Saturday, October 24, 2015

PC 16 Color Showcase - The Secret of Monkey Island

Released on or about September 18, 1990, The Secret of Monkey Island was LucasArts' last 16-color PC Adventure game.  Like its previous SCUMM engine games for the PC, it runs on CGA, Tandy, EGA, MCGA, VGA and Hercules graphics.  It comes on eight 360KB disks or four 720KB disks and you can play it without a hard drive if you want to torture yourself.  Like LOOM, SoMI will support two floppy drives and the room assignments for each disk usually make sense.

The Dock - 16 Color Version
There is no mention of Hercules graphics support in any of the printed materials, but it is there.  If you use an unknown parameter after typing in the executable, you will see Hercules graphics in the list of supported graphics adapter.  No need for SimCGA, unlike LOOM.  Except for CGA and Hercules, the graphics as displayed on other graphics adapters will look identical to each other.

Scumm Bar - Hercules
Like LOOM, SoMI supports the PC Speaker, Tandy 3-voice Sound, Adlib, Game Blaster and Roland MT-32.  Roland MT-32 support originally required an upgrade disk, sold separately.  LucasArts later made it available as a patch.  Like LOOM, SoMI does not write custom sounds into the MT-32, so a passable emulation can be done with a Roland SCC-1 or other Roland GS device that supports the built-in MT-32 patches.

Scumm Bar - CGA (16 Color Version)
In the 16-color box, things are not quite so interesting as they were for LOOM.  The original retail release of the game comes with a simple manual, reference card, survey, typically a copy of the latest issue of The Adventurer (#1 or #2) and a postcard to subscribe to it for free.  There will also be the Dial-A-Pirate codewheel used for the copy protection.  It may have also included a $20 rebate or coupon for an Adlib card.  LucasArts included a hint book for free if you ordered from its Company Store. Their hint books in those days came with a red filter so you did not spoil things by inadvertently reading ahead.

Scumm Bar - 16 Color Version
As was the case with LOOM, there are cards to exchange disk types (free if you ship the disks back and $10 for the other set) and to obtain the Roland upgrade disk ($10).  It also advertised the 256-color version for $15, and indicated it would be available in December of 1990.

The Dock - 256 Color Version
The 256-color version would not be ready for release until December 3, 1990.  Adding eight additional graphical artists for the 256-color version undoubtedly helped LucasArts finish this version by the advertised release date.  It came on eight 720KB disks or four 1.2MB disks.  It supports MCGA or VGA adapters in a 320x200 resolution using 256-colors and EGA in 640x200 using 16-colors to simulate more colors with dithering.  There are no real gameplay differences between the two graphical versions and sound support is identical.  It does not need the Roland upgrade, unlike the 16-color version it is included with the disks as shipped.

Mancomb Seepgood
The PC Speaker and Tandy soundtracks only cover a few pieces of music, whereas the Adlib, Game Blaster and Roland MT-32 support the full sound track.  One thing to note is that the MT-32 does not support any sound effects, unlike the other music devices.  You cannot officially use two sound devices for this game.  Thanks to NewRisingSun, a patch is available to allow you to hear Adlib sound effects with Roland MT-32 music, and you can find it here on the second page :  There are separate patches for the 16-color version and and two 256-color versions. Use the patch based on your interpreter version, not the game version.  The interpreter version can be found by using an unknown parameter when running the game.

Estevan, a.k.a. One-Eyed Frank
When it came to backgrounds and on-screen characters and objects, it is abundantly clear that the graphics have been upconverted from 16-colors to 256-colors.  The closeups, however, are another story.  LucasArts' artists took real hand-drawn or painted portraits and scanned in the images into a computer, which converted them to computer graphics.  Sierra was doing the same thing with its VGA titles, and other companies soon realized that they needed to step up their game for the realistic images that VGA could display.

