Wednesday, December 31, 2014

ResidualVM 0.2.0 "Deliverance" Is Out Now

To end 2014 with a bang, ResidualVM, the project that aims to support 3D adventure games on a wide range of modern computer platforms, has just received its latest stable release.

This release brings Myst III: Exile support, fixes some bugs in Grim Fandango, and adds game data verification on first launch (so that you'll know if your game data was copied correctly from your CDs).  There are builds available for Windows, Linux and OS X.

In the unstable builds of ResidualVM, Escape from Monkey Island is also completable with a few glitches.  The ResidualVM team is going to continue to work to get that game supported in 2015.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Codename Cygnus Has Been Updated With a Free Episode Designed by Dave Grossman

It seems that Dave Grossman joining Reactive Studios brought some interesting changes to their Codename Cygnus interactive audio adventure.

The latest update for iOS and Android brings a new mission to their spy drama, Holiday Party.  It's the first story designed by Dave Grossman, and it makes many changes to make the series less linear, and more interactive.  According to their blog it adds multiple choices for paths through the plot, leading to three different endings.

The best part is it's free to download.  You just have to download the app, and you can download and jump right into this episode.  You don't have to purchase the rest of the episodes to play this one.  It's a nice holiday treat from Reactive Studios and Dave Grossman, and is a sample of the experimental ideas that Dave Grossman is going to be bringing to the table during his tenure at Reactive.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 Chapter 4 Is Out Now

The Steam Early Access version of Book of Unwritten Tales 2 has been updated with Book Four. This chapter is said to be perhaps the longest chapter in the game, with most locations having two playable characters at a time, while the end of the chapter has three.

This is the penultimate chapter of the game. The fifth and final chapter is scheduled to be released early next year.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Telltale Is Making A Minecraft Episodic Cinematic Adventure

Well this news certainly came as a surprise. Telltale has revealed their next big license acquisition, and it is Minecraft.

Minecraft: Story Mode will be an episodic cinematic adventure that is choice and consequence based, like their other episodic series since the release of The Walking Dead.  The developer of the block based sandbox game, Mojang, is working with Telltale to make sure the game feels like Minecraft, but they're not going to be establishing any Minecraft lore with this.  They stated that they're "not intending on creating an “official” story for Steve (the player character in Minecraft), or explaining the world of Minecraft in detail".

No other details have been revealed yet, other than the platforms and general release date. The first episode will be released some time in 2015, and will be available on Xbox consoles, PlayStation consoles, PC, Mac, iOS, and Android-based devices.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

First Two Chapters of The Wolf Among Us Comic Available Now

The first and second chapters of Vertigo's comic adaptation of Telltale's The Wolf Among Us are available from digital comic retailer Comixology now.  The third issue is scheduled to be released on Christmas Eve, followed by the fourth chapter on New Year's Eve.  A print compilation is scheduled to be released in 2015.

CSI: Hard Evidence Review

Hard Evidence was the fourth game based on the original CSI television show, and the second developed by Telltale Games. While the last game was a large departure from the previous entries, with a presentation in three dimensional graphics for the first time, this entry was mostly the same as it's predecessor, though there were some noticeable improvements.

As this is Telltale's second game in the series, your character is no longer a treated as a rookie CSI, but it's left ambiguous as to whether you are the same character as before.  Grissom sometimes asks if you met someone that he introduced you to in the previous game, but the question is never answered. However, since he runs CSI, and you only worked one case each with each of the CSIs last time, it's not implausible that he doesn't remember exactly who you met before.  Because of this, you are treated as someone who is not completely new to the job, but are still new compared to the rest of the team.  However, even if you are not a rookie CSI this time, since you still have your superiors, the format from the previous game still works here.

This is Telltale's first game to incorporate a tutorial section.  It's a silly, yet fun case where you train by using the tools of the CSI crime lab to learn who stole and ate Grissom's donut.  This is a nice addition, as there are a lot of tools at your disposal.  It's nice to be shown what everything does, rather than having to read descriptions about tools and locations, and figuring it out as you go.   Plus, since the tutorial is completely optional, it doesn't get in the way for those who have played other games in this series before.

