Return to Adventure …

More reposts of my old GameGuiders articles, this one a three part series on adventure games.

Long, long ago, adventure games ruled the land. The longest running and most popular gaming series were adventure games: Police Quest, King’s Quest, Space Quest, Leisure Suit Larry Quest (okay, okay, that one didn’t actually have quest in the title), and the Gabriel Knight series. And a large number of classic and memorable games were adventure games, even if they didn’t last that long. It’s hard to imagine, for example, that gamers around in the hey-day of adventure gaming wouldn’t have heard of Maniac Mansion, and even the sequel Day of the Tentacle. Adventure games, at one time, took up a large portion of any gaming store’s shelves.

And then, not really suddenly, adventure games disappeared. While there’s a theory that a large comet was responsible, the fact is that they just seemed outdated in game play to FPSs and RPGs and the like, could be slow and plodding, and could be maddening in their puzzles. I’m not sure what the entire reason is for the seeming death of adventure games, but ultimately they fell off the gaming map.

I say “seeming death” because, unlike the dinosaurs, they never really died out. Adventure games have still been produced, even to this day. The newsgroup comp.sys.ibm.pc.games.adventure is still around and still has a small but fairly regular group of posters talking about the latest adventure games. Dreamcatcher has made a living mostly by churning out graphical adventure type games. And there’s even been some innovation, with the relatively recent Missing and Evidence being quite unique adventure-style games.

But for the most part, adventure games were out of the mainstream consciousness. These were the games that you found in the discount bin or in the collection of really cheap games at the end of shelf. You rarely saw them prominently displayed in the “New Releases” section, and you would never see any sort of poster demanding that you “Pre-order now!”.

But now, that’s changing. Sam & Max — one of the classic humour adventure games — has been restarted by Telltale Games, who are also doing new adventures with Monkey Island and some sort of game based on some sort of 80’s movie series. I think it’s called “Back to the Future; or something like that. And there are other similar types of games that are starting to make an impression.

So, the question is: Can adventure games come back into the mainstream and be even a shadow of what they once were?

I think they can, and might even be dominant again. And I think this because of the success of two things that would seem to be unrelated: Farmville and the Wii.

See, both of them rely on a simple market principle: there are a large number of casual gamers out there who would like to play games if only there were games out there for them to play. Give them a simple, fun game with a simple and hopefully fun interface, and they’ll snap it up. That both Farmville and the Wii are massively successful pretty much proves that that market force is a reality.

So, assuming that there are a large number of people who are more casual games, I think it’s pretty safe to presume that at least some of them — and probably a significant number of them — would like to participate in an epic story. After all, we all watch television to get that, so some of that pretty much has to carry over to gaming. And this, initially, would suggest that they’d really like RPGs. But RPGs generally include difficult and potentially confusing combat sections and in general aim to make choices of skills, classes and equipment matter to satisfy the more hardcore RPG gamer. Casual gamers might not want to have to learn all that stuff just to play a game for an hour or so a day. They could move to FPSs, but those are often short of story and reflex gaming is generally harder than the combat in RPGs. Plus there’s the fact that while you might be able to find an RPG that grandma and little Johnny can play together, it’s going to be really hard to find an FPS that won’t be too gory for that.

But there’s a reason that combat is an important part of those games: to make it a game. In order for it to be a game, there has to be challenges for the player, things for them to do. If there isn’t, you’re basically just sitting in front of a computer screen watching TV. And that’s what your TV is for.

So, where would the casual gamer turn if they want to experience a story in their gaming but don’t want to have to do all that killing stuff? Why, adventure games, of course. You don’t have to kill a lot of things in an adventure game, because it replaces the combat challenge with puzzle challenges. In short, it tests your brainpower by making you solve cases or puzzles to move on. No combat, no killing, no reflexes required. It sounds, at first blush, like the perfect game to fill that gap.

There are, however, issues to overcome, and things that adventure games need to do to put themselves in position to reap the potential rewards of casual gamers. In my next two articles, I’ll talk about two of those: how hard the puzzles are, and how linear the games are. But I do think that if they can get their message out and appeal to the casual gamer, adventure games can take off again.

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