The secret of ‘Monkey Island’


  • Ron Gilbert, and the original creative team of the great saga of narrative video games that emerged from a Tim Powers novel, have regained control of the franchise and are preparing a historic third installment that shows that the industry does not exist without true talent.

the year is 1987 Y Tim Powers, the kind of Buffalo who ended up becoming a Philip K. Dick character – he is the David who appears in Dick’s black hole novel, Valis – and, of course, a writer, a fundamental code name, of the renewal of the fantastic ‘post new wave’ genre, has just released ‘On Strange Shores’ (Gigamesh). He still lives in Buffalo. He is already immensely famous. It is because in 1983 he published ‘The Doors of Anubis’, the novel that earned him, precisely, the Philip K. Dick (prize), a novel of which Dick himself wrote a page one day when he was at home. He hasn’t the faintest idea, that Powers from 1987, that he’s going to do, inadvertently, video game history. Of the type of video game, specifically, that has more to do with what is fictionalized, which is, in reality, a novel in progress that allows the reader to decide, or pretends to be able to do so.

Rummaging through boxes at home the other day I found the novel that actually inspired ‘Monkey Island‘. It wasn’t that Disney World attraction. Well, the attraction inspired the setting. But not the story. If you read ‘on strange shores‘, you will meet Guybrush Threep-wood and LeChuck. I literally pulled them out of there! And the whole voodoo thing too. Voodoo is important in the saga because he is in that Tim Powers novel». the one who speaks is Ron Gilbertcreator of ‘Monkey Island’, the most famous ‘point & click’ in historya concept that consists of suggesting to the character you are accompanying to do this or that via your mouse pointer and that he himself perfected with the creation of the SCUMM engine, a kind of video game language named after his first game ‘Maniac Mansion ‘, literally ‘Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion’.

Disney World Inspiration

The delightfully wacky first installment in the series, ‘The Secret of Monkey Island’, was published three years after Powers’ novel did; that is, in 1990. Gilbert, a guy who was born in Oregon –in 1967– and used to go often with his grandparents to Disney World, the original Disney World, the one designed by Walt Disney himself, spoke of the attraction ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ that would end up inspiring the collection of films of the same title of the following century. At that time, it was the most famous attraction in the park, and Walt’s own favorite. The thing was to get on a pirate ship surrounded by supposed pirates who, in reality, were robot pirates, robot pirates who could have been wax pirates had it not been for the 1964 New York World’s Fair, in which for the first time Once those things had become animated.

Gilbert himself was the one who told me. He was wearing a plaid shirt. We were in a hotel that looked like something out of an episode of ‘Doctor Who’. He had just launched a ‘kickstarter’ to finance his return to the pixel. something called ‘Thimbleweed Park’. ‘Thimbleweed Park’ ended up being a devourable and highly intelligent cross between ‘Twin Peaks’ and ‘The X-Files’, an ‘It’ not at all macabre, almost a ‘Ghostbusters’ in which the only thing that matters is the lost and trapped and ridiculously civil servant ghost , and something like a feminine Todd Solondz: the heiress of an absurd empire of pillows and a castle with infinite doors gives up everything to create video games because she’s a textbook nerd. It ended up being so metafictional that it seems the work of an uninhibited and very accurate first David Foster Wallace of the video game.

Cessation and return of the creators

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The case, then, was that Gilbert lamented that he had lost Guybrush Threepood. Guybrush Threepwood is the protagonist of the ‘Monkey Island’ series, of which Gilbert and Dave Grossman had only been able to sign the first two installments, which was produced by George Lucas’s company, LucasArts. Then, ironies of fate, Disney had bought LucasArts, and had dispensed with the creators of the phenomenon, whose rights they had lost when they signed the contract that allowed them to develop the first video game. Alone, Disney produced two sequels, and a third divided into five tiny chapters that moved further and further away from the unbeatable ingenuity of Gilbert and his small team. And this week, three decades later, knowing that no matter how hard he tries, the industry doesn’t exist without true talent, Threepwood has come home.

And it is that ‘Return to Monkey Island’, the historic third real installment in history – which brings back the original team and which will arrive this year – is not only good news for fans of the adventures of the most charmingly clumsy pirate in the world , but for the very idea of ​​the author in a sector that exists because there were once guys like Ron Gilbert, who decided to write, program and create video games with the (powerfully imaginative) freedom and the same passion and ambition – an ambition, in his case , of an exquisite humor – with which any good novelist, draftsman, artist, would create their own work. A work, which in the case of Gilbert, began with: «Hello! I’m Guybrush Threepwood, and I want to be a pirate!” A playable classic of the absurd that, unexpectedly but fortunately, is going to go even further.



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