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Monkey Island

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The gas and the chainsaw: Together again for the first time
We were lucky enough to have Ron Gilbert (Maniac Mansion, Monkey Island) on Sup Holmes a few weeks back. Looking back, it looks like Ron may have been utilizing the show for a little pre-kickstarter promotion. Explains why h...

Did Pirates of the Caribbean rip off Monkey Island?

Oct 26 // Jonathan Holmes
[embed]283049:56111:0[/embed] Despite my fanboy freak out, we still had an amazing conversation. We talked about working with George Lucas, how frustrations with other games can inspire innovations in his own designs, the influence of Blazing Saddles on the ending of Monkey Island 2, his thoughts on modern adventure games like Lone Survivor, Kentucky Route Zero, and The Stanley Parable, the actual secret of Monkey Island,  how 90% of your ideas suck, why that's OK, his dream to return to Monkey Island, the game he's planning now, and so much more.  I also couldn't help but squeeze out some resentment I'd been holding in. Those Pirates of the Caribbean movies? They should have been Monkey Island movies. To me, that's what they were -- poor man's Monkey Island movies. Ron seemed to know exactly what I meant, though he was a little more composed and respectful than I was. He certainly looked calm. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen someone look so consistently relaxed. Maybe it's because his face is made entirely of squares. I bet that helps.  Thanks again to Ron for being on the show, and if you want to meet the creators of Adventures of Pip and maybe win a code for Devil's Dare, tune in for the live show here at 4pm EST. We'd love talk to you and give you things.
Sup Holmes photo
Get to know the people who make great videogames
[Sup Holmes is a weekly talk show for people that make great videogames. It airs live every Sunday at 4pm EST on Youtube, and can be found in Podcast form on Libsyn and iTunes.] Last week on Sup Holmes we...

Monkey Island photo
Monkey Island

How Ron Gilbert would maybe make a new Monkey Island game


IF.... he did. IF
Apr 16
// Alasdair Duncan
With The Cave released and Ron Gilbert departing Double Fine for pastures new, he's had some time to reflect on maybe his most cherished legacy, Monkey Island. In a blog post, Ron speculates how he'd design a new Monkey Islan...

Carnival of Monkey Island photo
Carnival of Monkey Island

Carnival of Monkey Island is a fanmade, hand-drawn sequel


Please don't Cease and Desist this, Disney!
Apr 10
// Allistair Pinsof
I want a new Monkey Island. So does some guy on the Adventure Game Studio forum, who announced Carnival of Monkey Island, which is a fanmade entry that will take place inbetween the second and third MI games (is that a m...

