Saturday, June 13, 2015

Monkey 2 Lite Differences and Adventure Game thoughts

Lately I've been getting back into some Monkey Island, the classic adventure game series by Ron Gilbert, Tim Schafer, Dave Grossman et al, formerly of Lucasfilm Games/LucasArts. One thing I'd never experienced before, however, is the "Lite" mode of the second game, notionally for game reviewers and inexperienced players. I'd heard of it, and knew that it made the game supposedly woefully easy, but I wasn't sure of how. The version I grew up with didn't even have the "Lite" option. It was just the proper game and that was it. Sometimes people describe it as "easy mode" or even the normal version as "hard mode" which seems a bit odd to me. As far as I can tell there's simply the main game, Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge, and then this heavily stripped-down version which was seemingly added in so that reviewers could breeze through the game and experience all of the story. I had no desire to play the "Lite" mode because I didn't see the point. It wouldn't be the complete thing. It's a bit like not drinking full cream milk.

Nonetheless, the other night m'colleague and I sat down and played "Lite" mode purely out of curiosity. More specifically, as one did as a child in the Nineties with such games, he played and I sat next to him yelling out advice. It probably took us all of half an hour, but although we're both seasoned players of LeChuck's Revenge, it's hard to imagine how anyone would struggle. What I thought I would do, however, is go through the Lite mode and mention all the changes I observed, because I can't see that anyone's ever done that, and it's an interesting exercise.

Part I: The Largo Embargo
You still have to make the voodoo doll, but it's pretty simple. As with the main game you use the paper taken from Wally's house to wipe up Largo's spit and use the shovel from the sign in Woodtick to dig up the grave to get the bone, as well as nabbing the hairpiece from the room. What they completely eliminate is the "thread" puzzle, which in the main game involves the bucket, mud from the swamp, the door to Largo's room, the laundry shop, stealing Largo's claim ticket from the back of his door and receiving the comedy bra in exchange. All that happens is you simply find a white shirt of Largo's lying on his bed, so it's in exactly the same room as the wig for the "head" component of the doll. It's doubly odd because the shirt is a unique inventory item only found in the Lite version. There's no bra on the bed. I guess that means if you play "Lite" you're getting fewer jokes as well as fewer puzzles.
You still need money to hire Dredd's ship, but you don't need to get Bernard the chef fired by dumping the rat from the laundry in his cooking. In fact the rat is unable to be selected and the components of the trap are either missing or reduced to background elements. Bernard himself is missing. There's unique dialogue from the bartender that the chef has already been fired. What's interesting about this "Lite" mode is that not only does it eliminate puzzles, but it reduces interactive components of the game so as to not distract the players. Dredd already has a lucky sailing necklace and you don't need to steal Wally's monocle. It really reduces the content of Part 1, making it feel like less of a narrative and more of a series of arbitrary fetching chores. Probably the only real "puzzle" is cutting Pegbiter the alligator loose so that the innkeeper is distracted.

Part II: Four Map Pieces
Given that this is the longest and most expansive part of the game, and possibly any LucasArts adventure game, the way this gets trimmed down is really remarkable. Let's go by map piece.

Young Lindy's Map Piece (found in the Booty Boutique):
This one is no puzzle at all. Rather than the piece being valued at six million pieces of eight and having to be traded for with the Mad Monkey figurehead, the shopkeeper will simply sell it to you for one hundred pieces of eight, little under a quarter of the money you get from the bartender. As there's no need to get the Mad Monkey head, Kate Capsize is completely removed from the game, as is the Spitting Contest, because there's no need to win the Spitting trophy to sell at the shop to raise the money to hire Kate's help. Now that I think of it, it's kind of odd that Dredd can't navigate to the coordinates, because it's not like Kate does anything besides give you an anchor to ride up on. I guess the point is Dredd knows how to get between the three islands but otherwise isn't an especially competent sailor. Anyway, as the spitting contest is gone, the old fellow with the cannon is gone too.

Rapp Scallion's Map Piece (found in the Scabb Island Cemetery):
This one has slightly more of a puzzle element, but all you need is to open the crypt. Rapp's coffin is clearly labelled with his name and a unique description which doesn't appear in the main game, eliminating the quote puzzle, and inside the coffin his map piece is simply sitting on top of the ashes. You still need to trap Stan in the previously-owned coffin to steal the crypt key at his shop on Booty Island, but you can simply take the hammer and nails from the Woodsmith in Woodtick. He merely tells you to bring the hammer back when you're done and to take as many nails as you like. There's no need to distract him by sawing off the Man of Low Moral Fibre's peg leg at the laundry. Similarly there's no need to use Ash-2-Life from the Voodoo Lady to temporarily resurrect Rapp, nor do you need to obtain the Famous Pirate Quotations book from Governor Phatt's bedroom. As a result, you never even speak to Rapp, which scraps a funny moment from the game, and you never need to go to the Steamin' Weenie hut.
I've been digging through the script and files for the game and I've discovered that it is possible to resurrect Rapp. I guess they couldn't be bothered to program out the Ash-2-Life sequence. If you do so, however, all he says to you is "What are you bugging me for? This is Easy Mode!"

