Monday, August 31, 2009

Help Wanted - Adventure Game Fans!

I've been on a point n' click adventure game bender for the past year or so, which should be obvious given the recent content on the site. In the past I've stayed away from a lot of Western games, not because I don't like them, but because they're usually covered elsewhere and I've prefer to be a bit more unique. That being said, I've been reading a lot of reviews on Adventure (ETC) and haven't found them quite up to par. It's not necessarily the fault of the writers so much as the way they're written. "Reviews" seem to answer the question "is this game worth buying/playing?" The "Articles" that I put on HG101 assumes that yes, it is, to an extent, and the question answered is "what is interesting, important, or historically relevant about this game?" These are the types of questions I want to address. A lot of adventure game reviews sorta skim over important things like storyline, characterization, narrative, and perhaps most importantly, puzzles, perhaps for fear of spoiling too much for prospective gamers.

I say, screw that. I prefer articles written for both those unfamiliar and familiar with the game, not only picking out highlights for the newbies, but to elicit memories from those who have played it, and criticize as such. I'm also finding that writing about this stuff is a bit more interesting than the usual expansive articles on unknown arcade games.

I'd like to expand coverage for these going forward, so I'm putting out a public request for classic adventure gamers: if you are interested in covering these types of games for HG101, please drop me a line!

I have a specific list of games I'd like to include that aren't already featured on the site, which include:

Sam & Max
Indiana Jones - Last Crusade / Fate of Atlantis
Zak McKracken
Kings Quest
Police Quest
Freddy Pharkas
Torin's Passage
Laura Bow
Rise of the Dragon
Willy Beamish
Heart of China
Callahan's Crosstime Saloon
Lure of the Temptress
Scooby Doo (Genesis)
Simon the Sorceror
A Vampyre Story
So Blonde
Beavis & Butthead: Virtual Stupidity
Wallace & Gromit
The Last Express
Still Life
Spellcasting 101/etc
Blade Runner
Leather Goddesses of Phobos
Bad Mojo
I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream
Rex Nebular and the Cosmic Gender Bender
Secret Files
ICOM Text Sims

(There are a few that aren't listed because I'm already working on them, like Full Throttle, The Longest Journey, Grim Fandango, and Monkey Island.) These aren't written in stone - if there's anything else you want to cover, that's open game too. I'm trying to keep it in the realm of Western point n' click games, so I'd prefer to stay clear of Japanese visual novels or similar games, like Trace Memory/Another Code or Hotel Dusk, mostly for the sake of focus. I have a few text adventures up there, but mostly because their sequels showed up in point n' click form. I'd be willing to bend for them if there are any ecstatic Infocom fans out there, though.

It can be something you've played in the past, or something that's completely new to you - it doesn't matter. Obviously it should be something that you like or at least think you'd like. If you don't own the game I can secure one for you. I can also supply screen capture software, because I need as many screenshots as possible. The only thing I asked ahead of time is some kind of samples of stuff you've written. I usually don't do this for open submissions, but I have a specific way I'd like the articles to read, so I'd like to know that you're down with writing them as such. I'm looking for articles on single games to be at least 1,500 words. If it's on a series, it can get by on being a bit shorter per each game, but probably not by much. Again, that's not set in stone, but it's a good guide for how thorough these should be.

You can over some of the reviews on the site for the style I'm aiming for (like Space Quest, Gabriel Knight, Broken Sword, Tex Murphy Mysteries, Leisure Suit Larry, Beneath a Steel Sky and Quest for Glory.) I also have some examples of reviews from Adventure for what's good and what isn't.

Broken Sword

This is the most important one to read, because it's a great example of what not to do. Details on the plot and characters are so scarce it reads like a press release. It's filled with casual sentences and wording that do nothing to tell the reader about much of anything. The worst part is the conclusion, which claims it's "a true masterpiece and adventure gaming at its absolute finest" without telling the reader WHY.

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream

This is actually a pretty good review. But it could really use a few more paragraphs talking about the specific characters, their troubles, and obstacles they have to overcome. It calls the game "unsettling" at the end but only explains the setup and not anything else beyond that. Also, it'd help to compare the game to the short story more closely. And some examples of the puzzles, if there are any noteworthy ones, would've been nice. (If not, then there's probably no need to mention it - I haven't played this one myself yet so I can't say.)


Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle
So Blonde
Dreamfall: The Longest Journey

All three of these are excellent. The only thing I can think of improving for Day of the Tentacle is mentioning some specific puzzles, and maybe compare/contrast the gameplay and tone from the first Maniac Mansion. The other two are both very detailed and fully describe both where they succeed and where they fail. The only part I didn't like about the So Blonde review was highlighting troubles in the install process, because the writer didn't mention anything specific. (For me, it's that my anti-virus actually identifies the main executable as a threat. Mine isn't a bootlegged version, either, I have the packaging and everything, I think it's just think it's an unfortunate false positive that tosses a wrench in the works.)

There are lots of other great (and not-so-great) reviews in their archive. I'd recommend scrolling through them to get an idea of what really makes a good article.


  1. I used to follow a lot closer during the end of the 90s and early 2000s when I was on an adventure game binge to fill in gaps of the ones I had missed as a kid and I ended up getting a lot of crap games because adventure game players seem to love whatever game is put out no matter how poorly designed it is or what trash the story is. is even worse on inflating their scores.

    I find the adventure community and the people who talk about them extremely frustrating and backwards when it's unnecessary even though I've probably played way more adventure games than most fans.

    The list you put I think may need to be trimmed a little bit just because the earlier part of the blog post says the HG101 articles imply the game is worth buying to an extent. I really hated the newer "adventure champions" Longest Journey, Runaway, and Syberia for ridiculously mediocre design and hackneyed story. They were somewhat pretty but that's about all I can say for them.

    I'm glad the underrated Dynamix adventure gems are on the list (Willy Beamish, Heart of China, and Rise of the Dragon) as well as the often missed Last Express.

    Personally I would lose King's Quest, Police Quest, Phantasmagoria, Laura Bow, and Sanitarium as well, but I guess that's probably my own personal bias.

    If you guys are doing the Gobliiins series, I think Woodruff and the Schnibble would be a good choice as well. There's also the hard to find game U.F.O.s (Sometimes known as Gnap) that is probably the best unknown and scarce adventure game I've ever played. Also the Little Big Adventure series, while not really strict adventure games at all, are very worth playing and well designed. They seem to be universsally and oddly loved by adventure fans, but are more close to Alone in the Dark (same designer) and early action/adventures.

    Sorry if my comment is long and presumptuous. I guess I'm really excited HG101 is doing more western adventure articles. I already got really excited when they started appearing more and more a few months ago, especially the Space Quest ones.

  2. You're absolutely right about adventure gaming websites. I've noticed this on a lot of genre specific sites, too, like RPGFan, where mediocre games get high ratings all the time because it seems like the writers lack any critical facility and are a bit too overenthusiastic. That's why I'm a bit unsure of everything on that proposed list, especially the newer games. They're just ones that seem to have a good reputation (enough to get a sequel at any rate), or at least ones I'm personally interested in. I still wouldn't mind covering them, even if it means being heavily critical.

    I played the first two Syberias for a few hours each and found them incredibly boring, but they both scored well in a lot of places, even outside of the adventure gaming realm, so maybe there's something I missed? I only played the intro to Runaway but I'm not really too impressed, but I do absolutely love Dreamfall, even though I've only played a bit of The Longest Journey.

    I want to cover all of the Lucasarts and Sierra games just to be comprehensive. Kings Quest is one of Sierra's weakest series despite it being one its most prolific, but there's a lot of history behind it, y'know? (Plus KQVI is actually pretty damn good from what I recall.) I've always been bored by Police Quest, too. The Phantasmagorias are both kinda awful, but I find myself drawn to them, especially the second, just for more experimental they are.

    I'm playing Simon the Sorcerer right now, which I know a lot of people really dig. The series seems popular in Europe but it never took off here in the US, so this is my first time with it. It's alright, but I don't think it's quite the bang-up classic people are making it out to be. It's got some good lines (and decent voice acting), but it's no Monkey Island.

    I actually plan to do Relentless at some point (picked up both of them a few months back) but this adventure game stuff is for a specific project which I think Relentless lies outside the scope of.

  3. I was tempted to get into Simon since I've got the original but have never played it, but if you're working on it, do carry on! There were a number of sequels released, the second is regarded as good but not quite as good as the first, and I'm told there was a 3rd game in 3D which is awful.

    I think part of the charm was that it was done by a really small team in the UK (I have very vague memories that a family collaborated on making it - but I can't be sure).

  4. As far as I know, the first two Simon games were created by a small team that previously made the "Elvira" games (and I think a few horror titles) but then switched gears to comedy. I think I recall reading that they shut down before the 3rd one came out, so I don't quite know who developed it, but it seems to be acknowledged as a disaster. (The screenshots look terrible.) The 4th and 5th games were designed by a German team with some level of input from the original designer (also named Simon.) Dunno how those are, though - the 5th one isn't out in English yet.

