AdventureX: A decade in retrospect
I sometimes call it the most wonderful time of the year. When speaking to non-gamers, I often call it the weekend I meet a load of famous people they have never heard of. To the world at large it is called AdventureX, the world's biggest narrative game convention.
Back in 2011, the first AdventureX was conceived by indie developer and game publisher Mark Lovegrove. This initial outing took place in a room above a pub in Didcot with very little fanfare. Since then the convention has grown year after year, moving through various university campuses across London to its current home in the British Library Knowledge Centre. Talks now fill up full-sized lecture theatres instead of the small classrooms of the early days.
I missed that first year, but I have been to every AdventureX since. As it grew larger, I feared that it might start to lose the friendly atmosphere of the early days. I am pleased to say that my fears were completely unfounded, with the convention continuing to be a fun place to spend a weekend. Nowhere is this more clearly exemplified than in a personal tradition I undertake each year.
Dave Gilbert happily greets the wife of Adventure Gamers' Steve Brown
Returning from my first AdventureX in 2012, I excitedly told my wife, Janice, that I had met THE Dave Gilbert. Being the supportive spouse she is, she mirrored that enthusiasm, despite the fact she had no idea who he was. The following year I asked Dave to hold up a sign reading “Hello Janice” and wave for a picture. Since then I have asked numerous people to pose for similar pictures, including many big names in the business, and every one has been happy to do it. Whilst not sharing my enthusiasm for the games, Janice is always pleased to see who her new gaming “friends” are each year.
This would have been the tenth iteration of AdventureX, but sadly the pandemic has stopped it from going ahead. Many regulars have been getting together in video chats, however, and the AdventureX team are organising a game jam so the feeling has not been completely lost. To further offset the disappointment of no physical event this year, I asked past attendees to share their tales of the joyful experience that is AdventureX, beginning with those who go back to where it all started, followed by many others who have joined in the festivities in the years since.
Robert Murrant, Adventure Gamers
I had been scanning the AGS forums for a new freeware game to cover for Adventure Gamers when I came across a post about a meet-up happening somewhere close to Oxford called AdventureX. It was meant to be open to the public, and I suppose it sort of was, except that no one really knew about it.
After reading the attendees list, I was a bit surprised, as there were at least three names I recognised. The first was James Broom (Broomie) from Infamous Adventures, as I’d been keeping an eye on the Space Quest II remake they had been working on; another was Alasdair Beckett-King, from his rather brilliant freeware game Nelly Cootalot; and last but not least, the creator of Adventure Game Studio was going to be there, Chris Jones. I only really knew of them from the forums and through their creations, but the opportunity to put names to faces was a curiosity I wanted to explore.
Not wanting to go on my own, I remember asking some of the other Adventure Gamers staff members if they wanted to tag along, but everyone seemed to be booked up that weekend, and the location wasn’t exactly central to any of us or particularly easy to get to. I didn’t have access to a car at the time, so I remember it taking two and half hours to get there.
Site of the very first AdventureX, above a pub in the Didcot Labour Club
When the day came, it was a freezing cold morning. The long journey led to a place called the Didcot Parkway, and the meet-up was essentially being held upstairs of a rundown local pub (Didcot Labour Club), where they’d normally have a university band play. As I walked up the stairs, I was quickly greeted by a young Mark Lovegrove, who was the organiser of the event and also developed games under the banner of Screen 7. Mark eyed me with suspicion, which is unusual considering this is a public event, but as I rounded the corner I began to understand why. The room was filled with a crowd of about thirty people (give or take), mostly made up of the developers of each game on display, their friends and their girlfriends. While a few other people did show up earlier (three or four), they’d all since left, leaving me in a room filled with people who knew each other.
People were chatting, and a couple rows of desks with laptops and monitors had been set up for the games. The desks were what you’d expect to see from a high school art class – kind of tattered, beer-stained and somewhat graffitied. All of the devs were checking out each other’s work, discussing scripting, cracking lame jokes, and generally talking about stuff. Everyone looked about twenty-ish, either in university or just finished, with a collective look between grunge and hippy styles. Generally, everything you’d expect from bedroom coders.
I made my way around, having a look at all the games. From what I could see, there was real passion in the room. At this point I hadn’t announced who I represented, but as I chatted with the developers, they began asking me questions about why I was there and what I was interested in. Eventually I accidentally blurted out that I happened to write for Adventure Gamers, which got the attention of one or two devs in particular, who then went out of their way to tell me all about their games. I did the best I could to take notes, but with the sheer number of games and people, I could only really get my head around the titles that really grabbed my attention.
Once I’d done the rounds, Chris Jones, Alasdair Beckett-King and Mark Lovegrove did presentations of sorts, with Alasdair offering up a dazzling demonstration of Nelly Cootalot: The Fowl Fleet with witty showmanship and generally being the show master of the group. To finish there was a quiz competition at the end, where if you got the answer right, you ended up getting a free game. (I got a copy of the first two Broken Sword games – score!)