Mister Rogers' Map Piece (found in his house off Phatt Island):
This is the next most absurdly simple after Young Lindy's piece. On Phatt Island, the waterfall is already "turned off" to reveal the Newly Discovered Gaping Hole. You don't need to turn the pump at the top of the waterfall using Jojo the monkey, and as such you never put the banana on the metronome in the Bloody Lip bar to get Jojo to stop playing the piano. When you're arrested on Phatt Island, the Gorilla Envelope containing the banana is missing. You still need to do the bone puzzle with Walt the dog to escape the jail, however. After passing through the Gaping Hole and subsequent tunnels, you arrive at the house to discover that Rum Rogers, is completely missing. There's no drinking contest. As Kate's been eliminated, it's impossible to obtain her Near-Grog by framing her for your crimes on Phatt Island anyway. The telescope and mirror puzzle is also gone. All that you need to do is "open" the trapdoor at the far end of the room of the house and Guybrush falls through to discover the skeleton holding the map piece.

ASIDE: I originally referred to this as "Rum Rogers' Map Piece", but did you know that in LeChuck's Revenge, the "Mister Rogers" who was first mate on the Big Whoop expedition is never referred to as "Rum Rogers", let alone "Rum Rogers, Sr."? The man at the house is referred to by Guybrush in exactly one piece of dialogue as "Rum Rogers", but it's never indicated that "Mister Rogers" was also called "Rum" or even that Rum, as in the man whom you actually meet in LeChuck's Revenge, is even the other man's son. I'm suddenly inclined to believe that Rum Rogers might actually be meant to be Mister Rogers' brother. Rum only says that he "inherited" the cottage "two months ago" (although he also says "I wish I'd never bought this house" - which is it?). The idea that the character Guybrush meets in LeChuck's Revenge is the son of "Mister Rogers" who found Big Whoop seems to be something that was invented in The Curse of Monkey Island and has been retroactively applied to the previous game in fan consciousness completely accidentally. The "brother" interpretation would fit with the fact that Rum Rogers calls himself "retired" in LeChuck's Revenge and is clearly an old man.

Captain Marley's Map Piece (found in the Governor's Mansion on Booty Island):
This, along with the Rapp Scallion map piece, is probably the more complicated of the four, but it's still pretty darn easy in this mode. To obtain the invitation to the party, you simply need to play the roulette game in the Phatt Island alleys once. There's no need to solve the "if this is X, what's this" puzzle because whichever number you pick in the game automatically wins. After going to the party things progress more or less normally: you swipe the map piece, are identified by Guybrush the dog, get stopped by Filbert the gardener and speak to Elaine. When she throws the map piece out of the window, however, it simply hovers on the front lawn without blowing away. You simply pick it up there and you're done. The clifftop and Big Tree rooms are completely removed. As such, there's no need to obtain the fishing rod: the fisherman on Phatt Island has been removed from the game. If you try to bang the garbage bins outside Elaine's kitchen to trick the chef into chasing you so you can steal a fish, nothing happens. The chef doesn't come out. You can't take Guybrush the dog as you never go up on top of the Big Tree to sort through the papers (or to obtain the telescope, as that puzzle has been removed from Rum Rogers' sequence). For this reason you never have the accident on the Big Tree and the dream sequence with the bone song never takes place, nor do you need to take Elaine's oar to the Woodsmith to be repaired. You can still take it, but there's no reason to.

This also cuts some other stuff from the game, effectively. There's no point in going to the Phatt City Library, for instance, although you can. There's no need to get the drinks from the Bloody Lip bartender. As a result of this again a lot of jokes and narrative content gets eliminated from the game, making Lite mode seem like a decidedly anaemic piece. The ending of the part is identical, however, with Wally being kidnapped while analysing the map and Guybrush travelling to LeChuck's fortress via shipping crate.

Part III: LeChuck's Fortress
In this part, because of the changes to the game, there are effectively no puzzles at all. There is no dream sequence in Part II so there's no solution to the "ugly bone thing" puzzle, which was probably scrapped for being too hard at any rate. You simply walk past the "ugly bone things", Guybrush commenting that they're too heavy to open. This leads you straight to the big door and the key. There's no spitting puzzle with LeChuck's death trap either. You don't have the drinks or the straw, as there was no need to obtain them. What is added, humorously, is Wally complaining that he needs to go to the bathroom, and then urinating on the candle to turn off the trap. It's actually quite funny, albeit literally taking the piss with what an absurd solution it is and how effortlessly it's achieved. You still light the match to blow up the fortress, but that's hardly a puzzle. What this does is turn an already weirdly short Part, which you would think would be important, into an even shorter and more seemingly-irrelevant one.