Since it was made only a year after the last game, the graphics haven't improved much.  Like it's predecessor, this game really shows it’s age graphically due to the realistic style chosen when the engine really wasn't capable of that yet.  Like 3 Dimensions of Murder, the characters do resemble their characters enough to be recognizable, but there’s definitely still some uncanny valley going on here.  There is also some obvious reuse of areas and character models.  The areas aren't bad, since it's said to be different rooms in the same hotel, but the character models are distracting, especially in one case involving four victims.  The blatant product placement in the series also really kicks into full gear here.  The Hewlett Packard computers are subtle, but all of the Visa advertisements really stand out in a bad way.

While the graphics could have used some improvement, the presentation still really feels like the show.  Like before, as you progress in the game, there are scenes with music from the show and establishment shots of Las Vegas when you move to a new location. The music in other locations was once again composed by Jared Emerson-Johnson, and, while being quite low-key, fits the game well.   Once again, all of the Hollywood-style CSI technology from the show is available for you to use in the lab, and the famous closeup shots when evidence is discovered are also once again present in the game.

However, sometimes the camera pans in on an item that is necessary to progress.  It's not quite as bad as in Back to the Future, since it only happens after a line of questioning relating to the item, and close-up shots are a big part of the CSI franchise.  However, the close-up shots still happen even if you already examined the evidence prior to questioning the witness about it, which makes the close-up shot feel redundant and unnecessary.

This game continues on from the last, requiring you to scan locations for evidence and then using various lab tools to run the evidence looking for clues.  However, this time, the tools are more streamlined, and less confusing.  You now have a PDA which can choose which location to visit, examine evidence, read the case file, and receive messages from supervisors.  But the best improvement is in the tools themselves.  When you choose the detection and collection menus, only the tools of a certain type are selectable based on your evidence.  You still have to select the right tool for the job, based on the tool's description, but since the only tools presented are the ones that can be used for what you're trying to do, chances are you'll hear the "that's not the right tool for that" line less often than before.  Computers now also flash when you are able to use a piece of evidence on them.  Usually you are told that you can't scan evidence because it hasn't been fully processed yet, which works well, and helps to alert you that you haven't completed everything necessary to move on.  However, sometimes you can't examine evidence, and you're told you don't have the warrant for that yet when that reasoning makes no sense in context, other than for plot necessity.

The repetitiveness of the "way to be thorough" line from the last game is solved in a clever way in this game.  You can still check areas with no evidence, but rather than repeating the line, it's only said once and the rest of the time an indicator comes up telling you that you got a thoroughness point.  These points are counted up, along with how well you did investigating and questioning witnesses with your final performance review by Grissom at the end of each case.

The collectables make their first appearance in a Telltale game here.  In the show, Grissom likes to collect bugs, so you can find bugs in the game.  Finishing each case, collecting all the bugs, and achieving master ranking on all the cases gets you trailers, storyboards, and concept art.  This is a precursor to things in later Telltale games like the stickers won in the bonus games in the Sam & Max seasons and the collectibles and awesomeness rankings in Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People.

Once again, they got most of the original voices to do the voices of the characters here, which again really helps to give it the feel of playing five episodes of the show.  The deliveries here are a bit better than in the first game, as the lines said by the show's cast are delivered in a slightly less dry manner, and seem more natural.  The suspects are are again voiced well too, with some later Telltale regulars appearing such as Gavin Hammon (who delivers an excellent performance as the new age hippy Ed Freeborn).  Most of the time, the dialog does a great job of drawing you into the game.  However, sometimes dialog cuts off early, particularly in the tutorial section.

