Monday, September 06, 2010

Nostalgia Trip(s) Part III - The Hobbit

US Army, 82 ABN, Fort Bragg, NC.

So here I am in the Army and for the first time actually had some spending money! Something about living in the barracks with a bunch of 20-somethings that you'll never experience again, nor do you appreciate it at the time. Basically everyone has nothing but time on their hands once they get off work. This pretty much comes down to gaming... LOTS of gaming.
Nowadays it is hard as hell finding a group of people to game with. Back then we had way too many. The groups were large, but after a while you kind of settle into your own little group of regulars. In my case I was truly blessed to DM for the group we had. They role-played to the max.

Gotta give a shout out here to Jeff Woods, Charles Bickley, Donald Graves, Lonnie McDonald, Jeff Yerrick, and Z! I still remember staying up all night playing and having to stop because we had to run out for formation. Insane...

There was a lot of transformations going on during this time. It started as just running people through various modules and ended up with a full blown never ending campaign. I guess you could call it the normal evolution or maybe maturing and taking things to a higher level.

The title of this is "The Hobbit" so if anyone is wondering where that comes into play, The Hobbit is a hobby store in Fayetteville. I was so hooked on AD&D that I think practically every paycheck went to that store. I was obsessed with buying anything for AD&D that I didn't have. Eventually I managed to obtain EVERYTHING put out for 1st edition AD&D except for a very few Judges Guild modules. If TSR or Role-Aids made it, I owned it. In case you are wondering, that comes out to over 1,000 adventures to take people through.

The Hobbit was the greatest hobby store ever. Al, Feliet (Spelling?) and Tia were always helping me find obscure items from their distributors and getting them in my hands. They used to say I paid their electric bill every month!

Every time I got paid, I was walking the 5 miles to the Hobbit and nearly filling a grocery bag with stuff and walking back with it. Ahhhh, the memories of not having any bills!

They were also friends with Roger Moore (not James Bond, but the editor of Dragon magazine) as he used to be stationed at Ft. Bragg and used to shop there as well. Every now and then I'd get a few tidbits of information on what was coming down the pipe from TSR so I could be ready for it.

So many games played and endless hours spent exploring fantasy worlds and settings. Drama, intrigue, politics, and lots of excitement. Little did I realize at the time, but the seeds were planted that would also eventually ruin the game for me, but I'll cover that in my next blog.

In case anyone is wondering, yes, I still have everything I collected. I was very meticulous about it all and bought plastic sleeves for everything and kept them protected practically from day one. The item I am most proud of is my single hardcover edition of Dragonlance that contains all three volumes in one book. When I bought that I immediately wrapped it in a plastic sleeve and stuck it away. I told myself that I was going to make it my quest to get the authors to sign it. It took nearly 15 years, but I finally achieved that goal at Origins and Gencon. Needless to say, the authors were impressed at I had such a rare item in such great condition. :)

NEXT UP: Nostalgia Trip(s) Part IV - 2nd Edition, Goblin's Reach and WTF?!?

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Nostalgia Trip(s) Part II - Damsels in Distress and Slaying Orcs

At the time when I first started getting into wargames, I was in a hobby shop and saw this book that was just about the size of a magazine with very thin poster board covers. It was black and had a black and white photo of some people dressed up like people from the Middle Ages. Well, more like cheap movie props, but you get the idea.

I looked inside of it and saw some rough drawings of maps, along with more polished looking maps on graph paper. Each room had a letter or a number in them and there was a section in the book giving a description of what the room looked like, what was in it, etc. It was only a few dollars, so I convinced my mother to buy it. That book was the Book of Treasure Maps by Judges Guild - For use with the Dungeons and Dragons game.

I really had no idea what it was all about. There were cryptic codes like AC, HP along with lots of numbers . I was clueless as to what it all meant, but I enjoyed reading the description of the rooms in the various dungeons and imagined exploring them.

My friend who got me into wargames had heard of Dungeons & Dragons and even had some basic rulebook for it. He went ahead and tried to learn how to play it, then ran me through some basic dungeon. Wasn't much to it and I wasn't very impressed.

