Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Adventure Games – What’s To Love?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 17, 2013

The trailer for DoubleFine’s adventure game – the one that put Kickstarter on the map for alternative funding for game developers – is out. Here it is, in case you haven’t seen it…

I showed it to a friend, mentioning how much I loved Schaffer’s Grim Fandango when it was released (to this day, my favorite adventure game, even beating out Monkey Island 2).

He said he had never gotten into adventure games. As I thought about it, I said (incorrectly, in retrospect) that while I really loved them back in their heyday, I haven’t really gotten back into them since. I wondered what changed. I mean, I have tons of old-school and newer (indie) graphic adventure games sitting on my hard drive that I haven’t played (at least not to completion). Is something wrong? Have I lost whatever it was that made me love the genre back then? I hope that Broken Age might be the one to rekindle that old love.

Upon further reflection, I’m going to have to say not as much has changed as I thought. There have been some games from Telltale that I have really enjoyed and played to completion recently. Granted, these are not the same as old-school, hardcore adventure games (am I *gasp* not so hardcore anymore?).

Willy Beamish_1And… in reality… there were a lot of unfinished adventure games sitting on my hard drive back in 1992, too.  I’m really bad about quitting and moving on to something else when I get killed or stumped in a game, and sometimes I don’t get back to it. Maybe that’s why many of my completed adventure games of the 1990s were the LucasArts titles where you could not die. They were the original “hardcore” casual adventure games!

It’s kind of sad the number of adventure games I profess to love, but I never concluded. Maybe I think on them so fondly because I never had closure. They are unfinished conversations in my head, and my imagination is still filling in the possibilities because I have never really let go. Maybe that’s true of a lot of unfinished RPGs as well. Just as nothing in reality is as terrifying as the unknown, no game – no story – can be as satisfying as I might imagine them to be.  Although it helps that they were really dang cool up until the point where I got stumped, forgot to try again, and lost my saved game…

Trying to explain exactly why I loved adventure games – or Grim Fandango in particular – was hard, too. It’s been so long that I forget the reasons why. But ultimately, it comes down to a few very simple principles:

gk1. Interesting characters. Probably more than anything else. A good principle character who can respond to really weird interactions with amusing comments really helps.

2. Open-ended interaction potential. While the worlds could be frustrating in how much they didn’t allow you to interact with them, part of the fun in both text adventures and graphic adventures was how few restrictions were placed on the interactive potential.  This, too, was a source of frustration – sometimes you’d want to scream at your monitor, “What am I supposed to do here?” But this was part of what made the worlds come alive — anything in the world could potentially be interacted with, and sometimes in very interesting and amusing ways.

3. Compelling stories. Always a strong reason to play any game.

4. The euphoria of solving puzzles and problems. Maybe the match-3 genre has adventure games beat by letting you do this dozens of times per minute instead of once every few minutes, but I’m pretty sure there are some biochemical reactions to solving the kind of mental puzzles provided in adventure games. It feels good. And while it’s quite possible in the modern era to get solutions to any adventure game more than two days old on the Internet, finally solving the real stumpers by yourself can probably get you high. It’s not like a challenging action sequence where you can chalk it up to just rehearsing things to the point of a combination of good luck, learned responses, and perfect timing. It’s a full-on “Eureka!” moment which potentially opens up any number of roadblocks which have been hemming you in until that point. It feels like it’s a world-changing event all because you had an idea.

5. As a side-note: Part of it possibly came down to being able to tell stories or use settings that would be harder to work out in another medium. It was the ability to explore the worlds and understand the settings at your own pace that maybe made them work. That allowed the weirdness to become endearing rather than off-putting.  This was very true of text adventures as well. The exposition necessary to make it work would slow down a linear narrative to insomnia-defeating levels, but when you can push and pull at the setting and “play with it” in the interactive medium it can come together nicely.

There may be more to it than this. But these are the aspects that I think of. This is also why I like putting a few ‘adventure game’ style puzzles in my RPGs. Not too much, and not too hard – because again, I’m one of those guys who tends to quit after being stumped or lost for too long – but just enough to season my RPGs with a little bit of that remembered flavor.

Guybrush! What are you doing here?I suspect and hope that Broken Age will do just fine reminding me why I still hold the genre in such high regard.  Hopefully it will remind a lot of people.

As a bonus – Ron Gilbert just wrote a list of how he’d create a Monkey Island game today. He stresses that he has no plans to make a new Monkey Island game, but it certainly sounds like he is considering launching a Kickstarter or something to make another game or series of games in that style. It has a lot of elements that he considers “key” to what he loves about the classics – and how he would update them in a way that he would have done twenty+ years ago if it had been technologically feasible.

