and wildly jamming with the actors. It’s as unusual as it is fun.

      The new version gets you to the story faster (the original left you with a hanging, “Back on Scabb Island…”, followed with the opening credits and then picked up the story again on Scabb), but it loses some of the grandeur of the original MI2 opening (not to mention setting the frame for the story – a piratey romp happy to run off the rails at times).

      Anal, yes, but given that the developers clearly had access to the original MI2 art, I’m not entirely sure WHY you’d leave it out…

    • DrGonzo says:

      Ok then I will complain about how I hate the guys voice who plays Guybrush.

    • DrGonzo says:

      Argh, meant to also say. I imagine Guybrush to be cynical not a whining irritating guy.

    • YogSo says:

      @ Lilliput King:
      I’ve been surprised by the internet’s reaction to the ‘missing content,’ given that all we appear to be missing is the intro credits sequence (none of the actual intro, just the static screens with names on ‘em) and the original iMuse, replaced by a digital version (I didn’t notice the difference until I read about it later on). You have to be uncomfortably anal to care, considering what we actually get for that trade off.

      Oh yeah, who needs this intro sequence anyway? It has nothing to do with the plot and story, so it’s better to replace it with… nothing. Next time someone should do a remastered edition of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and remove those obnoxious intro titles that only get in the way of the ‘proper’ movie…

      It must be truly amazing to be able to say whatever you want on the Internetz even if you have no idea about what you are talking…/rolleyes

    • Reverend Speed says:

      How strange.

      I loved hearing Dominic Armato as Guybrush. One of the only things I really thought was brilliant about Curse. His Guybrush is EXACTLY as I heard him in my head while playing MI1 & 2, all those years ago. So good to ‘hear’ Guybrush again in the remake. =)

      Elaine, on the other hand… Well, she’s perfect. And annoying. Why they married the two characters in Curse after breaking them up in Revenge I’ll never know.

      They’re clearly no good for each other.

      He said.

      About beloved games characters that he has no ownership or right to.

      I’ll get me coat.

  2. Wulf says:

    The lack of iMuse in classic mode was really irritating to me. D: Since classic Monkey Island 2 with voice-acting is all I ever really wanted from it. Damn you, LucasArts!

    I wish ScummVM could use these voices in their better implementation of Monkey Island. >.>;

  3. Radiant says:

    Reviewing a genre classic like this is like going back and watching Total Recall and bemoaning how it is full of all the things that new films have run into the ground.

    YES Total Recall is a bit shit but god damn it human shield on an escalator!

    • Radiant says:

      Also at the time it wasn’t just you alone who was playing it.
      For me it was the first time that you had a group of players, even people who you didn’t normally talk to on the playground, all talking about the same game.

      Swapped stories, rumours of rubbing a leg for 1000 coins, someone finding a way through that god forsaken maze WITH the flower…

      Now, it is a quick trip to gamefaqs but back then it was a game you stayed with for nearly a year [3rd year juniors to be exact].

  4. Dean says:

    If you really want the classic experience the original files are in there and can be extracted in to Scumm VM, so classic mode not being spot on doesn’t bother me much.

    Interesting reaction Kieron. There’s a couple of things that come to mind that could partially explain it though, that being you’re approaching it (to some extent) with a reviewers mindset, and treating it as a replay. As such, there’s a desire to just progress through it and finish it as soon as possible. Get through the story, complete the game… Or maybe it’s nothing to do with being a writer and that’s just how games are seen these days.

    Ugh that’s an ugly paragraph. What I’m getting at is, when it came out on the Amiga, you wouldn’t finish a lot of games you bought. As they were mostly bastard-hard. Monkey Island was somewhat unique in that it sort of expected you to finish it, but even then, in a puzzle game, the difficulty was pitched somewhat higher than your modern game. And that manifested in slightly obscure puzzles.

    But I think at the time, I just enjoyed exploring, and hearing the jokes and so on. When I replay, I imagine it could well be more of “ooh I can’t wait to get to this bit” and so on.

  5. VelvetFistIronGlove says:

    I bought and started playing this on the iPad, and am very glad to report that the mousewise point-and-click interaction is now handled on the touchscreen by the clever and innovative point-and-tap interaction. That is, you point your finger at something and tap on it. The Monkey Island I special edition suffered dreadfully from a ludicrous “trackpad” style interface with a mouse pointer. It was awful.

    I loved the art this time around, and the voicing and newly recorded music. Overall, I have to say I almost prefer this SE to the original game. The only drawbacks are some weird “Pirate Performance” thing, and the lack of the title credits and theme music.

  6. Larington says:

    Yeah, adventure game design is a horrible horrible challenge. You want to setup puzzles that can be figured out, easy enough to not be frustrating but hard enough to not be trivial (Though, actually, I’m not so sure about the latter part, maybe there’s an argument that adventure games should be easy because they tend to be more about the story/humour/characters/setting than the puzzling).

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Larington: I think I lean to the latter idea. Depends what the core of your game is. The thing then is making the puzzles interesting in and of themselves and not kicking against the game. I mean, compare and contrast with Toki Tori from earlier.

      KG

    • Helm says:

      Actually what you want (a hypothetical you) is to leave the puzzles for the puzzle games and just provide a variety of options on how to approach the conflict situations in an adventure game, which give variable feedback to the player who is then left to make up their own mind if what they did was the best thing they could do and what it could mean. Look, the rpgs are doing it! Even some fps games are doing it, but wait no, the adventure game isn’t allowed to go there because it’s kept alive by nostalgia.

    • Alastayr says:

      Look at Helm’s words, he said them better than I could.

    • Taillefer says:

      Bloodnet took the approach Kieron is talking about (as I remember it). In fact, he may have even reviewed it and mentioned it as doing such.

      I’m not sure how the game holds up today, but I loved it back then.

    • Jimbo says:

      Heavy Rain ‘went there’ and was actually pretty successful (1 million+ sales). Nothing nostalgia-driven about that game.

    • Helm says:

      I don’t think Heavy Rain was an excellent game, but I’m glad I played it and I’m glad it exists. Perhaps in the future we will see more in this vein, perhaps written by people that can write stories, or perhaps less heavy on pre-scripted story to begin with. This of ‘immersive simulations’, but without necessarily killing people all the time.

    • Collic says:

      I think the penumbra games are great example of how to do practical, logical, puzzle solving using modern tech. The by-product of penumbra’s approach is the puzzles can geta bit samey sometimes, since they tend to be so rooted in plausable reality ( the first two games anyway, I haven’t played the final chapter).

      You could argue that, strictly speaking, it isn’t an adventure game, but I think it’s the direction these games should go in now. Hl2′s environmental puzzles showed us the way.

    • DrGonzo says:

      As long as no one ever does another physics see-saw puzzle. And I mean NEVER AGAIN.

    • Clovis says:

      I always played adventure games for the puzzles. And by “puzzle” I mean the MI style puzzle, not freakin’ slide puzzles. While AGs always allowed for some good humor, I’m always a little surprised when the player’s claim that the big draw is the story. I don’t really see how Adventure Games have handled story telling any better than other genres. And the stories usually aren’t very good either. In fact, they are often terrible, just like the story in most games. I guess the story just seems like a little reward for completing the puzzles, but the puzzles are the real point.

