The RPG Scrollbars: RPG Vs. Adventure

Last week, I casually mentioned how glad I was that the current RPG revivals have been doing so well – so many old franchises getting a new Kickstart, so many classic styles getting a fresh airing. I also muttered something though, about how sad I felt that adventure games hadn’t been so fortunate. Since then, I’ve been pondering that. Why? Why has one genre done so well, creating games like Divinity: Original Sin and a whole line-up of new games to look forward to, while the other has resulted in largely forgettable stuff like Broken Age instead of new modern classics?

At heart, I think it’s down to an ironic change in fortunes over the years. Adventure games are an often misremembered genre, even to many who both make and play them. In particular, what’s forgotten is that at release, games like Monkey Island were the equivalent of Hollywood blockbusters, games like Gabriel Knight were trailblazers doing things we’d never seen before, and that until 3D came along and spoiled the party, adventures were the genre for trying out new technology and forging new ground. First 15 and 18 rated games? Adventures. When IBM needed a showpiece for its PCjr, it used King’s Quest. King’s Quest V was one of the earliest showcases for VGA. “Talkies” were one of the big selling points of CD in the early days. FMV… well, it didn’t work out so well in the end, but again, adventures were on the vanguard. On top of all that, adventures were routinely ahead of their time in terms of content, like offering female protagonists as more than just a token character choice long before it began annoying the kind of people who need to be annoyed more often.

You wouldn’t know this from most modern adventure games though because… and I’m not speaking about literally all adventures here… they’re now largely a cargo-cult genre. By that I mean that far too many simply ape the design of the past without understanding that to make something like Monkey Island isn’t a question of making something like Monkey Island. That game broke every mould that the genre had. To name just a few things – creating the Three Trials system that’s still the standard design style today, adding real-time puzzles like following the shopkeeper, coming up with dynamic mechanics like the insult-swordfighting system, having a total tonal shift from conventional adventuring to something more RPG like upon arrival on the titular island… I could go on, but you hopefully get my point. The vast majority of adventures that we get aren’t even trying for that level of innovation or novelty value, and sure as hell don’t have the relative budgets to pull it off. Instead, they’re content to be the next Touche, the next Bud Tucker, the next Innocent Until Caught – following along in the wake of Lucasarts and Sierra and a couple of other big names like pilotfish. If we follow them, we’ll get to where we need to be. Right? Never mind that nobody gave a shit about those games back in the 90s. Hold the line! Keep the faith! It’ll all work out eventually, right?

Wrong. And a big part of that is an unfortunate misunderstanding of why those games did what they did – that the adventure game mechanics of something like Monkey Island are a template to aspire to, rather than simply the best the designers could do at the time. The big draw of adventures at this time wasn’t and never was the puzzles, but their ability to draw us into another world that actually worked like one – be it a fantasy world, a living story, a futuristic dystopia or whatever else. The verbs were tools to facilitate our interactions, exciting primarily because nothing else came close.

All of this quickly becomes a big problem for any adventure rooted in nostalgia.

Let’s now jump genres for a moment to consider the RPGs of old. With a very few exceptions, notably but not exclusively from Origin, RPGs were at the other end of the scale from adventures – ugly, clunky, obtuse, hard to play games with very little real character outside of the manual, and reliant on scale to both impress and cover up the cracks. They and adventures had a certain amount in common, both wanting to be story-telling genres, but RPGs were masters at hiding away the good stuff. Hell, it’s still somewhat notable when a good looking or easy to recommend to everyone example shows up, both from historical factors and the challenge of doing so at such scale.

But in many ways, this proved the genre’s biggest advantage over time – that what stuck with players and designers was what it was trying to do. Its soul, if you will. It never felt like a solved problem in the way that adventure games fell into a rut, with every major series being its own quest to tap into that core dream from a very different angle. The world simulation of Ultima. The scope of Daggerfall. The intimacy of Planescape Torment. As time and technology moved on, many of the initial problems began solving themselves. They learned to make interfaces that don’t suck. We got the storage space to let conversations be more than “Name? Job? Bye.” They managed to become, more or less, the games that we saw in our heads while playing through them back in the day, when a few wiggly lines made the Battle of Helms Deep feel like a playground scuffle – epic adventures that stir the blood and loins, yet without adventures’ core problem of having basically One True Design.

And it’s no wonder that this has produced better games. If you’re a modern adventure developer working in the old-school style, you’re basically trying to recreate blockbusters with pocket-money budgets. Modern tools may be endlessly superior to the ones of the day, but expectations are also endlessly higher and the audience’s willingness to try new things depressingly lower. RPG developers sure as hell don’t have it easy, and I’m not trying to suggest otherwise, but they do at least have an audience willing to consider The Witcher 3, Bard’s Tale IV, Numerera, Wasteland 2, Skyrim, Mass Effect 3 and hell, even South Park as equally valid expressions of what the RPG can be and do. (Admittedly, Bioware’s not been too popular of late, but still.) The spectrum of what’s considered acceptable for a modern game is also far wider, especially in follow-up games. Wasteland 2 isn’t exactly the belle of the ball, but hey, it’s a hell of a lot prettier than the original, right?

Also useful is the deeper understanding that times change, and aren’t always fair. As said, originally verbs in adventure games were empowering – a way of interacting with their worlds on a deeper level than anything else even came close to. As time went on though they became limiting factors. They still arguably work, especially with RPGs rarely letting you look at things or interact much with the world, but they don’t feel like they do. Why can’t I throw that brick through the window? Why can’t I punch that NPC? It’s like trying to navigate the world in a straitjacket which only gets tighter with every puzzle that could be solved with £5 and a quick trip to the nearest hardware store.

RPGs meanwhile generally get away with worlds as non-interactive as a museum exhibit because they’re not constantly dangling options that they won’t follow through with. Why can’t I smash down that door with my sword? Because you can’t attack scenery. Deal with it. The rare time we actually get to cut the Gordion knot and solve problems using more emergent methods becomes a selling point rather than a point of frustration in the games that don’t let us do it, as do moments like being able to headbutt an annoying NPC. Again, it’s all part of how modern RPGs turn weaknesses into strengths – the realisation that a few well chosen bits of freedom generally offer the same pleasant dopamine squirt, without risking opening up too many cans of worms. For a moment it looked like The Walking Dead had brought adventures to the same realisation, that limits can actually feel more empowering than freedom, but unfortunately Telltale then apparently realised that it was giving its designers scope to actually do their best work and had them all fitted for a whole new creative straitjacket. Sigh. Not that I’m not enjoying Tales From The Borderlands, but still.

