The Secret of Monkey Island

The Secret of Monkey Island
The Secret of Monkey Island
Artwork of a vertical rectangular box that depicts a group of pirates with swords in front of a montage of a jungle scene, a large skull, and a ship at sea. The top portion reads "The Secret of Monkey Island: A Graphic Adventure by Ron Gilbert".
Steve Purcell's cover art depicts the primary characters: Elaine Marley, LeChuck, and Guybrush Threepwood.
Developer(s) Lucasfilm Games
Publisher(s) LucasArts
Designer(s) Ron Gilbert
Artist(s) Steve Purcell
Mark Ferrari
Mike Ebert
Writer(s) Ron Gilbert
Dave Grossman
Tim Schafer
Composer(s) Michael Land
Barney Jones
Andy Newell
Patrick Mundy
Series Monkey Island
Engine SCUMM
Platform(s) Amiga, Atari ST, CDTV, DOS, FM Towns, Mac OS, Sega CD
Release date(s) Original version
October 1990[1]
CD-ROM version
Genre(s) Graphic adventure
Mode(s) Single-player
Media/distribution Floppy disk, optical disc

The Secret of Monkey Island is a graphic adventure game developed by Lucasfilm Games and published by the same company after its name was changed to LucasArts. The game spawned a number of sequels, collectively known as the Monkey Island series. The fifth game to use the SCUMM engine, The Secret of Monkey Island was released in October 1990,[1] and was primarily designed by Ron Gilbert, with Tim Schafer and Dave Grossman. The trio also led the development of the sequel Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge.



The game begins on the Caribbean island of Mêlée, where a youth named Guybrush Threepwood wants to be a pirate. He seeks out the Pirate Leaders, who set him three challenges to prove himself a pirate: defeat Carla, the island's swordmaster in insult swordfighting, steal a statue from the Governor's mansion, and find buried treasure.

Along the way he meets several interesting characters, including Stan the used boat salesman, Meathook (a fellow with hooks on both hands), a prisoner named Otis, the three men of low moral fiber and, most significantly, the gorgeous Governor Elaine Marley. The ghost pirate LeChuck, however, has been in love with Elaine since his living days. While Guybrush is busy, LeChuck's ghost crew abduct her, taking her to Monkey Island. Guybrush gathers a crew (Carla, Meathook, and Otis), buys a boat, and sets out to find the mysterious island and free Elaine.

When Guybrush finally reaches Monkey Island, he explores it and discovers a band of cannibals and a strange hermit named Herman Toothrot. After he helps the cannibals recover a lost voodoo ingredient (a magical root) that was confiscated by LeChuck, they provide him with a seltzer bottle filled with "voodoo root elixir" that can destroy ghosts. However, when Guybrush goes after LeChuck, he is told that LeChuck went to Mêlée Island to marry Elaine.

Guybrush returns to Mêlée and goes to the church to prevent the wedding. When he arrives at the church wedding, he realises that Elaine had her own plan to escape. Guybrush loses the elixir and LeChuck starts beating him, until they arrive at the ship emporium where he finds a bottle of root beer. Substituting the beverage for the lost ghost-fighting elixir, he sprays LeChuck and the ghost pirate is destroyed. With LeChuck defeated, Guybrush and Elaine enjoy a romantic moment, watching fireworks.


Origin and writing

Ron Gilbert conceived the idea of a pirate adventure game in 1988, after completing Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders.[3] He first wrote story ideas about pirates while spending the weekend at a friend's house. Gilbert experimented with introductory paragraphs to find a satisfactory idea. His initial story featured unnamed villains that would eventually become LeChuck and Elaine; Guybrush was absent at this point.[4] He pitched it to Lucasfilm Games's staff as a series of short stories.[5] Gilbert's idea was warmly received, but production was postponed because Lucasfilm Games assigned its designers, including Gilbert, to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure.[3] Development of The Last Crusade was finished in 1989, which allowed Gilbert to begin production of The Secret of Monkey Island, then known internally under the working title Mutiny on Monkey Island.[3][6]

A brown haired man in a gray shirt looks into the camera while standing against black background.
Ron Gilbert led the game's development and conceived its plot.