Looking back at Star Wars, Monkey Island, and LucasArts

Apr 04 // Allistair Pinsof
I sometimes wonder why more games don't feature extensive use of time travel, and then Iremember that Day of the Tentacle exists, so they don't need to. Dave Grossman and Tim Schafer's first game as lead designers is adventure game perfection. It's set in one location yet covers three distinct time periods. It won't melt your brain with time travelling quandaries like Primer, instead it focuses on humor and puzzles that, while steeped in loony adventure game logic, never threaten to become unintuitive.My original copy of Day of the Tentacle was the floppy version, but there was a second CD-ROM version that came with the wonderful voice acting I no longer know how I could have lived without. When my folks finally upgraded to a computer not stuck in the past, the first purchase I made was the “better” Day of the Tentacle, and what a delight that second playthrough was.This was LucasArts at its peak, and it's how I always want to remember the company. Not as a bully of a publisher, not as a company that milked Star Wars dry, and certainly not dissolved, but as a studio that churned out some of the most hilarious and clever games I've ever had the pleasure to play. - Fraser Brown Our family didn't have a decent PC until the mid-90s, so the majority of my gaming had been done on the NES and SNES. Once my dad dropped the cash for a blazing fast Pentium 75, I knew one of the first games I absolutely needed was X-Wing.The X-Wing series (followed by TIE Fighter, the multiplayer X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter, and finally X-Wing Alliance) were space combat sims that put you in the cockpit of a Rebel (or Imperial) starfighter. While I'd loved the vector based Star Wars arcade game when I was younger, the X-Wing games' free flight, varying missions, and realistic (for the time) graphics blew it out of the water. There was nothing more exhilarating than deciding "screw the mission objectives" and dodging banks of turbolasers to single-handedly take down a Star Destroyer. This series was also responsible for my undying hatred of escort missions.The catalog included with X-Wing introduced me to some of LucasArt's non-Star Wars stuff, including my personal favorite: the adventure title Sam & Max Hit the Road. Based on Steve Purcell's comic about a fedora-wearing dog and his psychotic lagomorph partner, you control the duo on a road trip across the country searching for a stolen bigfoot. It made me realize that games could not only be funny, but downright hilarious. Although the follow-up Sam & Max: Freelance Police was sadly cancelled in 2004, thankfully Telltale Games (made up mostly of former LucasArts employees including Purcell) picked up the ball the next year and gave us two great episodic sequels. - Aaron Yost I have a fond place in my heart for a lot of LucasArts games, but if I had to pick one favorite, it'd be Indiana Jones and the Fate Of Atlantis. I ordered it out of a Scholastic Book Fair catalog from my school, in spite of the fact that it wasn't remotely a book. At the time, I was having a miserable beginning to junior high school, and had moved from living next door to my best friend in a fun neighborhood, to an old house miles from anything in the middle of the woods. 1996 was a rough year for me, especially the cold and dark Connecticut winter spent in that lonely house, and some of my fondest memories from that time are exploring Crete, The Azores, and Monte Carlo with Indiana Jones. Even when stumped by some intensely frustrating (no, seriously, they still piss me off) puzzles, I still managed to entertain myself by trying to make Indy jam a broken ship rib into Sophia Hapgood's Atlantean necklace. "I don't think that will work."We all have a game or two that makes us get all sentimental, for reasons that transcend your run-of-the-mill nostalgia, and Indiana Jones And The Fate Of Atlantis is one of mine, and that's enough to make me pour one out for LucasArts. If nothing else, it's an Indiana Jones sequel that didn't involve Shia LaBouef swinging around with CGI monkeys. - Max Scoville Maniac Mansion completely changed the way I looked at games. Just utterly destroyed it. Up until that fateful day in the late 1980's when I brought the game home for my recently acquired Commodore 64 computer, the concept of different playable characters requiring their own approach to problem solving had never really crossed my mind before. I had probably had the experience by this point without really thinking about it (the North American release of Super Mario Bros. 2 was already out by this time and I'm sure I had played it somewhere), but seeing the various combinations of kids that were possible and the realization that every group would require me to find other ways to rescue Sandy from the clutches of the mad Dr. Edison blew my young mind. It was so effective that I never even noticed how startlingly inappropriate the game's content was for a nine year-old. No child should be exposed to the tragedy that was the Ford Edsel.It became something of an obsession, ultimately, and I still have a batch of 5/14" floppy discs with save files for every possible combination of kids. I wonder if I ever finished with Jeff and Michael... - Conrad Zimmerman   Maniac Mansion changed my idea of what videogames could be, and in doing so, changing the trajectory of my life in a permanent way, but it was Zak McKracken the really blew the lid off for me. The game worked to parody aspects of American culture that had already seemed ridiculous to my 12 year old mind, while effectively giving me a believably "realistic" adult world to safely explore. These two aspects worked together in perfect sync. The more believable the world, the more effective (and hilarious) the parody, the more drive to explore the world, and so forth. The power in that formula is unquestionable. This is a videogame that made me believe, even if for only the briefest of moments, that aliens might be using telephones to make me stupider, and that someday, little plastic cards may replace paper money. What am I saying "had"? I still believe those things to this day, and for arguably good reason. More than anything though, Zak Mckracken amazed me with how unique, original, and personable it was. Unlike Maniac Mansion before it, and Monkey Island after, Zak Mckracken didn't rely on film genre gags and tropes to get by. It was a wholly original madcap adventure, released for Commodore 64, in the year 1988. That in itself is amazing. This was a time before the internet, before Adult Swim, before any non-Monty Python Frankenstein-ing of ludicrous surrealism sewn together with cultural satire was known to be potentially palatable for the mass market in any form, let alone in the largely untested medium of videogames. And here was a game about a tabloid reporter who meets a two-headed squire, digs a into solid rock with french bread, travels the world, infiltrates a secret alien headquarters, trades brains with a dolphin, and goes to mars, all of which with nearly no death or violence to be found. I couldn't believe it was real. To be so consistently surprised, amused, and enlightened by a game was a first for me, and it's a feeling I've been chasing ever since. I can only hope that the original creators of Zak McKracken will reacquire the license for the property, so that Zak's adventures may outlive the flawed, trailblazing, and now sadly departed studio that birthed it. - Jonathan Holmes The first time I played through The Dig I did so huddled in front of my parents' 486, my two brothers and neighbor at my side. We didn't care that it was voiced by the dude who played T-1000, produced by Steven Spielberg, or written by that guy who wrote Ender's Game; we were there for one reason and one reason only -- the thrill of discovery. And boy did The Dig thrill.The production values were astounding, the world was exciting, and goddamn if some of these puzzles weren't downright hard. In fact, to this day I still have the original game manual filled with our notes and solutions to the puzzles, and when it was finally released on Steam not too long ago, I was able to fly through the entire adventure in a matter of minutes -- a far cry from the days upon days we spent on that original outing.The Dig was the first adventure game I ever remember really investing myself in, and the first game I played through from start to finish with my brothers and friend (who would later become my gaming compatriots), and for that I will always hold it dear to my heart. - Andy Dixon If there was ever a game that was eligible for the "most improved sequel" award, it would be Dark Forces II. Although the original Dark Forces is a serviceable first-person-shooter, Jedi Knight really took the genre by the throat, turned it on its head, force-gripped it, and threw it off the ledge.What was the simple innovation you ask? Lightsabers. By adding a third person lightsaber mechanic into the game, Lucasarts wowed PC fans everywhere and let them give into their darkest Jedi fantasies right in their own living rooms.But it wasn't just melee combat that made you feel like a badass -- the power to wield the Force -- either dark, light or neutral (a rarity for any Star Wars game) -- allowed you to customize the experience to suit your playstyle. With my group of friends through LAN play, all of us were able to craft our own unique way of experiencing the game -- ages before "perks" were a widespread first-person-shooter mainstay.To this day, no one really does lightsaber combat quite like the Jedi Knight franchise, and it will be sorely missed. - Chris Carter George Lucas always talked about how the Stars Wars franchise -- the comic books, the toys, the games, the lackluster prequels -- are there to allow him to make experimental films, returning to his roots established in his USC short films and on the set of THX 1138. He never made good on this promise, but game developer and publisher LucasArts sure did. While Star Wars games -- many of which were experimental and incredibly influential in their own right -- continued throughout the years, LucasArts used the revenue to invest into some of the most memorable and peculiar games of the '90s. I still don't know how to play Afterlife, I still think Outlaws sounds and looks like nothing else, and I still want to set aside time to check out Gladius and Herc's Adventure, one of these days. What I'll think about most, when it comes to the LucasArts name, are all the days spent playing its adventure titles. I still return to The Curse of Monkey Island, Full Throttle, and Grim Fandango, and instead of being let down by nostalgia, I find so much more to appreciate now that I know how rare it is to find quality storytelling, good humor, and innovative art direction in games. When I load them up on my Nexus 7, it still feels like the future to me and everyone else is just struggling to catch-up. - Allistair Pinsof [image via AllGamesBeta]
LucasArts Retrospective photo
'Death makes sad stories of us all.'
With the Stars Wars license and money behind LucasArts, the studio only needed to follow. Instead, they innovated for 31 years. Not only did the studio have a hand in adventure, first-person shooter, real-time strategy, and f...

