All The Adventures Up to 1981 in Review   12 comments

Here are the plot types of all the adventure games I’ve been able to play up to 1981 (which would be “nearly all” of them except for a couple stragglers):

Made with RAWGraphs. This is all 218 entries from my mainline All the Adventures list categorized “straight”. I didn’t remove or change anything (like Alkemstone which is only adventure-game-adjacent).

Note that some of the categorizations are approximate and impressionistic; for instance, I called Cyborg which I just played an Investigation since that came off as the main plot thread, even though it is also technically a Rescue as well. However, it isn’t vague hand-waving either, as I did genuinely play and write about all the games listed.

The main intent is to show the evolution of the Treasure Hunt category, games following in the footsteps of Crowther/Woods Adventure where X treasures must be located and placed in a central location. It can certainly feel like Oh No Yet Another One whilst playing through, and the graph gives a little perspective: there are lots more Treasure Hunts in absolute number terms, but as percent of all adventure games, the number is decreasing.

Also — and I didn’t notice this until I made the chart — the Escape-style plot has been slowly increasing to now be about equal in proportion to that of Treasure Hunts. They tend to be very simple (Deathmaze 5000 just says “Your only goal is to leave Deathmaze. Alive.”) so I’m not surprised, and the only thing I would have perhaps expected to be bigger is the Nemesis category, since “find Foozle X and defeat them” also has a certain simplicity to it, although it perhaps is a bit genre-restricting.

I contemplating splitting the categories since the five I chose don’t represent every plot, but they do still grab a good sense of what was going on in adventure games in this time and further splits would just make the data hazier.

My last update I updated my list of “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
– 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.

One of them from last time is now uncertain due to a newly found 1980 game!

– First adventure game that involves traveling back through time:

Odyssey #3, Journey Through Time by Joel Mick and James Taranto


Galactic Hitchhiker by A. Knight

Technically, every game has some kind of first (as long you are descriptive and specific enough in what the game is first of) so I could make the list much longer with 1981 games, but I only have two I think are worth noting:

– First adventure game with outside third-person character movement: Castles of Darkness by Michael Cashen
– First adventure game with conversation menus and an action mini-game: Cyborg by Michael Berlyn

That’s not to say there wasn’t innovation, but games are starting to build off other games enough it is hard to be clear-cut as to the “first” moniker. For example, Hezarin had a fair number of “set pieces” where action and puzzle solving went over multiple turns in a way that seemed unlike other games, but even technically Crowther/Woods Adventure could be said to have such things (if you’re running away from dwarves, say). The apex of the Treasure Hunt concept (by 1981, at least) is arguably Zork II with the demon and its wish but that’s an innovation of progression more than being “first” (saying “first freeform wish being made to a character in the world” is starting to get far too specific). Sometimes the solid development of an idea is much more interesting and important than its initial iteration (just compare, say, Street Fighter 1 to Street Fighter 2).

At least I get an excuse to show one more piece from the Zork User Group map. Via Gallery of Undiscovered Entities.

I also made some lists when I stopped at the 1980/1981 boundary, and it is with some regret that I am not adding to #1:

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)

I’ll be honest here, there’s lots of funny quirks you have to cope with for games of this era. On the other hand, I’ll fully endorse so more games for list #2:

2. For adventure enthusiasts

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)

Adding, in no particular order:

Zork II by Marc Blank and Dave Lebling

The continuation: the wizard is not as good as the thief from Zork I, but his undoing is extremely satisfying.

Cyborg by Michael Berlyn

My main problems were technical, and mostly resolved if you play the PC or Macintosh version. A fascinating merge of theme and medium.

Palace in Thunderland by Dale Johnson and Ken Rose

I honestly thought I’d see more tightly-wound, clever, murderously hard puzzle-fests in miniature by now, but at least there’s this one.

Frankenstein Adventure by John R. Olsen Jr.

This manages to make its puzzles, plot, and action fit together seamlessly, and there’s one scene I still find unnerving.

The Black Sanctum by Ron Krebs, Stephen O’Dea, and Bob Withers

This felt like like a dynamic world with encroaching snow and sinister monks, where the plot moved ahead of its own accord.

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

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)

The two new additions here are mainly because of difficulty. And yes, I really did end up enjoying them both, even if they were self-flagellation to play:

Hezarin by Steve Tinney, Alex Shipp and Jon Thackray
Madness and the Minotaur by Tom Rosenbaum

4. Some bonus games for historians

Also known as games I had trouble fully enjoying, but I recognize still did fascinating things.