The cases are interesting, and would fit right in with the show, though there's nothing quite as clever as the case involving a popular video game series that was in the previous game.  There's still no overarching plot, but the last case again connects to previous cases.  Though none of the cases quite hit the high of the best case of the previous game, the cases are all still interesting in their own right, and the improvements in the game design over the original make up for the lack of a real standout case.  The design is streamlined to make the game less confusing and more fun to play, the repetitive dialog is trimmed down, the original cast seems to be getting used to their voice roles, as they put in a more natural performance, and the supporting cast is good as well.  The game successfully uses music from the show, and the additional music by Jared Emerson-Johnson, while low-key, fits the game perfectly.

Once again, this game isn't for anyone.  All of the improvements did nothing to make this game more enticing to those who don't like the CSI franchise, or at least like Hollywood's style of exaggerated crime scene investigation techniques.  If you do like these kind of shows, you'll most likely enjoy this game.  If you don't like them, then you won't like this game either, since it follows the formula so closely.

Final Verdict:

3½ out of 5

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Kickstarter To Make Theresa Duncan Adventures Playable Free

There is a kickstarter campaign running now to make the three adventure games created by Theresa Duncan (Chop Suey, Smarty, and Zero Zero) available for free online, for a minimum of one year.  These games were pioneers of their time, but they are now obscure, and long out of print.  They targeted young girls in the mid-1990's when the market catered almost exclusively to young boys.  They were story based adventure games and revolve around search and discovery.  They were also well received when they were released.  Chop Suey was named the 1995 CD-ROM of the Year by Entertainment Weekly.

Sadly, Theresa Duncan passed away in 2007, but this Kickstarter aims to make sure that her games continue to be able to be enjoyed by the next generation of children.  If this sounds like a campaign you're interested in, head over to the Theresa Duncan CD-ROMs kickstarter and pick a pledge tier.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Sam & Max: Bright Side of the Moon Review

After a slow start, Telltale's first foray into the world of Sam & Max began picking up steam by the middle of the first season.  The first season finale wraps things up in spectacular fashion.

The episode picks up right where the final episode left off, with Sam finally piecing together who is behind the events of the season.  As it was revealed in the final shot of the penultimate episode, Telltale lets Sam go through a whole complicated, nonsensical reasoning as to who the villain could be when the clues are quite obvious. This dialog is the closest Telltale has ever gotten to the feel of the conversations in the comics, in my opinion.  However, although the hint towards the identity of the villain is supposed to be obvious, as it’s a mnemonic device that’s often taught in schools. If you don’t know it, Sam’s reasoning as to who the villain could be could be seen as too nonsensical.

In this episode, the duo travel to the moon, and experience one of the most bizarre, yet fun adventures of their career.  Their journey to the moon is not explained.  However, as Sam & Max often go through time and space without explanations in the comics, this fits perfectly in their universe.  This isn't their first journey to the moon, since these games are based on the comic universe. If you still wonder how they got to the moon after playing this episode, I suggest reading the comic (or watching the television episode based on the comic) Bad Day on the Moon (which was foreshadowed throughout the entire season by a picture from that comic story in the office).  I don’t personally feel that this explanation is necessary though (since explanations are often not given in the Sam & Max universe), and feel it worked fine as shown in the episode. Since the duo already know how to get there, having Max just point to the moon at the end of the credit sequence actually worked well, and was a fun little deviation from the norm.

The new environments on the moon are all done really well, and have a lot of personality to them. This is the furthest that Sam & Max have ever gone towards mysticism in the games, so the environments and puzzles don't conform to real world logic.  The puzzles are really fun, however, especially the puzzles involving the magical talismans and those involving Max.  The puzzles aren’t for everybody, because they don’t follow real life logic at all, but I felt they followed the logic of the Sam & Max universe well. Plus, it let the Telltale team think outside of the box, and get really creative. I personally thought they were all really enjoyable.

