Experienced Points

Experienced Points
The Rise, Fall and Rise of Adventure Games

Shamus Young | 20 Aug 2010 21:00
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But then Telltale Games came along, dug up the corpse, sewed it back together, hooked up some electrodes, and jump-started the whole show again. If you were ever a fan of adventure games but abandoned them because you got sick of putting up with their crap, then I implore you to check out this new generation of hipper, sexier adventure games. (Not to say that the games are by themselves hip or sexy. We're talking about pirates and talking dogs here.) You deserve to have some fun after solving all of those find-the-pixel puzzles, and the people at Telltale deserve the business for doing brilliant work in a risky market. These new adventure games are smarter, wittier, better looking, and more fun than their ancestors ever were. The key to their recent success is that instead of whining about how gamers are just a bunch of shoot-happy stupids who are easily distracted by bling-mapping, Telltale sat down and re-thought the entire genre. They figured out what made the games fun and they ripped out and re-designed everything else.

They figured out that these games are better consumed in bite-sized portions and that instead of charging $50 for a fifteen-hour game, people would rather pay $9 for a three-hour game. (And this is a really nice change from other developers, who are doing their best to make three-hour games and still expect us to pay fifty bucks for them.) They realized that unfair puzzles - while a great tool for selling hint guides - are actually a killjoy and so they did away with the acid-trip puzzle logic of the past. They realized that being stuck for too long can cause players to either turn to the internet or lose interest, so they added a built-in help system that can give you a nudge in the right direction without spoiling the game outright. They discovered that when the central source of entertainment comes in the form of verbal feedback, adventure games live or die based on the strength of their writing. So Telltale hired a bunch of smart, funny people with big imaginations and had them turn out page after page of solid gold material. And then they handed those pages to genuinely talented voice actors.

I'm bringing this up because their work doesn't fit into the normal review cycle of gaming journalism. A season of games is released in monthly episodes, and who wants to review part of a game before the whole thing is out? What are we going to do, review one-fifth of a game every month for five months? Where would we find room for these Kayne & Lynch 3: Ugly Old Dudes Murder Lots Of People screenshots? And then when the series is done and Telltale is selling the whole thing at an outrageous discount, who wants to review six-month old content? I'm not saying it can't be done, but I'm saying magazines and websites haven't adjusted to the idea yet, and so I think these games are getting a lot less attention than they deserve.

Sam & Max and Monkey Island are both classic '90s adventure game franchises they've brought back. Strong Bad (and Homestar) are brilliant work, to the point where it feels like the characters really came into their own when they made the jump to videogame form. As if the website existed for all those years just so that it could someday serve as the setting for the game. Puzzle Agent is a charming Professor Layton-esque adventure. And they continue to tease us with rumors of a Back to the Future. And there's also Wallace and Gromit, which is ... okay I haven't played it yet. But you get the idea. All of this comes from just one company.

Smart people are making cool stuff and selling it for cheap. Gaming needs more of this. Next time you're playing another Space Marine shooter and wondering how your life became such a colorless wasteland of joyless mediocrity, give these guys a look.

Shamus Young is the guy behind Twenty Sided, DM of the Rings, and Stolen Pixels, Shamus Plays, and Spoiler Warning. He's never run any business ever and you should probably not rely on him for business advice. Use your head.

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