An article by Gabez, posted on June 28. 2004.


...or at least that’s what the gaming press has been telling us for the last seven years. A quick look at the latest release tells another story, however; adventure games aren’t dead, they’ve just stopped being good.

Not fast enough!
Monkey Island evolution: not fast enough, says Gabez
It’s no wonder that we have witnessed a steady trickle of decidedly mediocre adventure games over the past few years, as the genre is perfectly suited for small developers to knock out something relatively quick and cheaply. Turn to the back of any gaming magazine’s reviews section and you’re bound to find some sort of puzzle game, most likely from some gaming studio in Poland that you’ve never even heard of. The problem is that you might as well be playing a game of Cluedo with your sister, as these latest offerings contain very little in the way of atmosphere or good-storytelling, and what’s more lack anything that could be classed as remotely innovative.

Of course, LucasArts is as much to blame for the lack of new stuff in the adventure genre than the next developer. Whilst almost every other type of game has adapted over the past few years to accommodate the latest winds of change, the adventure game remains much the same as it was 15 years ago. Okay, so EMI was in so-called 3D – but that was a graphical style rather than anything that could enhance the gameplay. Stripped down, it was nothing more than the same set of static backgrounds pieced together in one giant conglomeration of a game, just as it was in the last adventure game. And the one before that, and the one before that, and the one before that ad infinitum.


Not fast enough!
Discworld Noir: the notepad system was ingenious, and worked beautifully. Why not have something similar for Monkey Island 5?
If an adventure game has any chance of standing up to the likes of the next Half-life or Black & White 2, then it needs to evolve, pure and simple. If not, then no doubt “current market place realities” will rear their ugly head and deem the game to be unprofitable because it hasn’t remained fresh. In the age of completely non-linear storylines, fully 3D environments and amazingly realistic real-time physics, the old fashioned point n click (or point and keyboard) looks, quite frankly, embarrassing. It’s akin to you grandfather gate crashing your party and trying to show off his “funky chicken dance” before accidentally kicking the bowl of punch making a nasty stain on the carpet. If you ask me, it’s about time Grandpa was biogenetically enhanced before we have to sell him to the glue factory...

The horrible irony in this is that Sam & Max 2 looked like it was going to go some way in rectifying the “same old, same old” quality that casts a shadow over any new adventure game release. Fully 3D environment for you to explore, instead of just Myst style static backgrounds? Yes, please. Puzzle solving seamlessly integrated with action style mini-games to make sure the game is fresh? You betcha. Game is cancelled because it’s “still only an adventure game”? Er, looks like it, yes.

But something else that’s “still only an adventure game” is the moderately divine Broken Sword III. Here we see something that’s remained fresh to the current generation of gamers by having a degree of action thrown, as the Americans say, “into the mix”. There was only one problem with this, however: it was shite. If I want action in my adventure, I’d go the way of the mini-game, a la Sam & Max 2, of even the odd punch-up, as we briefly saw with Full Throttle 2. As long as the action is not repetitive and doesn’t involve pushing a million crates around, then I reckon it’s a good move forward – just so long as it isn’t done like it was in BSIII.


Not fast enough!
It would be nice to have this much depth in the next Monkey Island game, but is it really necessary?
Action’s all well and good, but the genre I really think the adventure game could hybrid successfully with is the RPG. It seems that every single new game has RPG elements, apart from, oddly enough, the adventures. I’m not suggesting Monkey Island 5 should go the way of Zelda or Dungeons & Dragons, but instead borrow a few RPG style ideas, perhaps more along the lines of Warcraft III or Deus Ex II.

On the example of Warcraft III, the genre merging has been executed beautifully. The strategy is still at the heart of the gameplay, but as well as that we also get heroes, who can level up, trade items and partake in Quests, adding variety to the old formula or build and destroy. A similar move could easily be made by adventure games: letting Guybrush level up to make him stronger would insert a sense of progress to an otherwise immutable, and therefore unsatisfying, character; including quests that were not necessary to complete the game and which you only got to through exploration would create greater freedom; and adding more power to the inventory by having a weight limit and the ability to buy/sell would increase its importance for the player.

