They didn’t force me to add that.
You know that I really used to hate the ending of the last episode of the original second season of Twin Peaks? Since about 2 weeks I absolutely love it because it gave way to one of the easily greatest things we currently have on television, so never give up hope!
Here is an email sent out to the entire Lucasfilm games group after Monkey Island 2 came out. People hated the ending, and not just kids.
Sorry for being all Troll-y. I was going to compose a detailed review, but then came up with this idea and couldn’t resist. It was a succinct way to lay out my complaints, that also drew in the reader better than a review would have.
Mechanics-wise, I thought the game was pretty great and even innovative in parts:
- I liked that we got the chance to play as multiple characters, even if the coordination between them was unrealistic. It makes for some very neat puzzles and enlarges the puzzle-space, which is always good in a graphic adventure, where you could potentially use everything on everything until you win.
- I loved the todo list. In fact, it’s the only reason playing as multiple characters was even possible, as you’d otherwise completely lose your bearings.
- I really like the fact that you could control a ghost, with his own set of rules and unique verbs. There should be more exploration of this space of having unique verbs per character in adventure games. One thing seemed inconsistent: how come you couldn’t talk with the living but you could talk on the phone? And what kind of obscene caller wails? Fun puzzle nonetheless.
- In general, the puzzles were fair, and I never needed to resort to a walkthough. Ron really knows how to do this adventure puzzling thing, and most importantly, knowing that, I had faith in the developers and knew they wouldn’t screw me over with terrible puzzles (see The 14 Deadly Sins.
- The mechanism of playing characters mentioned in flashbacks is brilliant, and really let you into those characters’ worlds. It also served as a gentle introduction to new areas.
- The game was always considerate of the player’s time. I can’t stress enough how good these devs are at this kind of stuff, and how bad everybody else is. Partially, this is why I’m so upset about the ending: this genre is being badly served, even by those companies that are supposedly making good games, and here was a game that was going to change all that, with the sensibilities of the guy who wrote ‘Why Adventure Games Suck’… So much wasted potential.
In terms of characters and environment:
- The atmosphere was good. Not spectacular - not Tim Schafer quality - but good. Twin-Peaks mixed with the Gilbert silliness. I can dig it.
- The player characters as a whole were fairly boring. I didn’t really care to hear what they had to say.
- Ransome was clearly supposed to be the source of most of the comedy. Other than this, there was no reason to include him in the game. I think in this respect, he was a dud. He’s too close as a concept to Krusty the Clown, which means nothing he did was very novel. Maybe he’s funnier without the beeping. I did chuckle when he complained as he climbed up the radio tower, but other than that, I felt all his lines fell flat.
- I did appreciate the fact that the game avoided the pitfall of many adventure games since Monkey Island of trying to have every NPC be “so wacky!” and “crazy!” and “weird!”. The characters here had some dimension and depth. Few of them felt single-dimensional and throw-away, or invented just for the sake of a joke or a single interaction. The main exceptions to this were the Thimble-Con characters, and that’s ok.
- I loved that Dave and Sandy were in this game as they were. It was such a cool, realistic, enjoyable ‘whatever happened to…?’ follow up for Maniac Mansion. There were on the whole too many references and in-jokes in the game IMO, but this one was brilliant.
The game’s main problems arrive once we consider the plot: it’s quite weak. Now, I understand that much of this is due to design decisions. If you think about adventure games set in hub worlds, most of them can’t advance the plot by too much. Think of Day of the Tentacle, for example, or Maniac Mansion. This is even more true when you have parallel puzzle chains, which are a good thing in general. If you change the world to advance the plot, you end up forcing non-parallel puzzle chains. It’s even a bigger problem when you have multiple characters. Think of what you do in the game, and how little the plot actually advances throughout it. Even as the acts go by, almost nothing happens. It doesn’t help that the subplots aren’t focused and are a bit of a jumbled mess. That contributes to the atmosphere to some degree, but it doesn’t help the plot build up in any real way. It means that by the end of the game, there’s no real tension, and no obvious bad guy to defeat. All the (non-dead) characters just want to go to the factory, and clearly everything has to magically resolve there.