When it came time to write about my experiences, I wasn’t able to recall everything I’d seen, but I believed it was important for me to cover the event as no one else in the media went or offered any form of coverage at all. And those were different days back then. Twitter was in its infancy, Steam didn’t greenlight indie games on a regular basis (if at all), smartphones were relatively new, and Kickstarter was either just beginning or about to begin, so developers had a hard time attracting widespread attention.
So that’s the story of how the first AdventureX got its first media article on Adventure Gamers. From what I understand, each year since then the event has gone on to bigger and considerably better venues and has become a focal point for industry talent. To me that’s the best reward of all, to see a flourishing development scene, with young artists gaining opportunities to connect with both old and new audiences alike. Even if my contribution was only small, to see such a positive outcome makes that long, cold weekend trip more than worth it.
James Broom, Infamous Quests (Quest for Infamy, Order of the Thorne)
It’s December 2011, and my friend and I have been driving towards a new event called AdventureX. We’d been delayed by traffic, side-tracked by other circumstances and I’m pretty sure it was peeing down with rain. Not a great journey so far, but we finally reached our destination. A pub in Didcot.
“This is definitely the place, right?”
We’ve arrived at what looks like a dainty gentlemen’s social club, wondering if this is the venue. We approach the side entrance and spot the first clue. An A4 piece of paper, sellotaped to a doorway with “AdventureX – conference upstairs” printed on it.
We make our way up the stairs and hear some faint talking behind the door. We stop to listen just to make sure it’s definitely the right conference and not an AA meeting. I hear the words ‘Discworld’ and can just make out a long-haired redhead with a beard.
“Yep, this must be the place.”
Remembering that we’re about 6 hours late, we sneakily waltz in and find a place to sit, like kids who’ve just snuck into a 15-rated film at the cinema. Taking a seat at the back, we listened intently to the final 10 minutes of Chris Bateman’s talk of Discworld Noir, nodding, chuckling and clapping at the end (despite not having any context to whatever anecdote he wrapped his talk up with).
James Broom (L) presents Quest for Infamy at the London campus of the University of East Anglia, where AdventureX was held in 2012 and 2013
Either way, we were finally at Adventure X! Perched in a small room on top of a pub, the stage area was fairly small, with a backdrop of silver- and gold-draped curtains and strategically placed tinsel, with it being Christmas and all. It was low-budget, a bit chilly, and I’m quite sure at some point a lovely sweet old lady knocked on the door during one of the talks and asked if anyone wanted any sandwiches. I mean, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was having fun. It had potential.
And the venue was fine, really. It was the very first AdventureX and these things have to start somewhere. I’d been eager for a conference that focused on adventure games for a long time and was excited to meet like-minded people (or geeks) and play some adventure games. There weren't many there, though – I’d say there were no more than 25-30 people.
That redhead from earlier was Nelly Cootalot creator Alasdair Beckett-King, one of the current organisers of AdventureX. I didn’t know him that well at the time; in fact I didn’t know many of these people except for the organiser. I was simply a lurker on the AGS forums, which is where I found out about the event, so I was a tad nervous not to know that many. It didn’t matter, though. These people were cool and easy to chat to – especially when we popped downstairs afterwards for a beer.
The nerves were slightly higher the next day, as I was exhibiting. As a game designer with Infamous Adventures, we had just released Space Quest 2 VGA (a remake of the Sierra classic from 1987) and I even had a swanky banner made especially for the event. Once we were up and running, we had a neat little crowd around my small Dell monitor, oohing and ahhing at what they saw and asking if certain parts of the game were bugs or features. It was great!
I also did a talk about Space Quest 2 and how we made it. I was right after Chris Jones, creator of Adventure Game Studio, who went through the story of how he created AGS and how Space Quest played a major part in that, so it was neat to follow up with a Space Quest game made with that very engine. Here’s the video of CJ’s talk if you’re interested.
As we were finishing up and having a drink downstairs, I caught up with AdventureX founder Mark [Lovegrove], and asked if he expected to do something like this again next year.
“If there’s enough interest. Yeah maybe.”
A year later, AdventureX 2012 moved to London and the participant number had gone from 25 to 125-plus. People weren’t just travelling from Slough or Hemel Hempstead, they were flying in from Berlin and New York! The venue was bigger, modern and super busy. It was safe to say, there was definite interest – and as we know, that interest would only become greater.
Since then, AdventureX has been an annual tradition for myself and many others. Some years I’ve exhibited and done a talk, other years I’ve just gone because it’s an enjoyable few days to mingle and network with fellow developers and geeks. It’s great to go see presentations, try out new games that are being exhibited, but more importantly it’s an opportunity to find inspiration to take back with you. The after parties are pretty good too!
So to approach the end of 2020 and know AdventureX isn’t happening is disappointing, but unfortunately that has been the theme this year. So here’s hoping for AdventureX 2021 – 10 Year Anniversary Edition. We could even return to the place where it all started. Ah, maybe not.
