Nostalgia With Sea Of Thieves: The Legend Of Monkey Island

Nostalgia With Sea Of Thieves: The Legend Of Monkey Island 1

From his years at Codemasters on DiRT Showdown to his decade-long stint at Rare, Sea of Thieves Creative Director Mike Chapman has shown what it means to be a swashbuckling pirate in his whole career. The grind for any pirate life is tough and gruelling on the open waters, but can be exciting with fellow crewmates and long, puzzling adventures. Everything for a pirate starts with the one piece that ties them all together: a dream (along with booty and grog).

With the launch of the latest crossover between Sea of Thieves and the Monkey Island games, Rare has incepted the update to its popular multiplayer game: Sea of Thieves: The Legend of Monkey Island. Fans of the Lucasfilm Games were surprised with a return from the original creator Ron Gilbert, with the release of Return to Monkey Island late last year. Now, this collaboration has taken both games’ franchises to a whole new level.

Chapman has been a longtime fan of the pirate’s life, working on the Pirates of the Caribbean crossover as well. CGMagazine was able to sit down in the Scumm Bar and discuss all things Sea of Thieves with Chapman, noting everything from ambitions playing The Secret of Monkey Island as a kid to delving into the creative space of bringing The Legend of Monkey Island to 3-D life.

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So, walk me through the development timeline of The Legend of Monkey Island. Where did this whole concept start?

Mike Chapman: I think even before A Pirate’s Life, when we were thinking about the possibility of doing collaborations with the Walt Disney Company, and now with Lucasfilm Games, it’s very much about what are the worlds and characters could we bring to Sea of Thieves? Not just do it because we’re fans, but do it in a way that feels like it makes sense. And one thing that unites Pirates of the Caribbean, Monkey Island and Sea of Thieves is they’re all pirate fantasy worlds where you want to be a pirate, and pirates aren’t the bad guys. You’re rooting for the pirates. It’s all about that.

We created that little [Monkey Island] Easter egg in A Pirate’s Life really as a little love letter to kind of show [Lucasfilm Games] that we love that franchise, but also to get people to think ‘Oh, would they, could they? Would that ever happen?’ So I’d be lying to you if that wasn’t in the back of their minds when we created those references in “A Pirate’s Life.”

The idea that LeChuck, the big bad of the Monkey Island world, has come to the Sea of Thieves as well. And he’s using what’s unique about the [Sea of Thieves] world against Guybrush, and he creates this fantasy world of Mêlée Island that’s not real. It’s where Guybrush gets everything he ever wanted, and that’s a way to keep Guybrush in his cage. And that was like, ‘Oh, what if players could then tear that down and then go on an adventure with Guybrush to confront LeChuck?’ So those kinds of ideas formed quite early on.

Then last year, enough time had passed from A Pirate’s Life, and we were thinking of creating more Tall Tales. And there’s this idea for what a Monkey Island collaboration could potentially be. So I pulled all that together into a pitch, and we reached out. There were contacts at Disney we got formally introduced to the team at Lucasfilm Games, and we pitched this experience for what The Legend of Monkey Island could be. And thankfully, everybody loved it. They appreciated how faithful we were to the original, and we were also doing things that were new with it. Once we got the green light, we started building towards it around the end of last year.

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Speaking on collaborating with Lucasfilm Games, how was that feeling being able to bring in one of the original voice actors for Guybrush?

Mike Chapman: First time we assemble, we have the script, and we assemble their proposal at Lucasfilm Games, who were very gracious, they allowed us to go with the original or special edition cast. Some of the older cast that had been recast and what we wanted to go there in terms of that cast list. Seeing that cast list together, obviously seeing Dominic Amato at the very top, and seeing some of these actors that have been with Monkey Island for years, but some of which, who haven’t been part of a project since the special editions. That was such a surreal list to think ‘Oh, this is like getting the Monkey Island band back together. This is incredible.

And especially actors like Jess Harnell, who filled for the original actor Al Bowen who played LaChuck, sadly passed away. And [Harnell] was recast for LeChuck in Return to Monkey Island last year. He’s also the voice of one of the pirate leaders, and voice of the storekeeper. Going back to the special edition, working with actors like that working with Dominic, and David Collins, who’s the voice of Spiffy the Dog of the Scumm Bar, it’s just surreal.

But the very first recording session we ever had was with Dominic as the voice of Guybrush. That was…I mean…can’t even put it into words. It was so surreal. Because the first time I would have heard Dominic’s voices as Guybrush, I was a teenager. Working at Rare and working on a Monkey Island project with these original actors, it’s a dream come true. It’s incredible! And even now, I get goosebumps when you’re first travelling to the Sea of the Damned as part of the first Tale when you go into Mêlée Island, and you hear Guybrush’s lines for the very first time as you go through the tunnel. It’s just one of those awesome moments of events.

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I noticed there were countless references and cameos in The Legend of Monkey Island. Was there a definitive number to Easter eggs and references?

Mike Chapman: I bet you could take a screenshot of almost anything in this collaboration and just spot little details. Everything we do in Sea of Thieves, we pour so much love and craft into it. This is a passion project like no other—we have obsessed over every detail. I grew up playing the original Monkey Island game, and it meant so much to me as a child who loved pirates and daydreamed about pirates. Monkey Island was there at that right time; it captured my imagination. So I’ve got my own experiences and memories of Monkey Island.

And as you’d expect, Sea of Thieves is a pirate game we’ve been building at Rare for many, many years. There are lots of Monkey Island fans on the team. There’s no shortage of inspiration and enthusiasm to do this justice. And as you’ve noticed, even in the character dialogue, there’s so many little references and clues and jokes that relate back to Sea of Thieves and Monkey Island. It’s been it’s been a pleasure to do all that stuff.

