25 Years of Mojo: Staff Picks Jake's Picks

The man who birthed The Unofficial Sam & Max Website, and later on some stuff the BAFTA people seemed to tolerate, was convinced to participate only when assured it might briefly inconvenience Remi.

Spaff wrote a big long intro. I don’t know if I can do it. His is great. It’s not Top Five Mojo Articles great to be clear, but he did a good job. Here goes mine:

I came aboard Mixnmojo after convincing Spaff that he definitely had room to host MY Sam & Max website, even though Mojo already had a different Sam & Max webpage in its stable. I pointed out that my site looked really nice though, and somehow this fact convinced him (sorry to the person who ran the other site, its true that my site did look really nice). From there I started offering to redesign Mojo itself, regardless of how receptive Spaff might be to my doing this. Somehow this relationship dynamic led to us being lifelong friends. Somehow even though we just slowly wandered away from Mixnmojo to do other things, the people who have done an amazing job running the site for most of its life continue to talk to us, and invited us to share our favorite articles. Somehow writing for Mixnmojo eventually led me to Telltale Games and kicked off what is now over fifteen years as a game developer.

I clearly don’t understand people or how the world works, but I know I’m fortunate to be in with this crew. Without Mojo I wouldn’t have many of my friends, a few of my enemies, or the career and life I have today. Anyway, here are five Mojo articles that stuck with me:

1. The Old Days (2000)

I love that one of the oldest articles on the site is one that is already looking back at an earlier era of the site. The Old Days is a retrospective published in the year 2000, of the Monkey Island fan community “in the days before there was a Monkey Island 3,” a game which came out in 1997. It’s a fun reminder that even though history eventually starts to blur and simplify things down, and we probably all think of the “early web” in one bucket, at the start of the web things were really moving fast and every year seemed different from the last.

It’s also a reminder that we’re all old as bones. Here in 2023 as death’s grasp slowly tightens around my heart, six years seems like the blink of an eye. Six years ago I was doing basically the same things I am now. In 1997 it was only six years between Monkey Island 2 and 3, but as a bunch of youngsters that felt like an eternity. I guess it was: at the time Curse of Monkey Island came out, six years was more than a third of my life up to that point. And we apparently dedicated that third of our lives to filling the earliest corners of the internet with Monkey Island crap.

When I first got access to the web at home, the earliest thing I seriously remember typing into a search engine was “Monkey Island.” I love The Old Days for its collection of true Web 1.0 jank – it is an aesthetic delight, a feast for the eyes – but more personally, for how much it encapsulates what drew me into the internet, Mojo, and eventually my career, in the first place.

2. The Unabridged History of Sam & Max 2: A Mixnmojo Memoir (2020)

In December 2020, the middle of COVID lockdown, Jason dropped this tome of a story that might be the perfect Mixnmojo article. The Unabridged History of Sam & Max 2 is a ten part, book-length retelling of the inception, development, and cancelation of Sam & Max: Freelance Police, as well as the fallout of the cancelation, including the formation of Telltale Games. It’s a hell of a piece of reporting, with interviews from as many people as he could track down who would go on record. And on top of that, there is a companion piece consisting of transcripts of the interviews Jason did when preparing the article.

The article is about the nerdiest thing you’ll ever read - covering a 20 year old canceled point-and-click adventure game - but it’s also breezy, full of fun asides and just the right amount of snark. I wrote that dweeby Mojo editorial on the day Freelance Police was canceled, I’d been tipped off by some people at LucasArts the news was coming, and I spent almost a decade working with many of the Freelance Police team when we were at Telltale together, but I had heard almost none of what was in this article. To call it comprehensive would undersell it.

Over the last decade Mixnmojo has slowly moved from a site dedicated to covering the current events of LucasArts and spinoffs, to an archive of original reporting on a little corner of the games industry. In hindsight, the cancelation of Sam & Max Freelance Police (and the fracturing, demotivating effect it had on the fan community) was probably the fulcrum point for that change. This article wraps it all up in one gripping read (and a zillion appendices and followup interviews for the truly hungry).

It’s my favorite thing that’s ever run on the site, and I hope Jason is crazy enough to write more of them about other moments in LucasArts history. It could be a book. Make a book Jason, make a goddamn boo-- [a hook slides in from the flats and hoists me offstage. a brief intermission follows, after which...]

3. E3 2000: cry of the forsaken

Around the time Escape from Monkey Island was about to come out, LucasArts ended their lifetime of radio silence (in hindsight this “lifetime” was only a couple years at most) and started talking to Mixnmojo and including us in their PR communications. They eventually had a dedicated full time community coordinator who would be our point of contact, and Mojo got invited to all sorts of press events about the seventy different Star Wars prequel games they released each year, but at least by my memory E3 2000 was when the seal broke.

