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Adventures: not even their final form

Adventures: video games full of amazing stories, colourful characters and challenging puzzles (not to mention dialogue trees and pixel-hunting). The genre may have its flaws but it has also been one of the longest-running, giving birth to numerous classics from Zork to Grim Fandango and attracting a following of fans across the world.

For any regular Later Levels visitors, it’s obvious I’m one of them and love a good point-and-click. They’re the titles I’ve continuously returned to for almost 30 years now, ever since finding The Secret of Monkey Island as a young child and realising that fantastic worlds full of extraordinary tales could be told so well through pixels. Even for all their moon-logic and backtracking, there’s just something special and captivating that lies within the puzzles and at the heart of an adventure.

Not everybody agrees with me on this however. Early last month I came across an article on the NewStatesman website entitled The rise and fall of the point-and-click adventure game, in which author Ed Jefferson gave a brief overview of the genre’s history. He rounded off the post by saying: “It’s hard to argue that the genre has much appeal beyond nostalgia at this point… Thanks for the memories, but it turns out that in 2018, maybe clicking on hats just isn’t enough anymore.”

Has the adventure really had its day? This statement surprised me greatly and it was a situation I’d never considered before. Sure, the genre had had it’s ups-and-downs over the years, going through a decline in the early 2000s when it couldn’t compete with louder releases before picking back up again in popularity thanks to crowdfunding platforms in 2012; but was it truly over? Jefferson’s divisive statement prompted me to ask the question on Twitter and see what others thought.

A few days later, an article was published on Rendermonkee’s Gaming Blog called The Rise, Fall and Rise of the Adventure Game. There was an audible sigh of relief when I read this and saw confirmation that there were others out there who still believed in the genre! As written by Rendermonkee themselves: “The adventure genre has undergone incredible hardship over a 20-year period, but I believe times have changed… The future of the adventure game is in very safe hands. Long live the adventure game.”

In a brief conversation with this blogger on Twitter last month, they said something which stuck with me: that the point-and-click isn’t dead. It has simply evolved into new forms, incorporating elements from other genres and changing its appearance depending on the angle of the light. In the same way those louder releases mentioned above have taken narrative design tips from adventures and improved their storytelling, my beloved genre has done the same in reverse and undergone a transformation.

The Red Strings Club, video game, bar, woman, Larissa, bartender, Donovan, android, Akara

There are so many new titles which have kept the heart of the adventure game while adding something new to it. Last year’s Unavowed retained everything we’d come to expect from a Wadjet Eye Games’ release but threw in some ingenious party mechanics. 2017’s Stories Untold recalled the feeling of playing an old-school text-adventure but gave it a twist to create a very unique experience. And The Red Strings Club – possibly my favourite release of 2018 – focused on moral questions asked through conversation and answered through mixing drinks.

There are some who will say that these aren’t strictly point-and-clicks – but wait, there are more examples. Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller from 2012 stays true to its genre’s roots but tells a gritty story which isn’t for children. 2016’s Kathy Rain is great for anyone who loves a Twin-Peaks-vibe and pixel artwork. If you’re looking for something lighter with more comedy, try Maize from the same year. And more recently, the upcoming Guard Duty pays tribute to the classics but gives us an adventure suitable for the modern day.

2019 is looking bright for the genre, and Rendermonkee’s post mentions several future titles which are now on my wishlist. Afterparty by Night School Studio, the developer of Oxenfree, is one of their four picks for the year; and RΓΆki from Polygon Treehouse is showing plenty of promise for a debut title. Then there are the projects that made appearances at recent expos: 3 Minutes to Midnight by Scarecrow Studio and The Occupation by White Paper Games. How can you not get excited by all that adventure goodness?

It may be worth Jefferson playing these titles and finding out for himself what the genre has become. You see, pointing-and-clicking can be enough; but adventure games can also be so much more than that and haven’t yet reached their final form. To quote Rendermonkee once more: long live the adventure game.

Kim View All

Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.

12 thoughts on “Adventures: not even their final form Leave a comment

  1. I think we’ve successfully disproved the theory πŸ˜‰! The issue with Jefferson’s article, and actually the way we often refer to ‘traditional adventures’, is the “Point & Click” description. I don’t think there’s another genre that is referred to by its control method, and I’m not sure ‘pointing & clicking’ has anything to do with why we loved those games so much. By specifying this description there is probably an element of truth to Jefferson’s article, but it fails to inform the average reader of the evolution of the adventure game which has much more relevance to the genre (and the reason why I chose to omit this description in the title of my post). I mean, it’s as relevant as writing about the rise and fall of the ‘waggley joystick’ track&field games from the late 80s.