Captain Smirk, the Sword Trainer
The Adventurer was LucasArts' own newsletter, which would later become a magazine.  Similar to Sierra's InterAction magazine, it described company products, offered hints and answered letters, provided some troubleshooting information for games and included order forms for LucasArts games and Lucasfilm items associated with Star Wars and Indiana Jones.  You could purchase accessories like a poster or a T-shirt with your game's name on it.  #1 included a lengthy interview with Ron Gilbert, the creator of SoMI.  #2 included a Monkey Island Activity Page.  To that extent, the Adventurer does serve as something like The Book of Patterns, The Grail Diary, The National Inquisitor or The Poster included with LucasArts previous games.

Demo Title Screen
SoMI, LOOM and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Graphics Adventure, are included on a demo or sampler disk called Passport to Adventure.  This 1.2MB disk contained interactive demos for each game, selected in a menu in the game.  In LOOM and Indy, you have to guide your character through the first section of the game, just like if you were playing the full game.  In SoMI, the puzzles and much of the interactions are unique to the demo.  The demo is also available in a standalone version, but this has been expanded to include a prologue were Guybrush and "One-Eyed Frank" (Estevan) talk about plot points in the game.  The demo is available in 16-colors only (with Hercules and CGA support) on the PC.  An Amiga demo exists that mirrors the standalone PC demo, but it uses the artwork from the 256-color version.

Demo Troll
SoMI was released in disk form for the Atari ST, Commodore Amiga and Apple Macintosh.  It was released on a CD-ROM for the PC, Macintosh, FM Towns and Sega CD.  The Atari ST and Macintosh disk versions use the 16-color PC graphics.  The Amiga uses 256-color PC disk graphics but can only display them in 32 colors.  I have discussed the FM Towns and Sega CD versions elsewhere, they use the PC CD 256-color graphics.

Software Toolworks PC CD-ROM Version Menu
The PC CD version exists in two major variants.  The first, a 1992 standalone box release by The Software Toolworks, supports five languages, English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.  When you start the game, you are given your choice of language in a menu using the 640x480 VGA mode (16-color support).  When you select the language, the game begins in the usual 320x200 mode.  When you end the game, it will go back to the menu.  If you want to bypass the menu, just go to the directory of the language you want to play the game in and type in the executable.

PC CD-ROM Version
The second release in 1997 is a bare disk called Monkey Island Madness, and includes the CD version in the English language along with Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge and a demo for The Curse of Monkey Island.  You are supposed to run this through the Windows launcher, but you can run the game in DOS just by chosing the MONKEY1 subdirectory and tying in the name of the executable.

Carla, the Sword Master
The PC CD has two major differences from the PC 256-color disk version.  First, it uses only nine verbs and has graphical icons instead of the text of the disk versions.  The verbs use a different typeface and all language selections use this typeface with the verbs translated into the appropriate language.  The "Turn On" and "Turn Off" verbs are removed, they were barely used in the disk versions.  Also, the Walk To verb does not have its own selection anymore, it is redundant because Walk To is always the default left-click action. Second, it uses CD Audio for all its music. The CD is a mixed mode CD with one data track and  24 CD Audio tracks for music.  Unlike LOOM, it will use a sound card for sound effects.  For sound effects, it supports the PC Speaker, Adlib, Sound Blaster or Roland MT-32.

Governor Elaine Marley
There are four game versions.  The 16-color version has a v1.0, the 256-color version has a v1.0 and a v1.1.  The English language CD-ROM version is 2.3b (either variant), but the other languages report a 2.3 version.  The game uses several interpreter versions.  16-color uses version 4.0.62, 256-color uses 5.0.18 and 5.0.19, CD uses 5.3.02 and 5.3.06.

Guybrush Threepwood Closeup
The game is speed sensitive on both ends of the spectrum.  If it detects it is running on an 8MHz 286 or slower CPU, it will limit animations.  You won't see the cloud traveling across the sky in the introduction and the first screen in the Scumm Bar will not have the pirate spinning on the overhead anchor.  It is very playable on a 16MHz 286/386SX CPU.  On the other end, neither disk version will run in a 486DX2/66MHz CPU.  They will complain of a divide by zero error and leave you hanging at the DOS prompt.  This only happens if you are trying to use the Adlib, which is the default choice if an Adlib or Sound Blaster card is in the system.  Internal Speaker, Tandy (in theory), Game Blaster and Roland MT-32 are nowhere near as picky about the speed.

