>_START is usually the place to begin.
Or it was before PUSH took the lead.
On the desktop of an old Windows 98 machine there was a blurry pixel green S which looked akin to a spray-painted energy drink logo.
A portal of some sort which opened up the green code backend in a black abyss like in that Ghost in the Shell movie.
My eyes were beholden to the 90s graphic adventure long before I discovered DOS and it's bottomless well of wonders. The first sights seen were a running pixelated man figure crossing a nighttime street. A blurry mixture of purples, yellows and thin blue lines that broke up the bricks, all NPCs stood out in pronounced color by comparison.
There was an interface along the lower third of the screen unlike any I had seen with more detailed painted images of items than usual.
Before I learned this character was called Guybrush Threepwood I first had to overcome a few demo discs which came out of cereal or magazine giveaways and bargain bins. Educational point and click adventures made for someone my age who could barely use a mouse. Not all rites of passage are heroic torch lit archways worth remembering after crossing.
Einstein said nothing happens until something moves.
Whatever moods powered my actions in younger days is the funny and most forgettable part of the memory. So whatever pushed me to start forward, sit down and boot up that game a year after seeing it be played, I don't remember what motivated it. Either an abandoned outside human activity or all 'jumping games' had been exhausted but it was a good move. A time expensive move but in for a penny and all that.
All became well and from that well I did draw.
Self-aware, or tongue-in-cheek as they call it, brainteasers including puns and puzzles of the silly sort, done in strange settings such as futuristic cities, forest wonderlands, pirate islands, nottingham forest, distant planets and that sleezy toilet Larry shamefully frequented. All seemingly imbued with the same sense of tone and easy going sensibility.
You rarely needed to hurry, or these weren't the games for time savers, in fact it meant more than pausing to think for long periods. More than a few hours. Grim Fangando was go away for days and let it fester, recreate all the inventory rejections within your mind. Death was just another of 50 other dead ends and at least was something anything NEW in this game that played in inches.
These poor clueless characters were pointed, directed and dragged in literal circles for hours on end by me the guilty player, cycling through every possession and presenting it to every NPC who would respond or everything that had a name.
I would spend an hour just to be rewarded by a witty response to an unusual combination of person and item.
It was a liberating feeling to play and successfully solve a puzzle by myself after trying every available option for combination. Being on a carousal of areas visited on repeat hoping you missed something or did not attempt to use an item on something the other eight times, was the purpose to extend the games lifespan.
These games also had a terrible habit of characters only saying things once so if you spent a few days or weeks on a puzzle then you would forget who everyone was or any, IF any hints were given.
These puzzles did wear you down and consider other things to do with life.
Insertion by designer to empathise with player.
I'm sure there are a number of games that had their ideas simplified when they only had so many characters, backgrounds, budget or time to realize them. Alot of these games had less than a year of development.
Fact is these games depended on dialogue, it was a symptom of the conditions so it was where they doubled down in. Especially if they were gonna spend big on animation or even voice acting so they drew on Monty Python, Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett while across the pond those at Legend Entertainment, Ken & Reoberta Williams, Schafer, Gilbert, Lowe and Jenson moulded something of their own. Sam and Max embodied, for me, how this genre sould progress and when we got L.A Noire I thought it was natural, but that was only because Tex Murphy had fewer fans and a copy of Grim Fandango was as easy to find as the Holy Grail.
Scene influenced by the Bourne Identity
Imagine a choose your own adventure book. Imagine it's a lighthearted mystery with alot of loose pieces. Now imagine that when you hit a roadblock, a riddle, or a puzzle which halts the story, in order to progress in this imagined book you have to re-read it over and over until you do know the answer, or the evidence aligns. That's these games.
In the genres early days alternate paths and death were more present things (I played Timequest years after its release). Usually any deaths were fun or not serious at least, because they happened often. About as often as you get stuck in Myst. When death went out of fashion with these games then non-linear game design also went completely. And when it was multiple puzzles overlapping, memory was driven to weariness. A madmans furious clicking on the most minute pixel, desperate for any response.
Your valuable time and hard earned cash all await to be fulfilled behind that one character who's run out of dialogue and waits for you to give them the right thing just the exact way they want it.
Mandatory game event.
I'm sure the developers were happy with their design choices. Even if when seen or experienced on the players end they resembled an unhinged world view and humour with sadistic intent delivered with a smile.
These games succeeded in making a poor young person with no internet or reliable walkthrough, call out into the void for an answer, for a sign, or a nudge, for some direction regarding the tools available which seemed to grow more random with time. There was only silence for an answer. Or a book. The developers would argue they gave a life lesson.
Relation between media and text is purely coincidence.