(It’s also probably worth noting that the Kickstarted RPGs tend to be from creators who never left the industry and at least the general sphere of RPGs and their culture, whereas most celebrity adventure designers have either been out of the picture for the best part of a decade or working on completely different kinds of games. In interviews, I can also count on about one finger the number of adventure developers who can name a recent adventure they’ve enjoyed or even played, with the usual response being an awkward “Oh, well, uh, I’ve been very busy…”, in stark contrast to RPG designers who usually can’t stop waxing lyrical about their recent D&D game or are fifty hours into a competitor’s product. Now, that’s anecdotal evidence to be sure, but still… still…)

The result of all this is that while most ‘revival’ RPGs are indeed rooted on nostalgia for the games of the 80s and 90s, their focus is on recreating the feel we had when playing those games rather than specific experiences that don’t hold up. Adventure developers meanwhile typically recreate the form, hoping that it’ll be enough. And it just isn’t, in the same way that it takes more than sitting in front of a TV with a bowl of cereal to recreate the salad days of watching Saturday morning cartoons anything but ironically. Except for Gargoyles of course, because Gargoyles remains goddamn brilliant. What RPGs can do by polishing up old designs but this time doing them better, adventures have to do by throwing out the rulebook and writing a whole new one – something much riskier, much harder, and above all else, much harder to sell as a dream worth breaking out a credit card to help realise. Especially after so many disappointing attempts so far.

And I don’t say that with any satisfaction. Speaking as a long-time fan of adventures, I really hoped that Kickstarter would allow for the designers of old to strut their stuff once more, to progress from nostalgia to modern innovation, and to remind the wider world why we love those often bastard games. Perhaps it still will, though I’m not holding my breath. At least we’ve seen some big successes worth holding up and praising, not least of them Sam Barlow’s Her Story the other week. Love it or hate it, and you won’t convince me it wasn’t successful, it’s at least trying to do something new.

As an equally-long-time fan of RPGs though, I’m relieved that so far, they’ve had better luck. Saddened that none have been smart enough to add a no-spider mode stretch goal of course… looking at you, Underworld… but still, relieved. There’s no genre more poorly served by just sitting on its laurels instead of continuing to try and tap its genre’s soul, and each new game is a reminder that however good something like The Witcher 3 may be today, it’s still just a shadow of the genre’s actual Holy Grail. Chances are we’ll never actually see it, but that doesn’t matter. It’s the quest to get there that counts – the push that gives us both better games, and some amazing paths to turn around and fondly remember walking. Whether or not they actually ended up going in the right direction.

112 Comments

  1. Zallgrin says:

    Great article! It really had some fantastic points, especially about the limiting nature of adventure games and their verbs.

    There are some really good adventure games released in the last years, yet sadly most of them tend to be overlooked. The Fall had blown me away and I can’t wait for its sequel. Cat Lady was an absolute gem and broke hundreds unspoken rules in the genre.

    But it seems people really are pretty much done with adventure games. Lack of experimentation is killing the interest of customers and not sure whether anything will change about it.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Oh, there are still great adventures – most recently, Technobabylon. I’m thinking specifically of the revivalist ones here and why the nostalgia that’s worked so well for the RPG projects doesn’t transfer.

  2. Apocalypse says:

    Gargoyles did not stay brilliant even on its original run :p
    And man did I love the first season, but the later stuff can not be watched even ironically ;-)

    • Apocalypse says:

      Oh and as the fact that this is my only nitpick.

      Great articles, even when I did enjoy Broken Age and imho to biggest issue with it was simply the writing, which as well effect the humor.

      And btw, Unwritten Tales. Book 2 was a kickstarter, it was successful and they do deliver. And they do not even try to jump the nostalgia train, they just use what worked for them in the past to create a story-telling and fun game with an emphasis on solving puzzles within the game world. But hey, if you would have asked the devs from unwritten tales what they did before their kickstarter they would have told you:”Oh we worked on the unwritten tales prequel”.

      • Framed Parcel says:

        The Book of Unwritten Tales is the odd one out though. For some reason or another adventure games are relatively popular in Germany where this game was made. No idea why (and I am German). And while it’s a good game, I’ve tried to play the English version – out of curiosity – and it’s… well… let’s just say: The golden rule german gamers have about international versions being superior to german versions has its exceptions.

        • Apocalypse says:

          It is ‘always’ the original version which is best. I just happens that a good deal of adventures happens to have as original language german.

    • Det. Bullock says:

      Well, if you avoid the last season that Disney slapped toghether after giving the boot to Greg Weisman Gargoyles still holds up really well, only a few episodes are a bit iffy here and there and they keep it from being DC Animated Universe level material.
      X-men on the other hand…

  3. deiseach says:

    You fight like a dairy farmer.

  4. GameCat says:

    I really hoped that Kickstarter would allow for the designers of old to strut their stuff once more, to progress from nostalgia to modern innovation

    I wish someone could finally make an RPG that would be something really fresh and groundbreaking instead of endlessly repeating older/nostalgic themes and mechanics again and again.

    Latest game that did something new was Witcher 3 that came with a few little innovations, but we need to tear down the wall instead of just poking holes in it. Or at least kick out the door.

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      SoundDust says:

      The biggest limitation of RPG’s versus adventure games to me is the setting. It’s like “You can have an RPG – do you want medieval sword-swinging or space ships?” There aren’t many RPG’s that dare break that mold.

      • A Rising Ape says:

        You should try out Sunless Sea…

        • Richard Cobbett says:

          (Cannot possibly comment.)

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          SoundDust says:

          It’s been on the radar, but haven’t looked at it yet.. so thanks for the reminder!

          Anything else to add to the list of RPG’s that’ve gone to new places/eras of, er, adventure?

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            Mungrul says:

            Two of the three Troika games: Arcanum and Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines
            But you probably already knew that ;)

          • Fromage says:

            Wizardry 8 still holds up really well. Fairly self-contained too (I’ve only ever played one other wizardry and it had no story connection). Lots of fantasy/scifi mix-up there.

    • CarbonCopy says:

      PLANE SCAPE TORMENT
      PLANE
      SCAPE
      TORMENT
      PLANESCAPETORMENT
      PLANESCAPETORMENTPLANESCAPETORMENTPLANESCAPETORMENT

  5. Thankmar says:

    Maybe its also a zeitgeist thing. When Monkey Island was new, games were not mainstream and not taken seriously. In RPGs you had to fight orcs and Dragons and think about numbers, you had to play them. Thats something for kids. Adventures with their verbs and their story and so on, they were, you know, almost like literature. Serious stuff, even Monkey Island, compared to dicing the monster to death. Today, its more okay to get involved with mechanics, and the limitations of Adventures are felt more as limitations, like described, not as an excuse that you are creating a story rather than playing a game.

  6. Tacroy says:

    Really the difference is systems vs scripts; adventure games were heavily on the scripts side of things, and RPGs were on the systems side.

