nayroclade 10 days ago

As much as I love text and point-and-click adventure games, there's always been an inherent contradiction to them. On the surface level, they promise nearly infinite freedom, more than any platform or first-person shooter game: That you can go anywhere, talk to anyone, perform and action on any object, and solve problems in whatever way you want. But in practice they're incredibly constrained. The world is an exquisitely constructed stage, with nothing beyond its margins, and there is only a very narrow, winding path to success. Puzzles have a single, usually somewhat tortured solution, and alternative approaches that would work in the real world are either not considered or declared impossible for spurious reasons.

Beating an adventure game is often an exercise not just in problem solving, but in building an intuition about how the game designer(s) wanted you to approach puzzles. Tuning into the vibe of the game world and understanding what interactions and approaches are likely to work and which won't. The most you can hope for is that the solutions have at least some logic to them. It's a bit like learning to solve cryptic crosswords, where you need to learn a hidden language to unlock the actual problems. This can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience, but it is definitely not the infinite freedom that the genre seems to offer up front, and I suspect for as many people who fell in love with these games, there were many who gave up in frustration at their paradoxical constrictiveness.

  • tobiasSoftware 9 days ago

    I highly recommend a recent game called Outer Wilds that in my opinion takes the adventure game genre to the next level by giving it an open world feel. It does this through three ideas.

    First, there are no collectible items, the game is about seeking information and it uses that information as the keys to unlock new areas instead of items. This does make the game very spoilerable though, but it removes the "combine item 1 with item 2" type of puzzles that are infamous for feeling constrained.

    Second, it gives you an information map showing if there is any information left to find in each area. This gets around the problem of "pixel hunting" that early adventure games had where you missed something subtle so you had to wander through the entire game over again trying to find what you missed.

    Third, "late game" areas are accessible at any time but are locked behind multiple pieces of information. This means that you actually can get to late game areas early on, but most people simply won't. This gives the game a sort of "trust the player" feel, where instead of putting the game on rails to make sure no one goes off the track, the developers remove the rails and trust that most players will loosely follow the path they planned, even though some will inevitably jump the track and go through the game in a weird order.

    • Shorn 9 days ago

      This game's been sitting in my Steam wishlist for so long. You've convinced me :)

  • Zhyl 10 days ago

    To this end, I really enjoyed "Don't Escape: 4 Days to Survive"[1] which was included in the recent Itch bundle for Ukraine.

    It mixes adventure game with escape room, and whilst there is still a puzzle element to the game, it is much more pragmatic in its combinations. You find a nail, a boarded up building or something that needs building and it's a hammer that will solve all of them. You know that you will die of heat at the end of the day, so you need to find things that will cool your house down.

    I think this means that the whimsy and jovial aspect of 90s adventure games is lost, but it feels much more satisfying to solve a puzzle when the solution makes sense. If we wanted an adventure games renaissance, I would look to this game as a case study in addition to the points outlined in Ron's article.

    [1] https://armor-games-studios.itch.io/dont-escape-4-days-to-su...

  • tgv 9 days ago

    The puzzle conundrum continues to live on, though. Some time ago, I bought a game app from the "escape room" variety. It's got no relation to escape rooms, it's just how it's called/advertised. It consists of a sequence of situations where you have to find a final item, which the game recognizes as exit, so that's perhaps why.

    After the first level, the puzzles were rather convoluted and opposite to anything that would happen in real life. The "protagonist" decides to go to a bank (i.e., the next level is at the bank), and there passwords are hidden on a scrap of paper behind a ventilation grating in the toilet or as a bar-column in a financial report. Who would ever do that? You open a secret area by making sure the folders in two cabinets are in the same order. Then, when you find a cheque to the protagonist's father, he decides that's all the information the bank will reveal, and since he doesn't understand why that cheque was written in the first place, the next level obviously will be --I bet you already guessed it-- his father's church.

