Culturevulture Plays [Computer] Games
Much to my surprise and delight, I’ve found the best of the sub-sub-genre of computer ‘adventure games’ to be completely engrossing, mesmerizing, fascinating and just plain fun. So please suspend your disbelief for a few paragraphs, while I explain.
I played Colossal Cave Adventure, or simply, Adventure, in the early 1980’s. Developed in 1976 and reported to be the first computer adventure game ever, it was completely text based…just small green words on a black terminal screen. The object of the game was to find one’s way around a cave inhabited by axe-throwing trolls and other creatures, by responding with text commands to phrases such as ‘You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.’ It was intriguing at first, but it was very difficult for the casual player.
I was too busy through the 80’s and 90’s to participate in the rise of graphical computer and video games, except to observe that I was not the target market for the arcade games, hand-eye coordination games, war games, sports games, racing games, action games, role playing games and simulation games that began their meteoric rise then and now comprise almost all of the $7 Billion computer and console game market.
However, when I recently took a look at single-player adventure games, I discovered, to my pleasure, well-plotted, complex, imaginative, interactive 2-D and 3-D adventures that focus on a story, making them much more similar to film or fiction than to the common conception of video games. And the best games have pre-rendered and animated graphics that are artistically designed and simply beautiful, making them look like movies, or better. The characters’ voices are acted and accompanied by subtitles. There are musical scores and sound effects to round out the atmosphere that envelops and transports the player into the world created by the game. And because they are interactive and have challenges and variations, they are much more absorbing than the passive activities of reading books or watching films or television. All this for $20 to $40 a pop.
PC adventure games are typified by a first-person or third-person protagonist, who goes on a journey or quest, solves a mystery, or has another adventure. Most games begin with a short movie video (called a ‘cut scene’) that lasts for several minutes, introduces the main characters and sets the stage for the experience. It is then up to the player to determine the central character’s actions. You, the player, by pointing and clicking with your mouse, move the character through the environment. To proceed further in the adventure, the protagonist must find and gather objects by clicking on them with your mouse. Although highlighted when your mouse is close to them, often the objects are not that easy to find. These items are saved in an inventory to use later or use in combination with other gathered objects. Many games also provide resource materials such as diaries, letters and other documents that may be accessed for reference at any point in the game.
In the game, the central character moves through detailed and complex locations while interacting with and asking questions of other characters. For example, The Longest Journey (www.longestjourney.com), which was published in 2000 and is widely recognized as one of the best of the genre, has over 160 locations and 50 speaking characters. I had avoided playing it because it involves a protagonist who lives in the 23rd century and moves between two worlds. I am more rooted in today’s world. But since the long awaited sequel, Dreamfall, The Longest Journey (http://www.dreamfall.com) was just released, I thought that I’d try playing The Longest Journey and then, if I like it, I’d try Dreamfall. I’ve just started The Longest Journey and so far I’m utterly captivated because of its imaginative coming-of age story, its textual and visual complexity, and the strong and nuanced voice acting.
The Longest Journey
A sizable aspect of PC adventure games is the need to solve puzzles in order to move ahead in the journey. To avoid the frustration that may arise from difficult puzzles, or if a player simply wants or needs a jump start, there are helpful websites with ‘walkthroughs’… narrative descriptions of how to move through a game (see, e.g., http://www.justadventure.com/Walkthroughs.shtm) or hints (see. e.g., http://www.uhs-hints.com). I don’t have any shame in using these sites…after all, the experience is supposed to be fun. Keepsake (http://wickedstudios.com/keepsake), a new game that I enjoyed thoroughly because of its artistically designed and stunning graphics as well as its story, has hints within the game itself that a player can access easily.
Most games take 20 to 30 hours to complete. Since one plays over an extended period of time, the game must be saved at each stopping point, so that it may be later resumed at that point. Saving a game at various places also provides the opportunity to go back to an earlier point in the game and choose a different way to proceed. For example, in And Then There Were None, a recent and pretty good game based on the Agatha Christie book (http://www.agathachristiegame.com/attwn/index.html), there are multiple endings. How it ends depends on moves made earlier. And you can go back to a saved point and change the ending. I found the characters’ acting and dialogue a bit wooden, but in November, when Adventure Games releases Murder on the Orient Express (www.AgathaChristieGame.com), with David Suchet playing the role of Hercule Poirot, I’ll definitely give it a try.
And Then There Were None
Some games quickly become classics. Syberia (http://www.adventurecompanygames.com/tac/syberia) and its sequel, Syberia II (http://www.syberia2.info) are two of the best games I’ve played. Developed by author and artistic director Benot Sokal, they are the story of a young lawyer who goes to Switzerland to complete the sale of a toy/robot company, but she is gradually caught up in the imaginative world of the illusive robot creator. She follows his trail to the island of ‘Syberia’ where he believes he will find mammoths still living. These games have a beauty, complexity and poignancy that transcend the medium of computer games.
In order to succeed, a game must not only excel in its plot, writing, graphics, voice acting, and music, it also must work properly as a piece of software. For example, some older games occasionally freeze or it may be difficult to click on an object and collect it. So before you load a game, even a new game, check the website for patches. The majority of game problems I have read about on the web involve the inadequacy of the user’s computer. These games require a robust PC. I have a relatively new desktop with a 17 inch flat screen monitor. The only thing I had to add was a video card. It was pretty easy to install. Typical minimum requirements for new games are:
• OS: Windows® ME/2000/XP
• CPU: 1 GHz Intel® Pentium® 3 processor or AMD® Athlon™ processor
• RAM: 256 MB (512 MB on Windows® XP)
• Video: 32 MB 3D accelerated video card (NVIDIA GeForce™ or ATI)
• CD-ROM: 4x (or PC DVD-ROM drive)
• Sound: 100% DirectX® Compliant (EAX Recommended)
• DirectX: DirectX® 9.0
• Hard Disk Space: 1.4 GB
• Other: Mouse, Keyboard and Speakers
Now that you’ve completed PC Adventure Games 101, I encourage you to overcome any biases you may have and give adventure games a try. And please stay tuned for reviews of new games on Culturevulture.net.
©Emily S. Mendel, September 2006. All Rights Reserved.