Not fast enough!
Okay, so Monkey Island 5 doesn’t have to go this far down the RPG route, but it would be refreshing to incorporate a few of these features...
Another strong point of most RPGs is the amount of depth that they have. Whilst in Monkey Island 2 you were able to look at the titles of books in a library, in a game such as Baldur’s Gate, you’d actually be able to read them. The problem here is that by having more objects to interact with, the player can get confused and think that they’re relevant to a puzzle. The way around this is by having multiple methods in reaching a solution. How many times has the game’s protagonist chirped “That won’t work!” when you try to use the hunk of meat with the dog, only to find that the answer is to use the rock with the chimney pot? What we need is for the player to think “what can I see in the game that could help be get from A to B?” rather than “what is there that the game allows me to interact with that I can use with something else that the game allows me to interact with to allow the game to jump to pre-defined another plot development?”


“Adventure games need to change” – Ron Gilbert, 1999
Just because LucasArts seem resistant to changing the tired old adventure game recipe, doesn’t mean that other developers aren’t, though. The Longest Journey II, for instance, includes multi-role playing (another RPG trademark), multiple storylines and a fully 3D world. PC Zone may think that this is “the last throw of the dice for the reinvention of old-style adventuring”, but I disagree. The adventure genre has the potential to make the player think and feel more than any other game type, and when the gameplay is spiced up to include greater immersion for the player, this potential in only increased.

Not fast enough!
A non-cutscene screenshot from The Last Express – Monkey Island could learn much from this level of freedom
It’s not just the new kids on the block who are trying to do radical things these days, however. Take one look at The Last Express and you’ll see exactly how far the genre can be stretched. TLE was a game light-years ahead of its time - so much so that the developers actually went bankrupt because of it. It had a 3D environment to explore - albeit made up of hundreds of separate static images confined to a train; characters that actually moved about and went through their own daily routines interacting with each other - as opposed to how all the characters in adventure games just stand there waiting for you to talk to them; real-time with day and night settings, meaning you were constantly racing against the clock – unlike how “it’s always 10 ‘o’ clock on this island”; events that unfolded differently depending on what you did, and puzzles that were much more real-life than “use the monkey on the toilet seat.” Take a few of these features, throw in an amazing plot, characters, puzzles, and of course, pirates, and you have the makings of a Monkey Island game that would go down forever in the gaming history books and be fondly remembered for years to come.

On the other hand, the adventure genre doesn’t necessarily have to go that extreme – just look at Discworld Noir. That was a game that added bucket loads to the gaming experience by having clues as well as inventory items, locations and ideas that had to be found through exploration and conversation, and even the concept of scents being used in the puzzle solving, in the second half of the game. The “use everything you have with everything in the game” tactic needs to be burnt at the stake, and from the ashes there needs to rise a phoenix of new ideas and, more importantly, freedom.

Not fast enough!
The Longest Journey 2: visuals so deep you could drown in them, and the sense of a living breathing world too (unlike EMI’s Melee Island)
Will the adventure game die? No, of course not - the importance of the story, characters and, of course, the player’s powers of logic will always appeal to the gaming world. Games will merge these qualities into their own genres until the term “adventure” no longer exists as a genre in itself, however, unless the next generation utilises the benefits of change. Here’s to an RPG Monkey Island V - with features to rival the next generation games, enhancing the adventure game formula with morality, freedom and greater immersion. Now that’s something to drink your Grog to.

But that’s just what I think – what do YOU think? Please leave your opinion by adding a comment below!

Next week: Gabez investigates the bizarre concept of the Massively Multiplayer Adventure Game – Monkey Island online, anyone?

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Monkey Cheese July 26. 2005

Honestly, the main reason I go back to play MI 1-3 is BECAUSE they haven't evolved. I love the classic simplistic gameplay and the humor that just wouldn't be as good if it were changed into an RPG. I don't wanna assign Guybrush attributes, I just wanna have some good ol' insult sword fighting!!

Largo LaGrande July 30. 2004

Gabez great article I was very interested in what you said especially "Monkey Island evolution: not fast enough, says Gabez " in which you showed an example of how Guybrush Threepwood has evolved over the years.