It didn't help that in games you always play to win against an opponent. I remember asking what I had to do to win in D&D. The answer was you don't. Huh?!? How could you play a game where there was never a winner? The only objective in it is not to die. If you die, the game ends. Ok, so I could lose, but I couldn't win. This was a completely new and radical concept in gaming.

Well, how does it end then? It doesn't. Double huh?!? How can it not end? Well, you get experience points for the adventures you go on and gain levels which make you more powerful. Ok then, how many levels are there? There is no limit. What? There is no board. There are no playing pieces. You just have your character and their stats written on a piece of paper.

Apparently he wasn't very impressed with it either because he went ahead and gave me the rulebook. In retrospect I think it had more to do with us being clueless about the whole thing! Besides, I was addicted to wargames and building up my collection of Avalon Hill stuff. Shortly thereafter, he ended up moving away.

I can laugh about all this now. As a very young teenager, these new ideas just seemed ridiculous to me. I was used to the rigid rules of wargames, somehow this open ended freewheeling Dungeons and Dragons stuff seemed a bit wishy washy to me.

Low and behold, I eventually moved and met a guy in my German class who had actually heard of Avalon Hill. He even had a few of their games. Finally! Someone to play wargames with. We would frequently play various games and even found another player as, like all teens, you develop a circle of friends.

The only difference was that they also played AD&D (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons). Remembering my previous experience with D&D, somehow the idea of an advanced version of it didn't impress me. I was invited to game with them, but wasn't interested in anything that had to do with a game you couldn't win. What was ironic is that I remember playing Squad leader by myself and thinking how cool it would be to play an individual soldier without the limits of a hex-based map - where you could make your own decisions and go where ever you wanted.

I finally gave in one day because I was feeling left out with them always talking about their adventures. There is a huge difference between playing a game of AD&D as a single player who doesn't have a clue and playing with a group of players who "get it".

There is something about the camaraderie that takes the games to a whole new level. It also helps playing with those who know how the game is played. That first game was a module which has always held a special place for me. Its the adventure that got me hooked. That module was Horror on the Hill.

The die had been cast. I was now an AD&D player fanatic.

To this day, I can still smell the pine trees and feel the soothing forest breeze on my face. There is no limit to just how far your imagination can go when you release it from any pre-conceived constraints.

We continued playing throughout our high school years bouncing back and forth between AD&D and wargames. They were great times filled with adventures and stories. Iron Maiden, Motley Crue, The Scorpions and Van Halen (Pre Sammy Hagar) filled our ears.

When I finished high school and went straight into the army, I thought for sure it was the end of my AD&D adventures. Turns out nothing could be further from the truth and the best was yet to come. Addiction and collecting games would take on a whole new meaning...

Next up: The Hobbit

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Nostalgia Trip(s) Part I - Wargames

Every now and then I get myself side-tracked going on nostalgia trips.

The other day I found myself looking at board wargames which led me to the history of Avalon Hill.

Avalon Hill was a wargaming company that revolutionized the genre by creating hex-based maps to play on. Their games ranged from leisure time to simulations of actual battles in history. I was around 14 years old when a next door neighbor introduced me to a game called Tobruk. Something about it just appealed to me - rolling to dice to determine if my shell landed in the same hex as an enemy tank, rolling again to see if I actually hit the tank and where. If I destroyed it, the little half-inch square piece of cardboard depicting a tank on it was flipped over revealing a picture of a burning tank.

I was hooked. (yeah, this is before computers..!)

Getting my hands on as many of those wargames became a bit of an obsession for me. I used to get a dollar everyday for lunch at school, but I would pocket some of those crappy Sara Lee individually wrapped cupcakes from the cupboards and eat those for lunch and pocket the dollar. After a month, I'd have enough money to buy another Avalon Hill game. Back then they were $18 and you could find them everywhere including Toys-R-Us.

My favorites were Squad Leader, France 1940, D-Day, Tactics, and Rise and Decline of the Third Reich. All WWII-based games. My love of the games led to a love of military history - WWII in particular. I would read every book I could find on the subject.

