The Adventures up to 1980 in Review   6 comments

Here are all the plot types of adventure games that I’ve been able to play up to 1980. Note that the categorization is in some cases very approximate.

Really the idea for this chart was to get a rough idea of how much the “treasure hunt” style game persisted (that is, just copying the Crowther and Woods concept). You can think of it as an “evolution of creativity” curve, showing how long it took for authors to take the narrative aspect of the game in new directions. Up to 1978 treasure hunts dominated; by 1980 less than half of all adventure games had the format.

When I finished with the 1970s I wrote about some “curious firsts”.

– First use of relative direction: Mystery Mansion
– First use of landmark navigation with no compass: Empire of the Over-Mind
– First defined player character: Aldebaran III
– First use of choice-based interaction in a parser game: Stuga
– First dynamic compass interface: Spelunker
– First dynamic puzzle generation: Mines
– First free-text conversation in an adventure context: Local Call for Death
– First adventure game comedy: Mystery Fun House

As the calendar gets more crowded with games, it gets harder to definitively say any particular game was “first” at something, but there were still some in 1980 worth highlighting; I’ve also added some 1979 games I played since the last list.

– First adventure to use graphics in every room: Atlantean Odyssey by Teri Li
– First Tolkein adventure conversion: Ringen by Hansen, Pål-Kristian Engstad, and Per Arne Engstad
– First Lovecraft game of any type: Kadath by Gary Musgrave
– First graphic adventure with some action solely in the graphics: Mystery House by Roberta Williams
– First adventure written specifically for children: Nellan is Thirsty by Furman H. Smith
– First “stateless” CYOA game written for computer: Mount St. Helens by Victor Albino
– First 3D graphic adventure: Deathmaze 5000 by Frank Corr, Jr.
– First adventure game that involves traveling back through time: Odyssey #3, Journey Through Time by Joel Mick and James Taranto

Now, what I think quite a few people like to see with these things is “but which are the best”? And of course, that’s a wildly subjective question, but I am aware there are very few people that are going to play enough of these games to make a qualified opinion, so I’m going to first grumble a bit (grumble grumble) and then produce four lists:

1. Games everyone should play

Crowther and Woods Adventure, 350 points (1977)
Zork I by Tim Anderson, Marc Blank, Dave Lebling and Bruce Daniels (1980)

Not long, I know; these are the ones I’d pitch as worthy to the general game-playing public; there’s still enough wonky things to deal with amidst this era I’d be hesitant to recommend anything else without knowing more about their interests.

2. For adventure enthusiasts

Assuming you’re more tolerant of the quirks of adventures, there’s a lot more to choose from. I restrained myself to 10 games.

Crowther and Woods Adventure, 350 points (1977)
Voodoo Castle by Alexis Adams (1979)
Local Call For Death by Robert Lafore (1979)
Kadath by Gary Musgrave (1979)
Empire of the Over-Mind by Gary Bedrosian (1979)
Zork I by Tim Anderson, Marc Blank, Dave Lebling and Bruce Daniels (1980)
Wizard and the Princess by Ken and Roberta Williams (1980)
Gargoyle Castle by Kit Domenico (1980)
Deathmaze 5000 by Frank Corr, Jr. (1980)
Will ‘O the Wisp by Mark Capella (1980)

These aren’t the only 10 I could pick, but I did try for a group that was representatively interesting, not too painful to play, and included both type-ins and commercial software. (The roughest experience on there for modern players is probably Deathmaze 5000, but if you download a map beforehand and are willing to spoil the calculator puzzle that mitigates the worst of it.)

3. Things I personally enjoyed quite a bit that didn’t make the above list

I realize untranslated Dutch games or ones reliant on late-1970s in-jokes might be a bit of a push for the average adventurer. (If you do speak Dutch, go play Dracula Avontuur.)

Trek Adventure by Bob Retelle (1980)
Crystal Cave by Anonymous and Kevin O’Gorman (1980)
Dracula Avontuur by Ronald van Woensel (1980)
House of Thirty Gables by Bill Miller (1980)
Odyssey #3, Journey Through Time by Joel Mick and James Taranto (1980)

I should add I really did in some sense enjoy everything, even the bad games, even the ones like Quondam that actively tried to be evil. I almost always regret making a list like this as soon as I have it written. Games, don’t fret not being on the list, you’re just fine the way you are.

4. Some bonus games for historians

The Count by Scott Adams (1979)
The Prisoner by David Mullich (1980)

I had reason to be slightly grouchy while playing both of these, but I recognize they do some stellar things with narrative design.

Posted January 3, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

6 responses to “The Adventures up to 1980 in Review

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  1. Interesting to see that, of the Scott Adams dozen or so, you’ve gone for adventures 4 and 5. I think that’s right. Adventureland (#1) is a delight, but obviously very derivative; Pirate (#2) is fun, but slight; Mission Impossible (#3) feels like a complete mis-step to me, but you could argue that it was part of a process of becoming more experimental and, well, adventurous — leading to the paid you’ve picked. Both Voodoo Castle (#4) and The Count (#5) have some innovations, some clever puzzles, and a real atmosphere. They represent a team on top form (“team” because of Alexis Adams’ huge contribution to #4). From there on (Strange Odyssey, Mystery Fun House, Pyramid of Doom, Ghost Town …), they start to feel increasingly workmanlike, with a going-through-the-motions quality. In retrospect, I suspect Adams was becoming frustrated with the limitations of his system, and he would have done better to re-tool after The Count. Oh well.

    • I’m going to push back a little on this, although I’ll save my extended discussion for Savage Island Part II.

      The only reason I picked Voodoo Castle over Mystery Fun House is the latter has a maze, and while a few mazes land on the list-of-10, I tried to be polite about their inclusion. (Mystery Fun House also has the somewhat parser-unfair bit with the string but has a very good endgame puzzle so I’d say they cancel each other out).

      Savage Island Part 1 doesn’t feel like “going through the motions” at all. It manages to be quite complex with puzzles based on timing and coordination in a way that was far ahead of its time. I can’t think of anything to compare it to until Change in the Weather from 1995. (It also disabled saving the game for a span of 80 or so turns where RNG could kill you … so I decided not to mention it, but in a way, it’s my favorite of his games I’ve played.)

      Have you incidentally played Psycho? He did the programming on the original version (not the design, though). It came in the 80s after most of his famous ones but was sort of the Star Wars Christmas Special of Scott Adams — I don’t think I’ve ever heard him even mentioning it existing. It has no entry up at CASA nor the IFDB.

  2. My favorite part of this list is Quondam winning the “Most Mendacious” award. A badge I am sure it wears with pride.

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