Adventure Afterlife 20 years of Adventure games – 1996
1996 was a another strong year for adventure games, whilst there weren’t as many releases as previous years two of my favorite adventure games of all time were released, both with a very British flavor. Interestingly one was a brand new series, whilst the other was an adaptation of a British kid’s cartoon, made by a rather unexpected publisher.
I would like to confess something, I have a super-power. I can’t run really fast ( I always sucked at PE), I can’t read minds, and I certainly can’t do what a spider can. What I can do is acquire copies of Broken Sword. Before a recent flood wiped out a chunk of my games collection, I had two PC copies, the GBA version, the PS1 version, the GOG version ( and director’s cut) although I was somewhat surprised to find I don’t have it on Steam. Some of these copies just appeared possibly via other family members others I grabbed back when you didn’t have to trek to the seaside to find independent games shops. I’ve played through this game a lot, and I did it again for this project; but I’ll be straight here it was really hard to find the distance I found when re-playing other games on this list. The writing is still as sharp as ever and if templars, history and conspiracies are your thing, you should play it. What I’ll talk about is it’s opening
George Stobbart is an American on holiday in France, sitting at a small café watching the world go by when a clown passes him. Moments later the café explodes. George rushes inside to help the waitress and discovers a man has been killed. It’s one of my all time favorite game openings, the animation is wonderful and so is the voice work. I would strongly urge you to avoid the Director’s Cut, it tacks on another scene before this with another character, and dulls what is an exceptional opening scene.
Blazing Dragons is somewhat of an oddity, it was console only ( PlayStation and Saturn), and was published by Crystal Dynamics. In what is probably their first and last entry in this article series. The game is based around the first series of kid’s series Blazing Dragons created by Python Terry Jones. Blazing Dragons focus around the Dragon Knights of Camelhot, and the evil humans that want to take over and steal all the dragon’s treasure. The game focuses on inventor Flicker and his quest to save the princess Flame from having to marry against her will.
It’s a real shame Blazing Dragons never made it to PC, and I suspect it would have found a far wider audience. The humor is appropriately Python-esque, and whilst it’s dated in places it’s still very funny. Right at the start of the game Flicker picks up a clicker from his bedroom floor, and you can use it on almost any NPC in the game. Many have responses, and it’s fun just clicking around just to hear them.
Most of the puzzles make sense, though Blazing Dragons takes it’s cartoon logic and runs with it, the inclusion of some helpful lines and a literal help kiosk ( also a source of great one liners) means with persistence you should be able to get through most of the puzzles. There are also a few mini games thrown in which can be incredibly annoying and frustrating, though at least one involving a cat-a-pult ( literal) is reused later in the game to comedic effect
I briefly want to interrupt to say the menu design in this thing is kind of appalling, the amount of times I almost deleted my save was kind of incredible.
It’s interesting that 1996 somehow managed to generate two of the adventure games I’ve replayed the most. Broken Sword takes the record by a mile but I have at some point played through both the Saturn and PlayStation versions of Blazing Dragons. I have to admit to getting stuck on both at various points, though I managed to get through without a guide. If 1996 hits a high point then it’s for writing, both games are funny in different ways, and both will stick with you.
Broken Sword images from Giantbomb.com where I also mirrored this blog.
1995 continues the adventure game high of 1994 with a healthy mix of sequels ( mainly from Sierra), licensed games and new IP. Stylistically the games become more confident, with a move toward more cinematic forms of storytelling and love it or loathe it full motion video. FMV is the most literal interpretation of this concept but not the only one as 1995 also saw the release of Tim Schafer’s classic Full Throttle. It still a diverse line up and if 1993 saw a remarkable number of games regarded as classics then 1995 sees the broadest line up.
