Adventure game

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Adventure screenshot.jpg
Adventure game
Developer See Adventure games
Publisher See Adventure games
Platforms See Adventure games
Released 1973-present
Added to
See Adventure games

Adventure game is a video game genre, named after Colossal Cave Adventure, better known simply as Adventure.

Early history

The text adventure creation engine, Wander, was written by Peter Langston in HP Time-Shared BASIC, likely on an HP 2000, in 1973. He converted it to the C programming language in 1974. The first game developed with Wander, Castle, was released in 1974. It contains many of the hallmarks of the adventure game genre, including story-based gameplay, an inventory, and puzzles.

1973 also saw the release of Hunt the Wumpus by Gregory Yob. This game was not purely a text adventure, but it did contain some elements that were present in text adventures including multiple rooms accessible by using a text parser. It also contained bats that transported you to a random room. These elements, including the transporting bats, appeared in later adventure games.

Colossal Cave Adventure

The adventure style of games became popularized, and the genre got its name, when Will Crowther developed Colossal Cave Adventure from 1975 to 1976 and released it on the ARPANET (the precursor to the internet). It was expanded with permission by Don Woods in 1977 and became so popular that it inspired many game designers to create their own games in this style.

Because of the technical limitations of computers at the time, the filename for Colossal Cave Adventure was "ADVENT". Because of the common shortening of the game's filename, the game became widely known as either Advent or Adventure, leading to the name of the adventure genre.

Text adventures

The first adventure games, also known as interactive fiction, were completely text-based because of the limitations of the computers of the time, which could not display graphics. This led to a novel way to experience games, which were written out as descriptive passages, like paragraphs in a novel, and users would input commands that would branch the story based on the command chosen. This was very similar in practice to a concept that was happening concurrently in print books, which themselves began with the release of Edward Packard's Sugarcane Island in 1976, which was originally known as Adventures of You but later became known as Choose Your Own Adventures.

Colossal Cave Adventure inspired Scott Adams, who founded Adventure International with his wife Alexis to sell their adventure games. Adventure International released Adventureland in 1978, which was the first commercially published adventure game. Adventure International continued to produce and sell text adventure games until they went bankrupt in 1985 as a result of the North American video game crash of 1983. Scott Adams returned to creating commercial text adventures in 2000 and published two text adventures through Scott Adams Grand Adventures.

Colossal Cave Adventure also inspired members of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology modeling group, who created an adventure game titled Dungeon. It was renamed to its prototype title, Zork, due to a trademark claim by the owners of the Dungeons and Dragons franchise. It was developed on a mainframe computer, with a larger storage capacity than home computers at the time. Three of the game's four co-creators, Tim Anderson, Marc Blank, and Dave Lebling, founded Infocom in 1979 to sell Zork commercially on home computers. To do so, they created the Z-code scripting language and broke up the game into three parts. The first, Zork I, was released in 1980.

Adventure games with static graphics

By the end of the 1970s, 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 considered a 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 Games in 1999.

Text adventure games with static graphics were also produced 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.

This style of game would also be adapted by the other driving force in text adventures, Infocom. They first started adding graphics capability to their z-code scripting language in 1987, with the release of Beyond Zork. It 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.

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 (表参道アドベンチャー) in 1982 and Minami Aoyama Adventure (南青山アドベンチャー), in 1983. However, these adventure games had limited popularity.

Yuji Horii created The Portopia Serial Murder Case (ポートピア連続殺人事件 Portopia Renzoku Satsujin Jiken), which was released by Enix in 1983. It was a hit, especially the 1985 Family Computer version which had a point-and-click menu-based interface.

Another adventure game of this type was the three-part episodic adventure series released from 1983 to 1984 by T&E Soft titled Legend of Star Arthur (スターアーサー伝説, Sutāāsā Densetsu). Its success inspired other developers to create similar games.

Square also created influential early adventure games. Their first game was a text adventure with static graphics, The Death Trap (ザ・デストラップ). It was released in 1984 before Square was founded as a legal entity. The 1985 sequel, Will: The Death Trap II (ウィル デス・トラップII, was one of the first animated computer games.

The success of The Portopia Serial Murder Case, and games like it, led to an evolution of the adventure game genre. 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 adventure games in the West focused on puzzles, in Japan, adventures evolved based on the narrative of text adventures. They shared 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.

Keypad-controlled adventure games

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

In the early 1980s, 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 Adventure line. Rather than having a text parser, there was a menu available that 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 its own direction with the release of Sierra's King's Quest in 1984. This game used the AGI (Adventure Game Interpreter) 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 from a first-person perspective to a third-person perspective.

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 the player entered the labyrinth, the game switched to graphics. It had a direct-controlled protagonist 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 with which to interact.

Mouse-controlled adventure games

As adventures in the West continued to evolve beyond their text adventure roots, developers were looking towards new ways to let the player interact with their games.

In the mid-1980s, developers began making adventure games controlled entirely by using a mouse. These early mouse-controlled adventures still had the verb and noun structure of text adventures, but actions were done by using the mouse to choose the words or icons on the screen. The earliest mouse-controlled adventure game was the 1984 black-and-white Macintosh adventure, Enchanted Scepters, by Silicon Beach Software. It was like text adventures with static graphics. However, objects would be picked up by directly clicking on them on the screen. Like many keypad-controlled graphic adventures of the time, actions were selected by a drop-down list. However, the actions were selected from drop-down lists from the Macintosh menu bar via mouse cursor rather than through drop-down lists displayed on the game screen.

The first adventure game that displayed verbs on the game screen was the 1985 adventure, Déjà Vu, by ICOM Simulations. It still had the black-and-white graphics of the early Macintosh systems, and it still used the verb and noun system, but commands were no longer selected through the Macintosh system menu. The game was controlled completely in the game itself. The mouse cursor was used to select a verb from a list, which would then be used with an object which would also be selected with the mouse. The objects could be selected in the game display or inside of the inventory.

Independently of ICOM, Lucasfilm Games was also developing a mouse-controlled adventure. Released in 1987, Maniac Mansion introduced SCUMM (Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion), which has been popularized by the fan-created virtual machine, ScummVM. Most importantly, Maniac Mansion displayed its verb and inventory bars within the game screen itself. Maniac Mansion also stuck to its text adventure roots, by displaying the verb and noun selection in the text above the verb bar. This would set the standard which was used by most adventure games until the late 1990s.

As the mouse was gaining popularity, Sierra began to include optional mouse support in their adventure games. Sierra began porting adventure games created with their AGI (Adventure Game Interpreter) engine to the Amiga in 1986. The Amiga version of this engine allowed for optional mouse control of the player character. This functionality has been extended by some fan-created AGI interpreters, such as NAGI and ScummVM. The fan interpreters allow mouse control of characters in most AGI games, as in Sierra's Amiga AGI interpreter, even those that did not originally include that function. When Sierra switched to the more capable SCI (Sierra's Creative Interpreter) engine in 1988, the optional ability to control the playable character with a mouse was present on all platforms. The text parser was originally hidden from view until the player began typing, but as time went on, the SCI engine was improved, the text parser was removed, and games were controlled completely by the mouse. All of the 2D adventures by Sierra from the time SCI was introduced used a variant of that engine.

Mouse-controlled adventure games became the standard after the release of these games and continued to be the standard for two-dimensional computer adventure games well into the 21st century.