    Thing is, scripts don’t scale well at all – a human needs to hand-craft every single one. Systems, on the other hand, essentially extend out infinitely.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Every Infinity engine game ever says hello.

      • Tacroy says:

        But that’s exactly what I mean – the Infinity Engine was a rather ambitious try at adding scripts to a system (kind of the other side of the mirror from Quest for Glory, which tried adding systems to a script). Thing is, they had to cram so many scripts into the game their quality was pretty bad; the number of broken scripts in IE games would have been unacceptable in a straight up adventure game.

  7. malkav11 says:

    I need to actually finish Broken Age before judging it in toto, but that first act felt plenty successful to me. I’ve gathered the second part may not be as compelling, which I guess I’ll see about. I’m struggling to think what other games would even qualify as the adventure revival. I guess there was Jane Jensen’s KS, which…yeah. I kinda liked what I’ve played of Moebius, but the story is a bit daft. And when I asked for more Gabriel Knight I didn’t mean a remake of the first game. Other than that and Dreamfall Chapters (which I thought was doing well? I dunno, haven’t played it yet because I’ve been wanting to refresh on the story first), I’m not sure what else is even out.

    It’s definitely concerning that most of the people that came back for adventure Kickstarters hadn’t been doing these games, though, and the budgets definitely do not help.

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      Ninja Dodo says:

      I’m in the same boat as you with Dreamfall Chapters. Replaying the old games to refresh my memory first. I got the sense from previews they are at least experimenting with the form a little, like using voiced thoughts to give context to “Mass Effect”-like summarized dialogue options… I look forward to seeing for myself after I finish replaying original Dreamfall.

      I enjoyed Broken Age. There were a couple of frustrating puzzles (where the player was required to use knowledge the character did not have) and there were some things they could’ve explored further in the story, but don’t let the naysayers hamper your enjoyment. It’s definitely true however that, outside of its visual art, Broken Age doesn’t stray much from the framework of retro point & click.

      Ron Gilbert’s kickstarter foregoing even that (visual experimentation) seems an odd choice.

      • tormeh says:

        Chapters is pretty awesome. It’s not the second coming of Christ but that’s not saying much. It has so much soul, I would rather classify it as a drama-adventure than a pure adventure, though.

        It’s not really a nostalgia title though. The tlj/dreamfall games just take a bit of time.

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    gritz says:

    Kentucky Route Zero? The Walking Dead? Surely these are modern classics of the genre and every bit as groundbreaking as the cream of the 1990’s crop.

    • Mark Schaal says:

      Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons? The Stanley Parable? Gone Home? The two Amnesia games? Her Story? It seems to me that adventure games include some of the most talked about and most innovative games in recent years.

      • KillahMate says:

        Quite right. You can’t choose to define adventure games by limiting yourself to exact copies of the 90 heyday, and then complain that they didn’t evolve.

        • Richard Cobbett says:

          You might want to look more closely and observe that the focus is on the revival/nostalgia projects in both adventure and RPG, and that at no point did I say “There are no good adventures out there.” I can name plenty of good and inventive adventures, but they’re not linked to the subject at hand.

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            gritz says:

            I mean the whole thesis of this article is based on this sentence: “Why has one genre done so well, creating games like Divinity: Original Sin and a whole line-up of new games to look forward to, while the other has resulted in largely forgettable stuff like Broken Age instead of new modern classics?”

          • KillahMate says:

            Hm. On rereading the article, I can see that you based the argument on kickstarted projects – but you ventured rather wide with your references in the latter sections which made it somewhat unclear. Or, to put it better, your argument can be applied more widely to the entire adventure genre, which does suffer from a cargo cult mentality more than most. The kickstarted projects to me seem simply reflective of this wider issue. I guess the difference is that there *are* many many adventure games out there that both try and succeed in doing something new, whereas the Kickstarter stuff maybe doesn’t so much.

          • Mark Schaal says:

            I don’t see how The Witcher 3, Skyrim, Mass Effect 3, South Park, The Walking Dead, or Tales From The Borderlands can be considered revival/nostalgia projects. I guess I’m completely unclear on what you mean by that.

          • Richard Cobbett says:

            It’s pretty clear – the audience for RPGs tends to be less conservative and willing to accept a wider range of games, whereas adventure fans can often get stuck in the mindset of what makes A True Adventure Game. The Walking Dead is there as a demonstration of what RPG designers have known for a long time, that you don’t need the deepest of worlds to create a game that feels interactive, just the right interactions.

          • Urthman says:

            Well if you admit that lots of other kinds of games have picked up the innovative story-telling ball, isn’t this just a complaint that some people still like those old verb-guessing puzzle games more than you do?

            It’s like complaining that some people are still making old-school Doom-style FPS games instead of trying to push the Half-Life/Deus Ex/Bioshock/Far Cry boundaries.

            Is Wasteland 2 actually a better old-school RPG than Broken Age is an old-school puzzle game, or is it just that there are more people who like old-school RPG mechanics than old-school puzzle game mechanics?

          • Richard Cobbett says:

            No, it’s saying “This nostalgia trip worked out really well, this one in a related genre, not so much. Let’s look and see if there might be reasons for that.”

            “isn’t this just a complaint that some people still like those old verb-guessing puzzle games more than you do?”

            No, it’s a complaint about people settling for mediocrity while thinking they’re defending the genre. Which is why the points are not things like ‘puzzles suck’, but a reminder that the games that set the templates weren’t designed on stone tablets handed down by God, but the best that developers could do at the time. The classic games that earned their fame all knew that. The ones that followed are oft restricted by things that were never intended to BE restrictions, with the classics pretty much universally throwing out at least lengthy chapters of the rulebook to create something new, as well as often being big fish back on release rather than some obscure little genre drawing words like ‘retro’.

            That creates what to me is an interesting split between the two genres when they bank on nostalgia – that RPGs try to recapture the raw spirit while adventures try to replicate the form. The big difference being that the first one has actually worked, to the point that the ambassadors for those projects are much talked about and hugely successful, while the second have mostly been forgotten already, except as disappointments, to all but the hardest core fans.

            That is not the same as “All adventure games suck”. It’s very simply, as said, that going to the nostalgia well hasn’t worked for them in the same way it did for RPGs and exploring why.

          • Urthman says:

            I guess I’m confused about what exactly you mean then by going to the nostalgia well. Gone Home, for instance, seems to be doing exactly what you describe as the best of old-school adventure game design – using whatever gameplay tools currently seem to work best to tell a story. But you’re not counting it as old-school because it doesn’t do the things you say games shouldn’t do if they’re trying to recapture the glory of old-school adventures.

