all is said and done, I think I’m a realist. I flatter myself that no
matter what the scenario, I’ll take reality over a pleasant delusion
every time. The truth - no matter how painful - is a comfort in and of
itself, as I am fond of endlessly repeating to myself in a compulsive
murmur during dental work. Great. Glad I got that out of the way.
Did I mention that I think adventure games are primed for a comeback?
resent the snicker. I know it’s been heralded before, not that many
people seem to care. If confirmed as true, the reaction would be
undetectable by even the most precision seismometer - it’s quite a
powerful thing to feel the hairs on the backs of millions of necks
failing to rise.
Many gamers and game writers today
refuse to dignify adventure games as an official genre at all, and each
year the category slips quietly from the dockets of more and more
publications, or gets appropriated by the dreaded catch-all that is the
“action-adventure.” As public interest wanes, fewer companies are
willing to risk development costs (or is it the other way around?), and
those that do are slashing budgets with the ruthless abandon typically
found in FPS enthusiasts.
this seemingly hostile climate, there is a ray of hope. A rapidly
growing movement - plainly visible on sites like Adventure Gamers and
in the sales figures of games like Phoenix Wright - is throwing their support behind Nintendo to get the ball back into the adventure gamer’s court.
with tycoon and real time strategy games, adventure games have been, by
and large, stranded on the PC. One look at console sales figures is all
it takes to realize this is not where the action is. A symbiotic
relationship between consoles and PCs is beneficial to both sides;
consoles offer a much wider user base and its accompanying revenue, and
PCs offer an easy development platform where risky IP can be tested
before the cross-platform SKUs run budgets into the millions.
It is no secret that adventure games need to break into the console market to remain (some would say become)
viable. There is no reason to think Nintendo couldn’t help usher in
this era if they chose to do so; after all, they’ve changed the rules
before. Ironically, they may have done much to seal the fate of classic
adventure games in the 80’s by creating the aforementioned
action-adventure genre. You can keep your Link - I’ll take Guybrush,
According to the ESA, computer game dollar sales
in 2005 were just under $1 billion. 5.8% of that revenue came from
adventure games. Over on the console side, although sales were in
excess of $6 billion, adventure games don’t even make it into the pie
chart. If adventure games - once introduced in a tangible way onto
consoles - kept their PC market share equivalent, it would be a
tremendous shot in the arm.
don’t think this is an unrealistic expectation; I’m inclined to argue
that it’s rather conservative. Given the extra manpower and marketing
inherent in bigger development budgets, it seems logical that adventure
games would surpass their current standards both in quality and
quantity (I am aware that throwing money at a development team does not
guarantee a higher quality end result, but I’m speaking in broad
strokes here.) Would this result in higher percentages for adventure
games across the board? I hope so. After all, many of the bullet points
for recent shooters read like a list of adventure game staples – a high
density of character dialog and interaction, a strong narrative, and a
high density of environmental interaction. That particular niche of
gamers is starting to demand more from a game than three-figure frame
rates and the odd scripted sequence. They would do well to look to
adventure games for a change of pace.
To be fair,
adventure games have long suffered from a drought of meaningful
innovation. I’m not entirely certain where this culpability lies. I
realize it’s a cop out to blame he-who-holds-the-purse-strings
for all developmental woes. It’s easy to complain that you simply do
not have the time or money to experiment with non-linearity or a new
mechanic that might improve gameplay slightly, but will most certainly
add a plethora of bugs.
I suppose the key ability
here would be recognizing those ideas that give you an efficient ratio
of manpower vs. return. It’s a skill that draws more from experience
than precognition, and I wish I had it. Again, I realize that the
solution is not to throw more money at the problem, but surely if more
adventure games are being attempted, more minds are bent upon turning
the genre on its ear - and occasionally one of the more insightful or
lucky of them will strike gold.
As Marek Bronstring points out in his excellent article
on the subject, a major obstacle to mainstream success for adventure
games lies in the long periods of downtime between ‘eureka’ moments.
Killing an alien every twenty seconds is an IV drip of positive
reinforcement for the player. Adventure games are more accurately
comparable to time-release capsules. He suggests that the Wii - and
specifically, the Wiimote - would do much to bridge this gap, filling
the downtime between major breakthroughs with tangible actions that
would tickle our rapidly diminishing attention spans. Opening doors
would no longer be a matter of clicking on the door, but of turning the
controller in a real-world analog of twisting the knob. Opening a
drawer would require pulling the controller towards you.
these examples are monotonous and highly repetitive, and will likely
remain equally so (they may even cross the line into the territory of
annoying) on a Wiimote; menial tasks stay menial no matter how
innovative the control scheme. But the main point he makes which
adventure game developers (myself certainly amongst them) should take
careful note of is that adventure games need an increased density of
short feedback loops to capture the attention of mass mind, instead of
concentrating all our efforts on the less frequent, albeit more
significant, story-progressing milestones. As he states: “rewards
are the carrot dangling in the player's face, keeping them invested in
the game's long-term progression. But they are only truly effective in
the presence of many shorter feedback loops, the ones that maintain
your interest in between.”