Discworld currently sits in rights hell and isn’t currently available to buy. If you have a copy luckily SCUMMCVM will handle things for you and there’s also another enhanced soundtrack by Jim Woodrow if you fancy enhancing your audio experience. Discworld is interesting as it marks the first book adaptation I’ve played, and Terry Pratchett the author of the series was heavily involved in it’s creation. Discworld like it’s source material is very British, the voice cast draws from a plethora of well known talent including Python Eric Idle and Blackadder’s Tony Robinson. Given the feel of series it’s solid casting,Robinson plays a huge number of the supporting cast. It’s recognizably him, and whilst this approach grates for in games like Skyrim it’s oddly appropriate that Discworld has a panto like swapping of (vocal) disguises.
The game sees you take on the role of Rincewind protagonist of many of the early Discworld books, and is voiced by Jones. There are some lively touches like the inclusion of Luggage his literal walking luggage and the use of Two-Flower the tourist he helps in the books as a kind of guide introducing new areas of the game as you visit them. Rincewind is tasked with finding a variety of items to allow the Wizard’s to locate the lair of a dragon who is menacing the city. The game then chucks the player into the game with little help and little further introduction. The game is really really funny, it’s also incredibly difficult and frustrating. There’s plenty of confusing locations, hidden hotspots and events that only trigger when you’ve passed through an area multiple times. This is a game that makes you walk.
The term walking sim gets thrown about a lot, initially a term of mockery that many creators have taken back. I see a lot of the appeal of walking sims in this game. The puzzles get in the way, they bog things down. The real joy is walking the streets of Ankh-morpork and running into familiar faces from the books. A bewilderingly large amount of the city is available from the moment that Rincewind gets out of the University. It’s disorientating in the way that arriving in a new city for a holiday is. I once saw Terry Pratchett speak, and in mentioning working on the live action TV films said the extras were often fans who turned up for free, simply because as fans turning up and having a drink in the Broken Drum was enough to get them all to turn up. I feel a lot like this about this game, as an adventure it’s frustrating but I find myself booting it up just to experience however briefly living on the Discworld.
Gabriel Knight 2
This is a Gabriel Knight without Tim Curry. When I bought the game originally, I was utterly upset to find out that the game had switched from pixel art to FMV. I had pretty bad memories of it, however replaying as an adult lent me some much needed perspective. This Gabriel is much gentler than he was in the first game, the actor who plays Gabriel has said that since the first game was animated the performances necessitated a more emphatic performance where as he in a live action role could afford to be more subtle. This change in approach give the character a very different feel, that said after the end of Gabriel Knight 1 it’s not totally out of place; this is meant to be a reformed Gabriel of sorts.
It opens in Germany, Gabriel having returned to his ancestral home with a bunch of the money he stole from the voodoo cult in the first game and the proceeds from the book he wrote ( loosely based on the events of the first game). There’s a lot of cringe associated with Gabriel’s writing. Much of this is deliberate, but the fact he names the Japanese-American female lead of his book Fujitsu ( based on his real life crime solving partner Grace) caused me to emit a long and frustrated sigh. It’s meant to be awful, but honestly couldn’t see why Grace would still be talking to Gabriel at this point. A local mob turns up at the Schloss to ask for Gabriel’s help, a young child has been killed by a wolf which the townsfolk believe is supernatural. Gabriel whose been looking for a reason to procrastinate hops on the case. Meanwhile Grace whose been left in America starts to get jealous of Gabriel’s German assistant Gerde and heads to Germany determined to give Gabriel help whether he wants it or not.
