Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Evolution of Adventure Games Part IV: Keypad Control

While Japan's adventures were evolving away from text parsers to menus, adventures in the west were doing something quite similar.

In the early 1980's, Sierra On-line began releasing adventures marketed towards children that were adventures with text narration and static graphics but didn't use a parser.  The first of these was Dragon's Keep in 1982. It was marketed as a hi-res learning game, a children's game extension of their hi-res adventures line.  Rather than having a text parser, there was a menu available which let the player choose which action to take next, in a choose your own adventure style.  This engine would be used in Sierra's other children's adventures, including the first adventure games released under Sierra's contract with Disney, until 1984.  

The western market began to evolve in it's own direction with the release of Sierra's King's Quest in 1984.  This game used the Adventure Game Interpreter (AGI) engine, which shared some components with the Dragon's Keep engine, but had a parser and added a direct controlled protagonist.  This addition meant that the game presentation was switched to a first person perspective to a third person perspective.  Third person perspective adventures remain the most popular style of adventures today.

George Lucas founded the Lucasfilm Computer Division in 1979.  Computer games continued to grow in popularity, so in 1982 he began hiring people to join the games group within the computer division, which became Lucasfilm Games and then later LucasArts.  Their first adventure game was Labyrinth, based on the film of the same name. It began completely in text, but then as you entered the labyrinth, the game switched to graphics. It had a direct controlled protaganist and it didn't have a text parser. Instead it had two menus, one with a list of verbs, and another with people and objects to interact with.  This verb object interface would later be refined in their later games created with the Script Utility for Maniac Mansion.

These types of adventures went out of popularity by the end of the 1980's, but as with all forms of entertainment, there are still a small group of people who still make games in these styles. The menu based text adventure gameplay is used in some mobile ports of text adventure engines. There is also a group of fans that still make games using tools that have reverse engineered Sierra's AGI engine so that they can create games using that engine themselves.

Back to Part IIIPart V Coming Soon

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Evolution of Adventure Games Part III: Visual Novels

Adventure games were popular in the early days of the computer industry in North America and Europe, but they didn't immediately catch on in Japan.  There were a few produced in that region, but the early releases didn't catch on with the gaming public.

ASCII released the first text adventures produced in Japan, Omotesando Adventure and Minami Aoyama Adventure, in 1982. These adventure games had limited popularity, and ASCII wouldn't produce another entry in the adventure game genre for several years.  However, when the adventure game genre evolved into the visual novel and became popular with Japanese gaming fans, ASCII continued producing adventure games in this format into the 2000's. ASCII as a separate entity ceased to exist in 2008 when they were absorbed by Media Works, forming ASCII Media Works.  ASCII Media Works has continued to produce visual novels, and still does so today.

The obscurity of adventure games in Japan was fated to be changed after Yuji Horii created The Portopia Serial Murder Case, which was released by Enix in 1983.  It was a hit, especially the 1985 Famicom version which had a point and click menu based interface (which was similar to a three part episodic adventure series released from 1983 to 1984 by T&E Soft titled Legend of Star Arthur). It's success inspired other developers to create similar games. Enix continued to release adventure games and as the genre evolved to visual novels, they continued releasing them. In 2003, Enix merged with Square to become Square Enix.  Square Enix continues to develop visual novels today.

While we're on the subject of Square, it should be mentioned that they also created influential early adventure games. Their first game was a text adventure with static graphics, The Death Trap.  It was released in 1984, before Square was founded as a separate entity.  The 1985 sequel, Will: The Death Trap II, was one of the first animated computer games.  As the genre evolved to visual novels, they continued releasing them. As stated above, in 2003, Square became Square Enix, and continues to release visual novels to this day.

The success of The Portopia Serial Murder Case led to the creation of games which would become known as visual novels.  Although they both started from the same style of text adventures, adventure games evolved differently in Japan as opposed to the adventure games in the west.

Whereas adventures in the west focused on puzzles, in Japan, adventures evolved based on the narrative of text adventures, sharing the choose your own adventure aspect of these games, where the narrative is laid out to the player, and the player interacts with the game to keep the narrative flowing. These types of games became known as visual novels. One of the first influential developers of this new visual novel style of adventure was Hideo Kojima at Konami.  Inspired by The Portopia Serial Murder Case, he created Snatcher, which was released in 1988.  Konami continued releasing visual novels, including Hideo Kojima's own Policenauts in 1994.  They still continue to release visual novels today.