    At the church, you find a note taped to the inside of the bell in the bell tower. Then you ring the bell a few times, and the thing, which is larger than the protagonist, so must weigh several tonnes, comes crashing down. It lands in one piece on the church floor, and you can access the note. Then you have to move the pews in some pattern in order to access something else. In real life, it would be obvious that there is a mechanism attached to the pews, but the game just makes things visible or invisible as long as it keeps the player on the happy path.

    So yeah, I gave up on that one.

    • mikepurvis 9 days ago

      YouTube game reviewer SkillUp talks frequently about the importance of great writing in selling mundane, repetitive content to players, particularly when it comes to single-objective side quests in open world games. He references The Witcher 3 as a game with many great examples (like the famous frying pan quest: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9-aHUyokr4), but another one that is often referenced is the Supideo quest line in AC: Odyssey ( https://assassinscreed.fandom.com/wiki/Supideo).

      Anyway, I think of this often with respect to real-life escape rooms. I've only done a handful, but of those, so many seem to be completely bare-bones, with little or no scenery, little or no story, basically nothing to justify exactly the type of inanity you describe, where numbers of random objects turn out to be the digits in combination locks or whatever.

      However there was one for me that really broke the mold— the premise was that your long-lost great aunt had recently passed away, and you'd gone to recover valuables from her house before it got bulldozed to build a new highway. Quite apart from the nod to Douglas Adams, this immediately led to some terrific justification of otherwise standard game elements:

      - Getting trapped in the house because of her paranoia and multiple locks on all the doors and windows.

      - Having a time limit, enhanced and communicated by the increasingly loud sounds of construction equipment moving around "outside" the house.

      - Needing to make random connections, because she was a little batty and forgetful, so used random objects in her house to help keep track of how to get from room to room.

      Obviously the underlying gameplay fundamentals are exactly the same as any other low-budget escape room, but this particular experience really stuck with me as one that I felt far more invested in than usual, due mostly to how much more motivating even this threadbare "plot" was relative to others I'd seen.

  • JohnFen 9 days ago

    > On the surface level, they promise nearly infinite freedom, more than any platform or first-person shooter game: That you can go anywhere, talk to anyone, perform and action on any object, and solve problems in whatever way you want.

    What? I never thought that was their promise.

  • lmm 9 days ago

    The makers of The Last Express, the only point-and-click adventure game I've played that really worked for me, had an interesting interview where they talked about how they chose the setting specifically to suit the constraints of the medium - it's the nature of an adventure game to be "on rails", and putting you onboard a short train was a way to allow you to move "freely", without artificial constraints, but without exploding the state space.

  • Bakary 9 days ago

    Where are you getting that first part about freedom? Maybe it's a generational thing but I can't seem to visualize them as anything but constrained from the outset.

    The Witness is maybe the 'freest' example I can think of but it's still a range of puzzles

    • grumbel 9 days ago

      The freedom in a point&click is in the actions you perform. In a point&click there is no limit to your actions, as the actions are a combination of the verbs you have, the environment and the items you collect along the way. Which leaves endless possibilities. The restrictions are just in how crazy the narrative wants to get, but not in the interface.

      Other genres limit you to run, jump, shoot and a few other core mechanics, that they than run on repeat. You might get bigger guns along the way, but you aren't going to steal a pot from a cook to use it as helmet while joining the circus as you would in a point&click. When other genres want the player character to perform actions outside the core mechanics they often have to fall back to non-interactive cutscenes. In a point&click in contrast it's all part of the core gameplay, cutscenes are reserved to non-player scenes.

      Another thing to take into account here is the year, we are talking about early 90s here, back when most games were side scrollers that allowed you to just walk left and right. Point&click adventures were some of the first games with a movie-like presentation, you had real 3d scenes you could interact with, close ups, cutscenes, etc, not just abstract flat side-scrolling worlds. In times of GTAV, a point&click might not look all that impressive, but compared to the other stuff you had back then they were quite impressive.