  7. Aninhumer says:

    I always felt the original Monkey Island 2 was my least favourite of the series.
    The puzzles were often stupid, the story was kind of bizarre and worst of all, the world in the game always felt kind of nasty to me. In that game, the world of pirates actually felt threatening, in a way that none of the other games were.

    • Lars Westergren says:

      I liked that it felt a little dark actually….

    • Reverend Speed says:

      The darkness is what made it actually funny. There’s actually something to contrast the humour against, unlike the happy clappy worlds of Day of the Tentacle and the later Monkey games.

      Had to wait until Gilbert got back for Tales of MI for a little grittiness to return (final boss battle in episode 5? Whoof).

      …can’t really argue that some of the puzzles are downright obscure, though. Or, rather, more dated. Great for their time, but we’re a little more advanced, now – we expect the puzzles and puzzle sequences to be better organised with more supplementary information.

    • DrGonzo says:

      I never played the first Monkey Island when I was younger and first played it through the Special Edition. I did however play the second a lot as a kid and loved it. I love how surreal it is.

      And it has the best ending of any game ever. It was probably the first ending sequence I ever saw in a game so I’ve pretty much always been disappointed by other games since.

    • Reverend Speed says:

      Thought the ending was… inspired, though perhaps a little TOO inspired by Star Wars.

      AND THEN HANDWAVED BY MONKEY 3 – NNNGH–

      Were they high? Or just awful writers (I’ll cite the marriage as further evidence of this)?

    • Adam Whitehead says:

      @ Reverend Speed: Some of the original team, most notably Ron Gilbert, bailed after MONKEY 2 and MI3 was made by a different team. Apparently they didn’t have access to Gilbert’s ideas for what was really going to happen in MI3, so they had to make their own stuff up. Gilbert has always said that he likes MI3, but it’s not how his version would have turned out.

    • Reverend Speed says:

      Yep. Best thing about Monkey 3? You can’t blame Ron Gilbert for it. Little worried about DeathSpank, though.

    • Vandelay says:

      Monkey Island 3 was the first I played and I absolutely loved it. That has probably coloured my view of the series, so coming to the very different second game was a slight disappointment. It mostly passed me by to be honest, with the weird puzzles and the kind of hodge-podge plot that Zapatapon talks about below. I can barely remember my playthrough of it from about 7 years ago. What’s more, the heralded ending just felt like a “and then he woke up” conclusion when I first saw it.

      Then again, what do I know? I thought Monkey Island 4 was quite enjoyable and funny (except Monkey Kombat – worst idea ever.)

      Does make me eager to play this special edition though, to see if I really did just completely miss the brilliance that other people seem to have played. I’ll be looking out for a double pack with the original.

  8. Ripbeefbone says:

    Full Throttle.

    • Reverend Speed says:

      Not really a great end sequence, though, is it? Wrapped up a little too quickly for my tastes.

      That said, endings can be difficult to do in adventure games. TellTale have kicked the pacing to the kerb in some eps, though. Tales of Monkey Island ep4, S&M S03E02, anyone?

    • DrGonzo says:

      The ending is too abrupt, but the whole game is too short. That doesn’t stop it from being one of the best adventure games. I think it may in fact help it as it doesn’t go on long enough to irritate you with an annoying puzzle or to run out of jokes.

    • Reverend Speed says:

      @DrGonzo: Agree with you.

      It actually reminds me a little of Heavy Rain – there’s just enough interaction and puzzles to give you something to play, but EVERYTHING relates to the central theme and story, so you’re never stuck for long.

  9. Hippo says:

    I agree with Kieron. I had a good time finishing this, thanks to the great jokes and the nostalgia. Plus, the remastering is actually very well done. But as a game… well, Monkey Island 2 is not really that great. In my opinion, the original is way better in the game design department, with a more sensible difficulty setting and puzzles that makes a lot more sense than those in MI2.

    (the comments about the mud and stick made me remember the Quest for Glory games, though. I loved how those games, at least the early ones, provided plenty of solutions to the puzzles. if it made sense, you could usually do it. i wish they had been more influental)

    • Reverend Speed says:

      In fairness, this release has excised the choice of an ‘easy’ version of MI2, leaving you with the more obscure puzzles with fewer clues.

      Maybe you’d have enjoyed easy mode better. We may never know.

    • Ozzie says:

      I’m actually glad they dropped the easy mode. Sure, it’s always nice when a game offers variable challenge, but in MI2 half the story is missing when you play on easy, so people might get the wrong impression of the game.
      On the other hand, MI3 had a perfectly implemented easy mode. It basically just eliminated the puzzles that barely influenced the story. So even on easy you got told the full tale.

  10. somnolentsurfer says:

    Maybe I’ve been reading the wrong boards, but I’ve not seen anyone comment on how the new artwork appears to have been drawn by someone who didn’t have access to the script. “What are you? Some kind of chef?” Asked of a man who’s now wearing brown overalls. “I’ve no idea what that is”, at the very clearly defined pad of paper hung on the wall. And several others that I now don’t remember.

    • Hidden_7 says:

      I feel like you may be right on this one. The JuJu bag that in the original very clearly said JuJu was clearly seen as a failed attempt to render UUUU in old-fangled pixels, and so now that’s what it says in the new version. Despite the fact that the item in game is clearly called a JuJu bag. Also the infamous monkey-wrench puzzle would be a bastard to even attempt to figure out if your first time was using only the special edition, because the inventory image of the monkey isn’t at all screwed up in a sort of wrench-like fashion, but is just drawn as a regular looking monkey. They at least tried to hint at the solution to that puzzle using inventory art in the original.

  11. Alastayr says:

    I never really got into the first MI and the release of the SE last year was the perfect invitation to nostalgic fun land. Or so I thought. Sadly, it turned out to be a pretty lacking package. Not just the shortcomings of the HD remake, I went through exactly the same thought process as Kieron. Except for the half remembering part. So not exactly like Kieron. Or not at allAnyway, that’s probably why I liked the ToME episodes so much, they contained very few, small, absurd “puzzles” that felt like you were a squirrel following a trail of acorns.

    Oh my. Look at my words, they don’t make sense today.

    • Reverend Speed says:

      You’re making perfect sense. The TOMI games are Monkey Island with modern sensibilities, twenty years of thought and development and ADDED SANITY.

      Hurrah for TellTale!

      If anything, they don’t wreck up the adventure game conventions ENOUGH…

  12. TheInsider says:

    I got stuck on the mud from the swamp thing too and also damned all adventure games :D

  13. DraconianOne says:

    …it was the last of the great adventures which appeared on the Amiga.

    Didn’t you rate “Beneath A Steel Sky” then Mr G? A classic, British, cyberpunk graphc adventure released three years after Monkey Island 2, with art by Dave “Watchmen” Gibbons and designed by Charles “Adventure Games aren’t dead, dammit!” Cecil. Okay so the Amiga version had a 780 billion disks you had to keep swapping but even so, it was a glorious, glorious game.

    • Aninhumer says:

      Also completely free and legal now, if people want to try it.
      It’s hosted on the SCUMMVM website.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Wow. I’m impressed I got the dates that badly wrong inside my head. I thought they were contemporary.

      (As in, within 1-1.5 years)

      KG

    • Bhazor says:

      You can also get it free on GOG complete with a downloadable comic.

