The legendary Lucasarts adventure series monkey island returns later this year with the aptly named Return to Monkey Island. The announcement came as a huge surprise – not least because Gilbert himself had publicly backed out of making another one – and was well received by many fans after a long and not great legacy of mediocre Monkey Islands.
The game is being developed by Gilbert’s Terrible Toybox studio in collaboration with Devolver Digital and Lucasfilm games, and since the announcement trailer, Gilbert has been dealing with the backlash. And he’s upset about it.
Inside a new blog post Gilbert takes off like a rocket, raining fire on those who think they have a better idea of what Monkey Island should be like than he does. Part of the problem appears to be an older blog post by Gilbert titled ‘If I made another Monkey Island‘, who is nine years old and comes from a time when I didn’t think I would.
“[T]These weren’t commandments handed down and carved in stone on a giant tablet,” writes Gilbert. “They were just random thoughts about a (then very unlikely) new Monkey Island game. None of these are promises or something I owe anyone.”
Gilbert writes that the “entirety” of his idea for another Monkey Island in the past was “‘Guybrush chases the demon pirate LeChuck to hell and Stan is there.’ That’s it. That’s all.
Stan isn’t a typo for Satan, although I’m sure the game would have done a great job of him in the role. Smilin’ Stan S. Stanman is a series regular, a slimy salesman who’s always looking to make a quick buck. Gilbert points out that if this game had been made at Lucasfilm at the time, at the time it was made, this idea “would have been something completely different and better”.
“And that’s exactly what Return to Monkey Island is.”
One of the elements that seems to have particularly pissed Gilbert off is the contemporary reworking of Lucasfilm’s games as visually retro. At the time, these were among the best looking games on the planet, and the studio’s best work retains its luster because of best-in-class aesthetics.
“I’ve made one pixel art game my entire career and that was Thimbleweed Park,” writes Gilbert. “Monkey Island 1 and 2 were not pixel art games. They were games using state-of-the-art technology and art. Monkey Island 1 had 16 EGA colors and we jumped at the chance to upgrade it to 256 colors. Monkey Island 2 showcased the magical magic of digitized art by Peter Chan and Steve Purcell and we want to keep pushing everything forward.
“If I had stayed and made Monkey Island 3, it wouldn’t have looked like Monkey Island 2. We would have kept moving forward, and Day of the Tentacle is a good example of that.”
Gilbert mentions that he wasn’t a big fan of the DotT aesthetic (“But that was Dave [Grossman] and Tim [Schafer]’s, not mine”), and that Curse of Monkey Island introducing a fully voiced Guybrush and painted backgrounds was completely in keeping with a series pushing that sort of thing.
“When David [Grossman] and I started thinking about Return to Monkey Island, we talked about pixel art, but it just didn’t feel right,” writes Gilbert. “We didn’t want to make a retro game. You can’t read an article about Thimbleweed Park without being called a ‘throwback game’. I didn’t want Return to Monkey Island to be just a throwback game, I wanted to keep moving Monkey Island around because it’s interesting, fun, and exciting. It’s what Monkey Island games have always done.”
Thus, the aim of the game’s art style is “to be provocative, shocking and not what everyone expected […] and it’s beautiful to see, touch and hear. Return to Monkey Island might not be the art style you wanted or expected, but it’s the art style I wanted.”
So Gilbert’s annoyance with fans expecting Monkey Island to be a particular form bubbles to the surface. “It’s ironic that the people who don’t want me to make the game I want to make are some of the hardcore Monkey Island fans. And that’s what makes me sad with all the comments.
“Return to Monkey Island is an amazing roller coaster. Go in and have fun or leave the amusement park because it’s not exactly the roller coaster you wanted.
“I hope you go ahead with the rest of us.”
Return to Monkey Island had been in development for two years prior to its announcement, and was an extremely well-kept secret during that time. Probably the best because, as Gilbert puts it, “I don’t want the pressure of trying to play the game you want me to play.”
Look Ron: I want the game you want to play. The designer’s frustration here is evident and understandable: it must be maddening to be one of the key figures who made Monkey Island what it is, the pinnacle of LucasArts Age of Adventureand has to deal with fossilized expectations of what a new one should be or look like.
The return to Monkey Island will follow Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revengeand has nothing to do with Telltale’s (horrible) 2009 Tales from Monkey Island, the last game in the series. Gilbert’s goal is to do things that “excite[s] and have fun[s] me. If you let me do these things, you’ll love the game. That, I promise.”