Yeah, I even heard hints of throwbacks in the music cues.

Mike Chapman: Yeah, all of that is obviously based on the original tracks from Michael Land, but they’re doing new arrangements. And they actually bring in Sea of Thieves’ instrumentation to kind of harmonize it with their world and not so much in this Tall Tale, but in later Tales, we actually weave together the main themes of Monkey Island with the main themes of Sea of Thieves. So it kind of feels really cool when you hit some of those epic moments. I think music is such a big part of Sea of Thieves but a huge part of Monkey Island too. The feeling you get when you play those games—it’s been a thrill for our composers to get to grips with those themes.

And can we expect to get a new shanty?

Mike Chapman: Yes, yes you can. It will count as a reward for playing through all the Tall Tales and completing the story. There will be a shanty for players to go play around within Sea of Thieves.

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What was your personal touch or favourite part of the whole project?

Mike Chapman: I think there was a moment that was in an original creative pitch to Lucasfilm Games, which is when you emerge out of the fog, and the fog clears, and it says ‘Deep in the Caribbean’, and then the main theme starts. It’s that call back to the original. That moment for me, was very clear on how we wanted that to feel. So to see that come to life and see, even like people like yourself, who aren’t as familiar with the Monkey Island series to have that land as a grand reveal is wonderful. I think the other one I’d mentioned is particularly the first Tale—the first time you walk into the Scumm Bar it’s just so real. I can go and sit down. I can drink grog in there. That’s another magical moment.

But I remember this particular moment during development, where we spent a lot of time trying to get the 3-D locations faithful to what you had in mind when you imagined it in 3-D. And the first time I got to match the walk of Guybrush from the original game where the game starts, and you start on the lookout point with a little archway, and he walks down the cliff path, and you walk across the jetty to the Scumm Bar. Experiencing that for the first time, it really wasn’t even textured. It was just white box assets. We’re experiencing that for the first time.

And knowing we’d nailed it, I got butterflies in my stomach. It was like, ‘Oh, my God, fans are going to adore this’. This is what so many of us have always wanted, which is the chance to really be in that space.

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Branching off the idea of the narrative and creating moments, why is it three parts versus something like five parts, as we have seen in the Pirates of the Caribbean crossover?

Mike Chapman: Yeah, great question. No real reason why it’s five, we’ve done Tall Tale series before where we had one-off Tales. We did the Shores of Gold back in 2019, which was nine parts. So we’ve had nine parts, five parts, three parts, and one-off Tales. It really is dictated by the story that we want to tell, and what the beats of the story are. Like with Pirates of the Caribbean, we had what a complex story with events taking place in the Sea of the Damned, but also events taking place in the shared world of Sea of Thieves. We had kind of the underwater story with Davy Jones and the sirens. And we had the story of Jack Sparrow in the Sea of the Damned, then they kind of come together at the end.

Whereas for this story, it felt like the beats of the story, we’re going into Mêlée Island, discovering that Guybrush is seen as the legend and then uncovering that this is magic that’s been performed by LeChuck to create this fantasy world. The second Tale being around, you need to play your part in breaking that curse and saving Guybrush. And in the third tale, it’s about joining forces with Guybrush, and going on an adventure together. Lastly, everybody goes to Monkey Island to confront LeChuck in his lair below the island.

So it just felt like the first Tale establishes the story, the second Tale escalates, and the third Tale is a stunning finale. That three-beat structure just worked really well. That was the main reason. But what I would say is the content of the Tales is different from the five parts of A Pirate’s Life. These Tales are a lot less linear. It’s really about exploring the puzzles revealing themselves to you and then you working out the solutions. It was really trying to nail that point-and-click gameplay but in that immersive Sea of Thieves style.

These are probably our longest, most sophisticated Tales that we’ve ever built. But in general, we’ve been saying it’s, on average, about eight hours to play through all three Tales. And this is a sizable amount of content.

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You have talked a lot about nostalgia being a key factor in The Legend of Monkey Island, so what can players expect in general from this first Tall Tale and the whole arc as a whole?

Yeah, when people think about Monkey Island, if you were to pick the elements that people are most familiar with, I think from the location-wise, obviously, Mêlée Island is huge. It’s where the story first started with the original, where a lot of the games have gone back to explore in different ways. Mêlée Island is the heart of the story for Guybrush. We felt like we’ve got to do that location justice, and it’s got to live up to your expectations, your imagination, but also surprise you.

And then how can you have a Monkey Island game without Monkey Island itself? So location was really focused on Mêlée Island and Monkey Island. But in terms of what we’re drawing upon, we’ve got Murray in there, who’s a character introducing the Curse of Monkey Island, the third game? Definitely a fan favourite, definitely one of my favourite characters. But beyond that, there are some references there, and obviously the Captain Kate Capsize who introduces these adventures on the outposts. After all that, this is 95% drawing on and putting a twist on the original game.

Now, from the location to the humour, to the references, it really is drawing upon that original game, which I think in many ways is gaming royalty. It’s one of those games that everybody should play if you’re a gamer. We really picked that first game to really bring to life, along with this original story in the Sea of Thieves. For players, if you’re a fan of Monkey Island, I think you’ll hopefully be blown away by the level of detail, and the care and the craft we put into this.

But if you like Sea of Thieves, and maybe you’re new to Monkey Island, this is a great way for you to hopefully appreciate what’s wonderful about this world. You know, we’ve been able to play in the toy box of Monkey Island, and create a story that we believe in. But I hope that you fall in love with the characters and the tone of this world. And hopefully, this is the first window into that world, and you’ll go play the other games because they’re awesome!

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