Gabriel very quickly tracks down a gentleman’s club presided over by the sinister Baron Von Glower, who unknown to Gabriel is a werewolf. Gabriel suspects him of being involved, but unwittingly starts to like Von Glower quickly earning himself a close place in his circle of friends ( all werewolves). It’s here that the themes of the Gabriel Knight series are most evident. It’s all about relationships, in the first game Gabriel is drawn to voodoo priest Malia, in Gabriel Knight 2 it’s Von Glower, jumping ahead a bit the much maligned Gabriel Knight 3 focuses finally on the Gabriel/Grace relationship from Gabriel’s as well as Grace’s point of view. I think it’s this realization that’s allowed me to appreciate the game more as an adult. If you view the game as being about the doomed relationship between damaged people ( Gabriel/Von Glower and Grace/Gabriel) the end becomes increasingly tragic. In the end Gabriel has to terminally end his relationship with Von Glower, and Grace has to risk hers with Gabriel. In a short story published to promote the recent Gabriel Knight remake, series author Jane Jensen posted a short story where Gabriel was haunted by Von Glower, that story makes it clear that his actions at the end of the game mark the character significantly.
This depth is hidden below the murky pix-elated depths of FMV, the acting is largely what you’d expect from this kind of game. It’s hardly the worse, but has a very drama kind of feel. The music is pretty solid, though it must be said on of the game’s biggest expenses the commission of a classical piece intended to represent one of Wagner’s lost works ( a vital lot point) was utterly wasted on me. If you’ve played the first game and enjoyed it, but were scared off by this game; give it a chance with an open mind.
I’ve watched other people play this game three times. I’ve tried to play it, and it’s weird even booting that thing up causes reality to crash in on itself so I never get past the intro! Phantasmagoria is one of those games ( like Night Trap) that felt like to me the limp efforts of the time to capitalize on the gaming zeitgeists du jour.
1- Video Games are for adults so this means violence and or boobs and nothing else more subtle or nuanced
2- CD-Roms are going to allow for games to become more cinematic so this literally means filming people
Of course somewhere along the way this also creates some compelling jank as well, but I hope you’ll all forgive me on skipping this one. Other better people suffered through it in my place.
In the midst of all the literal interpretation of the cinematic/CD-rom trend comes the more considered Full Throttle. Full Throttle is a futuristic biker fantasy in the same way Mad-Max is with cars. Stylistically it pulls not just from films of the day but the cartoons as well, with full screen animation and detailed character animations that do much more to convey the story than the compressed live action of the day. The voice acting is top notch as you’d expect from LucasArts, marking the second game I’ve talked about in this blog to feature Mark Hamill. The game has been criticized for being a little short, and if you’re able to play it from end to end it can feel that way The music is great, with many tracks coming off the Gone Jackals album bone to pick. This also means the game is one of the few on this list with an easy way to legally listen to the music, as the band have released the album digitally.
The UI in Full Throttle stands out as it marks a switch to “Verb-coin” style interfaces in Lucas-arts games. Its fairly simple featuring a hand, a skull and a foot. Whilst you might be forgiven for thinking this foot means walk, it’s probably best to think of it as “boot” as at least one puzzle uses the icon this way. It’s funny and very apt for the grizzled lead Ben, but when I originally played this game I remember getting stuck for weeks on a puzzle that involved kicking. One of the secret worst things about adventure games is either knowing how to do something and not being able to find out how to implement it in game, or it’s not knowing something is possible. The other major issue in Full Throttle are the bike combat sequences,whilst they are there to add dynamism and movie style action to the game the controls make them incredibly frustrating. It’ll probably be worth waiting for Double Fine to re-master this one, to see if they manage to clean these sections up a little.
Full Throttle is still a great game, the quality with which it was made it still evident. The setting and characters are memorable, and still feel fresh and different today. If I’m not going into detail about this one it’s because I want any of you who haven’t played to to consider it, and I’m honestly jealous of anyone who gets to play Full Throttle for the first time.
So all in all 1995 was still a busy time for adventure games, there are still some hits and misses but the variety of adventures out this year is actually pretty impressive. If some of the games missed the mark, some of the time we can put this down to experimentation. My highly unscientific sampling here includes fantasy, comedy, mystery and horror; a really diverse sample of themes and genres.
Image Credit, since I also cross post this on my Giantbomb community blog the screenshots are all drawn this month from the Giantbomb database.