I don

Largo LaGrande July 30. 2004

I would most like Monkeys Island 5 to be an online adventure like Star Wars Galaxies or Everquest 2. It could have all the different places Guybrush Threepwood has ever been to and all the Characters Guybrush has ever met all set in a free roaming world. You could live on Woodtick in real-time or sail the seven seas trashing scurvy ridden pirates in search of Big Whoop. All this would be fantastic as long as lucasarts don

Gabez July 09. 2004

I hadn't thought about that, evangelistabjj - great example of how freedom in a game world can make a game so much better!

What's interesting, though, is that games like Mi2 and CMI attemtped that through having some puzzles completable in different orders. But this is not nearly enough - games are offering more and more non-linearity, and the adventure genre has fallen way behind. It's time to catch up, pure and simple.

Gabez July 05. 2004

...especially if it was in the Monkey Island universe.

But more on that soon!

MrManager July 05. 2004

I think you just described Pirates! there. ; But yeah, I think adding something like that wsould be cool too.

BlueSun July 04. 2004

This was a very good article Gabez! And I agree that what graphic adventure games need is innovation, or at least bring something new to their genre. As I read you article, I started to wonder "hmmm... now what would MI turn out to be as a Massive Multiplayer game..?" and then I reached the end and I guessed I was not the only one who had the idea, so obviously I'm already looking forward for that one;)

Something that would be really cool would be the ability to sail through the whole world, but you woudld have to first get a crew, a ship, and store food, and weaponry for the travel, and as you explored, you would meet different civilisations, each with their own quest for you, but you would have the choice to do them or just explore... just some ideas.

PiratePrincess July 03. 2004

... damn, maybe I should change my name to something simple like 'T'! ...

You're right though, the next MI could end up being the greatest adventure game of all time for all I know, if they add the right 'stuff' to it.

Gabez July 01. 2004

Yeah, that's what I'm saying Princess (God I sound like a perv saying that), but not just more adventury, more inovationative as well (you know what I mean). When you look at the possibilites games like Half-life 2 and Black & White 2 throw up, adventure games just look very dated.

And yeah, LucasTones, great example - the whole ship combat thing could have been made much better by adding that level of depth. As it was, it was just repetative and annoying.

PiratePrincess July 01. 2004

You know, to be honest, I was kind of disappointed at how EMI turned out to be - it wasn't as good in comparison to the other games and there seemed to be like a million glitches in it's 3D form. Not to mention the whole point n' click thing was lost. I think Gabez is right though - the next MI should still be in a traditional style (like the point n' click thing) but some changes should be made to make the game more... adventury.

LucasTones June 30. 2004

I've had enough of Monkey Island. No more!! I don't really have much faith in LucasArts to make a decent game anymore either, but as far as I'm concerned other companies can make some great games.

Okay... just off the top of my head, trying to think...

Right, CMI. As it is, its a brilliant Adventure game; one of my favourites. If we just pretend CMI and EMI were never released, and CMI was going to be released in 2005, what new features could be added in order to make it an evolved adventure game?

The most obvious thing is the Ship Combat. This is a brilliant oppourtunity for innovation. The cannons could vary in type, as in the game, but not all in the same shop. Depending on which cannons you get, only certain Ships are defeatable. If you can't beat a certain one, you'd have to find another way to board it - maybe there's a diving suit in one of the shops, and Guybrush could infiltrate from another route?

I dunno where I'm going with this. Its harder than I thought.

Gabez June 30. 2004

*Anger anger*

I gave examples of how it can NOT work by adding RPG/action elements to adventure games such as with Broken Sword III (though that's still a very good game), but I also gave plenty of examples of games where it has worked.

And I'm not suggesting that Monkey Island should be Quake or Baldur's Gate - you obviously haven't read the whole article and the comments. I'm just saying that the adventure format should adapt to immerse the player more, like other genres are doing.

Take the God game, for example. It started off with Populus, and the latest offering is in the form of Black & White 2. Changes have been made in the way of non-linearity, greater freedom, real physics, changeable scenery, fully inteactable and explorable worlds, plot that depends on your actions, world changing according to your alignment, game characters reacting and learning to you, advanced AI, amazing graphic effects... I could go on. The only thing the adventure game has done has improved the graphics a bit (and not by much - EMI arguably looks worse than SOMI).