Rebecca McCarthy (Sun Dogs, Dirty Bomb, Gears Tactics)
I spent a lot of time lurking in dev forums. I was looking for the secret a lot of the readers of this site have probably looked for. How do I make other people feel the way these games made me feel? How do I make one of my own? And let's be honest here, procrastinating. I came across the post for the first AdventureX quite by accident, signed up without very few details… and it was great. I spent an entire weekend talking with great people about the games we liked, and why we liked them. We played a lot of the Infamous Quests Space Quest remake all weekend. Refusing to let James Broom reset it until we ran out of game.
I never intended to get involved in running it. I just kept suggesting things. Plugging away at the dialogue options in true adventurer style. I certainly didn’t intend to run it for as long as I did. In a horrifying mirror of game development at large, things didn’t go to plan and it’s sometimes been a miracle it happened at all. But it did. Being able to talk with so many enthusiastic people, developers and players alike is frankly inspiring. I’m lucky enough to work as a writer/narrative designer full time. I don’t think I’d have been able to make that career move without AdventureX and the support of the friends I made there.
It was tiring and at times stressful, but I’ve made great friends at AdventureX. So in equal measure it was inspiring, warm and friendly. If you’re looking for those game development secrets, you’ll find far more than you were looking for at AdventureX. I’ll be there enjoying it as an attendee. Ready to chat games narrative, and enjoy amazing luxuries like a full lunch break. There are already a number of other fantastic narrative conventions out there, and I hope there will be many more.
Kieran Child (Quest for Shirt)
Kieran Child and his partner Maz cosplay as Phileas Fogg and Passepartout from 80 Days in 2019
The first time my partner Maz and I cosplayed at AdventureX as Rosa and Joey, we were slightly worried that we weren't recognisable, and that we wouldn't achieve our aim of getting to chat with (and maybe get a photo with) Dave Gilbert. These worries immediately dissipated, though, as we were recognised by many other fans in the queue, and upon setting foot in the venue, Dave Gilbert ran over to us, saying, "I know who you guys are! Let's get a picture!" This set the tone of the event as incredibly welcoming and friendly. Everyone is happy to chat about the characters and stories that they either created, or enjoyed as much as we did.
I've found AdventureX to be a great way to find out how other people think about and relate to the games I love. It's been wonderful to hear how developers and other fans feel about the games, especially when their experiences are different to mine. I loved getting to hear the "story behind the story" from Dave Gilbert, Meg Jayanth, and others, and cosplaying has been a great way to immediately let them know how much their games mean to us!
My favourite talks have been those which show how certain narratives can be brought to the foreground and handled well. Chella Ramanan's talk on Afrofuturism, and Vivek Gohil's talk on disability narratives in zombie games come to mind. These are topics with good representation in other forms of media, and it's exciting to look forward to great adventure games in the future that will boost these narratives, no doubt taking guidance from these very talks.
Overall, AdventureX has quickly become a real highlight of my year. It's really enjoyable on a personal level, and it's also great for the genre as a whole.
Alex Kanaris-Sotiriou, Polygon Treehouse (Röki)
AdventureX holds a special place in our hearts. For starters, it was the first event where we took the plunge and showcased Röki to the public. We’d visited once previously and thought it would be a good fit for our first outing, but safe to say we were still a little nervous about our fledgling game taking its first tentative steps outside of the nest. Needless to say, we shouldn’t have worried.
Polygon Treehouse's Alex Kanaris-Sotiriou and Danny Wadeson proudly present Röki in 2018
The crowd at AdventureX is really special; players and developers alike are all really passionate about the genre and supportive of the numerous games that all explore different aspects of it. Sometimes for quieter and more contemplative narrative games, taking part in events can be a little tricky as they tend to be quite loud and hectic. AdventureX is the reverse. It’s a chilled, welcoming and inclusive space perfect for stepping into new worlds and adventures.
From a developer perspective, the feedback and observations we got about Röki from genre enthusiasts were fascinating and very helpful for us to refine our craft. From a personal perspective, it’s a great place to make new ‘adventure pals’ and to catch up with others or take in some of the numerous talks.
Thanks for having us AdventureX. See you next year.
Francisco Gonzalez, Grundislav Games (A Golden Wake, Lamplight City)
If you’d told me six years ago that I’d have the opportunity to meet people who not only played and enjoyed adventure games, but played and enjoyed adventure games that I made, I wouldn’t have believed you.
But in 2014, that’s exactly what happened. Fresh off the release of my first commercial game, A Golden Wake, I decided to indulge myself and make the trip to London to attend my first AdventureX. At that point, it was in its fourth year, at London South Bank University. The event was a whirlwind of talks, panels, and socializing. I got to meet some people I’d known for years online in person for the first time, and actually gave my first talk.
In the years since, AdventureX has grown at a colossal pace. What used to be an informal gathering where talks and panels were prepared moments before being given has now become a professional event with high-profile speakers and game exhibitions, held in the British Library of all places.