Many North American gamers will probably immediately name LucasArts and Sierra as the two major adventure power houses. In the UK we were also lucky to have studios like Adventure Soft and Revolution. Revolution is still going having mostly recently released the Kickstarter backed Broken Sword 5. Interestingly enough Revolution somewhat controversially listed Beneath a Steel Sky 2 as a stretch goal on that project. The goal wasn’t reached and since then the Revolution team have been pretty quiet on their next project. This means to this day BASS hasn’t had a sequel, so stands alone as a very differently themed adventure game.
Bass follows Robert, who as a child is involved in a helicopter crash. His Mother is killed and he is left stranded in a wasteland. A local Mad Max style tribe finds the boy and gives him the last name Foster after Foster’s lager. Foster also being a rather apt name for a foundling. As an adult, Rob is found and kidnapped by security forces and take to the domed Union City. Union City is governed by the mysterious all powerful AI LINC, and Robert soon finds himself having to navigate the city whilst evading the security forces. Union City itself is an interesting location, it’s heavily hierarchal with people lower in the social hierarchy limited to only certain floors on the vertical sprawling city. These people have limited rights, whilst the wealthy live in luxury. In keeping with the cyberpunk theme there’s a strong emphasis on virtual reality, and artificial intelligence.
Comic’s art legend Dave Gibbons provided the art design, giving the game a very unusual feel even for the time. The audio is also very strong with a distinctive soundtrack, and unusually for the time quality voice over. If I was a little hard on Revolution for last entries Lure of the Temptress, it’s probably partly because as a personal favorite , BASS released only a year later is a staggering achievement. The virtual theater system is back and used to great effect, allowing the player to follow characters from screen to screen.
The writing is also superb mixing dark cyberpunk with humor and a tiny bit of body horror. It’s hard being totally objective but beside a few whimsical puzzles ( you can launch a dog into the air)m they mostly make sense and work together to tell the story.
Once of my all time favorite games,if cyberpunk or science fiction interest you I encourage you to play the game is available legally for free from SCUMVM or GoG as James Woodcock’s ( Fan made) enhanced soundtrack, which I recommend you use. Mobile versions are also available if you want to support the dev.
King’s Quest VII – The Princeless Bride
“I’m going to play King’s Quest VII” I tweeted. I got a few responses fairly quickly along the lines of “ Oh dear” and “Why?”. Interestingly enough VII sees the series take a female focus with the player switching between Princess Rosella and Queen Valance. Series protagonist King Graham is barely seen at all. The art takes a Disneyesque direction and it’s not hard to see Disney films of the era as having a direct influence. There’s even singing about getting married…
You can now never unhear that.Soon after this Rosella is kidnapped, her Mother finds herself lost in the desert and vows to save her.In King’s Quest games you can die, you can die is stupid ways ( wandering in the Desert too long), getting stung by a scorpion etc. Luckily by this point Sierra had grown a little kinder and they let you resume.
The puzzles can be a little obtuse, and follow the traditional mold of weird clue luckily scrawled onto walls and trial and error. In the first section I played with Queen Valance I noticed at least one puzzle with multiple routes all the way through.
I got as far as Rosella’s section before I caved ( which I hate to do) and looked up a walkthrough as I got stuck. But the trouble was the solution I kept finding does not work. Various fan pages list numerous bugs but not this one. So sadly despite my resolution to play everything, I gave up.
Tex Murphy – Under a Killing Moon
Despite this being a sequel I hadn’t played a Tex Murphy game before. However in keeping with my chronological plan for this series I installed Under a Killing moon in a bit of a strop after the Kings Quest VII incident. I was prepared to hate. All I knew about this game was that it was FMV and had large enough following to warrant numerous sequels and a recent Kickstarter. I didn’t know that the game doesn’t just use FMV but also has gameplay sections in first person 3D ( like Dagonronpa or Hotel Dusk).The controls are bizarre you move via mouse with the speed increasing as you go like a car. You can also duck, look up and down. All the characters in the game are FMV, with video cut scenes often popping up when Tex leaves a location or when a plot vital incident occurs. The game has a noir feel, but it’s set in the future. Tex’s office is in a bad part of town where all the mutants ( played by actors in various masks) live. Mutant life is cheap, and so is the rent so this is where Tex is based.
