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This article is about the video game genre. For the board game genre, see Adventure board game. For the television series, see The Adventure Game.
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Adventure games

An adventure game is a computer-based game in which the player assumes the role of protagonist in an interactive story driven by exploration and puzzle-solving instead of physical challenge.[1] The genre's focus on story allows it to draw heavily from other narrative-based media such as literature and film, encompassing a wide variety of literary genres. Nearly all adventure games are designed for a single player, since this emphasis on story and character makes multi-player design difficult.[2]

In the Western world, the genre's popularity peaked during the late 1980s and mid 1990s when many considered it to be among the most technically advanced genres, and it is now sometimes considered to be a niche genre.[3] In East Asia on the other hand, adventure games continue to be popular in the form of visual novels, which make up nearly 70% of PC games released in Japan.[4]


Components of an adventure game Citations
Puzzle solving, or problem solving. [1][5][6][7][8][9][10][11]
Narrative, or interactive story. [1][5][6][7][9][11]
Exploration. [1][5][7]
Player assumes the role of a character/hero. [1][5][8]
Collection or manipulation of objects. [1][5][6]

The term "Adventure game" originates from the 1970s computer game Adventure,[5][6] which pioneered a style of gameplay that was widely imitated and became a genre in its own right. The video game genre is therefore defined by its gameplay, unlike the literary genre, which is defined by the subject it addresses, the activity of adventure.[1]

Essential elements of the genre include storytelling, exploration, and puzzle solving.[1] Adventure games have been described as puzzles embedded in a narrative framework,[7] where games involve "narrative content that a player unlocks piece by piece over time".[12] While the puzzles that players encounter through the story can be arbitrary, those that do not draw the player out of the narrative are considered examples of good design.[13]

Relationship to other genres

Combat and action challenges are limited or absent in adventure games,[1] thus distinguishing them from action games.[7] In the book Andrew Rollings and Ernest Adams on Game Design, the authors state that "this [reduced emphasis on combat] doesn't mean that there is no conflict in adventure games ... only that combat is not the primary activity."[5] Some adventure games will include a minigame from another video game genre, which are not always appreciated by adventure game purists.[1] Of course, there are some games that blend action and adventure throughout the game experience.[14] These hybrid action-adventure games involve more physical challenges than pure adventure games, as well as a faster pace. This definition is hard to apply, however, with some debate among designers about which games are action games and which involve enough non-physical challenges to be considered action-adventures.[1]

Adventure games are also distinct from role-playing video games that involve action, team-building, and points management.[7] Adventure games lack the numeric rules or relationships seen in role-playing games, and seldom have an internal economy.[1] These games lack any skill system, combat, or "an opponent to be defeated through strategy and tactics."[5] However, some hybrid games exist here, where role-playing games with strong narrative and puzzle elements are considered RPG-adventures.[15] Finally, adventure games are classified separately from puzzle games.[7] Although an adventure game may involve puzzle-solving, they typically involve a player-controlled avatar in an interactive story.[1]

Game design


Adventure games contain a variety of puzzles, such as decoding messages, finding and using items, opening locked doors, or finding and exploring new locations.[16] Solving a puzzle will unlock access to new areas in the game world, and reveal more of the game story.[17] Logic puzzles, where mechanical devices are designed with abstract interfaces to test a player's deductive reasoning skills, are common.[1]

Some puzzles are criticized for the obscurity of their solutions, for example the combination of clothesline, clamp, and deflated rubber duck used to gather an item in The Longest Journey, which exists outside of the game's narrative and serves only as an obstacle to the player.[18] Others have been criticized for requiring players to blindly guess, either by clicking on the right pixel, or by guessing the right verb in games that use a text interface.[19] Games that require players to navigate mazes have also become less popular, although the earliest text-adventure games usually required players to draw a map if they wanted to navigate the abstract space.[1]

Gathering and using items

Many adventure games make use of an inventory management screen as a distinct gameplay mode.[1] Players are only able to pick up some objects in the game, so the player usually knows that only objects that can be picked up are important.[1] Because it can be difficult for a player to know if they missed an important item, they will often scour every scene for items. For games that utilize a point-and-click device, players will sometimes engage in a systematic search known as a pixel hunt. Games try to avoid this by highlighting the item, or by snapping the player's cursor to the item.[20] Some items are featured very often in various adventure games, and have many uses. Two examples are a rope and a crowbar.[citation needed] Some items are used as part of running gags, for example being used in many absurd situations far from their original intended purpose.[citation needed]