Double Fine photo
Double Fine

Ron Gilbert announces departure from Double Fine


The adventure veteran is working on an iOS game, until his next project
Mar 12
// Allistair Pinsof
In 1990, Ron Gilbert made the genre-defining Secret of Monkey Island with Tim Schafer. Two decades later, Gilbert joined Schafer's studio, Double Fine Productions. And now, after releasing his latest adventure, The Cave, Gilb...
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GOG.com welcomes Sam, Max, and Guybrush


Jun 26
// Fraser Brown
GOG.com has been my go-to site for adventure gaming for quite some time. It used to just be for the classics I remember from my misspent youth; whiled away with pointing and, indeed, clicking. Now, more and more modern titles...

Preview: Double Fine ventures into The Cave

May 24 // Ryan Perez
The Cave (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [previewed]) Developer: Double Fine Productions Publisher: Sega Release: TBA 2013 First, I want to clear up what this game isn't: It's neither a point-and-click style game, nor is it in old-school 2D sprites. Can you at least handle that? Please do, because everything else that is so loved about this genre is certainly here, and in the cherished style of one of the genre's pioneers, Ron Gilbert. For those of you who don't know who Ron Gilbert is, well, I feel a tad sorry for you. His body of work consists of some of the most cherished games in history: Maniac Mansion, The Secret of Monkey Island, Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, and more. I'm pretty sure he also invented driving on two wheels while blasting Sabbath (screw it, might as well give him a little more). I'm an infant in this industry, compared to my peers, and even I've experienced this man's games. So an adventure title being made by a man such as Gilbert would be like an epic biopic being directed by Orson Welles, were he alive today. It's the creator making another of his divine creations. The Cave started off exactly how I expected, charmingly funny. An ominous voice explained how he has been a source of hope and desire for people throughout the ages -- those who simply seek for their greatest of wishes to come true. We were then introduced to the Cave. Really, it was a talking cave. Don't laugh at him, though. As he stated, "It's hard enough dating, as it is." Players are given the choice between three of seven character archetypes: the wise Monk, the daring Adventurer, the slack-jawed Hillbilly, the methodical Scientist, the stalwart Knight, the rift-bending Time Traveler, and the creepy-as-shit Twins. All of these characters, as expected, have their own personality, story arcs, and special abilities. How you combine them, though, is where the real meat of the experience lies. After picking a combination of three characters, players are thrown into the depths of the Cave, where they must solve a variety of zany and kooky puzzles -- in that familiar Gilbert fashion -- to reach that specific area of the cave where a particular character's wish will come true. Double Fine was pretty light on the details of each character's wish and quest, but after being told that the Hillbilly's ultimate goal is to find love, I can tell that plenty of gratifying heart, humor and hubris will be present in each character's journey. Stuff like this is where Double Fine excels, after all. Did I mention the game is kooky? One of the puzzles shown consisted of the Scientist, Knight, and Hillbilly. At a particular area of the Cave, a giant, fire-breathing monster blocked their path (discovered after the lovelorn yokel was fried to a crisp). Just before the monster lay a spiked pit filled with bones, and above it hung the giant arm of a crane, which lowered into the pit and hoisted up whatever remains it could grab. To lure the monster to the pit, though, the Scientist had to reactivate a vending machine (which read "OMDOGGG!") with a bucket of water, subsequently providing a plump, juicy sausage. She put the frank on a spike in the pit, the monster began gnawing away at it, and then bam. The crane pulled the then-yelping and squealing beast out of harm's way. Another such puzzle was from the Knight's storyline, where a large coin had to be retrieved from a deadly dragon, and then traded for a princess's tiara. Obviously, a head-on approach resulted in a flame-broiled archetype, but the Knight's special ability -- a magical aura that protected him from harm -- was the perfect distraction as the Scientist snuck into a gate behind the dragon with the words "Do not leave gate open" written beside it, nabbed the coin, and then ran off with it. Unfortunately, she didn't close the gate behind her, and as she ascended towards the princess, the sounds of chaos and bloody murder could be heard. One random voice even screamed, "What idiot left the gate open?!" When the Scientist reached the Princess's tower, though, her highness dangled from the gnawing jaws of the escaped dragon. No worries, though; the beast coughed up the tiara after he gulped her down. These two puzzles are but a taste of The Cave's many different puzzles that are indicative of the adventure games that inspired it. They never really made much sense, logically speaking, but they sure were funny and a blast to figure out. A lot of you are probably wondering how the game looks and plays, though. As I stated before, it doesn't look as old-school as many fans would have liked, but it is still in 2D. Or rather 2.5D, to be specific. The game is being built with 3D graphics, but on a two-dimensional plane, based in a seamless environment (no more going from room to room, static screens and all). Nonetheless, it looks great, as is expected from the fantastic art direction that Double Fine typically provides. With all that said, The Cave handles much like a 2D platformer. While no balancing acts or quick actions are required, the camera constantly follows whichever character is being controlled. Like I mentioned in previous examples, up to three archetypes are chosen at any given time, which requires the players to switch between them, depending on the situation or puzzle that is present. Basically, The Cave is an adventure game at heart, with some of the trappings of more modern titles. Considering that the game will also be available on consoles, it only makes sense that such a control scheme would be present. So there you have it. As countless eyes have been gazing at the activities of Double Fine, they've been slowly but surely working with a genre that many people have long considered "dead." Obviously it's not; publishers have just kept it caged for many years. Thankfully, companies like Double Fine have enough faith in their fans and the genre to let it run loose for a little while longer. And yes, if you caught the rumors from earlier this week, this is also being published by Sega. Weird, right?
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Double Fine is one of those rare anomalies that carries a truck-ton of admiration from its fans, almost no scorn or distaste from anyone in this industry, and yet it has still experienced a fluctuation of moderate monetary s...

