The Escapist Re-Visited

The Escapist Re-Visited
The Secret of Monkey Island

Rob Hearn | 19 Feb 2008 12:05
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Of course, if early film audiences could travel in time they would be spellbound by the extent to which modern special effects can realize the grand and phantasmagorical, just as modern videogames can be enthralling. During my adolescence, I never imagined a game like Tomb Raider would exist, let alone Crysis, whose graphics were the reason for much of its positive press.

It would be wrong to deny that looks can contribute to a gaming experience, and this doesn't only refer to those made possible by unsurpassed technical might. Okami was lauded for its distinctive cel-shaded art style, a technique well beyond the humble A500's range, but hardly demanding by modern standards. A game-maker will forego visual fireworks for a game's sake. He's unlikely, however, to intentionally blur his sprites to the degree that they're difficult to make out.

While exceptional beauty in a game is worth noting, videogame criticism is unhealthily concerned with commenting on its opposite, as if the substance of a game can be seriously undermined by the style. In the February 1 Joystiq podcast, for instance, Justin McElroy criticized the Wii game No More Heroes for looking "like an N64 game." Can you imagine a film journalist criticizing a film because it resembled The Third Man, or was screened in black and white? If monochrome can have an expressive function in film, why can't silence and poor resolution in a videogame?

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I recently had a conversation with someone about the Monkey Island games, and we got onto looks.

"It is just me," I said, "Or is old Guybrush better than new Guybrush?"
"I don't know," he said. "I like older. I don't like his face. I don't like his voice. He sounds - wrong."

And that's it. There's nothing objectionable about Dominic Armato's performance as Guybrush in The Curse of Monkey Island, nor with Chris Miles' accomplished artwork, but nevertheless, for those who'd grown up with the series, these interpretations were bound to be, not wrong exactly, but wrong, as anybody's concrete depiction of imagined stimuli is bound to be.

In the first two games, Guybrush's facial features are, by necessity, hazy, made up of fewer than a hundred pixels and about six colors. His voice is text, as are the voices of the other characters, and much of the game takes place in a long, pensive silence. Because the lines are blurred, the player adorns the island with his own archive of sights and sounds, and while many gamers no doubt like the order that time and LucasArts eventually brought to this untamed state, I'm with Herman Toothrot: I'll never get tired of this view.

Rob Hearn is a freelance contributor to The Escapist.

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