Part IV: Dinky Island
As far as we could tell, this part underwent the least alteration. The only major change is in the surface section of the island, in which there is no need to break open the hanging bag of cracker mix with the broken bottle or distil the sea water via the Martini glass. You simply find three crackers straight away in the barrel where you only find one in the normal game. You still have to follow the parrot's instructions, take the rope from the crate, use the crowbar to open the crate to obtain the dynamite, dig up the X, use the dynamite to blow open the concrete at the bottom of the hole, and use the rope with the crowbar to assemble a makeshift grappling hook.

The final confrontation with LeChuck is identical to the main game. I found this slightly surprising because it's not exactly an easy sequence of events. I particularly feel as if the puzzles for obtaining LeChuck's underpants and beard are challenging. It's not as if, for instance, you'd assume that helium would help your rise in the overburdened lift, or that you'd remember that you even had Stan's complimentary hankie from way back in Part II. I suppose, though, it'd be virtually impossible to streamline these puzzles to any greater an extent, and even the game reviewers deserved a challenge at the end.

The ending of the game is as weird and baffling as it ever was, but the elimination of the dream sequence from Part II means that it is less effectively foreshadowed and doesn't feel as thematically consistent with the rest of the game.

I've read that "Monkey 2 Lite" was effectively a joke on the part of the developers, intended to be absurdly easy to mock those who lacked the patience and determination to puzzle their way through challenging adventure games. I don't know if that's true, but the entire mode is an interesting lesson in adventure game design. For instance, because of the nature of Part II, it's virtually impossible to simplify any part of any particular sequence without setting off a chain reaction which simplifies the rest, to the point where puzzles are abandoned wholesale and you virtually only need to do the bleeding obvious to complete the game. I've recently read criticism which argues that adventure games are essentially nothing more than elaborately disguised "pick the right key to unlock the door" games, and this is to an extent justified, although I would argue that part of the trickery of adventure games is that sometimes the door you can unlock is different to what you might think.

Furthermore, part of the point of Monkey Island at least is that the puzzles are a means of enabling jokes. Using Jojo the monkey to turn the pump on Phatt Island, for instance, is basically just a key in a lock, but the point of it is that it causes the absurd and incongruous situation of a modern water pump "in a pirate game" and the sight of Guybrush putting a piano-playing monkey into his jacket, which he later uses like a wrench. As a result I would argue that traditional adventure games are one of the more effective ways of doing game comedy. For the same reason I would argue that the obvious and probably intentional deficiencies of Monkey 2 Lite indicate that adventure games can't simply be reductively described as locked door games where the puzzles divide up chunks of story, because eliminating puzzles eliminates a lot of the funny, strange and interesting parts of the game in the same way that watching someone on YouTube playing normal Monkey Island 2 is never going to be the same as playing it yourself. It's about your personal interaction with the game world. Sure, the adventure game may be a relatively simple genre, but it doesn't need to be more complex. Its core method is a very effective way of conveying storytelling and humour. In many respects, all games are "find the key" puzzles, even if the "key" is simply having the right reflexes or knowledge of game mechanics or whatever.

If I was to argue that anything would improve adventure games, it wouldn't be shoehorned roleplaying or action elements beyond the existing extent to which such elements are already incorporated in parts of adventure games. My one suggestion is that more adventure games ought to have multiple solutions for puzzles. This would obviously take more programming, but it would also give adventure games more complexity as well as potentially reducing their inscrutability. Weirdly enough, I think this is something Lucasfilm Games actually did originally with Maniac Mansion, in which any combination of three of seven characters could be used to complete the game, but didn't really do afterwards. They did, of course, go down the route with Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis where there are three completely different middle acts of the game, but that's another story. Multiple puzzle solutions would also eliminate the "I've come up with a perfectly sensible solution but it doesn't work" dilemma. It just involves a lot of forethought on the part of developers. I think a reasonable amount of playtesting can accommodate for that.

My point at the end of all this is: don't play Monkey 2 Lite, or rather, only play it after you've played the real game for a laugh. The normal game isn't "hard mode" or whatever, it's just Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge as it was meant to be played: with tonnes of interconnected and baffling puzzles that barely make sense. Don't write off the classic adventure genre, because its limitations are also its strengths. Those "find the key" tasks can be a force for good, and scrapping them leaves you with nothing but a thin gruel smirkingly served up by developers to mock reviewers writing for early Nineties computer magazines.

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