Just as fusion cuisines have become the newest craze in the culinary arts, so have hybrid games become the latest trend in game design. In the adventure genre, these hybrid games blend elements of adventures with those of action, role-playing, and other genres. Long since passed are the days of the golden era of interactive fiction. The emblematic text parser that first appeared in Will Crowther's Colossal Cave in 1975, which later became the trademark of Infocom titles such as Zork, has all but disappeared from contemporary adventure games. It was replaced by the graphical user interface in 1984, when King's Quest made Sierra the preeminent adventure game developer of the time. Interest in the genre peaked in 1993 with Cyan's Myst, a game that fundamentally changed how players interacted with the adventure game world. Over the next decade, however, the adventure genre was forced to reinvent itself in response to the changing needs of the gaming community. Today, the adventure genre has reemerged, but in the form of Eidos' Tomb Raider and Electronic Arts' Harry Potter clones. Such games challenge not only gamers' intellect, but also their agility. When LucasArts recently announced the development of the next Indiana Jones and Full Throttle sequels, it promised the players a new hybrid action-adventure genre that would provide a highly immersive, interactive experience. These hybrids also promised to help bring the adventure genre into its next golden era. Yet, in the end, must we sacrifice the identity of one genre in the creation of another?
King's Quest: Quest for the Crown is an example of classic adventure games of yesteryears gone by.
Evolution or Extinction
The upcoming Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness is a pinnacle in the hybrid action-adventure genre.
The battle between progress and tradition is not new. When graphical adventure games began to replace text adventure games in the early 1980s, critics complained that the implementation of graphics limited the players' imagination and the rich storytelling of interactive fiction. It is, therefore, of historical irony that Dave Lebling of Infocom said in 1996, "The whole thrust of the text adventure was one picture was worth a thousand words and we would rather give you the thousand words." When Infogrames released Alone in the Dark in 1992, the game received critical acclaim as both a 3D action title and an adventure title. Although the bland, triangular Edward Carnby of yesteryear is no match for the pixel-shaded, highly polygonal cutie Lara Croft of nowadays (as in the upcoming Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness), Alone in the Dark successfully merged elements of adventure gaming with action and strategy and subsequently formed the foundation of gameplay of all Tomb Raider titles. Six years later, in an attempt to revamp the King's Quest license to attract a wider audience, Roberta Williams transformed her Kingdom of Daventry entirely into 3D in Mask of Eternity. This sequel featured significant action sequences and rudimentary role-playing in addition to traditional adventure-oriented gameplay. The game drew fire from both fans and critics, and it met with limited commercial success. A year after, when Sierra turned the beloved Gabriel Knight from an adventure hero into an action-adventure hero in Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned, the adventure game community was forced to accept that the fusion of adventure and non-adventure elements in these hybrid games was simply the next logical evolution of a troubled genre.
Where Should the Line Be Drawn?
My critics may be quick to dismiss the above reasoning as moot, given the fact that the boundary drawn between adventure and other genres is both ill-defined and arbitrary. To these critics, I refer you to "What is an ideal adventure? A guide to create the ideal adventure game" by David Tanguay. In this excellent piece, Tanguay defined an adventure as the "deterministic, intellectual problem solving in the context of a story." This elegant definition succinctly differentiates adventure games from those of action, role-playing, strategy, and other genres. In 1979, Lebling, along with Marc Blank and Timothy Anderson, presented a paper in IEEE Computer titled "Zork: A Computerized Fantasy Simulation Game." There they laid the foundation for the earliest form of interactive fiction as a form of "computerized fantasy simulation." They also speculated on how more complex, more sophisticated, and therefore more realistic simulation games could be created within the confines of this construct. Thus, the adventure genre has in its roots a design philosophy that is both well-defined and rational.
Is the Genre Dead?
Unfortunately, the ideal must collide with the practical. The gaming community's continuous demand for real-time action and obsession with 3D graphics drove many game developers to incorporate these features into their products, regardless of whether or not they would enhance the gameplay experience. Such decisions were largely based on market demands, not design needs. At the 1998 Computer Game Developers' Conference, Steve Meretzky of Infocom hosted a heated debate on the proverbial question "Are Adventure Games Dead?" A vocal minority argued that moving to 3D graphics and a more action-oriented style of play would be the only hope for the adventure game to survive in a world dominated by action and real-time strategy games. I strongly resent such lubricious denouncement. The disappointing sales of the aforementioned King's Quest and Gabriel Knight sequels are testaments to the fact that the abandonment of classic adventure design may not necessarily lure gamers from the other genres. As Josh Mandel explained in 1999, the downfall of Sierra came when "innovation [gave] way to emulation. Whereas Sierra's management once strove to make it solid, profitable, and yet fun, they now strive to dominate other companies, force annual growth in the double digits, and (like so many other companies) cut jobs mercilessly to improve the bottom line and thrill the stockholders."
As such, we must praise the efforts of distributors and developers such as DreamCatcher Interactive, Funcom, and Microids, who have given their unwavering support of the adventure genre in recent years. It is rewarding to now see that adventure games such as Funcom's The Longest Journey and Microids' Syberia have enjoyed both critical acclaim and commercial success because of their innovative design, storytelling, and gameplay. Sequels to these two titles are currently in full development, proving once again the adventure genre is alive and well.
There Is a Future
I believe there is a future for the adventure genre. I also believe that it is not necessary to sacrifice the identity of this genre in the creation of another. Just as the popularity of fusion cuisine does not bring about the death of classic culinary styles, the existence of hybrid games should not mark the death of the adventure genre. Rather, these hybrids complement and pay tribute to elements of good adventure game design. However, disguising hybrid games as classic adventures neglects the tradition carried forth by the latter. The diminished sales of adventure games in recent years compared with games of other genres does not mean that the adventure genre is dying--it only means there is a relative lack of quality adventure titles at present. The success of a genre should never be defined by the retail sales figures it commands, but rather by the artistic contribution the genre has made to the gaming community.