Enter the abyss.
|Introduction||7th Sense, The||Mickey Mauser: the Wrath of the Rat||Forge: Loom sequel|
I have to be grateful to my mother for my first encounter with adventure games. When I was only 6 years old, she bought Monkey Island, in the glorious 8-giant-floppies PC version, without me asking or suggesting it. It's been love at first sight: from that moment I've never abandoned the genre, always being a huge fan of Lucas (Maniac Mansion, Last Crusade, Fate of Atlantis, Sam&Max, Day of the Tentacle) but ranging over shortly after on Sierra (mostly Leisure Suit Larry), Delphine (Future Wars, Cruise for a Corpse) and ending up trying a bit of every company, including the brilliant amateur scene.
A bit of history
Graphic Adventures (just GA from now on) are an evolution of text adventures, where interface used to describe the environment and situations by words alone, and the player had to type on the keyboard the desired interactions. This genre is one of the oldest of all in the videoludic scene, thanks to the fact that it only requires base scripting skills and no artistic / musical talent at all, thus being perfect for a single game-maker with some fantasy.
When graphic arrived, images began to match the text, and then the written part was used just for the narrating "voice", until a role exchange took place: the gamiing world was now visible and interactive, and reading it wasn't necessary anymore. Watching it was enough.
This revolution happened approximately around the second half of Eighties, causing a huge spread and commercial success for the genre: there's never been an innovation whose effects are comparable to the ones brought by the graphic.
From text-only to graphic-only
Nonetheless, text progressively lost importance, to the point that from the middle nineties being able to read has not been a necessary requisite anymore.
This represents a defeat, in my opinion: I can recall with a smile the time where I had to test my elementary-school English skill in order to play Leisure Suit Larry 3, a game that's never been translated into Italian, so rich of narration and dialogues and requiring the use of a text-parser (an interface where the player is asked to type on the keyboard sentences like "take umbrella", "examine postcard", "cut rope with knife" and so on). I've really learnt a lot from that game.
Nowadays, not only games are always translated, but we've really been left speechless.
Let's analyze the evolution of GA with a focus on text:
Until middle 80s: text-adventures; no graphic at all, written narration, text parser
Middle 80s – early 90s: graphic adventures; simple visuals, partly written narration, mostly text parser
Early 90s – middle 90s: nice visuals, less narration, icons or verbs interface
Since middle 90s: rich visuals, narration almost absent, dialogues aren't just shown as text, but also voice-acted, visual interface
Cultural decay in GA
So, since voice acting started to be used in any game, being able to read has become almost pointless in order to play, and this perfectly mirrors the cultural degradation of the modern society. While it's true that games became less elitist, at the same time they lost their educational function for the most part. This is made furtherly clear by the significant drop in the difficulty level in order to acquire an even bigger portion of customers with constantly lower skills. Game that could require years (of discontinuous play of course) to be completed can take less just a bunch of hours nowadays, partly cause of their easiness, and partly cause of the handy walkthroughs (completion guides, I call 'em cheatthroughs).
But now is finally time to take a look to the GA's game structure.
In these games you control one or more characters inside a story, and you use an interface in order to make them interact with their surroundings. There are two main kinds of interfaces: text parser, where you have to type commands; verb or icon GUI (graphic user interface), where you select a verb or an icon representing an action, and then click on an element of the screen that will be the target for the selected action.
The main goal is to let the story proceed without the player dying, and sometimes scoring the most. Obstacles might be: riddles, puzzles, dialogues with other characters, memory games, and even action sequences requiring fast reflexes.
Another typical element is the inventory, a list of the owned items, often really important to solve some of the puzzles.
That said, a lot of variants do exist, as well as sub-genres and cross-genres, but they rarely add much to the base structure I've just explained.
3D, or how to skillfully avoid a topic just to feel guilty and then deal with it
It's undeniable that 3D resulted in an incredible evolution in the gaming world: nonetheless, in GA sub-world, that innovation rather produced an involution. I'm not talking about the effects of the "3D-rush", when a lot of companies abused of 3D when it was still green and justifying game-making with the use of 3D alone. A sort of: I don't have an idea, I don't have a story, but I have 3D, so why don't make a game? Wrong, terribly wrong, but not peculiar to GA.
What I'm referring to is a specific problem instead: 3D really doesn't add much to the point and the atmosphere of a GA, because plot, puzzles and fun is what matters most, while tech has never been decisive. I've yet to find a GA that couldn't have been made in 2D without subtracting anything to the gaming experience. On the other side, the chance to move inside 3D environments makes moving the character overly complicated and awkward, and multiplies the presence of game-bugs.