Author Topic: The future of retro adventure storytelling  (Read 2641 times)


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The future of retro adventure storytelling
« on: 29 Oct 2015, 21:49 »
Hi all!

Let me introduce myself, my name is Teemu Erämaa. I'm an old timer on AGS since the DOS version and actually I'm the guy whom Chris Jones asked to make the first sierra-styled grey icons for his new Adventure Creator-game engine. They were supposed to be temporary but actually stuck inside the AGS engine for a looong time - Sorry for the quality, I was like 16 years old back then :D (darn it, that's like 16 years ago!)

Unfortunately I never finished any of my own adventure game projects back then but I've been very keen on the subject of adventure games. Ever since as a kid running into The Secret of Monkey Island with my friend.

I grew up to be an animation director and founding my own animation studio called Nopia Ltd. We're trying to do things differently and my love for 320x200 pixels hasn't worn out.

Thus we have done few retro pixel-loving projects - just recently finished a nintendoesque music video for Pegboard Nerds (check it out :

But not just re-heating an old style, we're about to do something quite interesting soon that involves old school adventure games but not at all in a traditional gaming-sense. Think of a cross between the legendary Lucasarts/Sierra jewels and Shakespear theatre - so wanted to check in with the AGS community what are your thoughts of boosting the adventure game world back to a wider audiences??

What do you guys think is the current status? Is there a clear rise or a second coming of adventure gaming to be seen (cat lady anyone?). Or adventure games a niche nostalgia only for the 30 year olds? Who else is interested out there? And would any of you be interested in joining us to bring & turn adventure game world into a new art form?

I've been following the forums as a by-stander here and there and it's great to see such a well-kept thing you guys been able to keep here. There's something about adventure games that is not just nostalgia, but I'm going to write that essay another day :)
Director at Nopia animation

Re: The future of retro adventure storytelling
« Reply #1 on: 30 Oct 2015, 06:31 »
I think AG(adventure game) has already risen for quite a while,I never known about AG as a genre until 2009 cause my little sister was playing Monkey Island,after that I fell in love with the humor and gameplay style.I was born in the 90's and live in asia,AG was about to die in that period and AG wasn't the one selling like hotcakes in my country,it was JRPG.I do think AG has a place for newer generation,infact i'm one of them.And AG is the second most game titles I own(after JRPG :-[ ).

At the end of the day AG is just a puzzle game with story,I see no reason for it not to connect with newer generation(unless the world suddenly hates puzzles),sure some of the old games has outdated mechanics or stupid and silly puzzle,but that's not really a big problem that cant's be solved.But i'm no expert on adventure game,just giving my 2 cents. :grin:
« Last Edit: 30 Oct 2015, 06:42 by Yitcomics »


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Re: The future of retro adventure storytelling
« Reply #2 on: 30 Oct 2015, 07:18 »
First of all, it's an honor talking to someone who participated in the making of the first versions of AGS :)
When adventure games are mentioned outside the adventure games community, the most common thing you hear is: 'Nostalgia!' and so on. I think the use of words such as 'classic' and 'retro' have negative effects to distribution. The main idea to let an old style merchandise comes back is trying to make it a little different and more convenient to the current trends. Dialogs play a huge role in adventure games, however, long dialogs are not very appealing to the newer generations. So the need to balance this issue is crucial. This applies to other aspects as well. If you wanna go low-res then you'd have to do right not just open paint and call yourself a pixel artist.

Personally, I have to say that some adventure gaming websites make it harder for us to distribute our games. I found out that it is not the quality of the game that makes it appear on their websites rather than personal preferences and relationships :-\

Side note: Many people underestimate the power of AGS. I personally believe AGS is a very powerful engine and it's us the developers who need to work harder.


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Re: The future of retro adventure storytelling
« Reply #3 on: 30 Oct 2015, 12:13 »
Is there a clear rise or a second coming of adventure gaming to be seen (cat lady anyone?).

Well, thank you!;)

I personally think adventure games already gained a new life with the rise of TellTale and Quantic Dreams games and that is the way to go, as long as these games offer enough interaction with the world, instead of just making you watch a very long cutscene. Elements of adventure games have also been spread all over different genres. Best example I can think of now is The Witcher 3 DLC: The Heart Of Stone. There's a long wedding section there in which you just talk to people and walk around making decisions that will affect how other characters feel about you.

