Understanding Video Games text-book
Adventure

Date posted: May 11, 2006
Updated: May 16, 2006

Adventure games belong in the more thoughtful end of the spectrum. They demand logical thinking and great persistence from the player. Often their loose structures can be compared with a movie that stops at intervals demanding the solution of task or riddles in order for the narrative to progess. But many players seem to find the slow uncovering of adventure game stories appealing.

The history of the genre can be illustrated in this figure:
Period 1976-1984 1984-1987 1987-1993 1993-1997 1997-
Graphics None 2D 2D Digitized film 3D
Interaction Textual Textual Menu based Menu based Menu based

The mother of all adventure games was born in 1976. William Crowther, eager cave explorer and programmer, tried to combine his interests in a little simple game. The program simulated a journey into a subterranean cave complex and functioned by the player reading the game’s description and typing commands at the keyboard.

Crowther modified the program several times and then circulated it on the ARPAnet. In this way the program spread and reached the Stanford university computer department and programmer Don Woods. Woods expanded the program considerably and added - in accordance with the spirit of the time - a series of fantasy elements inspired by J.R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.

The game, now known as Adventure (play adventure online), was extremely popular in programming circles for years to come. The game offered an altogether different logical and ponderous experience than action games and appealed to the more technology interested supporters of the game business.

A few years later a group of Stanford students saw the great potential of the genre and opted to produce a more advanced game with greater complexity and literary value. The result was Zork (play Zork on-line / download Zork for PC) and became the foundation of the succesful company Infocom. Still the story was told exclusively with the help of text. Zork would greet the player:

“West of House.
You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door.
There is a small mailbox here.
>”

By the ‘>’- sign the player would write a command which the game would then try to interpret and execute.

Sierra Online, a couple of years later, tried to take the genre one step further by adding graphics to their Mystery House.
Now the imagination of the player was supported by drawings. These, however, worked exclusively as illustrations - the graphics had no independent narrative function. Later, with Sierra’s King’s Quest (1984), the main character was also represented graphically and could move around in the world and interact with objects or persons nearby.

The predominant form of interaction was textual until Lucas Arts in 1987 shocked the business with revolutionary Maniac Mansion (the form had been attempted before, but never with such luck). Instead of trying to guess which words the game knew, the player could choose among several verbs, that could be combined with graphical objects. This point-and-click interface was in many ways superior and since Maniac Mansion textual interaction has been a rarity.

The menu-based interaction has not changed significantly since then. On the aesthetic front different alternatives to the classic 2D graphics have been tried. Sierras occult detective trilogy about ghost hunter Gabriel Knight illustrates the development.

The graphics in the first episode were drawn in traditional two-dimensional style. The player moved Gabriel around the screen interacting with objects and persons nearby.

Three years later digitalized film was all the rage. The Beast Within consist of a series of movie and sound clips played in sequences determined by the player’s actions. This form seems clumsy and rigid - especially in comparison with the third episode. In Blood of the Sacred… most of the graphics are constructed in “real” 3D. The player moves Gabriel around in a rather realistic universe with quite convincing dynamics and can freely change the camera position and angle.

Although popular and innovative the adventure genre has serious problems in the era of networks. The games - in their classic incarnations - are poorly suited for anyting but lonesome pondering. Still it is highly likely that big online role-playing games like Ultima (Origin, 1997), Everquest (Verant Interactive, 1999), Asheron’s Call (Microsoft, 1999) and Lineage: The Blood Pledge (NC Interactive, 2000) will be the model for future giant successes.

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