Many puzzles in these games involve gathering and using items from their inventory.[16] Players must apply lateral thinking techniques where they apply real-world extrinsic knowledge about objects in unexpected ways. For example, by putting a deflated inner tube on a cactus to create a slingshot, which requires a player to realize that an inner tube is stretchy.[1] They may need to carry items in their inventory for a long duration before they prove useful,[21] and thus it is normal for adventure games to test a player's memory where a challenge can only be overcome by recalling a piece of information from earlier in the game.[1] There is seldom any time pressure for these puzzles, focusing more on the player's ability to reason than on quick-thinking.[17]

Story, setting, and themes

Adventure games are single-player experiences that are largely story-driven.[22] More than any other genre, adventure games depend upon their story and setting to create a compelling single-player experience.[1] They are typically set in an immersive environment, often a fantasy world,[6][9] and try to vary the setting from chapter to chapter to add novelty and interest to the experience.[1] Comedy is a common theme, and games often script comedic responses when players attempt actions or combinations that are "ridiculous or impossible".[1]

Since adventure games are driven by storytelling, character development usually follows literary conventions of personal and emotional growth, rather than new powers or abilities that affect gameplay.[1] The player often embarks upon a quest,[10] or is required to unravel a mystery or situation about which little is known.[8] These types of mysterious stories allow designers to get around what Ernest Adams calls the "Problem of Amnesia", where the player controls the protagonist but must start the game without their knowledge and experience.[23] Story-events typically unfold as the player completes new challenges or puzzles, but in order to make such storytelling less mechanical new elements in the story may also be triggered by player movement.[1]

Dialogue and Conversation Trees

Adventure games have strong storylines with significant dialog, and sometimes make effective use of recorded dialog or narration from voice actors.[1] This genre of game is known for representing dialog as a conversation tree.[24] Players are able to engage a non-player character by choosing a line of pre-written dialog from a menu, which triggers a response from the game character. These conversations are often designed as a tree structure, with players deciding between each branch of dialog to pursue.[1] However, there are always a finite number of branches to pursue, and some adventure games devolve into selecting each option one-by-one.[25] Conversing with characters can reveal clues about how to solve puzzles, including hints about what that character would want before they will cooperate with the player.[1] Other conversations will have far-reaching consequences, such as deciding to disclose a valuable secret that has been entrusted to the player.[1] Characters may also be convinced to reveal their own secrets, either through conversation or by giving them something that will benefit them.[citation needed]

Goals, success and failure

The primary goal in adventure games is the completion of the assigned quest.[26] Early adventure games often had high scores and some, such as Zork, also assigned the player a rank, a text description based on their score.[27] High scores provide the player with a secondary goal,[26] and serve as an indicator of progression.[27] While high scores are now less common, external reward systems such as Xbox Live's Achievements perform a similar role.[citation needed]

The primary failure condition in adventure games, inherited from more action-oriented games, is player death. Without the clearly identified enemies of other genres, its inclusion in adventure games is controversial, and many developers now either avoid it or take extra steps to foreshadow death.[1] Some early adventure games trapped the players in unwinnable situations without ending the game. Infocom's text adventure The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has been criticized for a scenario where failing to pick up a pile of junk mail at the beginning of the game prevented the player, much later, from completing the game.[28]


Text adventure

Main article: Interactive fiction

Text adventures, also known as Interactive Fiction, convey the game's story through passages of text, revealed to the player in response to typed instructions. Early text adventures, such as Adventure, "Hugo's House of Horrors" and Scott Adams' games, used a simple verb-noun parser to interpret these instructions, allowing the player to interact with objects at a basic level, for example by typing "get key" or "open door". Later text adventures, and modern interactive fiction, can interpret far more complex sentences.

Graphic adventure

Graphic adventures are adventure games that use graphics to convey the environment to the player. Games under the graphic adventure banner may have a variety of input types, from text parsers to touch screen interfaces.[citation needed] Point-and-click adventures are a common type of graphic adventure in which the player uses a pointer, typically a mouse, to interact with the environment and solve puzzles. This input method remains popular in the genre, and is well-suited to interaction with the environment, as opposed to direct control schemes which emphasize character control.[citation needed]

Graphic adventure games will vary in how they present the avatar. Some games will utilize a first-person or third-person perspective where the camera follows the player's movements, whereas many adventure games use a context-sensitive camera that is positioned to show off each location to the best effect.[1]

Puzzle adventure

Puzzle adventures are adventure games that put a strong emphasis on puzzle solving, at the expense of elements such as item gathering, item use, character interaction, or plot. Instead, they typically emphasize exploration and deciphering the proper use of complex mechanisms, often resembling Rube Goldberg machines.