Filed Under: Adventure Games - Comments: 7 Comments to Read

  • OttoMoBiehl said,

    I do miss the adventure game. I used to play the heck out of them on my Amiga 500 back in the day. Lucasfilm/Arts games held me more than many of the other games that came from other companies at the time. I did play a lot of Kings Quest games and a few other ones. (Willie Beamish anybody?) The games I played were Loom, The Indiana Jones games and The Monkey Island Games. After I got my PC I played Full Throttle, Day of the Tentacle, the Third Monkey Island game and Grim Fandango.

    I was more partial to the Monkey Island series than Grim Fandango (which I still absolutely loved). I did enjoy Day of the Tentacle because of the “Warner Brothers” style animation and humor. I played Maniac Mansion after playing that game because it engrossed me so.

    I’d love to see Ron Gilbert make another adventure game especially if he incorporated the stuff he had in that list.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I don’t want to hold those guys up on a pedestal too much, because there have been a ton of VERY talented indies / semi-indies who have been cranking out quality product for years. I don’t know how well they’d compare to some of the old “classics,” but if you can make allowances for budget differences and in some cases translation of both language and culture, they are probably playing in the same league.

    Telltale, Wadjet Eye (and those who work with them), Daedalic, Revolution Software, Frogwares, Size Five Games, the visual novels of guys like Winter Wolves and Hanako games, Aminata Design, and all the companies publishing through The Adventure Company – the adventure game genre has been anything but dead over the last several years. Just not the monster AAA category it was back in the 80s and 90s.

    I’ve got a ton to play now, but seeing as my list of unfinished new and classic RPGs is growing out of control, I don’t see myself completing a bunch of ’em really soon.

    I keep thinking that some day I’ll get to all these and they’ll be just as delightful as my favorites from 20 or more years ago. Maybe that’ll happen; we’ll see. But in the meantime… I expect I’ll be giving Broken Age a spin.

  • MalcolmM said,

    I think the problem with most modern adventure games (I play and finish quite a few of them) is that not enough has changed. Most modern adventures wouldn’t have looked out of place, apart from the higher resolution graphics, if they were released ten or even fifteen years ago. They are stuck in a rut.

    There are some good modern adventure games. I just finished Deponia, which I really enjoyed. Some people complain that main character isn’t likable, but that is part of the humour. Lost Horizon has a very good story, although the puzzles are a bit simple. Ceville, which was released a few years ago, is a very fun and funny cartoon adventure.

  • Brian 'Psychochild' Green said,

    I have to admit, I’m not a diehard fan of adventure games. I’ve played a number and enjoyed them, but they tend to be few and far between, and usually the really oddball ones. Quest for Glory, LOOM, and Maniac Mansion are the only ones really enjoyed, and only the last one could be considered a “real” adventure game. I mean, I studied Spanish and love the cultural aspects of el día de los muertos, and I even today I chuckle as I remember the line, “Run you pigeons, it’s Robert Frost!”, but I just never stuck with Grim Fandango.

    Not that I begrudge anyone else their love of the genre, but it never captured me in particular.

  • poopypoo said,

    I consider it the true golden age, the lucasarts/sierra/origin era. The Quest for Glory series should not be overlooked. However, I do think one thing went downhill with the remakes and I find it a very important part of “true” adventure gaming. They took away the parser. I can still enjoy modern adventure games, and even back in the day there were LucasArts games etc which didnt use parsers, but even keyword games have a different feel than the purely cursor-driven games. There’s just not enough thinking. I at least have a tendency, when I get stuck, to just start waving the mouse around to look for interactive spots. Also, the best Sierra games and such used to mock you when you would type in a bad idea. Sometimes you would die and then it would mock you, and other times it would just mock you. There was a sense of whimsy really missing fron the more recent games I’ve played. Maybe I’m just playing the wrong ones. Regardless, I am excited to see the genre make a comeback. The lower budget indies have been very hit or miss!

  • Xenovore said,

    Not a big fan; Full Throttle was the only one I really appreciated. Others were, well, just boring really.

  • Darius said,

    I loved the classic Lucas Arts and Sierra adventure games. But when I got older and started programming I realized that the thrill of solving a puzzle was pretty similar to the thrill of getting some new functionality working, or the thrill of solving a nasty bug. When I realized that a lot of the fun of adventure games disappeared. I still enjoy them for the stories, but I tend to be pretty quick to look up solutions to puzzles that are vexing me. Maybe I’ve gone soft, but it often seems like I don’t have any idea what I’m even supposed to be solving, let alone how to solve it.