Near the start of the game, you find Tex’s gun. Tex picks it up, accidentally throws it out the window where a kid picks it up and runs away with it. The whole scene is goofy and silly, and it’s at this point you release they know it’s silly. This is like a holodeck episode of TNG, where Tex Murphy ( also played by the game’s designer Chris Jones) is having the Time of his life, goofing off with a large cast of actors who vary from being in on the joke, to lost, confused and scared.
The story starts you off with a few local cases, and introduces the mechanics before the main plot involving, a missing statue and a mysterious Countess kicks off.
The puzzles mostly make sense, though the game can be a little particular about how you do things. It’s also possible to mess up royally. Thankfully there’s also a decent built in hints system which gives clues in return for deducting points. The only place where this doesn’t help is locating objects, the game makes full use of the 3d environments and hides objects in weird places. This can get a bit frustrating as those objects are often sprites which rotate or disappear at odd angles. It’s also possible I learned when once again breaking my rule and resorting to a walkthrough, to miss an item and get to the end of the game without it. Where Tex will then fail.
You can die in Under a Killing Moon, and it’s weeeiiirdd. A man in shadow with a deep voice appears in shadow to tell Murphy off and offer him another chance. I like to think this means the whole thing is in Tex’s head and he’s utterly deluded, but the game hints otherwise.
I’d never played a Tex Murphy game before and I thoroughly enjoyed it’s bizarre mix of humor and future Noir. Recommended especially for Contradiction fans. Just save often.
1994 was still a pretty great year for adventure games. Whilst 1993 saw a ridiculous amount of releases 1993 was still strong. The fact that King’s Quest had gotten to VII at this point is no mean achievement. Sierra games were the big sellers of their time, so it’s frustrating to see from the little I played that they were still buggy, and hadn’t really improved their puzzle design. The art was at least an interesting direction, and very different from the other two games I played. Tex deserves a shout out too, it was utterly silly but a joy to play, I’m not sure that I’d have finished it without help but the comprehensive in game hint system really helps . BASS is still a classic, and certainly the most polished of the three games I played, and still and all time favorite.
Also Under consideration
Also in the cyber punk mystery category was Hideo Kojima’s Snatcher. I’d like to include more Japanese games on this list, so another one to possibly go back to. Sorry Mr Kojima I had to draw a line somewhere so these blog posts could keep coming….
I will now leave you with another gif from Tex Murphy ( this game is very giffable). I shall not give you any context for it:
Image credit: Some of these screenshots are from Giant Bomb’s database as I’m also blogging this from my account over there.
I’m starting my Adventure game play-through in 1993, the year after Monkey Island 2 came out. I’d played all the games in my selection before, though not for quite a while. This became evident after purchasing Gabriel Knight off GoG, and I realized I had no music at all. After about 90 gagillion hours I finally figured out that Windows 8 & 10 don’t actually have midi support, and then after messing about further I finally got it to work.Let it not be said I am not committed to this project. (I am also aware there is a remake on mobile, however it changes puzzle flow and has re-recorded VO). 1993 was blessed with a lot of adventure games, and it was quite hard to pick what ones to play.
I’m also going to admit the flaw in my weird project is that I didn’t set rules about what I should and should not play. I am therefore going to pretend this is a deliberate recreation of how I picked what games I played in the early 90s.Mainly by going into poky old game shops, then wandering around asking what adventure games they had.*
* Most of the time they tried to sell me lemmings or else lemmings came free with a lot of other games. I am not going to play lemmings.
