We love a good video game mystery. Whether it's a strange rumour that's taken hold in a community or an unexplained happening that has left fans scratching their heads, we're always up for getting involved and trying to help shine a spotlight on the truth.
So when we noticed a Twitter user named @KCadventure1 asking the programmers Tim Schafer and Dave Grossman for information about a 3-decade-old mystery specific to the Japanese FM Towns release of Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge, we knew we had to drop our weekend plans and investigate.
The mystery relates to a cliffside puzzle involving one of the four map pieces that lead to the treasure of Big Whoop.
In almost every version of the game, after meeting Elaine in the mansion on Booty Island, you'll witness a small cutscene showing a piece of map flying up into the air before landing at the edge of a cliff where it gets stuck on a branch. You will then need to go through a sequence of puzzles involving stealing a fish from an angry chef, trading the fish to a fisherman for a rod, and casting your line over the cliff to prompt a seagull to snatch up the map and take it to a treehouse — adventure games, you've gotta love them!
But in the FM Towns version, this happens differently, with the fishing pole and angry chef being completely arbitrary. The map piece still flies up into the air after meeting Elaine, but the seagull appears much earlier than usual and immediately takes it to the treehouse instead. What's even more bizarre is that this is seemingly an intentional choice, with additional lines of code being added to tell the program to ignore the correct sequence of events.
According to @KCadventure1, no Japanese-language forums or fansites have made any mention of this change in the past. In fact, the only reference seems to be on a ScummVM bug report from 17 years ago, which prompted the folks behind the adventure game emulator to introduce a fix for the issue four years ago.
It wasn't until last year that it was rediscovered again when speedrunners playing on FM Towns noticed that the puzzle could be skipped regardless of any special inputs and players started to dig around again to see what was actually happening. Several fan theories then began to form.
@KCadventure1 tells us, "I've seen speculation around the reason for it being censored ranging from cultural dislike of the cliff danger to offense at the angry flailing chef, but all the suggested reasons I've seen seem a bit far-fetched. The current state of play is that it was cut, very few people know it was cut, and nobody seems to know why."
To help @KCadventure1 out, we reached out to Tim Schafer and Dave Grossman on his behalf. Schafer didn't reply, but Grossman responded, telling us, "I remember there being some peculiarities about the FM Towns, but nothing specific about why we might have skipped the fishing scene. I wasn't working directly on that port, Tim and I would have been designing Day of the Tentacle by then."
Reading this was disappointing, but it only spurred us on more, so we headed over to the game's credits on MobyGames and found the name of the sole programmer on the FM Towns version, James "Jim" Leiterman. Luckily for us, he had a LinkedIn page, so we sent him a quick message. While we were there, we also contacted former LucasArts localization manager Aric Wilmunder, on the advice of several LucasArts alum like Wallace Poulter.
It was at this point that more people had started to notice @KCadventure1's original tweet and a new theory began to emerge on social media.
The Wunderfax co-founder and Monkey Island super fan Marius Winter, responded to a tweet about the mystery, highlighting that it is the only room in the game with vertical scrolling. Now we had two working theories to present: one involving localization and the other related to a specific feature of the game.
A day later, Leiterman responded to our message, but unfortunately, despite some back-and-forth, in which he revealed his kids were the ones to playtest the game, he couldn't remember what specifically had happened.
This was obviously a huge blow to our efforts and potentially a dead-end, but then we found ourselves on a call with Wilmunder. He definitively told us that localization hadn't played any part in the puzzle's removal and seemed to agree with Winter's proposal that it was all to do with a problem with the vertical scrolling.
In fact, he remembered a bug had been discovered during the development of the later enhanced PC version of Monkey Island 2, where the cliffside puzzle again seemed to be missing, and needed to be reintroduced.
"If I remember correctly [...] Jim did write a workaround vertical scroll, but it wasn’t fully functional and did not correctly interact with the scripts," says Wilmunder. "It would go up and down, but you could not have objects or animations on the screen at the same time. As a result, he couldn’t implement the fishing pole or the map piece interactions, so he modified the scripts to quickly looked down the cliff and back up and then punted."
After a couple of days of searching, this was music to our ears! The mystery was finally solved and so we reported our findings back to @KCadventure1 who thanked us for helping out. We weren't alone in this effort, however, with Daniel Albu, Khris Brown, and various other Monkey Island fans and former LucasArts folk joining in to help bring some closure to this mystery.