Slings and Arrows: Quandary takes up arms against a sea of troubles in defence of pure adventure games.
by Rosemary Young
It all came to a head at the end of last year when the now infamous King's Quest: Mask of Eternity was let loose on many unsuspecting adventure game players. It was a controversial game and received vastly conflicting reviews that were either appreciative or highly critical of the change in emphasis in the series. Out of the shambles came cries for disgruntled players to accept Mask of Eternity as the pinnacle of this popular adventure game series.
Now I have the box right here beside me and it is touted as being part of the "Best Selling Adventure Series of All Time" and it prominently displays a quote from Computer Gaming World as follows:
"One of the year's biggest and most exciting new adventure games."
This quote takes the cry further than mere acceptance and approval of Mask of Eternity as a King's Quest title. It also clearly says that this type of game, which includes a high degree of combat and a generous serving of jumping and back-flipping, is unreservedly an adventure game. Nor was Computing Gaming World the only publication that considered Mask of Eternity to be a bona fide adventure game. Since the release of that title the cries have come from far and wide for adventure game players to accept combat and arcade sequences into their genre. 'This is the future', adventure gamers are informed, a bright new future that will rejuvenate adventure games ... those of us who have refused to capitulate have been called dinosaurs and accused of being closed-minded, uncompromising, obstinate, inflexible and the list goes on (See also Adventure Games: Sacred Cow or Sacrificial Lamb)
One of the calls for us adventurers to mend our wicked ways and stop looking backwards came from our good friend Dave Fisher at Gone Gold in his article Paradigms and Kings or When is an Adventure Game Not an Adventure Game. He enthusiastically argues that our paradigms for adventure games are too rigid and that we need to relax and adapt. He ends his article by requesting that we "be open to new ideas, new approaches, working to better the next KQ:MoE-style of game, not consigning it to a "junk" award because it doesn't fit our definition of orthodoxy!"
Well! Dave and I have had a few private words by e-mail in the meantime and I thought that he'd decided to behave himself and not pick on us adventure game players for wanting to keep our genre pure and untainted by action. Not so. Dave has delivered some more words of wisdom in his more recent article Adventure Gamers - Come on Board! It seems that despite all my efforts he hasn't changed his tune. Although Dave has now deserted Mask of Eternity for Drakan and System Shock 2 he still begs adventure game players to accept these games as fine examples of the 'new breed' of adventure games. Once more Dave ends with a plea ....
"Come on board, Adventure gamers. "Drakan" and "System Shock 2" are wonderful, even remarkable efforts. Support these publishers. Embrace these fine games. You will be pleasantly surprised."
So why am I now writing my response in Quandary? For four reasons. Firstly, Dave has chosen to state his argument publicly at Gone Gold (which is his right) and has aimed his barbs partly at Quandary. Secondly, the call for adventure games to be 'improved' is still so vociferous we have to spring to their defence once more. Now I do acknowledge that Joel Mathis wrote a Rebuttal in response to Dave's article and published it in Gone Gold (thanks, Joel ) but I'd like to reinforce the argument. Thirdly, it seems that 'pure adventures' are thought to be so insignificant at the moment that even the title 'adventure game' is being usurped by anybody and everybody. Very soon, if Dave and his cohorts have their way, the label 'adventure game' is going to be rendered meaningless. Lastly, the death knell for adventure games is being sounded loud and wide at the moment and transforming them into action titles is seemingly the latest strategy to hammer the nail in the coffin. Hence, here is the 'dressing down' that I promised Dave in my last e-mail to him.
To begin with I'll grab another quote from Dave's first offering ... Oh my, he does do a lot of pleading.
"My plea today is for us not to get so committed to our sacred definitions of what a genre (in this case, Adventure) should be that we lose sight of the ultimate goal - to have an immersive and fun game to play, whatever "box" it fits or doesn't fit into definition-wise."
Sounds wonderful, but this plea completely ignores the fact that many, many adventure game players do not find the elements that contribute towards Dave's 'ultimate' game to be immersive, quite the opposite. Blending genres in the 'ultimate' mixing pot means that the new breed of adventure must include combat and arcade sequences. This will fundamentally change the orientation of adventure games from puzzle and problem solving to jumping and fighting. Just a thought here, will this exciting new conglomerate-type game also subsume the first-person shooter genre, are fps players also to be asked to forsake their genre of preference for games that include aspects that they dislike? Or is it only the adventure genre that is to be sacrificed?
Dave, it seems, has a fixation on blended games and he can't seem to understand why adventure game players don't share his enthusiasm. He continues in his second serving:
"Have you visited an Adventure news group lately (comp.sys.ibm.pc.games.adventure), or an on-line Adventure magazine (www.adventuregamer.com)? You'll find the occasional reference to "System Shock 2," but, largely, you'll see discussions related to: "Black Dahlia,", "Blackstone Chronicles", "Broken Sword 2" and even, for Heaven's sake, the relatively ancient games of "Toonstruck" and "Lighthouse."
And, you'll find these discussions over and over again! It's like lovers of this genre are stuck in a time-warp. They can't get enough of "Myst" and "Riven", are obsessed with obscure and obtuse puzzles, have minimal mouse/keyboard reflexes, refuse to upgrade to any type of 3D accelerator".