      • paulryanrogers 9 days ago

        Well 3D in the sense that characters could walk in front and behind scenery and objects. I.e. they could move toward or away from the screen. Growing up in that era I think the complaints about narrow solutions made them feel more constraining.

        That said I enjoyed them anyway, and still do.

        • grumbel 8 days ago

          Yep, also sprite scaling was the big new thing in Monkey Island, as that allowed to create scene with proper perspective, where your character got smaller the further into the scene they went. Maniac Mansion or ZakMcKracken still had a somewhat artificial flatness to them. The box of Monkey Island[1] even called it "Eye-gouging 3d graphics".

          [1] https://www.mobygames.com/images/covers/l/264596-the-secret-...

    • danjoredd 9 days ago

      I think they might be talking about games like Until Dawn, Life is Strange, or Heavy Rain. It feels very free on the first playthrough, but in practice they are restrained when you replay them.

  • aidenn0 9 days ago

    The better adventure games anticipated multiple solutions to puzzles[1], which improves the sense of immersion, but the games in this genre are bounded by the imagination (and hard work) of the creator(s).

    1: I recently read a review of the text-parser version of Quest For Glory and the reviewer commented on how they made a game out of trying to find something sensible to type in that didn't come with a reasonable response from the game. I haven't played the game in decades, but I remember trying to talk to a tree and getting something like 3 paragraphs of text in response...

  • cainxinth 9 days ago

    > Puzzles have a single, usually somewhat tortured solution

    Potential spoiler alert… the forklift elevator puzzle in Grim Fandango springs to mind. It’s so unintuitive and a disappointing part of what is otherwise an incredible game.

    When I play these types of games, I’ll only bang my head against the wall for so long before I give up and Google the answer.

    If, upon learning the solution, I realize I should have been able to figure it out myself, I’ll feel bad for not trying longer. But sometimes, I’ll read the solution and say: “That’s what you wanted me to do?!” and be glad I didn’t spend all day trying to crack their impossible code.

    • MomoXenosaga 9 days ago

      I played Grim Fandango with a guide.

      Grim Fandango was one of a few point and click games that has a story and world still worth experiencing without the puzzles.

  • RicoElectrico 9 days ago

    I guess that poorly designed IQ tests often fall into these category as well. Some of the patterns you have to match seem soooo arbitrary.

    In the real world it's easier to reverse engineer someone's train of thought, as there's more context than some abstract shapes or numbers. In fact, as a programmer or engineer it's a necessary skill to develop.

  • saiya-jin 9 days ago

    Nice summary on how I felt about adventures without realizing it. I just couldn't bring myself to play any for any significant time anymore. Back when I started with PC in 1993 I enjoyed Kyrandia II, and later Broken Sword, but what makes me tick are simply different sort of games.

cammikebrown 10 days ago

What an interesting article. In 2004, I also agreed that adventure games were dead, and I was 15 at the time. As it turns out, we were both right. I loved the famous ones, like Myst and Monkey Island, along with a bunch of random games (does anyone remember The Journeyman Project? My absolute favorite! And Titanic Adventure Out of Time, and so many other unique projects). I also was able to play/replay a lot of classic text adventures, like Zork and the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (which, let's be honest, aren't always the most intuitive games).

However, since 2016, when The Witness came out, I've given them another chance, and I really have hope. There are a lot of indie games which I hope others can go into detail about, and, most exciting of all, I saw that Ron Gilbert (the author of this piece) was making Return to Monkey Island, and I'm delighted to see that the reviews are great.

PS: It's been awhile, but some of the IF (text adventure) games I've seen in the last decade have really been pushing the genre to new limits. Check em out!

  • talideon 10 days ago

    They never died out in Europe, and they were paricularly popular in Germany.

    Interactive fiction had an underground renaissance, and some of the beat work in the genre were produced when it was technically a dead one. I agree that people should check out the IF Archive, and take a look at the state of tooling for creating them, which have made producing games much more accessable.

