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What's Next for LucasArts? 25 Jul, 2010 / 19 comments

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W
e find ourselves at an unexpected point. If you'd told me in 2004 – or 2001, or even 2009 – that LucasArts had just released a remake of Monkey Island 2 that did, for the most part, live up to the original game, I wouldn't have believed you. This wasn't part of the accepted future of LucasArts.

Neither was Lucidity, for that matter, which I didn't play. But it was an important game for them to make, because LucasArts are a powerhouse studio – there's no doubt about this; they’ve put out some of the most well-funded and technically accomplished games of all time, as far as such things can be measured. And whilst Lucidity doesn't fall into that category, it's significant because it wasn't set on Tatooine.

But that's cool, there's a give and take, we get that. When LucasArts weren't allowed to make games based on Star Wars they were forced to be creative and get experimental, but if it weren't for the films there'd be no LucasArts at all. Now they have (unlimited) access to the license it's only fair that they should use it; give and take. Of course, they don't owe us anything – they never have. They're running a business, just like everyone else, and if they could have the game that scores 1/10 on Metacritics but makes $100 million, they'd take it over the 10/10 classic that only makes $100 thousand.

Midnight Sunshine, Silent Thunder, Sky as Black as Day: Only a Dream Away


But that's the past. We've all been over it enough: you didn't need me to explain why this is an unexpected point in time. The question is, where next?

One theory is that Ron Gilbert will return to LucasArts to make the 'real' Monkey Island 3. And why not? He very suddenly and unusually left his position at Hothead Games, mere weeks before the release of his first big game in years, Deathspank.

And the Monkey Island Revival team at LucasArts want to flex their own creative muscle now, we know this too. They've been unable to tamper with the two special editions in any real sense, which was a wise design choice, but perhaps creatively frustrating. Craig Derrick has said these remakes were made primarily for newcomers to Monkey Island, and for those people the ending of Monkey Island 2 is a real cliffhanger. The natural progression for them would be to make a third Monkey Island game – but an entirely new one. I like this idea.

The project would be fraught with danger, of course. With no classic version to switch to, the game would be immune to nostalgia critics – but by wildly laying down new track in front of the franchise train, they would be toying with everything we know and love about Monkey Island. They would, essentially, be trying to tell us The Secret of Monkey Island™. And some of us – some of us – like the ambiguity of the second game's ending.

“It's as extreme as I can make it without losing my mind. Would we enjoy this?”
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For example, let's indulge a plot theory. Let's say LeChuck doesn't lie to Guybrush at the end of Monkey Island 2 – he really is going to send him to a dimension of infinite pain. Some alternate dimension, perhaps, where Guybrush isn't even a pirate, but a child. Somehow, LeChuck binds Guybrush into this form, and joins him, taking over the parallel dimension as Guybrush's brother, Chuckie. It's a good move for LeChuck: his spirit form has been destroyed and his mortal form is badly decomposing. By displacing his consciousness to that of a child he is effectively free to live his life again.

Don't forget, at the end of Monkey Island 2 Guybrush takes an elevator ride to the Melee Island alleyway. This is the only safe place, the only place where LeChuck can't come after him - the most logical place to construct the doll. The sign blocking access to the rest of the island says that the alley itself is under construction, which implies that this is the past. Implies, perhaps, that Guybrush has returned to his own past – the place he first met LeChuck, in fact, all those years ago – but it is now altered, somehow. It is as though it is merely an amusement park.

That fits, for some parts. Other bits of it don't quite work, and I'm certainly not proposing it as The Secret of Monkey Island™. But let's pretend that it is: imagine if that was what Ron Gilbert actually wanted to do. Wouldn't that make a third Monkey Island game take place in the 'real' world? A child Guybrush, his nemesis LeChuck now his creepy older brother Chuckie, parents alive... house in the suburbs, school, etc.? It's as extreme as I can make it without losing my mind. Would we enjoy this?

No, it's too radical. For us to accept it, the game would have to be, in a word, 'piratey.' This would mean some extremely inventive explanations for the ending of the second game. They could cop out of it completely – or, they could blow our minds. But we're way off the edge of the map now.

What's more likely is they'll revisit another classic. It would have to be one of the pre-talkie ones, because there's not a whole lot they can do to the adventures from Day of the Tentacle onwards. That leaves us with Maniac Mansion and Zak McKracken (assuming that Last Crusade and Loom are nixed by their current availability on Steam.)

But another straight remake? Really boss? More copying pixelated artwork from the dark ages of video games? *sigh*

Given some of the interview quotes we've seen, it might be the case that a remake of Maniac Mansion or Zak McKracken could involve some alterations. A 're-imagining' as it were. You lift up the doormat outside the house, and the key is not there. The game is trying to be difficult all over again.
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Ron Gilbert: Could He Return to LucasArts?