This surely can be re-created in retro style ! ;) Imagine Heavy Rain with pixel graphics :) I think it would be pretty sweet and charming in its own way;)


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Re: The future of retro adventure storytelling
« Reply #4 on: 30 Oct 2015, 20:43 »
Thanks y'all for chipping in!

5 days a stranger was my initial gold gem that I've been getting back to as a reference to great storytelling in adventure games and AGS community. The moment when he has that nightmare and he describes it to the lady in the morning... Brilliance!

By the way Grim, great job with the Cat Lady! But gotta confess I couldn't get too far in the game.. got too scared! :)

I think the same about the youth finding adventure games. It was interesting giving Monkey Island to a friend to play. He was born in the 90's and didn't really know what adventure games were about. But he loved playing the game and could appreciate all the humor.

I've been downloading some old games and reliving my childhood but I have to say I find it hard getting past the first parts nowadays. Large part is the fact my spare time is very limited but there is something I think that doesn't work in these modern times.
Few reasons I've been pondering :
1. The obvious problems with silly puzzles and just trying to guess what game maker was after - which detracts from the immersion into the story.
2. Slow gameplay. And I don't mean slow as in Kentucky Route Zero, but the loading times and transitions that make the experience clunky = no smooth transitions between animations and UI gets on the way. I believe this kills the immersion. You know when something's about to happen and it's like watching a slow clockwork machine than an ACTED scene.
3. Getting stuck. Everything was beautiful from the first few rooms but when that first feeling of getting stuck hits your face, you glance the time and go to bed. This is interesting since this used to be the very essence of the adventure games - trying to solve the puzzles with your friends over one PC which created a feeling of chance. But while doing this you kill the story progression.

You know the main strength in adventure games compared to other gametypes is the ATMOSPHERE:

There is something in the ATMOSPHERE of 2D adventure games that is very unique - especially in the legendary 90's titles when SCUMM was at it's peak. I haven't played Heavy Rain but what I've understood is that the uncanny valley gets more and more people down when modern games are getting closer and closer but still drifting further from immersion when still not really hitting realism.

One of the main strengths I think adventure games hold over other games is that the camera is still. We see the characters mostly from a set distance. This makes the experience very THEATRICAL. Go see a play for 2 hours and you can be totally hypnotized by a great story with only few characters and background switches - and this is how adventure games should feel like - like a play.

And this brings to the 2nd power of adventure games : leaving space for imagination. No need for stunning special effects and crowd fighting scenes since all that is played in the gamers mind. And THIS is what creates the unique atmosphere. Why did Kentucky Route Zero use so much shadows and black spaces? Anyone remember what Hitchcock had to say about the subject?

But I'm not here as a new face on the forums to tell you guys how to make your games. What I'm after is a new wave in interactive content.

We could take what works in adventure games and leave out the obvious problems. Exactly what AnasAbdin said about the use of the words 'retro' and 'classic' - let's forget the retro already and use the strengths what this art has to offer. Why make the same copies of the classic titles again and again?
This might mean even dropping AGS or using it differently, but I believe the magic of this genre could be harnessed to a new genre of interactive content.
Not saying to stop loving and remaking the classic style, just saying there could be a new way to do stuff than coping whose 'retro' game gets a chance to be chosen in Steam.

Sorry for a long post. Thoughts anyone? We're very soon coming up with an example of what I'm after here so maybe I'll make more sense after showing something tangible :D

Hopefully not stepping on any toes here and cheers for reading until the end! :)
Director at Nopia animation

Re: The future of retro adventure storytelling
« Reply #5 on: 31 Oct 2015, 01:44 »
I am buy no means as qualified as all of the commenters here,  but that has never stopped me before - so here goes.