            If you only count as old-school nostalgia adventures the games that stick to old-school puzzle adventure design, then it’s a tautology to say that they all stick to old-school puzzle adventure design. And yeah, if you didn’t like that game design then, you won’t like it any better now with prettier graphics, but that’s true for people who never liked Balder’s Gate-style RPG mechanics; they’re not going to like Wasteland 2 just because it’s got a more modern interface.

          • Richard Cobbett says:

            No… I’m not counting it… because it’s not an example of what I’m talking about. This really isn’t as complicated as you seem to want it to be. I’m not talking about all adventures, I’m talking about those that are specifically trying to pick up where the older ones left off in the same way that the RPGs being sold on nostalgia are. The ones that promise returns to a golden age, the famous developers coming back for another crack, the talk of Sierra 2.0, all that jazz.

            Gone Home is nostalgic for the 90s. It has *nothing* to do with 90s adventures.

            “And yeah, if you didn’t like that game design then, you won’t like it any better now with prettier graphics”

            (hits head against wall)

          • malkav11 says:

            Gone Home wasn’t Kickstarted. It wasn’t the return of a designer of 90s adventure game classics offering to do, y’know, more of that but independently, nor an indie studio pitching a Kickstarted “spiritual sequel”. I thought it was perfectly clear that Mr. Cobbett is specifically writing about those and specifically comparing them to the Kickstarters where a bunch of 90s RPG designers and/or studios promising something in the direct vein of prior classics did much the same. It baffles me that so many people are taking this as an attack on the genre or for that matter a sign that he doesn’t like 90s adventure games, although that part I suppose is more understandable if you’re not familiar with his prior writing.

          • snarky says:

            Maybe it would be helpful if instead of explaining over and over which games you’re not talking about, you could give some examples of the games you are thinking of. Because it’s looking more and more like they’re not only not that representative of recent adventure games, but not even of Kickstarted adventures.

            I mean, are we just talking about Broken Age, Broken Sword, Tex Murphy, Moebius, and the Leisure Suit Larry and Gabriel Knight remakes? (A list that spans a pretty wide range of ambition and quality.) If so, aren’t you attacking a bunch of projects for doing exactly what they promised (explicitly or implicitly) to do? Most of these games were never going to be particularly innovative or groundbreaking; they were more like an old rock band reuniting to go on tour and play the hits fans already know.

            And that’s perfectly fine when there are (as the comments have pointed out) lots of adventure games that do actually push forward into new territory.

            The article appears to make some strong arguments, but since they only hold up when the domain is strictly and rather artificially restricted to games that are like that almost by definition, I’m not convinced there’s a substantive point here beyond “some people make games I don’t like.”

      • RuySan says:

        This!

        And i might add “Life is Strange”.

        Even in the more conservative approach, there are amazing recent adventure games like The Dream Machine, Machinarium and The Whispered World.

        • pilouuuu says:

          And what about D4 – Dark Dreams Don’t Die? It’s similar to The Walkind Dead and Life is Strange, but completely bonkers and awesome because of it!

      • Robert The Rebuilder says:

        There’s also The Witness, which will hopefully come out this year.

        And I know that Myst is a 4 letter word here, but Uru: Ages Beyond Myst (and its multiplayer counterpart, Myst Online) pushed the adventuring envelope In the 2000’s.

        • Urthman says:

          Anyone who turns their nose up at Myst-style games has a rather drastically-limited perspective on adventure games.

  9. malkav11 says:

    The thing for me that I neglected to mention in my last post is that I’ve always been into the adventure genre because it was telling stories, not because I got that much out of its mechanics. Whereas with RPGs it’s always been a combination of both, but I like a number of mechanics (like turn-based combat) that have fallen by the wayside in more recent games because they’re considered uncommercial or “outdated” (which latter is nonsense). So when you go back to those, it makes me happy. When you go back to adventure game mechanics, I sigh. I didn’t end up backing most of the adventure game revival KSes, and where I did it was largely to see more of a certain type of story (or to support Double Fine, in that case).

    • Sly-Lupin says:

      It’s somewhat strange that the Adventure game has pretty much de-evolved back to text-based titles.

    • Arglebargle says:

      Guess-the-verb mechanics were so awful (especially the ones where things like grab-take-get-etc were not interchangeable), that the mention of the genre as a whole is a huge negative to me. Those games lead to the only time that I actually cut up a game floppy before tossing it out in the trash. No story was worth that BS, not to me anyway.

  10. Wowbagger says:

    Cargo cults are very interesting phenomena. link to en.wikipedia.org

    • Conundrummer says:

      Thanks for the link. I had thought it was just verbal creativity from Mr. Corbett, but now I’ve gone on a little 15-minute knowledge excursion!

  11. KillahMate says:

    I can also count on about one finger the number of adventure developers who can name a recent adventure they’ve enjoyed or even played

    Well, now you know you have to say who was it that earned that one finger?

  12. Joshua Northey says:

    I think Adventures have just been consumed/surpassed by other genres. Something like Portal or the better RPGs is already doing what an adventure game would do, plus other stuff. It was always the runt of the genres.

    • phlebas says:

      ‘Plus other stuff’ isn’t necessarily a bonus, though. I have a deep love for Portal, it’s a thoroughly wonderful game, but what it adds (in particular elements of timing and dexterity) to the formula loses something I value about traditional adventure games: The challenge element is mental and I can play the game entirely in my own time.
      (Yes, I know some classic adventures such as Space Quest or Full Throttle included action sequences. They weren’t a positive addition for me.)

      • Joshua Northey says:

        Certainly some people still want that old experience, I am not sure it is actually enough, even among hardcore gamers though.

        Just like you won’t see sports games these days without teams and leagues and stats etc. They don’t really make sports games of the sort they made in 1985 anymore, because todays sports game do all that and more.

        • phlebas says:

          It’s not (necessarily) about wanting ‘the old experience’, though. Even though publications can have fancy colour pictures these days, there is still a place for books without them not because people are nostalgic for clunky old non-illustrated black-and-white books but because they offer something different.
          (I’d agree with Cobbett’s main thesis that the nostalgia-based adventure KS projects have done less well than the RPG ones, mind – though Dreamfall seems possibly the most hopeful at this point and I haven’t got round to playing that yet. But the best adventures I’ve played recently have been the ones like Resonance that did interesting things within the format rather than pushing elements from other genres in.)

  13. It's not me it's you says:

    Huh. This article raised some excellent points I hadn’t considered.

    To repurpose a programming phrase from the past: “NOSTALGIA considered harmful” – only this time with actual arguments rather than irritating bloviating.

    Thanks, mr. Cobbett!

  14. Ibed says:

    Very nice article, thanks Richard.

    I was thinking, maybe the nature of nostalgia for the two genres is also different? As said above, adventures tend to rely more on scripted situations (set pieces, jokes, stories) than RPGs (not that RPGs don’t have those, but there are far more solid systems lying underneath).