    • DrGonzo says:

      I’m still playing Beneath a Steel Sky through. It’s rather pretty. I would pay money for a HD remake of that, as long as Mr. Watchmen was the one who did the new artwork.

    • Adam Whitehead says:

      INDIANA JONES AND THE FATE OF ATLANTIS also came out on the Amiga a year or so after MI2, though trying to play it on a lesser Amiga (anything under a 1200) off floppies was even more frustrating than MI2.

      I’m thinking that INDY3 and 4 are the next logical games for LucasArts to remake (I suppose they might redo MI3 as well), but there may be rights issues with the Indiana Jones brand name. I can’t see a modern gaming audience coping too well with ZAK and MANIAC MANSION, which are considerably less forgiving than MI1 and 2 (with the possibility of death and the inclusion of game-breaking puzzles).

  14. Jimbo says:

    Adventure games did work as games, but they worked 15 or 20 years ago. I think it’s us changing that has rendered them obsolete.

    We have been conditioned to view games a lot differently today than we did back then. We don’t see a lack of progress as a challenge to overcome anymore; we see it as frustrating, call it poor game design and then move on to something else. When I was playing these games (along with the Sierra classics) I was 5-10 years old – there wasn’t anything else *to* move on to. There was no internet available to turn to for help either. If I got stuck I would chew it over for hours, sometimes days, sometimes long after I had stopped playing, sometimes in my sleep – when you finally figure out a problem like that it can be immensely satisfying. That was where the real worth in the gameplay was.

    Can I recapture that experience today? No chance, I would look it up in a walkthrough or just call it bad game design and move on to something else.

    I really would advise taking a look at Full Throttle and Grim Fandango though if you haven’t before. Viable gameplay or not, both of those are just glorious creations from start to finish.

    • phlebas says:

      The other major thing that’s changed in that time is production values. All the incidental details – the ‘unnecessary’ interactions that make the world real, the multiple solutions to a problem, the remarks when you try something that’s not quite right that amuse and point you in the right direction – now require major investment for animations and voice acting. The bottom line says you can’t justify recording extra dialogue that a lot of players might not even hear, and you end up with another linear story interrupted by guessing games.
      It also means scripts are less tightly edited, because if something turns out not to make sense at playtesting time it’s unlikely to warrant calling the voice actors back in just to rerecord a line or two.

    • Reverend Speed says:

      @Jimbo: Well. I’d agree that we have higher standards in design now, but I think ADVENTURE GAME RAGE mainly comes from a lack of feedback for the player. Being told “I can’t do that” for having tried to do something that the designers should clearly have considered is frustrating, but having bought a full-price STORY-BASED game and then having that same experience repeat thousands and thousands of times per hour is a very special hell.

      My thought is that the fundamental game loop in an adventure game is the scientific method – coming up with a theory, testing the theory, analyzing the result.

      While this occurs in most games, it’s usually part of a learning process that places recurring mechanics in the player’s arsenal. Not so in Adventure Games. Here, theorizing, testing and feedback are essential. You leave out the feedback, you break the game.

      Back in the ‘golden age’ (?), adventure games lacked a lot of that feedback, but they compensated with fabulous new features like colour graphics, animation, intricate non-linear puzzles, music, voice, etc.

      Now all those features are standard and because we expect them they can’t distract us from a lack of feedback. And without feedback, adventure games just seem like barren, painfully frustrating experiences.

      @Phlebas – Well, larger teams can definitely deliver the level of interaction you’re looking for – look to the Tales of Monkey Island games from TellTale. Smaller teams can do something similar… I’m not a huge fan of the Ben There, Dan That games, but but bless ‘em for giving every item interaction specific player feedback.

      And I’m hoping it’s possible for a small team to hit that level of feedback in a high-quality 3D game. Hopefully, it’s just a matter of managing player expectations…

  15. James G says:

    Am I unusual in that I actually enjoy, or at the very least enjoyed, the actual puzzle mechanic in adventure games. I find in the games I’ve played more recently I perhaps reach for the hints slightly quicker than I used to (Not sure quite where I got my hints from in the olden days. Magazines I guess, but I’m surprised I had a walk-through for everything.), but I still rather enjoy it. Granted when the solution is dependent on pixel hunting I get annoyed, although mostly I find my confusion is just a result of me assuming I’ve already done something. I remember though, adventures used to usually take me a week, so I clearly was never held up for huge lengths of time.

    Then again, I rarely felt like I was guessing the mind of the designer. Okay, some solutions were daft (the monkey wrench one in particular) but I rarely remember trying things that I felt should reasonably work, but didn’t. Perhaps I just have the mind of a graphic adventure puzzle writer.

    However, I do remember I never finished MI2 the first time round. Not due to frustration, but because I became too scared right at the end when Le Chuck was stalking me through the corridors.

    • RLacey says:

      Man, that last bit terrified me when I was younger.

    • Reverend Speed says:

      No argument. Facing LeChuck at the end was one of the more terrifying experiences of my young gaming life.

      Defenseless and hunted. Was a long time before I found another game that gave me that sensation.

      Scaring the player – occasionally taking the scenario Very Seriously Indeed – is one of the reasons why MI2 remains such a funny, enticing game. Nice to encounter a game with a wider palate than slapstick and quips (DOTT, I’m looking at you).

  16. Andy_Panthro says:

    A friend of mine bought this on Xbox live recently, because he’d enjoyed SOMI so much.

    Finally after years of me boring him with saying how good the games are, he’s now able to play them for the first time.

    The bucket puzzle was an interesting one, he had figured out that he needed to get a bucket of mud, but couldn’t figure out how he was supposed to get Largo covered in it.

    After I gave him a hint, he got it and was able to figure out a lot of other puzzles himself.

    However, after playing for a while he asked, “How did you manage to get these puzzles when you were younger?”

    To which I didn’t really have an answer, but the best I could come up with was that I played all of these sorts of adventure games. I’ve played almost all of the Sierra “Quest” games, as well as other Lucasarts games, and after a while you just start to see the way to complete the puzzles. It’s all about a certain mindset.

    For a newcomer though, especially those used to action games, it can be quite frustrating.

    • Hidden_7 says:

      Yeah, I think that’s the thing, you eventually get into that sort of mind-set. You get comfortable with adventure game logic.

      Having been a big adventure game fan when I was younger, I find the easier puzzles of the newer tell-tale games incredibly easy. Often as a problem is being set up in game I’ve already spotted the solution, and the only time I get stuck for even a moment is when I know I’m missing a piece of the puzzle from somewhere in the middle of the solution, but I just don’t know where to find it. I’ll play through those games start-to-finish first time in 3 hours or so. Whereas classic adventures, as mentioned earlier, I would puzzle over bits for days.

      That’s why MI2 was one of my favorites. Because the middle was so open in the way you approached it, if you got stuck you could often move on to another part. It was really rare that you’d hit a brick wall and just not be able to make any progress anywhere.

      As frustrating as that could be at times, I still sort of miss it. Adventure games were something that would keep me busy for days, as opposed to now more of an afternoon or an evening. I kinda miss viewing these games as epic.

    • Jimbo says:

      Kids are practically designed to figure stuff out by bashing their head against it, it’s how they learn. Your younger self probably had a far higher tolerance for trial and error than your friend does today.

