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JackVanian 07-20-2011 07:49 AM

The lack of mature adventure games
 
Hello everyone!
The following post was originally published as a column on Adventure-Treff in German language today. However, since I wanted to reach as many people as possible, I decided to translate it into English, so that I could share it with Adventure Gamers and Gameboomers and hopefully provoce an interesting discussion about the lack of mature games out there.

I am sorry if the German version is better formulated (I'm not an English native speaker), but I think that you will be able to get my point(s)! :)

Here it is:
“I try not to limit my thinking about the powerful nature of the story because it´s a computer game. I think that we can make computer games that are just as good as any other form of entertainment.” It was the year 1993 when today’s adventure icon Jane Jensen spoke these words during the creation of Gabriel Knight: Sins of the fathers – a year that would change my life. Growing up with Larry, Monkey Island and similar games I nearly couldn’t believe what was going on on my screen.

While I used to think that adventure games were only meant as a humorous way of spending your time, in Sins of the Fathers I experienced something entirely different for the first time.
A mature game with extremely well fleshed out characters, a brilliantly written plot and the type of atmosphere that soaks you in like a great book that you just can’t put out of your hands - a game that didn’t have to hide from what was going on in Hollywood at the time.

Perhaps I was too young to describe my experience with adequate words at the time, but even then it seemed to me like Jane Jensen had opened the door to a new world. Like a promise of an exciting new era her words seemed to me - an era in which talented authors would lead us to the maturity of the adventure game genre with mature storylines, psychologically fleshed out characters and the provocation of true emotions.

Well, in the meantime 18 years have passed, I’m 29 now and Jane’s words still ring in my head. Unfortunately, though, the excitement of these times has turned into disappointment and disillusion. In retropect, I can say that real autor games have stayed the exception since the release of Sins of the Fathers while especially the German publishers release one wanna-be-funny game after the other. And even the allegedly more serious titles, that are out there as well, seem so incredibly empty to me with their shallow characters and stories that I feel nothing but fooled as a mature player.

Of course, you’ve got your great exceptions like Overclocked here and there, but until this day that type of game has remained the exception. Instead we’re seeing plenty of games that are being written by not too talented authors, if they were even written by classical authors at all, that – with their often rather childish type of graphics – seem to be adressed to an audience that I don’t belong to. Of course I don’t want to disallow anyone to look forward to games like Haunted, Deponia or Die Viehchroniken. Generally it is not my intention to damn the sub-genre of humorous comic adventures, just because they don’t struck my personal nerve. But what is lacking is a serious counterweight of real author games, that are aiming for a mature audience and don’t give me the feeling of being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

To get to the point: I’m seeking for true emotions, deep psychological conflicts, characters that feel like real human beings – characters that don’t give me the feeling the totally empty and shallow main protagonist only exists because there’s gotta be some you control while you’re solving tons of more or less creative puzzles. Well, I’m not looking for occupational therapy, I am looking for interactive experiences that make me forget the world around me like a good book. The fact that nearly no one out there satisfies my needs impressively shows that the adventure game genre, which likes to call itself story-driven, not only can’t compete with other mediums of storytelling like films, but in fact is lightyears behind these other mediums.

In the last year Heavy Rain has proven how different things can be. Now one could argue that Heavy Rain had a budget that “normal” adventure developers can only dream of, but this is a statement that couldn’t be more wrong. Because in the end Heavy Rain had to offer some basic virtues that can be regarded completely seperately of the budget. That the provocation of emotions and the usage of complex characters is not a question of money is for example proven by Dave Gilbert and his Blackwell series – even if it uses comic graphics.
We are talking about virtues here that players in fact should demand as self-evident. Virtues, that nearly no publisher or developer seems to even care about.

We can find a key role for all of this in the not existing relevance of real authors. And only if publishers and developers finally understand how much power to create interactive experiences with depth that take the mature audience by the hand and that have the potential to appeal to a new audience they would have in their hands with good authors, we can change something. I’m sure that there are enough good authors out there – as proven by Daedalic with Kevin Mentz in A New Beginning. However, there simply is a lack of sensibility when it comes to the people in charge and for me that is nothing but an infamy 18 years after Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers.

In this sense, dear adventure genre: I have grown up since my first encounter with Sins of the Fathers. Unfortunately, you missed to through the same process at the same time. Over 20 years I spent with you, but the time has come to get rid of your puerile clothes. For the time being, I still stick with you, aside of all my disappointment and frustration, but there might come a day when I will turn away from you in bitterness if you don’t finally realize that the time has come for a radical change. Some people might see me as whistle-blower for my words, but all that I want is to witness the day when the words of Jane Jensen are the rule and not a seldom exception!

