A Response to The History of Adventure Games

Back in 2011, Richard Moss wrote a lengthy essay on the history of Adventure Games, or as he calls them, Graphical Adventures, for the Ars Technica website. I don’t follow the website, so I hadn’t read the article back when it was fresh, so commenting about it now on their website seems a little redundant, and I wouldn’t want to have to wade through the 238 comments to see if any of my points are covered there with any intelligence.

Now, I’m not a real game developer, much to my chagrin, but I AM an enthusiast, and I have ideas I’d like to see incorporated into Adventure Games, which I’ve expressed at length in my Redefining Interactivity article series (still not quite finished; sorry). I say this as a caveat: I’M NOT AN EXPERT. I sometimes sound off like I am, but I’m well aware that I’m just an amateur with a blog. So any authoritative statements or editorializing I do is to be taken with a grain of salt.

The thing for me is, the article Richard Moss wrote was pretty good up until page 4, when he starts editorializing about the things that killed his beloved graphical adventure genre. Starting with taking shots at MYST, which to my eyes really revealed his bias as a ‘traditional’ adventure gamer. He has the good sense to point out that a lot of what really hurt adventure games was the development insularity and shoddy puzzle logic of adventure games and their technology.

It’s not that I disagree with his criticisms, but I think Richard grabbed the horns and pulled hard at the point where I simply feel that change was happening, and traditionalists like him fell by the wayside, becoming disenfranchised while the rest of us were adapting and trying new things. I look back on the history of Adventure Gaming as being this fluid thing that ebbs and flows, and is currently experiencing a much-needed renaissance. However, I don’t think the blame for adventure games fall from grace can be blamed wholly or even in part upon the creation of MYST and RIVEN. They were new, which is just what he was touting as the saviour of the earlier games.

I see the problem a little differently. MYST was a little confusing, but no moreso than any of the other games being made at the time. I argue that the games he is such a big fan of were at least as difficult to navigate and interact with. I still find text parsers to be absolute game stoppers for me. I can work with them, but I don’t enjoy them at all, and it makes me quit games and never finish them.

I’m probably around the same age as Richard, but I wasn’t able to buy a computer until the late 90s, and so missed much of what he claims is the heyday of the genre. He poo-poos photorealistic adventures; he poo-poos Full Motion Video games, and he barely affords games like Grim Fandango, The Longest Journey and The Last Express their due without qualifying them as noble failures, simply because they failed to revive the industry, as if financial problems and the rise of the action-adventure game hadn’t had more to do with it.

Moss doesn’t mention Still Life or URU, which I guess is his prerogative, but I frankly don’t think he’s really being fair if he’s willing to mention the likes of GKIII and KQVI and their relative failure in the 3D realm if he’s nto willing to consider the amazing strides that these later games made in that department. He doesn’t mention Dreamfall. He mentions Blade Runner, but out of sequence, like he doesn’t remember that it happened in the late 90s, along with the other noble failures. He jumbles history a number of times, largely to make his point that Adventure Games had died, and he declares episodic gamin the technological saviour of the industry without mentioning the furore that occurred over episodic gaming because of bandwidth and computer upgrade issues, which had long been a problem for many if not all dyed-in-the-wool adventure gamers. He conveniently overlooks little developments like the inventoried concept icons of Mata Hari, and he praises Heavy Rain and Indigo Prophecy without mentioning how their so-called innovations left a lot of adventure gamers non-plussed or even outright frustrated, due in part to the rapid timing factor of critical actions such as dialogue and exploration, two things adventure gamers had long been used to doing at a more reasonable pace (to say nothing of IPs nonsensical ending).

I’m not saying Moss is completely off base. But I think that, in his effort to contrive a perfect explanation for the slump that AGs went through in the 2000s, he deliberately skips over a fair bit and draws conclusions that not every AG enthusiast would agree with. he demonstrates his biases, and can barely bring himself to muster up some enthusiasm for the trends that had started in 2010-11 that showed the rest of us that AGs were making a real recovery. And finally, his conclusions, though once a fairly standard argument for a number of traditional AGers, both puzzle- and story-oriented, are indicative of the thinking that was prevalent amongst those whom I tend to think couldn’t be pleased by anything in the last ten years or so.

I’m a little jumbled myself, and I’ve kind of lost my thread, so I’m going to stop here. I just want to say that, if I had the computer background that Moss seems to have, I would probably try to take a more balanced approach to explaining the later developments and shortfalls of the AG genre. As it is, the best I can do is say, well, he’s not ALL wrong… but what he gets wrong makes me question the worth of his correct observations as well.

Anyway, that’s my second entry for today, and I haven’t written a lick of true fiction (you see what I did there?) today. So thanks for reading, and have a great day.


2 Responses to “A Response to The History of Adventure Games

  • Related note: The Adventure Game genre is not dead. Look at Telltale games. They make millions from their AGs. 😛

    • Too true, and they’re not the only ones with big AG projects in the works, thanks to Kickstarter.

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