Posted in: Tattle, Technology

Swords, sand and razor-sharp insults: The Secret of Monkey Island at 30

It was the self-aware classic that took decades to complete – and laid the groundwork for an era of adventure games

Anyone who went to school during the Thatcher years will remember adventure games as something experienced on the class computer, typically a BBC Micro. Educational titles such as Granny’s Garden and Flowers of Crystal were as compulsive as they were frustrating. These were the prototype point-and-click games, incorporating graphics into riddles and thinly disguised geography lessons. After my 50th wrong marker buoy on Cambridge Software House’s Mary Rose had me contemplating hurling the floppy disks away from me like a pair of swimming floats, I’d learn that there was a new type of adventure game on the horizon: LucasArts’ The Secret of Monkey Island, which turns 30 this month.

Ron Gilbert, co-designer on Monkey Island and various other adventure games of the era, disliked the fantasy themes that titles like Loom (1990) were relying on, and wrote as much in a 1989 article Why Adventure Games Suck. So Monkey Island took players to the 17th-century Caribbean instead, the place and time of Treasure Island. Players took control of Guybrush Threepwood as he tried to prove himself a seadog, rubbing shoulders with some of the most bloodthirsty – and self-aware – buccaneers ever conjured in code: Smirk, a cigar-chewing fencing instructor, and Meathooks, a brawler with metal claws for hands. Then there was island governor Elaine Marley, a formidable swordfighter and unlikely damsel who had been kidnapped by back-from-the-dead ghost pirate LeChuck.

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