There are no new characters, but the returning cast is used well. I especially like the fact that Harry Moleman’s character is fleshed out here since we didn’t get to know him very well in his previous episode. The people that follow the cult of the villain are an unusual mix, but they’re reasons for being there all fit their personality. I especially liked Superball, as the dialog contrasts with his personality wonderfully. Sybil’s job here is the best of the season. It’s so off-the-wall, but it fits the absurdity of the Sam & Max universe perfectly. I liked Bosco the best here this season too. The deployment of his invention was among the funniest of the season.  The villain of the season was perfect as well. I like how Telltale did a bait-and-switch by having the first episode have a different villain than the rest of the season, but there are still clues throughout all the episodes as to who the real villain is. I always liked that character, but even more so as a villain.

The humor here is also really great, and the characters get a chance to be portrayed in a way they hadn't been before.  All of the voice actors were able to shine, voicing their characters in multiple ways.  William Kasten in particular did a great job doing subtly different voices of Max.  The music was equally excellent, including a superb end credits song that actually continued the plot of the game into the credits. The War Song may be my favorite musical number of the season, but World of Max is my favorite song. Jared Emerson-Johnson and Bay Area Sound did a great job with all of the music in this season, and they finished it off wonderfully in this episode.

Bright Side of the Moon is my favorite episode of the first season.  The quality of the episodes in Season One kept improving since episode 4, and that trend continued here. The puzzles were fun, and the new environments were fantastic.  The characters were the funniest they had been all season, thanks in no small part to the multi-layered portrayal by the voice actors.  The music was also fantastic, fitting into the plot of the game seamlessly.  This episode was an excellent way to end the season.

Final Verdict:

4½ out of 5

Episode Five ReviewSam & Max Beyond Time and Space (Season 2) Episode 1 Review

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Etheron, from the creators of Riven, is on Kickstarter

The Etheron Kickstarter seeks crowdfunding for a virtual reality adventure game for Oculus Rift and PlayStation 4, by the creators of the classic adventure game Riven.  There is a week to go, and they are just over $20,000 short of their $35,800 USD goal.  So, if this sounds like something you want to support, head over to the Etheron Kickstarter and choose a pledge level.

Kickstarter for Victor, a steampunk adventure game

The Victor Kickstarter is on now, crowdfunding a hand drawn point and click steampunk adventure game starring a wild boar Viktor who is on a quest to become the Emperor of Austria-Hungary.  There is 6 days left in the campaign, and they are a quarter of a way to making their $10,000 USD goal.  So, head over to the Victor Kickstarter to pick a pledge level and help make this game a reality.

The Crow's Eye Kickstarter Campaign

The Crow's Eye Kickstarter campaign is on now.  There are two days and $34,000 USD left to fund this first-person terror adventure game with hints of crafting, that is full of suspense and which rewards investigation.  Head over to The Crow's Eye Kickstarter to pick a pledge tier and help the team reach their goal.

To Azimuth Is On Kickstarter

The To Azimuth Kickstarter is a crowd funding campaign for an alien abduction mystery adventure game following two siblings as they search for their brother in the humid haze of 1970's Alabama.  It is almost halfway to it's $20,000 USD goal with 4 days left to go.  So, if this sounds like a game you'd like to play, head over to the To Azimuth Kickstarter and pick a pledge tier.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Book of Unwritten Tales Chapter 4 Coming December 18

Nordic Games has revealed on the Steam forums that chapter four of The Book of Unwritten Tales will be released on December 18, 2014. The final chapter, chapter five, is scheduled to be released early next year.

Game of Thrones: Iron From Ice Is Out On Android

The first episode of Game of Thrones, Iron From Ice, is out now for Android on the Google Play store and Amazon.

That Dragon, Cancer Kickstarter Campaign

That Dragon, Cancer Kickstarter is a crowdfunding campaign for a point and click adventure game that was created as a show of the developer's love for his son and his four year fight with cancer. It was created to inspire us to love each other and as a voice for those fighting cancer. The game is designed in the style of a 3d point-and-click adventure game, without the puzzles. The objective of the player is not to solve problems, but simply to be present in each moment. The game is currently funded, with a day left to go, so there's still time to head over to the That Dragon, Cancer Kickstarter page and pick a tier to back it.