The grand adventure: Making a comeback

Mar 30 // Fraser Brown
I was something of a late adopter when it came to digital distribution. I clung to my boxes and physical media for as long as the world let me. Everybody has a price, though. It turned out that my price was the complete Space Quest collection on Steam. Imagine my surprise when I noticed that it was far from the only example of a classic adventure game on the platform, indeed, there were plenty of new ones as well. Steam already had a massive user base and it offered a great space for promotion.  Telltale Games is no stranger to digital distribution; its games can be found on all manner of digital platforms, including those of the console variety. CEO Dan Connors explained, "Digital distribution allows independent publishers to reach the customers without taking on the costs associated with building and marketing a retail title." Telltale sells directly to their customers via their own site, as well. "We're going to be relaunching that soon, because we've learned a ton and we're really going to start making that a big part of our mission again, to get a community there and get people excited and offering them things they can't get in other places. It's a way you can test experiences, try new things, message however you want, position product however you want, provide information on products, and let people participate." Along with Steam, indie bundles have been a massive boon to smaller adventure game developers. The first three titles in the Blackwell series and Gemini Rue were both featured in indie bundles, last year. Those games were the work of Dave Gilbert and Josh Nuernberger, respectively. Dave told me, "It was like launching the games all over again. I think more people have played Blackwell in the [week since it featured on the bundle] than they have in the last five years. My inbox and forums have exploded since the Indie Royale launch, and the association also gave Blackwell the final push it needed for Steam to accept it. We’ve been trying to get the series on Steam for two years but they always said no. So we’re very grateful for that." One of the largest problems for adventure game developers in the years since the golden age of the genre was publishers' lack of faith in the products. When they were willing to invest in such a game, it was lazily marketed and rarely got the support it needed. With promotion and direct access to players, developers have been able to show that there's a healthy audience out there, which will hopefully lead to more publishers investing in these types of titles. Better tools have also made it easier for small developers to make a finished product. Adventure game studio (AGS) is a free development kit inspired by Sierra's interface for its adventure titles and it's been used to create a vast number of games, including many commercial ones. Most of Wadjet Eye's catalog used AGS. "The creation of third-party tools like AGS enable idiots like me to make these games, so more of them are being made every day." Although AGS games frequently favor a retro aesthetic, that's a design choice rather than limitations imposed by the software. Dave explained, "It’s a big misconception that AGS can only handle low-res games. It can actually go as high as you want, just most people prefer not to. So the decision to use AGS has nothing to do with aesthetic choice, but it has everything to do with money and time. Right out of the box, it has everything you need to make a point-and-click adventure game. Not having the experience or knowledge to make an engine of my own, it was the most logical choice." Dave's own games have a distinctly retro look and thematically they are similar to the much-beloved Gabriel Knight series. Playing the Blackwell series instantly transported me back in time to the days when Sierra were still blowing my mind with new adventures. It's a wonderful feeling. "Blackwell is very much me trying to do Gabriel Knight. The story of Joe Gould and Joseph Mitchell was my Jensenian attempt at merging real-life historical people with supernatural events." As Al Lowe reminded me, these smaller teams using AGS are a lot like the teams that developed adventure games in the '80s and early '90s. "I think that's great because it brings back the small team concept of one or two people working closely together on a project and actually putting their own personalities into it. I think that so much of what we see that's wrong with games today, that there is no key personality that comes through." While cost is obviously a concern, I do think that there's a tendency for adventure game fans and developers to be incredibly nostalgic and thus gravitate more towards retro design. I'm guilty of this, myself. My love of the genre classics means that I'm immediately more interested in titles which are inspired by those particular art styles or certain mechanics. In Telltale's case, Dan defends nostalgia, believing that older franchises still have much to offer. "Well I think that for us, with having Sam & Max as our flagship, we looked at the content as being so rich and relevant in the modern day... [It] needed to be brought up now. Having Sam & Max in 2004, and 2010 and all the times we've been able to use them as characters ... I mean they're just great characters and it's a great franchise. So for us introducing that content to a new audience was a huge thing." Expanding into new markets such as consoles and handhelds has also increased the userbase. Adventure games used to be pretty much a PC only affair, with the occasional shoddy console port. While PC is still the focal platform, titles like Phoenix Wright, Ghost Trick, and 999 made the DS a must for lovers of strange adventures and interactive stories. PSN and XBLA have also seen their share of adventure ports, most of Telltale's games can be found there, for instance. Fans of the genre can even get their adventure on with their phone or tablet. Machinarium on iOS is fantastic and might be even better than it was on PC, thanks to it becoming a more tactile experience. Dan seemed to be willing to embrace new platforms and technology. "It can bring more imagination to how you interact with the characters in the world and how you experience the story." He acknowledges the risk of doing that when it comes to traditionalist fans, though. "It moves away from traditional stuff and is a bit risky. So you have to be pure adventure game or you're in this vanguard story game type of place." When I recall playing most of my favorite adventure games, I remember pouring countless hours into them. Getting stuck on a puzzle meant that I was going to be doing a lot of trial-and-error experimentation, exploring loads of areas, doing a lot of pixel hunting and then finally leaving the computer to go and contemplate it elsewhere -- maybe in a dojo or on top of a mountain. Failing that, I'd pester my friends. Now there's a strong temptation to just go online and find a walkthrough, even if you've only just been stuck for a couple of minutes. It can ruin the pacing of the game and rob the player of their satisfaction at being able to think of a solution. In an effort to keep gamers immersed, or at the very least to stop them alt-tabing every time they get stumped, many modern adventures contain an in game hint system or simply less taxing puzzles. This