These days almost every new game has multiplayer capabilities, and the old "but my genre won't work online" excuse just ain't good enough no more. Take Civilisation III for example the complexity of the gameplay and the amount of time it takes to complete a turn would surely rule out playing online and yet the successful expansion pack Play the World allows you to do just that. With the majority of games jumping on the multiplayer bandwagon, the time has come for the Monkey Island series to emerge from the shadows and to get a multiplayer option... pronto.
Selecting your online alter-ego could work a little something like this
The only problem is, the adventure game format is surely designed in mind for a solitary gaming experience or is it? Cyan certainly seems to disagree, as their online adventure game Uru: Ages beyond Myst clearly shows. The idea behind it is simple: take a normal adventure game, but have multiple players exploring the game world instead of just you. This not only enriches the gaming experience, but also opens up new windows of opportunity: puzzles that need the help of other people, interacting with different players for guidance or simply having a chat when you want a break from puzzle-solving, to name but a few.
Sub-games such as Insult Sword-fighting would also benefit immensely it's fun enough to play against the computer, but when you play with real people all over the world then the concept rises to new levels of greatness. And speaking of all those people, the advent of online abilities would mean that the near deserted pirate villages of previous games would become a thing of the past, with sprawling metropolises taking their place, filled to the brim with NPCS (non-player characters) and other players all at their own individual stages of their own unique quests, all bound up in the epic story. An idea as ambitious as this would need a lot of work, yes, but it would surely be worth it and would definitely restore LucasArts' old reputation of making ground-breaking games.
The thrill is gone, baby
A screenshot from Sid Meier's game Pirates!
The design issues that need to be considered for a game like this, are, however, huge; most obviously you need a large 3D environment to stop the world from getting too crowded but that's simple, and would be a good step in the right direction for the adventure genre anyway (see my previous article "Evolve or die"). More problematic, though, is the use of NPCs, as an online adventure game would generate a very high demand for talking to characters but there are ways around that too, for instance having multiple NPCs (such as villagers) or by having certain locations where other players don't appear. The point I'm trying to make here is that these games need time and thought to make them work properly, and they simply can't be rushed as Star Wars: Galaxies arguably was.
An idea of what Monkey Island online could look like. Im excited!
The issue that casts a shadow over any developer contemplating making an online adventure game is, nevertheless, the fact that your average adventure gamer plays adventure games so that they can get away from the crazy outside world, and all they really want to do is sit down with a nice cup of tea and try solving a collection of puzzles undisturbed. If they want to interact with others online then they'll try #monkey-island MSN messenger or something. This perhaps explains why Uru: Ages Beyond Myst completely flopped the online world may be all right for an RPGer, but it certainly isn't want an adventure gamer wants.
So what could make an online adventure game work? Well, quite simply, Monkey Island could a franchise that could easily be the one to open the window for this sub-genre. Not only does it have a strong fan-base, but it also has the thing Myst didn't have: a sturdy appeal to lure in the typical online player, with a rich universe and the weight of four successful games beneath it. Of course, LucasArts are unlikely to be the ones to pioneer this sort of game, as they're far too busy metaphorically shagging George Lucas, but hey, a Monkey Island fan's allowed to dream, isn't he?
Pirates of the Caribbean meets Everquest
Screenshot from the discontinued online aspect of Myst: Uru, demonstrating how Monkey Islanders could help each other solve a puzzle
Another way a multiplayer Monkey Island could be achieved is not through an adventure game, but through the most successful online medium yet the MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, in case you wondered). Developers are constantly on the look-out for new worlds in which to set their online enterprises, and with space, fantasy, the future and even Ancient Egypt used up, the historically rich setting of the 18th century Caribbean is pretty much the only one yet unused.
Just think about it, though: sail the seven seas as either a pirate or a pirate hunter, discovering new islands, reporting to governments and maybe even settling down on one of the larger settlements with a trade such as thievery or, er, walking stickery. The potential here is limitless the only problem is that everyone would want to be Guybrush Threepwood.
How Insult Swordfighting would work infinitely better in a 3D online world.
Imagine joining a huge online world filled with hundreds of ships and islands populated with real people. Within seconds of connecting to your local server you're away, walking the mean streets of Melee Island town, perhaps pick-pocketing a few people before commandeering a boat to a new island. There you could learn how to sell wood, or you could engage some random people in a spot of insult-whatever, or you could kill a rich bloke and use his money to design your own mansion, or you could talk to the Voodoo lady and embark on a quest for experience points and items. In short, imagine doing all the things you can do in any other MMORPG, but this time in the Monkey Island universe.
Such a game doesn't look that unlikely either with LucasArts recently milking the Star Wars cow even more over Galaxies, the adaptation of their second favourite franchise for the online world could very easily happen. And if LucasArts doesn't do it, you can bet your bottom dollar that someone else will.
Yo ho me hearties, yo ho
Puzzle Pirates!: A real Monkey Island-esque online world
The pirate setting has, of course, already graced the Internet in the form of Puzzle Pirates (see news story from January 22nd, 2004), as addict Metallus describes: "IT'S TEH GAEM. You go around organizing a crew, developing stats, chatting endlessly about how your real life sucks... then you take up different duties on board a ship and each is a different puzzle", he said, before adding, "it's totally killed my desire to work on Lucasarts fan sites for free". What can we learn from these mad ravings? Simple - Monkey Island Online, if it were ever made, will most likely drain your life away like Puzzle Pirates has for Metallus. You have been warned.
Move the addictive qualities aside, though, and the concept behind Puzzle Pirates becomes very clear and simple you go around an online world (MMORPG) but you solve puzzles instead of killing Orcs (Adventure). It may not be as exciting as Lord of the Rings, but it does at least successfully marry the qualities of both genres. Maybe Monkey Island Online could do something similar.
