The Death Of Adventure Games

I started to write this particular article long before the sudden demise of Telltale games, so that wasn't the spark for this writing this. It stems from the old notion, that adventure games are dead and that particular death has been announced a couple of times before, only for it to be false.

After the collapse of Sierra and Lucasfilm games veering away from the genre that made both of those game companies, a lot of people announced the genre dead. Throughout the late '90s and '00s, the most common thing you heard or read about the adventure genre was, that it is dead. Sure, a couple of games, like the Longest Journey and Syberia, popped up here and there making people notice it for a while, but at large it was considered past its prime as there were no genuine big hits. Only after Telltale was founded in 2004, people started to consider some sort of revitalization of the old carcass to have taken place.

But was the genre ever really in its death throes? Like I said, there were games like the Longest Journey which is genuinely a great game and a classic, but was there more than just an odd game here and there? Or was the '00s a desolate scape for the genre like it's often thought.

Let me get you out of suspense: the genre never died and it isn't dying now either. Sure, a lot of the games released in the 00's are flat out terrible, but they do exist. Interestingly enough, traditional adventure gaming was a genre that did very well in Germany or all places. And the fan community was busy as well, creating their own adventure games with engines like the Adventure Game Studio (AGS), a free tool aimed to create those Sierra and Lucasfilm style games and a community largely responsible of a lot of those current adventure developers doing their old school stuff. The first version of AGS was released 1997 and run on MS-DOS and from there on, a busy community has used the software to do their bidding.

It wasn't just the hobbyist doing games, there were quite a few commercial developers at it as well. None of them had the clout of former Sierra or Lucasarts games, but some were at least moderately well known.

The most obvious big title that managed to carry over from the '90s was Myst. Throughout the '00s Cyan managed to churn out not only new games to the series but revamps of the original as well.  Not really my favourite series and I usually don't like Myst-like games that much, but as far titles go, it still is a big name in the genre as well as well regarded by many people. I don't know if any of the sequels were as big of a hit as the first game was, but in the end, Cyan did produce 5 games to the series.

Then there was Telltale, a company that is often cited as the one that brought adventure games back. Their first try, Bone, based on the fantastic graphical novels by Jeff Smith was sadly a dud and never got further than the second episode. But in 2006 they released an episodic game based on Steve Purcell's Sam & Max comics which turned out better and got two additional seasons as well.  They kept the ovens warm with a new entry to the tales of the fabled Monkey Island as well before the first decade of the new millennium was over. And after that, they've just gotten stronger with games based on licenses like the Walking Dead and Batman.

But like I said, while Telltale is obviously the developer that is the most visible to come from the '00s, it's not the only one. True, a lot of those other developers did only one or two games before they were shut down, but they still were there, publishing games through companies like the Adventure Company.

I really can't talk about the adventure genre of the '00s without talking about the Adventure Company.

From 2001 onwards the Adventure Company published a whopping 87 titles if MobyGames is to be believed. While some of those titles listed are compilations, almost all of them are adventure games in either the traditional point 'n' click or Myst-style. And if you ask me, looking at the amount of released game by them alone, that doesn't sound like a genre that is dead. Sure, most of the games they published aren't very well known nor sold well, but there were developers churning them out regularly. The Adventure Company wasn't even the only publisher in the field. There are hundreds of commercial games during the so-called death period of the genre.

The Adventure Company wasn't a worldwide publisher, mind you, so even though they did publish games like Syberia in the Nordic countries, they still are a relatively unknown publisher for a good deal of people, but then again, so are a good many of the games they published. There's very little name recognition going around, especially on the original titles which never really managed to break outside the small circle of people that kept buying atrocious titles like the Atlantis series.

The first title The Adventure Company published was The Cameron Files: Secret at Loch Ness, a 1st person adventure with pre-rendered graphics and a gameplay style familiar from Myst. The developer Galilea did two more adventure games which TAC published, a sequel The Cameron Files, The Pharao's Curse and a Jack the Ripper game. Secret at Loch Ness is a decent enough of a game, but it does ask somewhat of a high tolerance towards mazes and some skill for obscure puzzle solving. I haven't personally played neither of two latter games. The latest title shown under TAC banner in MobyGames is The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 in 2015, so that would put their lifespan from 2001 to 2015, which isn't too shabby. I assume the company is dead, as they don't have a web page anymore.

TAC also had their hands on publishing relatively dreadful Cryo Interactive games, which were more known of their graphical flare rather than good gameplay or fair puzzles. Cryo was behind the Atlantis series and their last game was graphically very impressive looking Salammbo: Battle for Carthage. The game is hard, but it probably is their best as far adventure games go. During its existence, 1995-2002, Cryo was also a publisher for their own games as well as for a couple of other titles.

Depending on the area you live in, TAC also had Frogware's Sherlock Holmes titles in their roster. Frogwares actually is a company, that has developed games steadily since 2002 and their latest game, graphically impressive H.P. Lovecraft inspired The Sinking City, is coming out in 2019. As such, Frogwares proves, that a developer could survive after the death of adventure games to this day by making adventure games.

Like I said, there were commercial adventure games made before Telltale came to the picture. A lot could be said of German adventures alone, like the horrible Secret Files series that somehow got 4 games in it. Another puzzler is Art of Murder series done by a Polish developer. I don't know if it's because of bad translation, but these games are categorically horrible and a good way for someone who dislikes the genre to show why they hate it.

Art of Murder series was developed and published by City Interactive, a company that does publishing for others as well. They are nowadays better known of their Sniper series, but besides gratuitous violence, they are responsible of some of the most puzzling adventure series of the '00s, but mostly because they made a lot of them and most of them are if not flat out horrible, at least terribly mediocre.

A chapter of its own is the modern hidden object game genre, that has during the years turned into a sort of a light version of adventure games. A notable publisher in this genre is Artefax Mundi, that has since 2007 published and developed over 100 games and there seems to be no end in sight. Not all of their titles are hidden object games, they do dabble in strategy and RPG genres as well.

The hidden object games they have developed, like the Grim Legends series, are a surprisingly high-quality product, as for graphics, sound and music go. Even the voice acting is far better than you'd expect of games like these. Their biggest problem really is, that they are in the end hidden object games, so you are doing a lot of that, while you do get different kinds of puzzles as well on an occasion.

And finally, a word about the indie developers, which are keeping the flame of more traditional point and click adventuring alive down to the retro pixel graphics. Wadjet Eye Games is probably the most notable developer/publisher around for these games often made with Adventure Game Studio.

The most notable titles from them are probably the Blackwell series, Unavowed and Shardlight. Those are at least the most discussed ones. Their games, while perfectly decent, can't really escape the fact that they are clearly budget titles. They could have been more impressive had they actually been released during the era they so desperately try to emulate, but now, they are very much prisoners of their own style. And perhaps the engine they are using.

Then there are games done by passionate developers like Lucas Pope, whose Return of the Obra Dinn that came out this year is not only one of the best detective games ever made, but also was a critical and seemingly a huge financial success as well.

But, as I stated earlier, adventure games never really died. They might have been dropped out of focus when money started to revolve around more flashier and action-oriented games, which were also easier to approach for many people.

Once upon a time, adventure games were the ones pushing the envelope, now that is something done by other genres, genres with more money in them. But that doesn't matter, as the adventure genre abides.