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The SCUMM Diary: Stories behind one of the greatest game engines ever made

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The SCUMM Diary: Stories behind one of the greatest game engines ever made

July 12, 2013 Article Start Previous Page 6 of 6

My friend, SCUMM

Still, 25 years is a long time. I don't think that there is a single list of all of the games that used SCUMM, but between LucasArts and Humongous it must be between 30 and 40 different games.  I know at times, some designers felt that SCUMM was confining. One described using SCUMM as being like trying to push an elephant with a pencil eraser.  

Still, I think that that designer's best-received game was written in SCUMM, so there may be times that working within limits forces a greater degree of focus.  SCUMM was designed to do one thing, and as long as what you wanted to do was build great adventure games, SCUMM was certainly the best option around.

I played all of the SCUMM games start to finish many times, though on The Dig I think I skipped around and never played it from the beginning.  One of the disappointments being on the inside was that I saw solutions to many of the best puzzles ahead of time, either during design or while the artists or scripters were working on them.  Some puzzles I missed entirely since I knew the solution ahead of time so I didn't need to look around for the clues.  I also played the games in many different languages and on different machines since I was responsible both for the international versions as well as cross-platform development.

My answer about my favorite SCUMM game has stayed the same for many years.  I was always most excited and most proud of the most recent game we were working on.  With each new game, we tried to push the boundaries and do things that had never been done before.  I always thought that if you weren't moving the art or the technology forward, why bother?  There were some favorite moments, like the opening animation in Day of the Tentacle, or the humor in Sam and Max, the music in Full Throttle, or being able to walk all three kids simultaneously in Maniac. Each accomplishment was very different, but like your children, they each hold a special place in your heart.

Article Start Previous Page 6 of 6

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Chris Lynn
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Fantastic article. It is nice to learn a bit more about SCUMM and adventure games in general.

Also, does anybody remember how Monkey Island semmed to smoothly transition from one music to another? I loved that effect (which was sadly lost in the remake), but I never quite understand how they do it. Grim Fandango had something similar, as the song would dinamically change according to your actions.

It was a great effect that I don't remember seeing again. Anybody knwos anything about it?

Jeff King
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The music system was called iMuse. Info about it here:

It was pretty much ahead of it's time, and shortly after with the ability to include pre-recorded audio (as storage devices could hold more), dynamic music sort of went away. So, the SCUMM-era was a sweet spot for dynamically changing music.

Leandro Pezzente
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"The Dig" also used iMuse , IIRC from a short review on "The Next Step" about iMuse , you could build graphs that connected scenes with events with music , so all got pretty much synchonized.

Chris Melby
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The music for these games are king. I still listen to SoMI and The Digg on occasion; I own several copies of MI, and one of them is the CD version.

Monkey Island was one of the first games I played after building a 386 with a Sound Blaster, so it set the bar really high for my expectations when it comes to game music. I loved the smooth transitions between scenes and characters, especially with the music in Monkey Island 2.

I really didn't like the remake's music. It's good, one of the better aspects of these ... , but the mood just wasn't right after knowing the CD and Sound Blaster versions so well.

Rosstin Murphy
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SCUMM was ahead of its time! Looking forward to the new age of adventure games!

Rosstin Murphy
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Hahaha, the stories about Ron Gilbert are great.

John Trauger
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Reminds me very much of Sierra's Creative Interpreter.

Also scripting for Ultima Online.

Leandro Pezzente
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Yay .. Aric Wilmunder , than man has been may Game Programmer Hero since I was 12

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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

David Richardson
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The importance of modular code you mean.

The two are not the same.

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I would love to translate this article into French.
Please let me know if this is possible. ^^

Jesse Joudrey
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I had the pleasure of porting a SCUMM game to the PS3 (Monkey Island). In general I was pleasantly surprised with it's architecture. Unfortunately the ps3 compiler actually generated a bug in the SCUMM engine and I had to debug the interpreted byte code without the benefit of the source it was derived from. Without an existing working copy of the game on another platform I would have been doomed, but I was able to step through the byte code instruction at a time on both platforms until they diverged. This might have been one of the most recent stories behind the SCUMM engine. Although I think other people have ported it to PS3 as well, so there may be a few versions of this story.

Sebastien Valente
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I love such kinds of articles!
Great stuff!

John Byrd
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What, no mention at all of the Z-machine? Without it, SCUMM would not have existed.