Gilbert soon realised that it would be difficult to design the game by himself; he decided to join forces with Tim Schafer and Dave Grossman, both of whom he hired for Lucasfilm.[7] The game's insult swordfighting mechanic was influenced by swashbuckling movies starring Errol Flynn, which Gilbert, Schafer and Grossman often watched for inspiration. They noticed that pirates in those films often taunted their opponents instead of attacking them, which gave the designers the idea to base the game's duels on insults rather than combat.[3][8] Writer Orson Scott Card helped them write the insults during a visit to Lucasfilms' headquarters at Skywalker Ranch.[9] Many of Gilbert's original gameplay ideas were abandoned during the production process, although he stated that "most of that stuff was left out for a reason".[8]

A Caucasian man in green jacket looks into the camera. He is standing against black background. A man wearing multicolored shirt smiles at the camera. Behind him stands a blue and white background, above which is an excerpt of logo which reads "games".
Tim Schafer (left) and Dave Grossman (right) co-wrote the game's plot with Gilbert and supplied programming.

Gilbert originally wanted the game's tone to be serious, but the humorous dialogue written by Schafer and Grossman convinced him to revise the game as a comedy.[10] Nevertheless, Grossman said that the plot retained some of Gilbert's original ideas: “It’s a story about this young man who comes to an island in search of his life’s dream. He’s pursuing his career goals and he discovers love in the process and winds up thinking that was actually more important than what he was doing to begin with. You’re laughing, but there’s actually something deeper going on as well.”[11] When work on the plot began, Gilbert discovered that Schafer's and Grossman's writing styles were too different to form a cohesive whole: Grossman's was "very kind of a dry, sarcastic humor" and Schafer's was "just a little more in your face". In reaction, Gilbert assigned them to different characters and story moments depending on what type of comedy was required.[7] Grossman believed that this benefited the game's writing, as he and Schafer "were all funny in slightly different ways, and it worked well together".[11] Schafer and Grossman wrote most of the dialogue while they were programming the game; as a result, much of it was improvised.[3] Some of the dialogue was based on the designers' personal experiences, such as Guybrush's line "I had a feeling in hell here would be mushrooms", which came from Schafer's own hatred of fungi.[8]

The game's world and characters were designed primarily by Gilbert. After having read Tim Powers' On Stranger Tides, he decided to add paranormal themes to the game's plot. He also cited Powers' book as an influence on the characters, particularly those of Guybrush and LeChuck. Inspiration for the game's ambiance came from Gilbert's favorite childhood amusement park ride, Pirates of the Caribbean.[12] Grossman said that Gilbert always wanted "to step off the ride" and "talk to the people who lived in that world".[11] Near the final stages of the design work, Gilbert introduced several characters who were not directly related to the game's story. He considered this to be an important decision, as the player would need those seemingly minor characters in later parts of the game and would receive a chance to "really interact with them".[5]

Creative and technical design

Gilbert, Schader and Grossman's primary goal was to create a simpler and more accessible gameplay model than those presented in previous Lucasfilm titles.[13] Gilbert had conceived the main designs and puzzles before production began, which resulted in the bulk of the designers' work to flesh out his ideas. He was frustrated by the adventure games that Sierra On-Line was releasing at the time, and later said that "you died any time you did anything wrong". Gilbert considered such gameplay as "a cheap way out for the designer".[3] He had previously applied his design ideas to the 1987 graphic adventure title Maniac Mansion, but committed a number of mistakes during development. For example, dead end situations that prevented the player from completing the game and poorly implemented triggers for cutscenes. Gilbert aimed to avoid such errors in The Secret of Monkey Island.[14] The team decided to make it impossible for the player character to die, which focused gameplay primarily on world exploration.[3]

The Secret of Monkey Island was the fifth Lucasfilm Games project powered by the SCUMM engine, originally developed for Maniac Mansion. The company had gradually modified the engine since its creation.[14] For Maniac Mansion, the developers hard coded verb commands in the SCUMM scripting language. These commands become more abstract in subsequent versions of the engine. The developers carried over the practice of referring to individual segments of the gameworld as "rooms", even though the areas in Monkey Island were outdoors.[15] The game uses the same version of the engine used in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, with minor changes. A dialog tree was added, which facilitated conversation options and the sword-fighting puzzles.[14] The developers removed the "What is" option (an input command that describes an on-screen object to the player) in favor of allowing the player to simply highlight the object with the mouse cursor.[14][16] The game's improved interface became the standard for the company's later titles. The game also introduced logical verb shortcuts, which could be performed with the mouse; for example, clicking on a character defaults to the "talk" action, the most obvious action in the situation.[16] SCUMM's visuals were updated for the game—the original EGA version had a 320x200 pixel resolution rendered in 16 colors.[15][17] According to artist Steve Purcell, that became a major limitation for the art team; due to a low number of "ghastly" colors, they often chose bizarre tones for backgrounds.[17] They chose black and white for Guybrush's outfit for the same reason.[14] The VGA version of the game later corrected these issues by implementing 256 color support, which allowed for more advanced background and character art.[18][16]

The game's "pirate reggae" music was composed by Lucasfilm Games' in-house musician Michael Land in MIDI format. It was his first project at the company.[19] The game was originally released for floppy disk in 1990, but a CD-ROM version with a high-quality CD soundtrack followed in 1992.[20] The music has remained popular, and has been remixed by the musicians of OverClocked ReMix and by the game's fans.[21][22]

Special edition

The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition features superior hand-painted visuals (bottom) compared to the original game's pixel art (top).