These games were nothing to scoff at when you consider the complexity. Many of the rulebooks tapped 36 pages of 8.5 x 11 paper in very tiny print. Avalon Hill had this cool system though where you only had to read the first 2-3 pages in order to play the first scenario. They would gradually add more rules with each scenario so that you could learn to play the game in small bites. I remember sitting in the back of an Algebra class in high school with the Squad Leader rulebook open inside of my textbook while the teacher gave his lecture...

The hardest part though was finding others to play. There were countless games that I played by myself - jumping back and forth across the map to switch sides. Sounds silly now, but I was having a blast. I eventually did find some people who did play and we had this nice pool table in the basement we would play on. So many battles... good times!

It was with wargames that I also achieved a first. Something that, nearly 30 years later, I still find myself doing - losing track of TIME. I remember one night when my gaming buddies came over and we played Third Reich (high-level war game of the entire European theatre of war during WWII). I remember looking up and asking if someone had parked their car on the neighbors front lawn because light was shining through the basement window.

"'s the sun."

Holy crap. We played all night long. It was the first time of what was to become commonplace - staying up all might playing games. Wargames, AD&D, computer games, etc. They say time flies when you are having fun. So true... The funny part of this was that instead of going to sleep, we all jumped on our bikes and peddled to Wings in Lakewood to pick up another game.

I'm going to move ahead here a bit as another game became my obsession from around 1983 to the early 90's (I'll save that for another blog post) just to touch on another foray into wargames that cropped up in the mid 90's. There were several attempts at bringing wargames to the computer and when I first encountered them I was pretty excited about them.

There is an awful lot of logistics and tracking involved when you play these things - not to mention keeping all the rules straight! The idea that a computer could handle that work seemed like a major breakthrough. The problem is that when I first tried one on my Commodore 64 (back in the mid 80's) I found I sucked at them against a computer opponent. Frustrating indeed. I finally saw an article in a computer magazine that had an interview with a computer wargame developer and he was quoted as saying "sometimes it becomes necessary to make the computer cheat..." That pretty much sank my desire to play wargames on the computer...

Well, years later an opportunity arose that had me giving them a second chance. Avalon Hill was focused on converting their wargames to the PC market. I landed a spot as a beta-tester for Third Reich. The boardgame was faithfully recreated on the PC right down to every detail.

Here's a link to the manual in PDF form: I'm listed on the last page under the beta testers. It was the first time my name was ever in a commercial game and well... the first is always special...

There were several other games slated to be converted and I got to talk with one of their senior PC department heads (at least I thought he was) about doing a PC version of France 1940. They were interested. In addition to my beta-testing, I got busy on making the game. In retrospect, I had no idea how I was going to code the AI, but figured I'd cross that bridge when I got to it. I faithfully recreated the map and got busy with the rest of the game. Third Reich was now done and released.

Then my emails started to go unanswered. From my understanding, my contact left Avalon Hill shortly after Third Reich was released and well, no one there seemed to have any idea what I was talking about...nice...well there went that.

A year or two later and Avalon Hill was no more... They got bought out by Hasbro who ceased production of AH wargames. Sad times indeed.

I still feel that urge to check out the wargaming scene every now and then. I just can't bring myself to committing the amount of time required to learn the rules and sit for hours on end playing a boardgame.

Once in a while I'll be in a gaming store and nearly have a heart attack looking through their wargames section. They have become such a nitch market that the games are expensive as hell. $60-$80 seems to be the norm. I feel so old as I end up sounding like my grandparents, "When I was a kid, those things only cost $18!"

Next up: Damsels in Distress and Slaying Orcs

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Nearing the end of the year

Can't say I'll miss 2008. It started off badly with no good news to report and even worse with PC issues. Everything seems to be settling into place again...finally. Lots of big plans and releases for 2009 which have got me pretty excited...if for nothing more than to get some of these ideas off my plate and out of my head.

Strangely enough, while 2008 was not a very good year, in some ironic twist of fate I can't help but feel it was a critical period which really helped lay down the groundwork for what is to come. As such, I feel myself getting more excited now about things than I have been in quite some time.