Wow! Where do I start to dissect the assumptions that underline these two paragraphs? Well, firstly, I, in my naivete, would expect the adventure newsgroup and adventure web sites to focus on adventure games. Why would anyone insist that they focus on action/rpg/real-time strategy/first-person shooter hybrids that perhaps contain a puzzle or two as long as they aren't 'obscure and obtuse'? Dave seems to ignore the obvious conclusion that adventure game players like adventure games and will seek out like-minded people for many reasons. He ignores the fact that many players still find the older games he mentions to be enjoyable, just as he overlooks the fact that many new adventure game players are only now discovering the fun of playing these older games. Also, as very few new 'pure' adventure games are being released at the moment, the only games available for adventurers are these older games.
Secondly, if, as Dave concedes, many adventurers have 'minimal mouse/keyboard reflexes' then why would he expect them to seek out and play games where reflexes are crucial? Such games would hardly be immersive or even playable and they would certainly not be enjoyable. More importantly, Dave once again overlooks the fact that most adventurers simply don't want to play games that rely on reflexes, or if they did then there are hundreds to choose from that don't pretend to be adventure games. He doesn't seem to want to acknowledge that blending genres reduces the choice for adventure game players. It is easier to call us Dinosaurs, stick-in-the-muds, or closed-minded for not embracing hybrid games than to rationally analyse what is happening to the computer game industry and to adventure games in particular. If it comes down to a choice of playing a hybrid action/(insert-name-of-other-genre-here) game or nothing then many adventurers will have no choice at all and most will simply leave and take up another hobby ... or continue to play the older adventures that may still be available. The point that eludes Dave is that many adventure players just don't want action of any sort in adventure games, not at any price and certainly not at the cost of the entire genre.
Thirdly, as for Quandary (and I imagine many adventure game players) not having jumped on the 3D Card bandwagon as yet, the rationale is simple. Not a single adventure game has been released that has required one to make the game playable or enjoyable. In fact had we purchased one more than a year ago when everyone said we should it would now be obsolete after only minimal use.
Dave goes on:
"Text and Zork adventures are their "Old Testament," and they have trouble moving beyond their static orthodoxy in terms of how an Adventure game is defined."
Here is the crux of Dave's argument neatly summed up. He doesn't want adventure gamers to have their own definition of their genre instead it should be whatever he (and others like him) want it to be and include whatever elements they particularly like.
Can I explain, please, to anyone who thinks that adventure game players who favour the older, more traditional games are simply being closed-minded and not receptive to new ideas, that this is totally wrong. Here I might even argue that adventure game players have, perhaps, been the most accommodating of all game players because adventure games have gone through massive changes from text through to various types of graphics without losing favour and (well maybe with a good serving of groaning from many of us) we already tolerate limited action or arcade elements. So how can that be closed-minded? Would shoot-em-up fans accept just one teeny logic puzzle in their games, would they be considered closed-minded if they complained?
But, of course, this is not really the point. The point is that the new breed of 'so-called' adventure games are simply hybrid games containing much more action than most adventure gamers want.
Dave concludes his appeal to adventure players with:
"We need you, your thoughtfulness, and your influence, to encourage developers in the creation of more of these titles blending the best of adventure, action, and role-playing elements."
Not content with the fact that many games are already moving towards his favoured blended genre Dave wants to rub salt into our wounds by insisting that we unreservedly and unquestioningly accept this new 'orthodoxy' as worthy of the name adventure and encourage more of the same. I have a suggestion Dave, why not make up a name for this new hybrid genre and leave adventure out of it instead of trying to cajole adventurers into embracing thinly-disguised action games?
All I am asking for is choice. If all games are the same then choice is effectively removed. At the risk of repeating myself, many players simply don't like action or reflex games even if they do have adequate reflex skills. Still others don't like aggression, they don't like killing things as it makes them nervous (to paraphrase Mr Bill ). The fact is that 'action' is most often a euphemism for fighting so accepting action in adventure games means accepting a degree of combat. Of course it also means arcade sequences and jumping ... if you've jumped one lava pool you've jumped them all! Many adventure players find action sequences boring and repetitive! They seek out adventure games for the unique enjoyment the genre provides which is, dare I say it, a little more cerebral than improving hand-eye coordination.
Why am I constantly having to defend adventure games that don't contain action? I am not trying to change or destroy any other genre, all I am asking for is a computer game industry that embraces variety and diversity. Why must every game be the same, why must they all now contain action? Why can't I be allowed to enjoy adventure games in peace? Why is my genre of preference under siege by those who want to change it to just another action variant indistinguishable from all the rest? It seems we adventure game players are not even being offered a choice, it is simply a case of someone else dictating what adventures will now be. Well, it will be a sad day for the computer game industry when all games are action games or, dare I say it, are simply about unremitting combat and aggression ... what an indictment of the industry that would be!
To quote HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, I can't let you do that, Dave.
Mr. Bill's Comment On All This!
From what we've read that Dave has said, we think that HE is the one who is being inflexible. We don't tell HIM what type of games that he has to like, or call him names if he doesn't like the same ones that we do. We don't tell him what kind of car he has to drive (or what any of his other lifestyle preferences should be) and we would appreciate receiving the same respect from him. Personally we have NEVER liked action games (and they have existed for many years now) or the idea of killing. We don't want it in our life, even virtually, and it certainly isn't our idea of entertainment or a way to relax.
This editorial was originally published on Quandary Computer Game Reviews
Reprinted here with the kind permission of the author. If you would like to comment on this editorial please e-mail Rosemary Young