The plot of these games can be obscure, and may be conveyed only through interaction with the puzzles. Many puzzle adventures are played from a first person perspective with the player "moving" between still pre-rendered 3D images, sometimes combined with short animations or video. Examples of the genre include Schizm, Atlantis: The Lost Tales, Riddle of the Sphinx, Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure, and Myst, which pioneered this game style.

One kind of puzzle adventure is the Escape the room sub-genre, consisting of short games where the sole object is to find a way to escape from a room. These games are typically implemented in a graphic point-and-click style, which (owing to their popularity on the Internet) are often delivered in Adobe Flash format. Examples of the sub-genre include Submachine-series, Mystery of time and space and Crimson room.

Visual novel

Main article: Visual novel
File:Wikipe-tan visual novel (Ren'Py).png

An image of a visual novel: Visual novels are commonly characterized with dialog boxes and sprites denoting the speaker.

A visual novel (ビジュアルノベル bijuaru noberu?) is an adventure game featuring mostly static graphics, usually with anime-style art. As the name might suggest, they resemble mixed-media novels or tableau vivant stage plays. Visual novels are especially prevalent in Japan, where they make up nearly 70% of PC games released.[4] They are rarely produced for video game consoles, but the more popular games are sometimes ported to systems such as the Dreamcast or the PlayStation 2. The market for visual novels outside of East Asia, however, is limited.

Visual novels overlap with Japanese adventure games in many ways, including a menu-based interface for all navigation and interaction, reminiscent of ICOM games. Japanese adventure games very seldom feature on-screen avatars or inventory based puzzles in general, and visual novels have an even further diminished emphasis on puzzles, or indeed gameplay. Instead these titles are driven by narrative, focusing almost exclusively on character interaction, in a structure similar to a Choose Your Own Adventure story.

Visual novels frequently feature romantic storylines in which the main character may end up with one of several possible mates. This premise is similar to dating sims, but they are distinct from them in that they lack stats-based sim elements in which the player builds up his character, instead relying on simple choices of dialog, actions, or navigation.

Visual novels have been a staple of PC software sales in Japan and other East Asian countries for over a decade, so much so that popular titles are open ported to consoles, and some even have famous manga and anime series based upon them; such titles include Kanon (1999), Air (2000) and Clannad (2004) by Key; Rumbling Hearts (2001) and School Days (2005) by Age; Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (2002) by 07th Expansion; and Fate/stay night (2004) by Type-Moon.

Visual novels are sometimes called "dating sims" in the West, because many visual novels track statistics that the player must build in order to advance the plot. This is also because many visual novels permit a variety of endings, allowing more dynamic reactions to the player's actions than a typical linear adventure plot. The cultural differences between Western and Japanese adventure games are closely related to those in role-playing games, such as the storyline being more linear and tightly-scripted in the latter.


Early development

The first adventure games to appear were text adventures (later called interactive fiction), which typically use a verb-noun parser to interact with the user. These evolved from early mainframe titles like Hunt the Wumpus (Gregory Yob) and Adventure (Crowther and Woods) into commercial games which were playable on personal computers, such as Infocom's widely popular Zork series. Some companies that were important in bringing out text adventure games were Adventure International, Infocom, Level 9 Computing, Magnetic Scrolls and Melbourne House, with Infocom being the most well known.

Older adventure games told the story as if the player himself inhabited the game world. The games did not specify any details about the protagonist, allowing the player to imagine him- or herself as the avatar.[1]

Adventure (1975-1977)

Main article: Colossal Cave Adventure
File:ADVENT -- Will Crowther's original version.png

Will Crowther's original version of Adventure.

In the mid 1970s, programmer, caver, and role-player William Crowther developed a program called Adventure. Crowther, an employee at Bolt, Beranek and Newman[29] (a Boston company involved with ARPANET routers) used the company's PDP-10 to create the game, which required 300 kilobytes of memory.[29][30][31]

The game used a text interface to create an interactive adventure through an underground cave system, based on part of the Mammoth Cave system in Kentucky.[29] Crowther's work was later modified and expanded by programmer Don Woods using the SAIL computer at Stanford,[29] and the game became wildly popular among early computer enthusiasts, spreading across the nascent ARPANET in the late 1970s.

The combination of realistic cave descriptions and fantastical elements proved immensely appealing, and defined the adventure game genre for decades to come. Swords, magic words, puzzles involving objects, and vast underground realms would all become staples of the text adventure genre.