can certainly frustrate old fashioned players, like myself, but one cannot deny it has lowered the bar for entry and possibly increased the genre's fanbase. Dave doesn't think this is really anything new, however. "You often hear that gamers are less patient these days. I’m not sure if that's true. Back in the '80s, I would spend several months playing the latest Infocom game and never think of ordering the hint book unless I was desperate. But then I got the game Enchanter, which mysteriously shipped with the hint book. I finished that game in less than a week. If I got stuck for maybe ten minutes I'd reach for the hint book, because it was so accessible. The only thing that has changed since those days is that we all have instant access to that hint book via Google. There's no reason to force hard puzzles on people, because everyone can solve them. So the trend has moved away from difficult puzzles and more towards making the experience of playing an adventure game more enjoyable. It's a very hard balance to strike." The importance of story in adventure games cannot be overstated. It's what drives the exploration forward and it's the motivation for completing the puzzles. One of the positive aspects on these titles not relying merely on head-scratchers is that there's even more effort put into the narrative. Josh Nuernberger's Gemini Rue contains one of my favorite stories in the genre of late. It's a tale of loss and identity set in a bleak neo-noir future. Even though it's an understated adventure built using AGS, it's gained a lot of attention and you'd be crazy for not checking it out.  Josh advocates the importance of telling the story through gameplay. "What I'd really like to see is games that make these complex stories your experience in the game -- e.g. you are hunted by a mysterious oppressor, or you must face your alternate personality in physical form. Many games today are unfortunately sequences of simplified gameplay strung together by cut-scenes that provide context for your actions (see many first or third-person-shooters). Great games tell stories through their gameplay -- you understand the world and the story by the way you interact with them as a player." Gemini Rue also has several action sequences: cover-based gun fights. "Although in adventure games you can't always go the route of totally removing all cut-scenes, you can at least integrate other aspects of gameplay so they don't just turn into quick time events. I knew when incorporating combat I wanted it to be meaningful and to work on its own as a mechanic. The ultimate goal is to give players a unique experience and a quick time event doesn't really capture a gunfight in the same way that a developed combat system does." I personally think that the integration of interesting mechanics is something the adventure genre desperately needed to continue expanding its audience and I think we're starting to see a lot more of that. A great example of a game that does this is Double Fine's Stacking. It was built around the delightful premise of controlling a matryoshka doll and jumping inside larger ones to gain their abilities and overcome puzzles and obstacles. It was incredibly inventive and its unique gameplay mechanic really made it stand out. Double Fine seems to have had more success with the downloadable market than it did with Psychonauts or Brutal Legend. Their use of Kickstarter to fund their latest project seems to have paid off, as well, with fans almost throwing money at the company. It will be interesting to see the long-term impact of Kickstarter on independent developers as more start to use it to secure funding. Along with shorter downloadable titles like Stacking, episodic adventures have become increasingly common in recent years. It has always struck me as a perfect fit for the genre. Most classic adventure games can be completed rather quickly if you know the solutions to the puzzles. The games' lengths were augmented by the challenge of solving the puzzles yourself. It also meant that each episode could fund the next one, making it financially more viable. It's far from an automatic route to success, however, according to Dave Gilbert. The Blackwell series has been going since 2006 and contains four games, but not all episodic series are so fortunate. "The most obvious thing that can go wrong is that the game flops. What then? Do you forge on ahead and finish the series, knowing that the first one didn’t do well? If you do, then you run a much greater risk of the sequel doing just as badly. If you don’t, then you lose a lot of faith and goodwill and that is hard to get back." Episodic games require a big investment from players as well as developers. Dave continues: "The main problem with episodic games is that isn’t a lot of faith in the format yet. Only Telltale has managed to pull it off successfully and gained the trust of the consumers. While opinions on their games vary, nobody doubts they will finish what they start. By this point, the gaming public probably has a bit more faith in my ability to deliver than most, but I still get a lot of emails from people saying they don't want to get invested in Blackwell not knowing if it will ever be finished. I can totally understand that." It's not just independent developers and publishers working to bring adventure games to a new audience, though. Quantic Dream's Heavy Rain, an interactive thriller that reminded me a lot of FMV titles from the '90s, made some big waves a couple of years ago. While it enjoyed both commercial and critical success, it also got criticized for being more movie than videogame. Our own Jim Sterling is far from a fan. However, its success may lead more publishers to take risks on games with such a strong focus on story. The now-defunct Team Bondi made quite the impression last year with their investigative adventure (and driving simulator,) L.A. Noire. It made an even bigger impression with its implosion, some might say. The game itself, if not the treatment of the people that worked on it, still deserves praise, however. Before the genre started to have problems, it was ahead of the curve when it came to animation, so it's good to see so much effort being put into making believable game worlds and characters again. If you'd asked me, back in 2005, if I ever thought big studios would be designing AAA adventure games again, I would have laughed. Now it doesn't seem nearly as absurd. I'm not going to be dramatic and suggest that we're seeing an adventure game renaissance. I wish I could, but it's simply not true. We're definitely seeing it making something of a comeback, though. There's a lot more faith in them, both from publishers and players and that's gone a long way to start bringing them back into the mainstream. The fact that the market is growing at all is a massive step forward and looking back just five or six years, we can see how far the genre has come. There are a lot of talented developers out there bringing us more and more experiences to enjoy. It might not be a renaissance yet, but that doesn't mean it won't happen.
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Check out the first part of the feature, here! The last few years have been an interesting time for the adventure game genre. After a decade of disappointment, fans finally started to see more and more titles appear and most ...