Visual novels are still popular in Japan, and their popularity has increased in the west as well.  One of the companies responsible for the increase of western localizations for visual novels is Capcom.  Although they have been developing visual novels since 1986, it was the Ace Attorney series that was responsible for this spike in western popularity.  The series began in 2001, but when the Nintendo DS remakes were released in 2006, they received an official English translation.  The games proved to be more popular in the west than expected, which led to more official translations.

The amount of translations of visual novels into English has dropped in recent years, but they still continue to be a driving force in Japan, still claiming the majority of sales in the home computer market.  After the 1990's Western adventure games wouldn't share in that popularity, but they also evolved from their text adventure roots to the adventures that are still developed today, although in a much different style than their Japanese counterparts.

Back to Part IIOn To Part IV

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Evolution of Adventure Games Part II: Static Graphics

By the end of the 1970's, adventure games had started to become more than just text, and were displaying static graphics. The first game to do this was Mystery House, developed by the husband and wife team of Roberta and Ken Williams.  Roberta designed the game and drew the simple line graphics required by the program at the time and Ken programmed it and converted the images.  The two founded On-line Systems in 1979 and shipped the game out of their house, originally in a simple bag with a floppy disk containing the game and a sheet of paper describing it. The game was a success, eventually selling 10,000 copies, which was a bonafide hit in the early days of the home computer market.

This led to the formation of the Hi-Res Adventure line, which would continue the concept of Mystery House, with gradually improving graphics, until 1983.  The Williams' On-line Systems would become Sierra On-line and later Sierra Entertainment, becoming one of the leading developers and publishers of computer games until the studio was closed by then-owners Vivendi Universal in 1999.

As I had eluded to in the first part of this article, this style of game was also adapted by other adventure game developers.  Adventure International began the Scott Adams Graphic Adventures line in 1982, re-releasing the original adventures with graphics.  The games published by the studio would continue to be released in both formats, with the text only games released in the Scott Adams Classic Adventures line, until the studio closed in 1985.  All of the Scott Adams Classic Adventures can now be freely downloaded from the Scott Adams Grand Adventures website.

This style of game would also be adapted by the other driving force in text adventures, Infocom. They had first started dabbling in graphics in 1987, with the release of Beyond Zork, which was comprised of text, displayed inside a border, and a simple onscreen map displayed unobtrusively in the upper right hand corner of the screen. The company would go the full route of static images in 1988, and would continue releasing games in this style until the studio was closed by Activision in 1989.

This style of adventure game would go out of favor by the end of the 1980's, as games without a parser had begun to gain dominance and adventures had begun to shift towards third person graphic adventure games where the game's protagonist could be controlled by the player. However, as with text adventures, this style of game hasn't been completely abandoned.  There are a still a handful of developers still releasing text adventures with static graphics, both for free and commercially.

Back to Part IOn to Part III

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Evolution of Adventure Games Part I: Text Adventures

When adventure game websites started in the mid-1990's, adventure games were generally divided into a few categories: interactive fiction, interactive fiction with graphics, 2D first person point and click adventure games, and 3D point and click adventure games (plus a breakdown between the first person and third person perspective for graphic adventures).  There were variations (for instance, the early Sierra titles had a protagonist that was controlled with the keyboard and had the text parser of interactive fiction), but purists stuck to these categories, and anything that didn't adhere to these weren't real adventures.   I was one of those purists then, as my original website idea for covering adventure games was titled Real Adventure in 2000.  There are still purists out there, as there always will be, but today it's much harder to be one, as the genre has continued to evolve and there are now so many variations of adventure game.

The first game that is now considered a text adventure was Hunt the Wumpus, a game released by Gregory Yob in 1973. However, the genre wouldn't get it's kickstart until Will Crowther released Colossal Cave Adventure on the ARPANet (the precursor to the internet) in 1975.  This game was expanded with permission by Don Woods in 1977.   The version by Don Woods was so popular it inspired many designers to create their own games in this style. 

