Monkey Island gets a Dressing Down
Beautifully hand drawn 2D backgrounds, cinematic cut scenes and seamless animation just isn’t enough for some. In fact, for Josh Harris, it’s just too much. He’s recreating (or “de-making”) LucasArts’ Curse of Monkey Island – the third game in the series – in the classic 8-bit style of the first two games. From the initial visit to the hold, to the last kiss with Elaine, Josh is plastering everything with 8-bit pixel art and midi goodness. So far dodging the dreaded “cease and desist” mantra that many fan made de-makes are cursed with, Josh has already released a demo of his dressed down Monkey Island classic. It looks to be a Big Whoop indeed. We recently caught up with Josh.
IGM: Hi Josh, could you tells us a little bit about your Curse of Monkey Island “de-make” as it were?
Josh: Well it is exactly that, a complete reworking of the original game. All Background art, sprites, and animations have been redrawn in 8-bit to resemble the first two Monkey Island games. So far everything has gotten the “de-make” treatment besides the music and sound effects, and this is only because I know nothing about MIDI music or how to create it. But I would love to add MIDI to the list of things that will make this a true deconstruction of the original. As of right now I am using a mixture of music from CoMI that I ripped from the game using “Scummrev” and a few MIDIs that I have found online that various sources have remade. I am using “Adventure Game Studio” and the “Lucasarts-style 9-verb template” is now integrated into the latest version of “AGS”.
As this is your first independent game, how have you found the learning curve in regards to the technical side of things?
I have always been interested in programming, though I never really got the chance to do anything with it. When I was a freshman in high school a friend of mine introduced me to Enterbrain’s RPG Maker 2000. At the time we were both really into RPGs and we thought it was the coolest thing ever that we now had the ability to make one of our own, even though we never did – that is really where it all started. RPG Maker had a little section where you could add code to different scripts by giving you a set list of things you could click on and it would add the code for you, you could customize your characters skills and sprite. There was a whole ton of stuff that it came with that you could use to get started. It was and still is really neat, though the RPG Maker series has evolved past the “click the code you want to insert in” phase and now you can write your own scripts using the Ruby scripting language. As far as the coding and scripting part of the game making process goes, with RPG Maker I read a lot of tutorials online and really just started playing around with it until I got it to do what I wanted. I am like that with everything I do really. Then while I was still in high school, I took a class that taught Visual Basic. Even though at first I only took the class because I knew that I was going to be able to get on the internet and play around [laughs] – I still learned a lot. Since then I was always intrigued with code, and since I was a gamer, I always wanted to use what I learned in that Visual Basic class to make a game. So to answer your question, the learning curve for me really wasn’t that bad. Granted I did have a lot to learn, and I still do. But as I said earlier, I am the type of person that, with the right motivation, can figure out how to do anything, because I will play around with it until I do.
What inspired you to remake CoMI as an 8-bit pixel art adventure?
I have always been obsessed with 8-bit art and I am also very nostalgic. Anything that reminds me of a time when I was a kid, I love and want to be a part of, and I always wanted to get in on the 8-bit art “scene”. After playing the first two Monkey Island games, which I hate to admit wasn’t really that long ago, I fell in love with everything about it. To me, those first two games were perfect. There is something about knowing that they had to work within the limitations of the Scumm engine, and were limited in the amount of colors they could use that just blew my mind. I think it really forced them to make something great with very little. So with that all in the back of my mind I was a little disappointed when I got the chance to play “The Curse of Monkey Island”. Not that this was a bad game, but for me it took a wrong direction visually. What made the jokes and comedy so great in the first two games was that they were based in reality, all of the characters and locations were meant to look somewhat realistic. So when Guybrush picks up the dog Guybrush in Monkey Island 2 you are kind of taken back and it makes you laugh because up to that point in the game, all of the items you have picked up have been things that are actually possible to carry with you…though maybe not all at once. But CoMI thought that making it look like a Disney cartoon would make it better. But in my opinion they overlooked what made the originals so great.