The grand adventure: Adventure games through the ages

Mar 29 // Fraser Brown
The 80s through the mid-90s have been called the golden age of adventure gaming -- it's easy to see why this period gained such a moniker. It's hard to think about the genre without taking note of Monkey Island, Space Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, or Indiana Jones, just to name a few. The adventure giants, LucasArts and Sierra Online, offered us an absurd number of challenging, witty, and frequently hilarious games as well as gripping mysteries and psychological horrors, in which we could immerse ourselves for far too many hours. Although I've never been one to play a single genre exclusively, back then, I could have probably just played these games and been more than content. Dan Connors, CEO of Telltale Games -- a success story I'll be looking at in our forthcoming second half -- emphasized how important these titles remain today and how dissatisfied gamers still look to them as the high points of the medium. "From a creativity standpoint, it was a golden age then of just all this young, super talented, super brilliant people who had all this time to invest in creating these amazing characters that are totally perfect for the space, like Guybrush.... [It's] so deeply ingrained in the gaming culture and the gaming ennui." A significant portion of my youth was swallowed up due to the creations and contributions of Al Lowe. While at Sierra Online, he worked on such classics as Kings Quest and Police Quest, but he's best known as the creator of Leisure Suit Larry, a series chronicling the misadventures of one Larry Laffer, a sleazy, horny, double entendre-loving wannabe womanizer. Adventure games were still in their infancy; it was a time of experimentation and risk taking. "I remember going to a video store with Ken [Roberts, co-founder of Sierra Online]," Al reminisced, "We walked down the aisles and looked at all the headings above the shelves, and he said, 'Why are there no mystery games? Why are there no western games?' And so that was one of the things he tried to do, to get Roberta [Williams, creator of Kings Quest and Phantasmagoria and co-founder of Sierra Online] to do a mystery product and Jim [Walls, creator of Police Quest] to do a police product and me to do a western game [the hilarious Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist]." Al calls this the baseball strategy -- Ken would look at what was missing from the game space and he'd try to fill it, like hitting a ball to where there are no fielders. It certainly served Sierra well, as their products filled many niches. Most of these games were written and developed by people who had to teach themselves. There certainly were none of the classes, courses, or workshops that we have now, and there wasn't much in the way of a previous generation to learn from, either. "You have to understand, when I started, there were no computer classes available to me. This sounds impossible to anyone growing up in the 80s, but when I started in 77, the only courses available were in COBOL and Fortran; BASIC was just a joke. I learned to program in BASIC merely by reading books, but Ken said my BASIC code wasn't good enough and I'd have to learn assembly language, so I bought a bunch of books... I couldn't take a class, there weren't any." That meant there were a lot of design choices that would seem like shortcuts or attempts to make the game artificially longer today, but it was that trial-and-error approach that allowed them to perfect the genre. Being about the same age as the Leisure Suit Larry franchise, I'm young enough that my first foray into the series -- and into adventure games in general -- occurred right as the art, animation, and mechanics started to evolve into something more recognizable to the modern player. Simple sprite art was on the way out, and gorgeous hand-drawn art started to take center stage. FMV titles like Phantasmagoria and the Tex Murphy series gave players a whole new perspective to enjoy; while they didn't age particularly well, back in the 90s, they made me feel like I was interacting with the real world and not just with a videogame. Although the FPS genre is often cited as the catalyst for the technological leaps in gaming, adventure games advanced the medium by leaps and bounds long before then, especially in terms of how we interacted with the environments. I still have a soft spot for parsing, typing in commands, and hoping for the best, or at the very least, discovering an Easter egg or hidden joke. But that was eventually dropped for more convenient interfaces which involved more clicking and a lot less typing. That's not to say that gamers didn't develop a case of rose-tinted glasses. Even back then, people wanted to return to the old ways. In Larry 7, parsing was actually included as an alternative feature, but it never took off. "The problem was," Al explained, "in Larry 7, people tried it once or twice and thought it was cool, then ignored it. It just proved to me that whatever group of people said to bring back parsers were wrong. They didn't really want to do that, they were just enamored with the concept." Unfortunately, during the mid to late 90s, adventure games started to lose popularity. Even the big titles weren't bringing in many players. The future looked bleak for Sierra, as Al reminded me, "When 3D graphics cards came out, it looked like the future of gaming was going 3D. With the rise of the shooter genre, the money and interest had to come from somewhere, and it really came from adventure games. Plus, a lot of the games stole a lot of the ideas that made adventure games work, like inventories, puzzles, and conversation trees, and those became integrated into those other games." What I found most surprising about the way other titles adapted adventure mechanics into their gameplay was how so many people completely forgot where they came from. It was a sad time for fans like myself. "Larry 7 was the last adventure game that really sold well. I remember when Grim Fandango came out after Larry 7, it was at a time when LucasArts was producing these great products and everybody loved the game, the gameplay was great, but it sold like crap." Grim Fandango's failure was something of a tragedy, really. Such an immensely clever game, with memorable characters, a wonderfully told story, and a unique art direction, deserved to succeed. While the critics and those who actually played it loved it, it went by generally unnoticed by everyone else. It is somewhat fitting, however, that this tale of a Grim Reaper would herald what many felt was the death of the pointing and clicking. The focus shifted from stories and puzzles to action and graphical fidelity. "Suddenly, these games where you'd sit and pound your head and try to figure out what to do next looked antiquated and old and slow. But the more I played the new games, the less I liked them and the more I appreciated puzzle solving. And also, I really liked humor -- I love Monkey Island and Space Quest and those games that made you laugh, where there was a big pay off and a belly laugh coming in. Man, that just went away completely. There were no products that had any sense of humor back then." Al's love of humor in videogames is something we share, perhaps because it is so rare. A game that makes me actually laugh is something I cherish, even if it's just because of some terrible puns or a bit of slapstick. That's not to say there weren't any developers trying to bring humor back into our wonderful hobby. Seven years after Grim Fandango felt the sting of an apathetic market, the game's designer and LucasArts alumnus, Tim Schafer, gave gamers the gift of Psychonauts, a unique experience that merged action and platforming with the storytelling and puzzles of the adventure genre. People still talk about it today, but it's just a shame that few people were doing so in 2005. Psychonauts' combination of styles is something that I think fits adventures very well. Story and puzzles are at their core, and there's no reason why players cannot experience those things through action and platforming or even driving and shooting. It was this sort of thinking that almost brought us the action/comedy Sam Suede. Al Lowe formed a new team to create a console experience which attempted to combine 3D gameplay and action with the comedy and narrative of golden age adventures, but it was never finished. It's clear that Sam Suede is still a sore topic for Al. "Psychonauts came out and sold 50,000 copies or whatever and went immediately to the bargain bins. It was like every publisher looked at our stuff and said, 'Well, what are your comparables?' We said there really aren't any comparables because we've got sexy girls, a lot of funny conversation, and they said, 'Well it's an action comedy and the only action comedy we know is Psychonauts, how did that sell?' Oh shit. So we evidently got tarred with the Psychonauts brush and we just could not find a publisher who would take a risk." Even when the developers tried to bring gamers back into the adventure fold, publishers lacked confidence in the genre. It would be easy to just pin all the blame on the publishers -- after all, we do that a lot with other things. But when their biggest concern is the bottom line, if they don't see anyone buying these types of products, then there's no reason for them to take these massive risks. By the second half of the 2000s, things were changing. After LucasArts cancelled the long-awaited sequel to 1993's Sam & Max Hit the Road, a group of designers left to form their own studio, known today as Telltale Games. Their first titles were Telltale Texas Hold'em, a couple of episodes based on the Bone comics, and a series of CSI spin-offs. After securing a round of investments, they were eventually able to work on adventure IPs like Sam & Max and Monkey Island, something old adventure game fans like myself had been waiting on for a very long time. CEO Dan Connors believes that this had a large influence on bringing the genre back into the public eye. "Certainly, the adventure genre seems to have grown, as far as the size of the audience is concerned, since we started in 2004, and I believe Telltale has had a roll in that. Tales of Monkey Island and Sam & Max succeeded in capturing the essence of what was great about the original games and modernizing the experience." Dan recalled, "I think we built games that allowed a new generation of gamers to experience franchises that were considered legendary but weren't the type of thing the average gamer was going to dig up and play. With Back to the Future, we built a game that used adventure mechanics and was received well by a mass audience." By securing their own funding and taking out the publisher middleman, they were able to bring these games to a new audience despite the risk involved. Publishing these titles themselves was far from the only reason for their success, however. The rise of digital distribution and episodic content has had a massive impact. This is something I'll be looking at in greater depth in the second part of this feature. I hope you'll join me, but until then, go and play some adventure games!
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There's a second part, too! For almost a decade, I used to hate being an adventure game fan. It meant that I had experienced some of the best writing and most inventive gameplay the medium had to offer, only to have that take...