Piece of Eight is progressing nicely and I have to constantly curb my enthusiasm about it. Mums the word, why jinx things?

If I had to pick something good that has come out of 2008 it would have to be improved skills. The nice thing about coding is that you never know everything there is to know. It's a constant learning experience. There is always something to learn because of the shear volume of the tools, new technologies emerge, techniques, and even getting to use old methods in ways you've never done before are all beneficial. You gotta love it. Getting to apply these things to upcoming projects is highly motivating.

So with that, I bid 2008 goodbye and look forward to what 2009 will bring. :)

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Rejections

So, I finally got around to submitting Rune Rescue to the portals - again. First a bit of background is needed...

I submitted Rune Rescue to the portals about a year ago and they were interested. They gave me some good feedback on ways of possibly making it better which I did and I'll tell you what they were as I found them to be pretty interesting:

Player Awards - The early version of the game had didn't have the exploding panel after you complete each level that reveals a part of the location image down in the lower right corner of the game screen. Players need some incentive to keep playing and supposedly that little change is going to do just that. Ok, no problem... tweak,'s in there.

A way to quit the game - Perhaps I am have played too many games. Pressing the ESC key always brings a menu allowing you to quit. Well, after one portal ran it through their beta testers, it became pretty apparent that a LOT of people don't know that. So the latest version now has a menu option button on the game screen.

A bit more theme - So I've got this Indiana Jones-esque character on the screen and lots of imagery. But it still looked a bit plain. So I added the leaves and vines to each screen to make it look a bit more interesting and busy.

The Fatal Error

Ok, so I've got the 2 biggest portals interested in the game, but I still have lots of coin in the bank so I'm not in a rush. Time seemed to be on my side and I started to wonder if I just wasn't giving the game enough time to circulate. After all, I hadn't really done any web banner advertising on various sites, nor had I contacted any newspapers or tried other thing to get the word out. So I held off on the portals.

I managed to get a massive listing of newspapers and email contacts at those newspapers. Thus began a flurry of emails all over the place. Out of dozens of emails, I got 3 responses. One said that they don't review games, another said they don't review games that are that small, and the last said they don't review games BUT they would be more than happy to put a blurb in their paper about me to try and help out. I was told by one of them that it's a difficult thing to get people to hear me out, as they put it - I'll find that most of the time I'm shouting into the wind. Truer words have never been spoken.

So out comes the newspaper with a circulation of 120,000 and there is the blurb about me on the front page of their business section. Woot! Surely I'll see some traffic and perhaps some sales? I anxiously kept looking at my webstats on Google Analytics to see how many visitors I got from that area. Would you believe 3 visitors and ZERO downloads for the day? Wow. That was a real eye-opener.

I also got a free banner posting on a website from someone trying to help me out with a circulation of over 1 million visitors/month that resulted in... drumroll please... 12 or 13 visitors, zero sales. Another site also did the same to help me out with pretty much the same results. Meanwhile another site is offering me a rotating web banner on their site for a month for $250...ummm, no thanks.

I won't get into the various others who promised help in getting the word out, but did nothing. I'm an adult, I can understand if you changed your mind. I fully understand that one hand washes the other. Why should you help me possibly make money when there is nothing in it for you? I get all that. Be an adult and say so though, don't patronize me and promise things you have no intention of delivering. I have TONS more respect for those that are honest than those who are full of crap.

The thing is, I have this rather radical sense of loyalty to those who did help. Maybe we'll grow by leaps and bounds, or maybe we'll remain in obscurity, only time will tell. But if we do grow by leaps and bounds, rest assured that those who helped when we were nothing will get lots of exclusives, while those that said they would but didn't will get a middle finger. Even those that didn't help but were honest about it will get more than the ones who flat out lied.

The most radical attempt at getting the word out is almost pretty embarrassing. It involved flyers. We made up these 400 flyers along with a code for getting a 10% or 15% discount on purchases. Let me tell you that 400 flyers might not sound like much, but you'll walk several miles delivering them. I went to 2 totally different areas delivering them door to door. Net result was another goose egg on the visitors and a goose egg on the sales.

Obviously there is a secret to all this and I was doing all the things that didn't work.

