Entry updated 22 July 2020. Tagged: Game, Theme.
Term used to describe a form of Videogame in which the gameplay is largely based on the solution of puzzles. Such games are rarely played in real time. Instead, the progress of events in the gameworld will typically be suspended until the player acts, allowing them time to consider their current problem. It is important that the number of potential solutions for each puzzle be limited, so that players are not overwhelmed by the exploration of endless possibilities. As a result, the worlds in which these games are set typically lack the global consistency and physical operability seen in many Computer Role Playing Game milieux, instead offering a wide variety of opportunities for interaction which are specific to a given time and place. Adventures generally emphasize story and character development; arguably, the form is most effective when the puzzles are based on interaction with the characters within the game, integrating the two aspects of the design. The Adventure is perhaps the Videogame form which is closest to written fiction; the stories often have a strongly linear structure (see Interactive Narrative) and the discursive nature of the gameplay is reminiscent of the act of reading. Most attempts to make Videogames based on written sf stories, whether by adaptation or by the creation of sequels, have been Adventures, though the results have generally been unimpressive.
The first game of this kind was Adventure (1975 Mainframe, Others; vt ADVENT; vt Colossal Cave; vt Colossal Cave Adventure) designed by William Crowther, Don Woods. This program simulates part of the Mammoth Cave system in the US state of Kentucky, with added fantasy elements such as hidden treasures and an axe-throwing dwarf. The original version was written by Crowther alone, influenced by his experiences of exploring the actual Mammoth Caves and playing the fantasy Role Playing Game Dungeons and Dragons (1974 Tactical Studies Rules) designed by Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson; Woods later expanded the program, adding more puzzles and fantasy elements. Players can enter a number of different areas, each of which is described in text, and issue instructions using a parser, a piece of software which attempts to translate natural language (in this case, English) into inputs which the program can process. A similar approach to game input and output can be seen in such earlier works as Hunt The Wumpus (1972 Mainframe, Others) designed by Gregory Yob, in which the player must deduce the location of the eponymous creature in a three-dimensional dodecahedral Labyrinth and kill it before it kills them. This variant of the form is generally known as a text Adventure, though this description can also be applied to games in which all or most of the program's output is textual, but players choose which action to take from a menu, as in the much later Japanese game Radical Dreamers (1996) (see Chrono Trigger). Many of the characteristic features of text Adventures are already visible in this first example. Notably, the player relates to their incarnation within the world of the game as a partially separate individual who can be given orders, and certain actions will trigger special responses delivered for comic effect, as if the parser itself has an identity and a role to play. In Adventure, however, there is no concept of the main character having a history and personality of their own which is separate to that of the player, a device that was to become important in most of its descendants.
Adventure proved to be extremely influential, inspiring its players to create many similar games, which were referred to collectively as Adventures in honour of that first work. Of these, the most significant are perhaps the comic fantasy Zork (1977-1979 Mainframe; vt Dungeon; 1980 rev vt Zork: The Great Underground Empire AppleII; 1982 DOS, PCBoot, TRS80; 1983 Atari8, C64, MSX; 1984 Amstrad, Mac; 1985 AtariST; 1986 Amiga) designed by Tim Anderson, Marc Blank, Dave Lebling, Bruce Daniels and the Sword and Sorcery Adventureland (1978 Adventure International, AppleII, PET, TRS80; 1981 Atari8, TI99, VIC20; 1982 C64, Spectrum; 1983 Dragon; 2005 Web) designed by Scott Adams, the first (albeit somewhat primitive) Adventure released for personal computers. Dog Star Adventure (1979 TRS80, Others; vt Death Planet: The Dog Star Adventure) designed by Lance Micklus, a simple game much influenced by Star Wars (1977) and originally published in Softside magazine, may have been the first science-fictional Adventure available for these new machines. Soon Zork was converted from mainframe computers to the less powerful personal devices, becoming the first product of the Infocom studio, who were to exert considerable influence on