    Speaking purely for myself, the reason I loved Monkey Island when I was 11 or so was that it introduced me to a “smarter” form of humour and a bigger, fuller world than anything I had known until then. Playing Day of the Tentacle recently just didn’t bring that. I liked it, but it was pretty much impossible for it to even get close to what MI was to me.

    On the other hand, RPGs will always have their systems, and with them perhaps inherently more interesting gameplay.

    Hmm, maybe this was basically your point? Anyway, nice article :)

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      “On the other hand, RPGs will always have their systems, and with them perhaps inherently more interesting gameplay.”

      I dunno about everyone else, but I tend to find that a few hours in, I’m kinda in the groove as far as the systems go and after a while generally want the game to either go “Okay, you can probably beat up three guys, we’ll stop making you waste time taking out the trash” or to up its game and do more interesting stuff.

      • Sly-Lupin says:

        Couldn’t agree more.

        I hate it when you get 20 hours into an interesting RPG, but then instead of doing anything new or interesting, they decide to just through a bunch of tedious, poorly-designed combat encounters at you. Wasteland 2 was really bad at that.

  15. DarkCypher says:

    My argument would be Life is Strange covers a lot of the things that the author is lamenting doesn’t exist anymore. It is a modern adventure that doesn’t ape the past, has two female protagonists, a great story that doesn’t rehash an old game, and moves the genre forward by having player choice that feels like it makes a real difference in the story.

    The author only seems to be looking at nostalgia driven Kickstarted adventures and then complains that the genre isn’t evolving.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      The author is not lamenting that good adventures don’t exist. The author is saying that adventures based on nostalgia don’t work in the same way that RPGs tapping the same ground have done.

  16. Premium User Badge

    G-Lord says:

    I really wonder how Timbleweed Park will turn out, considering it will focus on puzzles. Overall I have to agree with the verdict of the article, but I still hope for a second wave of more innovative adventure revivals.

  17. Premium User Badge

    SoundDust says:

    You could see it as RPG’s having become more like the adventure games of old. Dragon Age and Witcher games have dialog trees, quest items, fancier graphics (people actually have faces, hair and clothes).

    • Sly-Lupin says:

      Then there are also cases of games like Pillars of Eternity or Nier that have segments which are almost-literally old-school text adventures.

      In essence, all of the elements that used to define the Adventure genre have been usurped by other genres that can do just as much (if not more) with them.

  18. Sly-Lupin says:

    Another excellent article this week. Richard, you’ve earned yourself a fan.

    Anyway, to really cut to the core of why RPGs have seen such a remarkable resurgence in popularity while Adventure games have not, we really need to understand what it means to be an RPG or an Adventure game in the first place. Distilled to their most basic essence, I would say:

    RPGs allow players to interact with and explore a digital world in order to experience, the sensation of growth/empowerment, and to overcome challenges using systems and mechanics.

    Adventure games allow players to interact and explore a digital world.

    I think the problem is readily apparent: while back in the day Adventure games were the ONLY games out there that offered serious narrative, or humor, or deep characterization, or whatever… now they’re not. Now virtually EVERY genre of games offers storytelling as good or better than what an Adventure game can offer, likewise with the “puzzles” that (unfortunately) many associate as intrinsic to the genre. An Adventure game is, more or less, focused mostly on either narrative or puzzles, and very frequently will sacrifice one for the other. (The profoundly tedious puzzles in the Book of Unwritten Tales, for example, are utterly ruinous to the pacing of its story; whereas something like Broken Age has a fairly well-paced story, but also has puzzles so simplistic they feel more like perfunctory busywork than a pillar of the game’s design).

    Nowadays, gamers have more choice than ever to experience gamic narratives, and so far the Adventure genre really hasn’t done anything to change, to evolve, to make itself stand out. But it could! So easily! And that’s why I’m bitter about the genre. Text-based adventure games are more numerous and popular than ever these days, with the ready availability of applications like Twine, the low barrier-for-entry offered by mobile platforms, and the continued success of products like “80 Days.” These Text Adventures understand that an adventure can be made more exciting by adding systemic interactions, and by empowering the player to determine–to both greater and lesser extents–the course of the narratives and the fates of the characters.

    And there’s no reason why Adventure games can’t do the same. Imagine a Telltale game where every choice DOES substantially change how a scene will play out. Imagine a Telltale game where the narrative branches substantially, and there are a half-dozen (or more) wildly divergent outcomes based on your choices?

    That’s what the genre could be. And, IMHO, should be. If you make the game systems deeper, an Adventure game quickly transforms into an RPG; but if you make the narrative mechanics deeper, you quickly approach The Ideal Adventure Game.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Everyone so, so badly needs to play 80 Days. I actually like the idea of pulling more from RPGs into adventures, the main point of contention being that usually that includes a sword or a gun, with the result that every problem is constantly at risk of becoming nothing but a target or a challenge to come back and overpower.

  19. Igor Hardy says:

    Great article, Richard!

    To me it’s your best piece on what makes adventure games (that I’ve read) and paradoxically I don’t remember you being more gracious to the genre. To the contrary I still remember a feature of yours from a few years ago where you pushed the view that adventure games were never much about gameplay. That it was all about tongue-in-cheek humor and fun characters.

    I’d say that as long as most people fail to notice and express what made their adventure game experiences in the 90s so unique and special, it’s no use expecting an evolution of the pursuits that the old games were an expression of.

  20. tnzk says:

    Broken Sword 5
    Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure
    Obduction
    Dreamfall Chapters
    The St. Christopher’s School Lockdown
    Book of Unwritten Tales 2
    Sunset
    Project Scissors: Nightcry
    Thimbleweed Park

    Richard, I have a slightly different theory from yours considering all those games above were rather popular on Kickstarter and more than a few were from previous talents. The theory goes like this:

    Brian Fargo is a fantastic sales person and the “RPG renaissance” has been sold to us.

    Yes, I really believe that, because the renaissance mainly consists of Interplay spiritual successors + Divinity: Original Sin. RPGs falling outside the zone (such as the decently sounding, modestly budgeted Americana Dawn and Citizens of Earth) are prone to Kickstarter apathy as much as any other fledgling adventure game and its studio.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      “Brian Fargo is a fantastic sales person and the “RPG renaissance” has been sold to us.”

      I disagree with your list – the only ones that really fit the criteria are Broken Sword 5 (mediocre) and Tesla Effect (started great, if crazy full of fan-service, then absolutely died on its arse with Day 5 – the book is thankfully far, far better). Thimbleweed Park could go either way, but it’s notable to me that the promise of “NEW ADVENTURE GAME FROM RON “RON GILBERT” GILBERT” only hit $626,250. I really wish he’d actually spat at the lawyers and promised Schmonky Highland Three just to see how much that would have raised over a spiritual successor to the likes of Maniac Mansion and Zak McKracken.

