One of the hottest topics in the eternal Monkey Island 5 debate is about what kind of graphic style the game should use. More often than not somebody will suggest that “cel-shading” is the way to go. But what exactly is cel-shading? And why would we (potentially) want to see this in Monkey Island 5? I’m hoping to shed some light on the subject in this article.

What is this cel-shading anyway?

Cel Damage didn't set the world a fire, but was great fun largely due to its graphics.
For us laymen, it’s just a way of combining the quality of a 2d cartoon, with the power of 3d. Games like “Cel Damage” and the imminent “Jonny Drama” are good examples of this, and “Futurama” fans should be well familiar with the muscles of it. To be a bit more technical, though, what it actually lets the developer do is to replace the standard shading and texture mapping used in 3d games, and give it a flatter look. This style includes highly defined areas of shadow and highlight, and often uses a dark outline for the objects. And even though it looks flat, it certainly has all the three dimensional features you’d expect from, well, 3d. Does this make sense? If not, try playing one of the many cel-shaded games currently flooding the market, or watch “Futurama”, and you’ll get the idea.

Looking on the screens around this site, you might think that there’s a lack of detail to them. This might be the case in some instances, but you really need to see the games in action to get the full experience – “Cel Damage” might not be the most earth shattering game you’ve ever played, but the graphics are amazing in that Tex Avery kind of way.

Three dimensional monkeys

Sierra's up-coming Jonny Drama shows a lot of potential in a "70s Saturday morning cartoon" sorta way.
One of the big hang-ups a lot of people had about “Escape from Monkey Island” (EMI) was that it didn’t feature the same quality backgrounds as we had grown accustomed to with “Curse of Monkey Island” (CMI), and that the fusion between cartoony and realistic styles just didn’t produce a decent result. So why didn’t they just make the whole thing cel-shaded to give it that CMI look we all love? A couple of reasons can probably be given, but if we just look at the technical side of it, there was no way a standard PC at that time could handle cel-shading. Even now, only upper-line PCs has the power to run it, which is probably why only next-gen console owners currently can enjoy this technology. As an apropos - word has it that one of the EMI artists did some experimenting with cel-shading, but it never materialized to anything.

The new Zelda game changed from a realistic look, to a more Pokemon feel.
With “Monkey Island 5”, which we most likely will see some time in the future, I believe cel-shading will be the way to go. I mean, think about it, we can – technically at least - have quality of CMI with the power of full 3d, which is a great way to please both camps. Of course, just making it cel-shaded won’t guarantee quality graphics, but it seems to be the style people want at least.

With at least five new LucasArts games being announced at E3 this year, it will be interesting to see if any of them will be cel-shaded. An ex-LucasArts employee stated that he worked on a game with cel-shading before he left, but it’s anybody’s guess if this project has changed direction since then, or if it's even still in production.


aGuyWithout_aBrush June 06. 2002

hey,what up?
i think 2d art is the best way to make an adventure game. the thing is, i think it's way harder,and most of the games made with cartoony style,their sequels were 3d,i'm guessing because the creators and animators noticed how hard it is. you can see it like in the king's quest series from sierra - KQ7 was made 2d cartton style,and KQ8 was takes less time and money to do things in 3d than in 2d.and you know how much the game creators love money...

LargoLaGrande May 15. 2002

I didn't like CMI and EMI as much as I did MI1 & MI2. The style and mood was just better in the older games, and I hope cel-shading can bring that back. I'm talking about the kinda "feel-good" lucasarts style that Sam&Max and Full Throttle also had. Also I loved Grim Fandango. I disagree with most ppl about the difference between CMI and EMI. I thought EMI was alot better. As a last comment I would like to say that I'd like to see Guybrush back to the small guy with beard and dark hair than the tall nerdie dude he was in CMI and EMI.

Charstenne Morgha May 05. 2002

To be honest I don't count EMI as an actual Monkey Island game.
EMI has sloppy made grafics, recycled music, too few jokes, and the quality of the voice recordings was so bad I have to play with the text on.
CMI on the other hand has exquisite backgrounds (beautifully colored), gorgeous music(I'm listening to it right now), loads of jokes, and the quality of the recordings was so good I could understand practically everything that is said.

