In Too Deep

In Too Deep
Not with a Bang, But a Click

Russ Pitts | 8 Aug 2006 08:01
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LucasArts focused on the possibilities of more cinematic entertainment. Not surprising from a company built on the back of the most successful film franchise ever made. In 1987, LucasArts (then known as Lucasfilm Games) released Maniac Mansion, offering gamers a number of radical departures from the standard adventure game formula. Among them: multiple playable characters and multiple endings. Both introduced the concept of replay-ability, allowing players to experience the game from the multiple perspectives of the various characters. But the innovations didn't stop there. Sensing that gamers had become frustrated with the tired mechanic of guessing and typing, LucasArts simplified the text entry command structure by reducing the number of valid commands to just a few verbs and identifying objects with which the character could interact. It was, in effect, a prototype of a point-and-click interface. And in simplifying the act of playing the game itself, LucasArts opened the door to a whole new market for the adventure game genre while simultaneously pounding nails into its coffin.

id Software and the Decline of the Attention Span
As is the case with so many stories about the game industry, the next chapter in this tale begins thusly: In 1991, four guys started a company to make games.

The company was id Software, and the games they created - on the back of technology chief John Carmack's innovative game engines - were dreamed up primarily to relieve the four gamers' boredom with the current state of PC games, which by-and-large moved slowly and weren't all that colorful. Like adventure games.

Their first official product was a so-called "action-platformer" liberally copied from the successful Super Mario Bros. series for Nintendo's NES home console. It was, in spite of its relatively simple appearance, a programming coup. No one, anywhere - ever - had been able to make images appear and move on the PC as fluidly as Mario moved on the NES. No one, that is, until John Carmack. Over the course of six installments, id's Commander Keen made PC gaming history and helped launch id Software from its humble beginnings as a moonlighting gig conducted on the sly into the realm of successful entertainment software enterprises.

Having thus made their mark on the world of PC platform games, id then turned their attention to the next frontier: 3-D games. Their first, Wolfenstein 3D, was so successful it attracted the attention of none other than the king of adventure games himself, Ken Williams, who in 1992 offered to purchase id for $2.5 million and add the four young men to Sierra's prestigious stable of high-profile game designers. id declined, opting instead to carry on as independents. The next year, they released Doom.

For PC gamers bored and frustrated with the clunky, imprecise and bland games of the early '80s, id's offerings hit just the right spot. Few could deny the thrill of "running" through Castle Wolfenstein, sending a hailstorm of bullets into zombified Nazis, who would then die horribly detailed deaths, clutching their hearts and saying "Mein leben!" There was no story to speak of, no mysteries to solve and no puzzles requiring quantum leaps of ingenious item combination in order to solve. Just running, gunning and dying. id's games were blockbusters and at retailers across the country they literally pushed adventure games off of the shelves. The four brains behind id would go on to gaming stardom, and their games would change the world.

The reign of the adventure game was over, but adventure gamers were having the time of their lives. Instead of going quietly into the dark night, they'd found a new sensation; a meta-game, an extension of quest-driven exploration into the very fabric of their lives; a new form of entertainment unlike anything the world had ever seen.

Spinning the Web
Concurrent with id Software's gaming revolution - changing the world, one gruesome animated death at a time - personal computers were rapidly becoming more powerful and less expensive. Consumers were practically lining up in droves to take the odd, beige boxes home with them. The invention of the CD-ROM had as much to do with this as anything else, offering consumers entire volumes of books worth of data on a single, shiny disc. But the most exciting development driving the popularity of computers in the '90s was the World Wide Web.

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