    • Nallen says:

      I got them when I was young by reading the hint book (those awesome hint books with the red plastic film that you revealed the answers with in stages.)

      That said, these days, being nearly 30 I play modern adventures with…the walk through. Still. Urgh.

    • Reverend Speed says:

      Well… that mind-set is a wonderful thing, but it’s not exactly a sign of a perfect adventure game experience – where you are constantly challenged but not to the point of frustration by puzzles, allowing you to be the clever, innovative, inventive protagonist at the centre of a compelling narrative.

      On their good days, Tell Tale do this remarkably well. David Cage, also, though he’s clearly mental.

      It’s interesting to remember that the non-linearity of MI 1&2 were a reaction to highly linear adventure games that would brick wall your progress and trap you in a room with no additional content, relief from or hints for the puzzle you were currently stuck on.

      If something like that happened in MI2… you could just wander over to another island and do a little more exploration.

      It’s A solution to a central problem in adventure games. Wouldn’t say it’s the optimal solution.

      Now, of course, we’ve got other ways to resolve the brick wall problem… and so the non-linearity of the MI2 environments can lead to some really odd out-of-sequence exposing of story assets.

  17. unwize says:

    It’s pure nostalgia, but still manages to stand up better than the vast majority of other fondly remembered classics of the early 90s.

    Also, Day of the Tentacle was the pinnacle of adventure game puzzling, and indeed, DotT’s puzzles are instrumental to it’s status as a classic game.

  18. Simon says:

    It’s novel to see praise for the Special Edition alongside harsh criticism of the actual classic game underneath. The plot, characters, world and wit are all hooks, but it’s terribly contrary to not credit the way the gameplay is thoughtfully designed to bring all of that charm to life – in this game in particular those mechanics are an enormous element of why it’s so beloved.

    If you wanted to slam ‘stupid’ adventure game mechanics, I think Monkey Island 2 is a really poor example, as it still does a neat job of establishing those rules and making them fair and rewarding – with a very few tiny, famous exceptions amongst all the other brilliantly arranged puzzling and structural tricks.

    Other games were decent stories and characters shoehorned into this genre in frustrating ways, but I reckon Monkey Island 2 was perfectly formed as this old-fashioned kind of game, and I’m now seeing people easily and happily slip into it via the Special Edition.

    So, boooooooooooo

    • Reverend Speed says:

      It’s unmistakably a product of its time.

      Far more enjoyable than watching Metropolis, though.

    • Ozzie says:

      I think the new restored version of Metropolis is very fun to watch! The ending is even unexpectedly exciting! But I agree, the butchered 118 minute long version is so convoluted that it’s tedious. Oh, and the overacting! And the strange ideology!!
      A deepy flawed classic, basically. Like MI2, then?

  19. Will says:

    I’ve been enjoying it but it is at times incredibly painful – I’m pretty sure I used to use walkthroughs (in print mags!) when I played these games last time around and thought the hint system would be good since it would get me over the painful bits that I didn’t remember. Not so!

    When I ask for a hint, even several hints to get it to drill down into the solution, it almost always says “you need to do *thing I already know I need to do*” but doesn’t give me a hint as to *how* I might do it. Thanks hint system!

  20. Urthman says:

    As others imply, part of the problem is the absurd cornucopia of games sitting on my hard drive and linked in the Flash Games bookmark of my browser.

    When I was a kid, I bought Zork 3 and it was the only big commercial game I owned for months. I had no Invisiclues. It was the sort of thing I played around with for an hour, set aside, came back, maybe made progress, maybe not, and muddled around with for months.

    That’s an experience that’s just not really a live option to me anymore. Was it fun? Sometimes. Would I trade 6 months of Thief 3, GTA 4, Red Faction Guerrilla, Plants vs. Zombies, King’s Bounty, Lego Harry Potter, Torchlight, and Risen for 6 months of occasionally muddling through Zork 3 again? No way.

  21. bildo says:

    The OMM article makes a good point. Adventure gaming can be mundane and MI2 is no exception. However, the one thing Erik fails to realize: Adventure games tend to have a lack of crates, which make them some of the best games of all time according to the crate rating system.

    Oh and Kieron, you complain that MI2′s puzzles are so horribly boring and convoluted, however the opposite can be said about Deus Ex. The ‘puzzles’ or multiple ways of solving a problem could be finished in a way that took almost no thought whatsoever. Hacking? Push button. Don’t want to fight? Find an air vent, or key or passcode that’s put in a place where it would never be in the first place, on a floor, corner or shelf with nothing to protect it from prying eyes.

    My point is this. You’re being horribly one sided here. Both games have massive faults, but you laud one over the other simply because there are choices to be had? Call me crazy but the last time I checked, Half Life had one solution on how to get from the beginning to end and clearly that game is tons of fun. You’re just as bad Jane Jensen and her pinky up attitude. If there isn’t multiple ways to do things it must suck.

    • dadioflex says:

      If we can taker anything away from this, I think it should be that Old Man Murray was brilliant and is deeply missed.

      Is there anything like it out there now?

    • MD says:

      That’s one of the great things about Deus Ex though, the fact that (relatively speaking) it’s so free from arbitrary constraints. Items in the world have certain properties, and they react with eachother according to those properties, rather than being scripted to ‘work’ or ‘not work’ for a given task. Of course, this design philisophy comes with its own limitations, and it doesn’t permeate the entire world (e.g. obviously massive compromises had to be made with dialogue and plot-relevant choices). But Deus Ex came closer to truly emergent gameplay than most games, while tying the simulated-world bit to the plot bit pretty darn well.

    • Velvet Fist, Iron Glove says:

      Both Monkey Island and Monkey Island II have crates. Heck, in the latter, it’s even an integral part of the plot.

    • bildo says:

      @MD
      I agree. Deus Ex was great in it’s own right but to say it was a “thinking mans game” in the way Half Life was considered, is silly. Yes, it’s defiantly emergent gameplay, but most people looked past the minor weaknesses like finding codes to locked doors in places they would never exist, ammo in ammo boxes strewn across a city and hacking by pressing a button and doing absolutely nothing. MI2 had some weird puzzles to be sure, but it’s a genre hallmark. Doing things in odd obscure ways. Hopefully, an adventure game will expand to have multi-solution puzzles that aren’t trivial or too odd just like one day I hope FPS games get rid of their genre defining problems too.

      Half life and Deus Ex were just FPS games that FINALLY had you doing something to a coherent story and they were mainstream, so everyone got to play something that moved the genre forward. However, for Kieron to say that MI2′s puzzles are stupid simply because you can’t have multiple solutions is shortsighted. Tip: hint system for MI2 SE.

      @Velvet Fist
      I think just about every game in existence has crates. However, I can’t recall seeing a crate in MI2 so quickly in the beginning that the crate rating system would have given it a bad rating. Actually, the crate rating system should be used more. Deus Ex would score pretty low, that’s for sure.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      bildo: This isn’t about there being only one solution. It’s about the one solution available being nonsense because of the other things you *could* have done within the context the game creates. One solution when it’s the only sensible solution is just fine.

      dadioflex: We will never see their like again.

