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The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of the Adventure Game
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The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of the Adventure Game

Before Call of Duty, before Doom, before Wolfenstein, there was the adventure game. Long before the first person sh...

The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of the Adventure Game

Before Call of Duty, before Doom, before Wolfenstein, there was the adventure game. Long before the first person shooter occupied modern gaming space, people played convoluted adventures on Amigas and 386s that starred memorable characters exploring exotic worlds.

 

The adventure game is one of the oldest and most persistent gaming genres. As varied as they are venerable, adventure games have been tickling our imagination and our funny bone for almost 40 years. Going from text-based, to point-n-click, to the modern interpretations, these games can-- and should-- be remembered as the foundation of storytelling in gaming, and perhaps as its pinnacle. But what exactly constitutes an adventure game?

 

Contrary to popular opinion, Tomb Raider and God of War aren’t adventure games. Adventure games are slow, deliberate, story-driven games that focus on rich storytelling and clever puzzles. There’s no shooting or action of any kind. Sometimes, there’s no picture either. The first adventure games were what’s called a “text adventure.”

 

THE ADVENT OF THE TEXT ADVENTURE

Advent was the first text adventure game, and the first adventure game in general. In it, you’re told your surroundings, and it’s up to you to tell (literally tell) the game what you want to do. It’s just lines of text on a green screen, with the rest left up to the imagination.

 

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Also known as Colossal Cave Adventure, in 1976 Advent was the first of many text adventures that would later grow into the modern graphic adventure and point-n-click game. Advent’s creator and spelunker Will Crowther got the idea from his numerous cave explorations, and wanted to bring the feeling to others.

 

After Advent, there was Zork. Some of you may have even heard of it. Zork was the first truly popular text adventure, spawning two sequels and a following that still plays it today. Zork was also the first text adventure to allow more complex commands than the standard “open door” and “take bag.” Entire sentences were possible, such as “look under the cover” and “drop all except sword.”

 

GRAPHIC CONTENT

Roberta and Ken Williams created the first proper graphic adventure game, Mystery Mansion, in 1980. Although still relying heavily on text commands, Mystery Mansion announced the future success of the graphic adventure, or the “point-n-click” game. It also paved the way for publisher Sierra On-Line’s impending domination of the genre, culminating with the release of the first 3D graphic adventure and another familiar name, King’s Quest.

 

 

Two years later, George Lucas founded his video game studio, LucasFilm Games. Before it was known as LucasArts, LucasFilm games was known exclusively for their impeccably polished and downright hilarious point-n-click games. Starting in 1987 with Maniac Mansion, LucasArts used their newly developed SCUMM (Script Creation Utility For Maniac Mansion) tool to develop persistent classics in the genre. If you’ve never heard of Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle, or The Secret of Monkey Island, you’ve missed out on an extremely important and colorful part of gaming history. The LucasFilm games featured rock-solid writing, fantastically absurd puzzles and charm by the truckload.

 

THE DECLINE

LucasFilm Games, later known as LucasArts, continued making adventure games up until Grim Fandango in 1998. Widely recognized as one of the finest representatives of the genre, Grim Fandango had sophisticated 3D graphics and a quirky, Day of the Dead-inspired storyline that cemented LucasArts as kings of the adventure game genre.

 

 

And then, things kind of died down.

 

Following a leap in graphical fidelity and processing power, the focus shifted towards more action-oriented games, leaving adventure games on the sidelines. While the first half of the nineties produced some stellar point-n-clickers like Myst and Broken Sword, after Grim Fandango, things looked, well, grim.

 

Save for The Longest Journey injecting some much-needed vigor into the genre and titles like Indigo Prophecy experimenting with the classic adventure game structure, the noughties were pretty much barren in terms of point-n-clickers. Leave it up to ex-LucasArts employees to roll up their sleeves and grab the reanimation paddles.

 

THE ADVENT OF THE MODERN ADVENTURE GAME

Founded in 2004 by former LucasArts guys, TellTale Games (even the name is a subtle reference to the genre) arrived on the scene with some serious experience under their belts. Their first game was a sequel to one of LucasFilm games’ beloved franchises, the adventures of rabbit and dog detectives Sam and Max.

 

Released in 2007, Sam and Max Save The World was a massive success and rocketed the adventure game genre back into the spotlight. Featuring polished graphics and writing that never seemed to have left the ‘80s (in the best possible way), Sam and Max Save the World laid the foundation of the modern point-n-clicker and cemented TellTale as the finest adventure game crafter of today.

 

 

Since then, TellTale has been hard at work transforming beloved franchises into point-n-click games. After Sam and Max came a reboot of fan favorite Monkey Island, featuring the same attention to detail and reverence for the original. Afterwards, TellTale expanded into other, non-gaming franchises, creating video game adaptations of popular TV Shows Law and Order, Wallace and Grommit, Homestar Runner and, most recently, their fantastic spinoff of the Walking Dead.

 

Many studios followed TellTale in creating their own adventure games, aided by the rising popularity of tablets. Tablets proved to be one of the best platforms for games as lacking in control methods as point-n-clickers (or should that be point-n-touchers?). The Walking Dead proved to be a hit on tablets, and experimental polish studio Amanita Design proved that the adventure game was far from dead with its wacky, colorful Botanicula and the excellent Machinarium. A recent sterling genre representative is also the surprisingly emotional To The Moon, made by Freebird games.

 

 

Today, adventure games are enjoying their second coming. The genre is slowly taking hold of our collective imaginations once again, and in the wake of dumbed-down Call of Duty clones, people are realising that they miss humor and charm in games, and above all a great story. Why else would the head of PS4 announce, to deafening roars from the crowd, that Grim Fandango is being remade?

 

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