On the heels of Lucas Arts announcement with Steam and Telltale Games' success, fans of point-and-click adventure games are in heaven. Modern technology and this old genre were finally converging to offer the great experiences we were waiting for. I decided to look back on this genre and treasure in it's renassaince.
Back in the 80s and early 90s, before the era of FPS and RTSs, before MMOs, point-and-click adventure games dominated computer gaming. Leading the charge were Sierra and later Lucas Arts (originally Lucas Films). P&Cs offered developers a chance to express humor and story in visual format as well as textually. Many gamers who grew up on PC games in that era recall their times playing Sierra's Quest games and Lucas Arts different series while holding people like Ron Gilbert, Tim Schafer, and Roberta Williams as Kings and Queens of gaming.
By the mid-1990s, however, P&Cs were losing form. 1993's Myst has been regarded as the beginning of the end and often is hated for it, but it was really that PC gaming began changing. With the constant increases in graphics, games like Doom, Wolfenstein, Ultima, and Command & Conquer were offering gamers experiences they couldn't fathom before. I remembered being amazed that you could play with someone in another house. Sure, it didn't work well, but the possibilities seemed endless.
When Blizzard offered Battle.net and id Software and others offered their online games, things looked grim for P&Cs. Even having funny exchanges with NPCs seemed antiquated when compared to telling someone living in another state that they've just been pwned. Sierra tried at one point to offer an MMO-ish Leisure Suit Larry, but the technology wasn't their yet and its lack of success probably scared them from trying another. Games were evolving so rappidly that P&Cs couldn't keep up.
It wasn't as if there wasn't any great games coming from the genre. 1995's Full Throttle, 1998's Grim Fandango, the Monkey Island Series, and Sierra's series were still great experiences, but they were fewer and farther between. It is widely believed that Tim Schafer and Lucas Arts's Grim Fandango was the last great P&C (at least until Telltale started up). Tim Schafer would even to start his own company and his first game wouldn't be a P&C, but a platforming action game, Psychonauts.
After Grim Fandango, P&Cs were pretty much forgotten. There were titles released, and while some were good, none were memorable. It seemed a genre that had produced so many memorable adventures was truly on its last legs. That is until 2004.
Some former Lucas Arts employees, many of whom worked on the classics, founded Telltale Games in 2004. Additionally, they brought on Dave Grossman, an integral figure in many of those classics. The purpose was simple, re-invigorate P&Cs with gaming's newest trend, episodic content. It was a perfect marriage.
One of the major faults of P&Cs was that they were limited experiences that completely depended on story and puzzles. And unfortunately, many were boring and offered little satisfaction. They were only catering to an audience that wanted P&Cs at any cost and their lack of effort showed it. With episodic gaming, it could deliver great experiences in short bursts, similar to a TV show, that allowed fresh takes each time that wasn't bound to one 10-20 hour experience. The first major game announced couldn't have excited fans more. It was Sam & Max, which made a name for itself with a classic P&C in 1993, as well as in comics and a short-lived TV series. The great experiment was on.
When Sam & Max: Season One debuted in 2006 with Episode 1: Culture Shock, it was quickly embraced. Gone was the bad taste of a constant stream of mediocre titles, in was a trip down memory lane that felt fresh and relevant again. After Episode 6, Season One was complete and people were happily discussing P&Cs again and looking forward to the future.
Since Sam & Max, Telltale has began or completed a season for Strong Bad, Wallace & Gromit, and a second season for Sam & Max. It has also expanded its console base with Xbox 360 and Wii.
One of the most successful and revered P&C series, Monkey Island, had languished for 9 years. But at E3 2009, Lucas Arts and Telltale announced the series was returning. Lucas Arts is updating the original Secret of Monkey Island while Telltale was giving the series its episodic treatment with Tales of Monkey Island. Couple this with Lucas Arts' decision to finally bring its games to Digital Distribution on Steam (no more paying $50-100 on EBAY), and P&Cs are finally seeing the renaissance it deserves for a new generation. If other developers follow Telltale's episodic lead, the genre could be as rich as ever.
Hope everyone enjoys it. The two newly released Monkey Island games and Lucas Arts' Steam announcement inspired me to write it.