      There’s a lot to be said for Interplay successors having a big draw, but I don’t think this can be put down to that by any stretch. Firstly, people wouldn’t still be supporting them if they hadn’t delivered, or had delivered anything as terrible as inXile shat out before Wasteland 2. The RPGs have also been part of a much bigger wave that includes the success of games like The Witcher 2 and Mass Effect to reinforce the RPG’s place in the modern market, which adventures haven’t had despite some big successes elsewhere like Heavy Rain (story is shit, but it went down well) and The Walking Dead getting a million GOTYs.

      Basically, RPGs haven’t been this cool for a loooooong time, and I think a lot of that comes down to the stuff mentioned above – that at no point does anyone go “We’ve cracked it…” or give a second’s concern to what someone would have done circa 1992.

  21. Turkey says:

    The way to make adventure games great again is to bring back the parser. It makes you think about what you’re doing rather than just rubbing your inventory together.

    • Sin Vega says:

      Yep, and what I was doing was playing something else.

    • pilouuuu says:

      Also kill pixel-hunting and illogical puzzles!

      • phlebas says:

        I’m with you on the pixel-hunting. What’s logical is more controversial, though – an action that would seem ridiculous if you went straight to it can be entirely natural in context if the designer has laid the appropriate groundwork to get you there.

  22. PancakeWizard says:

    Nice article.

    I do maintain that it’s still possible to make a good adventure game, but perhaps it’s better to look to modern developers that happen to be fans of the genre, rather than adventure developers of old.

    As long as there are funny (or at least interesting) dialogue, good world-building and logic-based puzzle solving I don’t see why we can’t revive the genre while going in new directions. Those three things need to be the foundation, however.

  23. satan says:

    Had a longer reply but it kind of tapered off into rambling… anyway…

    I remember my brother pre-ordered Space Quest IV and we were all blown away by the quality when we got our hands on it, but I think we all played it through once each and that was it. I mean compare that to BG/BG2, or IWD/IWD2 which I always have some combination of installed on my system. I don’t even want to contemplate how many thousands of hours I’ve put into those games.

    Adventure games were great in their time, but even as the big adventure series (e.g. king/space/larry) ran out of steam, it wasn’t just me not having any interest in the most recent King’s Quest game, it was friends/family as well. I mean anybody would have been happy to have had a free adventure game handed to them, but the huge leaps made in RTS/FPS games (even the poorly made/received ones) were way more exciting than what even the best adventure games of the time had to offer.

    • pilouuuu says:

      Adventure games have basically zero replaying value, which is something I don’t get. Why not make more multiple paths, multiple endings. Adventures had some experiments with that in the difficulty modes of Monkey 2 or in King’s Quest VI and also used some RPG elements like in Quest for Glory games, but there’s still so much to be done.

      Even the new adventure games fail in this topic, as there’s absolutely no consequence for your actions, no replay value, no playing again to see how things would have happened differently according to your decisions. It’s all a scripted story, which while still fun, has the potential to be so much more. Even Choose Your Own Adventure books have so much more replaying value!

      • malkav11 says:

        For the same reasons (almost) nobody else does it, magnified. Every meaningful branching point, every separate route is an investment of considerable labor, time, and money. Only, instead of spending those resources on a critical path that everyone that makes it that far into the game is guaranteed to see, you’re deliberately guaranteeing some players won’t see it.. So you’re getting substantially less for your investment. Adventure games have the further issue that almost every component of them has to be made from scratch to a particular purpose and there can be relatively little reuse of assets, which makes them hugely expensive over and above most other genres – hence why Broken Age, a relatively short game with a multi-million dollar budget, still needed additional funding to complete. Now imagine doing that on content that 10% of players will ever see.

        About the only place you’re likely to see major branching is in text, which is a lot less resource intensive to create.

        • PancakeWizard says:

          I think one critical path is fine if you hook people in with either witty dialogue/comedy (Sam and Max), plot (The Dig), world-building (Loom) or all of the above (Grim Fandango). Players won’t mind being on rails if they ride is fun.

          That said, Wadjet Eye games at least give it a damn good try. Primordia has a couple of alternate methods/options if I remember.

        • Premium User Badge

          syllopsium says:

          Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis..

  24. Radiant says:

    Point and click adventure games are very long boring stories constantly interrupted by puzzles and shitty jokes that arbitrarily take anything from seconds to minutes to days to work out. [The puzzles too].

  25. Pazguato says:

    Outstanding article again, thank you.

  26. lutjasuki says:

    it is perfectly possibly for a type or genre or game to have its mechanics be ‘finished’ the obvious example being chess. There are also other genre’s where this is true. The 2d fighting game is essentially ‘done’ and no-one is every going to come up with a better version of bomberman.

    Adventure games (which i adore) have revived though. They are niche but the audience is large enough that they are commercially successful. The problem with broken age is that it was just a bad game. There are more examples of really good and recent adventure games available on steam than you will have time to play.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      People regularly try to improve Chess, with reasons including mixing it up with variants and issues like dull endgames based on players simply remembering the stock moves, and the rules were still being updated at least as recently as the 80s when it came to things like castling. Either way, adventures and RPGs aren’t even close to that point.

  27. canis39 says:

    Richard, I’m curious – have you been following the development of Cradle? It looks like an Adventure game as best I can tell, and it looks very interesting.

  28. pilouuuu says:

    Great article!

    I think that what happened to adventure games was Monkey Island 4. It was fun but felt too much like a self-parody and all the amazing art was mostly lost in early 3d games. We also had Gabriel Knight 3 with even worse 3d graphics and some absurd puzzles including cats and mustaches.

    Then I think that it was mostly lack of ambitious and Lucasarts doing only Star Wars games. Really, it is Lucasarts who really innovated with adventure games, but they cancelled Full Throttle and Sam and Max follow-ups.

    I always thought about how better adventure games could be after playing Monkey Island. There’s plenty of stuff that could be done, like more multiple paths and multiple endings. Maybe some A.I. that could create a procedural story. Maybe having even MORE verbs, something that could allow the level of interaction of something like Dwarf Fortress. Even graphics could be so much better. Curse of Monkey Island showed how games could look like a cartoon. Imagine that kind of graphics in Full HD, but then cartoons also suffered against 3d thanks to Toy Story.

    Nowadays we have RPGs like South Park. That’s what adventure games could look like. And I think that RPGs are like the new adventure games in the sense that they have an interactive story, but they also have other gameplay mechanics. I thought of KOTOR as some kind of adventure game back then. An Star Wars adventure game. All the action was what was on the way to continue the story, just like in proper adventure games we have the puzzles to solve before seeing what happens next in the story.

