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A tale of Monkey Island

Telltale's Dave Grossman on remaking a legend.

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Image credit: Eurogamer

When Telltale Games promised to unveil a brand new episodic series at E3, few guessed it would be Tales of Monkey Island - a five-part adventure based on the classic LucasArts series. Few also guessed we'd see the first episode so soon: 7th July on PC, with a WiiWare lift-off date has yet to be confirmed. Given Telltale's track-record - Sam & Max, Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People, Wallace & Gromit - we shouldn't be too surprised, and we should have something to look forward to.

But, Tales of Monkey Island design director Dave Grossman admits, this IP comes with special pressure: few licenses are so cherished. So what is the team planning for Guybrush, Elaine and LeChuck? How will they keep the original magic intact? We cornered Grossman to find out.

Eurogamer Why Monkey Island, Dave? Did you, as an original member of the LucasArts team, have something to do it?
Dave Grossman

Strangely no, I didn't really push for that. I sort of felt like I had my opportunity to chip my teeth on Monkey Island long ago, but that wasn't true for everybody at the company. Some people felt like they weren't finished and we could do more with it.

It's actually something we've been talking to LucasArts about as long as the company has been in existence. Just now is the start of the line properly; the right people were interested at the right time on both sides.

Eurogamer Were LucasArts being sneaky and sitting back, waiting for you to prove yourselves before offering the golden goose?
And what do voodoo for a living?
Dave Grossman I suppose that could be true, but I also have to give Darrell Rodriguez - the new president [at LucasArts] - some credit; I think he's been a personal champion of these little adventure game licenses. It's not just Monkey that they're doing: they're actually doing something with the old Indiana Jones game, too. They released that as an unlockable bonus in [Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings].
Eurogamer Years on, there are plenty of people who haven't played Monkey Island. Can you, Dave Grossman, explain the magic?
Dave Grossman

Well, Monkey Island is a charming and very funny series of games about being a pirate. In a nutshell, that's it. What more do you really need?

The inspiration was the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. Ron Gilbert had wondered, "What would it be like to step off that ride and meet the characters who were there in the little dioramas?" It came out of that to begin with.

Moment by moment the series is quite funny, but the overarching stories are generally pretty serious. The Secret of Monkey Island is about a young man trying to achieve his life's dream and find love on the way. There's nothing inherently funny about that. And I think those two things - serious broad-stories and moment-by-moment humour - combined to make something really quite special.

Eurogamer You mentioned Ron Gilbert there who, along with Tim Schafer, played a key role in the Monkey Island series. What have they had to say about Tales of Monkey Island? Are they helping?
The banana haircut strikes again.
Dave Grossman

Ron did. As soon as I was allowed to tell anyone I called Ron on the phone, because I know the series does mean a lot to him, and he was the original guiding force behind the first games. He looked around and said, "Could I come down there and brainstorm with you?" And I was like, "Great! That is absolutely the best thing you could do."

So he came down and spent the better part of a week with us, just tossing around ideas. We bounced the broad-story stuff off of him; he had some comments about how we were handling Elaine in our first draft that got us to make some changes; and probably a few of his bubbles are in there as well. He had to go back to his regular job as the creative director at Hothead where he's doing his own game Deathspank, which also looks pretty cool. But he did get his chance to put his two-cents in.

I didn't wind up calling Tim because getting Ron involved turned out to be so much trouble - there's a lot of legal wrangling around that. I figured if I'm just going to be able to pick one of them, then it's going to be Ron.

Eurogamer Legal wrangling?
Dave Grossman

Well, he's a full-time employee of another studio, so there are lots of bits and pieces around us borrowing his brains. And all the while we were trying to keep a lid on the whole thing so that we could really come out with a surprise announcement when the game was ready to go.