The "Armchair adventure" soon spread beyond college campuses as the microcomputing movement gained steam. Numerous variations of Adventure appeared throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, with some of these later versions being re-christened Colossal Adventure or Colossal Caves.[30][32][33]

Adventure International (1978-1985)

Main article: Adventure International

One of the many fans of the Colossal Cave was programmer Scott Adams. Upon his first introduction to Adventure, Adams spent almost ten days traversing the game before he achieved Adventurer Grandmaster status,[31][34] the title bestowed on those who scored a perfect 350 in Crowther and Woods' version.[35]

Once he had completed the game, Adams began to wonder how a game like Adventure could be developed on a home computer like his TRS-80.[36] The main obstacle was that home computers such as the TRS-80 did not actually have sufficient memory to run a large game like Adventure.[36] Adams worked around this limitation by developing a high-level language and an interpreter written in BASIC, an approach that would also allow code to be reused to develop further adventure games.[31][36]

In 1978, Adams founded Adventure International with his wife Alexis in order to sell his games. His first game, Adventureland, was a version of Adventure for the TRS-80 that would become the first commercially sold adventure game.[37] His second game, Pirate Adventure, was an original game in a similar style to Adventure—its source code, written in BASIC, was published in the December 1980 issue of Byte magazine.[34][37] It wasn't until his third game, Mission Impossible, that Adams began programming in assembly language to improve the speed of his software.

Adventure International went on to produce a total of twelve adventure games before a downturn in the industry led to the company's bankruptcy in 1985.[38]

In 1982, David Peugh discovered a print out of the original source code for the Adventure game on ARPANET while visiting the Stanford computer lab. At the time, he was working at the computer retailer Computerland in Tacoma, Washington. As an added value to prospective customers David Peugh modified the original program content to work on all of the computers that Computerland company sold. He offered each customer a special back door magical word to jump to different locations in the game. The password was "XYZZY" The Adventure game continued to be a free program passed on till he inserted in to the commercial retail realm, giving it away free to customers who bought computers from him. Adventure was one of the first games ever to be played on many of these systems. In the following months Microsoft Adventure was released at a price of $49.95 in a plastic folder shrink wrapped on 8 or 5 1/4 inch floppies. Interestingly, inside the Microsoft Adventure program code were the magic words XYZZY.

Infocom (1979-1989)

Main article: Infocom

Dave Lebling and Marc Blank were students at MIT's Laboratory for Computer Science when they discovered Crowther and Woods' Adventure.[39] Together with Tim Anderson and Bruce Daniels they began to develop a similar game, Zork, which also started life on a PDP-10 minicomputer and was distributed across the ARPANET. On graduation the students, together with their group leader Albert Vezza, decided to form a company to market Zork for home computers,[39] and on 22 June 1979 Tim Anderson, Joel Berez, Marc Blank, Mike Broos, Scott Cutler, Stu Galley, Dave Lebling, J. C. R. Licklider, Chris Reeve, and Albert Vezza incorporated Infocom.[40]

The developers faced the same difficulties as Scott Adams in porting Zork to microcomputers: The PDP-10 version, which would reach the size of a megabyte, was enormous for the time, and the Apple II and the TRS-80, the potential targets, each had only 16 kb of RAM. They solved this problem by breaking up the game into three episodes, and developing ZIL (Zork Implementation Language), which could function on any computer by using Infocom's Z-machine, the first virtual machine used in a commercial product,[41] as an intermediary.

In November 1980 the new Zork I: The Great Underground Empire was made available for the PDP-11; One month later, it was released for the TRS-80, with more than 1,500 copies sold between that date and September 1981. That same year, Bruce Daniels finalized the Apple II version and more than 6,000 additional copies were sold. Zork I would go on to sell over a million copies.

The company continued developing text adventure games even as it opened a department for the development of professional software, a department which would never be profitable. High-quality games, with massive, intelligent plots, unequaled syntax analyzers, and meticulous documentation as integral parts of the game, succeeded in all genres.

The writer Douglas Adams produced two games with Infocom, the first based on his popular Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series and a lesser known adventure game called Bureaucracy, inspired by the difficulties he encountered in moving houses.

With the power of microcomputers increasing and the demand for graphics (which it refused to include in its games until 1987), Infocom saw sales decline and in 1989, having been swallowed up by Activision in 1986, the Infocom division had shrunk to a mere ten employees, compared to 100 at its peak. Although later titles were marketed under the Infocom brand, the Infocom division was shut down, and games developed after 1989 would have no link with the original team.

