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The Revenge Of The Point-And-Click Adventure

Darran Jones

Feature


How iPhone and iPad has revitalised the point-and-click genre.

Published on Jul 19, 2011

Back in the very early days of gaming, the most popular type of game was the text adventure. Presenting the gamer with a block of text that would explain the game’s surroundings, it would then allow them to try different combinations of words to progress.

It was incredibly popular, and spawned a slew of successful games, most notably the Zork franchise, but as technology progressed, so too did the needs of gamers.

Graphic adventures began to spring up, and offered more complex  interfaces that allowed gamers to string together different commands and perform a variety of tasks.

It also helped that they now featured visuals – usually still images admittedly – but nevertheless another way of drawing you into the onscreen story.

By 1984, the first point-and-click adventures arrived, allowing you to click on items to use them. They were fairly crude though, and it wasn’t until the introduction of LucasArts’ Manic Mansion that the point-and-click adventure changed for the better.

The SCUMM (Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion) interface blended text commands and an inventory with the onscreen visuals, allowing for an a streamlined but comprehensive playing experience.

The system became a huge success for LucasArts, with many other developers adopting similar systems as the genre continued to grow in popularity.

Although Sierra Online had paved the way, LucasArts quickly steamed ahead, and thanks to individuals such as Ron Gilbert, Tim Schafer and  Dave Grossman, it was able to constantly deliver a string of fantastic games, ranging from The Secret Of Monkey Island, to the likes of Indiana Jones And The Fate of Atlantis, Grim Fandango and The Day Of The Tentacle.

Day Of The Tentacle is yet to get revisited, despite fan demands.

As the genre grew in popularity and complexity, more and more classic games arrived, including Adventure Soft’s Simon The Sorcerer, Revolution Software’s Broken Sword and Westwood Studios’  Blade Runner.

The genre further fragmented thanks to the likes of Myst, which did away with text altogether, but as the Nineties progressed, the death knell began to sound for the genre.

It was rapidly losing out to online gaming and first-person shooters, leading LucasArts to cancel sequels to both Full Throttle and Sam & Max.

Other companies also stayed away from the genre, and while the odd game would still appear, it never achieved the popularity that was  received in the past.

The arrival of Nintendo’s Wii and DS changed this, however, with the touch-based control systems of allowing developers to provide point-  and-click adventures to a new generation of gamers.

Titles like Phoenix Wright and Hotel Dusk began to garner impressive reviews (if not the high sales to match), until the point-and-click  adventure wheel went full circle thanks to the arrival of Telltale Games in 2004.

Formed from ex-LucasArts employees including Dave Grossman and Steve Purcell, it quickly capitalised on a new episodic format that allowed gamers to buy and play games in bite-sized chunks.

Updates of classic games like Broken Sword also appeared, and with  the iDevices being able to replicate the genre perfectly, it feels like it has never been away. 

Broken Sword is still one of the most popular titles on the App Store.

Indeed, in a short amount of time the iPhone and iPad have received a large number of classic point-and-click games, and while they might not always be brand new titles, they all seem to work perfectly on Apple’s devices.

LucasArts, after many rumours, released updated versions of both The Secret Of Monkey Island and its sequel, featuring brand new visuals  and greatly improved soundtracks, as well as brand new voiceovers featuring the cast from later instalments.

All in all, they were extremely solid updates that worked exceptionally well thanks to the touch-screen interface that both machines utilise. Revolution Software also saw the benefit of re-releasing its old games  on the new formats, and went on to release the director’s cut of Broken Sword: Shadow Of The Templars.

Even a remastered update of Beneath A Steel Sky appeared, and more recently a remastered version of Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror, which continued the sleuthing adventures of George Stobbart and Nico Collard.

LucasArts and Revolution Software weren’t the only ones to see the potential money that could be made, and before long iPhSoft had acquired the rights to release both Simon The Sorcerer games and Flight Of The Amazon Queen.

None of the games had received updates, but it didn’t seem to matter. iPhone owners lapped them up, and all three games have been subsequently updated for use on iPad.

One of the biggest advocators of point-and-click games is Telltale, which gained a reputation for resurrecting long dead licences and translating  non-gaming franchises.

Telltale has found a lot of success in its iPad games.

It has recently released the first episode of its Back To The Future game  on PC, and is hard at work on a new Jurassic Park game. Eager to find out what makes the company tick, we spoke to Dave Grossman, who had been involved with such hits like Monkey Island and Day Of The Tentacle.

“The reason using a mouse to click things was a compelling way to interact with a computer in the first place was because it’s such a close mental analog to pointing at and manipulating things with your fingers or hands”, he begins.

"Taking that to actual touching is a very small leap that makes it feel even more natural, so it’s no surprise that a whole genre of games designed to be controlled that way would do so well on such a platform."

It’s a salient point, and one that many other developers seem to agree with. Having a device that allows you to directly input commands is only half the battle though, and Grossman knows that a streamlined and accessible interface is all for nothing if you’re not making good games for it.

“It really depends on what kind of point-and-click game you’re making”, he explains when we asked him about the trickiest aspects of creating  adventure games for the iPad or iPhone.

“If it’s a more traditional game like Monkey Island, where the gameplay is about the player figuring out what to do, as opposed to many other types of games where you know exactly what to do but have to develop the skill in order to be able to do it, the trickiest thing is to work out how the player will figure out what to do, what to do if they don’t, and when to take action."

