25 Years Later, Why Adventure Games Suck

A quarter of a century has come and gone since Ron Gilbert first wrote the article “Why Adventure Games Suck” in 1989.

I discovered this while flipping through some old posts on my blog, and I found one from six years ago that discussed this very article. Since my memory, generally speaking, sucks, I had to go back and read Ron’s article again, not to mention my own, as I could barely recall either. Note: I am not proud of this fact.

It was then that I realized that it’s the 25-year anniversary of that article. 25 years. That’s insane.

Ron reprinted it back in 2004, when a mere 15 years had passed, and at that time he declared that “adventure games are officially dead,” which is interesting considering he proceeded to collaborate over the next decade on several adventure-style games: Penny Arcade Adventures (“On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness”), Deathspank, Tales of Monkey Island, and The Cave. So it would seem that adventure games are not dead, not yet at least. I think some would argue that the genre is a bit more difficult to define than before. It seems that adventure has become more of a game design element rather than a genre per se, such that games these days (a parallel to “kids these days” for us old people) include “adventure” as a descriptor if the game includes elements of exploration and/or storytelling, even if it’s a match-3 game.

Things were a bit different back in 1989, of course. At the time, pure text adventures were still selling (although Infocom still existed, the sun was certainly setting by then on that business model), and graphical adventures were young, some still including text parsers to go with the graphics. Interplay’s Neuromancer was Computer Gaming World’s 1989 Adventure Game of the Year. We had yet to see some adventure game classics, like LucasArts’ Monkey Island and Indiana Jones franchises, Full Throttle, and, of course, Grim Fandango. Perhaps it was because of lessons learned, like those outlined in Ron’s article, that the 1990′s were such a good period for graphical adventure games.

I thought about going through some of the important passages from his article and discussing how they are still relevant or not in today’s world, but apparently I did that six years ago, too. (Apparently, I’d live most of my life over and over again if it wasn’t documented somewhere.)

Suffice it to say that it was a good read back then, and it’s still a good read today, well worth the time for another look. The video games industry, indie and AAA, have come a long way over the years, particularly adventure games. So too has interactive fiction, particularly with respect to new advancements in text parsing, character interaction, and storytelling. Although we often think of adventure games nostalgically, people still make them and players still really enjoy them, and I have to think that some of the really interesting, entertaining, and creative titles are still to come.

 

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Changelog 2014-07-21

Summary

Busy week last week, with a lot accomplished. We’re still working on that holy water, trying to get good animations for the water motion while working out some of the persistent issues with object visibility. Some weird stuff going on there – at times, the water looks fine, while at other times, the visibility of the water block object is inconsistent. I’ll be spending some time trying to figure that out, but in the meantime it looks like we have a good animation for the “spinning” version. The main thing I advanced was the handwritten note found on Matteo in Act 2. In addition to creating the game object, I was able to create a nice detailed image of the note with the handwriting, and then created a new on-screen dialog for displaying it when the player tries to READ it. So instead of just printing the text of the note to the output window, we also display it in the HUD. That meant creating a new GUI element and its associated keymapping, but it was about a day’s work in all and I’m very happy with the result. Part of the implementation process revealed several new bugs (as usual), so I spent some additional time squashing those. All in all, a productive week.

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CHANGELOG
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One week period leading up to 2014-07-21:

  • Created the Matteo note object image and DTS shape
  • Implemented the Matteo note object in the game, hidden on Matteo and discoverable
  • Adjusted the Matteo note object for visualization in the inventory
  • Completed the Matteo note object doMethod, allowing for reading and destruction
  • Created new dialog for reading/displaying the Matteo note, with its associated keyMap
  • Created new “spinning” holy water model with better results (NR)
  • Fixed tiny bug that incorrectly ignored ghost objects when trying to EXAMINE an NPC who is not visible in another location, but blocked by an object instead of the monastery walls
  • Fixed bug that didn’t play NPC animations if there was a skip in the numbering in the relevant .CS file
  • Fixed bug that didn’t properly exit the Help dialog when using the ESC key
  • Fixed bug that didn’t display object names before output messages when using PUT or INSERT with ALL
  • Fixed bug that caused cutscene text to print twice to the screen and log file

This week’s screenshot shows a snapshot from the first cutscene. Constantin and Ignatius are arguing about what to do with Lucca…

Constantin accuses Lucca of murder, argues with Ignatius

Constantin accuses Lucca of murder, argues with Ignatius

 

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Who Killed Adventure Games? Redux

In the process of not doing work and scanning the interwebs, I came across a classic article on Old Man Murray from 14 years ago on “Who Killed Adventure Games?”