the evolution of the text Adventure form. Infocom created innovative and well crafted games in a range of literary genres, though science fiction and fantasy dominated; their first sf game was Starcross (1982). Other notable works from the studio include Planetfall (1982), Suspended: A Cryogenic Nightmare (1983), The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1984), A Mind Forever Voyaging (1985) and Leather Goddesses of Phobos (1986). In areas other than sf, The Lurking Horror (1987 Infocom, Amiga, Amstrad, AppleII, Atari8, AtariST, C64, DOS, Mac) designed by Dave Lebling – a supernatural tale of college life inspired by the Cthulhu Mythos – the murder mystery Deadline (1982 Infocom, AppleII, Atari8, DOS, PCBoot; 1983 C64; 1984 Mac; 1985 AtariST; 1986 Amiga, Amstrad) designed by Marc Blank and the romance game Plundered Hearts (1987 Infocom, Amiga, Amstrad, AppleII, Atari8, AtariST, C64, DOS, Mac) designed by Amy Briggs are all of interest. Another prominent US developer of text Adventures was Trillium (later known as Telarium), which specialized in adapting works of printed literature, often from the sf or fantasy genres. Their releases include Fahrenheit 451 (1984) designed by Len Neufeld – a sequel to Ray Bradbury's novel Fahrenheit 451 (February 1951 Galaxy as "The Fireman"; exp 1953) – and Nine Princes in Amber (1985 Telarium, AppleII, AtariST, C64, PCBoot; 1986 MSX), an interesting if perhaps ultimately unsuccessful attempt to model subtle character interactions using a text parser which was based on the first two books in Roger Zelazny's Amber sequence. Trillium also published Shadowkeep (1984 Ultrasoft, AppleII, C64, PCBoot) designed by Alan Clark, an innovative early Sword and Sorcery Computer Role Playing Game whose design resembled that of an illustrated text Adventure, and which inspired what was probably the first Videogame Tie, Alan Dean Foster's Shadowkeep (1984).
The first example of the form to be created outside the US was probably Acheton (1978-1981 Mainframe; 1984 BBCMicro; 1987 Amstrad, AtariST, DOS, Electron; 1988 Spectrum) designed by Jon Thackray, David Seal, Jonathan Partington in the UK, an exploration of a memorably lethal underground cave complex inspired by the original Adventure. Acheton was followed by such commercial works as the Australian version of The Hobbit (1983 Melbourne House, C64, Oric, Spectrum; 1985 Amstrad, AppleII, MSX, PCBoot) designed by Philip Mitchell, Veronika Megler, noted for its innovative use of a cast of independently (though sometimes rather erratically) acting characters. This game is almost a palimpsest of the J R R Tolkien novel on which it was based, including both marked simplifications of the original material and a variety of new possibilities. Interesting commercial text Adventures produced in the UK in this era include the charming Parallel World fantasy Jinxter (1987 Magnetic Scrolls, Amiga, Amstrad, AppleII, Atari8, AtariST, C64, DOS, Mac; 1988 Spectrum) designed by Georgina Sinclair, Michael Bywater and the Heroic Fantasy parody Knight Orc (1987 Level 9, Amiga, Amstrad, AppleII, Atari8, AtariST, BBCMicro, C64, DOS, MSX, Spectrum) designed by Pete Austin, as well as such science-fictional works as Snowball (1983) – the first game in the Silicon Dreams trilogy – Fish! (1988), and the notably difficult and not very serious Countdown to Doom (1987 Topologika, Amstrad, AtariST, BBCMicro, Electron, DOS; 1988 Spectrum) designed by Peter Killworth.
By the mid 1980s text Adventures had attracted significant literary interest. Games development houses attempted to differentiate their works from other Videogames by promoting them as Interactive Fiction (a term popularized by Infocom) or "electronic novels" (the form favoured by Synapse Software, developers of Mindwheel ). Established authors became interested in the form, including Douglas Adams (who worked on The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy  and the contemporary comedy Bureaucracy [1987 Infocom, Amiga, AppleII, AtariST, C128, DOS, Mac]), Robert Pinsky (later Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress), who was the lead designer on Mindwheel, and Thomas M Disch, author of the non-sf Amnesia (1986 Cognetics Corp, AppleII, PCBoot; 1987 C64). While Amnesia's prose is rich and fluent, its gameplay may prove frustrating. The player is subject to artificial constraints applied to ensure that they proceed through the game as intended by Disch, and the game's detailed simulation of the reality of modern day New York City frequently results in the main character collapsing from hunger before anything much is achieved. Ultimately, the most impressive example of commercial Interactive Fiction may not be any of these works, but rather Brian Moriarty's remarkable fantasia Trinity (1986).