I see your Pink Cloud music vid  is getting a lot of attention.  That's great.    Loved it when the characters (even mountains) started dancing.
Sort-a like watching television on Saturday morning (when I was a kid).
I think your work (and Pegboard Nerds)  has already answered the question I had in mind - i.e.   Target Demographic. 
Remarkably, I think your project has mass appeal.
You used the phrase "new wave in interactive content". This tells me that you already have put a lot of thought into your venture.   I only know about the old wave and I'm confident every developer here at AGS has tried to add-to the Adventure Game formula (inventory bar, puzzles ... ). 
These guys here make Great adventure games,  but I have a sinking suspicion if the old AG formula is not used - then it's not really an adventure game.  Maybe things cannot be both new and old at the same time.  But I'd love to see you create something new - go for it.

[ side note ]     GreenLit = congrats (ykwya).

Re: The future of retro adventure storytelling
« Reply #6 on: 01 Nov 2015, 08:30 »
I don't have a lot of market research at my fingertips, but I do believe in the old maxim that it's better to "build it and they will come", and by "It" I mean, something great.  Have the audience chase you rather than try to figure out what is "hot" at any given moment and chase that ephemeral moving target.  I've seen a lot of game devs, some RL-friends of mine too, study the "top ten Apple / Android store" games and try to duplicate the gameplay /  marketing strategy of those "trending" games, and it tends to backfire IMHO. 

I will say that AGS wasn't my first choice.  It's been a long and convoluted road to my de-rezzing.  And by de-rezzing I mean going from ultra-hi-res, terapixel, vertex-shaded, Occulus-Rift virtual-realism games down to basic 3D, to freeware Unity 2D, to 320x200 pre-x86 graphics of AGS. 

The first factor was having slaved for 18 months, 12 hours a day, (what is that, 2 and a quarter years of fulltime jobbery!?!?) doing every single thing from 3D modelling to skinning to 2D UI to level building to programming in the pre-Cambrian zoo of Unreal 1, full of malformed, easily breakable code...  (Deep breath) Voice acting, writing, music, all that nonsense, and then being unable to actually sell the game because it was a mod of an extremely well-lawyered, Iron-Fisted IP (Deus Ex), I decided NEVER AGAIN.  Never again 3D, unless I could get ahold of a dedicated team at least and ideally an army of competent game devs.  While the result was pretty well-reviewed, and I actually had some fairly substantial donators along with the 'kudos', it just was not temporally nor financially feasible to try to do any more games at that level, ESPECIALLY not for free.  ( if you want to see the result, Terminus Machina < )

So I figured on scaling down to something 2D, maybe a retro platformer, with some personal flair and tweaks.  That was Unity 2D, which proved yo be again WAY too much goddamn work to grok with my work/wife/spawn-afflicted brain.  Trying to remember the quarternion rotation of the scalar Z axis to get a goddamn mutalien bug to move 3 steps without being friction-frozen by the physics engine, just no.  And then having to program the entire taxonomy, the object-oriented world logics of player, enemy, bullet, collision detection and all of that jazz- no no NO no, fuck you Unity, I'll put you on the backburner.  At least until the Singularitarian Googaloids kick the brain-augmentation project or human cloning to lighten the workload, or I become a more likable, less control-freaky person who actually attracts competent team members.

None of these things seemed of a high probability in the near future.

Thus AGS.  What I like:

* You can tell a story, a pretty awesome story, the cultural norms of Lucasian/Sierra-esque p-n-cs involve a high appreciation of story, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable programmer-art.  The literary appreciation of the audience exceeds any other game genre, IMHO*.  I love this!  Because I am at heart a sci-fi / spec-fic / transreal-fiction writer.  I'm about the ideas and characters.  Read way too much Gibson and Burroughs for my own good. 

* You don't need TEH SPECTAKUL mindblowing 3D, being able to make out the sebum seeping from the pores of the gritty vaguely-caucasian, quietly macho protagonist with the stealth-sword-cannon is not necessary, and in fact somewhat detrimental in the genre.  YES!  Fuck graphics!  I don't mean fuck art itself, and I believe that most AAA and even many A / I ('Indie') titles bank on wowing the player into not realizing they're not artists but a bunch of engineers just reproducing "photoreality" or simulacra of nerd culture that was once art (lightsabers, orcs, etc) but is now just the excreta of a 3D xerox machine.  You can actually paint something that has some artistic content outside of "WOAH LOOKS TOTS COOL BRO!", conveys some more sophisticated emotion, comments / critiques society / reality, etc....