  • JackMorgan 9 days ago

    "Looks like... nasty weather."

    I remember playing Journeyman Project 2 and being so confused by it all. Time travel, aliens, disguises? Fascinating game.

eloisant 10 days ago

I think the situation for point and click adventure games is much better now than in 2004.

They rebirthed from their ashes as a healthy indies niche. We've have great adventure games in the recent years: Timbleweed Park, Deponia, Unavowed, and of course the recent Return of Monkey Island.

Yes, they're no longer the dominating AAA genre, probably because their main draw have always been to tell a story (and a 2D platformer wasn't great for that), but now there are other genres that are also very good at telling a story. Basically the Action/Adventure/RPG/OpenWorld bucket.

izacus 10 days ago

This was written before the best adventure game of all time, Disco Elysium, was released.

  • bilvar 10 days ago

    Disco Elysium itself suffers from those problems. Spoilers ahead:

    From the very first couple hours in the game you know the most important thing you should do is visit that 'island' - but the game does not give you any option to do so. You have to go through a very tedious grind to unlock the option, even though there is no real reason you shouldn't be able to. The game just doesn't allow you to do so.

    Personally, after I managed to get there, I realised the rest of the game was pointless.

    • revolvingocelot 9 days ago

      !!! SPOILERS AHEAD !!!

      >From the very first couple hours

      I disagree. The plot thread you speak of isn't immediately apparent -- it takes hours to surface, and the likelihood of the island being the correct place to investigate is considered by Visual Calculus to be very low. We who have beaten it can opine about the ultimate conclusion being forgone, but the equally-important non-investigative plot threads took, at least in my case, enough time that I didn't really "notice" the ludic preventative of denying you a boat until endgame.

      !!! SPOLIERS END !!!

      >Personally, after I managed to get there, I realised the rest of the game was pointless

      I find this personally astounding. By contrast, I found the non-investigative plot threads, few of which have any real measureable outcome on the game's conclusion, to be the real stars of the show. When you watch police procedurals, do you just fast forward to the last ten minutes? Isn't the statefulness of the investigating characters interesting?

  • quchen 10 days ago

    You just made me realize it’s an adventure game. It’s also an RPG and choose-your-adventure game and so much else, that I filed it as »Disco Elysium« without ever thinking about genres.

    • nwellnhof 9 days ago

      The game is branded as RPG and there are a few "meta" dialogues where it's explicitly declared that you're playing an RPG, but I found that a bit strange. It always felt like a point-and-click adventure to me. But don't get me wrong, the RPG elements are excellent and it's one of the most innovative games ever.

    • izacus 10 days ago

      It's kinda amazing how many wishes from the original post it covers isn't it?

      I really love the modern evolution of the genre - we have old style point-and-click games, new style Telltale games, experiments like Disco and Detroit: Become Human. The genre has expanded a lot.

BlargMcLarg 10 days ago

What even is the definition of 'adventure game' used here? Dozens of adventure games were released in the 10 years prior to 2004. One of the most wellknown series, Legend of Zelda, never stopped producing. Is LoZ not considered an adventure series by these critics?

  • vanderZwan 10 days ago

    I think Legend of Zelda series is considered an "action-adventure game", not an "adventure game". The former tends to occupy the "gameplay space" of an action RPG with little to no stats or loot/inventory juggling, optionally with platforming (if 3D).

    It's a bit tricky because the definition of "action-adventure" broadened as LoZ added more gameplay elements, and more games became "LoZ adjacent" (although it's not as muddled as the definition of "rogue-like", which got all messed up because of Spelunky being a surprise hit).

    Adventure games are almost always narrative driven and puzzle-oriented though, and without RPG elements (because if they had strong RPG elements they'd just be called RPGs).

    • chongli 10 days ago

      Adventure games are almost always narrative driven and puzzle-oriented though, and without RPG elements (because if they had strong RPG elements they'd just be called RPGs).