Speaking of things happening, there’s simply not enough going on in the game for Ransome to have a sudden change of heart. It just doesn’t seem believable given how jaded he is. Perhaps the game could track the conversations Ransome has, and only if you talked to enough people and had some real conversations with them about how Ransome hurt everyone in town, would you unlock the option to have Ransome repent.
Now for the ending. The ending we got robs us of the very qualities we were enjoying in this world - the atmosphere and the depth of the characters - and heavily makes fun of us for looking past the limitations of the medium, which is precisely what you want the player to do for the game to succeed. “Ha ha, didn’t you notice there was only one house and one kid in TP?” Seriously? Of course I noticed, but my brain did its best to make due with what was there. This is betraying the player’s trust at the level of the writing (not the mechanics, which were very fair to the player). It’s quite similar to what Lost did with its ending.
The ending also throws everything out – characters’ motivations, the mysteries, the occult, the meaning of everything in the town. Nothing has a reason. It’s all there because it’s there… because it’s an adventure game. It doesn’t even make a lick of sense as far as I can tell plot-wise. It really is Blazing Saddles, but at least Blazing Saddles was a good bunch of gags and never strived to be anything more. TP’s ending throws out so much that was good.
Nevertheless, I happen to think there’s an elegant way to pull off this kind of ending, without getting excessively meta. You can even be Lynchian about it, and mysterious, and keep things vague: We find out that TP is indeed a simulation, and an artificial reality, but not an adventure game, and it’s not the developers who are magically involved in the plot. Chuck built the AIs, and they realized that the world was just a simulation, and it drove them crazy. They now threaten to destroy everything, and the only way to stop the AIs is to reboot the simulation, except… nobody knows if it’ll come back online. We now have real drama and purpose: the characters may be artificial, but they feel and exist, and they fear that the world they love may not come back. It means everything in TP is ‘real’, but also virtual, and this doesn’t diminish from anything. You enter not the amateur-level freeware-feeling wireframe world, but a real wireframe world composed of a Thimbleweed where every building is half there and half gone (the ‘gone’ parts being real 3d wireframe), making it obvious that you’re in a simulation. Once you turn off the computer, the screen goes dark, and then you get the C64 rebooting – success! It’s a subtle, funny little hint that the whole simulation runs in a C64 – not the blunt instrument that is “hey look it’s the adventure game rebooting on a C64!”. You could even have a post-credits scene where everyone wakes up the next day and the factory is destroyed. Was it real? Is TP really a simulation? Or was old Chuck just insane?
Well those people seem to agree with me that the ending built up hopes for a third installment in the series. And other than the Twin Peaks finale there was no way of knowing at the time that there wouldn´t be another part that gave resolutions to those unanswered questions.
…Maybe? But as an adult, I think I can do better analyzing this stuff than I did as a kid. Here’s an ending for you: a giant turd falls on Delores, killing her instantly and turning everyone in town into zombies. Take another 25 years to figure out the depth of that ending, and get back to me.
BTW it’s hard to write endings to anything. Endings are really difficult to get right (not the turd one – I got that one perfect on the spot). We’ll see how well George R.R. Martin pulls off his ending.
I´d like to know how many of you here (including @RonGilbert and @David) know the Science Fiction film “The Quiet Earth”?
Because that film´s ending can, depending on your viewpoint, either be the stupidest thing ever or the most amazing thing.
I think it´s the most amazing thing, but I couldn´t really put into words why.
That’s exactly why I find it logical to assume that in 25 years your/our analytical skills will be even more mature than what they are now. Senility permitting, of course. The ending that you just invented would have been a good example if someone had stated that any ending or plot deserves a deep analysis, while my opinion is simply that the interpretations of an ambiguous story can (and do, often) change over time.
I don’t know that film… Sounds like you recommend it?
Wow, an email from 1992.
