Upcoming Features on Armchair Arcade

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Greetings, Armchair Arcaders! A few weeks ago I announced that something big was about to hit the 'cade. Did you think I was lying? Well, you didn't after I delivered with The Early History of CRPGs, the first of a 3-part series. Well, the article was so over-the-top that commercial site GamaSutra bought the next two installments! But don't sweat it--after they've debuted and remained on that site for two weeks, I'll be publishing them here on Armchair Arcade for all our loyal fans to enjoy on their favorite site. In the meantime, I wanted to let you in on a little secret--I'm planning to give the same treatment to another of my favorite genres, the graphical adventure game (i.e., the "GAG"). However, it's no GAG that this article will become THE article on the subject, starting off with such venerable old classics like Mystery House, The Hobbit, and Time Zone. That's right, I'm going to write the history of this fascinating genre! Monkey Island, Sam and Max, Space Quest, Myst--are you quivering yet? We'll wrap up the first installment with the debut of the King's Quest series in 1983, the game that really got the GAG ball rolling.

I shouldn't have to say this--you folks that have been with us for awhile know this all too well--but YOU don't want to miss this article. It's going to be big, glossy, and saturated with facts, first-hand knowledge, and just plain fun stuff! You know that you just can't get it anywhere else--even if you were silly enough to try!

Obviously, an article of this magnitude will take me awhile to get right, and it's against my religion to publish a piece until it's as close to perfection as I can make it. You loyal Armchair Arcaders deserve no less! Besides, I have to live up to my own hype!

In the meantime, we're still trying to find the very best CMS to deliver our fabulous content to you folks, but we're strugglin'. There are just so many CMS's out there, and we haven't found a single one that really clinches it. If any of you folks have any knowledge or expertise in this area, don't sit on it! We're well aware that Drupal is a pain, but we're writers, not coders. My advice to you is that if you know the solution to our problems, speak up NOW. In the meantime, just be thankful you're not being hit with pop-up ads, Flash movies, and all the other annoying crapola that Brand Yuck websites throw at you to make a fast buck!

By the way, we're always on the look out for good illustrators and designers--folks with an insatiable desire to represent the net's greatest writers with the net's greatest art! If you've got "wow" talent at your fingertips, join our team!

Folks, Armchair Arcade wouldn't exist without you, our devoted readers--the folks who stay true when times are good, and when times are bad--geez, you guys are there to help us up. We love Armchair Arcade and we love you--and you're going to know that it's LOVE, not LIKE, when you see what's coming at you in the next few weeks!

Don't rely on the kindness of others to tell you when we belt out another round of fantastic features. Keep YOUR eyes on this site, fool! You won't be disappointed!

Comments

Mat Tschirgi (not verified)
Wow, that's great... How

Wow, that's great...

How were you going to do the GAG article?

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Matt Barton
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Well, heck, Mat, are you

Well, heck, Mat, are you back from the dead? ;-) I'm thinking the first part will cover all the precursors and extend until the introduction of King's Quest. Next piece will cover the Sierra/Lucas Arts heyday, and the last part will pick up with Myst and extend to the present.

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yakumo9275
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aaah gags. love em.. sierra

aaah gags. love em.. sierra mystery house.. memories.. trolls tale engine -> gal -> agi engine -> sci engine.. from assembler to lisp in 4 generations of engine.

will you cover things like transylvania and any adventures that had static graphics (since you menteioned old sierra hi-res stuff and melbourne house hobbit etc), which would go up to late infocom, level 9, magnetic scrolls etc...

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Bill Loguidice
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yakumo9275 wrote:aaah gags.
yakumo9275 wrote:

aaah gags. love em.. sierra mystery house.. memories.. trolls tale engine -> gal -> agi engine -> sci engine.. from assembler to lisp in 4 generations of engine.

will you cover things like transylvania and any adventures that had static graphics (since you menteioned old sierra hi-res stuff and melbourne house hobbit etc), which would go up to late infocom, level 9, magnetic scrolls etc...