The game's remake, titled The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition, was released in July 2009 for iPhone, Microsoft Windows, and Xbox 360[23] exclusively via download;[24] PlayStation 3, Mac OS and iPad versions followed on early 2010 for download on their respective services.[25] It features remade, hand-drawn visuals, remastered musical score, all-new voice work for characters and three-step hint system; Another notable feature is the ability to switch between remake and the original game on fly.[26] Switching to the original game, however, means loss of all other features mentioned above.[27]

The remake's idea was conceived in 2008 by LucasArts's game producer Craig Derrick and his team.[26] After doing some research on Monkey Island series's history they decided to make "something fresh and new while staying true to the original", which resulted in idea of The Secret of Monkey Island's remake.[26] The decision to distribute the game online was explained by LucasArts's Web Producer Brooks Brown as being spurred by the fact that "digital downloads have finally gotten going".[28] LucasArts confirmed the game to be in works on June 1, 2009; rumors of its development appeared several days earlier, when the Xbox 360 version of the game received USK rating.[29] The game was finally released in July 2009 after having been shown to public at the June 2009 E3 for first time.[27]


Review scores
Publication Score
Computer and Video Games 94%[30]
Amiga Power 90%[31]
Amiga Action 90%[32]
The One 92%[33]
Dragon 5/5 stars[34]
Amiga Computing 90%[35]
Zero 84[36]
ACE 922 (Amiga)
918 (Atari ST)
915 (IBM PC)[37]

The Secret of Monkey Island received positive reviews from critics. Hartley, Patricia, and Kirk Lesser of Dragon praised the designers' attention to detail, and cited the game's humor as a high point. Although they believed that the game was too expensive, they summarized it as "a highly enjoyable graphic adventure replete with interesting puzzles, a fantastic Roland soundtrack, superb VGA graphics, smooth-scrolling animation, and some of the funniest lines ever seen on your computer screen."[34] Duncan MacDonald of Zero praised the graphics and found the game "quite amusing". His favorite aspect was the fine-tuned difficulty level, which he believed was "just right". He ended his review, "At last an adventure game that's enjoyable rather than frustrating."[36]

Paul Glancey of Computer and Video Games consider the game superior to Lucasfilm's earlier adventure titles, and wrote that, "Usually the entertainment you get from an adventure is derived solely from solving puzzles, but the hilarious characters and situations, and the movie-like presentation ... make playing this more like taking part in a comedy film, so it's much more enjoyable." He considered the puzzles to be "brilliantly conceived" and found the game's controls accessible. He summarized it as "utterly enthralling".[31][30] Amiga Power magazine described it as "the first truly accessible adventure" and awarded it 90%.

The game is also in Computer Gaming World's Hall of Fame[38] and IGN's Video Game Hall of Fame. IGN rated the Xbox Live Arcade version the 20th best title of all time for that platform in a September 2010 listing.[39] In 2009, IGN named The Secret of Monky Island one of the ten best LucasArts adventure game.[40]

Finally, Gaming Bus gave it a rating of A-, citing a graphics overhaul, voice acting, good music, better controls, and hints as positive additions to the game, and a lack of additional content and hints that can be too helpful as negatives.[41]


In 2005, student Chris Heady wrote, directed, and produced a live stage version of The Secret of Monkey Island at Hammond High School in Columbia, Maryland. LucasArts licensed the play for a year, but stipulated that the script be used for nonprofit purposes and could not be distributed outside cast and crew.[42] The adaptation resulted in Guinness World Records awarding the game a record for the "first graphic adventure to become a stage play".[43]

The grog recipe found in Monkey Island was mistakenly reported as real by the Argentinian news channel C5N, which urged teenagers not to consume the dangerous Grog XD drink.[44] In Tales of Monkey Island, Guybrush refers to this while pushing the Grog XD button on a Grog machine.[45]

