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.