Tales from the Borderlands: Zero Sum Is Now Out On iOS

Tales from the Borderlands: Zero Sum, the first episode of Telltale's cinematic adventure, is now available for iOS devices on iTunes.

It is also coming for Android and Vita, but release dates for these versions have not yet been announced.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

David Fox and Ken Macklin Join the Thimbleweed Park Team!

More maniacs have joined the team for Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick's Thimbleweed Park.

The first is Ken Macklin, who designed the cover for Maniac Mansion. He will be doing the cover for Thimbleweed Park as well.

The second is the creator of Zak McKracken, David Fox. He worked on Maniac Mansion as well, doing most of the SCUMM scripting for the game, and is apparently the one we have to thank for the hamster in the microwave joke.

So if you haven't backed yet, or want to move up a pledge tier, now's the perfect time to head over to the kickstarter and back the game.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Syberia Is Now On PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360

The re-releases of classic adventure games continue, as the 2002 adventure game, Syberia, has been ported to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.  It is available now through Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network in both North America and Europe.

Monday, December 8, 2014

King's Quest Reveal Trailer

The reveal trailer for The Odd Gentlemen's upcoming King's Quest game is here. The game, which is set after the events of Mask of Eternity, has King Graham telling his grand daughter about the adventures he had when he was younger. It is scheduled to be published by Activision's newly revived Sierra label in Fall 2015. The other game that was announced to be published by Sierra when the revival of the brand was revealed, Geometry Wars 3, was released late last month.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Day of the Tentacle Special Edition Announced

Remember the news that LucasArts cancelled a Day of the Tentacle Special Edition that was being developed by LucasArts Singapore? Well, today that story has a happy ending, as we are going to be getting a DOTT SE after all, developed by Double Fine!

At the PlayStation Experience, Sony announced this news, and also that Grim Fandango Remastered would be releasing on January 27, 2015, and Broken Age will be coming to PS4 and Vita after Act II releases on Steam. The Double Fine Presents title, Gang Beasts, will also be coming to PlayStation 4 next year.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Game of Thrones: Iron from Ice Is Out Now

The first episode of Game of Thrones, Iron From Ice, is out now on PC through the Telltale Store and Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One. It will release tomorrow on iOS, and on December 9 for PlayStation 3 worldwide. Like Tales from the Borderlands before it, the Mac release has been delayed. No release date for the Mac or Android versions have been set.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Randal's Monday is 10% off on Steam

Randal's Monday, the adventure in which the title character must live the worst day of his life over and over again in order to get back a cursed ring, was just released earlier this month. It features the voice of Jeff Anderson as Randal Hicks, in a nod to his character of Randal in the Clerks series as well as his partner in crime, Dante Hicks. It's available for $25 on GOG.com and is currently 10% off the usual $25 price on Steam.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Game of Thrones: Iron From Ice Release Dates

The first episode of Game of Thrones, Iron From Ice, now has release dates.  It will be available on December 2 on PC/Mac through the Telltale Store and Steam.  On December 3, it will release for the PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One worldwide.  On December 4, it will release for iOS, and then on December 9 it will release for the PlayStation 3 worldwide.  It will also be coming to Android at an as of yet unannounced date in December.

Dreamfall Chapters Book Two: Rebels Announcement Trailer

Dreamfall Chapters, the third game in The Longest Journey series just had the first chapter, Reborn, released last month.  Now, the title of the second chapter, is revealed to be Rebels.  The announcement trailer contains footage of Chapter One, bringing people up to speed on the game so far, as well as some footage of Chapter Two to give people a taste of what's to come.

Dreamfall Chapters Book Two: Rebels doesn't have a release date yet, but Red Thread Games states that it is coming soon.

Hero-U Will Be Released On October 15, 2015

The Coles have posted a release date for Hero-U, the adventure-RPG hybrid set in the land of the Quest for Glory series, which focuses on a rogue who has to choose whether to continue his path to become a thief or whether to become a hero.