Ingmar Böke

Kurufinwe 07-20-2011 08:45 AM

I generally agree with the sentiment. I remember re-watching that GK making-of video recently; they're all talking about how adventure games are going to be big, and have stories as compelling as on cable TV etc., and it's sad how none of this ever materialised...

You have to bear in mind, though, that there was a huge push in the direction of more ambitious games in the mid-nineties, with games such as The Last Express, Obsidian, The Pandora Directive, Grim Fandango... And all of these games were commercial disappointments --- which is probably why people stopped making them.

Ultimately, I believe the problem lies in large part with gameplay. Just because there are people who are interested in strong stories with complex characters doesn't mean that they're also interested in playing games, especially adventure games. I'm willing to believe that there's a relatively big fraction of the people who like Tarantino movies that might be interested in playing, say, GTA. But I see no reason why people who like Mad Men would be drawn to adventure games. If I'm watching Don Draper struggling through the news of the death of his only friend and taking it out on Peggy, the last thing I want is to stop in the middle of that to solve some puzzle involving duct tape and a bottle of ketchup! I believe that the intersection of "people who like quality action movies" and "people who might play quality action games" is much larger than the intersection of "people who like quality drama" and "people who might like adventure games", simply because in quality action games the gameplay can actually complement perfectly the story and characters, whereas it generally doesn't in adventures.

(That's why comedic adventures work better. If the whole story is a bit absurd, then you can throw in absurd puzzles as well. And then you have your characters point out that their actions are really contrived, and you get an excuse and a joke all rolled into one!)

An obvious exception is detective stories. Agatha Christie showed in her better books that it is possible to combine strong characters and compelling themes with a gameplay element (figure out who the culprit is from all the clues given to you by the writer). And so in detective adventure games, you can combine the investigation gameplay with the story and characters and the two can work well together. But detective stories are only one genre, and you can get tired of those after a while... But I'm not sure that other types of mature, ambitious stories lend themselves well to adventure games.

Fantasysci5 07-20-2011 09:40 AM

I feel there are a lot of mature adventure games out there, although I agree, most I can think of are slightly older, none really new.

Gabe 07-20-2011 10:12 AM

Pretty anachronistic post, couldnt believe there's someone patient enough to wait 10 years to write these topic,and you still want to witness the day when the words of Jane Jensen are rule while playing Gray Matter.
They maynot be well-written enough for you but the ag. have far more matured themed archive than any other genre.
So what you seek is timeless perfectionism.

Oscar 07-20-2011 05:33 PM

I think serious adventure games were less rare than they are now. But that is the same with everything - TV, movies, music. I think it might have just been that Monkey Island was more influential than Gabriel Knight. Developers are now trying to entertain us at all costs, especially character and depth. But we should remember that our favorite companies like Lucasarts and Sierra also did that, and we loved it. And when they did try to make serious games they didn't do so well - I remember reading The Dig was Sierra's worst selling game. It's a shame that the very serious developers like House of Tales have had to close down. I like comedic games but variety is also good.

Collector 07-20-2011 11:36 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Oscar (Post 586238)
I remember reading The Dig was Sierra's worst selling game.

You mean LucasArts.

rayvio 07-21-2011 01:22 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Collector (Post 586241)
You mean LucasArts.

that would explain why it didn't sell well for Sierra :P

but yes, The Dig didn't do as well as most of the comedy games. personally I actually bought The Dig knowing very little about it and expecting the usual Lucas Arts comedy but loved the game anyway

Axelfish 07-21-2011 01:46 AM

So I guess Sierra's serious games would be something like the Phantasmagoria series.
Ah, yes, Puzzle of Flesh-what a game! It was at times so heavy-handed, but possessed the charm of a "bring out the popcorn" B-movie.

Serious games don't really work, because I think gaming is a type of hobby that attracts audiences that don't look for quality dramas, and because the inferior voice acting and dodgy script is far too common in games of this type, and sells the drama short.

Heavy Rain was an enjoyable experience for me, but often it was too emotionally overwrought,was brought down by the VA and in a nutshell it's just a romp through thriller cliches, made impressive by the fact that it's a video game, thus lending it an extra measure of immersion.

I often hear from cynical gamers how disappointed they are that games are becoming more and more serious, needlessly complex and clumsy just for that extra dose of movie realism.
Remember how you could carry all the weapons you want in say, Half-Life or Doom? Then Halo came along and said: why not, carry only two weapons at once: it's more realistic. Well, sure it is, but why should a game that has you killing aliens strive for realism?
In fact, I'd say that the most enjoyable games are those that are far removed from reality,and where mature issues, if present are handled with care and wit, because that's what makes them charming and unique.

