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Happy 25th birthday, Monkey Island

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Sep. 4th, 2015 | 12:17 pm

Monkey Island I, one of the greatest computer games ever made, has (probably) turned 25, and Ron Gilbert (the game's main designer) has a fascinating write-up. For instance, the release process was certainly rather different back in the day:

[...] Lucasfilm’s process for finalizing and shipping a game consisted of madly testing for several months while we fixed bugs, then 2 weeks before we were to send off the gold masters, the game would go into “lockdown testing”. If any bug was found, there was a discussion with the team and management about if it was worth fixing. “Worth Fixing” consisted of a lot of factors, including how difficult it was to fix and if the fix would likely introduce more bugs.

Also keep in mind that when I made a new build, I didn't just copy it to the network and let the testers at it, it had to be copied to four or five sets of floppy disk so it could be installed on each tester’s machine. It was a time consuming and dangerous process. It was not uncommon for problems to creep up when I made the masters and have to start the whole process again. It could take several hours to make a new set of five testing disks.

It’s why we didn’t take getting bumped from test lightly.

During the 2nd week of “lockdown testing”, if a bug was found we had to bump the release date. We required that each game had one full week of testing on the build that was going to be released. Bugs found during this last week had to be crazy bad to fix.

When the release candidate passed testing, it would be sent off to manufacturing. Sometimes this was a crazy process. The builds destined for Europe were going to be duplicated in Europe and we needed to get the gold master over there, and if anything slipped there wasn’t enough time to mail them. So, we’d drive down to the airport and find a flight headed to London, go to the gate and ask a passenger if they would mind carry the floppy disks for us and someone would meet them at the gate.

Can you imagine doing that these days? You can’t even get to the gate, let alone find a person that would take a strange package on a flight for you. Different world.

Indeed, entirely different, and arguably preferable. (And it makes you wonder what we'll say the same thing about 25 years from now, and what things will be locked down and tightly controlled then that are free and open now. But I digress.)

And Ron also remains baffled by just why the game isn't just popular, but enduringly so, for 25 years now:

Twenty Five years. That’s a long time.

It amazes me that people still play and love Monkey Island. I never would have believed it back then.

It’s hard for me to understand what Monkey Island means to people. I am always asked why I think it’s been such an enduring and important game. My answer is always “I have no idea.”

I really don’t.

I think I can answer that, Ron. It's because you guys did what you loved.

It's because you loved what you did.

And it's because it shows.

Good goddess Celestia, does it ever SHOW in your games! You've put so much into it, and you had fun all along the way. You never tried to make something marketable; you didn't do things the way you did because you thought they'd sell well, you did them because you you wanted to do them that way. Because it felt right. Because it was fun.

It shows, both in Monkey Island and other games of yours, and the feeling's transferred to the players. Players feel the same fun when they play the games; they feel that this is a labor of love. That's why people loved it, and why people keep on loving it.

Look at any successful game, any game that still has a following decades later (DOOM, for instance, to pick one from a radically different genre that nonetheless has an enduring and thriving fanbase) and you'll find that the same thing's true. They're all labors of love, and fun.

Simply put, it's because you were enthusiastic about the game, genuinely enthusiastic, and your enthusiasm was contagious and continues to be to this very day.

It was not too long ago that I replayed Monkey Island again, just a few months, using ScummVM on the Schneetab, just a little bit each night to wind down before going to sleep. I know the game inside and out, but I keep on coming back to it, just because it's so much fun. (And the same goes for other LucasArts adventures as well.)

So, congratulations on Monkey Island's 25th; and thanks, thanks to all of you on the team there, for making one of the greatest games I've ever played.

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