Lure of the Temptress. (Revolution)
Lure of the temptress has several interesting features right from the start. It uses the ‘virtual theater’ system which allows NPCs to move from screen to screen. You can if you want follow them or at some points in the game an NPC will follow you. If you bump into them , they’ll say something and NPCs can also be given fairly complex strings of commands. This means that you can instruct the other character to go into another room and pull a series of levers, or press a button at theoretically the same time as the player.I say theoretically because the pathfinding can be extremely awkward, if your character takes to long to path to the target NPC or gets stuck then command will time out and end up with both characters standing around with a question mark over their head. It’s also fairly easy to loose Ratpouch your companion from the start of the game. I ended up needing him for a puzzle and having to traipse back the way I came to find where he’d gotten stuck. It’s a shame because Ratpouch’s semi autonomy leads to several funny points in the game. If you enter the rougher pub in town, he’ll try and buy beer from the barkeep. There are a few brief cut scenes that manage to do a lot with very little animation, and it’s a shame there aren’t a few more. The story is a little bare bones, but in enhanced by pockets of very funny dialog.
There’s also combat near the end of the game, which I beat somehow.
Lure of the Temptress hasn’t aged well control wise, there’s a lot of wandering about trying to get things to happen, and the jankyness of the pathfinding makes it fiddly to play. However the use of NPCs is really interesting, they act more like characters from an open world RPG wandering around and interacting with each other. It’s a system that very few other straight up adventures ever used and adds a bit of life to the town. Similarly it’s the snatches of very funny duologue that shine in a fairly average story. Since of my aims in this blog series is to cover interesting things about adventure games, I urge you stick with me for 1994 for Revolution’s next game which took these two elements and ran with them.
Simon the Sorcerer (Adventuresoft)
In 1993 if an adventure game had voices it was a talkie, and despite a spate of awfully voiced games in this period Simon the Sorcerer cast Red Dwarf’s Chris Barrie as the title character. Simon is meant to be a young teen in this, and despite what a think is a slight pitch shift Barrie is probably a little old. However he and the rest of the voice cast are excellent. The gameplay is fairly standard in adventure games, the puzzles largely make sense although there are a few utterly frustrating points which let the game down somewhat.
Tiny Bespoke Rocks
At at least four points in the game you need to find some kind of small rock. Several of which use the same sprite in the inventory. These rocks are usually hidden somewhere on the floor….or these wonderful incredibly densely packed pixel backgrounds. But only certain rocks on certain screens can be picked up and used. This happens four times in the game with rocks alone.
2. It wasn’t finished
The final part of the game features a lot of weird dead ends. A small wooden wedge appears then disappears from your inventory. Simon picks up and can polish a shield, only to leave it hanging on the wall as he enters the final area where it’s never used. Whilst the game is still completable these numerous dead ends toward the end of the game are frustrating.
3. Tiny Bespoke exits
Whilst the fast travel map is a great way to backtrack, it only features select locations. It also doesn’t hint if you’ve missed something, especially annoying when several screens have exits you can only leave when you click on the right object ( usually something Simon has to climb).
Despite these flaws, Simon is still a funny game. The talking wood worm stuck with me for years after I originally played it ( on an Amiga CD 32 no less, puzzle hunting is not fin with a gamepad). Interestingly it also moves save/load and fast travel to inventory items. This means with the verbs and inventory permanently taking up the bottom half screen the top half is almost never obscured.
Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers ( Sierra)
Gabriel Knight was the most serious of the three games I played. There are a number of notable voices in the game; Tim Curry voices the lead character Gabriel, Mark Hamill voices his best friend Detective Mosely and Michael Dorn appears as Dr John the creepy head of the local voodoo museum. There’s a bit of pixel hunting in Gabriel Knight, and you can get frustratingly far into the game then grind to a massive halt without even realizing that items can be that hidden. In it’s defense in nowhere in the game does Gabriel have to pick up four tiny bespoke rocks.