By the end of the 1980s, however, sales of text Adventures had largely collapsed, as players deserted them for the more visually appealing graphical form. Meanwhile, literary critics abandoned the field for the new Hypertext fiction, of which Michael Joyce's Afternoon, a story (1990) was the first example. Interactive Fiction has survived, however, as a form made by enthusiasts for enthusiasts and distributed freely. Such works are typically shorter than the commercial games, and often more experimental. Two excellent examples which may be of interest to sf readers are the Cthulhu Mythos inspired Anchorhead (1998 Win; 2003 Web) designed by Michael Gentry and Galatea (2000 Win; 2002 Web) designed by Emily Short, which is less an Adventure than a detailed simulation of a single individual who may be a Robot, a goddess, or something other.
The first example of the form to include graphics was Mystery House (1980 On-Line Systems, AppleII) designed by Roberta Williams, a text Adventure inspired by Agatha Christie's detective novel And Then There Were None (1939) which included static images showing locations within the game, in the manner of an illustrated novel. This approach was used in many subsequent text Adventures, including Nine Princes in Amber, Jinxter and the later entries in the Silicon Dreams series. The first true graphical Adventure, with fully animated visuals, appears to have been Valhalla (1983 Movisoft, C64, Spectrum) designed by Richard Edwards, Graham Asher, Charles Goodwin, James Learmont, Andrew Owen, a UK game based on Norse mythology which included self-willed characters in the manner of The Hobbit. This was followed by the American fairy tale fantasy King's Quest (1984 Sierra On-Line [SOL], AppleII, DOS, PCBoot; 1986 AtariST; 1987 Amiga, Mac; 1989 MasterSystem; 1990 rev vt King's Quest I: Quest for the Crown Amiga, DOS) designed by Roberta Williams. In both of these works the player's character is shown moving through a series of static landscapes; this is the model employed in most later games. The developers of King's Quest then went on to create a number of similar works, of which the first sf example was Space Quest (1986). All of these games, however, were controlled using typed commands which were processed by a parser. While this apparently allowed players to perform any action they could imagine, in reality the limitations of the game design and the software's ability to understand natural language meant that only a small number of meaningful choices could be made. The otherwise undistinguished noir mystery Déjà Vu (1985 ICOM Simulations, AppleII, Mac; 1987 Amiga, AtariST, C64, DOS; 1988 NES; 1991 PC98) replaced the parser with a graphical user interface in which instructions were issued to the characters by clicking on icons, an innovation which made the choices available to the player clear. The much superior Maniac Mansion (1987) then combined this interface with the animated visuals of Valhalla and King's Quest, an approach which came to dominate the design of Western graphical Adventures. In Japan, the designer Hideo Kojima took a different approach to eliminating the parser with Snatcher (1988), in which the player chooses actions from a menu. The developers of Maniac Mansion, Lucasfilm Games [LF] (later LucasArts [LA]), went on to evolve a philosophy of Adventure game design intended to minimize player frustration. The death of player characters, a frequent occurrence in Space Quest, was made impossible or very rare, and situations in which the game had to be restarted before further progress could be made (as used for comic effect in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy ) were eliminated. This approach, which can be seen fully developed in the musical fantasy Loom (1990 LF, Amiga, AtariST, DOS, Mac; 1992 PCEngineCD) designed by Brian Moriarty, was well received by players, and influenced the design of most later games.
