Return to Monkey Island: Interview with the creators

It’s been over 30 years since our first journey to Monkey Island alongside the “mighty pirate” Guybrush Threepwood. 

Since 1990, we’ve seen five unique video games, with a few remasters shuffled in there too – it’s a series that’s gained a cult following and critical acclaim around the world.  

Now, 12 years between drinks, in just a few days’ time, we’re going to set sail back to Monkey Island.

Return to Monkey Island is coming to PC, mac and Nintendo Switch on September 19. (Devolver Digital)

Return to Monkey Island has reunited the game’s original creators, Ron Gilbert and Dave Grossman, as well as the game’s original composer and voice actors from the past few games.

After creating The Secret of Monkey Island in 1990, then following it up with Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge a couple of years later, the duo went off to pursue other ventures.

Lucasfilm continued making Monkey Island games in their absence, with the release of The Curse of Monkey Island in 1998 and Escape from Monkey Island in 2000. 

Dave Grossman returned to Monkey Island alongside Telltale Games in 2009 – and a few remastered versions of the classics were produced over that time. 

The past decade saw silence on the comedic pirate front, its future was uncertain after Disney took over from Lucasfilm.

I sat down with the legendary duo to learn all about their journey to create a new pirate adventure (three-headed monkeys not included). 

Return to Monkey Island is the fifth game in the series. (Devolver Digital)

Ron Gilbert always wanted to bring the beloved pirate adventure game back but thought it impossible.

“I don’t own the rights to it, Lucasfilm owns the rights and they passed to Disney when Disney bought Lucasfilm. And it just seemed like this thing was it was just unobtainable,” he told 9news.com.au. 

Gilbert says it wasn’t until he was approached by Devolver Digital’s Nigel Lowrie, who knew the licensing team at Disney, that the wheels started to turn.

“That’s when I called up Dave Grossman and I said, ‘Hey, what do you think about maybe making another Monkey Island?'” 

The character of Guybrush Threepwood has greatly evolved over the years. (Monkey Island)

Gilbert says neither he or Grossman wanted to make a game if it wasn’t on their terms, they didn’t just want to make another Monkey Island – they wanted to make a “new” Monkey Island.

“So we got together for a couple of days and brainstormed out story ideas. And at the point that I felt confident that we had a good idea, you know, then I went back to Devolver, who went to Disney and started the whole process of securing the license for the game,” Gilbert said. 

Creators of Monkey Island, Dave Grossman (left) and Ron Gilbert (right). (Nine)

They’re politely vulgar, quirky and fun.

Each game in the series is overflowing with wit and boasts stunning art styles.

So what’s new this time around?

Gilbert says they’ve rethought the pointing and clicking options this time around, now when you hover your mouse over certain items you’ll essentially read the thoughts of main character.

“So when he (Guybrush Threepwood) mouses over something, it’s like, ‘Wow, smells delicious in there’ or ‘That looks really sharp’. And that just opened up a whole lot of possibilities for not only humour, but also storytelling,” he said.

(Supplied / Devolver Digital)

As a gamer, something I’ve always admired about the Monkey Island series is that you can never truly fail or “die” in these games. 

They’re as player-friendly as they come, of course, there are times of frustration while trying to solve some puzzles – but the satisfaction of finding the solution is incomparable to other games.

“There’s definitely something to not interrupting the fantasy by having to sort of go back and restart part of the story. It’s really story dependent, you know, some kinds of stories really benefit from the threat of you potentially dying during them,” Grossman said, adding that it would feel “weird” for a comedy-styled game, like Monkey Island, to include death.  

Zombie pirate LeChuck returns (again). (Devolver Digital)

Gilbert implemented a “no death policy” for his games just before the Monkey Island series, something that’s stayed true across most of his games.

Gilbert says he didn’t want the player to ever feel punished for playing. 

“I just wanted it to be, much like a movie, it’s just an experience, it just envelops you as you kind of go through the whole thing to the end,” he said. 

“So much of the game is about exploration, exploration of possibilities. And you really want to encourage that, not discourage it,” Grossman added.

In Return to Monkey Island, players take control of main character Guybrush Threepwood. (Devolver Digital)

On the surface, it’s the perfect partnership but Gilbert and Grossman admit they have clashed heads during development, and despite their occasional differences, it always worked out in the end. 

“We’re two humans who have different ideas about stuff. I think that though, we have good conflict resolution skills with each other is part of why the dynamic works as well as it does,” Grossman said. 

Grossman recalls one occasion when he was just about to give in to Gilbert and the tables turned. 

“Ron gave in! I almost felt like I cheated the system somehow. I can’t remember even what the issue was. But yeah, it’s like you’re in a marriage, you want good conflict resolution skills and if you’re in a creative partnership, you want the same thing.”

“So much of the game is about exploration,” the creators say. (Devolver Digital)

Gilbert says that while it’s a stressful time for him and Grossman, ironing out any potential bugs before the release, he’ll be glad when it officially hits the shelves (so to speak). 

“I will be happy when the game is out and people can actually play it and we can talk to people about it, and I can watch YouTube and Twitch streams of people playing the game. I’m really looking forward to that,” Gilbert said. 

God of War: Ragnarok (2022)

The most anticipated video games of 2022 and beyond

Gilbert has a simple request for gamers planning to pick up Return to Monkey Island.

“People binge watch entire series of shows in a weekend and I guess I would hope that people take their time and enjoy this game – not just power through it as fast as they possibly can,” he said. 

If you, like Guybrush Threepwood, want to be a pirate, you can look forward to Return to Monkey Island when it comes to PC, macOS and Nintendo Switch on September 19. 

Watch the video above for more exclusive content from Ron Gilbert and Dave Grossman.

Leave a Comment