      KG

    • Reverend Speed says:

      Pff. Deus Ex. Script more than three ways to open every door. Write narrative embarresment with abominable characterisation. Rake in critical acclaim.

      @KG: Point taken that MI2 contains some rather obscure solutions (“MONKEY WRENCH!? YOU UTTER–”), but that’s often due to the way it tried to solve a problem with adventure games in the early 90s by creating a non-linear adventure game environment.

      And of course due to there being so many factors, the player’s bound to invent an alternate solution.

      MI2 was a wonderful, wonderful product when it came out… but it’s a product of its time, superseded by some wonderful additions by Tell Tale, Frictional and others to the adventure game genre. We can even look to Fahrenheit and Heavy Rain for inspiration. At last, the genre is starting to evolve again…

      We can finally get away from old men, ruling the world.

    • Cpl_Trim says:

      “This isn’t about there being only one solution. It’s about the one solution available being nonsense because of the other things you *could* have done within the context the game creates. One solution when it’s the only sensible solution is just fine.”

      But since almost all the story is told in flashback by Guybrush (remember the great joke when you let him die in LeChuck’s fortress and it cuts back to Elaine hanging from the rope?)… it doesn’t break the fiction of the game because, well, that’s how Guybrush did it and Guybrush is just that kind of guy. (I know, it’s a super-pedantic point.)

      Thing is though, Guybrush wouldn’t be that kind of guy if there were multiple solutions. You’d lose characterisation in favour of ‘player freedom’. It seems to me this is really a case of how each person’s brain is wired – I can’t stand stat-building-multiple-solution mechanics because there’s no sense of satisfaction for me: I just like puzzles, and I like being forced to think up those required solutions that are, in themselves, entertaining. Those are the fun, lightbulb moments.

      Completing a puzzle in any way at all that makes sense in the game world is like filling in a crossword just by using words that fit the spaces, without reference to the clues. What’s the point?

  22. malkav11 says:

    I think the problem is less absurdist puzzles, and more puzzles not making sense inside the game’s own particular logic. The infamous cat hair moustache puzzle from GK3 might not be so terrible in some sort of cartoon game where it would be perfectly logical in their backwards, silly logic to disguise oneself as a cleanshaven man by adopting a moustache. It’s also best to try to avoid presenting things that feel like they should solve the puzzle, unless they are going to solve the puzzle, although presenting sensible or entertaining reasons why they don’t work is an okay fallback.

    But I definitely tend to play these games with hints ready and waiting.

    • phlebas says:

      The logic’s only backwards if you approach the puzzle backwards. The cat bit’s stupid but the rest makes perfect sense if you actually play the game rather than reading a badly-ordered walkthrough or the snotty OMM article.
      Where you start is that you’ve got the ID card and you need to convince someone that it’s yours despite it looking nothing like you. So say “What can I do to distract attention from the lack of resemblance?” or you say “What can I do to cover up both faces a bit?” or you say “I have a pen in my inventory, pens are good for drawing. I wonder if Gabe can amend the card to look more like himself. Oh, he’s drawn a moustache on it. Gah.”

    • Reverend Speed says:

      I really dig Jane Jensen and the Gabriel Knight series (have a little love for 3 – went through dev hell), but the cat is unforgivable.

      Agree with malkav11 on keeping the puzzles within the possibility space indicated by the narrative and the central themes, though.

  23. Jad says:

    Everything that’s splendid about it was absorbed by the RPG (characterisation, plot, etc) with everything that was bad (its ludicrous puzzles) replaced with actual entertaining interaction.

    I’m glad you said this because I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently, particularly in the light of Dragon Age 2′s apparently re-worked combat. What I was thinking while playing DA:O was how much I wished it was a point and click adventure game, because I thoroughly disliked the combat of that game. Which is not to say that I love and adore irritating illogical puzzles, but I was thinking that I would prefer them to that pseudo-turn-based either-too-much-or-not-enough-micromanagement of the combat.

    A lot of games nowadays (and in the past) really do seem to fit a certain format: tell a story, and have the player do something interactive that is sort-of related to that story that prevent the game from being just a non-interactive TV show. Sam & Max has puzzles to break up the story beats. Dragon Age has real-time party-based combat to break up the story beats. Mass Effect has third-person-shooter combat to break up the story beats. This is somewhat unfairly generalizing, of course, I’m leaving out the exploration and dialog trees and stat-building that these games also have, but it is still interesting to think about these games at this very very reductive level. You could swap the “in between story beats” parts between these games and the games would still largely work (TPS Sam & Max? Sounds fun!).*

    The question is: would you play a game that is entirely based around the interactive mechanical bits of the above games with no story? Would you play a game made solely of illogical puzzles, no funny Sam & Max dialog? Would you play battle after battle against Darkspawn, no codex or story-altering choices? Would you shoot wave after wave of Geth, again with no sweeping melodrama? If the answer to the above questions is “yes”, then good, we have ourselves a game. Otherwise, you have complaints like the one Kieron highlighted above. (And anyone can say “yes” to these, just because I didn’t like the combat in DA:O doesn’t mean no one else can — there are plenty of people who loved the combat in that game).

    To turn this back to the point you raised about the mini-game adventure game approach: Machinarium. I would willing do most of the self-contained puzzles in that game, even without the music or the adorable story or the aesthetics. Of course, what makes it a masterpiece and not a random collection of puzzles are those extra pieces.

    —–

    * This “gameplay-swap” idea can be taken too far: the sandbox-y first-person combat of Crysis, for example, is far too woven in that game’s raison d’être — you don’t play Crysis for the very brief story beats, you play for that particular brand of man-shooting interaction. This is why the new FPS XCOM makes no sense — the strategy gameplay is what X-Com is, not the setting or the “story”.

  24. M.P. says:

    Oh these journos… slamming Telltale’s games for their puzzles being too simple compared to the originals, and then slating the originals for being too complicated! :D

    j/k, I can’t actually remember Kieron slamming Telltale anywhere. But I’m with some others who found MI2 fairly well-balanced. There were a couple of really obscure puzzles, but when you finally figured them out, or stumbled upon them randomly, or been told how to do them, the ludicrous joy was that much greater because of the sheer absurdity of the solution. Not that I’m saying this was a deliberate design decision, but it still managed to make me laugh :)

    On the whole I found some of the SIerra adventures to be harder (although in some cases that was due to bugs in the parser that meant you had to phrase a command in a very specific way, so sometimes you knew the solution and didn’t realize it).

  25. poop says:

    am I the only one who longs for a Mass effect/alpha protocol style RPG with basically no combat at all where you just solve crimes and get to be a good cop/bad cop?

    • Lilliput King says:

      I really wanted an Alpha Protocol where you just sit around in cafes/on park benches/in a nondescript black car and talk to people in code/switch suitcases underneath tables/look at people through holes in a newspaper.

    • Mr Ak says:

      Heck yes. Especially if it were a proper espionage game. I’m thinking Berlin, late fifties.

    • DrGonzo says:

      I’m thinking a bit like Hitman but without any killing. Breaking into places and stealing things. Observation missions etc.

      It’ll never happen.

  26. JohnnyMaverik says:

    @ poop

    No but I can understand why nobody has attempted one yet.

  27. Soobe says:

    Captain Dread won’t let you charter his ship unless he gets his special eye necklace back. To any logical sort this means you should find his special necklace. Problem is, you can’t because it doesn’t exist.

