Adventure gaming hasn’t come very far in the last two decades. The lost art of video games featuring mechanics pioneered with LucasArts and the infamous “SCUMM” engine (which combined noun-verb usage to form instructions such as “use key with door”). This has gamers such as me continuing to lament the loss of the truly challenging puzzles and cryptic storylines of yester-year’s video games. It begs the question what is missing?
Today’s titles out-perform in graphics, offer more advanced controls, and high quality soundtracks. And yet, titles such as Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island remain cult classics with a fan following which includes multiple generations; fans of these vintage games may even be more abundant today then during the era of these titles.
Why has the gaming industry moving away from the Adventure genre of games? Is it merely that those games are less popular, and are thus less well-known, than other genres? If that is the case, then it is a failing by the gamer community rather than the industry. One series which seemed to be attempting to recapture the glory of a SCUMM-inspired engine was the ever-popular Resident Evil series of titles. The original game, complete with terrible voice-acting and spooky setting, seemed to borrow heavily from the basic formula of classic Maniac Mansion; adventurers disappear into a gothic mansion, zombies ensue along with corrupt science, and players must solve item puzzles to progress – use this key to access those disks, to then view these schematics to bypass that locked room, etc.
A fellow gamer friend and I recently trekked down memory lane and revisited some of our favorite vintage Adventure titles. We then sampled some of the titles neither of us had played recently; among them were Day of the Tentacle (the sequel to Maniac Mansion), Sam ‘n’ Max, and Loom. Each of these video games was a creation of LucasArts and teams, and has maintained a high level of fan loyalty since their release in the late 80’s or early 90’s. While I can only speak for myself, it seems that I was not alone in enjoying these vintage games more than I have even the most recent of new releases, several of which I have reviewed for this site.
Another highly popular video game genre is RPGs – Role-playing Games – which have evolved over the decades but basically remain true to their original form. Players take the role of (most often) one main character, and their choices decide the path and fate of their mission. Exploration, unlocking hidden options and characters, and tactical battles are all very common elements in both vintage RPGs like Shining Force and Final Fantasy which remain constant in modern titles.
So what is it about the vintage Adventure game that seems to have died-out over the years? Modern Adventure titles seem to be categorized as such if the game isn’t tactical enough to be an RPG or exciting enough to be Action. How could such an overwhelmingly popular formula and mechanics such as the SCUMM engine simply die away?
There does seem to be hope. I recently stumbled upon an article by fellow Associated Content contributor Vincent Summers’ NEW “Monkey Island” Games: Lucas Arts and Telltale Games Make Announcements!. The piece suggests that LucasArts intends to revise and resurrect the legacy of their vintage titles and present new opportunities for enjoyment with the development of modern sequel to Monkey Island. LucasArts is most recently known for the Lego video game versions of popular movies such as Star Wars and Indiana Jones.
Popular websites such as Adventure Gamers suggests that the Adventure gaming fan base is alive and well despite the enduring rumor that the genre has finally died out. While the site specializes in modern Adventure titles, many fan sites for the vintage titles remain frequently updated and well-used by gamers. And yet, we still haven’t answered the question what is missing? in the modern Adventure genre.
When you theorize which elements of the vintage titles made them such a success you have quite a variety to choose from; the in-game humor, which was often very tongue-in-cheek. Or the seemingly endless puzzles and challenges which often had no deadline which allowed you to flounder for days without egress from the locked room. Is it merely nostalgia which brings us back to the 8-bit music tracks and point-and-click controller mechanics?
For one, I would venture a guess that it’s a little bit of everything above. I am certainly one gamer who cherishes the vintage titles and longs for a day when LucasArts or any other company steps up to the bat to delivers us a modern version of the older video games which so many of us continue to adore.
LucasArts, “Welcome to LucasArts.com,” www.lucasarts.com
Vincent Summers, “NEW “Monkey Island” Games: Lucas Arts and Telltale Games Make Announcements!” Associated Content
Adventure Gamers, “Adventure Gamers,” www.adventuregamers.com