I would welcome that too. If the Gilbert-returns-to-Lucas angle turns out to be right, then maybe it's to blindside us with a remake of his very first game: Maniac Mansion. With Gilbert involved, the team would be free to change as much as they felt like without it being called blasphemy (although, it would be called blasphemy, of course. The sad fact is, I wouldn't really care, with Maniac Mansion. For those of you who would, this would be painful – so perhaps the original version would need to be included too? It's a debate that will split the community, I'm sure.) They could put a Gilbert commentary on there explaining all the changes made and why, and it would probably be fascinating – albeit in a strange way.

Hell, Doublefine are making four small games right now. LucasArts already went to Telltale and gave them the keys to Monkey Island - why not go to Tim and offer him similar goodies? Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle, Grim Fandango? Would he want those licenses? Would he like to revisit them?

I'm in even wilder territory now, so I'm going to stop. I'm just milking the experience of being excited by LucasArts’ next announcement, because I haven't felt this for a loooooong time. Sure, I'll probably get shot down when the new Prez announces that Handsome Halibut is the codename for Pipe Dreams 2, but I can take that.

That, I am used to.

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Tumbling Through a Thousand Centuries:
"elTee"

19 Comments

  • Avatar
    QueZTone on 10 Aug, 2010, 07:52…
    excellent article LT! just came back from my trip through europe and your thoughts pull me right back into the scene.
  • Avatar
    cavefish on 03 Aug, 2010, 20:16…
    Full Throttle Special Edition? Yes please!
  • Avatar
    blueskirt on 31 Jul, 2010, 00:59…
    Nice article! Ron leaving Hothead for LucasArts or Telltale is indeed an interesting theory.

    I don't think The Last Crusade is nixed because it's on Steam. It's nixed because it's plagued with deaths, dead ends, mazes, action sequences of questionable quality and trial and error gameplay. Same thing with Zak. I love them both but most people are used to the golden rules established by Monkey Island 1. If they were to remake these games, they would have to completely redesign the game to address these issues.

    TTG expressed the wish to do an episodic MM/DOTT sequel many times before, I think remaking DOTT (and Maniac Mansion as a game in a game easter egg) and licensing a sequel to TTG seems the most probable course of action for LucasArts.

    And now that I remember about Lucidity, Loom would be a nice candidate for a remake too. With its short length and easy puzzles, Loom was casual gaming before its time. The game also follow the golden rules. A special edition of Loom followed with additional chapters to conclude the story could fare well in the casual gaming market.
  • Avatar
    elTee on 26 Jul, 2010, 21:15…
    Hmmm yes, although wasn't Handsome Halibut registered as a trademark, or something like that? I can't find jp's original news post :-/
  • Avatar
    Kroms on 26 Jul, 2010, 20:15…

    Fealiks

    Great article. I love speculating like this.

    What's this handsome halibut thing, though? Googling it only returned me to lucasforums. If it's some in-jokey phrase then pretend I already knew.


    A game LucasArts are supposedly working on. Could just be a codeword for something else.
  • Avatar
    mmikkel on 26 Jul, 2010, 19:03…

    bergqvistjl

    I also don't see why Ron couldnt just make a game that bridges the gap between MI2 and CMI, or EMI and TMI.



    ...or just bring him in as lead designer on a new season of TMI. I'm sure some of his mythical ideas for MI3 could be recycled in a new set of Tales-episodes? Even though I still want that MI3a game the most...
  • Avatar
    bergqvistjl on 26 Jul, 2010, 16:12…
    I highly doubt that Lucasarts would want to split their fan-base if they 're-imagined' Maniac Mansion and/or Zak. I thought the whole point of the special editions is to keep the gameplay and plot and jokes as it was, but improve the quality of the graphics and audio (although MT-32 Music is fantastic anyway in my opinion lol) I also don't see why Ron couldnt just make a game that bridges the gap between MI2 and CMI, or EMI and TMI.
  • Avatar
    Fealiks on 26 Jul, 2010, 14:54…
    Great article. I love speculating like this.

    What's this handsome halibut thing, though? Googling it only returned me to lucasforums. If it's some in-jokey phrase then pretend I already knew.
  • Avatar
    elTee on 26 Jul, 2010, 13:12…

    SurplusGamer

    The moment that Guybrush finds Big Whoop, which is after all supposed to be some powerful and terrible gateway, reality splits. One version of reality is what we have seen in CMI and afterwards, but there could be other versions, including whatever Ron had in mind. That way we don't have to choose what version is 'canon;' they both are, they just exist in seperate realities. Sort of how they handled the Star Trek original series reboot.