  5. Yeah Runaway and Syberia as well as a plethora of other Microids games and Myst knockoffs all sort of caused a rift I think in the AdventureGamers community with many people just moving on and letting the Adventure Games die. Adventuregamers was supposed to be more objective than the reviews at JustAdventure (which I actually think Adventuregamers broke off of it I'm not mistake), but sort of ended up also giving everything a pretty generous score after the drought of Western adventure games in the 2000s. They are giving coverage to newer Japanese DS adventure titles, which is good though.

    I haven't played Dreamfall because I didn't like the Longest Journey very much, although I did finish it and see a lot of its merits. I think it ended up coming out at a time when most people hadn't given up on adventures yet, waiting for another epic one like Grim Fandango or Gabriel Knight 3 (even though it had a troubled development as you guys note in the HG101 article, it was still somewhat good and well received for the most part).

    I think the Syberia games and Longest Journey are just really below average in terms of general adventure game quality, but I also can't imagine why people love them either. I have noticed the fans of those two series in general really didn't play adventures in the 90s and generally have not finished any LucasArts adventures, for what it's worth.

    But yeah, I can definitely understand covering Police Quest games and King's Quest. King's Quest VI is pretty damn good I admit, but I think it has a lot to do with Jane Jensen designing more than Roberta Williams. I have beaten I think 4 other King's Quest games and while finishing them, they seemed more like chores than fun.

    Anyway, I'm glad you are doing Simon and the Sorcerer as well as it's one of my personal favorites. The art for the first two is very good and they kind of make me thing of a really British Kyrandia (which you guys covered very well too).

    The team who did Simon 1-3 are all mostly the same team and company, but they renamed themselves to Headfirst before the third game came out. They are/were a family company and after Simon 3 went on to make Call of Cthulu which completely bankrupted the company for multiple reasons. Simon and Mike Woodroffe consult on the 4th and 5th games but don't seem to be directly involved in the development.

    Simon 3D definitely sucked but the writing and voice acting held up the otherwise bad design on the game. I think the whole team just didn't have a clue what they were doing in realtime 3D as Simon 3 was originally going to be prerendered 3D. Some of the puzzles are pretty good and clever, the game just tends to be buggy and have a lot of boring walking and load times. I hope you do cover the third game still and stick with it. It does get better after the second chapter (just make sure you download the patch).

    I haven't played Simon 4 yet because it was originally in German so I hear once it made it into English, it was badly translated and none of the original voice actors could be found. The new voice actors are supposedly pretty bad and done on the cheap. That's too bad for me, because while Simon 4 looks way better than 3 and probably plays better as well, I guess I always felt the series' strong points were the characters.

    Anyway I guess I've now just rambled a ton about Adventuresoft, but I do think they made some good solid adventures as well. If you have time, their game, released between Simon 2 and 3D, Feeble Files is pretty damn good and features a fairly interesting and epic story for a British adventure developer. It's bogged down a bit with slow manuevering and some insanely hard puzzles as well as some of the 3D may be a bit outdated now, but I'd say it's one of the better games of the 90s and maybe the best of the Adventuresoft team.

  6. Thanks for the heads-up on The Feeble Files. It's cheap at GOG, too, I'll have to grab it.

    I beat the first Simon last night. I don't like the way its structured and the ending was terrible, but the writing, voice acting and charactzerization really sells it. I'm still trying to find out about the release of the fifth game in English. They vaguely planned a release in Europe "this summer", but the season's basically over and there's no word about it. I haven't touched 4 yet (though it's sitting on my desk) but apparently for 5 they're sticking in voice actors with American accents - which almost completely ruins the point.

  7. Yeah, the story and structure were both never really much of the selling point of the Simon series. The second game I think is definitely the best. They change the voice actor from the first, but it's not too drastic and the second voice actor (who does the third game) seems to fit the slightly older Simon much better. He's also much more of a jerk in the second game which is a lot more fun than playing the usual earnest, goofy, awkward, yet kindhearted young man of most adventures.

    I think the voice actors for the fifth game will probably end up being the awful American ones that dubbed the fourth game. I really don't understand why they are using American voice actors for a game series that was formerly known for its dry British delivery of lines.

    Glad you are trying Feeble Files though. It's much better than any in the Simon series, I think, but maybe too ridiculously hard sometimes (and everyone walks so slow!!!).

  8. Eric the Unready was a decent title. It's sorta in the same vein as the Spellcasting games.

    I'm sure if I think about it, more will come to mind. I have to admit, it might be fun to write about one of these games. I'll have to consider it!