The demise of Infocom signalled the end of the commercial age of Interactive Fiction, and text parsers were rarely seen in games after 1989. Despite this, the low barrier to entry has ensured that a vibrant and creative community of IF authors continues to thrive on the Internet, using languages such as Inform, which generates files that can be read by Infocom's own Z-machine.

Graphical development

Graphics were introduced in 1980 by a new company called On-Line Systems, which later changed its name to Sierra On-Line. Early graphic adventures, such as Sierra's Mystery House (1980), employed basic vector graphics, but these soon gave way to bitmap graphics drawn by professional artists. Examples include Return of Heracles by Stuart Smith (1982) (which faithfully portrayed Greek mythology), Sherwood Forest (1982), Dale Johnson's Masquerade (1983), Antonio Antiochia's Transylvania (1982, re-released in 1984), Sierra's King's Quest (1984), and Adventure Construction Set (1985), one of the early hits of Electronic Arts.

A number of games were released on 8-bit home computer formats in the 1980s that advanced on the text adventure style originated with games like Colossal Cave Adventure and, in a similar manner to Sierra, added moveable (often directly-controllable) characters to a parser or input-system similar to traditional adventures. Examples of this are Gargoyle Games's Heavy on the Magick (1986) which has a text-input system with an animated display screen, and the later Magic Knight games such as Spellbound (1985) which uses a window-menu system to allow for text-adventure style input.

In 1984 a new kind of adventure games emerged following the launch of the Apple Macintosh with its point-and-click interface. First out was the innovative but relatively unknown Enchanted Scepters the same year, then in 1985 ICOM Simulations released Deja Vu that completely banished the text parser for a point-and-click interface. In 1987 the well-known second follow-up Shadowgate was released, and LucasArts also entered the field with Maniac Mansion - a point-and-click adventure that gained a strong following. A prime example of LucasArts' work is the Monkey Island series.

The introduction of such high-quality bitmap graphics required more substantial storage capacity with many adventure games requiring several diskettes for installation, which would be the case until the CD-ROM made its appearance.

Sierra (1979-1999)

Main article: Sierra Entertainment
File:Mystery House - Apple II render emulation - 2.png

Mystery House for the Apple II was the first adventure game to use graphics in the early home computer era.

After playing through Adventure on a Teletype terminal, and unable to find many other examples of the fledgling genre,[42] Roberta Williams conceived her own, a detective story inspired by Agatha Christie's novel And Then There Were None and the non-linear gameplay of the board game Clue.[42] After working on the design for a month,[42] she was able to convince her husband, Ken Williams, to stop work on the FORTRAN compiler he was developing in order to work on the game on his Apple II computer.[42]

Originally known as Hi-Res Adventure,[42][43] Mystery House was the first graphical adventure game,[42][43] and featured vector graphics of each environment alongside an unexceptional two-word parser.[43] Mystery House sold well and although Ken believed that the gaming market would be less of a growth market than the professional software market,[citation needed] he and Roberta persevered with games. Thus, in 1980 the Williamses founded On-Line Systems,[43] which would later become Sierra On-Line.

Sierra soon took things further. Until this point adventure games were in the first person; images presented the décor as seen through the eyes of the player. Williams's company would introduce a new feature in the King's Quest series: a game in the third person. Taking advantage of the techniques developed in action games which had progressed in parallel, Ken introduced an animated character who represented the player in the game and whom the player controlled. With the 3D Animated Adventures, a new standard was born, and nearly all the industry latched onto it. The commands were still entered on the keyboard and analyzed by a syntax interpreter, as with text adventure games.

Soon after, Sierra had multiple successful series of adventure games running, including King's Quest, Police Quest, Space Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, and Hero's Quest (Quest for Glory), with each containing numerous games. A few years after these series had started, the classic graphics above the command cursor was fully replaced with "point and click" game-play and VGA graphics. Other notable series include Phantasmagoria and Shivers; Sierra's last and most critically acclaimed series was the Gabriel Knight series, which began in 1993 and ended with Sierra's last adventure game in 1999.

Sierra would develop new games and push the boundaries of adventure gaming until its purchase by Cendant in 1998. Then in 1998, Cendant sold off their entire interactive software branch for $1 billion to Havas Interactive, a subsidiary of Vivendi Universal.

Sierra pursued technologies for their games (such as hand-drawn backgrounds, rotoscoped animation, and in-game video) that were more advanced than most other genres at the time. However, the release of the PlayStation marked the end of the adventure game era; as 3D became the dominant graphics format, the mostly 2D adventure market began to shrink.

