Return to Monkey Island Art Director Talks About His Inspirations and Expectations

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Rex Crowle solidified his striking art style with games like Tearaway and Knights and Bikes. He is now art director of Return to Monkey Island, the revival of the classic pirate-themed adventure game series.

I had the chance to speak with Crowle about his love for the Monkey Island franchise and his work on this new entry.

GamesBeat: What is your history with the Monkey Island series as a fan?

Crowle: This is the game that made me want to make video games. I never expected to realize this dream, let alone work on a Monkey Island game. As a kid, most games seemed to be about a rectangle pulling smaller rectangles onto another rectangle. Monkey Island was the opposite of that. I cared about characters, laughed at jokes, pressed my nose against the screen to study art, and felt really, really sad for weeks after finishing the game. A state I stayed in until I open Deluxe Paint III on my Amiga and start creating my own little adventure game graphics. It’s all this game’s fault.

I remember this street!

GamesBeat: Are you drawing inspiration from a specific Monkey Island past game?

Crowle: There’s the color palettes of The Secret of Monkey Island, the more painterly approach of Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge, as well as some of The Curse of Monkey Island’s more stylized shapes. We’re a very small indie team, so we didn’t go the 3D route, but other than that, we took something from every game, while creating something new and specifically tailored to the story that Ron Gilbert and Dave Grossman meant. An art style should connect with the main themes of the game you’re making, it’s not an interchangeable thing you apply like a Photoshop filter, and for this adventure a picture book style was the right fit.

GamesBeat: Do you draw inspiration from outside the series?

Crowle: There’s broader inspiration from some of LucasArts’ other classics like Day of the Tentacle. When creating a game like this, it can be difficult to figure out how to cram everything needed into each environment, as it’s often just a single screen. But Day of the Tentacle has some fantastic design solutions for that, and they create a lot of variety and a sense of rhythm and fluidity as you move from screen to screen.

A locksmith shop.
A locksmith shop.

Most of the time, we inspire each other as a team. We’re a small, tight-knit unit and we’re constantly complementing each other’s paintings. So every time [a team member] adds something to the game, it creates a little wave of inspiration. Oh, and having a Tom Waits and sea shanties playlist in the background also helps.

GamesBeat: How does it feel to reinterpret classic settings from past Monkey Island games?

Crowle: Creepy. The Monkey Island games mean so many different things to different people that it’s daunting to have this range of hopes and desires hanging over you. Some fans imagine earlier pixel art, some remember painterly clouds, some may have fond memories of giant mechanical monkey battles. But with Ron and Dave spearheading the project, this couldn’t be a more authentic Monkey Island game, and we all love doing what we can to make their vision come true. Because everyone in the team wanted to play this game for a very long time!

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