For many, the 1990′s will be fondly remembered as the pinnacle of graphic adventure games with classics like Monkey Island, Discworld, Broken Sword and Grim Fandango all earning critical acclaim. This article explores some of these series and why they were so appealing.
Discworld is primarily known for it’s novels by English author Terry Pratchett. So far there have been thirty nine novels released in the Discworld series. There have been several TV adaptions (with more to come), and more importantly (for this article) it also spawned three adventure video games.
The first (and it’s followup) of the series featured Discworld protagonist Rincewind (voiced by Eric Idle) as it’s title character. He was joined in the game by The Luggage (a large chest that follows him wherever he goes). This worked brilliantly in Discworld as a way of representing your character’s inventory. Most adventure games have characters who have impossibly long pockets (usually an in-joke for the game) .
“Did you catch the number of that Donkey Cart?”
The puzzles at stages in the games can be incredibly difficult to solve and I am not ashamed to admit that I had to look up the solution a few times (well more than a few times but lets keep that between us).
Unlike the other games in this article, the developers of the Discworld games had a source material that they needed to remain truthful to, whilst creating games that were still deeply enjoyable to play. Thankfully Teeny Weeny Games and Perfect 10 Productions managed to strike the balance perfectly, including a wide arrangement of characters from the Discworld Universe whilst making it a fun experience.
The first Monkey Island game (The Secret of Monkey Island) was released in 1990 and features Guybrush Threepwood, a wannabe pirate as the bumbling protagonist. Whilst the first two games did not feature any voice acting (until the Special Edition releases a few years ago) the original music from the games are still instantly recognizable today.
Whenever a list of the best video games of all time is drafted, the Monkey Island series usually make at least one appearance – and rightly so. The puzzles in this game managed to frustrate you but once you found out the solutions, you would have been kicking yourself for not realizing it sooner.
“You fight like a dairy farmer!”
For those who don’t remember much about these games, the one thing you probably will remember is the insult sword fighting. This involved Guybrush facing off against other pirates whereby one of them would insult the other and their opponent would need to provide the correct counter to this insult. This game mechanism was a mainstay in the Monkey Island series featuring primarily in The Secret of Monkey Island and The Curse of Monkey Island (the first and third games respectively).
“How appropriate, you fight like a cow”
The first two games (created primarily by Ron Gilbert – adventure gaming hero) had a unique sense of humour and often featured in-jokes. The Curse of Monkey Island (CoMI) was the first Monkey Island game that Ron Gilbert didn’t have any involvement with, this led to a change in direction in terms of plot, art etc. CoMI had a cartoon-like graphic style which for me made it the best looking of all the monkey island games. On top of this the game also (and the special edition releases of the original games) featured Dominic Armato as the voice of Guybrush for the first time which helped propel the game to a new level, lending a much needed authenticity to the fantastic humour that the series had already become known for.
in 2009 and 2010 LucasArts released Special Edition versions of The Secret of Monkey Island and Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge. The remakes featured highly detailed hand drawn visuals, voice work from the other games’ voice actors, and a hint system designed to assist gamers in solving the troublesome puzzles. For the fans of the original games, the developers also included the ability to switch back to the original visual and audio assets (you could play the entire game in this style) which helped highlight just how much work had been done in creating the game.
Broken Sword was the only adventure series mentioned in this article to continue releasing games well into the next decade (the noughties). Neither of their latter two games performed spectacularly well in sales but they helped prove that there was still an appetite for adventure games.
In the original Broken Sword game (The Shadows of the Templars) you take control of American George Stobbart who is on vacation in Paris. He then gets embroiled in a mysterious adventure when a suspicious character in a clown costume blows up a cafe right in-front of him. Along the way George teams up with French journalist Nico Collard who acts as a sidekick (and a love interest) throughought the adventure.
Whoa, don’t shoot! I’m innocent! I’m an American!
In the follow-up games Nico becomes a playable character with the player switching between characters at various points throughout the series. The mechanics of the games play like most adventure games whereby you must converse with the other characters within the game and solve elaborate puzzles with the items within your inventory.
After a six year absence Revolution Studios are looking to add a new iteration to the series with the help of some crowd-funding (discussed below) to help fund their latest Broken Sword project: The Serpent’s Curse. It has been announced that the game will be in HD whilst returning to it’s 2D roots with 3D characters being pre-rendered into 2D frames. Serpent’s Curse should be released early next year (Q1 or Q2 2013) on the following platforms: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, iOS and Android.
The landscape of gaming genres has changed dramatically over the last 10 years. Nowadays FPS (first person shooter) and RPG (role playing game) dominate the console market whilst MMO’s (massively multiplayer online) and MOBA’s (multiplayer online battle arena) dominate the PC market. Adventure games today are primarily developed by Indie studios, who are more willing to take a chance on what is commonly seen as riskier projects.
Telltale Games have managed to create their own niche in the video game market by concentrating solely on adventure/puzzle games with the likes of Sam and Max, Tales of Monkey Island and Back to the Future all being received very positively.
Part of the issue today is that many of today’s gamers have never played any of these classic adventure games. Instead they grew up on first person shooters and naturally that is what they have become accustomed to. Most games being released are expected to include a multiplayer aspect and those that don’t are often criticized (unfairly) for that. However it would be interesting to see an adventure game include multiplayer gaming, i.e. co-operative puzzle solving (similar to Portal 2), having to share your inventory with other people etc.
The future of Adventure Games
Other developers are starting to explore other opportunities for funding their adventure gaming projects. In recent months we have seen both Broken Sword and Dizzy appear on the crowd-funding website KickStarter (the latter of which I hoped for in my previous Nostalgia blog post). Whilst the Dizzy project isn’t currently going to plan (only £20,000 pledged out of £350,000 with 19 days to go), the Broken Sword project managed to almost double it’s goal of $400,000 (meaning they’ll be able to create an even better game than originally planned).
Unfortunately the series I would most like to make a proper return (Monkey Island) has been locked away by LucasArts for many years (except for a brief escape thanks to Telltale Games’ Tales of Monkey Island). However recently, LucasArts and their parent company Lucasfilm were acquired by The Walt Disney Company, so I’d like to hope that over the next few years the shackles might be relaxed, allowing the lovable Guybrush Threepwood to thwart LeChuck once again, whilst sword insulting even more pirates.
One of the first projects on KickStarter which helped validate crowd-funding as a legitimate way to fund games was Double Fine Adventure (a codename at this point) being developed by Double Fine Productions. This will be a point and click adventure game in a similar vein to the other games mentioned in this article. The project raised a phenomenal $3.45 million spread amongst 87,000 backers.
Double Fine Productions was founded by Tim Shafer who worked with Ron Gilbert (as a co-designer) on the first two Monkey Island games and then went on to design the critically acclaimed Grim Fandango. Not much else is known about the project other than the fact that it’s been slated for a Q2 release next year. Another up-coming adventure game (platform rather than point and click) in development by Double Fine is The Cave which is being directed by Tim Shafer’s old Monkey Island collaborator: Ron Gilbert. This game will be released in January and will focus on a selection of three characters (from a total of seven) who will explore a mystical cave.
Hopefully these upcoming adventure games will be well received by the gaming communities, potentially resulting in an adventure gaming revival. Publishers have been far too unwilling to take any chances on adventure games so it would be great to see these games prove that adventure gaming can be a critical success.