Francisco Gonzalez displays Lamplight City in 2017
And yet, it’s never lost the familiarity. Despite the number of attendees increasing each year, it still feels like a friendly gathering with like-minded fans of the adventure and narrative genre. Nobody puts on airs or plays the “don’t you know who I am?” game. We’re all just a bunch of passionate people who love talking about games.
I’ve often said that in the post-pandemic world, I’d be fine with changing the format of big conferences like GDC or gamescom to online-only, mainly because of how overwhelming and impersonal they can feel, but focused conferences like AdventureX should remain in-person. There’s a certain magic and excitement that would truly be lost otherwise.
I look forward to seeing everyone again once it’s safe to gather!
Christopher Sacchi (A Night That Wouldn’t End)
Since 2017, AdventureX has been my annual personal getaway.
I recall being in a conversation where someone pointed out how they would basically spend a whole year around people with whom they can never discuss narrative games and their design, and then “here comes AdventureX,” where you find yourself around people who are happy to talk about both all day.
This is a very nice way to describe the experience, I think. At AdventureX I truly have the feeling of being surrounded by people eager to see the future of narrative games and by people willing to strive to reach such a future.
What's left out of the above description, though, is a quite more personal sentiment.
When I booked my ticket the first time, I had already been a member of the Adventure Game Studio community for about seven years. I remember the excitement and the anticipation I had, thinking about finally meeting the people and fellow developers from the forums, getting to listen to extremely interesting design talks. I just couldn't wait.
I was not expecting reality to be even better than imagination.
AdventureX is where I have met new friends who made me feel welcome and as unique to them as they were to me.
It's the "place" where some of those friends have now become colleagues, and with whom I bonded over the love for narrative games, for cats, and for the quirks and similarities of our respective languages.
It's the "place" where I come back from refreshed, and with more creative energy than I had when I got there, all because I had the chance to meet some of my favourite people, because I had the chance to hear an inspiring and insightful talk, and because the chat I had with some developer at the showcase made my day.
I hope all the organizers, exhibitors and attendees realize what a fantastic experience they all together manage to create.
Since 2017 I have visited places I would have never imagined I'd visit and have met people I would have never imagined I'd meet. From both I keep learning so much, about pretty much everything, that I find it very difficult to truly explain how much it matters to me.
Steve Ince (Broken Sword series, So Blonde, Captain Morgane and the Golden Turtle)
I have a fascination and love of adventure games – why else would I have spent much of my game development career working on them – and so a conference dedicated to the genre was always going to be welcome. Yet I only got involved on two occasions, which I now regret and wish I’d been a part of it more often.
Steve Ince couldn't attend personally, but still made his presence felt in 2013
I love meeting other adventure developers and the fans that enjoy our games, but I’m also a little apprehensive about doing so. Because I spend so much of my time on my creative output, I don’t have as much time to play all the games I would like, so chatting with developers is often peppered with apologies for not having played their games or not having completed them for time reasons.
Fans, of course, are our life-blood and a pleasure to chat with, but they know the genre far better than I ever will and have played so many more games that I often feel a little embarrassed when I miss their references.
Yet I’d still rather meet everyone than not. And in the process, if I can share something of my knowledge and experience along the way, that is even better.
There is always something to learn, too. I’m a little long in the tooth these days, but as long as I keep on learning then I’ll never regard myself as “too old.” People who think they have nothing left to learn only ever fool themselves. So one of the true pleasures of attending an event like AdventureX is in getting other people’s perspectives and seeing new approaches to developing in a decades-old genre and finding new ways to tell interactive stories.
Most of all, though, meeting and mixing with people that share our passions and interests is a pleasure I value very highly and I hope I continue to do so for the rest of my life.
Jon Ingold, inkle (80 Days, Over the Alps, Heaven’s Vault)
I’ve been attending AdventureX almost since it started – and certainly since my company, inkle, started. The first one I went to had maybe forty people, and was in a small room above a university. It was so long ago now I can’t even remember which university it was. I did a talk there – a whole hour! – about what I felt might be the shape of the future of adventure games. It was the first time anyone let me do a talk; at that time inkle had only put out one game (our “interactive literary novella,” Frankenstein. Which was not an adventure game.)
AdventureX gave me a chance to speak, and to find a group of people to share ideas with. That first talk was rather wobbly! But people took me seriously. They asked good questions. They told me that Telltale’s Walking Dead series was basically doing everything I was talking about. (It wasn’t; years later, we made Heaven’s Vault, which got a lot closer.)
inkle's Jon Ingold talks about the ups and downs of developing Heaven's Vault in 2017
Since that year, AdventureX has gone from strength to strength, growing in impact and reputation. I’m happy to call it the best games conference in the UK, but it’s one of the best in the world. The attendees are all great, enthusiastic and friendly. The games on show are eclectic but always interesting. The whole thing is just so positive. But despite that pressure, AdventureX keeps giving people a chance to speak – and to listen. There are some big name speakers, sure – Dave Gilbert of Wadjet Eye is pretty much the patron saint of the event, and Mark Brown of GMTK [Game Maker's ToolKit] and Charles Cecil of Broken Sword fame have all done talks – but most of the speakers are people I’ve never heard talk, and talking about things I’ve not heard talked about.
