Adventure Games are Not Dead

Mon, Oct 3, 2022 5-minute read

My first gaming experience on a PC was when I was in the computer lab in second grade. It was 1992 and CD-ROM drives were starting to go mainstream. The computers that we had in school had them and I got the opportunity to play a little storybook game about the Tortoise and the Hare. It blew my mind! I could click everything on the screen and it would do something. I was in a whole new world. I got to listen to a story and click tons of things all over the screen to see what they did. This is all I knew of computer games.

Fast forward a year and my parents got us a computer. I was eight years old and I remember setting it up in the living room. My parents got a couple of games for it, one of which was a game called “Putt-Putt Goes to the Moon.” I didn’t know at the time, but this kind of game was going to define everything I knew and loved about computer games moving forward. Putt-Putt was a series created by Ron Gilbert, who was previously at Lucasfilm Games (later renamed to Lucasarts.) I didn’t know much about him, but turns out he was a legend in the point-and-click adventure genre. Putt-Putt was part of his new company called Humongous Games that was all about marketing games to kids. They were full of fun logic puzzles that made me think my way through problems. I was at the top-end of the demographic for these games. I think the ages they were shooting for were 3-8 year olds. I didn’t care. I was figuring out how to get Putt-Putt home from the moon and clicking stuff everywhere.

I still had no idea there was a whole genre dedicated to solving weird puzzles with inventory items. Not until I got to play a little game called “The Curse of Monkey Island.” Having no idea that this was the third game in a series, didn’t stop me from picking it up and giving it a try. It was exactly what my nerdy, problem-solving brain wanted in a game. I wasn’t getting shot at. I wasn’t under threat of imminent death all the time. I wasn’t testing my reaction time to try to get some item I needed. I was quietly, and calmly trying to figure out how to get Guybrush Threepwood out of a snake that just ate him. It was full of jokes, beautiful art, and some of the wildest puzzle chains I had ever seen. I loved everything about it.

It was still a year or so after I played CoMI that I found out it had some previous games. I mean, this was right at the birth of the internet and everyone wasn’t quite into sharing their every thought about stuff at the time. We hadn’t invented blogging yet. I ended up playing The Secret of Monkey Island, then Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge. Each one brought me back into that wonderful pirate universe, still full of jokes and weird puzzles to solve. It was then that I realized that these “new to me” games that I loved were made by none other than Ron Gilbert. The guy who defined my expectations of computer games by releasing the Putt-Putt games when I was a kid. After that I learned all about Tim Schafer and his contributions to the adventure game genre with games like Full Throttle and Day of the Tentacle. Then, my favorite adventure game ever, Grim Fandango.

Okay, so why did I decide to write all this stuff? Because I just played the latest Monkey Island game, Return to Monkey Island, and it was such a perfect game. It was the world that I expected from a Ron Gilbert game, and it had all the updates I would expect too. A few years ago, he did a game called Thimbleweed Park that was very much a throwback to the old adventure games. Complete with a verb panel and everything. Return to Monkey Island did away with all the things that slow you down and still managed to make an adventure game that felt perfectly in tune with the old ones. One of my favorite enhancements was being able to sprint around the map instead of actually having to click everywhere I wanted Guybrush to go. It was full of all the humor we’ve grown used to and managed to tell a fresh story about growing up and looking back.

Playing Return to Monkey Island really made me think about all those older point and click games I played in the past and how much my way of thinking owes to them. I’m a puzzle solver at heart and it was nurtured by all those games. A lot of software development, my current gig, is problem solving. Not that much different than trying to figure out how to get Putt-Putt home from the moon, or help Guybrush get all the keys for a chest, or help Manny Calavera discovere where all the Number 9 tickets are going. I’m re-energized to get out there and see what other adventure games might have to offer. They all can’t be a classic Lucasarts adventure, but maybe I’ll have fun discovering what kind of cool stuff they’re trying.