The adventure genre is one of the most influential and is older than graphics. As a matter of fact, the 1977 game Colossal Cave, also known by the alternate title “Adventure”, kicked off the genre by prompting the user for commands and describing the result in nothing but naked text. The first graphical adventure game, Mystery House was written by Ken and Roberta Williams in 1980. And so, Sierra On-line (no, there was no internet back then) was born which made the games that influenced my own childhood: King’s Quest, Space Quest, and most of all, Leisure Suit Larry. These last few games were still keyboard command driven, but had low res 2D scenery and animations.
The genre gained enormous popularity during the ’80s and ’90s, giving birth to some of my favorite games ever. Written by Jane Jensen through Sierra On-line, Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers had some of the best game writing, narration, and puzzles I’ve ever experienced, and it also featured excellent voice acting by Tim Curry, Mark Hamill, and Michael Dorn.
Day of the Tentacle by Dave Grossman and the legendary Tim Schafer of LucasArts is a cartoony point-and-click adventure featuring three kooky protagonists, a mad scientist, his two tentacle creatures, and time machines made from porter potties. It still has me laughing my insides out to this day.
Perhaps the most renowned title, Myst, was released in 1993 and was a first-person point-and-click adventure that had the player exploring an island full of fantastical puzzles. The game was so popular and influential that it’s now on display in the Applied Design exhibition in the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City.
Towards the end of the ’90s, however, adventure games seemingly dropped in “popularity” as the spotlight shone on other genres. The action genre had recently evolved into games such as Doom, which was the first to truly popularize the first-person-shooter. Although King’s Quest was among the most influential games in the genre, Roberta Williams of Sierra On-line released what would be the last in the series at the end of 1998: King’s Quest VIII: Mask of Eternity. Apparently, game developers and publishers had so little faith in the adventure genre at this point that this title was an action-adventure game instead.
Roberta Williams: “The traditional adventure game is dead.”
Tim Schafer: “If I were to go to a publisher right now and pitch an adventure game, they’d laugh in my face.”
Clearly, the adventure genre took a turn for the worst. Though there were some small number of adventure games released after their decline, many had declared the adventure genre dead. To make things worse, at the start of this decade, Electronic Arts and other publishers initiated policies not to publish games without some sort of online or multi-player content.
By now, I’ve bored you with enough history lessons. It’s time to tell you how the adventure genre will soon come back and reclaim its former glory.
It’s going to hit us in three ways, all around the same time.
The first way is the most subtle, and is in fact here already though you might not have noticed. While it’s true that the most popular mobile game titles have been titles like Angry Birds and Cut the Rope, casual mobile gamers are also playing Myst style adventure games like The Lost City and The Secret of Grisly Manor.
My fiance is not a gamer, but somehow she found some adventure games on her phone without any influence from me, and we both can agree that solving the puzzles in these games is some serious heads-down fun. While riding the subway train in Manhattan, I’ve also noted other casual gamers plugging away at similar puzzle games. In the same way that Sudoku was amazingly popular a few years back, I think we’ll soon see a large rise of casuals discarding their Angry Birds and Temple Run for more puzzlers in the form of the adventure genre.
The second most telling sign that adventure games are making a comeback is the soon to release Double Fine Studios title Broken Age. There is so much demand for this game that it was one of the biggest Kickstarter game projects ever, bringing in a total of $3.45 million, surpassing their initial request of $400 thousand with over 87 thousand backers. The funding for this project was so successful that it ignited a wave of new successfully funded video game projects, some of which (Homestruck Adventure, Dreamfall Chapters: The Longest Journey, a remake of Leisure Suit Larry, etc…) are in the adventure genre as well. Although the publishers don’t “get it,” there’s clearly a real demand for games that they refuse to fund.
Indie developers, on the other hand, have not feared the adventure game genre. Wadjet Eye Games is a studio that released many adventure games in the last seven years, such as Primordia and Gemini Rue. Machinarium by Amanita Design is available for pretty much every modern day platform. Check out the last section for a list of indie adventure game reviews.
The most important reason you’ll be seeing a lot more adventure games in the spotlight of the near future is that, for the first time in two decades, one of the biggest game publishers, Sony, will be marketing the heck out of a new adventure game. Beyond: Two Souls is likely to be a PS3-seller, and I believe that this will have the same effect on the adventure genre that Final Fantasy VII had on the RPG genre when it was released for the PS2. If you’re not sure why this game will be a big deal, it’s because you haven’t seen any of the trailers for Beyond: Two Souls, or you haven’t played any of Quantic Dream’s previous titles like Indigo Prophecy and Heavy Rain. In fact, if you haven’t played either of those titles yet, go get one, because you’re missing out on an important part of video game history. If you don’t have a PS3 to play Heavy Rain, go buy one.
You might argue that the before mentioned Quantic Dream titles aren’t traditional adventure games. It’s true that they differ by having quick time action events, but the element of puzzle-solving by exploring/interacting with environments is still very prevalent. They also strongly incorporate the idea of making choices, which is something straight out of a “choose your own adventure” novel (remember those?).
I think AAA publishers are going to start trending towards evolving the genre. We’re already seeing some change in the form of Beyond: Two Souls, but there are other ways for the genre to improve. The most obvious way that publishers will try to change the genre is by adding some sort of online component. The ability to solve puzzles and make choices with a friend could add a nice touch. For example, the way that Star Wars: The Old Republic allows your friends to make dialogue choices on behalf of the group can add an element of spontaneity to the outcome of the story. Regardless, the truth is that the genre doesn’t need to be different; it simply needs good writing and puzzles with solutions that are sensible. It is only a matter of time before publishers are knocking on Tim Schafer’s door and begging him to do what they refused to let him do for the past twenty years.
If you’re already feeling the hype or you want to know more about some existing titles, check out our reviews on the following indie adventure games.
Also check out the reviews for these AAA games: