May 26, 2010

[Gaming] I Miss Adventure Games

The LucasArts "golden guy" logo, use...Image via Wikipedia

Once upon a time, adventure games were all the rage. What is an adventure game, you ask? Good grief, you don't know? Travesty!

Well, I suppose I can't blame you. These days almost all the games seem to focus on first or third person shooting or some other alternative or endless variations of Grand Theft Auto. How exactly we reached this point is a bit beyond me, but that's the natural order of the gaming world for now. Adventure games are largely a thing of the past and I for one certainly lament their fall from grace.

Adventure games were at their core, stories. They were stories that were presented in a highly interactive and often fun way that involved ridiculous inventory items, crazy dialog options and puzzle after puzzle after puzzle. Ah yes, those were the good old days and I wish they'd come back in style. In the meantime, why don't we revisit some of my favorite adventure games of yore (in no particular order).

LoomI think the very first adventure game that I ever got to play (and finish!) was LucasArt's Loom, which was uniquely presented as a sort of musical adventure complete with a very rich midi soundtrack. The game was unique in how the players would learn different musical drafts that he could use to cast various spells in the game. It could be as simple as turning straw into gold or as complex as ripping a whole through the very fabric of reality. The game had such an amazingly solid story that I still find myself replaying the game every so often. Yes, there are ways to make the game still work.

Indiana Jones and the Fate of AtlantisThe next big adventure game I remember struggling to finish together with the help of my sister was Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, which until recently was pretty much the true fourth installment of the Indiana Jones franchise for me. The Last Crusade was a good translation of the movie into the game but Fate of Atlantis was such an epic adventure on its own, it totally changed the game for a lot of players. Sure, it was difficult and it had multiple paths through which you can solve the game, thus making it a bit more frustrating, but in the end it was just a great adventure game and certainly something that helped advance the genre.

King's Quest VSierra was the other big adventure game company out and about in the old days and one of the most striking franchises they developed was the King's Quest series. This was the kind of game that (1) helped walkthroughs develop purpose in our geeky lives and (2) penalized you dearly for making a mistake. I particularly remember the trauma that was King's Quest V given the ridiculous number of times that my sister and I died while trying to finish the game. Even with the aid of the cheat sheets, it was still far too easy to send poor King Graham to his death. Still, it was a nicely fun series with interesting fantasy characters and a nicely complex plot that made getting to the end quite enjoyable.

Legend of KyrandiaIf the King's Quest series seemed pretty lethal, Kyrandia was even worse. As much as the game was intense, the story compelling and the visuals amazing, it was pretty damned frustrating to play! How many other players out there wasted hours of their lives trying to get the right combination of jewels at the altar? Or how many poisonous pieces of fruit did you end up eating? Kyrandia was frustrating but the story was intriguing enough to drive you try your luck with the game, even after a few sequels.

Monkey Island 2At the same time as all these other games, LucasArts was realizing that it didn't want to scare its players. Instead it wanted to make them laugh. Hence more and more games seemed to involve a quirky kind of humor - case in point being the Monkey Island series. You'd think a game involving zombie pirates and voodoo priestesses would be freakishingly scary, but there's something totally disarming about having some skinny animated idiot cry out, "I'm Guybrush Threepwood, mighty pirate!" The game had a healthy number of sequels plus it's managed to find a new life as an iPhone app.

Sam & Max Hit the RoadThe first original game that I ever purchased for myself had to be an adventure game - and it was the every crazy Sam & Max Hit the Road. The game was a dream in terms of more adult humor, crazy cartoony sequences and annoying shallow zinger after zinger. I mean come on, at the center of the game was a mystery involving a missing Big Foot who had fallen in love with a girl with a neck like a giraffe. But this was still a nicely challenging game with a few non sequitur solutions, but it all worked out in the end.

Day of the TentacleThe first Maniac Mansion game was a bit of a let down, but was instrumental to later developments in the gaming genre. its sequel, Day of the Tentacle, remains to be one of my favorite adventure games of all time. It was a perfect balance of humor and challenge and the added element of time travel totally rocked! Plus I'll never get the sound of the tentacle suckers popping on and off out of my head - such a distinct sound that really defined the game, at least for me.

Grim FandangoAs graphics technology advanced, there was a strong attempt to try and bring the genre screaming into the future. The end result was the oddly macabre game that was Grim Fandango. You get to play Manny, who is pretty much a skeleton in a city of the dead working in the Department of Death. What starts out as some idle client-stealing turns into a classic mystery story complete with characters in fedoras and lots and lots of sexy danger. Well, as sexy as skeletons can be. But thankfully the 3D rendering worked nicely, although it was a bit beyond the specs of my computer at the time.

The DigThe last game that really made a mark in my mind as far as adventure games are concerned was this pivotal story, The Dig. While it did employ a decent amount of computer enhancements, it was largely a cartoon-style animation game that had a really compelling story, fun voice acting and lots and lots of glowing green ovoids. Naturally I'm drawn to a science fiction story as one of my favorite (if not the favorite) adventure games of my history. It had everything one could want including some freakishly annoying puzzles that seem impossible to solve without a walkthrough. Such were the good old days.

Well, those are the big ones, I think. I'm tempted to include the first Dune game, which was a proto-strategy game with adventure elements or even the Police Quest series, which helped hone my love for cop stories. Oh, and Full Throttle, which was kick ass in its own right but involved a genre of stories that wasn't quite my thing. I mean come on, it involved bikers for crying out loud. Oh, and there was the fact that Xanth actually had a game, and that has to count for something. But I could go on forever and ever listing these games down.

The point is that I miss these games - games that rewarded critical thinking and one's ability work through puzzles instead of just trying to kill all the bad guys. Maybe these types of games will come back in style one day, like those independent efforts like Machinarium. Until then, I'll be glad I still have ways of getting SCUMM to work on Windows 7.

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