I was invited to visit the LucasArts press suite, a private booth off the show floor, and see demos of all their upcoming games. And Mojo looked enough like a real site that I was able to bluff my way into a press pass and attend the show for free. As a 19 year old game fan and internet dork, this was one of the most amazing things that had ever happened to me (and probably the beginning of the undoing of my college education).

It was all really overwhelming, going from a guy on a forum to the LA Convention Center, meeting the developers who made the games I’d been playing, loving, and writing about as a keyboard warrior for the previous few years. My memory of writing this article is, it was hard to untangle how much I was excited to be there with how I really felt about the games. I wrote good faith previews of a bunch of Star Wars games Mojo would traditionally not cover in depth (though we sensed where the wind was blowing with LEC and did decide to do our best with the prequel lineup) and wrote an effusive preview of Escape from Monkey Island, a game that was extremely polarizing when it came out.

I went to E3 another six times: from 2001-2006, sometimes for Mojo, sometimes for other sites, even one time as a paid reporter! This article feels like another turning point for Mojo, when LucasArts first cracked their door open and acknowledged we existed (a mistake they rectified years later). It was also a turning point for me professionally, the first step I took in trying to move my love of adventure games from a hobby to some sort of career.

4. Esoterica Article Grab Pack

This one is a cheat because it’s a bunch of articles. Mixnmojo has always loved diving into a piece of LucasArts ephemera that people didn’t even know they wanted to know about, and then proceeds to make a real fun time out of it. It’s just the best. Articles that go so hard it’s debatable as to whether anyone cares – or should care – about the subject matter, but that doesn’t stop them from being written. It might be why they are written. It’s a goddamn delight. Some examples of this kind of story:

  • Gold Guy Exposed,” a brief history of the surprisingly dumb reason the company changed its name from LucasFilm Games to LucasArts Entertainment Company, as confirmed by many who worked there at the time, and includes a “missing link” logo design most people didn’t know existed.
  • Revealed! Ian McCaig finally confirms the elusive artist behind Monkey Island 1's VGA portraits is none other than noted concept artist Ian McCaig, and then proceeds to interview him!
  • Monkey Island in Mono is a dive into one of Monkey Island’s lesser known graphics modes, and similarly LucasArts’ First Words is a journey into LucasArts’ first talkie game prototype (a very homemade voiced version of the Rapp Scallion reanimation scene in Monkey Island 2), a breakdown of the SCUMM engine’s WINDEX debugger, and even a download of the original prototype and how to run it yourself.
  • And Maniac Mansion: The Liner Notes,” is a look into the NES version of Maniac Mansion’s unique and expanded soundtrack (which rips), including interviews with the composers.

Some of these articles are over a decade old, some of them were published in the last couple years. Mixnmojo has always been a fansite with an editorial focus, and it kind of blows my mind that that focus has continued all this time. I love that even in 2023 when many fan communities have devolved down to just being a wiki, Mixnmojo is still writing the kind of original stories and preserving content that other wikis can reference.

5. Ron Gilbert and Dave Grossman talk Return to Monkey Island, and Rex Crowle talks Return to Monkey Island, and Mixnmojo’s review of Return to Monkey Island (2022)

On April 1st 2022 Ron Gilbert dropped a little troll of an update on his blog, confirming that this April Fools he would break with tradition and announce a new Monkey Island game. After coming to terms with it being more than just a schtick, the aging gears of Mojo-as-breaking-reporter creaked back to life and covered its first new bonafide Lucas-related point-and-click adventure game in over a decade, and the first new 2D adventure game with a Lucas company in the opening credits since the foundation of the site.

With Gilbert and Grossman’s Monkey Island sequel on the horizon, the forums sprang back to life and usernames not seen on the site in decades came out of the woodwork looking for a place to hang out and be excited together. Against all odds they were joined by fans who had never been to Mojo, either out of chance or because they were too young to be here during the pre-Freelance Police era. I heard from multiple people that when they heard the news there was a new Monkey Island game coming out, the first thing they did was go to Mixnmojo for the first time in years and years to see what the site had to say about it. It ruled.

On the front page, Mojo was on fire. On the precipice of Return’s release, Marius Winter and ElTee conducted an off-the-cuff interview with Ron Gilbert and Dave Grossman, capturing their thoughts on the game and also their mental state right before everyone gets to see their work. It was followed up by a similarly personal and casual one-on-one between Marius and Return’s art director Rex Crowle. And then, bucking tradition, Remi published Mojo’s Return to Monkey Island review the moment the press embargo was lifted.

I loved Return to Monkey Island for many reasons (some of which I promised to write about on the forums and never did because I got busy... classic) but the way the community returned to celebrate and speculate and goof off together one more time is honestly close to the top of the list. Not to make this too tight a wraparound, but it really did feel like “the old days” around here for a while.

One can always hope for more, more, more, but if the way the Mojo community came together around Return to Monkey Island was the last one we get, at least we got this one, and it was great.