Through its almost 20 year involvement with the adventure game business, Sierra employed several notable game designers, including Roberta Williams, Jane Jensen, Al Lowe, Scott Murphy, Jeff Tunnell, and Lori Ann and Corey Cole.

Japanese adventure games (1983-present)

File:Portopia PC-6001.gif

The crime scene in Portopia Renzoku Satsujin Jiken (1983), one of the first adventure games to feature colour graphics.

Japan's earliest visual novel, and one of the earliest graphic adventure games in general, was Chunsoft's 1983 murder mystery game Portopia Renzoku Satsujin Jiken (The Portopia Serial Murder Case) by Yūji Horii (of Dragon Quest fame). Portopia Renzoku Satsujin Jiken was viewed in a first-person perspective, followed a first-person narrative, and was one of the first adventure games to feature colour graphics. Chunsoft would later go on to produce the Sound Novels series of adventure games, which include Kamaitachi no Yoru, Machi, and more recently 428: Fūsa Sareta Shibuya de (which received a perfect 40/40 score from Famitsu).

Portopia later inspired Hideo Kojima (of Metal Gear fame) to enter the video game industry and later produce his own graphic adventures, such as Snatcher (1988) and Policenauts (1994). They were for a long time, the highest regarded Japanese adventure games in the West, and it is only in recent years that visual novels were released in the West in any significant number, particularly on the Nintendo DS console with mystery-solving titles such as the Ace Attorney series (which began on the Game Boy Advance in 2001) and Hotel Dusk: Room 215 (2007).

Prior to the Nintendo DS, there were also several other Japanese adventure games on the Dreamcast and PlayStation 2 which were released in the West, such as Sega's Shenmue (1999) and Konami's Shadow of Memories (2001). However, these were not visual novels but were instead 3D third-person adventure games, unlike most other adventure games at the time which were either in 2D or in 3D first-person view.

While most Japanese adventure games are graphical, there have also been several text-based ones. One such example is Radical Dreamers: Nusumenai Hōseki (1996), which served as a gaiden (side story) to the Chrono series of console role-playing games.

A distinct form of Japanese adventure game is the visual novel, which uses many conventions that are less popular in the West. They are almost universally first-person, and driven primarily by dialog. They also tend to use menu-based interactions and navigation, with point and click implementations that are quite different from western games. Inventory-based puzzles of the sort that form the basis of classic Western adventures, are extremely rare. Logic puzzles like those found in Myst are likewise unusual. Because of this, Japanese visual novels tend to be quite streamlined, and often very easy, relying more on storytelling than challenge to keep players interested.

LucasArts (1986-2000)

Main article: LucasArts
File:C64 Maniac Mansion.png

Maniac Mansion on the Commodore 64, the first game to use the SCUMM interface

In 1987 a programmer named Ron Gilbert working for the company Lucasfilm Games—which has since become LucasArts—created the script-writing system SCUMM which used a point-and-click interface similar to ICOM Simulations' MacVenture games first introduced in 1985. Instead of having to type a command to the syntax analyzer, this system was controlled by means of text icons. To interact with his environment, the player clicked on an order, on an icon representing an object in his inventory, or on a part of the image. This approach was first used by LucasArts for the game Maniac Mansion to great effect.

LucasArts would come to differentiate itself from its main competitor, the giant Sierra, by rethinking certain adventure game concepts to improve playability. Gone was the possibility to die during the course of the game and everything was done to ensure that the player was never completely stuck. Finally, LucasArts abandoned the system of points indicating the player's progress in the adventure. Many adventure games from other companies followed LucasArt's lead in these changes.

Gilbert's attempts, Maniac Mansion and Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, however, remained in 16 colors (though the FM Towns version of Zak was 256 color), and the point-and-click engine still had vestiges of text parsing, since the player would still have to construct sentences using clickable keywords combined with objects in the game. It was The Secret Of Monkey Island that was finally a complete work, with 256 colors, a more modern point-and-click engine, a dialogue system with optional responses, puzzles solved with items, original graphics, atmosphere music, and a characteristic sense of humor. Above all, the script was written as for a film (which could be done in-house) and the dialogue and inventory served the needs of the script. The 1993 release of Day of the Tentacle, a remarkable success, began a line of cartoon-style games, including the very influential Sam & Max Hit the Road as well as the acclaimed Full Throttle, which also heralded the beginning of the end of the Golden Age of adventure games.

Steven Spielberg collaborated with LucasArts in the creation of The Dig—a science fiction adventure game that the director had envisioned turning into a film.

