In Too Deep

In Too Deep
Not with a Bang, But a Click

Russ Pitts | 8 Aug 2006 12:01
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It's a situation we're all likely to face eventually: There's a hooker upstairs, behind a locked door, and she's waiting, willing and ... waiting. Problem? A burly bouncer bars the way. He wants a password before he'll open the door and let you find your own personal nirvana in the arms of the woman-for-hire. But even if you were to somehow find the magic word, he's not likely to step aside and let you ride for free. You're broke, see, and you seem to have left your marketable skills in your - erm - other pants.

What to do?

Well, if you're playing Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards, the solution is simple: examine everything. Upon doing so, you will find that a number of everyday household objects may be used to solve seemingly insurmountable puzzles. This, after all, is the magic formula for adventure gaming. Long before MacGyver macgyvered his way out of every tough spot imaginable (using only a thumbtack, a piece of chewing gum and a leaf), adventure gamers had been using a similar assortment of "found items" to construct insanely complicated Rube Goldberg-ish solutions to outlandish puzzles in the world of the adventure game.

In Leisure Suit Larry, the drunk at the bar, for example, will give you a television remote control if you lubricate him with enough whiskey, and a graffiti-encrusted bathroom stall will reveal the password if you look at it long and hard enough. Whisper the password through the door, then, once you've penetrated the inner sanctum, use the remote control to turn on the TV and BAM! Bye-bye bouncer. He'll be too busy leering at the boob tube to pay you any mind. Now, mount the stairs (but don't forget your condom) and you've got it made. Literally.

Released in 1987, Al Lowe's Leisure Suit Larry was not the first of the great adventure games, but it was the most salacious. It was also graphical, which the earliest of the genre were not. Games like In Search of Dr. Livingston, released in 1980, were text-based and, in lieu of a high-end graphics card, required instead that the player have a high-end imagination. Players had to mentally visualize the scene being described in on-screen text in order to arrive at (often through trial and error) the best course of action. To make your character look to the left, for example, the player would type "LOOK LEFT" into the game's text entry box, which would then (if you were lucky) trigger a response from the game. Some of these games added a bit of extra frustration through persnickety parsing of commands. In Dr. Livingston, for example, the player (on a quest through the African jungles to find the elusive Dr. Livingston) was required in most cases to input text in all caps, but occasionally (and inexplicably) the game would require lower-case text input. It didn't tell you when to use which - you just had to guess.

Still, like a book, these games had the redeeming virtue of offering experiences limited only by the player's imagination and are fondly remembered to this day as creative masterpieces, often before their more graphically advanced descendants; frustrations and all.

Show Me, Don't Tell Me
As computers became more powerful, game makers began throwing their efforts behind graphical adventures, like Leisure Suit Larry. Some of these were merely updated versions of old text adventures, but some quite literally created new worlds.

The first of the graphical adventures was Ken and Roberta Williams' Mystery House. Based on an Agatha Christie mystery novel, Mystery House was little more than a text adventure game with overlaid static images, but the resulting immersive effect was startling. Gamers ate it up and demanded more; which the Williamses and their company, Sierra On-Line (originally On-Line Systems), were happy to deliver. Sierra would go on to make hundreds of adventure titles, including the innovative and award-winning King's Quest and Space Quest series, and naturally, imitators followed suit.

Some, like MECC's Oregon Trail, and Broderbund's Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? attempted to capture the rapidly-growing educational software market, blending newly-immersive game experiences with adventure gaming's storybook roots to create a whole new genre of "edutainment." But the most successful and innovative game manufacturer to follow in Sierra On-Line's footsteps was LucasArts.

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