    There’s also a big change in society nowadays. People don’t have patience to read or solve puzzles. I was a bit sad because the first episodes of The Walking Dead had some simple puzzles, but then it all became something like a Choose Your Own Adventure game with QTEs. I still enjoy it, but adventure games could be so much more, but I don’t know if there is a place for a more complex thing in this world, society and gaming industry we have nowadays.

  29. SwiftRanger says:

    Traditional RPG’s getting traction again is lighting up the eyes of certain (mid-sized) publishers but no such thing seems to happen for adventure games. You see those RPG developers becoming alive and growing again (perhaps a bit too fast) but not really with more typical adventure developers. It’s also probably a lot harder to convince the big audience that an adventure game is worth playing without the typical RPG-systems. Most people indeed seem to have forgotten why they were excited about a new adventure game back in the day.

    The RPG renaissance through Kickstarter is real but I also think we aren’t completely there yet. In terms of world building, writing, general grandeur and even interface we will have to check out those sequels to flawed gems as Divinity: OS, Shadowrun, Pillars of Eternity and Wasteland 2. Projects that will all be based on the same engine again (altered here and there perhaps) but where the developers will have more experience and resources available. Just like back in the day Baldur’s Gate II totally eclipsed its predecessor in terms of content quality because Bioware really went for the big one and nearly scrapped all the irritations from BG1.

    But hey, what are adventure gamers complaining about, huh? At least some new stuff is still worth playing and at least several kickstarters are being launched. You could be an RTS fan too you know and be doomed to wait for ages until some decent games are coming out again. RTS kickstarter? Where and when? :(

  30. Big Murray says:

    ” like offering female protagonists as more than just a token character choice long before it began annoying the kind of people who need to be annoyed more often.”
    Hehehehehehehehehehehehehehe …

  31. Risingson says:

    Every time I see people talking about adventure games it’s funny to see them blaming the mechanics. Saying that they are boring games, that the puzzles, the playable part of them, is the wrong part, when I think it is completely the opposite: the problem with modern adventure games is the overexposition that reached a climax in The Longest Journey. It’s not to say that the path is the Syberia one, where nothing is explained: Monkey Island or Larry 6 already have very obvious successes in the way it involves the player into the view of the narrator.

    I don’t agree that the adventure mechanics haven’t changed the same way as rpgs. The problem I see with most of the modern adventures is that people don’t write too well. And you can forgive that in RPGs, because there are different elements in play there (battles, exploration), but adventure design is a very tough kind of design that very few people have understood lately (Telltale and their wonderful Sam&Max being the most notable for me).

    But, more things. Back when Grim Fandango was released magazines were already saying it was a dead genre. When Longest Journey was released, it was considered a renaissance. When Syberia was released, same thing. Every f***ing year that a decent adventure is released, the lazy writer says that the genre is dead, since the 90s, every year, every occasion. And now? Now, whatever your nostalgia says, we are having more adventures with more quality than ever, and I am not counting experiments or non-puzzley thingies. I am talking about Kingart who, in their worse, are game designers as good as Revolution in their best (Broken Sword, another game that was received as a sample of a dead genre!). Or about nearly everything that has been released by Wadjet Eye. These games are miles better than half of the Sierra output, the Westwood adventures, the Divide By Zero and not to say the only good in your memory Adventuresoft ones. I recently played The Samaritan Paradox and it was a masterpiece of raising itself beyond its absurd story, with the help of great characterization, dialogues, puzzles and mood, and this was just another Adventure Game Studio release for most people.

    So, again, as every year, another article talks about a stale dying genre, which actually is as good as ever, or even better.

    Now, we could talk about genres that were completely abandoned and I miss a lot. Let’s talk about the variety of sports games in the 90s, the quirky strategic games, the turn based hex games, the atmospheric simulators of sea, air or space ships. About the fun we had with edutainment games.

    Two other points:

    1) The flaw of adventure games is not that it has not mixed with other genres. In the late 80s, early 90s the genres were defined, and adventure games became better when they removed the action parts, the deaths, the mazes, any arcade bit, as they are, and will always be, seen as lazy design flaws.

    2) If you like a racing game where you only have to click on “accelerate”, I understand how you can love adventure games where there are no puzzles.

  32. ffordesoon says:

    There’s a right way and a wrong way to do an adventure game puzzle. The right way is to make it a natural consequence of the story being told, such that you may not even register a puzzle as a discrete puzzle. The wrong way is… well, the way 90’s adventure games usually did them, where it’s just “guess what the designer was thinking that day or die/be stopped cold and never see the ending because of a puzzle that was put in there to reap tip line dollars.”

    A few people got attached to the wrong way of doing things, for the same reason RPG fans got attached to trap options. That is, shitty puzzles were in the old games, and the old games were great, ergo shitty puzzles are great. Not so! These sorts of puzzles in adventure games are like microtransactions in mobile games – there because the established audience has been trained to expect them, not because they’re good for the game.

    I do like puzzle-adventure games of the Professor Layton or Zero Escape school, because the orthogonal puzzles are an important part of the story, rather than being arbitrary gates that wouldn’t exist in a story in another medium. Also, their puzzles are puzzles, not irritating guessing games. That’s why I think Myst is garbage – it’s a puzzle-adventure game where the puzzles are shit 90’s adventure game puzzles, but even more obtuse.

    I think there’s a lot in classic adventure game design worth revisiting and incorporating into the vocabulary of the modern videogame. But the crappy puzzles should stay in the 90’s where they belong, no matter what the people with Stockholm Syndrome say.

  33. Jstn says:

    Very interesting article! I’ve thought quite a bit about this topic, and I’m not sure I agree about the form vs. spirit distinction you make. The same nostalgic dedication to form is present in some of the RPG projects as is in the Adventure projects. For example, look at the fighting over turn-based vs. real-time vs. real-time with pause combat. The sides each pick their favorite form from the 90s and demand slavish adherence to that mechanic in their nostalgic remakes. I think the difference, instead, between nostalgic takes on RPGs vs. Adventures is rather this: it’s hard to write good puzzles.

    Both genres are the “story” genres of games (of course other genres tell stories too, but to a lesser degree than either Adventure games or RPGs). The problem is that the designers want to make games, not movies, and that means there needs to be obstacles to progress (at least historically–this is changing). RPGs’ obstacles are primarily combat mechanics, while Adventure games’ obstacles are puzzles. Unfortunately for the Adventure genre, it’s much harder to make a good _game_ out of puzzles than out of combat (of any sort–turn based, real-time, etc.). The problem is that when puzzles make sense, i.e., are logical, they tend to be too easy because the solution is, well, logical. If the puzzles are too easy, though, it feels like you’re watching a movie instead of playing a game. On the other hand, if you make it feel like playing a game by making the puzzles harder, it’s very easy to make absurd puzzles. Few designers have the skill to thread that needle, which is why so many Adventure games are just bad in that respect.