Taking advantage of advances in action games and integrating an engine similar to those of first-person shooters, the company took a new turn in 1998 with the game Grim Fandango, where it abandoned the cartoon style and its SCUMM scripting environment for a new 3D game system named GrimE.

Following the 2000 release of Escape From Monkey Island, LucasArts would not publish another adventure game for more than eight years, canceling sequels of Full Throttle (Full Throttle: Hell on Wheels) and Sam & Max (Sam & Max: Freelance Police) that were already in development.

Cyan Worlds (1987-present)

Main article: Cyan Worlds
File:Myst-library and ship.jpg

Myst used high-quality 3D rendered graphics to deliver images that were unparalleled at the time of its release.

Cyan, later Cyan Worlds, were among the first developers to take advantage of the CD-ROM. Their first game, a simple children's adventure game called The Manhole, became the first computer game to use the medium in 1989. In 1993, Cyan released Myst, a first-person adventure that used the extra storage capacity of the CD-ROM to include pre-rendered three-dimensional graphics, video, and audio. Despite being one of the first games to be published solely on CD-ROM, thereby requiring a CD-ROM drive,[44][45] the game would go on to become highly successful.[46]

Myst was an atypical game for the time, with no clear goals, little personal or object interaction, and a greater emphasis on exploration, and on scientific and mechanical puzzles. Part of the game's success was because it did not appear to be aimed at an adolescent male audience, but instead a mainstream adult audience. Myst held the record for computer game sales for seven years—it sold over nine million copies on all platforms—a feat not surpassed until the release of The Sims in 2000.[46]

Modern era


For much of the 1980s, adventure games were one of the most popular types of computer games produced. However, their US market share drastically declined in the mid-1990s; action games took a greater share of the US market, particularly first person shooters such as Doom and Half-Life which progressively began featuring strong, story-structured solo games. This slump in popularity led many publishers and developers to see adventure games as financially unfeasible in comparison. Text adventures met the same fate much earlier, but their simplicity has allowed them to thrive as non-commercially developed interactive fiction.

Few recent commercial adventure games have been hits in the US but they are still very popular in Europe (95% of all adventures released in US are in fact translated European products). It has been suggested that this is because the "average" gamer today was weaned on console video games and first person shooters rather than the "traditional" computer games cherished by the original crop of adventure gaming enthusiasts. Another explanation offered states that MMORPGs, which offer a persistent multiplayer world, have at least partially supplanted the genre.

Still another possible cause of the genre's downturn may lie with the nature of 3D graphics themselves, which for much of the 90's and early 2000s tended to be more oriented toward fast movement than graphical detail. Conversely, however, if a game were to implement more detailed but static imagery, this could be perceived as technologically regressive. Some question therefore exists of the adventure game making a comeback with recent advances in technology.

Adventure games have ceased to be the flagship titles they once were, and high profile publishers like Sierra Entertainment and LucasArts have either disappeared or shifted towards publishing titles developed by other companies. However, adventure games continue to be made in the 2000s, primarily outside North America where the genre is still popular. Games such as The Longest Journey by Funcom as well as Amerzone and Syberia, both conceived by Benoît Sokal and developed by Microïds, with rich classical elements of the genre still garnered high critical acclaims. The Myst series came to a close in September 2005 with the release of Myst V: End of Ages by its original developer, Cyan Worlds. (A possible exception to this is Cyan's Myst Online.) Adventure games based on the Nancy Drew books continue to be published by Her Interactive, comprising a series of twenty titles produced since 1998.

Similar to the fate of interactive fiction, conventional graphical adventure games have continued to thrive in the amateur scene. This has been most prolific with the tool Adventure Game Studio. Some notable AGS games include those by Ben Croshaw (namely the Chzo Mythos), Ben Jordan: Paranormal Investigator, Time Gentlemen, Please! and Soviet Unterzoegersdorf. Adobe Flash is also a popular tool, known for adventures such as MOTAS and the escape the room genre entries.

New directions



Although traditional adventure games are rare today in the US market, action-adventure games that combine elements of adventure games with action games are quite common. There are also similarities between adventure and role-playing games, particularly those in a more modern, story- and character-based mold. Console role-playing games have generally been quite focused on plot and story, thanks in part to the success of the Final Fantasy series (1987–present), while computer role-playing games in this vein have also been published more frequently since the success of Baldur's Gate in 1998.