* You don't need to reinvent the wheel universe.  AGS has built-in all the programming you need!  Yes, you can add in advanced particle physics and a Starcraft-style RTS engine if you want, and that's great, go you if you do so, but you don't NEED to.  See paragraph 4 sentence III, clause C, on "Being an overworking loner who ain't got time fo dat".

* You can take it commercial without being an Einstein of IP lawyers or some supermassive world-eating conglomerate like Disney capable of buying out whole canons with one fell swoop of the checkbook.  Valve tried very briefly to let modders rake in some remuneration but we all know how that backfired spectacularly.  Unity and Unreal are awesome and the 5% or "pay once you sell X" is great, they're powerful, way the fuck overpowered for my purposes in fact, but again, there is way too much learning curvature there, and I just couldn't make escape velocity.

So, that's why AGS.  I don't know if "The Market Is Primed" for 80's-tastic retrofutures examining the neofeudal, enclavish nature of human society and the potentiality for mass-injustice inherent in the ramping up toward the invention of Artificial General and then Super Intelligence. 

That's what my game, Neofeud is kinda about.  I don't know if there's a 'clear rise in adventure gaming' of that particular sort.

But the market can go fuck itself.  As David Simon, creator of The Wire once said, "Markets are good for making people really fucking rich.  And not much else."  If I just tried to chase "What games there are a rise in," I would probably end up making a whole lot shittier game, with a lot less heart in it, be less happy making it, and people will feel that.  Feel the sell-out.  It vibes bro, for serious. 

So yeah, I don't know.  I think your concept looks cool.  Just do it.

*Literary nature of the games is probably because the players are heavily British, lol.  =D
« Last Edit: 01 Nov 2015, 08:35 by SilverSpook »


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Re: The future of retro adventure storytelling
« Reply #7 on: 02 Nov 2015, 18:49 »
tbh I don't think automatically linking retro and adventure games is helpful actually especially if you want to do something *new*. Even with pixel art many adventure artists use colour pallettes and techniques that were not available at the time of the old games.

Your art is lovely though, let it stand on it's own and let go of retro! - Casting Calls for voice actors

Monsieur OUXX

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Re: The future of retro adventure storytelling
« Reply #8 on: 03 Nov 2015, 12:50 »
I'm the guy whom Chris Jones asked to make the first sierra-styled grey icons for his new Adventure Creator-game engine. They were supposed to be temporary but actually stuck inside the AGS engine for a looong time - Sorry for the quality, I was like 16 years old back then :D (darn it, that's like 16 years ago!)

Mind blown. You're like a proto Icey Games.

Monsieur OUXX

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Re: The future of retro adventure storytelling
« Reply #9 on: 03 Nov 2015, 14:34 »
If you want to make an original product and differentiate yourself from your competitors (sorry to speak in marketing terms) then make a game with a lot of contents. Don't spend too much time on graphics but create a real story and a lot of rooms and puzzles. It's so annoying to play games that are way, way too verbose, with way too few puzzles. Spend less time on each room and instead think of a way to create twice the usual number of rooms or chapters.


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Re: The future of retro adventure storytelling
« Reply #10 on: 05 Nov 2015, 03:49 »
When I think about it, Monsieur is so right on. Quality content and plenty of it is what we crave, but also you have to walk the fine line of not aggravating todays highly impatient gamer...
(my two bits)

Re: The future of retro adventure storytelling
« Reply #11 on: 10 Nov 2015, 14:01 »
Interesting post. I think if you look at the successful adventure games of today they follow a couple of rules. They're smaller than golden age games, they tend to follow the simplified LucasArts interface (and later Sierra's) and they usually avoid a lot of those pitfalls that you mentioned above. Or at least try to. No dead ends etc. But in truth I don't think there's a formula that says "this is what makes a great adventure game".

Some of the posts talk about the balance between puzzles and story and that's the real art of adventure games. And in my opinion, it's really personal taste a lot of the time. I look at Gabriel Knight and I think God that's a lot of talking, when do I play the game? But to a lot of others it's the pinnacle of Sierra. The same goes with the amount of content in a game. Some people don't want long games, I know when we released Quest for Infamy which is old-school in length we had people say they wouldn't bother playing it because it was too long. Other people aren't content with the 90 minute chapters of a TellTale adventure.