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Monkey Island collection coming to Europe this fall


Jul 09
// Joshua Derocher
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Fill out this survey and get Monkey Island for free


Jun 22
// Hamza CTZ Aziz
Specifically, you'll get Tales of Monkey Island episodes 4 & 5 for free on WiiWare by filling out this survey. Yeah, that's it. Just follow the instructions on the survey and you'll get the games for free. Note that this ...
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Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin': Adventure Games, Pt. 2


Nov 09
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Guybrush Threepwood, Mighty Jedi, in Force Unleashed II


Sep 29
// Conrad Zimmerman
Look behind you! A three-headed Sith Lord! In one of the strangest bits of news I've heard all week, LucasArts has revealed that Monkey Island star Guybrush Threepwood will be appearing in Star Wars: The Force Unleashed ...
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Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin': Adventure Games, Pt. 1


Sep 27
// Ashley Davis
The first part of HAWP's two-parter finale is here! Actually, it was here on Friday, but I was too busy working on a finale of my own to be able to post about it here... thankfully, stuff this good never expires. And it's onl...
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Tim Schafer has hired Ron Gilbert on at Double Fine


Sep 27
// Dale North
Tim Schafer of Double Fine has hired on Ron Gilbert to make a new game. The pair are responsible for the beloved Monkey Island games. What could they be up to now? Double Fine is working on four games for THQ, and the first o...
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Here is the evolution of LeChuck for Monkey Island 2: SE


Jun 02
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LeChuck is a classic villain. He has a singular and grandiose focus, always has a sinister plan to achieve his ends and repeatedly opens himself up to being defeated by a bumbling loser with luck on their side. It doesn't get...
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Telltale offers up spectacular Monkey Island bundle


May 04
// Brad Nicholson
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Click on this story, play Monkey Island Special Edition


Apr 30
// Nick Chester
Since you're probably at work and looking to slack off, I have just the thing for you: The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition. Yeah, after the jump (provided you're running Windows) you can play the game right here in y...
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Tim Schafer to invade Europe, talk at Develop


Apr 28
// Nick Chester
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Monkey Island: SE 2 commentators revealed


Apr 26
// Brad Nicholson
Long ago, at the San Francisco reveal event for Monkey Island: Special Edition 2, it was announced that the follow-up special edition would feature new Guybrush hair and developer-led commentary. Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer ...
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Monkey Island 2: SE to have audio commentary


Apr 25
// Matthew Razak
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New screens of Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge SE


Apr 06
// Conrad Zimmerman
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GDC: Monkey Island 2: SE coming, MI: SE hitting PS3 & Mac


Mar 10
// Jordan Devore
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MacHeist offering up a deal on Tales Of Monkey Island


Mar 07
// Matthew Razak
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Tales of Monkey Island hits the Macintosh


Feb 12
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Take a survey, get a free Telltale game


Jan 29
// Conrad Zimmerman
Seeking some input on the next Sam & Max season, the fine folks at Telltale Games want to know about what kinds of games you're playing and have set up a survey to ask exactly that. They're not only fine, but they're smar...

