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Jonathan Ackley and Larry Ahern look back on 25 years of CMI Page Four

The game's design document mentions an intention to include the first two games as Easter eggs, the way Maniac Mansion was included as a game within a game inside Day of the Tentacle. Any memory of what ended up preventing that?

Jonathan: Honestly, I think we just forgot to add it in. It would’ve added hugely to the testing burden, though.

Larry: I’m not remembering that. I think we probably just tossed it in the pitch as a fun bonus, but abandoned it once we started developing. DOTT was easy because we could just have a computer in Weird Ed’s room. It’s a little harder to figure out how to access another game in the Monkey Island world (although I guess Grog vending machines are okay, so maybe I’m wrong). I’m going to go with laziness then. My final answer (also stolen from Jonathan).

Bill Tiller at least for a time had a Guybrush standee that he kept as a memento. Any cool paraphernalia from the production either of you were able to hang onto?

Maybe stolen from the AME web-site. Ssh. Hang onto that, Bill!

Larry: I’m ashamed to say that I had a big standee of the box art that got water damaged in my attic and had to be thrown out (making any others that much more valuable. You’re welcome, collectors). Then a batch of the usual boxes, although I don’t think I even have one still in the shrinkwrap.

Jonathan: I have some giant promotional boxes, a lot of games from foreign markets, and some posters.

Curse was said to have been a commercially successful game. I’ve heard the statistic “over half a million units worldwide” thrown around. Did it meet or exceed internal expectations?

Jonathan: We can’t really comment about that. But I do think it’s fair to say that any sales estimates reported on the Internet should be assumed to be totally inaccurate.

Larry: [redacted]

I saw that you guys participated in the new making-of book that got packaged in that bananas anthology boxed set Limited Run Games put out not long ago. Were you able to get your hands on one yourselves?

Larry: I ran into the nice folks from Limited Run Games at GDC this year and they offered to send me one. I was thrilled to get it, and was especially excited about the book.

Jonathan:Yes! I got it! It’s great!

Thumb Still mopey about the fate WarCraft Adventures: Lord of the Clans after getting whipped up by those sweet E3 1998 screenshots? There's always the playable build that leaked in 2016.

Looking back, I view The Curse of Monkey Island and Grim Fandango as sort of the spring offensive of LucasArts’ adventure game arc, in that they were the last big push for the genre at the studio – certainly in terms of scope and production values or whatever it might have meant to participate in the “AAA” arms race that seemed part and parcel with other genres. (The fourth Monkey Island ended up being LucasArts’ real last adventure game, but it comes across as being more inhibited by budget-conscious directives, while further efforts to keep the genre going at the company were ultimately aborted.) People may disagree on individual favorites, but surely there were never better financed adventure games at LucasArts than their last two of the 90s. (A Blizzard developer even indicated that part of the reason the studio pulled the plug on WarCraft Adventures was because they saw what LucasArts was up to with Curse and Grim and didn’t feel what they were working on was up to the level of the competition. That has to be good for the ego.) All this time having passed, do you have any retrospective thoughts about the game’s “placement” in the catalog as sort of the last big hurrah?

Jonathan: I’m just glad we did proper respect to the SCUMM system in its last outing.

Larry: Thank you. I feel really lucky to have been at LucasArts at the right time working with such amazing talent. In the years since, I’ve discovered it’s not so easy trying to repeat that success. I’ve worked on other projects and thought I was following the same formula, but it didn’t always turn out as well. And when I stopped and tried to figure out why, I realized, “Oh, yeah. At LucasArts, everyone on the team was a genius. I forgot to only work with geniuses.”

Monkey Island is the property of Disney now, and it’s been reported that the Curse theme was snuck into the rotation of looping music around Adventureland at Disney World. You don’t expect us to believe one of you didn’t have something to do with this.

Jonathan: What? Me? Why heaven forfend!

It was while we were putting together these questions that Return to Monkey Island got its surprise announcement. Any thoughts/hopes about the next game as Monkey alumni or just as fans? Although this new adventure is being promoted as Ron continuing where he left off, he’s made it clear that Curse will be honored (there’s Murray again!) and not contradicted.

Jonathan: They’ve got a dream team working on it! I suspect it’s going to be great.

"But change is good. Change is progress."

Larry: I can’t wait to see what they do. And, at the risk of sounding controversial, I just want to say that making a sequel to a game and dealing with audience expectations is always challenging. But ultimately, I believe that teams need the freedom to explore new artistic ideas and different approaches to stories. It’s how we keep things fresh and inject new energy into something the audience thought they knew. Sometimes change is scary, sometimes it’s funny, and it doesn’t always work out the way everyone likes. But change is good. Change is progress. (And if you scrounge together enough, you might even buy a cup of coffee).

Any current projects you want to flog, or future projects you’d like to tease?

Jonathan: I’ve just released a mystery/thriller novel called Off By One - Serious Games. It’s about an arrogant computer game designer whose belief that he’s always right gets him into trouble. But…it’s…er…totally not about me. Clearly.

Larry: Watch for the sequel, Off Key - Singing in Games. It’s about a computer game designer whose belief that he can sing the closing credits song in his game gets him into trouble.

Jonathan: Yeah, that….wait…what? Hey!


Our thanks to Jonathan (@ackley_jonathan) and Larry (@larry_ahern) for talking with us at length about their enduring contribution to a fabled series.

The Curse of Monkey Island is commercially available from both Steam and GOG, where it comes bundled with ScummVM. Windows users who possess their original CMI discs may also want to check out DREAMM, which will run the game just as your old Windows 95 machine did.