With that in mind, I take it you’re not a huge fan of the Monkey Island 1 & 2 Special Editions?
I don’t mind it them that much really. I like what they did with the special editions because the art was still based in a reality. And they are still somewhat the same pieces of art, just smoothed out and more detailed. I just think that when CoMI came around the change in art direction was too drastic. Before that I thought Guybrush was an average sized guy, maybe 6 inches taller than “Wally” from MI2, but when CoMI came around he was like 3 feet taller and everything in the Monkey Island world was leaning backwards. CoMI just felt like “Disney” or “Looney Toons” had hijacked the Monkey Island series. Not to say that the art work in CoMI was bad. I just personally didn’t care for it in the context of a Monkey Island game.
What did you think of Monkey Island 4 – Escape from Monkey Island and more recently The Tales of Monkey Island by Tell Tale Games?
Well I am still trying to make my way through all the LucasArts adventure games and honestly I haven’t made it to MI4 yet – but I plan on playing it soon. Though my hopes aren’t that high for it. Everything that I have read has been kind of negative. As for the Tales of Monkey Island, I haven’t gotten to them yet either, but what I have seen of them makes me really excited to play them. It seems that Tell Tale really knows what they are doing when they get the chance to do a franchise. They seem to stick very close to what the fans want and what will stay true to the material that they are working with.
After finishing this remake, do you think you’ll go on to produce your own original game?
That is the plan, the “Classic Edition” was really just a starter game for me. I have always wanted to make a game that people really wanted to play and this game was just to help me learn the ins and outs of game creation using “Adventure Game Studio”. Little did I know that it would turn into this monster that I now feel obligated to finish. But I have a few ideas of what I want to do next. But I don’t want to get to involved in something else before I finish what I am doing now. I am somewhat of a procrastinator and if I get too distracted things don’t get finished. So I am working really hard to make sure that doesn’t happen with this project. It also helps know that there are people out there that are really interested in what I am doing so that keeps me going, knowing that I am not just doing this for myself but for others. It’s really encouraging to go online and post an update of what I have done with the past few weeks and read what people have to say, whether it is good or bad.
Would you say the response has been mostly positive?
Yeah, everyone has been mostly supportive of what I am doing. I think there are only like 2 or 3 bad comments that I have read in various forums, and those comments have been directed to the way the backgrounds looked in the first few demos I have done. But I am working on those backgrounds to make them look more professional and more of what the original games looked like.
What are some of your favourite independent games?
To be honest I wasn’t really aware of the indie game scene until recently. I knew that there were people who did it, but I didn’t realize to the extent that it was and how great some of the games really were. So unfortunately I haven’t gotten the chance to really sit down and play any. The only games I have played are “Apprentice 1” and the demo of “Jazz Man” by “Hurculean Effort”. I am hoping to play a few games nominated for the “AGS Awards” and there are a few that I am really looking forward to playing as well.
Yeah there’re some great independent games out there. I’d suggest checking out the IGF winners.
I may do that! [laughs]
How did you first get into adventure games?
My first adventure game was “The Dig”, which came out in 1995, so I was 10 years old; it made a real impression on me. I remember sitting at the computer with my dad trying to figure out what to do and using AOL dial-up internet to go on a few message boards and figure out what to do. I thought it was the greatest game in the word. Then I played “Star Trek: A Final Unity”, “Star Trek: Borg”, “Myst” , “Riven”, I was pretty much hooked once I got my first taste of adventure. But I always thought that “The Dig” was the best. I didn’t even realize that there were other games like it until a buddy of mine introduced me to “ScummVm” and I found out that I could play it again on my PC at home. Then I started getting curious about some of the other adventure games that “ScummVm” supported. I just can’t get enough of them.
Tell me about it. I’ve been hooked for a long time. Perhaps we could throw the de-make idea on its head and expect a Special Edition of The Dig from you in the future?
Maybe, if Lucasarts doesn’t get around to it first! It would be a vast undertaking though.
Thanks Josh, and good luck with your project.
For more information and a playable demo visit cmioe.blogspot.com.