    Nope, instead of doing what he asks, you need to steal a monocle from the cartographer who only sporadically puts in down (making it very easy to miss), then present that to Dread as a replacement. Now you can charter his ship.

    That’s. Fucking. Stupid

    Sorry, but ugh! Such frustration at that type of (ill) logic.

    Some of the puzzles are ok, but others, that one included, simply make no sense.

    My theory–remember how these games used to come with a 900 number to a hint hotline? Yeah. They built some of these puzzles to be purposefully obscure to the point of needing that service, which if you were like me, ended up costing a bundle.

    That said, the remake is lovely, and so long as you have a good walk through at hand, should provide several hours of fun.

    • Arathain says:

      @ Soobe: I thought that was quite a clever one. Dread’s describes his necklace as the eye that has seen the world, if I remember it right. Having that be the cartographer’s monocle has a sort of pleasing, cryptic crossword-ish feel to it.

      I think that illustrates another problem with the genre. One person’s pleasing and clever is another’s fucking stupid, depending on how one’s brain works for that given puzzle. I do also take your point about the monocle being easy to miss. It only exists as an item when he sets it down, so there’s a hefty chance you won’t spot that it’s a ‘real’ item.

    • D says:

      If this ✌ is 5, what is ☝ ?

    • Hodge says:

      @Soobe @ Arathain Wally also goes on a big spiel about how he’s seen the whole world and put it on paper when you first meet him… and then proceeds to intently study a map of the world with his monocle. Back then this was one of the puzzles which made sense to me.

      @D That one however didn’t get. I got stuck there for ages and was incredibly frustrated… and felt like a complete moron when someone who’d figured it out told me how it works.

  28. Mario Figueiredo says:

    I always hit a wall when trying out pure remakes of old games I loved so much. Thing is I cannot find the same satisfaction as actually launching DOSBox or some other emulator and playing the original.

    Monkey Island is definitely one of those games. I just love the crude pixels and limited color space. I appreciate the effort put into these remakes. I’m all for it. Many people will surely enjoy them. Just not me.

  29. Hodge says:

    I remembered I have to fill it with mud. Mud from the swamp! The only place on the entire island where you could get something to dirty up Largo’s clothes. Not the sand on the beach. Or the soup. Or even dirty water. Yes, it had to be the mud or it won’t just do, and there’s no way that bucket will go on top of that door.

    It’s just stupid.

    This.

    I recently bought Sam And Max Season 1 and played through all the episodes, and while it’s pretty good the puzzles are absolutely riddled with crap like this. Things like Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion got away with it because they genuinely were pushing the limits of the machines at the time, but surely there’s no excuse for it now.

    Compare the new King’s Bountys with the original one, and you can see how far we’ve come. Compare something like Dragon Age with an old SSI gold box game, and you can see how far we’ve come. Compare a modern adventure with an old one and nothing‘s changed.

    And that’s why graphic adventures are virtually extinct. It’s not that they were never any good, it’s just that they haven’t gotten any better.

    • MD says:

      Compare a modern adventure with an old one and nothing’s changed.

      Have you played the Zombie Cow games, or Machinarium?

      I’m not generally an adventure game player, and I get frustrated with them pretty easily. But Ben There, Done That and Time Gentlemen, Please gave me the sense that the developers were on my side. A lot of the classic annoyances were absent or reduced, but the game didn’t feel ‘dumbed down’ — just less arbitrary and more intuitive, and with more of a sense that the developers respected my time and my sanity.

      As for Machinarium, that game was just fucking beautiful on many levels, but most pertinent here is the hint system. I thought they handled it pretty well — each area has a little visual clue you can view just by clicking on an icon in your inventory bar, and if you’re still stuck you can access a walkthrough for that section by playing through a little mini-game that is pretty easy, but just tedious enough to stop you from ruining the game for yourself by resorting to it too lightly.

      Also, many of the puzzles were logical and/or intuitive, though there was plenty of challenge for those determined not to cheat. The sense of developers being on the player’s side was present too, with little things like items disappearing from your inventory (often in cute and/or creative ways) when no longer needed, and old areas being sealed off to let you know that backtracking isn’t necessary — if you’re stuck, it’s not because you missed an item 21 screens ago.

      So while I can’t claim to be an experienced adventure gamer, I’d say that a lot of evolution has occurred. Maybe not all developers are part of that evolution, though.

    • Kato says:

      Not to call you out, MD, but it’s “Ben There, Dan That.” Important distinction! :)

    • Soobe says:

      Totally agree on Machinarium, that game was ace–perfect difficult level, as the puzzles always felt just right. I couldn’t blow through the game, but at the same time, never got stuck enough to need a guide.

      Same goes for Season 3 of Sam and Max. Fantastic so far I say, and again, perfect difficulty level.

      Finally, I would toss in: The Lost Crown: http://www.thelostcrown.co.uk/

      One of the best adventure games I’ve ever played, though I lost it at the end as it got too obscure for my tastes.

      I guess what I’m sayin’ is the genre doesn’t need to change, just he puzzles.

    • Oozo says:

      re: Machinarium
      One thing that makes Machinarium (and all other games by Amavita Design) much less frustrating is the simple fact that virtually every screen bears the solution to the very puzzles in them. So, now backtracking, no walk around half the bloody world to pick up something you had forgotten, and no “I put everything that isn’t glued to the ground in my magical trousers of plenty because someday my progress may or may not depend on it.
      It may be telling that the game improved so much on the formula by basically simplifying it (I’m not saying “dumbed down”); what’s left is a simple story in a wonderful art style, while the pixel hunting basically serves only the purpose of making you a very careful observer of all the beautiful things and details the developers put into the game (world).

    • MD says:

      @ Kato: Indeed! I remembered that it was a pun, but my brain evidently gave up halfway and reverted to what it was used to :)

      @ Oozo: Definitely. I don’t remember it being every screen so much as every little ‘area’ of a few screens in size, but either way, that’s definitely one of the things I was thinking of with the “developers are on my side” comment. It’s wonderful.

    • Ginger Yellow says:

      Yeah replaying the Monkey Island games has really made me appreciate the Zombie Cow games even more. The puzzles are mostly intuitive but not too easy. When you do have to do random object interactions, the writing makes the process a pleasure. Of the old adventure games, only Day of the Tentacle really seems to come close in that regard.

    • Archonsod says:

      “And that’s why graphic adventures are virtually extinct. It’s not that they were never any good, it’s just that they haven’t gotten any better.”

      I never liked them. I blame school though. We had three games on the Nimbus’ in the computer lab – Lemmings, Day of the Tentacle and Battle Chess (which caused horrible slowdown if you ever moved the rooks). Funnily enough I hate all three with a passion today, which I suspect is some repressed trauma of having to study IT in a time before word processors even had a graphical interface.

      I vaguely recall playing Monkey Island and Simon the Sorcerer on my Amiga at the time, but the only part I remember liking of either were the sword fighting insults.

    • Hodge says:

      Yeah, the Zombie Cow stuff is incredible, obv., but at the same time they’re parodies of old SCUMM-era games, so a lot of the puzzles in those games are designed around that… so I don’t think they’re a good example of how the genre has (or hasn’t) moved on.