Adventure games with third-person perspectives and direct character control interfaces are becoming more common. This is exemplified by adventure games such as Sega's Shenmue (1999) and Shenmue II (2001), Quantic Dream's Omikron: The Nomad Soul (1999) and Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy in North America) (2005), and Konami's Shadow of Memories (2001). In addition, some other adventure games have also tried adopting aspects of first-person shooter games in an attempt to modernize the genre, such as with Frictional Games's Penumbra series (2007–2008) and Amnesia: The Dark Descent (2010).

Some adventure games moved away from traditional game conventions, and more closely resembled interactive stories.[1] An example of this is the visual novel genre that is popular in Japan.

There is something of a revival of the adventure game online, in both a fairly traditional style, such as the mouse-controlled text games on Rinkworks and Mystery Of Time And Space, and in 3-dimensional games, such as Crimson Room. This had led to the creation of a genre called escape the room or room-escape. Games are usually created with Adobe Flash. A parallel can be drawn with "Behind Closed Doors" by John Wilson of Zenobi Software, a popular 1980s text adventure series for the ZX Spectrum, where the object was only to escape one single location, such as a bathroom. Most of the current room-escape games consist of several locations which together make up one room.

The Nintendo DS and its unique features have sparked a renewed interest in pure adventure game content, with the 2005 releases of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (originally a 2001 GameBoy Advance game) and Another Code: Two Memories and the 2006 release of Hotel Dusk: Room 215. GameSpot has credited Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney in particular for revitalizing the adventure game genre.[47] IGN has noted that Nintendo's Wii Remote would be well-suited for the genre, and could see some ground-breaking releases in that vein, such as the 2007 release of Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure.

In October 2006, online game company Telltale Games, made up primarily of ex-employees from LucasArts, released their first installment of Sam & Max: Season One. This episodic game series utilized 3D graphics, but was played in the 'point and click' style of older LucasArts titles. It was designed to be exclusively distributed online, and featured characters from the classic game Sam & Max Hit the Road. The series was successful, leading to a retail release of the full season for PC and Wii, and the development of a second series, Sam & Max: Season Two. Telltale was also responsible for a two-game series based on Jeff Smith's Bone comics and a series of five games based on the Homestar Runner flash cartoons.

A further resurgence in adventure games was seen due to recent changes at Lucasarts. On the first day of the 2009 Electronic Entertainment Expo, Lucasarts announced that they would be releasing both a special edition of The Secret of Monkey Island as well as working with Telltale Games to create an episodic series Tales of Monkey Island. In early July 2009, Lucasarts announced that it would supporting digital distribution of its back catalog of titles, including its classic adventure games, through services such as Steam, and has announced it will further consider porting these titles to mobile devices such as iPhones. These efforts were backed by Lucasarts' new president, Darrell Rodriguez, who has been said to be "very big on adventure games".[48] Lucasarts has stated that digital distribution helps to remove the barrier to reproducing these titles, and hopes that they will attract a new audience to these games.[49] The move was shortly followed by Activision who offered the King's Quest and Space Quest collections from Sierra also for digital distribution.[50]

Adventure games are seen as ideal games for mobile platforms such as the iPhone, where the use of a touch screen to interact with the game provides new directions for such games.[51] The introduction of larger and more powerful touch screen devices like the iPad are also seen as a boon to adventure games, allowing for more detailed graphics and better controls and precision over smaller touchscreen units, and a better sense of immersion and interactivity compared to personal computer or console versions.[52][53]


Many classic adventure games cannot run on modern operating systems. Early adventure games were developed for home computers, most of which are not in use today. There are emulators available for modern computers that allow these old games to be played on the latest operating systems. One Open Source project called ScummVM provides a free engine for the LucasArts adventure games, the SCUMM-derived engine for Humongous Entertainment adventure games, early Sierra titles, Revolution Software 2D adventures, Coktel Vision adventure games and a few more assorted 2D adventures. Another called VDMSound can emulate the old sound-cards which many of the games require.

One of the most popular emulators, DOSBox, is designed to emulate an IBM PC compatible computer running MS-DOS, the native OS of most older adventure games. Many companies, such as Sierra Entertainment, have included DOSBox in their re-releases of older titles.

Text adventure games are more accessible. There are only a small number of standard formats, and nearly all the classics can be played on modern computers. Some modern text adventure games can even be played on very old computer systems. Text adventure games are also suitable for PDAs, because they have very small computer system requirements. Many classic Infocom games are completely playable via web browsers.

See also

  • Adventure Gamers, website dedicated to the adventure game genre
  • Amateur adventure game
  • Cybertext
  • Interactive fiction
  • List of graphic adventure games
  • List of text-based computer games
  • MUD
  • Roguelike
  • Visual novel, the Japanese style of adventure games


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External links

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