I want Monkey Island to be Monkey Island, but I want it it to be Monkey Island with knobs on. And bells. It's time for the adventure game to push the boundries of gameplay with cutting edge invoation once again.

Gabez June 30. 2004

Yeah, an RPG spin-off would be cool... But what I'm saying is that you shouldn't need that. I don't want a Monkey Island 5 RPG, I want a Monkey Island adventure game... just one that doesn't stick rigedly to the same format, and isn't afraid to experiment as other genres have done to make the most out of the gaming experience.

The "traditional style" is very imporant, and without it the game wouldn't be an adventure - but you can add to that style to make it even more advanced without making the game play completly different from the prequels.

"Snugglecakes" June 30. 2004

Now all we need is for this to get up to top of the LucasArts bureaucracy, and we'll be set!

Gabez June 29. 2004

Thanks, Tones. I agree that most MI fans will be resistent to change, but screw them because change should come whether they like it or not.

LBA2 is a good example I didn't think of... I'd personally love to see something simmilar for Monkey Island 5, but more point 'n' clicky.

The way characters behaved in TLE can't be praised enough. Not only do they move about, but they have meals, visit each other, go to sleep, interact with other characters and the player and more. Sometimes you have to follow characters down the corridor because you can't get to them fast enough, or through travelling from one carriage to another you might accidentally overhear a conversation coming from a compartment, which you can then eaves-drop onto... this level of realism would be cool for a Monkey Island game, like overhearing Herman muttering to himself if you avoid him seeing you, giving interesting character background and maybe a clue for a puzzle solution.

MrManager June 29. 2004

The thing about games like Zelda and LBA is that while they're great games, they don't have much of an adventure feel. In some aspects it's more a case of adding adventure elements to a different genre - what I'd like to see (and Gabez too by the looks of it) is somebody taking aspects from other genres and merge them into an adventure instead of the other way around. Broken Sword 3, while an excellent game in many ways, tried to do that, but fell flat on its face with too many boxes, dire timed sequences, horrible stealth and that final action based 'puzzle'.

LucasTones June 29. 2004

Nice article Gabzo ;D

To a certain extent I agree with you, but I also know this - fan communities (including this one) will balk if the next installment in their adventure game series has action. Its just the way they are. Its the same thing as when they post on the forums going "LucasArts should go back to 2d point & click!!!!"

This said, what you're suggesting has already been achieved, with great success. Adventure games that have a bit of action? As far as I'm concerned, any of the last 3 Zelda games come into this category.

The ultra-amazing-super-cool BRILLIANT Little Big Adventure 2 was released 8 years ago, and that was the same. It was an adventure game in many ways - puzzles, an inventory, many locations - but it also had the action element. Travelling from town to town, you could quite easily end up in a fight. And the essential part of this formula, the part which separated it from RPG, is that you didn't NEED to fight. You could run away, and the game didn't punish you for not having enough "exp" or whatever the hell you earn in RPG's.

So, why aren't these games remembered as "adventure" games perse? Because they were marketed as action games. And the typical adventure gamer, who grew up on Monkey Island and DOTT, would take one look and then turn away, because on the back of the box it doesn't say "interact with dozens of characters and solve intricate puzzles." It says "travel a huge game world, with dozens of enemies, and save the world!!"

As for some of the other things you mentioned - TLE, for example. You say the characters move around of their own free will? This reminds me of Revolutions first game; Lure of the Temptress. This was the same, characters would wander around like real life, and you would have to look for them if you needed them. What does this mean? I don't know. Perhaps this level of reality was too soon for the adventure gaming public. Either way, I agree we are due for a change.

On the bright side, Dreamfall (TLJ-2) and Beneath A Steel Sky 2 are in production. TLJ was a breath of fresh air when it was released; a GOOD adventure game. I expect the same from the sequel. And as for BASS2 - Revolution have proven that they can adapt the genre with Broken Sword 3, and I'm sure they'll have taken the criticism of the box-puzzles to heart. This should be a good improvement too.

Again, nice article ;

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