    That would be fine by me - certainly a new MI3, if it ever happens, won't really 'replace' CMI anyway, because it's too good a game to suddenly become invalid.
  • Avatar
    The Tingler on 26 Jul, 2010, 11:24…
    Here's another thought: the only thing stopping Ron Gilbert from getting properly involved with Tales of Monkey Island was Hothead getting all annoyed about one of their employees moonlighting with another studio.

    Now he's left Hothead. Could he sign up with Telltale to make Tales Season 2 the definitive Monkey Island?
  • Avatar
    SurplusGamer on 26 Jul, 2010, 09:42…
    Here's a thought:

    The moment that Guybrush finds Big Whoop, which is after all supposed to be some powerful and terrible gateway, reality splits. One version of reality is what we have seen in CMI and afterwards, but there could be other versions, including whatever Ron had in mind. That way we don't have to choose what version is 'canon;' they both are, they just exist in seperate realities. Sort of how they handled the Star Trek original series reboot.
  • Avatar
    ernest on 26 Jul, 2010, 06:32…
    I think that trying to make a Gilbert's MI3 game is a big mistake from any point of view.
    Ron had a rough plot of the 3rd part in mind and that's all that is fair to ask him, an overview of the story he had in mind.

    From that story to an actual game there's a huge effort. Unfortunately, it'd be impossible to build something from scratch with similar circumstances as in the early 90s. Gamers, technology and expectations have changed, and even Ron Gilbert has probably changed since then. The final result would never meet the expectations of the MI1 and MI2 fans and it will very likely upset those others that joined later on and are more fans of CMI.
    As Ron once said: "you can only do one deal with the Devil and I blew it on a 16-color EGA game".

    As for LucasArts I'd say they can add the improvements of the MI2:SE to the first one (specially the creators commentaries) to make everything round and leave the legend of Monkey Island rest for the years to come (TMI can have more episodes, of course) ... but again and for god's sake, Ron please give us that plot you had in mind! Seriously.
  • Avatar
    The Tingler on 26 Jul, 2010, 05:54…
    I don't think there will be a new 2D Monkey Island, not after Tales of Monkey Island did so well and set up the next story. I expect a Season Two of that from Telltale next year. LucasArts don't want to confuse their audience.

    If the team are going to do something new, I'm prepared to bet on a new Indiana Jones adventure (as I have been for some time).

    After the Staff of Kings fiasco and general public dissatisfaction with KOTCS, how well-received Fate of Atlantis on the Wii version of SOK was (more than the actual game), and how well FOA has done as a digital download, I'm thinking this is a good bet.

  • Avatar
    elTee on 25 Jul, 2010, 21:50…

    mmikkel

    I feel pretty confident that Gilbert could design a great game to fit, chronologically, between MI2 and CMI.


    That sort of seems pointless though, to me. I mean, whatever his ideas were about MI3, they probably didn't end with Guybrush escaping on a dodgem and floating across the ocean... so if he's not going to make his 'original vision', why bother at all?

    I think the only way to do it would be to make an entirely new MI3 that was outside of the series canon altogether - or not make it at all :)
  • Avatar
    mmikkel on 25 Jul, 2010, 21:30…
    I feel pretty confident that Gilbert could design a great game to fit, chronologically, between MI2 and CMI. Storywise, there's still a pretty big hole between the ending of LeChuck's Revenge and Curse, I definitely think there's a good story to be told there, and even if that story's ending somehow manages to tie in with the opening of Curse, there should be plenty of wiggle room for a lot of Gilbert's ideas for MI3 (of course I don't know what these ideas are/were, so I could be wrong).

    It'd be awesome, it really would.
  • Avatar
    Capn_Nacho on 25 Jul, 2010, 19:29…
    I don't think there was anything sudden or unusual about Ron's departure from Hothead. While I'm sure he had some programming duties on the game, his main position was as lead designer. That late into a game's development, all design work had probably been set in stone for some time and all that was left was QA and eventual release.
  • Avatar
    Capn_Nacho on 25 Jul, 2010, 19:25…
    I don't think there was anything sudden or unusual about Ron's departure from Hothead. While I'm sure he had some programming duties on the game, his main position was as lead designer. That late into a game's development, all design work had probably been set in stone for some time and all that was left was QA and eventual release.
  • Avatar
    elTee on 25 Jul, 2010, 17:10…
    Yeah, it's just speculation. There's no evidence to support it, and honestly, I highly doubt he will do. But it's impossible to speculate about new IP, really, so I indulged that flight of fancy :)

    It would be great, though...
  • Avatar
    Jeff on 25 Jul, 2010, 17:07…
    Is Gilbert returning to LucasArts just speculation based on that he left Hothead? Or is there more that I haven't heard about? I'm just curious because that would be amazing.

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