Not that I ever get to listen to the talks! I catch them on YouTube after the event. Because crossing the floor of AdventureX is impossible, without stopping every thirty seconds to try a demo, or talking to a friendly and familiar face. I guess I’m lucky: having attended so many it is now a room of my friends.
And every year I harangue the organisers about growing bigger – a bigger space, more days, more time – because I love being at AdventureX. And every year they say they’re happy with how things are. They’re right, of course. I’m happy with how things are too, and when the world opens up again I’ll be delighted to return to the place they made.
Frederik Olsen (Space Quest: Vohaul Strikes Back, Space Quest: Incinerations, Serena)
I always felt like an odd man out in my generation, and in my native Denmark. Adventure games never really took off here, and certainly not in the years where I started getting heavily into them. Sure, people here will know of Monkey Island and Leisure Suit Larry from their childhoods and adolescence, but that’s it; a genre that is basically defined by pirates and privates. Mention Wadjet Eye and you are likely to get a blank stare.
Thus, the vast majority of kinships I have been able to forge with fellow adventure game fans have been limited to online interactions. The only major possibility to share this passion of mine with multiple friends would ironically forever be tied to the computer these games run on. Whether these interactions have taken place on a message board, in an IRC channel, in an IM client, on social media, or while podcasting, adventure gaming would forever be a lonely experience for me, I thought. For better or for worse.
But in 2016, that all changed. Going to my first AdventureX was a revelation, and while it is always fascinating to sample how the attending game developers have put their own spin on the genre, and dive into adventure game history and theory in the many talks, I will always think of AdventureX as a social experience. Old online friendships gain a new dimension, and new friendships are struck. I have hugged and shook hands with people I never thought I would even get to meet. There is a sense of camaraderie and humbleness I have yet to encounter anywhere else. You can be a gamer or one of the “rock star” game developers from the 1990s that we all worship at the altar of. It does not matter at AdventureX. There are no barriers, lanyards or cliques. Everyone at that conference is there for one single reason: we just really like narrative games, and we like sharing.
Having had to sit out AdventureX 2018 and 2019, I had been looking forward to making a return in 2020. Alas, it was not to be this year. Still, it is comforting to know that once we can reset the pandemic countdown to 100 years, it will not feel like we have ever been away. This world may be broken, but AdventureX remains. No longer feeling like the odd man out, I miss my sanctuary. I am beyond grateful to every organizer, attendee, game developer and speaker that has helped this conference become the best place to be an adventure gamer. See you all in 2021.
Troels Pleimert (Space Quest Historian)
I was absolutely certain I had turned a wrong corner somewhere. The big, looming sign on the building that said “Goldsmiths” was somewhere up above me, but I somehow found myself in a mysterious alleyway sandwiched by a nondescript brick building on my right and an elongated bike shed on my left. “This can’t possibly be right,” I thought as I trudged onwards.
Eventually, I came to the end of the alley. Up ahead was a small piece of paper taped on the side of another building. It said, “AdventureX – this way” with an arrow that seemed to point entirely the wrong way.
After a year at the Keyworth Centre, London South Bank University, AdventureX moved to the Professor Stuart Hall Building at Goldsmiths from 2015-2017
This was the start of the best weekend of 2016. It was my first AdventureX, which I attended on my own, armed with nothing more than a mobile phone, a backpack, and a firm belief that I had a reservation at a local hostel but no idea how to actually get there.
Within hours of being at my first AdventureX, I knew that I would have to come back every year. There was something about the atmosphere there. It wasn’t just the shared love of a specific genre of computer games. It wasn’t just meeting people in the flesh that had hitherto been represented by pixellated avatars and pithy 240-character-long reply tweets. It was an immediate sense of belonging that’s hard to put into words.
To me, the convention really excels as a social gathering and as a source of inspiration. I find myself only casually glancing at the exhibited games (sorry, everyone – I know you work hard on those demos). Instead, I’m at the convention to catch up with friends and take home new ideas from the talks.
At the end of that first weekend, I missed my flight home and had to spend 22 hours sleeping in various uncomfortable contortionistic positions in and around Gatwick Airport.
For every subsequent year, my wife would join me on my AdventureX pilgrimages, mostly to make sure I would make my flight home again.
Every time I go to AdventureX, I’m struck by that same sense of belonging. The adventure game community is perhaps the warmest, friendliest, most inclusive, and – it has to be said – downright weird group of people it has ever been my pleasure to hang around with.
I look forward to the convention every year like children look forward to Christmas, and I can’t wait to get back when everyone stops infecting each other with the plague.
Richard Cobbett (Sunless Sea, Silent Streets, Beyond a Steel Sky)
There’s never a shortage of things to discover at AdventureX. For instance, usually I discover a brand new hole in one of my trainers, just before a long walk to the pub through a deluge of London rain. Impromptu cases of trench foot aside though, it’s really not the new things that stand out so much as reminders of things that it’s easy to forget. Adventures being single player things, it’s easy to forget the love people have for them, or the friendliness of the genre as a whole.