That's an interesting point. Text and graphic adventures were also suggested for Matt's RPG article. It's funny how many people don't consider them their own class. For me, games like Penguin's Transylvania and similar ilk fall firmly in the text adventure classification a la Scott Adams and Infocom, which is different from the adventure game (though there are certainly similarities in convention). Even the early Sierra adventure games, with King's Quest I obviously being the first on the PCjr, while they had parsers and text interfaces were still enough of a hybrid (independent character movement) to definitely fall into the adventure category rather than the text adventure category. In other words, "The History of Text Adventures" is a different article. That's my opinion.

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Armchair Arcade, Inc.
(A PC Magazine Top 100 Website)
======================================

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Matt Barton
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Bill Loguidice wrote:Even
Bill Loguidice wrote:

Even the early Sierra adventure games, with King's Quest I obviously being the first on the PCjr, while they had parsers and text interfaces were still enough of a hybrid (independent character movement) to definitely fall into the adventure category rather than the text adventure category. In other words, "The History of Text Adventures" is a different article. That's my opinion.

I definitely agree. To me, it makes no more sense to call a game like Planetfall a graphical adventure game than it does to call the tabletop D&D game a Computer Role-Playing Game. However, they are definitely connected historically, though the "transition" or "rupture" is more complex than many people suspect. As you pointed out, King's Quest isn't just an illustrated text adventure--it's an entirely new kind of game that just happens to borrow a few of the earlier genre's conventions.

Furthermore, text adventures will still going strong for several years after the GAG appeared on the market. Infocom's games were far, far more sophisticated than anything Sierra had to offer--at least initially. It took GAGs a long time to catch up to the text adventure game in terms of depth and quality!

I'll try to cover all this in more detail in the article, but I *really* appreciate the early feedback and hope it will keep coming. Whatever you guys suggest may very well show up!

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Bill Loguidice
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Matt Barton
Matt Barton wrote:

Furthermore, text adventures will still going strong for several years after the GAG appeared on the market. Infocom's games were far, far more sophisticated than anything Sierra had to offer--at least initially. It took GAGs a long time to catch up to the text adventure game in terms of depth and quality!

This would be a good point for future debate. It's arguable that as adventure games moved from a mixed text interface, to clicking on keyword combinations to mostly a "pixel hunt" interface, the richness of interaction went down while the complexity of the story lines went up. In other words, as the ability to interact with the game diminished, story line depth went up, since it was easier to "constrain" the player and limit "frustration". This is almost like how Japanese-style "story-driven" RPG's became more ubiquitous than classic western computer RPG's. The former limited the player's possibilities but ramped up the style and story, while the latter gave the player almost free-form playing ability but for many, had a much simpler story-line.

Personally, putting the frustrations of a text adventure's rich parser-driven interface aside, I find it a significantly more engrossing experience than modern pixel hunt graphical adventure games. Same thing with classic western RPG's over their stylized and simplified Japanese counterparts. Obviously it's all a matter of what one wants out of a game.

======================================
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
(A PC Magazine Top 100 Website)
======================================

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Matt Barton
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Bill Loguidice wrote:This
Bill Loguidice wrote:

This would be a good point for future debate. It's arguable that as adventure games moved from a mixed text interface, to clicking on keyword combinations to mostly a "pixel hunt" interface, the richness of interaction went down while the complexity of the story lines went up. In other words, as the ability to interact with the game diminished, story line depth went up, since it was easier to "constrain" the player and limit "frustration". This is almost like how Japanese-style "story-driven" RPG's became more ubiquitous than classic western computer RPG's. The former limited the player's possibilities but ramped up the style and story, while the latter gave the player almost free-form playing ability but for many, had a much simpler story-line.

