The story of The Secret of Monkey Island began with a joke: Graphic artist Steve Purcell drew a small figure on the computer and saved the file as "Guy". The program automatically added the addition ".Brush", from which the bizarre name "Guybrush" arose. And that Guybrush Threepwood was soon to write games history.

It is precisely such anecdotes that, in my opinion, make a good game its real size. In this case, it demonstrated both the simple creativity and spontaneity of a developer who created one milestone after another from 1986 to 2000.

Retro special: Monkey Island series with guest star Ron Gilbert

The rise of LucasArts
Even if you don't know much about point'n'click adventures or have only played games for five, ten or 20 years, you've probably heard of The Secret of Monkey Island. It came out at a time when Lucasfilm Games was rushing from one genre high to the next. The US company wanted to create games that were reminiscent of films. And after the developers had developed a few technically noteworthy action titles with early 3D classics such as Rescue of Fractalus (1984) or Koronis Rift (1985), they found their perfect home in the adventure genre.

<img src = "" alt = "Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis (1992) counts to this day the most extensive adventures and inspires even in trivial side scenes like a coal cellar with fabulous graphics.
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Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis (1992) is still one of the most extensive adventure games to this day and inspires even in trivial side scenes like a coal cellar with fabulous graphics.

Source: plassma media agency

I was already very impressed by the company's first steps: Labyrinth (1986) adapted the movie of the same name by Muppet inventor Jim Henson and misled me with its boring prologue, because it was reminiscent of an ordinary text adventure. But as soon as the real adventure began, I controlled my character directly with the joystick and selected my commands using a verb and object list.

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Maniac Mansion (1987) and Zak McKracken (1988) perfected the idea by purifying the controls, adding more lines of dialogue to the story and reinventing the concept of cutscenes. In other words: Suddenly there was something like "cuts" in a game, comparable to a movie! This idea alone prompted me to record my playing on video cassette and thus probably create one of the first Let's Play in world history.

<img src = "" alt = "Maniac Mansion (1987), the second adventure from Lucasfilm Games, had the Competition in terms of wit and puzzle design easily behind.
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Maniac Mansion (1987), the second adventure from Lucasfilm Games, easily left the competition behind in terms of wit and puzzle design.

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The great art of puzzles
After a stop in the direction of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), which shone with fantastic animation and complemented the story of Steven Spielberg's movie in an excellent way, The Secret of Monkey Island followed in 1990. It is one of the few masterpieces that I still call (almost) perfect to this day. Why? Lucasfilm Games not only created a wonderfully absurd storyline that must have evidently been created in boozy brainstorming sessions and which fully lived up to the name Guybrush Threepwood. The developers also revolutionized the art of puzzle design.

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The developers forced me, as a gamer, to solve some of the stupidest problems in a perfectly logical and understandable way. Once I had to literally take the dance steps of a supposed treasure map in order to find the right path through a tangled forest and come across a buried chest. Another time I freed a prisoner from prison by showering the iron lock with caustic grog. And towards the end of the game I persuaded a shrunken head with words meant "dearly" to please lend me his invisible necklace – otherwise I would just take it and throw him into the lava.

<img src = "" alt = "Not only salesman and lab bag Stan was happy in 1991 when Guybrush Threepwood in Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge embarked on another adventure.
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Not only salesman and chatterbox Stan was happy in 1991 when Guybrush Threepwood embarked on another adventure in Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge.

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Lucasfilm Games had previously shown that their type of puzzle design was far superior to the competition. The studio's works shone against their direct competitor Sierra On-Line (including King's Quest, Gabriel Knight, Police Quest) with fairness and traceability, because the player received enough tips for every bizarre idea and almost never reached a dead end could maneuver. Furthermore, the level of difficulty was trimmed to a healthy level, which is why less experienced players reached the showdown without outside help.

A year later, the company changed the name Lucasfilm Games to LucasArts, but not its valuable philosophy. At best, they experimented with the claim, so that on the one hand Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge (1991) or Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis (1992) were a lot crisper and on the other hand Full Throttle (1995) or Grim Fandango (1998) were much simpler. Nonetheless, LucasArts consistently stuck to the core of never alienating the player with unfair passages and instead surprising them with one creative flash of inspiration after the other.

