There were a lot of new games announced in the flurry of press conferences before E3, from Metroid: Other M to Metal Gear Rising, but all it took was one press release from Telltale Games to eclipse them all, at least in the eyes of this editor. I knew the Telltale crew were going to be attending E3 (not something they've typically done, instead favoring smaller shows), but I never expected them to announce the most wanted game for adventure fans everywhere, Tales of Monkey Island, especially given the somewhat strained relationship the companies had when Telltale first split. It seems times change, and so does management, and now the independent developer (formed by former LucasArts staff) is once again friends with the old bosses.
The most wanted game for adventure fans everywhere.
Telltale has done an impressive job keeping a lid on this megaton of adventure game announcements, as the first episode drops in just one month. The five-episode series revives the ghost pirate LeChuck both in human form and ghostly form, the latter of which possesses Guybrush's hand. Suffice it to say, the Voodoo Lady has a less-than-direct plan to cure the clumsy pirate, and a new adventure begins. According to the developers, the five-part season will be far more serial than their previous games, with a strong running plot rather than episodic stories bridged by a thin connecting arc. Each episode will take Guybrush to a new island, so hopefully this will mean less recycling of sets between games.
We met with Telltale co-founder Kevin Bruner, lead designer David Grossman, and PR head Emily Morganti in a small meeting room just off of the show floor. They demonstrated the upcoming first episode, which they told us was largely written by Mike Stemmle, another celebrated veteran of LucasArts' adventure games. The game uses the same engine as previous Telltale adventures, and still seems to be targeting lower-end PCs (perhaps to keep parity with the Wii version), but it's still seen some polish since the last go-round, and the areas seemed to be noticeably larger and more detailed. The art direction is appealing, with a somewhat more angular style that departs from the classic games, but looks worlds better than Lucas Arts' new Special Edition of the original game.
The interface of Tales of Monkey Island has been rethought a bit from the pure point-and-click days of Bone and Sam & Max. Guybrush now moves by direct control, but you can still use the mouse to interact and navigate the interface. Mousing over objects will reveal what they are - a relief for anyone that scratched their head at Grim Fandango. Also refreshing was the ability to combine items in the inventory, showing Telltale actually taking a step back toward traditional adventure game design. They wouldn't, however, go as far as to bring back different verbs for interacting with objects. Grossman explained that each of the items in the inventory is an action to be used with the environment, and adding verbs on top of this would just lead to more impossible combinations and responses of "I can't do that."
The real strength of the game is going to be in its writing. While we are definitely going to miss Ron Gilbert's wit, Telltale has a great team with a ton of experience, and what we played was funny and fit perfectly with the series sensibilities. Dialog trees make a return, and offer some great opportunities to explore different gags. The voice acting is all very good and Dominc Armanto resumes his starring role as Guybrush. Michael Land (composer of all the classic Monkey Island titles) takes over composing duties to add to the authentic feel. In an era when Al Lowe is shunned from participating in Leisure Suit Larry games, it's refreshing to see that Telltale has done everything it could to assemble the right team to bring back the franchise, and we look forward to seeing if it can stand up to the series' legacy.