It helps that it’s not a competitive one, so much of the hostility you can get at these gatherings doesn’t really have a place – and even the most obsessive visitors are more interested in sharing good times than gatekeeping based on who’s finished the whole Space Quest saga. It’s also one of the rare events where someone stuck awkwardly supporting the back wall will usually be invited into conversations instead of left to fester in social anxiety, not least because I suspect that quite a few of us know how much that can sting, but can seize advantage of some absolutely guaranteed shared ground to at least break the ice and offer a break from the buzzing silence.
Personally, there’s another aspect too. I’ve both written about and written games for over twenty years now, and the truth is that it’s easy to forget that there’s an audience out there, and you’re not simply shooting words off into a big black hole. It’s a chance to be reminded of the passion that’s kept the genre alive through its fifty-seven thousand deaths (and counting!) and, sometimes, to be lucky enough to have someone tell me that they laughed at a joke, or particularly enjoyed a Sunless Sea island that I wrote, or similar. It also lead to my favourite introduction I’ve ever heard, from someone whose company’s games I might not have been the nicest about, declaring “You should know, you were always the devil to me!” It’s always nice to be appreciated, isn’t it?
Alex Francois, Brainchild Studios (The Slaughter)
My first AdventureX happened almost by mistake. I had launched a Kickstarter for The Slaughter back in November 2013. At that time I had no grasp of the concept of the games industry, or the adventure game community; all I knew is that I wanted to make games, whether or not there was a market for them. I had quit my job as a creative writer for a daily deals website just a month earlier, and had worked alone on barely a month's savings to get the game up to scratch for a trailer and demo. It wasn’t until launching my Kickstarter that I began to realise there was a passionate and dedicated community who loved adventure games, and would go out of their way to ensure creators succeeded.
Alex Francois (second from left) coolly hides his rising anxiety as the microphone gets closer in his one and only panel
A backer informed me of the existence of AdventureX. I’d dabbled in AGS in my teens but wasn’t a forum member, so this was the first I’d heard of the gathering. I immediately applied for a booth; the expo was only a couple of weeks away so it was a mad dash to get a demo ready. And so began my initiation into the world of indie adventure games, and I’ve attended all seven events since, watching in awe as it’s grown from a few of us weirdos in a corner, to a world-renowned event, with a few of us weirdos in the corner. There’s still nothing I look forward to more each year.
If I were to think of a specific memory that has stuck with me, it would be being asked to sit on a panel five minutes before it was due to start. It was quite imposing sitting alongside accomplished developers including Francisco Gonzalez, Alasdair Beckett-King, Jan Kavan and Ian Thomas. I recall a question being asked and the microphone making its way slowly to me, as each panellist gave their thought-provoking answer. So anxious was I, through a mixture of imposter syndrome, stage fright, and too much coffee, that I began tripping out and completely forgot the question. You could see the panic in my eyes as the microphone moved closer to me, reaching Alasdair, who stood as the last line of defense before my impending doom like some Celtic guardian. It was just as he finished his answer that the question rushed full pelt back into my skull, and elated I grasped the microphone and answered in a fit of ecstasy. Needless to say, I’ve not been asked to sit on a panel since.
Jean-Baptiste de Clerfayt (Lancelot’s Hangover: The Quest for the Holy Booze)
Going to AdventureX every year is such a deep emotional adventure. I’ve been passionate (some might say: obsessed) by point-and-click adventure games since I was 10 – and now I’m 40. It’s not like I can share this passion at the local supermarket or in my daily life (thankfully, our community is very active online). So being in person in the middle of hundreds of other passionate people is such bliss. At AdventureX, our nerdiness feels normal, at least for a weekend.
For some reason, every year on a late Sunday afternoon, I feel overwhelmed by emotions. My head and heart are filled with the joy of all these amazing people, and also a bit sad that I will have to wait another year to live the same crazy experience and meet all those nice people again.
Jean-Baptiste de Clerfayt remembers to demo Lancelot's Hangover in 2017
This emotional overwhelm works in mysterious ways. Every Sunday from 2pm to 4pm, all of a sudden I cannot either talk or barely understand English (note: I’m a French-speaking Belgian and English is my second language). Fortunately, it doesn’t last long, and once we all go to the pub, all my linguistic skills come back again and you’ll probably hear me saying: “Ace! That’s a be reyt pint, luv.”
In 2017, I was showcasing my game (maybe the stress was bigger than usual?). Around 2pm, I was talking to someone and my words got twisted: “Euh… of course! – oui – dans le puzzle du Lancelot’s Hangover – you can click – mon dieu! inventory items.” Damn it! I couldn’t make a proper sentence and I barely understood what the person I was talking to was saying. I felt bad because this person was super lovely and I was a bit embarrassed to say that stress makes me lose (temporarily) some of my neurological skills.