In recent years these games have been made easier thanks to the HINT
website system that is vastly better than a walkthrough and you can be disciplined with yourself. I'd like to take a minute to thank those who host and made this, there has been times where you were just the right amount of vague.
Some games have even had HD release with a built-in hint system which is the ONLY way I can recommend many of these games to modern audiences.
A minor setback, another bad combo I can check off.
If you Google 'obscure adventures games' what you glimpse will be a bottomless selection of B/C/D-tier games titles that will no doubt fill me with joy and confusion until blindness or death. These long lists often make for stellar toilet reading.
Now DOS games are becoming palatable to me and I may well be truly lost to the past.
Your cursor tool was enabling the thought process which unlocked the next step. Some games would use the characters responses to help you or inform you.
These games could be an educational example of the evolution of interface in slow motion. HUD, cursor interaction & inventory management was refined here where before items selecting and combining was done in verb selection. Drag and drop was groundbreaking people.
USE hands WITH enemy
There was a real cinematic tendency in the execution of these game events. They aspired to have all the visual clues there on screen, with small scale tensions and thrills.
Objectives in games usually get tied to some greater narrative and reflect the story events but rarely do the games puzzles/activities/interactions/dialogue discuss, reflect, progress or even feel directly connected to the events of the plot or what you just did. If there was a time where games wanted the best script or story I would say that about this gaming era.
Games like Dragons Lair felt like you were just trying to get a word in at the right time, resembling an interactive driving test. The focus on timing was an odd design decision when done in this genre, poorly more often than not.
Not actual gameplay, I think.
Soon the grey fog up ahead cleared and from its limited draw distance emerged several clean 3D polygons and a realized place made for me to wander and wonder. MYST, Siberia & The Longest Journey became these dimension leaping halmarks for the genre. Later games would take on alot of what I loved from these games, another type of adventure game called Zelda would populate itself with NPC puzzles, interactions and fetch quests while game like Shenmue, Harvest Moon and even Final Fantasy absorbed these personal scaled tasks and put them in an already stuffed game. Afterwards it seemed odd to have a game based entirely around these side-activites.
One time I was poor, and away from home, working to pay for where I lived and I was under-equipped, using an ancient laptop just for the purpose of emails and spreadsheet completion. However that laptop had no issue running scummvm and I booted up Quest for Glory and it was glorious. That game is slow and clunky so any blow that gets dealt never feels felt. Yet the game is also bizarre, seemingly random at times and full of weird fantasy that seems at odds with how we nowadays classify/sum up the genre and bringing that fun twist on conventions by adding in some humour, anachronistic and democratic sensibilities. The combat is weak and a struggle. It is where the game really justifies a remake. This version was already a remake. But this game was here for me, and that's a sentiment that becomes more important the more that time passes. The more time that does pass you begin to question your preferred mode of escapism, my own was fantasy realms of magic, swords and huge kingdoms with magical forests. I was a very cool kid. This is one of those games that gives you all of these things in spade sized scoops. It was a pleasant visit.
Keep an eye out for anything
that goes with a pipe.
I would like to take this small moment to thank and congratulate the animators of these projects who did nothing short of something majestic and revolutionary with these titles and was unlike their competitors of the day and gave these games a visual connection that added charm, life and laughter to so much of the text. To this day several characters speaking animations and colorful (if limited) expressions accompanied their dialogue is how they are forever ingrained in my memory and shall forever go on to inspire and comfort me when spat back up in all their original archaic beauty
The images above need no captions.
In some of these games they make fun of their company hotline. A hotline to call for hints was a great idea but I never took it literally and I grew up far from civilisation. Back when they were around I was willing to drink in every drop of a creators work until I was willing to read their tax returns or tweets, so I'll seek out everything they were in the room for, in my attempt at trying to recapture the youthful zest it shot through my boyhood imagination.
Some may say time has not been a friend to this genre but I am always impressed by its range and flexibility. What surprises me even more is the popularity of walking sims or First-person mystery games doing leaps for interactive fiction. This does give me hope and I swear I'll finally play Firewatch tonight tomorrow.
Not actual exciting gameplay.
Recently Scummvm's anniversary celebratory update has got me excited to dive in back in and look back with gratitude, I hear Little Big Adventure has hope for a revival so I should try that one for more than the 5 minutes I did years back. I never did play Blade Runner or the Discworld games.
Play and dance away for the rest of life and for another day.
The end note of optimism is that the genre had greatly benefited from improved technology. The genre has a lot to choose from now: from old school to the new wave of adventure puzzle games which border on narrative experiences entirely. Even the 3D adventure games like Dreamfall, Vampyre Story, Machinarium, Ceville and The Walking Dead are all great experiences attempting to elasticate the genre within these greener pastures. I am very grateful that even after all the time I've put into this style of games there are still so many I have yet to try and I am excited to do so.