      The games of the Quest for Glory series [1] are most definitely adventure games, not RPGs, despite having some RPG elements. They also happen to be my favourite adventure games due to the way most puzzles have multiple solutions (intended for the different character classes but not strictly required by them).

      The series is also one of the very few where you have the ability to export your character at the end of each game and import him into the next, allowing you to play all 5 games with the same character. This is made particularly interesting by the wildly different settings of each game as well as the evolving technology of the series.

      Not everyone likes all of the games, however. My personal favourite is the 4th game, Shadows of Darkness, which is fully voice acted and narrated by John Rhys-Davies. I think they’re all worth playing through, however, especially by taking the same character all the way.

      [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quest_for_Glory

      • svachalek 9 days ago

        You're both right, "strong RPG elements" and "some RPG elements" are not equivalent phrases.

    • lucideer 10 days ago

      > Adventure games are almost always narrative driven and puzzle-oriented though

      LoZ is highly puzzle-oriented. Not so narrative driven though so if both are required, that fits... but:

      > and without RPG elements (because if they had strong RPG elements they'd just be called RPGs).

      What are RPG elements in this context if not narrative?

      • ehnto 10 days ago

        Most RPG's really boil down to point accumulation and skill trees that don't affect the plot at all.

        Which is a shame, because roles and skills could play a huge role in narrative if developers are able to put in the time. Some games do, the Fallout series often gives you different paths through the story depending on the abilities you've acquired.

        • lucideer 9 days ago

          Ah this is all a good point, yeah. I guess I was more thinking of the presence of/emphasis on a narrative (quantity of dialogue, cut-scenes, character personalities, etc.) rather than the direct bearing that narrative has on gameplay (you're right that it's often relatively little).

          I hadn't really thought of Fallout as an RPG, nor e.g. Deus Ex, I guess the FP nature makes them seem more different. Witcher is more of one, but I guess they all 3 have commonalities.

        • vanderZwan 10 days ago

          You hit the nail on the head and I should have been more clear about that, thanks.

    • BlargMcLarg 10 days ago

      By those standards, it feels like the author blindsided themselves immensely. Not only did the genre evolve to be more, the old style was picked up by indies. RPG maker games in particular (ironically not RPGs most of the time). Simultaneously, narrative became far more important in the other genres. Bing-bing-wahoo expanded beyond a cake invitation.

      All of these were true prior to 2004, and other genres evolved too.

      • vanderZwan 10 days ago

        Most of article was written in 1989, including the headline. Which includes the date it was written. It also was written by the design lead of The Secret of Monkey Island I and II. It was made public in 2004, and the author included this statement in the article:

        > Some people will tell you that Adventure Games aren't really dead, they have just morphed into other forms, or that other genres have absorbed Adventure Games. If this is true, they've done a pretty bad job of it.

        So I don't think it's blindsighted so much as old-man-yells-at-cloud disagreeing with you on what a Real Adventure Game is. Although in Ron Gilbert's defense, he also writes:

        > As I read this some 15 years later, I'm not sure I agree with everything in here anymore. I learned a lot from Monkey Island 1 and 2, plus countless kids Adventure Games at Humongous Entertainment. At some point in the near future, I will do an annotated version of this article, talking about things that have changed, or were just plains wrong. But in the meantime, there is something interesting on TV right now.

        So still not so much blindsighted as "never elaborated upon what he really thinks of the 1989 article these days".

      • grumbel 9 days ago

        I wouldn't say the genre evolved, it pretty much peaked back in the early 90s and hasn't seen any serious improvements since. The pie-menus of Curse of Monkey Island were about the last lasting improvement I can think of. Everything else turned out a short lived gimmick, an outright failure (e.g. controls in MI4/Grim) or just a watering down (e.g. casual hidden-object games).

        And while narrative have become far more important in other genres, those style of narratives are completely different to what a point&click would offer. Action games are about action, you shoot or slash through things. You kill stuff. Narrative happens in cut-scenes without player control. It's not part of the gameplay. That's what makes point&click games special, as the there is no disconnect, the narrative is driven by the players the actions.