I found a solution: “Oh! Escusez-moi! There iz conference. Super interesting. Juste maintenant – just right now. Got to go. Désolé.” A new talk was about to open and that was the best opportunity to quit the embarrassing situation for me and avoid talking to people – I needed a few dozen minutes to relax.
The speaker was Brian Moriarty (yes, the legendary dev who made Loom and Infocom games). I sat down at the back, closed my eyes for a bit and put myself in sort of a meditative way. I felt great and relaxed. Everything was fine.
I wasn’t mentally able to follow the talk, but after a few minutes, I realised people around me were crying and getting super emotional and I had absolutely no idea why. I tried to understand what Brian was saying, but my brain was still freezing. Later in his talk, Brian was talking about W.B. Yeats. As my brain at the moment could barely understand a Dora the Explorer episode, Yeats was way too much.
The talk ended in a deep emotional atmosphere in the audience. I ran outside to smoke a cigarette and one misty-eyed guy started a conversation with me (I knew from his emotional state he was at the talk). This guy was lovely and super kind. He talked about the conference. I didn’t really understand what he was saying, but I felt he was really moved by Brian’s talk – I was too embarrassed to say I didn’t catch a word.
“Désolé Monsieur. Got a booth… Err.. showing game… err… got to go.” With my English still broken, I tried to quit the conversation as politely as I could and go back to my booth where I was showcasing the game.
My plan was genius. Remember: my English language skills freeze from 2pm to 4pm. After the talk and the cigarette break, I guess it was about 3:30pm or so. If I sat at my booth for half an hour, just watching people play my game, my English will come back again and I can talk and understand people again. Genius plan indeed.
Just next to my booth, something I didn’t plan happened. Brian Moriarty was sitting next to my PC. He wasn’t playing my game and he was all alone. Maybe people were too intimidated to talk to him. He’s such a big name for all adventure game fans.
“Err... Hey! Bonjour Monsieur Brian… I mean, hello Brian. Err…” It was for me like meeting Keith Richards on an elevator with nobody around. It’s a lifetime opportunity to share some words with a legend, but you have such a deep hangover you cannot say more than two words.
After greeting him, I stared at Brian for a couple of very long seconds and I said: “Sorry Brian. My English is very bad.”
He looked at me, smiled and said with the sweetest kindness ever: “That’s cool. Don’t excuse your English.”
Then I remembered I literally learned English thanks to LucasArts games when I was an early teen. I was playing Indiana Jones 3 and 4, Day of the Tentacle, Sam & Max with a French-English dictionary on my lap when I was twelve. Twenty-five years later, the irony of telling a former creator of those games my English is bad made me laugh in the inside and my stress went away all of a sudden.
I talked with Brian for three minutes or so about AGS (the open-source game engine I used for my own game) and how it’s easier today to make adventure games. Today we have free engines, forums to ask questions if we’re stuck, tons of resources to learn to make games, online community and social media to promote games, events to meet adventure game fans like AdventureX.
While Brian was talking, I smiled internally and felt such a big joy. He was so right. Making LucasArts-like games in the early ’90s was, to me, like an impossible task. It was like making a Hollywood movie. And today, it is possible to make your dream game with a not-so-fancy computer, an internet connection and lots of time. I already knew it (that’s why I made and shipped my own game), but hearing one of my heroes agree how much easier it is to make games today was such a weird and wonderful feeling.
After this short lovely conversation, we took a picture together and I went back outside to smoke a cigarette. I was alone, looking at the trees, and I felt very, very great.
Those amazing and magical moments only happen at AdventureX.
Julia Minamata (The Crimson Diamond)
AdventureX is a magical event where, on my first night in London, I met up with Dave Gilbert (Unavowed) and Tom Simpson (Feria d’Arles) at a pub for some steak and Guinness pie. The next morning I had coffee with Francisco Gonzalez and Jess Haskins (Lamplight City), who’d just flown in that morning from New York. The following jetlagged exchange took place (to my best recollection, because jetlag):
Julia Minamata really was there in 2019, displaying The Crimson Diamond
Me: Jess! You’re doing a talk on Sunday. I hope I can come see it.
Me (five minutes later): Oh yeah, and there’s a talk on Sunday I really want to see. I forget what it is.
Jess: Do you mean my talk?
Me (remembering): Ah.
***DISCLAIMER*** I asked Francisco to verify this story and he couldn’t, because jetlag. I’m pretty sure it happened, otherwise it’s the best dream I’ve ever had. It’s also possible I dreamed the entirety of AdventureX, too. It was a dizzying, delightful weekend, where, for a brief moment, the global adventure game community was tantalizingly local.
Now that November has come around again, it doesn’t feel as though I’m looking back through a year’s worth of time. It’s more like AdventureX happened a mere layer away, embedded in my brain like a novel object in the growth ring of a tree. I’m looking forward to the next one. See you all soon.
