Computer games let you be the hero


The traditional method of summer relaxation is to dive into a cool book or see a movie that has "Two" or "Three" after the title. If you have a personal computer, however, there are silicon-based alternatives to be enjoyed.

A good adventure game, for example, can keep a player involved in a story from 30 to 100 hours. Even the windiest Michener novel can't do that.

And if you have a portable personal computer, you can take the game with you, just like a book.

The title I've just finished is "Monkey Island," developed by Lucas Arts. Yes, George Lucas of "Star Wars" fame has broadened his entertainment realm into computers, and the results are exciting.

The basic action in most PC adventure epics follows a common theme. Unlike a book, where you follow the adventures of a protagonist, you are the hero in an adventure game. You direct the actions of an alter ego through a series of adventures, using cunning to solve puzzles, guile to fight enemies and wit to converse with the game's inhabitants.

The earliest commercial adventure games, such as the "Zork" series, were little more than words on a screen. You would type, "North," and your character would walk north, reporting what was to be seen along the way. The next step in the evolution were games such as "Wizardry," which added simple graphics to the mix.

"Monkey Island," which is available for both the PC and the Macintosh, shows how far computer-game technology has come. The main character walks around in semi-animation, in a world with gorgeous colors and fairly detailed renderings.

In "Monkey Island," you play stalwart Guybush Threepwood, a young man who yearns to become a pirate -- that is, until his yearning is redirected after a meeting with the lovely governor of the island.

The adventure takes him in quest of lost treasure, a battle with Carla (the island's sword master) and a search for an important trinket hidden in the governor's mansion. And that's just part one.

If it sounds silly, you're right, but so is "Batman Returns." It's summer. Loosen up.

Several things set "Monkey Island" apart from run-of-the-mill computer epics. First, its hip humor keeps the tale going at a lively pace. Check out Stan, a brightly clothed used-vessel salesman you'll meet when you must procure a boat. Bring your pink slip, your checkbook and a tolerance for blarney, because ++ Stan deals it in spades. And don't settle for his first offer.

Another plus is Lucas Arts' insistence that the games are to be played, not endured. In many such games, your character is likely to die a quick death, resurrected only if you were wise enough to hit the save button before the Grim Reaper came knocking. And the puzzles can be impossible to solve without the aid of a hint book or an open telephone line to Mensa Central.

"Monkey Island" is much more humanitarian than that. Even my most boneheaded moves didn't bring about Guybush's untimely demise. Also, the game lets you know subtly if you're wasting your time with a wrong approach to a problem.

In short, a summer trip to "Monkey Island" won't be wasted.

Two "Monkey Island" games have been released for IBM-compatible PCs (a third is due this fall), and the first Macintosh version hit the streets recently.

About hints: I haven't met an adventure game yet where I wasn't stumped by at least one puzzle. Game manufacturers will gladly sell you a hint book or provide 800-line assistance at per-minute rates.

But if you are a member of on-line services such as Prodigy or Compuserve, take your questions to the gaming areas. Here you'll get tips from people who have played the game before you.

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