Op-ed: Adventure Games

A few months ago when George Lucas sold the Star Wars franchise to Disney the internet was all abuzz about having their childhoods ruined. What will Disney do with the Star Wars franchise? Can it really can it be any worse than episodes 1-3? Can I now consider Leia my favorite Disney princess?

                                                                 One of these things is not like the other

Adventure? Excitement? A Jedi craves not these things

I am particularly curious about LucasArts IP. That was my childhood. I still have my official Rebel Assault baseball cap! My real favorites were all the adventure games. It seemed as I grew older adventure games kind of faded away. Thankfully, the genre recently experienced a resurgence in popularity and I found, if I had just done a little digging, adventure games never really went away.

Legally Reliving your Adventurous Childhood

Surprisingly there are actually many ways to legally obtain your old favorites and get them up and running on modern operating systems and, in some cases, consoles. Fans and developers will never let the Lucas games fade away. SCUMMVM (Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion) is a virtual machine based on the original Lucas engine that can run the old LucasArts games (and now other studios as well) on the new operating systems. Many titles are available legally on the main site for free or, if you are a hoarder like me, you can still use your old CD ROMs.  

Steam has several of the old LucasArts titles available. I just picked up a pack with The Dig, Loom and the Indiana Jones titles. Steam also has packs for the old Sierra adventure games such as King’s Quest and Space Quest. The Sierra games were some of my favorites as a young child. Going back and trying to play through them again now hasn’t been as fun. I tried King’s Quest I and III and they felt much more dated, slow (as in lots of walking around and nothing going on), and not quite as humorous. I do still have a soft spot in my heart for the first adventure game I ever played: Goldrush! My dad, aunt, uncle and I will never get back the hour of our lives trying to properly phrase “Put chains on wheel.”  Woohoo graphic text adventures! Goldrush! also wins for favorite fail if you couldn’t provide the license key: they actually sent your character to jail in the game!

Many adventure games are getting high quality remakes with updated graphics. LucasArts released The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition in 2009 for iOS, XBox and PC and in 2010 for PS3. It featured 3D graphics and the neat function of letting you toggle between the old and new artwork. Voice over work, featuring the cast of the later games, was also added. Monkey Island II: LeChucks’ Revenge also saw a high definition re-release.

Where Are They Now?

It is probably not a coincidence that some of my favorite game studios are staffed and even headed by the creative minds behind the LucasArts games. My two favorite studios for new adventure games are Telltale Games and Double Fine.  

According to Wikipedia (hey I research my journalism!), Telltale was founded by a group of former LucasArts employees shortly after a Sam & Max follow up they were working on was cancelled. While they were never able to wrestle back the rights to that actual game, they did eventually work with the creator of the characters and comics-Steve Purcell-on new Sam & Max games. Telltale’s Homestar Runner gets my vote for game that most needs a sequel and Telltale did an amazing job with the Walking Dead universe in their most recent release.

Double Fine, founded by Tim Schafer of LucasArts, recently made Kickstarter history raising over three million dollars (after an initial funding ask of only 400K was exceeded in mere hours) to create a new point and click adventure game. I eagerly await my copy! Their other games, while not strictly adventure, feature a lot of the same elements and are a lot of fun. I am about two hours in and loving their latest game, The Cave, that’s been brewing in the mind of Ron Gilbert (also of LucasArts) for more than 30 years. And maybe, just maybe, Disney will give him back the rights to Maniac Mansion. Long live Chuck the Plant!

                                                                              Ron Gilbert & Tim Schafer

What about those other games you said are out there if you know where to look?

So back at the Boston indie games festival last year I was happy to see lots of small developers producing adventure-like games. One developer I remembered to check out when I returned home was Wadjet Eye Games. They’re a small but prolific studio out of New York. I do tend to prefer my adventure games to be full of cute things and terrible puns. That is not exactly their style, but there is solid storytelling, interesting characters and at least the occasional one liner. To date I’ve only played Resonance and Blackwell Deception. I really enjoyed the latter and can’t wait to play the rest in the series. Resonance featured a good story but with four characters that didn’t really have any distinguishing abilities other than their occupations and needing to combine notes and conversations to get the right dialog options to open up, it seemed unnecessarily and tediously difficult at times. I still look forward to playing through their other titles as long as I have a walkthrough handy.

                                                          Resonance: I didn’t even notice that pun when I played!

Another title I just started is The Book of Unwritten Tales. It’s a German point and click adventure published by Nordic games. I’m only about an hour into the game. It has potential but hasn’t quite grabbed me as much as many of the other titles I discussed previously.

Jolly Rover by Australian developer Brawsome is another title I recently found on Steam. It’s pretty much Monkey Island with dogs but I love puns, pirates and anthropomorphic animals so I’m not really gonna complain! Brawsome also worked with Wadjet Eye on Emerald City Confidential, a noir game set in the Oz universe. That’s one title I definitely need to pick up!

                                                 Jolly Rover clearly innovates on how you solve adventure puzzles!

There is no Certainty.  There is only Adventure.

Thankfully adventure games are alive and well. Many of the old ones stand the test of time (for me anyway) and there are still new minds crafting fun games and interactive stories. If you have young children I highly recommend exposing them to these types of games. It’s what I grew up on and I turned out OK! And it really was my foundation for a life long love of games that many years later led to my house being full of consoles and pinball machines.  Now if someone would just make me a Monkey Island pinball machine...

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