        And while there are certainly some RPGs that cross the line, not many do. The mainstream RPG is still obsessed with stats, collecting dozens of the same item and stuff like that. In a point&click almost everything is unique, there are no faceless copy&paste NPCs, no mountains of useless items to collect. If you find an item in a point&click, it's very likely part of the plot in some form.

  • msh 10 days ago

    He thinking things like kings quest, monkey island and so on. I would not consider zela an adventure game in this genre.

  • cammikebrown 10 days ago

    Adventure games have always been a somewhat specific genre. Whether through text , 2D, or 3D, they're generally puzzle-driven, choose-your-own-adventure style narrative outings.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adventure_game

    • anthk 10 days ago

      >choose-your-own-adventure style narrative outings.

      Not in this context.

  • ehnto 10 days ago

    The term Adventure has been overloaded, but it used to be a fairly concrete concept. Something like Legend of Zelda has adventure game elements in it, but it's much more action, combat and movement, something "traditional" adventure games don't have.

    Text adventure games are really the best example of the concepts that an adventure game usually has, even though they can also be graphical, like Monkey Island or Full Throttle. A more recent game series like Deponia fits the bill as well.

    I would say that there are a lot more games with old school adventure mechanics coming out than people might realise. A lot of them get bundled into the "Walking Simulator" category, but are far more Adventure game than anything else.

  • elondaits 10 days ago

    I would call Legend of Zelda an action RPG. Although it has some puzzles, the main activity is exploring and fighting, your equipment and skills improve as you advance (allowing you to face against tougher monsters) and part of the challenge is administering consumable resources (e.g. healing items). There’s always been a big overlap between adventures and rpgs… but the article talks about issues characteristic of the purest examples of the adventure genre (most Infocom text adventures, Sierra, Lucasarts, etc)

  • eloisant 10 days ago

    He is talking about "point and click" adventure games like Monkey Island, the Sierra games, etc. Legend of Zelda clearly isn't a point and click game.

  • talideon 10 days ago

    No, the LoZ series aren't adventure games in the original sense, which encompassed text adventures (now termed "interactive fiction") and point-and-click adventures.

    You also have the extra hint that this is Ron Gilbert's site, and if you know anything about him, the context for "adventure game" is pretty clear.

    Such games are story and puzzle heavy rather than having much in the way of action.

  • dwighttk 9 days ago

    “I wrote this back in 1989 while I was designing Monkey Island. It is now the futuristic year of 2004 and we are all driving around in flying cars and wearing sliver jumps suits.”

FrankyHollywood 9 days ago

I always loved adventure games, with Grim Fandango (1998) being one of my favourites.

Nowadays Amanita design still makes great adventure and puzzle games, some are point & click. Really enjoyed them, and most are without text so my non-English speaking kids also love them https://www.amanita-design.net/

pteraspidomorph 9 days ago

It's interesting how the horror game genre is currently actually still making almost all of these mistakes, yielding the same predictably frustrating outcomes (and yet people keep making them).

user3939382 10 days ago

The only game I really enjoyed in the past 15 years was an adventure-type interactive fiction game called Vespers.

Everything else might be good enough for a distraction but I wouldn’t say I was actually intrigued.

  • bspammer 10 days ago

    I would highly recommend Disco Elysium if you want a more recent interactive fiction game. My personal game of the decade for the 2010s :)

prvc 10 days ago

What's the message behind this submission, being so soon after the release of an adventure game by this article's author?

MomoXenosaga 9 days ago

Hollywood envy? Pretty funny now that the gaming industry has eclipsed Hollywood. Lot has happened since 1989!

drunkenmagician 10 days ago

article from 2004. Title update?

  • dang 10 days ago

    It's a wave-particle, but the bulk of the page is an article written in 1989, without which the submission wouldn't be here, so we've gone with 1989.