The Year of Living Dangerously

By Gordon Aplin (January, 2004)
Wow! The last half of 2003 has simply flown by and at Quandary we have barely had time to surface for air as a flood of adventure games was released, some releases barely days apart. Of course we picked the busiest time possible to embark on a major project of our own which was to enter all of Quandary into a database and give the whole site a facelift ... as some of you may have noticed.

Just prior to this, in July, we moved to a new host and that gave us much more room to expand. Then we casually mentioned to Steve Metzler that we were thinking about updating the look of Quandary and spoke wistfully of databases and cascading style sheets, and before we knew what had hit us Steve was off and running with his Quandary Project. Single-handedly he dragged us kicking and screaming belatedly into the new millennium. And while Steve did the bulk of the work we had to learn how to tame the beast ... and the database too! And maintain and update the old site at the same time. And play and review games that threatened to overwhelm us.

Fortunately, we had another Steve up our sleeves. Steve Ramsey toiled manfully (personfully?) to produce more of his excellent reviews which helped to keep Quandary ticking over. And Bonnie Collins kept us on our toes finding new free fun sites and news for us to link to whilst Rosemary and I managed to blink at each other like strangers and utter profound remarks like, "I can't cope" and "we'll never get this done!"

All that aside we are pleased to have survived and we think the results are worth the effort and reflect our confidence in the future of the Adventure genre.

But, as I am fond of telling Rosemary, every silver cloud has a dark lining and I foresee a storm front looming on the horizon like the dark clouds over Mordor ... yes, we managed to squeeze in the last chapter of The Lord of the Rings movie series as part of our New Year celebrations. Two of the 'big name' recent releases: Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon and Uru: Ages Beyond Myst have gone 3D with stunning visual effects which we can only applaud. But why, oh why, do developers associate 3D with repetitive action sequences? Why do they insist on frustrating adventure fans with these interminably tedious sequences where you die if you fail and you will keep on dying until you get it right? Now I was prepared (albeit reluctantly) for this in Broken Sword (produced as it was for the console market where repetition is seen as fun) but I didn't expect to confront jumping and dying sequences in a game from the Myst creators.

Let's face it. Endlessly repetitive (and often reflex-testing) action sequences are not innovative or original. They've been around since the earliest days of graphic adventures. They were pointless and frustrating then and they haven't improved by being transposed to a 3D environment. Besides, if adventurers want to play action-jumping games we can buy Tomb Raider, Prince of Persia, or any of the other innumerable action clones.

The other worrying thing is the recycling of the tired old arguments that action in adventure games is the way of the future so we had better get used to it. Already these sentiments are once more being trotted out. How many times do we need to fight this battle? (see Further Reading below). There are those who like blended genres who are once again insisting that more adventures should include action. I would take their arguments more seriously if, just once, I heard them demand that First Person Shooters incorporate more puzzles and less shooting to appeal to a wider audience. I won't be holding my breath.

We can only hope that this is an aberration and not the beginning of a trend. Jumping lava pools or gaping abysses (and pushing boxes and stones and climbing ladders for that matter) could well eclipse mazes, sliding tile and music puzzles as stocking-fillers and contenders for the *Lazy Programming* Award. We can only hope that the use of 3D will eventually mature so that cleverly constructed puzzles will be created to take advantage of the genuine opportunity that the medium undoubtedly offers.

Returning to a brighter note we wish you a Happy New Year and much adventuring in 2004.

Gordon Aplin

Further Reading:
Adventure Games: Sacred Cow or Sacrificial Lamb
The Mouse that Roared
Slings and Arrows

Copyright © Gordon Aplin 2004. All rights reserved.