For me, adventure gaming is like the "one that got away." Though the years advance, I still can't see where it all went wrong. She broke my heart and for the life of me, I just can't figure out why. I can remember vividly watching that teaser trailer for Space Quest 7. I remember reading excitedly about the plans for Leisure Suit Larry 8. And I can recall excitedly forwarding the Sam and Max: Freelance Police trailer to my father and sister. Sadly, none of these ever came to be. They were each axed for being what I what I could only want them to be; Adventure games.
The adventure genre has been through a lot. For as long as gaming has even had genres, adventures have been around. From their beginnings as text-based apps that programmers made to amuse other programmers, to their commercial peak with the release of Myst that seemingly every man woman and child in America owned a copy of at some point, there has always been something compelling about the purest form of interactive storytelling. But some time in the mid-to-late 90s, the adventure genre sank quickly into the depths of the bargain bin, never to fully emerge again.
It remains a mystery to this day what exactly happened to this once vital form of gaming. Some saw it as a change in the market, while others contend that it's a mistake to treat the genre this way. Adventure enthusiasts are fighting back and a small handful of companies are making it their mission to bring adventure gaming back to the mass market. To kick off my salute to the might of Adventure games, I've decided to take a moment to look back at some of its proudest moments in the genre.
The Longest Journey...
The seeds of adventure gaming were planted in 1972 when Will Crowther programmed a simple command/response game as a gift for his daughters. There wasn't much to it, but the concept was enough to show promise. In 1976 Crowther's program, called Advent, caught the eye of Don Woods, a programmer at Stanford, who expanded on it, gave it a story, and unleashed it on the world. His creation's name? Adventure.
Adventure was circulated around the programming community, but in the dark ages before the personal computer had invaded the homes of Americans, its influence was limited. It did, however, inspire a landmark title by the name of Dungeon. Dungeon, or Zork, as it would come to be known later, was the first title in one of gaming's longest running series. Infocom would later publish the game, its sequels, and many other like it in years to come. Not long after, Roberta Williams would add some visuals to the mix with the game Mystery House, and from there the ball was rolling.
King's Quest marked a major landmark for adventure games. It featured a full color, explorable world with a manipulatable character. It was also one of the very first adventure games developed specifically for IBM-compatible PCs. Interaction was still text-prompt based, but it still made the world itself more tangible. The King's Quest series continued to flourish based on Roberta Williams' strong storytelling, but after developers started to get scared of adventure gaming, the series switched over to something with more action with King's Quest 8. Series fans were not pleased and the game was a commercial failure. The series was ended, and Roberta Williams is now enjoying retirement.
Space Quest continued the proud tradition of sci-fi parody in adventure games started by Douglas Adams’/Infocom's fantastic text-adventure adaptation of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Space Quest also pioneered the anti-hero in adventure gaming. The Space Quest series centered around Roger Wilco, an mildly incompetent janitor aboard a space ship, who suddenly finds himself thrust into one life-altering adventure after another. Mark Crowe and Scott Murphy's brilliant writing made this series shine for 6 entries over the years that would follow. Space Quest 4 and 5 especially rank among the finest classic adventure games ever made. Work was begun on a Space Quest 7 which was to take the series into 3D. A trailer was released, but the game was canned by Sierra's new leadership, and eventually Scott and Mark were let go, and the Dynamix studio shut down.
Leisure Suit Larry
Al Lowe's brilliant Leisure Suit Larry series was important for a lot of reasons. It was one of the main titles responsible for pioneering gaming that targeted an adult sense of humor. Larry was conceived as a parody of an older text adventure called Soft Porn, where you played a bachelor on the prowl out to get laid. Larry Laffer on the other hand was an out of touch loser with neither tact nor common sense on his side. The series thrived and became one of Sierra's flagship adventure series. Larry had 7 games (and a remake) under his belt when Sierra decided to ax plans for an eighth outing based largely on the performance of adventures released at LucasArts. Last year Vivendi revived the franchise, without the series original creator Al Lowe. It was moderately successful, showing that people missed the Larry series, but it was met with poor critical press and fan reaction.