The Voodoo Head
With the Adlib music, you would probably be pushing it by running the 16-color version in a 386DX/40MHz. The 256-color version is a little more speed tolerant but won't be running with a 66MHz CPU.  LucasArts released a patch for the 256-color version to allow that version of the game to play with 486DX2/66MHz and faster CPUs.  No such patch exists for the 16-color version.

Copy Protection 16 Color Version
The copy protection exists in the standalone boxed releases of the 16-color and 256-color versions. LucasArts redid the artwork for the copy protection screen in the 256-color version.  Some of the budget or slash releases of the game may remove it.  The 16-color version should be crackable with one of the copy protection programs identified in my The Wringer article.  The LucasArts Classic Adventures contains the 256-color version of the game and removes the copy protection.  It also incorporates the speed fix patch described above.

Copy Protection 256 Color Version
The Secret of Monkey Island is a true classic.  The puzzles can be challenging but you cannot get stuck and there is only one way to die so that you have to restore your game (and that is something of an Easter Egg). There is a real original plot, the dialogue is witty and the pirate/parody theme is richly exploited here.  The music, with its Caribbean influences and jaunty piratey jingles, adds measurably to the game.

So, why play the 16-color version when you can enjoy 256 colors and CD Audio without copy protection or speed limitations?  Well, the Roland MT-32 soundtrack is available here and sounds very good, so you are not losing much in the audio department.  The graphics should detract nothing from the game's humor or well-constructed plot.  However, you should really play it in this format to appreciate the gorgeous 16-color artwork made for the game.  16-color artwork is hard to do well, but LucasArts had some of the best graphics artists in the business working for them.  I have peppered this post with their work, so let me leave you with some of their breathtaking panoramic backgrounds.  (LucasArts was doing these since Maniac Mansion, but Sierra did not embrace them until King's Quest VII!)


  1. The VGA version could run on EGA computers... it was a total disgrace but at least it was playable. I don't remember it running in 640x200x16 mode on my computer, but 320x200x16.
    You should have put one photo of this.

    LucasArt SCUMM games could really be great when they expoited well the EGA, LOOM, Indiana Jones 3 and Monkey Island were all impressives.

    Nice post again.

  2. I didn't know that SoMI demo had different puzzles, for me it's a sort of revelation.

  3. I'm playing through the 16-color EGA version of Monkey Island, and the graphics are beautiful to look at. I agree that the original version of the game has a ton of charm that didn't completely carry over to later versions with more color and CD-Rom support.

    The PC I'm using is a 75 mhz early Pentium system. The sound is really nice with a Sound Blaster 16 card.

    There is a workaround for the divide by zero error on 486 and faster systems. I use a program called SetMul which has an option to disable the L1 cache, making the CPU run very much like a 386.

    For those who want to emulate, I'd recommend ScummVM over Dosbox. In Dosbox, I wasn't able to get the timing right, especially with the Adlib music, it seems to speed up and slow down randomly.

  4. The Macintosh version was never released on CD as a stand-alone game. It may have been included on one of the LucasArts compilation CDs. Also, it was released as 256 color only game in 1992. It utilized a custom "EPX" graphic smoothing algorithm that was not available for the PC VGA release, which was also used for the Macintosh versions of Monkey Island 2 and Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. Typing "rough" during these games will switch the graphics mode to standard "chunk" VGA graphics, while also showing a humorous warning about making your screen look dangerously like a PC. The Macintosh also featured the reduced 9 verbs and higher quality text font, along with full 256 color inventory icons. The music tracks utilized the Mac's built-in audio capabilities (not sure what that was, but at the time it was likely 22khz 8-bit output) and offered digital sound effects with accompanying music tracks. I do not know if the music tracks were composed for QuickTime driven MIDI or some other standard. In my opinion the quality of the music is somewhere in between the Adlib and MT-32 score. There was an option to toggle between low, medium and high quality sound, which seems to change the KHZ output rate, so the lowest setting is noisier and seems to have a slightly scratchy sound with background static.