Alexander Preymak, Russian translator (Broken Sword 5, Thimbleweed Park, Kentucky Route Zero)
Being a kid in Russia in the nineties was a bummer all right; being a not very sociable kid was not a good addition to that. Being a not very sociable kid with a passion for adventure games when all the boys were playing Counter-Strike 1.6 in a computer club in the school basement concludes the vicious circle. But at least you tend to read a lot.
A decade after that, you find yourself studying English and History at the university, this passion still in your heart, but you know some English now, so why not combine those?
Russian translator Alexander Preymak approves of AdventureX 2017
And then it’s 2017: you’ve translated some games, established some ties, and you’re in London for the first time, looking for “a Venture hostel somewhere in Deptford,” and the first person you meet when you enter the place is a jolly guy in a yellow t-shirt. What could possibly go wrong after that? The next morning it’s drizzling and you’re looking for Goldsmiths, University of London, the place they’re holding the gig you read about on the internet this year, and after some time and some missed turns because the streets are so very narrow and your Lebara 3G is playing tricks on you, you finally find it and it suddenly feels like home.
It’s really sad we can’t gather this year at AdventureX 2020, but I guess it’s not about the year in the title, it’s about the people and the cause they represent. Maybe next time will be in 2025, who knows, but I’m sure that whenever we come together, at last, I will still get the same feeling, the feeling of knowing that I belong. And a new Dave Gilbert opening speech, of course.
Thomas Regin, composer (The Blackwell series, Nancy Drew series, Unavowed)
It’s late Thursday evening, as always, when I touch down in Gatwick, an airport in a godforsaken town in the outskirts of London that I’m most likely never going to experience in daylight. With me, I’ve got my pre-booked train tickets, on paper of course, which are of no use because the Gatwick Express is down for maintenance. Yes, I was notified about this through a myriad of yellow warnings and greyed-out buttons when I booked, but through the power of persistence I managed to buy the unavailable and now useless tickets anyway.
Slightly worried about where my journey will take me now, I begin navigating through the airport hoping to find a train that’ll take me to central London, but there are no central Londons according to at least a handful of different rail companies servicing Gatwick Airport. There are place names that you’ve never heard of, some that sound vaguely familiar, and some which could sound like places you’ve actually been, but none called: “Here, stupid tourist, this is where you want to go!”
I consider myself a person of average intelligence and also fairly linguistically adequate, but leave it to the British railway system to make me feel utterly incompetent. Now that everything is privatised, I feel one needs a master’s degree in logistics to understand how transportation works there.
After closely studying ticket machines for a while and watching, discreetly, how the natives handle their ticket-purchasing endeavours, I am finally able to find both tickets and a train that’ll take me straight to King’s Cross station, where my hotel is conveniently located. I find a vacant seat as far away from other passengers as possible. I wouldn’t want any awkward conversations while I’m frantically keeping an eye out for stations closed for maintenance or sudden changes to the route. Which, in my experience, is not all that uncommon.
I’m not usually particularly afraid of ticket machines, transportation, airports or people starting impromptu conversations on train rides, but as always when I’m in London alone on a Thursday evening, I’m excited about something so special that I’m worried about losing just a single second of it.
I’m going to meet my people at AdventureX.
AdventureX 2020 would have been at the British Library Knowledge Centre, where the event has taken place since 2018
In the business of game development, you rarely get recognised on the street. You have few, if not zero, hordes of frothing fans camping on your doorstep in order to get a small peek into your private life. This makes game development a rather pleasant and quite anonymous industry to work in generally, but also quite lonely! Especially as someone who composes music, because we’re often the last step when everyone else has done their part.
However, once every year, at AdventureX, I get to experience just a tiny fraction of what it’s like to be a rock star. I get to meet the people who may not always know me by name, but know me from my work, and it makes me feel proud and fuels my motivation like nothing else!
The train pulls up on King’s Cross station; it’s nearly 22:30 in the evening and I can’t wait to get unpacked and meet up with the gang in the hotel bar and have a handful of cold pints in good company.
Twenty minutes later I’m frantically searching through every square inch of the restaurant, the men’s room, asking the receptionist if perhaps there’s an underground bar – until finally it dawns on me, with the help of Google Maps and a few Facebook messages, that King’s Cross has two hotels of pretty much identical names.
A brisk walk later, I open the door to the right hotel this time and am greeted heartily by the people that I’ve been missing for a year.
For my part, being at AdventureX is not for the talks, the funny interludes by Alasdair, or even for networking in the traditional sense. For me, being at AdventureX is all about the people that I meet at the pub, for the feeling of being among old friends from all corners of the world, with whom I can laugh, chat, drink, feel proud, sympathise and miss when the Uber pulls up outside my hotel a few days later, because I've decided to give up on the rail service and just want to get to the airport as painlessly as possible. These are the people who sent me a greeting card when I was home sick last year and couldn’t make it – and these are the people that I won’t be seeing in 2020 due to COVID-19, but I have a feeling that 2021 will be a good year, so brace yourselves because I will be back! No rail service or hotel chain can keep me away.