Adventure games are story-driven games that often feature immersive environments and brain-teasing puzzles. The genre has enjoyed a small revival in recent years thanks to the likes of Broken Age and Thimbleweed Park.
A good adventure game will start with a world that is richly populated with characters and history. It will also contain some underlying secrets that the player will discover through exploration.
The genre of adventure games grew out of interactive fiction, with its roots in the pioneering Colossal Cave Adventure released in 1976. As computer technology improved, visual adventures were created – first with vector graphics, then bitmap graphics and animations such as in 1984’s King’s Quest from Sierra On-Line.
In the 1990s, a wave of Japanese developers popularized 3D third-person direct control adventure games such as Chunsoft’s Portopia Serial Murder Case and Human Entertainment’s Mizzurna Falls. These games are notable for their narrative focus, puzzle-solving and immersive worlds.
Early adventure games included “dead ends” or player-character deaths, but this is now largely avoided due to negative reactions. However, many players enjoy these situations, so there are divergent design philosophies about when this should be included. This has led to the evolution of choice-based adventure games and walking simulators such as Life Is Strange, Gabriel Knight, Machinarium, The Walking Dead, and Oxenfree. Unlike action and role-playing games, most adventure games require the player to solve puzzles rather than participate in combat or other action sequences.
Adventure Games offer narrative immersion and brain-teasing puzzles. Some of these games also include action elements in their gameplay. This mix of seemingly incompatible genres works well. For example, a game that unfolds in a setting reminiscent of ancient Greece should feature objects and crafts that fit the time and theme, so that the player feels fully immersed in the game.
Investigation is a key element in many adventure games, and most gamers agree that the ability to unravel mystery and discover new elements (characters, decor or mechanisms) is what keeps them hooked on the genre. These discovery-based elements also serve to diversify the gameplay. Action-adventure games that are biased on movement often become monotonous and the inclusion of puzzles helps to liven them up.
A good example is the 2009 release Machinarium by Amanita Design, which blended gorgeous vistas with quirky and brain-bending gameplay. Other great examples of this are Samorost and Cube Escape: Birthday, both of which have a signature surreal and unnerving atmosphere.
When computers first became capable of displaying visuals, game designers with narrative ambitions turned to the nascent graphic adventure genre. Early titles like Zork and Wishbringer used clumsy basic vector graphics but allowed the player to determine the outcome of the story.
In the ’80s, Sierra On-Line introduced a new kind of visual adventure with its rudimentary Mystery House and full-featured King’s Quest. The next year Illinois developer ICOM Simulations introduced the first Apple Mac-inspired point and click interface in Deja Vu, which supplanted the text parser with a mouse-driven approach.
By the 1990s, visual adventures had evolved into the first-person exploration game, allowing the player to view the world and solve puzzles from a character’s perspective. Some games, such as Gabriel Knight or Machinarium, use a third-person perspective and focus more on character interaction and storytelling than brainteasing challenges. Other games present a hybrid of these styles such as Dragon’s Lair or Space Ace, which combined full motion video with computer-generated graphics.
Companies that produce them
Throughout the years, many companies have produced adventure games. From the Infocom and Magnetic Scrolls of the old text genre to modern 3D-based titles like Gabriel Knight 3 and Myst, developers have used the medium to explore different worlds and tell compelling stories.
As computers became more advanced, pure adventure games began to see a decline in popularity. Still, a few franchises survived the downturn including LucasArts’ Sam & Max and Monkey Island series as well as Broderbund Software’s Nancy Drew.
In the early 2000s, the genre experienced something of a rebirth. Some of this was driven by the success of a few 3D-based titles that combined elements of the action genre such as Spec Ops and Assassin’s Creed, while others embraced a more traditional approach, such as Myst and Syberia. The genre also saw a revival from smaller studios such as Daedalic Entertainment, Deck13 and Future Games.