Graphical Adventures were highly popular in the 1990s. Notable examples produced by LucasArts include Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders (1988), Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle (1993), The Dig (1995) and Full Throttle (1996), as well as the piratical The Secret of Monkey Island (1990 LF, DOS; 1991 Amiga, AtariST; 1992 Mac, MegaCD) designed by Ron Gilbert, David Grossman, Tim Schafer and the parodic cartoon Sam & Max Hit The Road (1993 LA, DOS; 1996 Mac; 2002 Win) designed by Sean Clark, Collette Michaud, Steve Purcell, Michael Stemmle. Sierra On-Line, the developers of King's Quest, created the contemporary occult series Gabriel Knight, beginning with Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers (1993 SOL, DOS, Win; 1994 Mac) designed by Jane Jensen, and the comic fantasy Quest For Glory sequence, beginning with Hero's Quest: So You Want To Be A Hero (1989 SOL, DOS; 1990 Amiga, AtariST; 1992 rev vt Quest for Glory I: So You Want To Be A Hero DOS) designed by Lori Ann Cole, Corey Cole, which incorporated elements of Computer Role Playing Games into its design. Outside the US, the UK's Revolution Software (RS) released Beneath a Steel Sky (1994) and the occult conspiracy series Broken Sword, beginning with Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars (1996 RS, DOS, PS1, Win; 1997 Mac; 2002 GBA; 2005 Phone; vt Circle of Blood US) designed by Charles Cecil; others involved included Jonathan L Howard. While the earlier games are generally humorous in tone, more serious themes began to appear in 1993-1994, as technical improvements made it possible to use less cartoon like graphics. Most of the notable Adventures of the 1990s were sf or fantasy; one remarkable exception is The Last Express (1997 Smoking Car Productions, DOS, Mac, Win) designed by Jordan Mechner, a murder mystery set on the last journey of the Orient Express before World War One, in which the player's character and the other passengers engage in a complex multilinear interaction in real time (see Interactive Narrative).
One contemporary developer, Legend Entertainment (LE), is of particular science-fictional interest. This studio concentrated primarily on adapting works of sf and fantasy literature into graphical and illustrated text Adventures, including Frederik Pohl's Gateway (1992 LE, DOS; 1995 Win) designed by Glen Dahlgren, Michael Verdu – based on Frederik Pohl's Heechee sequence – and Callahan's Crosstime Saloon (1997 LE, DOS, Win) designed by Josh Mandel, Jim Montanus, a spinoff from the eponymous series written by Spider Robinson.
Authors from the written genre also worked on the design of these games, as in Harlan Ellison's I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream (1995) and Roger Zelazny's Chronomaster (1995). In the UK, Terry Pratchett became involved in the creation of three games set in his fantasy Discworld milieu, of which the most interesting is the Chandleresque Discworld Noir (1999 Perfect Entertainment, PS1, Win) designed by Gregg Barnett, Chris Bateman.
Another form of graphical Adventure appeared with the release of The Journeyman Project (1993) and the fantasy game Myst (1993 Cyan Worlds, Mac, Win; 1994 Saturn; 1995 3DO, JaguarCD, PS1; 1996 CDi; 1997 Amiga; 2006 PSP) designed by Rand Miller, Robyn Miller. These games employed a first person camera, which shows events from the character's point of view, rather than the third person perspective typically used in graphical Adventures, and made use of Full Motion Video technology to display much more impressive visuals than were possible in such contemporary games as Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle. However, this improvement came at a price; the player's ability to interact with the environment was extremely limited. Characteristically, Myst's gameplay depends heavily on semi-abstract logic puzzles, and the story is embedded (see Interactive Narrative). While Myst itself and its immediate sequels were extremely popular, similar games such as Obsidian (1996) generally failed to find a market. A different approach to the use of Full Motion Video is exemplified by the later Tex Murphy games, which combine fully interactive sequences seen in first person with non interactive filmed segments using live actors.