Just for instance, you don't see worms blasting each other with dynamite and grenades in real life, right? Well, thank Team 17 for making it "real" on your monitors.

I guess I'm just trying to say that all this pursuit of realism and maturity in games is not really needed, because it dilutes the gaming experience and the way these things are handled sometimes hurts immersion more than it helps.

Hammerite 07-21-2011 01:57 AM

I think part of the issue comes with the fact that the people who made the older, more ambitious adventure games were just using what was available to make a narrative game (like people who made text adventures before them). Now that games have progressed, it's easier to create more open narratives that don't rely on the old adventure game tropes and so people who want to make more mature and ambitious games are able to work in different genres, while a lot of the people still making traditional graphic adventures (with some notable exceptions) are hindered by low budgets and somewhat dated storytelling techniques and gameplay mechanics.

diego 07-21-2011 05:34 AM

Lack of "mature adventure games" is directly proportional to the lack of good adventure games, because story is nothing without a good gameplay (and vice versa) and good adventure game compromises of both. And looking from the perspective of 90s, then yes, we probably have less "good" adventure games, although the genre is struggling and has "been around" for more than 10 years now, and to say there hasn't been good adventure games in last decade would be an understatement.

I'd also like to "defend" comedy adventures in a sense that they can be "mature" in it's own right, as laugh is just another human emotion and quality humour = mature humour, no matter if kids still do enjoy it. The balance of "quality" that can be recognized by many ages on a different level is the hardest achievement for a writer. It's the reason why, for example The Simpsons are so unique, or why even a kid can find for his own perception such an overwhelming story of Gabriel Knight - fascinating. I'm not suggesting writers shouldn't bother to think about kids as a target audience, but it's the thing that comes naturally from a high quality and "mature" writing. If there's a hint of patronizing the young it's easily traced by adults. Furthermore, even the most absurd comedy like Monkey Island can have a "hint" of "deeper" message in it's writing, dialogs or characters - things about life, love and hate... Finally, even a somewhat "serious" tone to it can be well hidden beneath all the comedy like in A Stitch in Time, The Whispered World...

However, if by "mature" we acknowledge only "serious" stories, i'm not really sure if such titles are disproportionate in numbers compared to let's say, those of 90s. Attempts on dramas or meaningful stories with deep emotions hadn't been really prevailing theme in the history of not only adventures, but gaming in general. Even though adventures are probably the closest thing to books and movies - they are still games, and story in it works in a different manner. Of course, that's not to say that such a story can not be told but it needs to work with other game elements, which brings us back to quality authors.

Even if we're to, for the sake of the argument, split decades, other than adventure games were more popular in 90s where quality did come with quantity, it's not that in post '00 period there's significantly less "mature" themed titles - The Longest Journey came after the "golden age", and when it comes to emotions it's still Syberia and Sokal at the top of many's list. Some mystery and horror games also contain more complicated stories and deeper emotions. Keepsake is a take on "Myst like" gameplay with an emphasize on story and characters. There's also many AGS and underground titles that came with the boom of independent efforts, with recognizable authors that also dwelve with complex stories and emotions - like mentioned Blackwell series, Eternally Us, Gemini Rue...

So it really boils down to game designers. When we hear piece of Beatles song or Knopfler's guitar play, we can almost deduce what it is because of distinguished and characteristic style, and it's the same with quality games where you can recognize unique style of Jane Jensen, Tim Schafer... To put it simply while stating the obvious - "mature" games comes from quality writers and designers.

Matt Berkeley 07-21-2011 06:19 PM

I agree with the notion that what is really the crux of this, more directly or correctly to the point, is that the problem isn't specifically about humor or maturity or any of these particularities...

It's about the amount of twaddle.

And, as with everything, whether it be music, books, television or film, there is an awful lot of absolute rubbish.

And it is a shame.

The technological know-how and creative talent certainly exists to achieve all that has been envisioned, but the "business-minded" honchos are, by one of the flaws in the system, at best, conservative, and, usually, utterly reactionary. And it feeds back. So we get wondrous technology squandered on idiotic crap... for example have you seen this? That is some fantastic tech there entirely wasted boosting up what some might call "mature content" when, in fact, it's nothing more than abject, childish, stupid and stupefying junk.

Time and time again when some well-received, highly successful, "game-changing" media (of any format listed above -- television, movies, etc) is retrospectively evaluated, the principal principle is "never underestimate the audience's intelligence".

Yet they continue to fall back into rehash and "refine" until we are left with heaps of lowest-common-denom...

kotkin 07-22-2011 07:05 AM

JackVanian your article is very profound and thoughtful!