Music for the game is now estimated to be 90% completed, and Lori Ann Cole is making good progress on the writing for the game.  Because Lori Ann and Corey Cole now feel confident in the game's progress to set a release date, they have scheduled Hero-U's release for October 15, 2015.

Broken Age Act II Will Be Released Early Next Year

Greg Rice has posted an update on the release of the second act of Broken Age. Both Shay and Vella's half of Act II is now in alpha, and the finale is expected to get to an alpha state by the end of this year. On top of that, Shay's half of Act II has the voice overs and animation in, so it's heading towards beta. The last recording session for Vella's half of Act II is happening now, so the animation for all of the voice overs can now be done, which will allow the rest of the game to head towards beta as well. Since the game is now playable in alpha state to the finale, and they're now almost wrapped with the remainder of the development of the game, that means that they're now aiming to release of Broken Age Act II early next year.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Tales from the Borderlands Zer0 Sum Is Out Now

Update November 26: The Xbox 360 date has been moved up to correspond with the Xbox One date, so it's now available worldwide on PC, Xbox 360, and Xbox One, and for PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 in North America. The Mac and European PSN versions still have yet to release.

Telltale's Tales from the Borderlands page is now live, and you can buy and play the PC version right now.  The Mac version is not ready yet, but it's coming soon.  Steam will get the PC release later today, as will PSN for PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 in North America.  It will then be released for Xbox One on November 26, and for Xbox 360 and on PSN for PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 in Europe on December 3.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Shadowgate Remake Includes Original Shadowgate and Deja Vu

For a limited time current owners of the Shadowgate remake as well as those who buy it while the deal is going on will get the original black and white 128k Mac versions and the colorized Apple IIGS versions of both Shadowgate and Deja Vu for free. If you want these games and haven't purchased the Shadowgate remake yet, now is the time to take advantage of this deal as the Shadowgate Remake is currently on sale on Steam for $6.99 USD, 65% off it's usual $19.99 USD price.

If you purchase the game from Steam, you can find the original games in their Steam directories:

Windows:
C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\SteamApps\common\Shadowgate\retro

Mac:
~/Library/Application Support/Steam/SteamApps/common/Shadowgate/Retro

Downfall Remake Is Coming, Original Downfall Is Now Free

Downfall was the first game by Harvester Games, the creator of The Cat Lady.  It follows Joe Davis, who stops with his wife Ivy for the night at Quiet Haven Hotel, only to find it's not as quiet as he hoped when things start to go wrong.  The story will remain mostly the same, but the most paths leading up to main events will be changed and the dialog has been re-written to make them more interactive in the vein of The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us.  It will also have the scrolling and keyboard mechanics of The Cat Lady rather than the point and click control of the original.

The original Downfall is now available to download legally, free of charge.

Kelvin and the Infamous Machine on Kickstarter

The Kelvin and the Infamous Machine Kickstarter is a crowdfunding campaign for a comedy adventure game featuring a time machine made from a standup shower.  The humor is inspired by Day of the Tentacle, and they aim to capture the whimsy of the early 1990's LucasArts adventures.  They are currently about half way to their $20,000 USD goal, with 17 days to go.  So, if this sounds like something that interests you, head to the Kelvin and the Infamous Machine Kickstarter, and pick a pledge tier.

Dave Grossman Joins Reactive Studios

IGN is reporting that Dave Grossman, who recently left Telltale and joined the Duke Grabowski team as a co-designer, has joined Reactive Studios as the chief creative officer.

Reactive Studios is known for their episodic interactive radio spy drama Codename: Cygnus, which was funded through a successful kickstarter campaign. It plays like a choose your own adventure style of game, with branching paths depending on techniques chosen to complete mission objectives. The game shows a tally of these techniques, such as bold vs. secretive or stealthy vs. athletic, adjusting them as you make each decision.

It really does seem like a role suited towards Dave Grossman, and I wish him the best of luck at his new position.