Towards the end of the 1990s, the market for graphical Adventures as a whole began to decline. Critically acclaimed games such as the clay animated cartoon The Neverhood (1996 The Neverhood, Win; 1998 PS1) designed by Douglas TenNapel proved unprofitable, a trend which culminated in the commercial failure of Grim Fandango (1998 LA, Win) designed by Tim Schafer, a noir fantasy in which a travel agent must guide a newly arrived soul through the Mexican Land of the Dead. By the end of the decade, graphical Adventures were largely extinct. The reasons for this collapse are unclear; one possibility is that solving puzzles simply did not appeal to a large enough market that games based on it could remain profitable as the visual quality of Videogames, and hence their cost of development, maintained its inexorable growth. Certainly traditional puzzle-based Adventures continue to sell well to a niche market; one example is the episodic series Sam & Max Season One (2006-2007 Telltale Games, Win) designed by David Grossman, a sequel to Sam & Max Hit The Road. Other modern Adventures, such as The Longest Journey (1999), the mildly fantastical Syberia (2002 Microids, Win; 2003 PS2, XBox) designed by Benoît Sokal and the paranormal thriller Fahrenheit (2005 Quantic Dream [QD], PS2, Win, XBox, vt Indigo Prophecy in the US) designed by David Cage, are more consciously artistic, and usually made in Europe rather than the US. Fahrenheit in particular attempts to fuse Adventure game conventions with those of contemporary film making, not always happily. More recent examples include the serial killer inspired Heavy Rain (2010 QD, PS3) designed by David Cage and the paranormal mystery Gray Matter (2010 Wizarbox, XB360; 2011 Win) designed by Jane Jensen. Some members of the form have also been created as Independent Games, notably Machinarium (2009), and new works in existing series such as Tex Murphy may be financed with the assistance of the crowdfunding website Kickstarter. Graphical Adventures have also retained some popularity in Japan, with such works as the Time Travel game Shadow of Memories (2001) also being released in the West. Other Japanese games, such as the legal drama Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (2001 Capcom, GBA; rev 2005 NDS, Win, vt Turnabout Trial: Revived Turnabout in Japan), are arguably more closely related to Visual Novels (see also Gamebook) than they are to traditional Adventures.
The dominant form currently adopted by this type of game in the West, however, is that of the action Adventure. These games represent an attempt to combine traditional Adventure game elements, such as intellectual puzzle solving and exploration, with gameplay more often associated with "action games" depending on reaction speed and coordination. Such games are typically real time, displayed in three dimensions using a third person view of the player's character. While the category is inevitably hard to define, it seems clear that a number of recent European games such as Outcast (1999) and Beyond Good & Evil (2003) should be placed within it, as should the highly stylized Japanese fairy tale Ico (2002 Sony Computer Entertainment, PS2) designed by Fumito Ueda. Action Adventures have proved rather more commercially successful than graphical Adventures during the 2000s; it is perhaps characteristic that while the first game in the Longest Journey series is a traditional adventure, its 2006 sequel, Dreamfall, is an action Adventure. The core puzzle-solution mechanic employed in Adventures has also reappeared in several other forms, including First Person Shooters and even Space Sims. Arguably, however, the Adventure game's position as standard bearer for story and characterization in Videogames has now been ceded to Computer Role Playing Games, though CRPGs typically employ multilinear and modular models of narrative as opposed to the classic linear form seen in most Adventures (see Interactive Narrative). [NT]
see also: Outer Wilds.
- Gil Williamson. Computer Adventures: The Secret Art (Farnham, Surrey: Amazon Systems, 1990) [nonfiction: interesting if somewhat disorganized book on Adventure game design: pb/Andrew D Hill]
- Patrick R Dewey. Adventure Games for Microcomputers: An Annotated Directory of Interactive Fiction (Westport, Connecticut: Meckler Publishing, 1991) [nonfiction: contains capsule reviews of most notable text Adventures produced in the commercial era: hb/]
- Nick Montfort. Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2003) [nonfiction: an excellent academic history of text Adventures, including a detailed theoretical analysis of them as literary machines: hb/Derek George]
- Kurt Kalata. The Guide To Classic Graphic Adventures (Hardcoregaming101.net, 2011) [nonfiction: a remarkably comprehensive and informative collection of amateur reviews of graphical Adventures: pb/photographic]
- Brass Lantern Adventure Games Site
- Adventureland Encyclopedia
- Adventure Gamers Site
- A Short History of Interactive Fiction
- The Interactive Fiction Archive
- Computer Adventures: The Secret Art, by Gil Williamson.
- Down From the Top of Its Game: The Story of Infocom
- Picture Gallery
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