You must remember this ...

By Gordon Aplin (July, 2003)
Remember when adventure games died? Remember when certain reviewers would commence a review of a new adventure game by expressing their surprise that someone had gone to the trouble of making one, and ended by expressing doubt about the game's ability to revive the genre? Remember when major multi-genre magazines and websites simply stopped reviewing adventure games altogether? Remember the time when European adventure games couldn't find a publisher outside of Europe? For those of you who are too young to remember that bleak time let me tell you a tale of what happened. I'm sure you will forgive an old man's ramblings and his hazy memory ....

I remember it as if it was yesterday but it must have been way back in ' 96 or ' 97 when we heard the first rumours about the death of the genre that started it all. Oh I know some of you have your fancy consoles and 3D real time action games now delivering a movie-like experience but take it from me, it was adventure that started it, why that's where we got the name from and I guess we were kind of stuck with it and ... where was I? Oh yes. I remember when adventure was once the most prolific genre? Ah those were the days ... but don't get me started on the Golden Age or I'll never finish my story.

As I said, it was late 1996 or thereabouts when adventure games died. It was in all the big magazines, I remember reading about it and feeling sad ... and angry too ... but it didn't seem like there was anything we could do about it. Of course, not everyone believed it and there were still some adventure game sightings even though most of the reputable mags ignored them ... so as not to get our hopes up, I guess. Funny thing is, it wasn't true, not at all. Adventure games never died but for some reason most of us can't figure out, those in power tried to make us think that they had. Crazy isn't it?

Some sort of mass hysteria seemed to take hold and many people went around saying "the adventure is dead" and I think some people wished it to be true. Maybe it was all just a mistake but no one had the guts to print a retraction and say "sorry, we got it wrong". So when evidence to the contrary was presented it was belittled or completely ignored. Which is, I suppose, understandable, as it's sometimes hard for people to admit when they are wrong. Trouble is, saying something often enough can become a self-fulfilling prophecy and so a great deal of damage was done over the next few years. Remember when Legend was famous for its adventures? No, of course you don't. You're too young. Why, I can remember when the heart of Sierra was cut out ... remember Sierra? They used to do all those great series. King's Quest was one of the best selling series of all time yet even Sierra believed that adventures were dead so they made the last one into an action game. And they also scrapped Space Quest, Laura Bow, Quest for Glory, Gabriel Knight and more ... but you wouldn't remember those. Sierra used to be full of life, now all they've got is Half Life.

I could tell you about the corpses of nearly completed adventure games that were never to see the light of day, representing months and even years of work by the developers and never to be played by the fans. Interplay's Star Trek: Secret of Vulcan Fury; Blizzard's Warcraft: Lord of the Clans; Activision's Planetfall: The Search for Floyd; Sylum's Curley's Adventure; Sierra's Cloak; Legend's sequel to Companions of Xanth, and Access' next Tex Murphy to name just a few and there were many more that struggled to find a publisher and suffered damaging delays. I still get angry when I think of all the creative talent of writers, programmers, graphic artists, musicians, actors, directors, producers, not to mention all the ancillary staff thrown on to the scrap heap, their dreams in ruins because a bean counter read somewhere that adventure games were dead. Collateral damage? Friendly fire? You don't know the half of it.

Yes, those were dark days indeed ... but we know now that adventure games didn't die. Hell, some of them that were supposed to be dead back then are now spawning sequels! Adventures are again being talked about and even praised in multi-genre magazines and websites that once pronounced them dead. Still no apology though. Guess the "gods who can make or break a game" can't bring themselves to admit they were wrong. Guess they're not as powerful as they like to believe they are. On the other hand, perhaps their belated and grudging recognition of the fact that good adventure games continue to be made is some sort of muted apology for them being so wrong in the first place. They can't say it outright though; they have to talk in terms of an adventure revival or even a resurrection to maintain the fiction (some may call it a lie) that they really did die.

So how did adventure games survive their years in the wilderness, their excommunication? Well that's easy to explain. You see adventure games have always had a tenacious fan base. And when you have played a couple of adventures you learn that obstacles are there to be overcome and even 'death' is just another obstacle to progress. Adventure fans enjoy several evolutionary advantages that are programmed into them by the games. They have long memories and can remember important things like what really did happen to George's lucky lump of coal, and who is totally unprepared for an attack of the killer turtles? They have learned to solve complex problems in novel and often quite surprising ways. They think laterally and prefer to choose the path less travelled. They have a wealth of experience to draw upon and they have learned to use tools. Powerful tools like the Internet. It is not coincidental that most of the current crop of well-known adventure game sites and forums sprang up around the time that adventure games were said to be dead.

Adventure game fans refused to lie down and play dead. They learned about adventures that were ignored in most other media and they were prepared to purchase online if necessary (as it frequently was). By banding together online adventure fans refused to recognise the 'authority' of the powerful multi-genre magazines. (Definition of an adventure player: A person who thinks otherwise). At the same time certain creative and passionate adventure game developers (mainly in Europe) continued to produce games for this 'dead' genre and the fans supported them.

It was the fans and the developers with the aid of the Internet that maintained and nurtured the adventure game and overtime introduced new players to the genre. They are the real heroes of this story and they should stand up and take a bow. They were right all along.

Copyright © Gordon Aplin 2003. All rights reserved.