The Secret of Monkey Island is an adventure game developed by Lucasfilm Games. The game spawned a number of sequels, collectively known as the Monkey Island series. Released in October 1990, The Secret of Monkey Island is the fifth game to use the SCUMM engine. The game was primarily designed by Ron Gilbert, with Tim Schafer and Dave Grossman. The trio led the development of the sequel Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge.
The game begins on the Caribbean island of Mêlée, where a youth named Guybrush Threepwood wants to be a pirate. He seeks out the Pirate Leaders, who set him three challenges to prove himself a pirate: defeat Carla the island's swordmaster in insult swordfighting, steal a statue from the Governor's mansion, and find buried treasure.
Along the way he meets several interesting characters, including Stan the used boat salesman, Meathook (a fellow with hooks on both hands), a prisoner named Otis, the three men of low moral fiber and, most significantly, the gorgeous Governor Elaine Marley. The ghost pirate LeChuck, however, has been in love with Elaine since his living days. While Guybrush is busy, LeChuck's ghost crew abduct her, taking her to Monkey Island. Guybrush gathers a crew (Carla, Meathook, and Otis), buys a boat, and sets out to find the mysterious island and free Elaine.
When Guybrush finally reaches Monkey Island, he explores it and discovers a band of cannibals and a strange hermit named Herman Toothrot. After he helps the cannibals recover a lost voodoo ingredient (a magical root), they provide him with a seltzer bottle filled with "voodoo root elixir" that can destroy ghosts. However, when Guybrush goes after LeChuck, he is told that LeChuck went to Mêlée Island to marry Elaine.
Guybrush returns to Mêlée and goes to the church to prevent the wedding. When he arrives at the church wedding, he realises that Elaine had her own plan to escape. Guybrush loses the elixir and LeChuck starts beating him, until they arrive at the ship emporium where he finds a bottle of root beer. Substituting the root beer for the lost ghost-fighting elixir, he sprays LeChuck and the ghost pirate is destroyed. With LeChuck defeated, Guybrush and Elaine enjoy a romantic moment, watching fireworks.
The Secret of Monkey Island was a project led by Ron Gilbert and designed by Gilbert with Tim Schafer and Dave Grossman. Gilbert originally intended to work on the title in 1988, after his work on Maniac Mansion, but the project was put on hold for the production of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure.
The game was conceived from Gilbert's interest in pirates, and a desire to avoid traditional fantasy themes. In interviews conducted at the time of the game's release, he stated that the Pirates of the Caribbean theme park ride at Disneyland inspired him to create an explorable world populated by swashbuckling pirates. Later, he explained that while the ride informed the game's ambience, inspiration for the characters and voodoo themes came from Tim Powers' 1988 book On Stranger Tides.
Gilbert developed his ideas through a series of short stories, which he shared with colleagues. One of these stories introduced ghosts, a theme that would become central to the game. Once an initial story draft was written and the budget and schedule were approved, Schafer and Grossman began programming. The pair, who also contributed about two thirds of the dialogue, took three months to put together a rough, working version of the game. The team then used this early version, with place-holder art and no animation, to significantly tweak the game's content and pacing. Some sections of gameplay were removed altogether, and new characters and puzzles were added.
Emphasis was put on making the game enjoyable and accessible to all players. The player character cannot die (except if the player encounters a certain easter egg) or trigger a game over and no puzzle ever becomes impossible to solve. Certain objectives are non-linear; for example, Guybrush must defeat a swordmaster, steal a statue, and find buried treasure at the beginning of the game. These three tasks may be accomplished in any order.
Art for the game was created by Steve Purcell and Mark Ferrari. The game's soundtrack was primarily composed by Michael Land in MIDI format. Another notable contributor was Orson Scott Card, acclaimed author of Ender's Game, who wrote the insults for the "insult swordfighting" section.
As the release date approached, the game was behind schedule, and so members of the development team and other LucasFilm employees were asked to help assemble game boxes for the initial shipment. In an interview at the time, Gilbert was quoted as saying, "I'm glad it's done. It's been two and a half years and a lot of hard work, but a lot of fun, too. We hope everyone has a great time playing it."