The developers included a character from Loom, Cobb, in the game. When approached for conversation, Cobb encourages the player to purchase Loom. In creating the remake, Lucasarts' community manager, Brooks Brown, had considered updating the reference to Star Wars: The Force Unleashed because Loom was not on the market at the time, but concluded that the game would not be the same if such changes were implemented.[46] Prior to the Special Edition release, however, LucasArts announced that Loom, along with other games from its back catalog, would be made available on Steam.[47]

Stump joke

One infamous joke, which many players assumed was a technical error, involved a stump in a forest.[48] When examining the stump, Guybrush proclaims that a hole in it leads to a maze of caverns. If Guybrush tries to climb down into the stump, the game prompts the player to successively insert "disk #22," "disk #47", and "disk #114", though the game was distributed on four or eight floppy disks. After the "Disk 114" prompt, Guybrush states, "Oh well. I guess I'll just have to skip that part of the game."

The endgame credits also have an entry for "art and animation for disk #22." Many people did not get the joke, and LucasArts tech support received quite a large number of calls for help with the missing disk.[citation needed] The joke was removed for the Sega CD, PC CD and 2009 Special Edition versions of the game. It was, however, mentioned in the sequel (and also in its Special Edition): Guybrush can call the LucasArts hint line from a phone and ask, "Who thought up that dumb stump joke?", to which the annoyed operator answers, "I'm tired of hearing about that damn stump. Do you have any idea how many calls I get a DAY about that?"

In Curse, Guybrush briefly sticks his head into an opening found at the backside wall in the Goodsoup family crypt on Blood Island, which leads to the very same tree stump rendered in VGA-style graphics, and the original music from the Mêlée Island forest, while Guybrush is displayed in the cartoon style of Curse.[49] He is then quickly forced to escape back through the hole as he spots a horde of "stunningly rendered rabid jaguars" off-screen.

The stump joke is also revisited in the game Grim Fandango where Manny Calavera will repeat the line of "Wow! It's a tunnel that opens onto a system of catacombs!", which is what Guybrush says when he examines the stump. In Tim Schafer's Psychonauts examining a hollow stump causes a similar reply, only this time it does really lead to a system of catacombs, serving as a travel system for the game.[50]


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  2. ^ "About Us: Game History". LucasArts Entertainment Company LLC. Archived from the original on 14 December 2010. Retrieved 14 December 2010. 
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  17. ^ a b "A Stone Monkey Head". Spudvision. February 22, 2011. Retrieved November 15, 2011. 
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  28. ^ Patrick Kolan (June 17, 2009). "Interview: Monkey Island - The Return of Adventure Games". IGN Australia. Retrieved November 15, 2011. 
  29. ^ Daemon Hatfield (June 1, 2009). "E3 2009: Monkey Island XBLA Official". IGN. Retrieved November 15, 2011. 
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  31. ^ a b Ramshaw, Mark (June 1991). "The Secret of Monkey Island". Amiga Power (2): 22, 23, 24. 
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  33. ^ Presley, Paul (June 1991). "The Secret of Monkey Island(™)". The One (33): 56, 57, 58. 
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  35. ^ Clarkson, Nick (July 1991). "The Secret of Monkey Island". Amiga Computing (38): 62, 63. 
  36. ^ a b MacDonald, Duncan (November 1990). "The Secret of Monkey Island". Zero (13): 58. 
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  42. ^ Klosner-Wehner, Dana (April 29, 2005). "Pirates and a villain will roam the stage". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved November 16, 2011. 
  43. ^ "First graphic adventure to become a stage play". Guinness World Records. Jim Pattison Group. Retrieved November 16, 2011. 
  44. ^ Good, Owen (2009-08-30). "Argentine TV Warns World of Monkey Island's Grog Recipe — fail". Kotaku. Retrieved 2010-04-11. 
  45. ^ Telltale Games. Tales of Monkey Island: "Rise of the Pirate God". PC. (December 2009) "Guybrush: Grog XD. This must be that new high-energy grog that all the kids are drinking these days. It's sold out. Which is fine by me, the kerosene and battery acid tend to keep me up at night."
  46. ^ Hill, Jason (18 June 2009). "By George, it's Monkey magic". WAtoday. Retrieved 21 June 2009. 
  47. ^ "Back by Popular Demand, LOOM, The Dig, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, and Star Wars Battlefront II Headline List of Games Soon to be Available via Direct Download!" (Press release). LucasArts. July 6, 2009. Retrieved November 16, 2011. 
  48. ^ [1][dead link]
  49. ^ [2][dead link]
  50. ^ "Psychonauts — Covered by Razputin's Domain". Retrieved 2010-04-11. 

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