One thing that did seem to be working was Google Adwords. I set myself up with a budget of like $30/week and would see a sale once a week. The problem was that I make half that amount on the sale. After I few weeks of spending $30 to make $15, I pulled the plug on the adwords.

So I figured if I set up a blog and posted my thoughts, maybe I'll get enough visitors who will click on the adwords on my blog and it will make enough money to pay for my own adwords for my games. Essentially the blog could pay for them and I wouldn't be losing money. After several weeks, it was again becoming apparent that the only people reading my blog was me since I can see how many times ads were displayed and how many times they were clicked.

For the ultimate in irony, I wrote an article for Just Adventure that had nothing to do with me or my games, yet resulted in our highest daily total of visitors and sale. There is a lesson to be learned there. I used to wonder why people would do things to get their name out there that had absolutely nothing to do with the product they were selling. Now I know.

The Second Round

So I tried all sorts of things to get sales on my own and none of them worked. I wanted to get more games on my site before putting Rune Rescue on the portals in the event that people would actually look up Hidden Sanctum after playing the game or demo via the portals. Block Stomp was now up, as was Cryptomadness. By default, these games can't go on portals because they link back to my site - a big NO-NO with portals. For Block stomp it was the high scores, for Crypto it was the skins.

This time instead of submitting it to 2 portals, I went ahead and submitted the new improved version to all of the big ones. There is a bit of tweaking that needs to happen when you submit a game to the portals. For one you have to remove all links or web addresses you have in there. You also have to put the portals logo in there on the main screen as well as a splash screen for that portal. No problem, I did this for all of them and resubmit.

What follows next is just how quickly the industry changes. To give it to you in a nutshell, all of them rejected the game, but it was the reasoning that it was rejected that causes me to pause.

"80% of our customers are female and over 35."

"The shotgun sound effects are too violent and arcade-like."

"Look at our top 10 list to see what sells."

"Why are we traveling around the world?"

"Where are these thieves that are supposedly stealing the Rune stones?"

"There are no chain reactions."

The top 10 thing kind of floored me. People complain about the shear number of clones out there and nothing new being made, yet here was a portal saying to clone like crazy.

The whole female thing also floored me. For years women rightly vented about the lack of games geared towards them, yet here was a portal demanding games that were ONLY geared towards women. I can understand them doing that as that is what their customer base in mostly made of, but it makes you wonder (and maybe realize) why there are so few action shooters on the portals. They are still being made, but apparently the portals don't what them - they want cute and "simple". That in itself should be a bit insulting to women.

As far as the question about the thieves, it comes down to the realization that people just do NOT read things. At the very start of the game it says that the thieves are stealing rune stones and are backing their truck up to load them. The lesson here is that I should have displayed cartoon images step-by-step explaining the back story. Even though the text was very brief, apparently it was still too much for people to bother with reading.

To it's credit, I have to give major kudos to one of the portals for saying that if I address some of the issues, they would like for me to resubmit it and try again. Ironically this is the same portals who a year ago was going to distribute it without any of the changes I had now added. So it was better than the original accepted version, but no longer good enough now. Yes, the casual games industry is changing fast.

The other portal who was previously interested? I hadn't sent it to them yet. After getting those previous rejections and reasons for the rejections, I figure I have more tweaking to do. In all honesty, that is a bit difficult to do. I almost feel like I am beating a dead horse and my time should be spent on new projects, not constantly revisiting an old one that repeatedly gets met with failure. The thing is, it's a good game that just starts too slow. Speeding it up at the beginning turns off Group A players, while slowing it down turns off Group B. Even worse, I have several games on the drawing board that are looking pretty spiffy and I can't shake Pieces of Eight and Raven's Hollow from my mind as I keep getting more elaborate with those two - let's just say that XNA and real-time 3D are wonderful thing. When I say "running around the island", I literally mean running around the island.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Jane Jensen + Casual Games = ?

With all the interest in Jane Jensen doing another adventure game along with looking at the history of the genre, I really have to wonder about what direction all of this is leading to. No doubt about it, she's a powerful figure in the genre indeed and deserves all of the attention she gets. Gabriel Knight is one of my all-time favorites, so you won't see me complaining about her coming back!