BTW, How do I get one of those tiny neat pictures next to my posts?

Governor Phatt May 02. 2002

i liked the 2D of CMI, but i also liked the 3D of i don't really care.
I don't see why they can't give it a sort of 'MI & 2' feel with more detail. They'd obviously make it at a higher resolution, but it'd be a lot moodier. Thats what was so great about the original style

Charstenne Morgha May 02. 2002

Personally I don't care what sort of grafics they use for the next game as long as it looks good. CMI looked good, EMI didn't, it looked half finished.

Man_of_Low_Moral_Fib May 02. 2002

Didn't they use a bit of Cel-Shading in CMI with some of the cutscenes? Such as when LeChuck's ship capsized in the beginning?

Pedgey April 30. 2002

you forgot the daddy of cel shaded games, Jet Set Radio!
for a slightly more technical way of achieving a cel shader effect, check out just to give you programmers some ideas... ;)

Riffage April 29. 2002

Futurama Cel Shading for evar!

LostBoyGoonie April 29. 2002

CMI was hands-down better than EMI, and I think the fact that it was 2D had something to do with that. I for one, hope 2D never goes away. Not that I dislike 3D in general. I just think 2D and 3D have different uses. Overall, I really wasn't all that impressed by EMI's 3D. But, if they're going to use cel shading for MI5, then they should go with the Futurama style where they do some scenes in regular old fashioned 2D, and other more elaborate scenes in cel shading (thus making the transitions less obvious). And I personally loved the look of all the characters (especially Guybrush) in CMI.

MrManager April 29. 2002

Right, cel-shading is a slightly different technique of NPRR, from what they're using in Futurama. The point though, is to show what one can do with that type of technology, and Futurama is a good, well known example.

Uncle Peter April 29. 2002

you mentioned futurama using Cell shading, the system they use is similar but it was actualy a custom made cartoon rendering engine, im not actualy sure much abou the difference mayby that it doesnt have the thick black lines
and i didnt think the CMI style was as good as people make it out to be, i liked the way they drew everyone except guybrush, his nose was just too big and he looked too young, younger than MI2(or was that done on purpos as a side effect to the voodoo curse?)

wojo39 April 29. 2002

Thanks RemiO, now I understand.

MrManager April 29. 2002

Well, for one thing - making 2d animation the same quality as 3d is very difficult and time consuming. The other thing is that if you want to view a location from different angles in 2d, you'd have to re-paint the location from scratch. With 3d you could just re-generate it. From our Bill Tiller chat:

BillT: I like 2d for my own personal art, but I love the flexibilty of 3d art. It is so easy to fix things in 3d art. 3d can be a pian but it is a great way to get into a virtual world. 2d can still do that, but it is much more difficult. So I can't say I like one over the other. they both have ther uses.

BillT: Also in CMi we had to five differnt walk animations, in 3d you animate the walk once and leave the turning to the programer. Saves a lot of time and allows the animator more time to tweak the animation.

My goal with this article wasn't really so much pitting 2d against 3d, but more pointing out that you can do cartoony stuff with 3d also, which 2d fans should like.

wojo39 April 29. 2002

I'm a little confused. Why is 3-D so great? I loved 2-D. I didn't find anything wrong with it. If cell shading looks like 2-D and takes 3-D level processing power, why not just make it 2-D? As an adventure gamer, I care about stories, characters and puzzles. I don't care at all for the latest technology. The graphics in CMI were far superior to those in EMI. Maybe that's still a subjective opinion but I think that seemed pretty obvious. I read the article by the head artist for CMI on this website and realized how difficult it was to create the games backgrounds. But most of this time consuming work seemed to be because of artistic effort and not because of technological hang-ups. Am I wrong? Will cell shading allow simpler development of great looking art? I hope there's some solution because EMI was not as impressive as I had hoped.

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