When Gabriel gets on a bike FMV happens for the only time until Gabriel Knight 2.
The game has two main narrative threads Gabriel’s family history, and a series of ‘voodoo’ murders.These interweave as you go on and you can make quite a big discovery about Gabriel’s family on the first day via solving a really obtuse puzzle. You can also do what I did ( despite having played it before), and forget about it assuming that the puzzle can’t be solved only to grind to a halt later because you arbitrarily need to solve it before the day will end and new events trigger. Gabriel can also die, but the only way you’d know that is if it happens to you. If you do die you’d better hope you’ve saved recently. Lure of the Temptress at least alerts you to the fact you can die by making it fairly likely to happen at least once near the start of the game.
Whilst digging around I found this making of doc for Gabriel Knight.
Gabriel himself is an interesting character, a lot of his traits are very useful for an adventure game character to have. He’s selfish, likes to steal things (especially from police friend Mosely) and lies a lot. Gabriel also has a pretty horrible attitude to women, (you even have to use the ‘pick up’ command on a female character urch). However Gabriel does have an arc, he starts off investigating the murders and irritating his friend Mosely as a way to let of the the stress of his writer’s block; by the end he actively cares about the case and steps up.
All three of the games I played featured fantastical elements, and to some extend featured the same flaws hiding objects unfairly and failing to communicate what the player has to do to pass. Simon and Gabriel both feel like characters you wouldn’t find in other genres of games, even if in Gabriel’s case you don’t always like them completely.
Apparently adventure games are still dead and someone wants to revive them, but what if…they never died and people kept making them. What if there were new ideas or really compelling characters in them ?
The schattenjager stalks through the night, his breath rising in the cool French air. He misses New Orleans fiercely, hell right now he’d give anything to be back in schloss Ritter. He pauses, his fake mustache is irritating him but it can not dampen the the thrill of the hunt. In his hand is a shovel, in the other? Adventure games, Gabriel Knight and his cat hair mustache killed adventure games and now…
Baron von Glower stands before Gabriel. Gabriel shudders, he should not be here.
“ You’re thinking I shouldn’t be here” he says “ but you’re carrying the whole of adventure games in your hand Gabriel. If you’re carrying an abstract concept I can be here.”
“ But I killed adventure games” Gabriel says, his Southern drawl growing more pronounced.
A third person arrives, a game developer.
“ I am going to revive adventure games” they say, they look like they mean it too. Von Glower turns and raises an eyebrow, but the game developer can’t seem to see him. Gabriel shifts nervously and hides the adventure games behind his back.
“ Oh and how are you gonna do that?” Gabriel asks.
“Well you see I played Monkey Island when I was growing up!”
“Oh” Gabriel replies.
“ Hey aren’t you Gabriel Knight? Didn’t you kill adventure games?”
Gabriel panics, how could they know so soon?
“ I read it on Old Man Murray.”
Gabriel gasps, and as he does so he realizes his hands are empty, they are gone.
“Or perhaps, you never killed them at all, but what do I know I’m just a figment of your imagination and you’re a fictitious character.” Von Glower’s voice echoes through Gabriel’s head. Somewhere overhead an owl hoots, and Gandalf enters the room.
As an adventure game fan there are several things that make me start grinding my teeth when I see either journalists covering adventure games or developers talking about their work. These are:
1. Adventure games died, and xxx game is reviving them.
2. The developer or journalist played Monkey Island and xxx game is somehow like them.
3. This new game made in 2015 must be retro, because it’s an adventure game.
I’m going to talk about some of these points in this article and then I’m going to explain what my musings on this topic have led me to.
Adventure Games Died or were only made in the 90s
Frequently when we see people talk about adventure games we seem them talk about their death. If you press further you’ll get linked to Old Man Murray’s hilarious and insightful ‘Death of adventure games’ which highlights a pretty awful puzzle chain in Gabriel Knight 3 where the player uses cat hair to make a fake mustache. I’m not debating the awfulness of the puzzle here, or the excellence of the article. What I am pointing out was that this article was written fifteen years ago in the year 2000.