However, I do view all of this with cautious excitement as I am reading things that make me wonder where the genre is going.

A few things to note here about adventure games. The genre was falling apart back in the mid 90's, but then Head Games released an adventure game called Inherent Evil as one of it's budget ($20) titles. Shortly thereafter, DreamCatcher (The Adventure Company) started picking up adventure games and selling them at the $20 price range. While this move saved the genre from what seemed like extinction, it didn't leave much on the table for developers to justify creating large epic games, nor did it help to keep them in business. So in the short term, it might have saved the genre, but in the long term, I think it really hurt things.

In the last year or so, we've finally seen the prices and quality of adventure games start to rise. For the genre as a whole, this seems like a good thing. The better the profit margins, the better the games and the more interest it will gain with large development houses which have the capabilities to greatly improve things. Things seem to be looking up.

In reading some interviews that Jane Jensen has given, there were a few comments that caused me to take pause.

In an interview on she mentions that the audience is just right in the casual gaming space - over 30 and mostly female which she says is perfect for adventure games. Her Agatha Christie casual games are a move in that direction and she'd love to get Gray Matter up there as well.

Then there was another interview on The Escapist where she mentions not overestimating the stupidity of the mass market and if it's going to be popular, it has to be really simple and entertaining which is something she'll strive for. There were two key points though that really jumped out at me. She kept bringing up story, story, story... but watering down player challenges and making things simple. She also puts a lot of faith into the casual games arena as being able to rejuvenate the adventure game genre.

As an adventure gamer I can't help but find some of this to be something to worry about. For one, we are starting to see the genre slowly pull out of being low margins/budget titles categories, yet her emphasis on the casual games portals seems to drag it all back to where is was 10 years ago with exceedingly low margins for the developers. It's like repeating the past. Even worse, those portals have their game clubs where players can purchase games for under $10! You would have to sell an assload of games just to break even. Forget risking money on a big budget/epic title. Forget having adventure games you play for 20+ hours. We are talking about 2-6 hours of entertainment at best.

In my previous article I talked about adventure games being the fractured genre. Instead of splitting themselves off in different directions and defining themselves, they all stayed firmly entrenched under the adventure game umbrella. Jane mentioned that she felt Myst had a hand in ruining adventure games as the puzzles where so difficult that most people who played it never finished it - and probably never went back to the genre. I have to agree with her here.

Maybe Myst should never have been considered as an adventure game. Maybe it should have split itself off and called itself something else - Puzzle Game? Heck, I don't know, I'm terrible at coming up with names. Especially considering Bejeweled is classified as a puzzle game, which makes no sense to me. From a marketing standpoint, when Myst came out adventure games were HUGE, so I can see why it called itself that in the first place - to tap into that huge market.

But now we come to Jane and her vision of adventure games. Makes me wonder if maybe she is reaching as well. With the emphasis on story and lack of game that she seems to be talking about, I keep hearing Interactive Fiction even though she keeps saying adventure game. Maybe that's it though. Back in the day, the word Adventure Game was often synonomus with Interactive Fiction. Now you rarely see interactive fiction being used, but adventure games seem to continue to encompass a rather wide variety of point-n-click games with some radically different puzzle elements.

Perhaps there is something to the whole "Myst isn't an adventure game" debate... from a purist standpoint, I can see how some would come to that conclusion. From another standpoint - and just to confuse the issue further - if you go to the adventure section of a DVD store, you'll be greeted with movies like Indiana Jones and other movies which all contain action elements. Try putting action into a adventure game though... yeah, that muddies the adventure gaming waters even further.

It'll be interesting to see what all comes of this. I'm not quite sure that we'll see any new classics emerge in the genre. I also don't see the watering down of games via the casual games portals as being very helpful in the long term. Who knows though, it might just work.

I'm glad Jane is coming back, although I'm not feeling the same excitement as some others are feeling in regards to this possibly bringing adventure games back into the lime light. It's kind of like Guns-n-Roses coming back to save Rock-n-Roll. The old vanguards never restore former glory. At best they only bring some nostalgia.