Review: Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 5

Dec 13 // Anthony Burch
Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 5 -- "Rise of the Pirate God" (WiiWare, PC [reviewed])Developer: Telltale GamesPublisher: Telltale GamesReleased: December 8th, 2009MSRP: $34.95 for the full season on PC / 1,000 Wii Points per episode S'alright. The TMI season finale isn't spectacular, but neither is it terribly awful. Taken as a single episode, it's equally as good or bad as the majority of the other chapters; like chapters one and four it's got a few cute jokes, a few genuine laughs, a few unfunny gags, and exactly one or two relatively challenging puzzles. It's not as funny as chapter three, because Murray isn't in it, and it's not as (in my view, frustratingly) challenging as chapter two, because most of the puzzles are limited to small, enclosed areas, a la Zack and Wiki. Actually, it's worth pointing out that narratively, Rise of the Pirate God, does something really quite interesting that I've never seen a game sequel attempt to this degree: it completely and intentionally inverts its own cliches. Remember how a bottle of root beer defeated LeChuck in the very first Monkey Island game? Well, with Guybrush now an official member of the ghostlike walking dead, guess what awaits him everytime he steps aboard LeChuck's infernal pirate ship? A quick blast of root beer to the face, and Guybrush is sent tumbling back into the underworld. Later, Guybrush finds himself taking possession of his own rotting corpse, thus becoming the exact sort of ghost-pirate-zombie that LeChuck terrorized the Caribbean as in the LeChuck's Revenge (I was disappointed to see that Guybrush never turns into a demon with flaming facial hair, but as I am evidently the only person who really liked Curse of Monkey Island I can't gripe too much). Also: compliment swordfighting. These narrative reversals are kind of interesting, in a "heh, that's kind of interesting" sort of way. As neat as they are as fan service, however, they never really enter the actual puzzle-solving in a truly interesting way. The compliment swordfighting is great, but it's a 30-second puzzle; that and the narrative aside, the rest of the episode functions pretty much exactly like the other chapters. Not that this is necessarily an awful thing -- the game doesn't need to suddenly turn into a brawler or something just because Guybrush becomes immortal -- but season finales are generally meant to go off with a bang, and Rise of the Pirate God simply does not. Oh, LeChuck is dispatched in a pretty cool way, and swordfighting duels are had, and there's an epic-when-described-in-words-but-not-in-actuality because-the-Telltale-engine-can't-render-more-than-a-dozen-characters-at-a-time-and-the-music-isn't-operatic-enough pirate ship battle, but Rise of the Pirate God just doesn't quite feel like the awe-inducing finale it wants to be. Too much is left unanswered. The Voodoo Lady's ulterior motives have been built up and frequently referenced over the final two episodes, but we don't know any more about the supposed thread of fate that links she, Guybrush, and LeChuck at the end of the episode than we do at the beginning. Given the post-credits epilogue, it appears Telltale is going in the same direction we've seen so many big-budget titles go in recent years; in other words, You'll Have To Buy The Sequel To Find Out What The Hell Is Going On. As the Voodoo Lady's plans represent the only truly interesting mystery in the season (apart from "has LeChuck really reformed," which was satisfyingly answered in episode four), I was really disappointed to find the end credits roll without so much as a hint of the Voodoo Lady's ultimate plans. Does Rise of the Pirate God tie together the disparate threads of the other four Tales of Monkey Island chapters, combining them to form an epic finale that outdoes all the other chapters in terms of both gameplay and narrative impact? Not even remotely. Is it exactly as charming, and occasionally hilarious, and fanservice-y, and occasionally unfunny, and sometimes-challenging, and relatively satisfying as the other four chapters in Guybrush Threepwood's latest saga? Absolutely. It's not an ideal finale, but in some ways it's an appropriate one: it exhibits every strength and every problem from the series as a whole, almost serving as an emotional summary of the season itself. When all is said and done, I have to admit: I'm happy Tales of Monkey Island exists. It was a pleasure to reunite with my old friends, even if not always under the best of circumstances. I had fun teaching LeChuck how to solve puzzles and compliment swordfighting with a headless ghost, even if these little ironic moments didn't last as long as I would have liked. I'm sure I'm alone in this, but I even liked Morgan LeFlay, and her complicated relationship with Guybrush. Yes, many of the puzzles were kind of underwhelming, and yes, some of the most dramatically important scenes were severely undercut by Telltale's technically limited engine (the episode 4 finale is so almost-incredible it actually hurts), but hey -- it's Monkey Island, man. A pretty significant part of me can't help but love it, despite all its flaws. Score: 6.0 -- Alright (6s may be slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy them a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.)  
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Guybrush Threepwood is dead; long live Guybrush Threepwood. Thrown into the underworld and seemingly powerless to stop the forces of piratey evil , the fifth Tales of Monkey Island chapter, entitled Rise of the Pirate God, se...

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The fifth and final chapter of Tales of Monkey Island is out today for the PC. In the final chapter, Guybrush Threepwood is technically dead but he does come back as a ghost. Still, dead is dead and when someone dies, we like...

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Funeral of a friend: Tales of Monkey Island Ep. 5


Dec 04
// Ben Perlee
Wednesday night I went to a funeral. Well, I wouldn't exactly call it a funeral. When the deceased in question was, according to long time friend Dave Grossman, "struggling with an inventory item addiction," it was more farci...

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