[The adventure genre has some life in it yet, and here experienced contemporary developer Andrew Goulding turns his experiences on PlayFirst's Avenue Flo and Emerald City Confidential, as well as his own Jolly Rover, into salient design rules.]
The '80s saw the emergence of the text adventure. Increasing computer power allowed this to evolve into the graphical adventure. Further advances in technology saw mainstream use of the mouse, replacing the text parser with a cursor, evolving this into what we now know as the point-and-click adventure.
The early '90s saw a rise in the popularity of the point-and-click adventure, the heavy hitters being Sierra and LucasArts. LucasArts' adventures, first arriving later into the game than Sierra's, did away with the text parser from the start and began their life with the verb interface.
They also summarized the standard text commands, and more importantly, focused more on characters and story. Further evolution was made to reduce the interaction into its base components: look at, talk to, interact with, and walk to.
The early '90s was a golden era of point-and-click adventure, most fondly remembered by today's fans, but by the mid '90s the genre was waning.
Maybe it was the emergence and dominance of the first person shooter, maybe the growth of multiplayer games, maybe the obligatory need to go 3D, maybe the home console; whatever it was, by the late '90s many were calling the point-and-click adventure a dead genre.
But it was never dead to some people; there was still a diehard fan base, dedicated to keeping the genre alive, refusing to believe the genre they loved so much was dead. This fan base was considered too niche for mainstream developers to focus their attention on.
So what was the relatively small group of fans of this fading genre to do? The answer of course was to start making their own games. The growth of this can be directly attributed to adventure game creation engines like Chris Jones' Adventure Game Studio.
This tool helped spawn the careers of several noted adventure game developers, such as Dave Gilbert and Yahtzee Croshaw. But these games, while giving fans exactly what they wanted, and possessing compelling stories, characters and puzzles, followed the same conventions as their predecessors -- doing little to evolve the mechanics of the genre to open it to new players, as was happening other genres during this time.
Meanwhile, a new type of game was being coined: the casual game. This arguably started with someone realizing millions of people were playing Minesweeper, Solitaire and other card games on their PCs. These were simple, accessible games, with small time commitments, big rewards, and small budgets, reaching a wide audience digitally, and the best part is that they were making money!
With the growth of these casual games, distributed digitally, there was a new accepted method of reaching customers. And there was also a new way small developers could make small games and make a profit.
The rise of digital distribution suited developers of point-and-click adventures to a tee. Games developed in Adventure Game Studio were being sold for a small profit.
Then Telltale Games appeared on the scene, not only successfully implementing the idea of episodic content, but breathing life into the old classics, such as Sam & Max, that defined the genre back in the golden years. Finally, the niche adventure game audience was being fed again. But were the new games hitting the mark?
One problem with adventure games having lain dormant for so long is that they didn't have a chance to evolve with the rest of gaming's foundational genres. In some respects, adventure games have been stuck in the '90s, and the recent resurgence has picked up right where things left off.
What we are seeing now is successful adventure game developers going through a period of rapid evolution as they come to terms with an audience with a very different set of circumstances -- an audience with limited time and spoiled for choice.
No longer are people going to wander around for four hours until they happen to use one particular item on another, or find that 2 by 5-pixel area. Even hardcore fans begrudge this kind of treatment as they turn to Mass Effect 2, Halo, or Grand Theft Auto for a more user-friendly experience.
When I began development of my game, Jolly Rover, I had just come from two tours of duty working as a contract programmer on two adventure games being published by casual game developer PlayFirst. The first game was Emerald City Confidential, working for Dave Gilbert, the second was Avenue Flo, working directly for PlayFirst. Emerald City Confidential's design was approached from the traditional adventure game side, while Avenue Flo's design was approached from the traditional casual game side.