Because of the technical limitations of computers at the time, the filename for Colossal Cave Adventure was ADVENT.  Because of the common shortening of the game's filename, the game became widely known as either Advent or Adventure, leading to name of the adventure genre as we know it today.

The first adventure games were completely text based because of limitations of the computers of the time, which could not display graphics.  This led to a novel way to experience games, which were written out as descriptive passages, like paragraphs in a novel, and users would input commands which would branch the story based on the command chosen.  This was very similar in practice to a concept that was happening concurrently in print books, which themselves began with the release of Edward Packard's Sugarcane Island in 1976, which were originally known as Adventures of You but later became known as Choose Your Own Adventures.

Colossal Cave Adventure inspired Scott Adams, who founded Adventure International with his wife Alexis to sell their adventure games.  Adventure International released Adventureland in 1978, which was the first commercially published adventure game.  Adventure International continued to produce and sell adventure games (both containing just text and text with static graphics) until they went bankrupt in 1985 as a result of the North American video game crash of 1983.  Scott Adams returned to creating commercial text adventures in 2000, and has released two new text adventures which were published through Scott Adams Grand Adventures.

Colossal Cave Adventure also inspired members of the Massachussets Institute of Technology modeling group, who created an adventure game titled Dungeon, which was later renamed Zork due to a trademark claim by the owners of the Dungeons and Dragons franchise.  This game was released for a mainframe computer, which had much larger storage capacity than the home computers at the time.  When the game's creators, Tim Anderson, Marc Blank, Bruce Daniels, and Dave Lebling, founded Infocom in 1979 with the intent to sell Zork commercially on home computers, it had to be broken up into three parts. Their first release was Zork I, published in 1980.

Infocom was purchased by Activision in 1986, however they continued to produce text adventures (both containing just text and text with static graphics) until they were closed in 1989. Activision continued releasing adventure games under the Infocom name until the mid 1990's.

Text adventures, which are also known today as interactive fiction, went out of popularity in the 1980's as graphics were introduced to the genre.  However, there are still a small group of developers who still release text adventure games, both for free and commercially.  Variations of the Z-machine engine that Infocom used to create their adventure games are still used to create text adventures to this day.

On To Part II

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick Turn To Kickstarter

The Thimbleweed Park Kickstarter is a crowdfunding effort by Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick, the creators of Maniac Mansion, to do a retro adventure in the style of that game. According to the Kickstarter page:

Thimbleweed Park is the curious story of two washed up detectives called in to investigate a dead body found in the river just outside of town. It’s a game where you switch between five playable characters while uncovering the dark, satirical and bizarre world of Thimbleweed Park.

If this sounds interesting to you, then head over to The Thimbleweed Park Kickstarter and pick a pledge tier.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Armikrog Trailer

Armikrog, the crowd funded adventure game made with clay by the creators of The Neverhood is progressing nicely. Check the trailer above to get a taste of what happens when a space explorer named Tommynaut and his blind, alien talking dog named Beak-Beak crash land on a weird planet and end up locked in a mysterious fortress called Armikrog.

No release date has yet been set, but both the developer's website and the Armikrog website still state that the game will be released later this year.

17th Anniversary of My First Adventure Game Website

You may have noticed some changes behind the scenes the past few days. I have decided to merge my adventure game websites, as having two is redundant, and it's hard to maintain both.

My other website was originally opened on November 17, 1997 as a Monkey Island fan page titled the Mega Monkey page.  It expanded into a LucasArts fan site on September 18, 1998. It briefly expanded into a general adventure game website called Real Adventure on April 25, 2000, before returning to focusing solely on LucasArts games as I felt a general adventure website was too much for one person to handle at the time. Of course, this site is now a general adventure game website, so my goal has been fulfilled and my idea for an adventure game website has come full circle.

I'm merging all of the old Mega Monkey updates to this website.  I have already added most of the news archives from 1997 to 2000, and I'm working on adding the rest.  This should be fairly painless, as it's all behind the scenes, but if you see any weird news popping up on the RSS or twitter feeds, you'll know what it is.

Thanks for understanding, and thanks for your continued support of both The Adventuress and Mega Monkey over the years.  I appreciate it a lot.