    Since RPGs have combat to “gamify” the game, they don’t have to try to make their puzzles taxing–or even include puzzles at all. As a result, RPGs have simple, logical puzzles, and no one minds that the puzzles don’t require much thought–that’s not what they’re for. This has also allowed RPGs to adopt Adventure elements (Pillars of Eternity and Planescape: Torment are almost interactive fiction in some of their designs, but without the same focus on puzzles) without the drawbacks of Adventure games.

    Interestingly, RPGs get an extra leap over Adventure games in that even when RPGs have poor combat mechanics (Planescape: Torment), no one cares because they can make steady progress through the game, the story is good, and it still feels like a game and not a movie.

    The newest adventure games (and here I realize I’m not talking about your “nostalgic” adventures–although I think it’s unfair to class Witcher 3 and Mass Effect as nostalgic RPGs but not allow Kentucky Route Zero as a nostalgic adventure game) solve this by going virtually puzzleless. They have to include tons of content and systems to seem like “obstacles” (see 80 Days), but they function almost like extremely intricate choose your own adventure books. But if you removed the combat from Planescape Torment, you end up at the same place.

    Ultimately, RPGs and Adventure games are almost one genre (here I’m talking about “modern” RPGs–some are so combat focused that they share a genre not with adventure games but with war games), and as they progress, they merge more and more. A “combatless” RPG and a “puzzleless” adventure game are virtually identical. When you add the combat and the puzzles in, though, it’s much easier to make a sufficient combat system than it is to write truly good puzzles.

    By the way, I think your analysis may be different if you look at text adventures / interactive fiction. They are certainly adventure games, and Hadean Lands (a kickstarted game), for example, was extremely successful. Likewise, Counterfeit Monkey pushes puzzles in new ways that would be impossible in another format.

    So I don’t think it’s merely one genre’s fans are slavishly devoted to form while the other genre’s fans are devoted to the spirit of the genre. I think you’ll find both types of games and both types of fans for each genre. One genre is just harder to succeed at.

    • BlueTemplar says:

      Indeed, and as another commenter already said, you have to define what you mean by “RPG” and “Adventure” first.

      One issue is that “RPG” tends to be a misnomer : games like World of Warcraft (and sometimes Diablo) tend to be called Role Playing Games, and yet, most people play them to win (and the focus is often in understanding and exploiting game mechanics) rather than to role-play a character (or even to experience the story).
      Even more so, any non-combat mechanics you might have are geared towards the ultimate goal of making your character better at combat (whether by yourself, or by supporting other players).

      Compare with Second Life, which is so much more of a role-playing “game”, because there’s no set objective…

    • BlueTemplar says:

      I’d have to add, not that it’s impossible to roleplay within a combat system, but sadly, in many MMO”RPG”‘s, players are going at best to look at you weird, and at worst ban you if start to roleplay (which implies not playing in an “optimal” way).

  34. botonjim says:

    Wow, that’s one exceedingly clever write up to gloss over the simple fact that Brian Fargo, Swen Vincke and Josh Sawyer are smarter, more honest, and plain better human beings than the likes of Tim Schafer or Jane Jensen. But since you’re so much into the rpg renaissance and everything would you perhaps consider doing a WIT of Serpent in the Staglands next? Please?

    • alms says:

      Yup, I’ve heard too that Schafer and Jensen eat children. Anyway: I think Richard is not on staff, so I’m not sure he gets to pick what to write.

  35. Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

    Thank you, this was a great read.

  36. alms says:

    I’m frankly appalled by the passive aggressiveness on display in the comments here, though it lends extra credence to the concept that the audience is part of the problem when it comes to adventure games.

    Richard’s post was never harsh criticism or a condemnation of adventure games as a whole, yet the response from a whole lot of posters seems to be the typical reactionary, super-defensive ‘hands off my games’ as if it were a vicious attack.

    Honestly thought this one is likely ranking among the best Scrollbars Richard has written so far, and I’m not surprised given that Richard seems to love adventure games at least as much, if not more, than the white knights in the comment section.

  37. Premium User Badge

    syllopsium says:

    Verbs were not empowering – they were facilitators both for the game creators and players. Graphic adventures grew out of text adventures whose success depended in part on the parser qua/ity. RPG interfaces have improved immeasurably too – the Ultima Underworlds interaction is appalling by modern standards.

    Adventures are generally limited in area and scope by a central narrative. RPGs usually have a main quest, but it’s not uncommon to have many other sub quests, often unrelated. Whilst the Elder Scrolls games are uncharitably called hiking simulators, adventure games are not conversation simulators, and perhaps they should be oriented more that way. I’d also note there’s usually much more guidance on where to go next in an RPG.

    There’s lots of good adventures out there, though. I love the Blackwell games, currently working my way through Gemini Rue (seems ok, but action sequences are annoying) and have just finished Edna and Harvey, although it did involve spamming the walkthrough towards the end.

  38. Disgruntled Goat says:

    “(Admittedly, Bioware’s not been too popular of late, but still.)”

    I’m not sure I agree with you a hundred percent on your police work, there, Lou.

    Dragon Age: Inquisition is the most successful launch in BioWare history based on units sold.

    • malkav11 says:

      Their games have been selling well and then as people dig into them there’s been a lot of disappointment. I know I’ve not had an unalloyedly positive opinion of any game they’ve done after the original Dragon Age. (Also I have significant issues with ME2, which I think might have predated DA: Origins, I forget.) They get enough right to keep me grudgingly coming back, but I’m a lot more skeptical than I used to be.

  39. orshick says:

    I completely agree, the classic adventure games were trail-blazers, looking forward and wowing people with things fresh, things never before seen, and doing so within the constraints of a game-play system that was the best they had at the time, but has been largely outmoded in just about every way since then. My guess is that fundamentally, the people attracted to making these games these days, are a different sort than made them in the past, or at least their inspiration is no longer the same.

    I’d argue the games analogous in spirit to those early classics are games like Portal, The Fall, or Walking Dead, which still try to tell a very tightly scripted story, but have shed their reliance on those old story-telling systems, in favor of new ones.

    I think the nostalgia driven revivals of RPG’s and adventure games are fundamentally distinct since since the former assumes (as Cobbett points out) people were always more interested in the promise of what an RPG can be, and the latter assumes people simply want more of the same-old. If the Wasteland 2’s of the world had to play like the Wasteland 1’s, I’m sure the response to them would also be nowhere near as warm as what we are seeing. No interesting game designer would want to be hamstrung by those constraints.