      With the Telltale stuff, though, there’s been a clear attempt to modernize the genre, with (relatively) current graphics and full voice acting and the rest, but the puzzles are still kicking around in 1992.

      Ro re-iterate the sand/mud thing: Imagine that there’s a puzzle where I have to ruin a Picasso painting to claim an insurance payout. To do this I have to use the octopus on the painting. Octopus = ink = ruined painting. Simple!

      But I can’t use the ketchup on the painting. Or the chainsaw. Or the zippo lighter. Or the Picasso-ruining kit. If I try to do any of these the character will just shrug at me and say “I don’t understand”.

      (and it’s always, “I don’t understand.” It’s never “Good idea, but something darker would work better”, or something like that that hints towards the “right” solution.)

      So I’m asking: Why can’t I use any of those things? Why does it have to be the Octopus? I’ve already figured out that I need to ruin the Picasso, so for all intents and purposes I’ve solved the puzzle. Why should it matter which object I use?

      Why, when people have invested so much in improving the graphics and sound, is the standard for the actual game design in these things no better than it was 20 years ago?

      GAH!

      (and I realise I’m ranting over something minor – it’s just one of those ‘nails on a blackboard’ things for me)

  30. D says:

    It’s quite sad that Kieron smashes the game for having illogical puzzles, when much the charm of this game comes from the insanity of the world. He also completely missed the special edition in-game hint system, which deserves praise for being a gentle walkthrough (“You need something to ..” first, then slowly progressing to “Get the bucket and fill with mud”). It greatly helps when you don’t have 40 hours to devote to the game.

    • bildo says:

      I think that is what makes it fun sometimes. Thinking outside the box. Sometimes WAY outside the box. It makes for a very rewarding game if you can complete these puzzles. If you can’t, that’s okay! With a good hint system, you’re good to go. Maybe you didn’t do it all by yourself but we all need a little help along the way.

      Kieron, you can’t smash the game because you would dirty him up with sand instead of mud. A single solution to a puzzle does not mean OMGWTFBBQ bad game.

      “Everything that’s splendid about it was absorbed by the RPG (characterisation, plot, etc) with everything that was bad (its ludicrous puzzles) replaced with actual entertaining interaction”

      …If you consider context sensitive interactions to always be entertaining and assuming RPGs do always tell a story better. It would be nice to have a puzzle games with a multitude of solutions, however calling the game stupid is far-fetched, tedious, sure but stupid?. It seems like you have rejected genre simply because the RPG exists. Sounds like elitism.

  31. Comics Weekly says:

    Man, I remember playing this on the Amiga 500 with just one disk drive. The constant changing of all 11 disks was utterly insane. You had certain screens where just walking from one side to the other triggered a disk change. Or where certain cut-scenes would require three or four disks (who programmed this??) or would need you to change it midway through an animation. That sapped a lot of the joy for me, because the game was based on exploration and going back and forth to multiple locales. I didn’t want to have to fanny about too much as I knew it meant imminent disk-swappage. It’ll be nice to play it without having to worry about that.

    • Paul B says:

      An external disk drive was one of the best purchases I made for my Amiga. Especially when games started coming out on 4,5,6 disks, during the latter years of the Amiga’s reign (when the limitations of the floppy were becoming more apparent).

  32. drewski says:

    A friend of mine always has this debate with me. I essentially take the Gillen position – the best bit about adventure games is the adventure, not the annoying moronic puzzles – whereas he believes that irritating puzzles are, in fact, the point of adventure games. Although he doesn’t think they’re irritating, I suppose.

    Personally, I’m fairly happy I can just grab a guide, solve the puzzles easily and enjoy the story and the jokes. Bashing my head against a brick wall trying to figure out why my perfectly valid solution to the problem isn’t quite what the game wants, or pixel hunting for that one item I missed that allows me to progress, really isn’t fun.

    • phlebas says:

      Bashing my head against a brick wall trying to figure out why my perfectly valid solution to the problem isn’t quite what the game wants, or pixel hunting for that one item I missed that allows me to progress, really isn’t fun.
      Indeed not – but those are problems with the individual design, not the genre. If you try something sensible and it doesn’t work, the game should usually provide a reason it doesn’t work. That one’s more likely to be a problem with more recent games, since recorded dialogue costs more than text. Pixel hunting is just lazy design – and the Lucasarts games were generally far less guilty of that than other developers’.

  33. Oozo says:

    To be honest, I never experienced those games any other way anyway. Due to a lack of a PC back in the day, I was very much of a backseat player, that is watching other people play. It was a lot more entertaining when they were showing me sections they already had mastered. When I got the SE of the first Monkey Island, I really couldn’t be bothered too long or much by any of the puzzles I couldn’t wrap my head around for longer than, say, 5 minutes. The hint system helps.
    To me, those games always were some sort of interactive cartoon with some hilarious dialogues, so I guess I won’t easily get frustrated revisiting them.
    In other words: Your points are valid, but not new to me…

  34. the_fanciest_of_pants says:

    I can’t mourn this sort of adventure. Everything that’s splendid about it was absorbed by the RPG (characterisation, plot, etc) with everything that was bad (its ludicrous puzzles) replaced with actual entertaining interaction.

    Could not agree more. Monkey Island was awesome fun in its day but we truly have moved on to greater things.

    This sort of adventure game is dead because it pretty much deserves to be. That said I’ll probably buy this for the nostalgia (definitely with a walkthrough at arms reach though!). I love me some developer commentary.

  35. Joe Martin says:

    The structure is a flaw in some ways, but it’s also intrinsic to the genre and style – not something MI2 can really be singled out for. In all point and clicks it’s a case of finding the single right solution, because that solution isn’t just derived from the game logic but is an actual part of the story and appeal. That’s especially the case for Monkey Island 2 where even the most silly and obscure puzzles are actually funny – with the Monkey Wrench being a classic example.

    The puzzles have to be solved in certain ways because (tech limits aside) they all interact and form an actual part of the plot and humour. It makes a lot more sense than being told to get the Red Key to open a wooden door when you’ve got a rocket launcher that could take care of it.

    I am, obviously, horribly biased for this game but I do have to say it feels that you don’t dislike the puzzles so much as your own inability to recall the solutions. It’s not so much that it’s silly you can only get mud for the bucket from one place (which is obviously silly, but also unavoidable within the limits of MI2′s era); the problem you seem to complain about is that you didn’t remember you had to get the mud.

    Partly, it’s a result of your familiarity, I think. You know that you need to put the bucket on the door, so you try it and it doesn’t work. It doesn’t work because you haven’t accurately recalled the whole solution. On the other hand, if you hadn’t known straight off the bat that the bucket goes on the door then you’d have approached the puzzle differently and enjoyed it a lot more – just like you did the first time you played.

    Also: MI2 does have an in-built hints system to help with those situation.

    • Joe Martin says:

      As for 1-Up’s list of cuts, yes, there are tweaks and trims – but it’s possible to be stuck too closely to how things were, I think. MI2: SE gets all the important stuff right and, while the loss of the intro music is a bit sad, I don’t think writing two pages about the loss of 30 seconds of dancing monkeys is doing anyone any favours.

      Also, to reply to them, several versions of the original Monkey Island 2 didn’t come with a difficulty option. The PC version I played as a kid certainly didn’t.