"This is particularly important with episodic content like ours, because  we want to be sure everyone finishes an episode by the time the next one comes out so we can keep them engaged for the full series.” 

Once a new concept for most gamers, episodic content, where a game is released in bite-sized chunks instead of as a standalone product, has  been a staple of Telltale from its beginning, and has been adopted by other point-and-click games like 1112 and Scarlet And The Spark Of Life.

Telltale continue to take Monkey Island into new depths.

Telltale leads the way though, thanks to Tales From Monkey Island, the puzzle-based Puzzle Agent and Sam & Max Episode 1: The Penal Zone  (which was a launch game for the iPad), and the recently released Back To The Future.

“The way we serialise entertainment lets us develop a longer-term relationship with both our characters and our audience, and we like that”,  says Grossman about Telltale’s decision to go down the episodic content route.

“It means that each episode is designed to be played over a matter of a few hours, and this seems to fit well with how people relate to their iPads and how much of their time they have to devote to any one particular chunk of entertainment.”

There can be drawbacks, however, and with Telltale’s games yet to receive any update, there’s the danger that fans may get bored. “It’s a four to six months process, with some additional work that supports the whole season, modelling the principal characters and main locations, that sort of thing” begins Grossman on the average length of an episode.

“Given that we release them on a monthly schedule, we’re working on multiple episodes at once, all in different stages. You can imagine the  craziness that kind of overlap might create, but it’s actually not too bad."

"And it means we can keep more of a steady hum going, instead of having to hire a hundred people in the middle of our giant game and then lay them all off again when it’s done.”

It’s an approach that certainly seems to be paying off for Telltale, along with other games publishers like Chillingo and Arghata, and with Jurassic Park due for release this year, it’s set to continue.

Jurassic Park is a shift in dynamic for the often-casual themed developer.

Jurassic Park sounds particularly interesting, looking set to push the adventure genre in new directions, something which the first episode of Back To The Future didn’t manage, despite paying tribute to the original film trilogy.

“Jurassic Park was particularly enjoyable for us to work on because it’s a foray into more serious material, so we got to stretch some different storytelling muscles”, reveals Grossman.

“The kind of tension we need where you’re being chased by dinosaurs  doesn’t tend to match well with casual adventure game exploration, so we’re using some mechanics that have more to do with reaction, timing, and reflexes.”

As more and more developers warm to iOS, the genre is only going to grow. For a genre that was close to extinction just five short years ago, it’s staggering to think that the likes of Nintendo and Apple have been responsible for creating machines that have allowed point-and-click games to be so deeply connected to them, and work so well on them, that it’s like they’ve never been away. Long may it continue.

An Interview with Charles Cecil

The genius mind behind the Broken Sword series discusses iOS, and whether we’ll be seeing  any more Revolution Software games on the system.

Why has the iPad been so essential to the point-and-click adventure?

Touch screen offers an ideal interface. The tactility draws the player into the game, and therefore into the story. We realised the potential when  writing the DS version, and were then excited to be able to move from stylus to finger touch screen. I hardly dare say that the touch screen offers an even better interface than the point-and-click offered by a mouse.

How long did Broken Sword: The Directors Cut take to port?

It took about three months, but that’s because we were keen to iterate on the interface, ensure that it was as good as we could make it, and add new features.

How popular has it been?

The game is receiving an average of 4.5/5 star ratings from users; some people don’t like the game, but with comments like ‘This is the worst sword fighting game I have ever played’ (no, really, we really did get that). There really isn’t much we can do to bring in certain elements of the gaming community.

It was given away free at Christmas. That must have helped generate interest for the sequel?

It was featured by Apple as part  of its ’12 Days of Christmas’  promotion. On that day, ‘Broken Sword’ was in the top ten most  Tweeted words in the world, and there was a staggering number of downloads. I was thrilled when we received feedback from people expressing their delight at having ‘discovered’ the game, and of course, they then went on to get the sequel. The promotion was a huge success, particularly since certain publishers had reduced all their titles to $1, and we refused to do the same.

Why didn’t Broken Sword 2 include a director’s cut?

We did add a lot to the game, from enhanced sprites, re-output movies, facial animation, diary and hints. We just didn’t have the resource to add extra content as such, which is why I felt that we should label the  game ‘Remastered’ rather than ‘Director’s Cut’.

Can we expect to see Parts 3 and 4 in the future?

You can expect to see an original game in the series before either Broken Sword 3 or 4. I would love to reinvent those games in 2D. I am proud of both, but would relish the opportunity to tweak and improve them.

Why do you think that the Broken Sword series remains so popular?

So many genres are products of the technology that exists at that moment in time, and so become outdated as technology advances. Broken Sword aims to innovate in story and puzzles, and 2D art, so are not hostages to fortune in the same way. That is why we have been in a position to reinvent the original games on new formats so that they still feel relevant and contemporary.

Will you be updating Beneath A Steel Sky? If not, why not?

We have so many projects that we would love to develop, and one of them is Beneath A Steel Sky 2. But I am afraid that it is some way down the list at the moment.

Can we expect to see the BBC Doctor Who games you were involved in appear on iPad?

Probably not, but that is for the BBC to decide.

What one point-and-click adventure would you love to play on iPad?

I assume that I can’t name one of my own; in which case it would be Day Of The Tentacle.

 

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