Well, as Mat and I figured out when we started doing research for our GAG book, the early GAGs were almost a joke compared to their Infocom contemporaries. Infocom had actually gotten their text parser to a level that was only recently surpassed, and they had brilliant writers on board--including many professional authors like Douglas Adams. Of course, you know all that. The early GAGs, Mystery House, The Wizard and the Princess, and the many revamped Doug Adams adventures, meanwhile--those were just childish. The interface was terrible, and the text parsers were primitive to the point of absurdity. The only value these games possessed was raw novelty value.

Honestly, I didn't think the King's Quest series was much better, and even the best of them are deeply flawed. Comparing Infocom classics to King's Quest and Space Quest is like comparing Mozart to the Beatles. Sure, both are "classics," but appealed to widely different audiences. The best of the interactive fiction games are almost literary in quality. A game like King's Quest or The Secret of Monkey Island is, at best, charming.

Still, most gamers preferred the graphical games to the text ones, just as most people prefer movies to books and beer to wine. Even the GAGs that were arguably of literary quality (Myst, Syberia, The Longest Journey) were more often than not touted for their graphics than their story lines, characters, or puzzles. It's really only in the last few years that you see GAGs being hyped for other reasons--such as the hype surrounding the recent Agatha Christie games, which draw the bulk of their appeal from Christie's legendary novels and famous characters. It's really only after the pressure of producing "mass appeal titles" abates that a genre is allowed to really come to fruition; you need a dedicated niche audience that is willing to appreciate more than eye candy and lots of boom boom. I really liked where LucasArts was going with The Dig, a game I think that really set the stage for games like The Longest Journey and Grim Fandango. I also saw great promise in the Gabriel Knight series. Unfortunately, modern GAGs really seem to be stuck in that linear sequence mode--do X, Y, and Z, advance to point B, etc. We also keep seeing ridiculously bad crap from folks who ought to know better--The Black Mirror, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Nibiru...Poor games that should have been fantastic. The GAG's key strength, in my opinion, is its ability to show dramatic action. We need strong, vibrant characters and actors who can act (whether voice or FMV). At the very least, we need realistic facial expressions and body language (the free game Facade had both).

Meanwhile, we both know how much better IF has gotten since its commercial heyday (I wouldn't be surprised if text-based IF became commercially viable again in just a few more years, perhaps surpassing GAGs). Now that we're seeing games like Scratches and Dark Fall emerging from relatively small-time operations (one or two folks fully in control of the project, like authors of novels), quality is shooting up again. The only problem left is to get rid of those little annoying kinks in the interface and structure, the same ones Ron Gilbert pointed out in his essay on why adventure games suck.

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Bill Loguidice
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Matt Barton
Matt Barton wrote:

Meanwhile, we both know how much better IF has gotten since its commercial heyday (I wouldn't be surprised if text-based IF became commercially viable again in just a few more years, perhaps surpassing GAGs).

I really don't think text-based IF will ever make a mainstream comeback, though certainly the "homebrew" and semi-pro authors are producing product that is at or just above the highest level ever reached at the genre's mainstream peak in the mid-1980's (with the added advantage of most of it being 100% free). The problem is simply that parser-based interfaces require too much effort for most people. Until an engine that can understand nearly any input and do something relevant with it, the majority of people simply won't have the patience to "get" how to properly play and enjoy these games, no matter how literary (and make no mistake, the best IF can be as good as the best novels, with the added challenge of having to write more text than any typical book would need, since you need to account for quite a bit of "non-linear" user input, in addition to the coding challenges (and there still is coding no matter how streamlined the IF engines have becomes)).