    Those Lucasarts adventures were successful, even today, because of great characters, beautiful artwork, intelligent puzzles (apart from the occasional monkey wrench) and well written narrative. I read another blog post recently from someone who had just played through Monkey Island 1 & 2 for the first time (along with a bunch of other games). She rated them 9 and 10 out of 10. I’m pretty sure this wasn’t anything to do with ‘pointing and clicking’ 😊.

    Adventure games today exist in many different forms, and I think it actually makes the genre the most diverse and exciting. There’s an adventure to appeal for everyone πŸ‘.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’d never considered the way we refer to certain adventure games using their control method before… and it’s a very good point indeed. The name itself implies something of age or stuck in the past and, while I love a nostalgia trip as much as the next adventure fan, that’s just not the case for the genre! Thinking on this point today made me realise that I don’t generally use the ‘point-and-click’ term myself despite not consciously stopping myself from doing so; perhaps that’s my inner-gamer acknowledging just how far adventures have come. πŸ€”

      It’s really good to hear that Monkey Island is still being enjoyed by new players today! I introduced my stepson to the series a couple of years ago and he was more taken with it than I expected him to be, so it goes to show you that it’s not always guns and explosions which can capture a pre-teen’s imagination. πŸ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Another wall of text imminent…

    I couldn’t agree more with the points here. Adventure gaming is all but dead – there are many new indie (and some less indie) titles flying around at the moment, and lots of interest in them – Backwoods’ Unforeseen Incidents being one that springs to mind (as I’m playing it currently!) I’ve seen a lot of discussion and praise for games like this and they’re not the kind that simply draw on nostalgia – they are new games in their own right with modern twists and enhancements. I agree that the genre has simply evolved to more modern tastes, artwork and game mechanics – if it was past its time it wouldn’t exist anymore at all, and there would be far fewer fans voicing their opinion on social media and forums.

    I’d not really thought about the ‘point and click’ terminology until now. I guess it is just one of those go-to terms that doesn’t mean the same thing anymore, and like Rendermonkee says, it’s not really related to why we like those games (am I that Monkey Island blogger? :D) – it’s the sense of adventure, puzzles, humour and story that are so integral and unique to the genre. That’s why I like those kinds of games and why they will always be my favourite style.

    (I’m going to reply to Rendermonkee’s blog post separately, because if I talk about that here too it will end up being a, er… house? of text! Especially since I’ve noticed it references Space Quest.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I saw a developer session by Charles Cecil a couple of years ago, and there’s something he said which has always stuck with me: “What adventures did back then, and still do brilliantly now, is they entwine the story within the gameplay. They’re absolutely, inextricably linked, and they drive each other forward.”

      Like you said, the mechanic isn’t necessarily the reason why we love adventures – it’s for reasons like this! Everybody loves being told a story and there’s possibly no other genre which does it quite as well. I played a short section of Unforeseen Incidents at an expo last year and it has been on my wishlist since; I really need to do something about that soon!

      Liked by 1 person

      • That quote resonated with me a lot because I most games quite rigidly stick to a gameplay… story… gameplay… story loop. I often find it quite jarring. It’s something that I wrote about when I started blogging (still quite recently). The Cecil quote is beautifully succinct in summarising why adventures can work so well.

        Like

        • I started playing video games as a kid because I was an avid reader; adventure games felt like a natural progression, because the genre told its stories in a way that wasn’t completely disassociated from its gameplay. I appreciate other types of releases too now that I’m older but it’s always adventures that I return to and Cecil’s quote pretty much sums up the reason why. πŸ™‚

          Liked by 1 person

    • Yes you are that Monkey Island blogger! Apologies for not mentioning you specifically – I was typing on my phone and was afraid of losing my big block of text by hunting for you! πŸ˜‰

      I read a few other of your posts whilst I was there… Which is why the Monkey wrench reference was in my head πŸ˜‚ Your stuff’s great.. Everyone should go and check your posts!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Haha, no worries! I kind of liked the subtlety of it 😁

    Aw thanks for the nice comments (amuses me that my monkey wrench ramble got into your subconscience πŸ˜‚). That might encourage me to be a bit less lazy and write more, ahem.

    Liked by 1 person

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