To give you an example of more recent coverage, in 2014 Birth Movies Death wrote about Broken Age:
“Gameplay will be familiar to anyone who played games in the nineties: exploration, inventory juggling, conversation and gentle puzzlework”
Which is funny because I’m pretty sure that could describe Fallout 4,I’ll get to the 90’s comment later . They add:
“But adventure games aren’t about gameplay innovation – the puzzles and thus player enjoyment are driven by the writing.”
This is a little harder to unpack, they are correct that adventure games are more about story and writing. A dialog mechanic probably won’t make the pull quotes as a special feature but it implies that adventure games don’t innovate or that mechanics don’t matter or that graphics or audio don’t get better. The variables may be smaller but that doesn’t mean that a good designer hasn’t thought about every single element of their game or that adventure games can do nothing new.
What I want is for games of any genre innovate and get better, but at the core the most important thing is if a game is good, if a player can have fun. Adventure games have continued to get released since the year 2000. Which brings me onto:
The Curse of Monkey Island
Comments where devs talk about their love of Monkey Island cause me some frustration. Let me clarify I love Monkey Island, it’s one of my favorite games series but if you want to make adventure games then ignoring twenty years of awesome stories and innovation is harmful. How can you make the best decision for your game if you’re ignoring what has come before? There’s twenty odd years of great ( and awful) ideas. Anyone can be inspired by anything they like, so I’m not dismissing Monkey Island as an inspiration but it’s like making an FPS in the modern day having loved Doom as a kid, but never having played anything else. In fact you just have to compare the original Doom with a screenshot from the trailer for the new Doom reboot and you’ll see some differences:
Stop using the word retro
The final of my gripes is the automatic use of the word retro. . Again by ignoring 20 years of games, you’re ignoring 20 years of progress for no reason. You’re also associating your game with cat haired mustaches. If you want to make a ‘retro’ adventure does that mean your game requires a bizarre leap of logic or a series of dead ends? No it doesn’t.Do you have to use pixel graphics? ..No. I by the the way love pixel art, but it should be treated the same as any other creative choice because that’s the style you want ( and dare I say it afford). When you make or write about an adventure game that has been made in 2015 then you shouldn’t do so out of context.
When Double Fine started it’s Double Fine Adventure Kickstarter, it did draw the spotlight of the mainstream game press back onto adventure games and led to coverage like the BMD article above. Broken Age ( the resulting game) didn’t revive adventure games, but it did draw press coverage from areas of the gaming press that wouldn’t have otherwise covered it. But despite being spearheaded by Lucas Arts alumni Tim Schafer it still described itself:
“A graphic adventure game for the modern age”
Whatever your opinion on the final game Broken age featured graphics, animation and sound that just wouldn’t have been possible in the 90s. It was released for a dizzying array of devices with inputs that did not even exist. There are games that deliberately call back to old titles but I hope even they don’t blindly copy what has gone before.
After coming across yet another forum post where a well meaning person wanted to discuss the future of retro adventures, I decided that I wanted not only to write this rant but to actively highlight and discuss the innovations the genre has been through, and work my way through and blog my way through all the adventure games that released in between. I also want to discuss the ‘death’ of adventure games, and talk about the post Old Man Murray world of adventures. If ‘m going to angrily tell people to go away and and do something like play through 20 years of adventure games, then I am happy to do so myself.I hope along the way I’ll also learn something as I take a second look at games I played as well as playing a few titles I missed along the way.
I plan on starting a bit before the article was published in 1993 the year after Monkey Island 2 came out, I’ll then run past the year 2000 when Gabriel Knight 3 come out right up to the present day.
I hope whether you agree or not that you’ll join me in this journey. Feel free to suggest games I should be playing and why.
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