A couple weeks back now, we discussed “Adventure Games” in the comments and what they were and what they were not.

One of the big things that I think helped create and define adventure games at the time was two major things:

1. These games were for home play, rather than arcade play and so setting up situations where the player would “die” were seen as unnecessary

2. The hardware itself had a lot of limitations

These things worked together. Home video game graphics were not very good when compared to what you could see in the arcades. I suppose that this makes sense, given that most home systems were designed to have graphics better suited for such things as readable text and spreadsheets and data input while uprights needed graphics, graphics, and more graphics and, really, the only input was four directions and a handful of buttons (jump, fire, maybe something else if you were doing something really crazy like in Defender).

So if you were selling your game that had access to a whole lot of buttons and couldn’t rely on such things as joysticks, you had completely different sandboxes to play in and you needed to market your games differently. Sure, you could do a home version of the upright game you find in the arcade, but removing the whole “it costs a quarter a play” thing revealed that a lot of the games in the arcade kinda sucked when you removed urgency. (As I’m sure that anyone who has fiddled with ROMs has discovered.)

So you need to make a game that doesn’t rely on urgency, might not have a joystick at all, has a full keyboard, and can’t rely on a system that has a hyper-focus on graphics?

Well… I suppose… you could run with the whole “interactive story” thing… and the obstacles that you throw up against the player rely on mental dexterity rather than manual dexterity… so puzzles…

And, next thing you know, you’ve got King’s Quest.

So… what are you playing?

(Picture is HG Wells playing a war game from Illustrated London News (25 January 1913))

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Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to

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3 thoughts on “Saturday!

  1. 2. The hardware itself had a lot of limitations

    Adventure games didn’t really start off with limited graphics. Adventure games started off with *no* graphics.

    Colossal Cave Adventure, aka ADVENT, the game that gives adventure games their name, was written for the PDP-10 microcomputer(1). While the PDP-10 had graphical capability (2), most of the terminals did not, and even if they did, graphics would essentially use all the resources of the machine. (And these were, of course, someone else’s machine. People didn’t, like, own their own PDP-10. Their school or work did.)

    Which is why it was text-based.

    However, despite the lack of graphics, there was nothing from stopping games from being real-time, or lethal, or anything. The actual *first* real genre was ‘Run around fighting things’, even if most of them (Although see footnote #2) didn’t have any graphics. Don’t assume that no graphics corresponds to what we think of as *casual*.

    When they started with adventure games on home computers, they just ported the games at first, or did basically what they were doing before. At that time, as you walked around in adventure game, most of the games still were using ‘detailed descriptions of the location’, but a few games had hit on the idea of ‘a representation of the room in ASCII art’, plus the description.

    But home computers sometimes didn’t have graphics. The original IBM graphics card, which was also the only way to get a printer port, was not only just monochrome, but could not do any sort of pixel addressing. Additionally disk space was a serious issue. This is why the first game do that was on *Apple*, in 1980, and is kinda weird, as it has monochrome vector graphics. (Aka, it draws a bunch of straight and curved white lines.)

    Over time, more and more home computers gained graphics capacity, so it became obvious to include a *drawing* of the location, as an actual graphic. And then it became obvious to put in a player character walking around, sorta climaxing in the first Kings Quest in 1984.

    And then the Apple Macintosh came out with a *mouse* in 1984, and the point and click game ‘Déjà Vu’ came out for it in 1985, and everyone said ‘Holy shit. That is *obviously* how this is supposed to work.’.

    1. These games were for home play, rather than arcade play and so setting up situations where the player would “die” were seen as unnecessary

    Players not dying in adventure games is a fairly modern thing. Not only could you *die* in most early adventure games, but you often could *trivially* render the game unwinnable and yet not be informed of this and allowed to continue playing until you gave up in frustration.

    So you need to make a game that doesn’t rely on urgency, might not have a joystick at all, has a full keyboard, and can’t rely on a system that has a hyper-focus on graphics?

    I understand what you’re saying, but that’s not really where adventure games came from. Or, rather, they did, but that system was a *mainframe*.

    Arcade machines, as in *popular* ones, didn’t really exist in the popular consciousness until 1978 and Space Invaders. This meant the games started immediately being ported to home computers as fast as possible. (Barring dumb systems couldn’t do graphics.)

    I.e., by the time graphical adventure games stared being serious (And certainly by the time of point-and-click games), there were already a bunch of arcade games on home computers.

    So it wasn’t ‘home computers can’t do arcade games, let’s make adventure games’, it was more ‘home computer *already have* arcade games, what else can we put on them’?

    1) It’s always going to be a weird quirk of history that ‘microcomputers’ are named because they are smaller than ‘computers’, aka, they are smaller than *those things that filled any entire room*. Those room-sized things are ‘computers’. That means this five foot tall, two feet deep, three feet wide CPU box and six memory boxes of the same size, maybe a tape drive unit in there, well, they take up a mere *wall* of a room, so they are obviously ‘microcomputers’. Duh. That name won’t ever be confusing.

    2) In fact, the actual very first graphical computer game, SpaceWar!, was written as a demonstration for the PDP-1, a much earlier model. A *graphical two-person spaceship arcade game* with Newtonian physics, written in damn *1962*, which sounds almost impossible. This is literally 9 years before Pong existed.


    • My first computer was one of those monochrome ones and, right there, the difference between uprights and home versions were significantly different. I was thinking of “Moon Patrol” as I wrote about graphics rather than, say, Zork (or that little Star Trek game that was practically a space version of Rogue).


  2. Oh, and what I’m playing is Tropico 5, and it’s annoying the hell out of me. I don’t recall it being this hard to manage cashflow in previous games.

    I seem to have no way to avoid randomly going negative. Like, I have everything set up fine, I’m earning money…then suddenly I’m losing money, losing money, losing money…and now earning money, etc.

    I mean, I’ve deliberately tried an extremely easy games as basically a test of this. Like, there’s a map with four gold mines on it. I start with a ton of money where I can buy enough enough health care and entertainment and food to start with, I pump the gold those into jewelry, and start going forward…and I’m fine, just leaving things running, collecting money…until inexplicably, I’m suddenly not collecting money,and are in fact losing it, and *nothing has changed*. Everyone is still employed, everyone is still at the same level of happiness, mines and factories still operating, and I’m just…making much less money, somehow.

    I have had at least three games just inexplicably crash and burn on me. No one is upset, there’s a low number of rebels, everything is working, and suddenly the money just starts going away. And that’s not the weirdest thing…the money often goes away for years, *and then comes back*, and then goes away again.

    Sometimes, when I reload an older game, *it doesn’t do it at the same time*.

    At various times, I’ve blamed this on lack of docks, or teamsters, or all sorts of things, but it’s not any of those, and I get no helping trying to figure it out. If *nothing changes*, I shouldn’t randomly get wild swings. Slight ones, yes, as inventory builds up, but I have no idea what the hell is going on here. I cannot play a game with a totally random fail condition that I do not understand what triggers it.

    I am pretty close to calling the game unplayable as *I* like to play it. (In sandbox mode, attempting to build a bigger and bigger stable society.)


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