Game of Thrones Available for Preorder

Game of Thrones, Telltale's upcoming 6 episode series based on the HBO series which is based on the A Song of Ice and Fire novel series, is now available to pre-order on Steam for the pre-order discount of 10% off the usual $30 USD price.  A teaser trailer has also been released, showing the graphics in action, and can be seen above.  The first episode, Iron From Ice, is scheduled to be released in December.

Publisher Axes Unannounced Double Fine Game, 12 Laid Off

Double Fine's publisher woes haven't improved as of late it seems, as Gamasutra is reporting that one of Double Fine's unannounced projects was unexpectedly cancelled by its publisher, which led to them having to lay off 12 people.

Tim Schafer states that "Broken Age, Massive Chalice, and Grim Fandango Remastered, were unaffected".

Hopefully those affected get back on their feet soon and I wish them the best of luck in the future.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Evolution of Adventure Games Part IV: Keypad Control

While Japan's adventures were evolving away from text parsers to menus, adventures in the west were doing something quite similar.

In the early 1980's, Sierra On-line began releasing adventures marketed towards children that were adventures with text narration and static graphics but didn't use a parser.  The first of these was Dragon's Keep in 1982. It was marketed as a hi-res learning game, a children's game extension of their hi-res adventures line.  Rather than having a text parser, there was a menu available which let the player choose which action to take next, in a choose your own adventure style.  This engine would be used in Sierra's other children's adventures, including the first adventure games released under Sierra's contract with Disney, until 1984.  

The western market began to evolve in it's own direction with the release of Sierra's King's Quest in 1984.  This game used the Adventure Game Interpreter (AGI) engine, which shared some components with the Dragon's Keep engine, but had a parser and added a direct controlled protagonist.  This addition meant that the game presentation was switched to a first person perspective to a third person perspective.  Third person perspective adventures remain the most popular style of adventures today.

George Lucas founded the Lucasfilm Computer Division in 1979.  Computer games continued to grow in popularity, so in 1982 he began hiring people to join the games group within the computer division, which became Lucasfilm Games and then later LucasArts.  Their first adventure game was Labyrinth, based on the film of the same name. It began completely in text, but then as you entered the labyrinth, the game switched to graphics. It had a direct controlled protaganist and it didn't have a text parser. Instead it had two menus, one with a list of verbs, and another with people and objects to interact with.  This verb object interface would later be refined in their later games created with the Script Utility for Maniac Mansion.

These types of adventures went out of popularity by the end of the 1980's, but as with all forms of entertainment, there are still a small group of people who still make games in these styles. The menu based text adventure gameplay is used in some mobile ports of text adventure engines. There is also a group of fans that still make games using tools that have reverse engineered Sierra's AGI engine so that they can create games using that engine themselves.

Back to Part IIIOn To Part V

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Evolution of Adventure Games Part III: Visual Novels

Adventure games were popular in the early days of the computer industry in North America and Europe, but they didn't immediately catch on in Japan.  There were a few produced in that region, but the early releases didn't catch on with the gaming public.

ASCII released the first text adventures produced in Japan, Omotesando Adventure and Minami Aoyama Adventure, in 1982. These adventure games had limited popularity, and ASCII wouldn't produce another entry in the adventure game genre for several years.  However, when the adventure game genre evolved into the visual novel and became popular with Japanese gaming fans, ASCII continued producing adventure games in this format into the 2000's. ASCII as a separate entity ceased to exist in 2008 when they were absorbed by Media Works, forming ASCII Media Works.  ASCII Media Works has continued to produce visual novels, and still does so today.

The obscurity of adventure games in Japan was fated to be changed after Yuji Horii created The Portopia Serial Murder Case, which was released by Enix in 1983.  It was a hit, especially the 1985 Famicom version which had a point and click menu based interface (which was similar to a three part episodic adventure series released from 1983 to 1984 by T&E Soft titled Legend of Star Arthur). It's success inspired other developers to create similar games. Enix continued to release adventure games and as the genre evolved to visual novels, they continued releasing them. In 2003, Enix merged with Square to become Square Enix.  Square Enix continues to develop visual novels today.

