Eyes-on at E3 / Tales of Monkey Island

The world only learned of this game’s, or these games’, existence shortly before E3. I had my scheduled meeting with Telltale Games expecting to talk to some length about the adventure gaming genre. About Wallace & Gromit, about Strongbad, about their episodic content. That all changed to Tales of Monkey Island exclusively once word hit. I mean… I don’t think anyone would’ve even guessed that this game was coming. A revival of a LucasArts intellectual property from the adventure gaming days of old just didn’t seem likely. All of a sudden… hitting the Wii and PC this July. My visit to Telltale had officially become all about one sentence: Tell us more.

What I was shown of gameplay was very little. Five minutes tops. But while that gameplay was going, none other than David Grossman, the game’s lead writer and also lead writer of the original two games, was on hand to explain what he could of the game. Some basics: It’s been in development since November of last year. Also. Ron Gilbert, the series’ creator, was brought in to help lay down the groundwork for the game for a few days.

The story is that Guybrush Threepwood, the famous mighty pirate-but-not-really that you control, has thwarted the evil ghost pirate LeChuk’s plans yet again. Only, as he’s wont to do, doesn’t do it quite right, and causes more trouble for the Caribbean, releasing a voodoo curse that threatens to turn everyone into pirate monsters. A little gets on Threepwood’s hand, in fact, and it’s something he has to deal with. Also, there’s a pirate hunter on his tale, and someone who thinks that hand holds the key to eternal life. Fun and madness abounds.

The game is in the classic adventure game style you’re used to. Wander around, talk to people, gather items and information, and use those interactions and items to ultimately achieve your main goal of saving the day. Expect a lot of the wit you’re used to, with the funny dialogue, and goofy visuals, such as clothes lines with hanging laundry between a pirate ship and a post on a dock. Also expect a change in Telltale’s typical MO with inventory items you can combine (something you couldn’t usually do in their games). The goal here has been to be true to the original series. That said, controls haven’t been completely ironed out on the PC. The Wii will have you move Threepwood around with the nunchuk stick, and the pointer will serve as your pointer. The PC will likely be a keyboard mouse affair, though they did discuss a scheme involving only the mouse that may make the final cut as well.

Visuals are 3D, taking after the last game in the series, Escape from Monkey Island. They look pretty good overall. I’ll be honest, I’m partial to the 2D look, but this will do just fine. It’s goofy, cartoony, and no doubt there will be an abundant amount of wit within the environment itself. In fact, as a nod (among many I’m sure) to previous games, after noticing a business card with Murray the Talking Skull from Curse of Monkey Island and calling it out, Grossman told me that as Threepwood passes by skulls in the game, it’s possible he will stop and ask “… Murray?”

One thing Grossman pointed out was that this game’s structure will probably be a little more easy-going than previous games. Where in the past, the player would find him/herself in a central hub and have to keep track of different islands/locations/whatever, they will now be a little more confined, moving from place to place as is relevant. The aim, as Grossman said, is to make a game that is a little more focused and easier to play. A more fun “sofa” experience as he put it. The reason for this is twofold: First, the kids have grown up. Fans of this series are over ten years older than they were when they originally played these games, and probably don’t have the time to solve those brutal puzzles like they used to. Second, with a more focused structure, it’s easier to pack more story into the experience. It’s a bit of a two-edged sword, but ultimately this seems like a smart decision. As a still-avid gamer, I appreciate the gesture considering Modern Warfare 2 will release right when I finish with this series.

Ultimately, the biggest thing about a new Monkey Island game at this point is that there is actually a new Monkey Island game coming. I can’t wait. I wasn’t waiting for something like this, and now I am, and then it will come in July, only to leave me waiting another month, then another, and another… I guess it’s better than years of would-be waiting, though. Of all the games I saw at E3, this is the one I’m most sure I will thoroughly enjoy. A lot of vets are behind it, and everything I’ve seen thus far tells me I will laugh, and I like laughing. Come on July 7… you’re not that far off!