The year may be gone, but it will most certainly not be forgotten by adventure gamers, thanks once again to a strong field of titles from newcomers and familiar names alike. This was the year we finally got a (complete) new adventure from Tim-freaking-Schafer and a spiritual claymation successor to The Neverhood, but also some incredible debuts from previous unknowns looking to make a name for themselves, along with the usual high quality productions we’ve come to expect from genre stalwarts like Wadjet Eye, KING Art, and Frictional Games.
But this year’s Aggie Award nominees are characterized as much by what isn’t eligible as what is. High-profile episodic releases like Dreamfall Chapters and King’s Quest will have to wait until their respective series are complete, while even finished series by Telltale are nowhere to be found, having veered a little too far outside the “adventure” boundaries into purely interactive story territory. (There are three main pillars of adventure games – story, puzzles, and exploration – and while any game can stand wobbly on two, it topples over with only one.) Other notable games have also fallen from the wayside by forsaking puzzles as a central gameplay element, because while we still think they’re great, it’s not fair that they should be compared with those games that strive to integrate puzzles and story together.
You’d think that removing some of the expected heavy hitters might make the job of selecting final nominees easier, but it’s a testament to the continued fine work of today’s developers that even narrowing a list down to five in each award category led to some painful decisions. But our pain is everybody’s gain, because that just means there’s so much adventuring goodness to go around.
The one exception to that rule is the dwindling number of console and mobile exclusives. Maybe that’s a good thing in disguise: it’s not that there aren’t any good adventure games on those systems, merely that they’re sharing cross-platform releases. Win-win for everyone! But regardless of the reason, there just weren’t enough candidates to warrant a separate award in that category this year.
But enough preamble – everybody loves lists! And we’ve got a bunch of them. So here they are (listed in alphabetical order), the Aggie Awards nominee finalists for 2015. Think we’ve got ‘em wrong already, without even picking a winner? Worry not, as you’ll have your say soon enough in our upcoming reader poll.
The final awards presentation will run from Wednesday, February 24 to Friday, February 26, so stay tuned!
One of the core components of any adventure, the game’s narrative must engage the player’s interest and imagination. Entertaining in its own right, a good story also immerses the player in a believable game world and serves as motivation to overcome the challenges presented. While often accompanied by quality writing, the plot is a distinct feature that may or may not be ably supported by the actual dialogue.
Best Writing – Comedy
Arguably the hardest genre to write well, comedy done right has the ability both to amuse and uplift, finding humour in the ordinary and laughter in the unexpected. Often dismissed for not being “serious writing” (oh, the irony!), comedy has long been a beloved adventure staple and deserves appropriate recognition.
Best Writing – Drama
If comedy lifts the soul, then drama explores and challenges it. Though sometimes misrepresented as dry and boring or overly theatrical, a gripping drama simply engages players on a deeper emotional level. Quality writing is essential in maintaining the player’s connection to the characters, game world, and the story unfolding.
Gabriel Knight... April Ryan... Guybrush Threepwood. These names roll off the tongue of any adventure gamer as a testament to the importance of compelling protagonists in an adventure. But just as important are the villains, sidekicks, and significant supporting characters, which are often the juiciest parts. This category recognizes those who have made the most memorable contribution, regardless of role.
Wilbur Weathervane, The Book of Unwritten Tales 2
Vella, Broken Age
Fran Bow, Fran Bow
Interviewee, Her Story
Chloe, Life Is Strange
Puzzles are an integral aspect of adventure gameplay, but not the only one. Good pacing, rich exploration, and variety of activities are all factors in player enjoyment as well, all suitably integrated into the storyline. The best games seek the right balance of these elements for the most rewarding gameplay experience.
A somewhat ambiguous category meant to highlight any unusual, distinctive element. A creative concept can run the gamut from story premise to game mechanics, from stylistic choice to technical innovation. It doesn’t even need to have been successfully implemented, as it’s the idea itself that deserves the acknowledgement in a genre renowned for its conservative approach.
Adventures can transport us to memorable places we’ve never been before, including those we never even imagined. Or perhaps to locales we’ve visited before, but never quite like this, making them feel fresh and new and awe-inspiring all over again. In these games, the setting is like an integral character of its own, inseparable from the story taking place within its borders.
Best Graphic Design
If a picture is worth a thousand words, this category speaks volumes. Regardless of style, this award recognizes games that are not only visually attractive but stylistically distinctive. One look at a screenshot should elicit a “Wow!” followed by “Hey, that’s from…!” This award includes both game world and character design, but not cinematics.
From “bustling” city streets that look deserted to clouds that never move, animation in adventure games is rarely a genre strong suit, often the victim of budget constraints. But richly animated adventures add so much to player immersion that any game that goes the extra mile in this area is deserving of appreciation. This category includes in-game character and ambient animations, plus cinematic cutscenes.
As a complementary element playing in the background, often a game’s soundtrack is noticeable only when it becomes intrusive, but a strong score and attention to timing can add so much to a game’s ambience. A catchy theme song can likewise make game music memorable, and an in-game musical number even more so. Whatever its particular strengths, the game that excels musically deserves its accolades, even if its impact is subtle.
Best Acting (Voice or Live Action)
Often under-valued by publishers but never by gamers, quality voice acting can enhance a player’s investment in characters as surely as poor acting can ruin it. With so much international localization, voice-overs can be difficult to skillfully oversee, but any game benefits greatly from proper direction and believable acting. This category refers to the overall quality of vocal roles in a game, not to individual characters.
Best Sound Effects
As with music, sound effects are frequently given short shrift in adventures, but effective use of audio adds a vital layer of moody ambience. You may not be able to put your finger on the reason, but some games make you feel like you’re really there, and often the atmospheric sounds have drawn you in subconsciously.
Best Non-Traditional Adventure
For a genre that’s remained largely unchanged for decades, it’s actually got a rich history of experimental titles that push the creative envelope in unique, memorable ways. They don’t “evolve” or “redefine” adventures, but rather expand our understanding of what an adventure can we with their bold vision. Purists may resist, but this award honours those games that stretch beyond traditional genre conventions to offer something completely new, or at least present the familiar in imaginative new ways.
Best Traditional Adventure
Why mess with a good thing? While innovative adventures provide a welcome breath of fresh air, the lifeblood of the genre continues to be the many games that closely adhere to the comfortable, tried-and-true design formulas. Full of inventory and logic puzzles, memorable character dialogue, epic storylines and immersive exploration, they may not have changed much since Monkey Island and Myst – or even the original Zork for some – but they’re no less enjoyable when done well.
Best Adventure of 2015
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That’s for us to know and you to find out. No sneak peeks! Come back February 26th to find out.