Monkey Island is back, but don’t call it a 90s throwback game
“We have a few interesting and fun ways in the game to get new players caught up on the world of [protagonist] Guybrush Threepwood. We don’t want anyone to feel lost. This [also] goes for people that have played Monkey Island, but not in 20 years.”
Sid Meier — another giant of American game design who is known for Civilization and other simulation titles — today still works at Firaxis, a studio he co-founded in 1996 which was subsequently acquired by 2K. The studio makes modern descendants of the kind of strategy games Meier helped establish in the early 90s, including X-COM and this year’s upcoming Marvel’s Midnight Suns, as well as continuing the Civ series. But while Meier agrees with Gilbert that times have to change, he feels like something’s been left behind as technology’s progressed.
“These days we have the ability to literally represent a lot more of the things that, in the past, we had to count on your imagination to provide. We can show things more realistically now, but in a way that we’ve kind of lost the buy-in of your imagination,” he said.
The original Civilization used real historical figures and elements, he said, in part because players could fill in the blanks with knowledge they already had. When they met Mahatma Gandhi, who was represented as a simple pixelated portrait with blinking eyes, they could imbue him with their own take on who Gandhi was. These days, he’s fully animated and characterised, so a lot of that context comes from the developers rather than the player’s mind.
Making a popular game with a similar feeling to the original Civilization today would be extremely difficult, Meier said, and not simply a matter of using an art style from 30 years ago. But it’s not impossible.
“I think Minecraft is a good example of a game that has become very successful, not because of the high resolution super graphics, but because of gameplay, and imagination, and design.”
Dave Grossman, who is returning alongside Gilbert as a writer on Return to Monkey Island, said his approach to following-up a 90s adventure with a modern game was to figure out what to keep, but to say something new about it and re-think anything that’s frustrating or had been improved upon.
“It’s important to fit with the tone, character, and humour of the earlier games, but we’ve learned a lot about adventure games in the past few decades. It would be a shame to leave all that experience sitting on the kerb,” he said.
“The Monkey Island games have always had an autobiographical element to them; we fill them full of our own thoughts and opinions and personal challenges and the news of the day, all translated into pirate, of course. And that’s a big part of what makes it interesting for me, coming back to ideas after time has passed and finding out what’s different about them now.”
As for the idea of throwback games or the modern revival of a 90s game aesthetic, Grossman said he’d leave that to the youngsters.
“There is always a desire to return to some rosy or exciting past, and we rarely find it right where we left it. It’s always shifting and changing, never quite what we thought we remembered. Or what we imagined,” he said.
“It’s always seemed to me that nostalgia for an era is stronger in those who didn’t live through it the first time. Maybe it’s that much more pleasant without the distasteful taint of reality on it.”
Sid Meier has a more upbeat take on young gamers’ love of the classics.
“What we’ve seen, which has actually been very gratifying, is parents passing along their enjoyment of [our games] to their kids. There’s a whole new generation of players being trained and groomed right now for the next Civ,” he said.
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