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

To which I add:

The Institute by Jyym Pearson, Robyn Pearson, Norm Sailer, and Rick Incrocci
Galactic Hitchhiker by A. Knight

As I always disclaim with these kind of lists, I always feel bad the moment I make them, as there are still worthy contenders left out, and I still feel a fondness for the bad games and the evil games and the games with erratic spelling (even that game from a high school sophomore, and if the author ever shows up in person, I’m sorry).

So, what’s ahead for 1982? Well, a whole bucketful of games. CASA Solution Archive lists 233 games, and I already know of some missing. (I also know of some I wouldn’t count as adventures, or I’ve already played under a different year, but the overall balance has always been to increase slightly.) I am tentatively planning a change of format for some of the less notable games where I combine entries; if I don’t have as much to say about Treasure Hunt #452 I will try to condense things down. I’m still not sure how well this will go, but we’ll see?

You have some things to look forward to, though:

– The finale of the Zork trilogy
– Andrew Plotkin’s first game (!)
– Three new Acornsoft games
– The first adventure games in Japanese (at least 4 of them)
– The start of Level 9 (which we should have seen in 1981 but their game Fantasy is still lost, sadness)
– Giant mice that smash Chicago
– An adaptation of a game seen within a BBC game show

and lots more besides!

Posted December 20, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

12 responses to “All The Adventures Up to 1981 in Review

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  1. Just a general observation, do you think you could put your year end summaries at the end of years in the list? Makes finding them easier if you don’t know what you’re looking for.

    Do you have any system in place for people to tell you about adventure games you might not know of? Outside of I guess comments and sending an e-mail? I browse through game sites and obscure game collections sometimes and I sometimes stumble upon games that may be miscategorized or have zero real internet presence. I mean, they’re usually bad or fever dreams, but some of them are interesting.

  2. “As I always disclaim with these kind of lists, I always feel bad the moment I make them”

    I dunno. I think it is useful to have a list of the “games I enjoyed this year”. Because right now is more difficult to learn your favourites jewels of the year ;) Who are them? the ones that has no year attached?

    About, “I am tentatively planning a change of format for some of the less notable games where I combine entries; if I don’t have as much to say about Treasure Hunt #452 I will try to condense things down.”

    Again, I dunno, I think it is useful for taxonomy and indexability reasons, to have posts exclusively dedicated to each game, instead of compilations. Maybe you can just release short-form posts for those kinds of games, with a “not much to comment on this one” if necessary.

    Anyway, a worthwhile project, I’m glad to be a regular, just for… free. Maybe I should send you a Christmas present or something. Did you bought eventually Lost Legends of Redwall: Escape the Gloomer, by the Adams and co.?


  3. As you begin 1982 I can’t wait until you get to On Line Systems Time Zone, the king of Roberta inpatient moon logic games. Its gigantic, sprawling open world was spread over 6 disks (I think) which was unheard of for the time- I remember because my father bought the game. The innovation was that you could set the time machine’s time and geographic location in any combination to visit any era at any time. But of course because this is Sierra in 1982, there was only one obscure way to solve each puzzle, and plenty of ways to brick the game by doing things in the wrong order.

    I never got very far, but I do remember enjoying the game just playing around with the time machine and living out childhood fantasies of traveling through time and space.

    Really looking forward to your review, if fur no other reason than to see how you tackle the meat impossible feat without using hints (and seeing how long it takes you to crack it!)

  4. The link where you said “Jimmy doubts the feat is even possible” just says <a rel=”nofollow ugc”> without any actual URL. Did you maybe mean where he says

    An article in Softline stated, “This game took more than fourteen months to complete and it has been estimated that it will take people a year to solve due to its extreme complexity.” Predictably enough, an adventure fanatic named Roe Adams III finished it in just about a week, and promptly called On-Line to tell them about it.


  5. The early US games, particularly for the Apple II, are way outside my usual areas of research, but every so often I’ll delve into the land of the Softdisks and come out with some corrections for our entries in CASA… The latest was spotting that Planet of the Robots by Daniel Tobias, was actually a 1981 game in its Apple II form. (We’d were only listing the C64 version from 1984). I’m guessing Dan’s games will come on your radar naturally anyway, as the “written in December 1981” game Smurk was published in 1982.

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