Lock up your daughter
LucasTones with friends at the opening of Pirates of the Caribbean.
If the separate online game idea seems too scary, then why not simply enhance the next Monkey Island by having downloadable content from LucasArts.com, a la The Sims? You could, for example, spruce up the game by getting a Mr Bean skin for Guybrush, or by installing a mod that gives you the option to play MP3s. This would of course only appeal to a small section of Monkey Island fans, but it would at least suggest that LucasArts cares about the people who buy their games and let's be honest, there hasn't been much to suggest that for a long, long time.
"We tried to think of how we could make it work, but there are a couple of issues we couldn't solve" Sid Meier on the difficulties of adding a multiplayer side to his game, Pirates!
But why stop there? Half-life is still being played six years on for one simple reason: the fans are able to mod it as much as they like. If LucasArts was to include a world editor with their next adventure game, then within weeks the Internet would be full of new islands to download and explore, adding shit-loads of playability to an otherwise limited genre.
I doubt that Monkey Island 5 will be released with multiplayer options, but I do not doubt that we will soon be able to explore Guybrush's world online, being it from LucasArts or not. Likewise, I'm not sure if said game will be a standard MMORPG or an online adventure, but neither do I care; all I know is that there is huge potential to be tapped into for a game such as this. I have seen the future, and its name is "online".
But that's just my crazy opinion - please leave your crazy opinion concerning online adventure games below. The best one may win a prize!
Next week: to 3D or not to 3D? Gabez argues the case for both sides of the dimensional spectrum.
i think its a good idea although it should be a drop down list for speach because people will ruin monkey island buy shouting stuff like mancomb 5673 rulz and lol u stink but otherwise i think it would work online
Comment from Rapp Scallion
Hmmm... I find the concept of being able to put other players in your pants interesting. But I don't think an online Monkey Island game would work. But having one place on each island where players could get together to chat would be interesting. Perhaps in the scummbar on Melee and in the streets of Lucre Town. And on the beach on Knuttin Atoll. Then you can get a break from the game.
Comment from Gabez
Yeah, see what I said down below to get my views on the whole pirate talk/fighting thing.
I was also thinking that combat could be restricted to insult-whatever instead (which would work really well), and another alternative for pirate speak would be having the option to select what you want to say from a drop-down list, e.g. insults - questions - answers - misc etc., like in ToonTown online. This is limited, but works well in ToonTown, so it might be okay in MIO.
Comment from BlueSun
I don't see why becoming an online game it would make it necesarly a fighting game, I mean, in the Monkey Island universe, the fights are, well a bit more civilized like sword insult fighting, which needed a little practice but no more than that, and also the ship combat with canons. But fighting isn't the real deal of Monkey Island, it is of course important to some extent, yes, but I really think that exploring and taking crazy quests, gathering weird items to solve anything was more fun and also more important. If the game was made online, I would like it to have a "school" like in EMI so you'd be tought to talk like a pirate so the language in the game would be restricted to pirate sentences. Of course if you pass a test you wouldn't go to school and go right straight to the game, and I also don't see why you wouldn't be able to flee a battle, RPG style, maybe dropping some money or something as you left.
I really love the ability of modding a game, i find it really apealling, and even if it is not online, but just to give you the ability to expand the world to limits that only your imagination... and well also sometimes the game engine allows you to. It would be cool if a puzzle had many answers, so you could toy around with many items (that you could also mod) to have different results.
*I didn't mention Monkey Kombat because I felt like LucasArts stole my precious insult sword fighting for that... that thing, well I didn't like it at all, I found it really annoing and uninteresting.*
Comment from Mr Cheese
Great idea. But that would turn it into more of a fighting game, and less of a thinking game (I hate fighting games, mostly because I am hopless at them and die immediately.) And all those annoying people who write like "LOL piarets rool"... Ughhh... Not piratey at all. But still, it would be fun to talk to other pirates. I wonder how Lucasarts would put in the thinking aspects of the game... That is what gets you so absorbed in the game.
Comment from LucasTones
Multiplayer is for consoles, in my opinion. Its no good if you can't yank their controller out on the last corner, or really rub your victory in their face. If some asshole keeps shooting me online, and I just die every three seconds I'd get really mad. If that happens on Timesplitters 2, I throw a punch and the game heats up even more ;D
Comment from Mr Flibble
In my opninion, Monkey Island online is a bad idea, but I do like the concept of a less linear adventure, exploring islands some of which are pointless, but always as a single player and always as Guybrush.
Comment from Gabez
I would personally love to have an online MI MMORPG (as you may have gathered from the article), but yeah, unfortunately the majority of dialouge might ruin the Monkey Island "magic". This happened with Galaxies, as you had Wookies and shit running around shouting "NEWBS LOL", etc., although I guess this annoys some people more than others.
That Ancient Egypt MMORPG - A Tale in the Dessert, I think it's called - is different though. In place of fighting you have building; trade; communication - and that emphasis on community makes the game world work better, which may be a good move for Monkey Island online.
I think that, more than any other game fans, the Monkey Islanders will stick most rigidly to what sounds like pre-written dialogue. I mean, it'll just be like Talk Like a Pirate Day, only every day. And with abreviations.
Comment from MrManager
Well, interesting points, but I'll have to disagree here. :~ Playing a game online (other than the odd game of Red Alert 2) has never appealed to me, mainly because I want to play a game like MI more in the vein of watching a movie. (An interactive movie if you want, and I'm not thinking about the sub-genre from the mid-90s here.