A real Piece of History!
“That email is an important artifact, it belongs in a museum!”
I had written a letter (paper + ink) in 1990, to Lucasfilm, using the only address I knew, it was on the Zak McKracken box (Lucasfilm @ San Rafael).
Internet, the WWW, Netscape… a new world arrived only in 1995, here.
Thinking about what @LowLevel said about re-evaluating the game in 25 years time, I’m interested to revisit it in a couple of months once all the initial hype has died down, and after I’ve stepped away from it for a bit (though I’m enjoying the forum so much it might be more like a year’s time ).
I think it’s difficult to have a true, unbiased opinion on something in the midst of all the buzz and excitement - it’s easy to get caught up in all the positive reactions, especially after such a big build-up and following all the developments.
I’m not saying I’ll suddenly decide it’s a bag of crap, but I think I’ll be a bit more critical.
It was probably more of a midi-chlorian thing which made him do this.
I think it’s even harder to imagine how game designers manage to do this (well, if they do). They are always working on implementing small details in the game and still have to keep track of the overall thing. In case of adventure games for instance you can have puzzle chains which change over time and if you are as easily confused like me it’s easy to mix all this stuff up later…
It’s much easier for most other type of products (e.g. movies having more linearity and no interactivity; or other software and engineering projects with more clearly defined goals).
Now I wonder too, is this a recommendation?
The main character has a nice sounding name (disgusting spelling though).
Absolutely! It´s a very slow last man on earth story from new zealand that ends very ambiguously. Really hard to describe, you´d have to see for yourself. Check it out!
It is! One of my favourite films of all time, because it´s one of a kind. But not for everybody. It´s not exactly The Road Warrior. Rather slow, but with many interesting ideas. Most people love the beginning where the main character is completly on his own and does things many of us probably have thought about.
I liked the ending. Because I thought: Ok, they are kids. That’s great and genius surprising. Then you (Ron) wrote somewhere that you had planned a third part - and I was (and am) completely irritated. Because the ending of MI2 still makes sense to me. (For me it was a perfect ending for the Monkey Island series.) Yes, I know, I’m alone with this opinion.
I discussed that sometime ago in the blog: I won’t say that. One big problem is, that a lot of authors/writers just begin to write without knowing the end. And that leads (most times) to a horrible/bad ending. If you write down the ending first, you know where you would like to end - and then the ending isn’t difficult to get right.
After playing TWP the second time I still have the feeling that the games tries to tell two different stories: The murder an the “ending”. (Please note that this is only my personal opinion!)
Actually, this is quite common, it’s not an anomaly. Writers start with an ending in mind, then as they write, the story takes you in a new direction. This happens all the time. A wrier needs to go where the story takes them, if you rigidly stick to your initial idea, it’s not going to be as good.
From day 1, we knew the murder was not important, it was never planned to be. Initially, there was a different ending, but the theme was the same, then as I wrote, this ending felt better and more salient, and matched the theme of what was happening better. The act of going into the wireframe world was initially an easter egg, but as I got to the end, it made more sense to require it.
The ending of MI2 came to me about 2 months before the game shipped, mostly driven by the panic of not having an ending, or more correctly, having a crappy ending I hated.
My point is, endings change as you write, because you start to understand your story better. People like to think books, movies or games are fully formed ideas that just pour out, but that’s not true. It’s all made up anyway, so why not change it as your creating.
A lot of fiction writers end up writing a variation of the “Hero’s Journey”, whether they know about it or not (George Lucas knew he was doing it for Star Wars and got it from “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”).
I haven’t thought about it closely, but I think Monkey Island fits the Hero’s Journey template pretty perfectly.
And this is precisly the point why I never got the criticism of The Force Awakens being “just a rehash of A New Hope”. I thought that was the point?
“It´s like poetry it rhymes” - George Lucas around 1998
Uncle Ron… …please, please, tell us what was the initial MI2 ending!
I´m pretty confident that somehow in some capacity aliens were involved…