It's always someone new that no one has ever heard about and who approaches things from an entirely new perspective that does. The only thing that will bring the genre back to the forefront is someone who radically shakes things up and redefines it...not only that, but they are usually young and do it because they don't know any better and they aren't tied down by 'experience'.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Fractured Genre

Been thinking a lot over here about adventure games. Once the King (or Queen) of computer games, it has fallen into steady decline since the mid 90's. Surely it isn't 'dead' by any means like the mainstream press might like to constantly proclaim, but it sure has been shoved into the closet for the most part.

When you look at RPGs, FPS, and RTS games, it's pretty clear what makes them what they are. While you might have fans of those genres who disagree on the quality of those games, you don't really have any major influxes of people who have radically differing opinions on whether or not it's their type of game or not. It's pretty obvious that those games all share a common template that everyone agrees on.

Now take adventure games. There really isn't a set formula here which can adequately define the genre. Ask 10 people what makes an adventure game and you might just get 10 different answers. I might even go so far as to say that adventure gamers don't even know what an adventure game is. By no means am I indicating that I know either.

If you ask me, I might tell you that it's a game with an intriguing story, engaging game play and mental challenges. Well, by that definition Jedi Knight II might qualify as well as a host of other FPS games. Heck, even RPG's have that.

Somewhere along the way Adventure Games seem to have lost their way. It was a genre that was defined by its rich stories, graphics, and intellectual stimulation. There was nothing in the interface that determined the genre. After all, that was something that was constantly changing. From purely text-based to text based with graphics, from 3rd person to 1st person, from cartoon graphics, to rendered 3D to full motion video, etc. The list goes on and on...

...and maybe that's its curse. Maybe adventure games were really nothing more than an experiment in various technologies, techniques and player interfaces. Some ideas proved to be hits and they went further into those directions and created their own genres like survival horror games, action adventures, etc. At some point adventure games got stuck with certain interfaces and certain game play elements. Radically change the interface or style of mental challenges at this point and you'll have people questioning whether or not its even an adventure game.

Adventure Games surely aren't dead, but they risk being nothing more than a retro genre. The only thing that has changed seems to be that the quality of the graphics have improved. Beyond that what has changed? We're still seeing some of the same puzzles in current games as we've seen in games from 10+ years ago.

While some might say that the art of story-telling is what defined the genre and that no one seems to be carrying that torch, I have to ask if that is even relevant in today's fast paced world. Right now it seems like the market prefers fluff with very little substance. Try to go a bit deeper with a story and it might go over a lot of people's heads. Being subtle doesn't pay - spelling it all out so there is no confusion does.

So how is the genre fractured?

The mental challenges in adventure games come in 2 flavors - inventory based and logic based. You have players who enjoy both and have no real preference for either, but then you have other who are either in strong favor of one over the other. Likewise, the same can be said of 3rd person vs. 1st person perspectives. Cartoon graphics vs. realistic pre-rendered 3d. Comedy vs. horror. The list goes on and on. Taking an already minor genre and having it battling itself can't be a good thing.

Is it wrong?

Of course not. Everyone has their own opinions for what they like. This article isn't about players, it's about challenges that the genre faces that keeps it in the closet. At one point it was all encompassing which worked in it's favor, but now that same mentality has forced it to have limited mass appeal.

I can't help but compare this to the movie or music industry with all of the different styles and flavors out there. The thing is, those industries have clearly defined and categorized themselves. Likewise, many of the other gaming genres have clearly defined themselves. Adventure games really haven't - in trying to be master of all, they've become master of none. You see this clearly in many of the games trying to incorporate many different styles of challenges.

Instead of sticking with what one group likes, they try to do a little of each to make the masses of adventure gamers happy. The trouble is that when they do that, they are guaranteeing that their game will make everyone disappointed at one point or another. I'm sure it is possible to do it in such a way that it fits logically with the story, but most of the time the puzzles seem out of place and stuck in there for the sake of having a puzzle.

I think this is just a symptom of not being clearly defined and trying to be an 'Adventure Game' - which means a whole lot of different things to different people.