While we're on the subject of Square, it should be mentioned that they also created influential early adventure games. Their first game was a text adventure with static graphics, The Death Trap.  It was released in 1984, before Square was founded as a separate entity.  The 1985 sequel, Will: The Death Trap II, was one of the first animated computer games.  As the genre evolved to visual novels, they continued releasing them. As stated above, in 2003, Square became Square Enix, and continues to release visual novels to this day.

The success of The Portopia Serial Murder Case led to the creation of games which would become known as visual novels.  Although they both started from the same style of text adventures, adventure games evolved differently in Japan as opposed to the adventure games in the west.

Whereas adventures in the west focused on puzzles, in Japan, adventures evolved based on the narrative of text adventures, sharing the choose your own adventure aspect of these games, where the narrative is laid out to the player, and the player interacts with the game to keep the narrative flowing. These types of games became known as visual novels. One of the first influential developers of this new visual novel style of adventure was Hideo Kojima at Konami.  Inspired by The Portopia Serial Murder Case, he created Snatcher, which was released in 1988.  Konami continued releasing visual novels, including Hideo Kojima's own Policenauts in 1994.  They still continue to release visual novels today.

Visual novels are still popular in Japan, and their popularity has increased in the west as well.  One of the companies responsible for the increase of western localizations for visual novels is Capcom.  Although they have been developing visual novels since 1986, it was the Ace Attorney series that was responsible for this spike in western popularity.  The series began in 2001, but when the Nintendo DS remakes were released in 2006, they received an official English translation.  The games proved to be more popular in the west than expected, which led to more official translations.

The amount of translations of visual novels into English has dropped in recent years, but they still continue to be a driving force in Japan, still claiming the majority of sales in the home computer market.  After the 1990's Western adventure games wouldn't share in that popularity, but they also evolved from their text adventure roots to the adventures that are still developed today, although in a much different style than their Japanese counterparts.

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Friday, November 21, 2014

The Evolution of Adventure Games Part II: Static Graphics

By the end of the 1970's, adventure games had started to become more than just text, and were displaying static graphics. The first game to do this was Mystery House, developed by the husband and wife team of Roberta and Ken Williams.  Roberta designed the game and drew the simple line graphics required by the program at the time and Ken programmed it and converted the images.  The two founded On-line Systems in 1979 and shipped the game out of their house, originally in a simple bag with a floppy disk containing the game and a sheet of paper describing it. The game was a success, eventually selling 10,000 copies, which was a bonafide hit in the early days of the home computer market.

This led to the formation of the Hi-Res Adventure line, which would continue the concept of Mystery House, with gradually improving graphics, until 1983.  The Williams' On-line Systems would become Sierra On-line and later Sierra Entertainment, becoming one of the leading developers and publishers of computer games until the studio was closed by then-owners Vivendi Universal in 1999.

As I had eluded to in the first part of this article, this style of game was also adapted by other adventure game developers.  Adventure International began the Scott Adams Graphic Adventures line in 1982, re-releasing the original adventures with graphics.  The games published by the studio would continue to be released in both formats, with the text only games released in the Scott Adams Classic Adventures line, until the studio closed in 1985.  All of the Scott Adams Classic Adventures can now be freely downloaded from the Scott Adams Grand Adventures website.

This style of game would also be adapted by the other driving force in text adventures, Infocom. They had first started dabbling in graphics in 1987, with the release of Beyond Zork, which was comprised of text, displayed inside a border, and a simple onscreen map displayed unobtrusively in the upper right hand corner of the screen. The company would go the full route of static images in 1988, and would continue releasing games in this style until the studio was closed by Activision in 1989.

This style of adventure game would go out of favor by the end of the 1980's, as games without a parser had begun to gain dominance and adventures had begun to shift towards third person graphic adventure games where the game's protagonist could be controlled by the player. However, as with text adventures, this style of game hasn't been completely abandoned.  There are a still a handful of developers still releasing text adventures with static graphics, both for free and commercially.

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