<img src = "" alt = "The Secret of Monkey Island (1990) is also so brilliant because it is itself Behind the stupidest puzzles there is a healthy dose of logic and comprehensibility.
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The Secret of Monkey Island (1990) is also so brilliant because there is a healthy dose of logic and comprehensibility behind even the stupidest puzzles.

Source: plassma media agency

The genre comeback after the turn of the millennium
Until the turn of the millennium, I experienced adventure games purely from a player's point of view. But only a few years after the genre was declared dead by many analysts and experts, I met him as a journalist and critic. I experienced a revival up close, which was gradually possible thanks to various, mostly European, indie developers.

Some of them were based on classics from Sierra On-Line – above all Future Games with Black Mirror (2003), which revealed many parallels to Gabriel Knight. But the games reminded me more and more of the glorious LucasArts era. Above all, the Hamburg-based Daedalic Entertainment with titles such as Harveys neue Augen (2001), Chaos auf Deponia (2012) and Das Schwarze Auge: Memoria (2013), which were so good because their creators really understood the genre. Because telling a good story no longer requires a point'n'click adventure; Ego shooters, role-playing games or even puzzle games have long been able to do this.

No, the real art of the genre, in my opinion, lies in creating puzzles that challenge the player but never frustrate them. But as much as I love Daedalic's best works, they "only" came close to the LucasArts masterpieces. Even today they have not managed to overtake the old classics.

<img src = "" alt = "This wonderfully stupid looking machine only came to The Secret of Monkey Island for one only a few minutes, but proved all the more the attention to detail of the developers.
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This wonderfully stupid-looking machine was only used for a few minutes in The Secret of Monkey Island, but it proved all the more the attention to detail of the developers.

Source: plassma media agency

When playing through The Secret of Monkey Island again, I recently noticed how light-footed the adventure actually is despite the challenging puzzles. Project manager Ron Gilbert reached the perfect tightrope walk between not too easy and not too difficult 30 years ago. Daedalic, on the other hand, sometimes came up with fantastic ideas without a doubt, but at the same time they beat me to death with some hard nuts. My impulse to play their games again is lower because it feels a tad too much like "work".

Nothing comes close to the LucasArts classics
So the question arises to me: what if the adventures by Lucasfilm Games / LucasArts were so good and so well thought out that it is practically impossible to ever top them? Perhaps the guys from the Skywalker Ranch even felt it themselves when a little bit of fascination and perfectionism peeled off after the brilliant Day of the Tentacle (1993). Sam & Max Hit the Road (1993) faltered slightly in their claim, The Dig (1995) was too much "trial and error" for many and Escape from Monkey Island (2000) definitely overstepped the logic / frustration line. Even the celebrated Grim Fandango (1998) had to put up with criticism because the creators decided on an unsuitable tank control and the puzzles smelled more like a means to an end.

<img src = "" alt = "The last LucasArts soaring: Grim Fandango from 1998. The game was less alive, however of spectacular puzzles, but rather of its unique history.

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The last LucasArts soaring: Grim Fandango from 1998. However, the game lived less from spectacular puzzles than from its unique story.

Source: plassma media agency

LucasArts has certainly given up on the genre because, in their opinion, it was not profitable enough and a quickly produced Star Wars game simply brought in more money. An indication of this would be the paradoxical behavior of the buyers. At the time, consumers resorted to rather undemanding titles such as Loom (1990) or Full Throttle (1995), which, especially in the USA, sold better than any Monkey Island. From a purely economic point of view, LucasArts should have learned a lesson from this and should have admitted to the first sales success: "Hey, we should concentrate on games like this."

Fortunately for us gamers, the company bosses left the developers on a long leash – and apart from the aforementioned counterexamples, they preferred to puzzles out funny and crisp puzzles. Until the designers' own motivation and idealism crumbled when they noticed: "Now we can't think of such great puzzles as in The Secret of Monkey Island."

But the great LucasArts games , they stayed. And even today it is still a great pleasure to explore the Caribbean with Guybrush Threepwood. With that in mind: Happy Birthday, Monkey Island!

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