  36. Harlander says:

    Well, for the obvious reason – it was the last of the great adventures which appeared on the Amiga.

    At least they ported it to the Amiga – I was one of the poor schmucks with an Atari ST…

  37. Xagarath says:

    And this is why Phoenix Wright is a mucb better showcase for the future of the genre. Puzzles based on spotting logical inconsistencies, not on combining random objects.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Xagarath: Yeah – I was pretty careful to make it clear I was talking about very specifically the Lucasarts model here.

      KG

    • Ginger Yellow says:

      I love the Phoenix Wright games (as you might just be able to tell from my Gravatar), but they have just as many annoyances as traditional adventure games. Some have been ironed out – crime scene investigation is a lot less tedious than it used to be, but some remain. Notably the situation where you can see an obvious contradiction and a piece of evidence that contracticts it, but it’s not the contradiction the game wants you to spot.

      It’s interesting that the latest Sam & Max episode seems to have drawn inspiration from Phoenix Wright. I wonder if we’ll start to see its influence in more adventure games.

    • bildo says:

      The lucasarts model and phoenix wright are very similar. One just has less to explore and a lack of combining items, more or an interactive book with pure dialog and no narrative. There are still contraditcion puzzles that seem out there from time to time. Even so, these puzzles only have one solution, just like any lucasarts game, and most adventure games. According to what is written in the above article, this game should be stupid. I know it’s not stupid. I enjoyed all the phoenix wright games, but that’s what has been framed in this piece and I can’t agree.

    • DrGonzo says:

      Ugh Phoenix bloody Wright. I can’t stand them personally. Maybe doesn’t help that one of my friends was a tester on one of them so I’ve seen far too much of it.

      I know it’s just a little adventure game but it seems to have so much potential to do more. How about defending someone who is clearly evil? It could be showing how messed up and dumb legal systems are.

    • Ginger Yellow says:

      “It could be showing how messed up and dumb legal systems are.”

      Some would argue it does. Corrupt prosecutors bent on getting a conviction at all costs, incompetent police, political interference in investigations.

      It’s certainly true that the series falls well short of its full potential, although that’s partly because the first three games were ports from much older GBA games. It’s also partly because the “interactive book” format is much more popular in Japan than the West and, so the cliche has it, Japanese gamers hate change even more than Western gamers. But they’ve also been carrying the flag for new adventure games on a platform seemingly built for them yet at the same time strangely lacking in them, and the quality of the writing is superb.

    • DrGonzo says:

      That’s a very interesting article. Thanks!

  38. nvrnw says:

    I find the statement about RPGs absorbing all the good elements of adventures truly offensive.
    I have to say I strongly despise RPGs, but how exactly an allegedly open model where protagonists are shpaed and molded by the player can replace a model where characters are accurately designed and given a specific and meaningful personality by the designer?
    What would the Monkey Island series be if you could “level up” Guybrush to a brutal, bloodthirsty pirate?
    Come on.

  39. deejayem says:

    “The second you wander into these kind of special-cased designed puzzles based on real-world elements, you quickly become ludicrous. Old Man Murray’s skewering of Jane Jensen is brutal (and brutally funny), but it nails a fundamental. If you’re presenting a world which should have an obvious solution with an in-world element, the game’s fiction breaks.”

    I’m not sure I agree with this. It’s certainly true of adventure games that take their setting seriously – something like Secret Files, or even Grim Fandango, which was so absorbing precisely because its game world was so consistent – but I find breaking immersion much less of a problem in a game that deliberately and consistently undermines its own game world. Part of the fun of Monkey Island is that it never takes itself too seriously – it’s full of anachronisms, Star Wars Easter eggs, even an in-game hints call-box. The illogical puzzles are frustrating, sure, but not “artistically” flawed.

  40. The Sombrero Kid says:

    The first person adventure game i’m working on is my attempt to smash the penumbra games and adventure games together to eliminate both thier weakest points.

    • Reverend Speed says:

      Oh ho, that sounds really interesting! Would love to hear more…! =)

    • Clovis says:

      I hope you drop the horror aspects of Penumbra. My favorite part of Penumbra is that it provides a search mechanism that doesn’t involve pixel hunting. It involves tearing the room apart, which is fun. A nice mix of physics puzzles, item combination, getting weird machinery to work, etc. Just no getting chased by monsters, please! (I was very disappointed that their next game is horror, again)

      Good luck!

  41. Xagarath says:

    “How about defending someone who is clearly evil?”
    Given that the games do actually cover that at one point, it might be best to do your research a little more carefully.

  42. Berto says:

    I agree that some puzzles are a bit too obscure, MI1 was a lot better in that department.

    And again a link to that Old Man Murray article… That puzzle was not designed by Jane. And why no one talks about the brilliance of the Le Serpent Rouge puzzle in that very same game. Why only the bad things are remembered? Le Serpent Rouge is the pinnacle of puzzle in video gaming, the cat mustache is not.

  43. Adam Whitehead says:

    MONKEY ISLAND 2 is one of my favourite games of all time, even though it has some issues. I think a lot of the faults, such as the inability to substitute some inventory items for others (using the rat hair-infested soup in the bucket and having it land on Largo’s head is such a brilliant idea that Gilbert and co. must have at least considered it) and occasional lapses in logic are down to its compressed development time. MI2 shipped in August 1992 and they were still painting the finalised backdrops in February 1992 (as some of the concept art shows). The game was developed, written, painted, programmed and polished in less than a year, yet was more than twice the length of MONKEY ISLAND 1 with many more characters and locations. That the game has rough edges is unsurprising, and in fact I’m amazed it hangs together as well as it does given the development time.

    I’m hoping Ron Gilbert does an analysis of it on his blog. A year or two back he played through MI1 again and really ripped it on some of the game’s more annoying puzzles (such as the insult swordfighting being a brilliant idea, but on replays running around collecting the correct insults and replies is just extremely boring). It would be interesting to get his take on the monkey wrench and some other elements (especially as the game commentary was a little lacking in depth).

  44. lolfang says:

    Even though MI2 is one of the greatest adventure games ever, yes, it lacks logical solutions, or alternative solutions. While the game does WONDERS with its dialogue choices, some puzzles are just plain boring. I do still love this game, and I even bought this special edition, I couldn’t help but to think of the word “outdated”.

    Regarding the Special Edition, I still can’t believe that it hasn’t been polished well enough, the game has some bugs when finishing Developer’s Comments or some dialogue+text cuts. This kind of stuff didn’t happened back then. It’s still worth the 9.99 U$S for the Concept Art and Achievements (and MI1SE free, on pre-purchase), but I expected more.

  45. Zapatapon says:

    I must be the only one person having disliked MI2 on the first playthrough, and not because of the absurd puzzles, but because I found the story and atmosphere meh. I keep reading others’ enthused memories on how the world was surreal and darkly funny. All I can remember is a confusing hodge-podge of totally unconnected story bits interlaced with fart-level jokes (vomit, spit contest, etc) which totally contradicted the apparent efforts of giving the characters and world some depth. It’s also the only MI I remember when I had the feeling from beginning to end that Guybrush was a total douche, and Elaine a bitchy shrew. I wasn’t able to foster any sympathy for them.

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