It's actually been something of a dream of mine to engineer IF's comeback in the mainstream market. My idea basically involves creating a small section in bookstores and package these IF works as books. Basically have the game's prelude as the book part and some basic play instructions. Then, you'll have a CD with an interpreter for every possible platform (Windows, Linux, Mac, PDA, phone, etc.). If you sell IF for what it is - INTERACTIVE novels - you can again bring more mainstream interest to the product. The key is to make it all as book-like and high quality as possible so people will want to keep these things on their book shelf. If you could sell these for $29.99 or less and make each product an event, I think there may just be a market. Instead of trying to sell these games to typical gamers, you'll be selling them to typical readers - people who actually enjoy the written word and would no doubt want to (and more importantly, be able to) interact with their favorite genres. Yeah, it's niche, but it could be as "niche" as the typical hardcover best seller. The other major plus of this business idea is that there are already current masters of the form still actively writing and producing, in addition to literally thousands of quality titles already produced. The source of proven content is basically limitless. Finally, you'd have to do this in force. There would be no point in releasing one or two titles--you'd need at least one shelf filled with a variety of content to gain attention, be it children's fables, mystery, sci-fi, comedy, whatever. You'd need choices. Obviously there's more to the plan than that, but that's the idea.

In any case, this idea has sort of been tried before, particularly with the earlier versions of Synapse's Breakers, Brimstone, Essex, and Mindwheel, which came packaged in hardcover books and challenged the reigning king at the time, Infocom, for parser dominance (with mixed results, in some ways it was better, in others not so). The difference was was that these were not sold in bookstores. Of course some IF authors HAVE made it into select bookstores today, like Peter Nepstad and his 1893: A World's Fair Mystery, which I believe made it into some Chicago bookstores. Also, Howard Sherman sells his own stuff through his www.malinche.net and eBay, and seems to do reasonably well.

======================================
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
(A PC Magazine Top 100 Website)
======================================

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yakumo9275
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Matt Barton wrote:Well, as
Matt Barton wrote:

Well, as Mat and I figured out when we started doing research for our GAG book, the early GAGs were almost a joke compared to their Infocom contemporaries. Infocom had actually gotten their text parser to a level that was only recently surpassed, and they had brilliant writers on board--including many professional authors like Douglas Adams. Of course, you know all that. The early GAGs, Mystery House, The Wizard and the Princess, and the many revamped Doug Adams adventures, meanwhile--those were just childish. The interface was terrible, and the text parsers were primitive to the point of absurdity. The only value these games possessed was raw novelty value.

Honestly, I didn't think the King's Quest series was much better, and even the best of them are deeply flawed. Comparing Infocom classics to King's Quest and Space Quest is like comparing Mozart to the Beatles. Sure, both are "classics," but appealed to widely different audiences. The best of the interactive fiction games are almost literary in quality. A game like King's Quest or The Secret of Monkey Island is, at best, charming.

I think your being completly unfavourable to the early pioneering GAGS. Remember infocom games were written in lisp on mainframes. Thats a lot different to scott adams writing adventurland in basic on his trs80. Mystery house was written on an apple! You cant compare a mainframe + lisp with developing on an apple or trs80 in basic + 6502 asm.

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Matt Barton
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yakumo9275 wrote:I think
yakumo9275 wrote:

I think your being completly unfavourable to the early pioneering GAGS. Remember infocom games were written in lisp on mainframes. Thats a lot different to scott adams writing adventurland in basic on his trs80. Mystery house was written on an apple! You cant compare a mainframe + lisp with developing on an apple or trs80 in basic + 6502 asm.

Well, at some point, I suppose it's just a matter of personal opinion. However, when I look at games, I don't so much care about how they were programmed or the hardware, but rather how they stood up to the competition. Scott Adams and the Williams may have been working with very limited hardware, but that's no excuse for the particular problems I see with their games (rampant grammatical/mechanical mistakes, childish plots, non-intuitive puzzles). And again, I'm not saying that these games don't have value. Of course they do. They demonstrated new possibilities that eventually led to truly outstanding games. Even with the King's Quest series, I can't believe anyone would claim the first game was in any way better than some of the later ones. It isn't just a matter of graphics; the latter games are much more sophisticated in terms of story and gameplay.

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