What's retro anyway? People say my games are retro but I don't think so. Superficially the artwork harks back to the early 90's but we use a full 24-bit pallet and size down to the resolution we use. Low-res artwork is a design choice because we love it and it looks great, but it's also a cost decision - as a commercial developer we wouldn't sell enough games to justify HD quality artwork. But mostly, the design choice because we truly love that era of art.


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Re: The future of retro adventure storytelling
« Reply #12 on: 12 Nov 2015, 18:05 »
Hello Teemu, nice to see a true oldie return to the boards!

There's always debate whether this genre is dead or not, which I think is a bit silly; good games will always be good games, and all genres evolve in order to meet new demands and cater to new audiences. The last couple of years have been great for selling indie games, because we have Steam and various other ways to handle the sales, and kickstarter and stuff to reach out and get attention, whereas some decade ago and back only larger companies could sell games.

Now, adventure games are by no means part of the current gaming boom; and can't be compared to the "freemium" app games that flood the market at the moment.

The genre still has so many loyal fans that even with little innovative elements or modernized gameplay, a quality "retro" adventure game may still sell enough to keep a small team sustained.

Having said that, compared to their forefathers of the 80-90s, modern successful games seem to have developed in the following ways;
* They are easier (less getting stuck, fewer puzzles over all)
* No dead ends a la Sierra - and in general, the player isn't expected to perform tasks or act in ways that don't make sense
* More focus on dialogue, cinematics, and relationships
* Less stereotypical in terms of gender roles, ethnicity etc (try to play KQ6 again and you'll just puke at how badly the female part is written)

But as you and many others have pointed out already; adventure games today can't be as slow and taxing as they were back in the day. Lose the player's attention for just a minute and they'll turn to the next title on their Steam to-play list...

Re: The future of retro adventure storytelling
« Reply #13 on: 25 Nov 2015, 17:57 »
You can learn a lot about modern point and klick adventures from "Daedalic" especially its founders earliest projects, proving that the point and klick adventure genre is not dead, it just shifted towards "hidden object games" with a different audience, and that you can still make highres 2d point and klick adventures in 201X.

Day9Tv also has a youtube series called "mostly walking" focussing on critticizing or praising point and klick adventures. Recently they laughed at Uru, praised Myst, ripped "broken age" to pieces, and they are currently enjoying Loom.

In the end the medium limits and inspires the artist, and computer games constantly change because their medium becomes 2x as efficient at everything every 14 months. This enables new things while obsoleting others. But in the end the artwork is an inspiring artefact of its time.

The point and klick adventure genre barely translated into 3d renderers, and too many people failed to realize that it never has to translate into 3d. Msany people bought Harry potter books, ink printed on paper, how old fashioned and outdated in technology.
« Last Edit: 25 Nov 2015, 18:04 by ollj »


  • ALVIN FROM EARTH community driven adventure series
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Re: The future of retro adventure storytelling
« Reply #14 on: 07 Aug 2018, 16:08 »
Hi guys!

I was invited to ASSEMBLY ARTtech in Helsinki this month to talk about this.
The title of my talk was :

If you're interested, you can see the seminar talk here :

The speech in short,
I talk about my personal journey to Adventure games, and then the seeming "death" of the genre.
Then I compare Point-n-Click adventures to Theater and give examples how the successful Youtubers are using Improv Theater as a tool for their online shows.
Then I showcase our Alvin From Earth -episodic adventure series as an example of a new way to create adventure games.

Interested? Click the link above.
Director at Nopia animation


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Re: The future of retro adventure storytelling
« Reply #15 on: 07 Aug 2018, 19:15 »
That was interesting and fun to watch. I think most of us here agree on the points you covered regarding how adventure games are treated within the newer gaming communities. Your episodic idea is great. I watched the first episode and loved everything about it (the walk-cycle could benefit from some improvements though..) but all in all, it's awesome.

I kinda feel disappointed that I couldn't catch the voting for the next episode. I haven't heard about the whole thing up until a while ago. I will definitely check on updates to join the voting party.
Keep up the good work :)