Iam really happy that there are people out there who they are thinking the same things with me. After SO many dissapointing games finally I stoped playing adventures until Heavy Rain regenerate my appetite for serious stories, serious games, with emotion and immersion..
For me David Cage is the only hope in the industry about good, deep and serious storrytelling in games.
So much dissappointed from last Jensen's game...

Interplay 07-22-2011 03:02 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Hammerite (Post 586248)
I think part of the issue comes with the fact that the people who made the older, more ambitious adventure games were just using what was available to make a narrative game (like people who made text adventures before them). Now that games have progressed, it's easier to create more open narratives that don't rely on the old adventure game tropes and so people who want to make more mature and ambitious games are able to work in different genres

I think this post really gets to the heart of the issue. As gaming and gamers have aged, I would argue that there is a wider selection of mature games out now than ever before. The problem is, they're not adventure games. It's not hard to find seriously minded, grown-up subject matter in other genres. Just look at games like Red Dead Redemption, the Mass Effect series, or the upcoming puzzle game Catherine. Adventure gamers yearn for a good story, and so they've been forced to expand their horizons a little bit. Just look at the angst that has been caused on these boards by Portal 2 and L.A. Noire. Are they adventure games? It's in the eye of the beholder, but I tell you what: adventure gamers want those games to be adventure games because their stories and characterizations are so much stronger than anything in modern traditional point-and-click games. Unfortunately (in my eyes), adventure games are becoming increasingly comedic and episodic (which is another false step, imo). However, for people willing to leave their comfort zone, it's a great time to be a gamer.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Matt Berkeley (Post 586318)
So we get wondrous technology squandered on idiotic crap... for example have you seen this?

I'm going to go waaay out on a limb here and bet that the poster has never played GTA IV if they consider it "idiotic crap". It is another example of the wonderful "mature" storytelling available in other genres. And, no, I don't mean "mature" as in boobies and violence, I mean "mature" as in complex and thoughtful themes and characters.

Oscar 07-22-2011 03:39 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Interplay (Post 586383)
I'm going to go waaay out on a limb here and bet that the poster has never played GTA IV if they consider it "idiotic crap". It is another example of the wonderful "mature" storytelling available in other genres. And, no, I don't mean "mature" as in boobies and violence, I mean "mature" as in complex and thoughtful themes and characters.

I haven't played GTA IV but if that's true then it must have changed a LOT since the first couple of games, where the aim was to run over as many people as possible.

rtrooney 07-22-2011 05:14 PM

I think that there are several issues going on here. One is the thought that there aren't mature adventures. They may not be common, but the subject GK series fits the bill. As does Post Mortem/Still Life, Black Dahlia and others that all are more recent than the original Sins of the Fathers.

Then one has to take into consideration the origin of the games. Back in the "Golden Age" almost all of the games were developed in the US. Sierra, LucasArts and a few others led the way. Now, virtually every game is developed in Eastern Europe. Nothing wrong with that, but what constitutes a "mature" game in Ukraine may be totally different from what those in NYC think of same.

And I agree with a prior poster that thought bringing up this topic 10+ years after SotF came out is a little/too late, even if he/she was only quoting an article.

rayvio 07-22-2011 11:28 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Oscar (Post 586385)
I haven't played GTA IV but if that's true then it must have changed a LOT since the first couple of games, where the aim was to run over as many people as possible.

it actually has. GTA1 had rather little in the way of plot and relied on humour, violence and very occasional sexual references (which were of course blown way out of proportion by the media), GTA London and GTA2 were rather similar just in london and a futuristic city respectively
GTA3, as well as moving to 3D, introduced much more detailed story and characters with personalities. Vice City and San Andreas made further steps towards the more mature and less silly GTA4

Matt Berkeley 07-23-2011 02:10 AM

Quote:

less silly
Wow. "Less silly" huh? And only 6-7 iterations in? "Less" silly.

It's laughable shit. It was laughable shit. And it continues to be laughable shit.

It is absolutely NOT mature. That notion in itself is some laughable shit. It actually is.

Hammerite 07-23-2011 10:53 AM

For someone with such strong opinions, have you actually played it?

Monolith 07-23-2011 11:52 AM

Well if GTA IV is such a problem with some of you, why not we discuss Red Dead Redemption, a classy western mature sandbox action/adventure game.

rayvio 07-23-2011 02:29 PM

sadly Red Dead hasn't made it's way onto PC yet and Rockstar didn't reply to my request for a port or that they send me a console :P
at least LA Noire's coming to PC though so they haven't completely forgotten us


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