It was triggered by a Gamecenter article from a series that I believe was titled, “Dead And Buried: Five Vanishing Genres,” although it’s not entirely clear since the page doesn’t exist anymore. Through the magic of the Internet Wayback Machine, however, the body of the article can be read here, though I’m not even sure who wrote it. The classic long story short: simpleminded, casual gamers killed adventure gaming, and Myst made them do it. The editorial at the end by Cliff Hicks symbolically put the nail in the coffin of the adventure genre.

Erik from Old Man Murray had a nice take on this article, pointing out that “Gamecenter mentions Jane Jensen’s Gabriel Knight 3 as the last title of note in the genre.” He then uses GK3 to illustrate his alternate theory of who killed adventure gaming. It’s funny as hell, worth the review. Who can’t relate to that?

Fourteen years later, it’s nice to see that adventure games are not dead and buried. In some ways they have evolved, in some ways they haven’t. They’re certainly not as mainstream as they used to be, and it’s not as easy to find a pure “adventure” game that doesn’t mix in elements of FPS, RPG, or other genres, but advances in gameplay and storytelling methods makes me think there will always be a place for them.

 

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Changelog 2014-07-14

Summary

Most of the week was spent working on the holy water shape and animations. Although it’s straightforward to create a semi-transparent shape with an animation sequence on the surface to represent water, there were several places we got tripped up by the system. The biggest one had to do with transparent object sorting, which meant that the water object was not being rendered on top of other objects but rather behind. So the font itself was obstructing the view of the water inside of it. We fiddled around with different options, but in the end we got it all sorted out (so to speak). Most of the rest of the work dealt with finding good, cheap animations to license to represent the different versions of the holy water as the game progresses — some calm, some like boiling water, some like a whirling toilet bowl. Some successes and some failures in that regard. Other than that, I spent some time correcting a few bugs, in particular one that gave an error when trying to interact with Matteo in Act 2. Turns out I uncovered a problem with the way I implemented the “ghost” objects for NPCs once we advanced to Act 2. Ghost objects are basic, lightweight objects that represent the different characters in the game, so that there is an object that responds to commands or queries when the actual NPC is not at the player’s current location. So if the player types EXAMINE MATTEO, rather than getting the bland “You see no such thing” library message, the player will see something more relevant such as, “He isn’t here.” This one took a bit of time to fix, but it now seems to be working well.

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CHANGELOG
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One week period leading up to 2014-07-14:

  • Resolved visual issues with the holy water object; “rolling” version now complete
  • Found several water videos for water surface animations; licensed two for the “spinning” version
  • Tested several versions of “spinning” holy water model without satisfying results; moving to different animation
  • Resolved bug that asked for clarification between Matteo and his ghost object in Act 2
  • Finished implementing the REMOVE verb so it redirects appropriately to other verbs when needed
  • Began implementation of the PRAYFOR verb

This week’s screenshot shows Matteo’s room in Act 2, empty now that he and Lucca are gone. The mysterious flagstone lies at the center, bloody from Lucca’s fingers—and no longer a problem for the REMOVE command.

screenshot_208-00001

Matteo’s room in Act 2. What could be under that flagstone?

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Changelog 2014-07-07

Summary

As expected, not a huge amount of progress this past week due to the long holiday weekend. Nevertheless, we still made a bit of progress in a couple of areas. Nothing new on the devil prayer front, but we did finish the final two idle animations for Ignatius. Once these are exported and undergo final adjustments, we should be done with all animations for Act 2, and NR can move on once again to the second cutscene and Act 3 while I handle all of the exporting and loading into the game for Act 2. Also, NR solved the issue of animating the holy water in the font using 2-D IFL animations, so we can now have nicely animated holy water for Acts 2 and beyond. Now we just have to figure out what animations are needed.

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CHANGELOG
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One week period leading up to 2014-07-07:

  • Finished final two idle animations for Ignatius (NR)
  • Created a flat DTS shape for the font water that contains a looping IFL animation on its surface (NR)
  • Exported the temporary font water shape and loaded into game, positioned it, and successfully tested the animation

This week’s screenshot shows the temporary font water shape positioned inside the font, with the test animation displayed on its surface. The final shape will use different surface animations.

 

The font water is animated using a smooth 2-D series of images.

The font water is animated using a smooth 2-D series of images.

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