In the early years of personal computers, the adventure game genre reigned supreme, exemplified by classic titles such as King’s Quest and The Secret of Monkey Island. Toronto-based artist Julia Minamata grew up playing this style of game, which emphasizes storytelling and story-based puzzles.
“With an adventure game, you move through it at your own speed, and it’s more like a book than an arcade game,” Minamata says in Episode 459 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “I found—as an artsy, bookish kid—that interactive storytelling was the kind of game that was more appealing to me.”
Video game journalist Kurt Kalata loves adventure games so much that he wrote and edited The Guide to Classic Graphic Adventures, a massive tome that details dozens of different games. It’s exactly the sort of book he wishes he’d had as a kid growing up in the ’90s. “I remember keeping an [adventure game guidebook] around as my Bible, even though it was mostly just how to play the games and how to beat them,” he says. “I wanted something that was like that, but actually about the games.”
The adventure game genre has been moribund for years, but the arrival of tools such as Adventure Game Studio has created a flourishing indie scene. Minamata is hard at work on The Crimson Diamond, a 16-color adventure game inspired by Sierra’s 1989 murder mystery The Colonel’s Bequest.
“What caused me to come back to the genre was when I started seeing games that were being produced by solo developers,” Minamata says. “Yahtzee Croshaw made Chzo Mythos, Francisco Gonzalez made the Ben Jordan series. These are one person using Adventure Game Studio, and that was really inspiring to me.”
And while tools like Adventure Game Studio can help simplify the coding process, there’s still no shortcut when it comes to creating great artwork. Kalata spent months making a Monkey Island-inspired game called Christopher Columbus Is an Idiot, but hit a wall when it came time to polish the visuals. “Everything there was scribbled in MS Paint, and eventually it came to a point where it was like, ‘I don’t know if I can devote time to this without making it a commercial project, and to make it a commercial project I need good art,’” he says.
Listen to the complete interview with Julia Minamata and Kurt Kalata in Episode 459 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Kurt Kalata on point-and-click games vs. text parser games:
“[With a point-and-click game], you only have so many tools to interact with the world, so eventually if you just try enough things, you will solve it, and that was a comfortable blanket feeling for me. You could try everything, and eventually you would find it. And the text parsers in Sierra games weren’t particularly good, compared to Infocom games, which had a better vocabulary. I think if the game was a little bit more up front about telling you which things it understood—and also if you didn’t have to guess about what it decided to call a noun, or it at least had more synonyms for certain words—it would have been better.”
Julia Minamata on game designers:
“Before the current situation that we’re in right now, I did go to Pax West, and I was able to meet Lori and Corey Cole, which was really amazing, and I got to meet Douglas Herring, who was the artist for The Colonel’s Bequest, which is a main inspiration for my game. Al Lowe was also there, so that was really cool. They were on an adventure game panel together, so I got to see them, and chat a little bit with Lori and Corey Cole. … So it was really cool to see, and going to events to show my game—just kind of running into people here and there, and seeing people who are still developing [games]. It was just really inspiring.”
Julia Minamata on The Colonel’s Bequest:
“The artists were given a lot of leeway in terms of what they were generating. They were given some reference material, some photos of similar houses, but they were pretty much left to their own devices. With stuff like King’s Quest, what would happen is Roberta Williams would sketch out a basic ‘Here’s a tree, and this is where the stream is, and here’s where the rock is,’ and she’d pass it off to the artists, who would in turn interpret that to be something more professional. But what was great about The Colonel’s Bequest is she didn’t do that. She just said, ‘Go and do the thing,’ so [the artists] were able to, from the ground up, create this amazing atmosphere.”
Kurt Kalata on the future of Monkey Island:
“I was involved with the Limited Run project, and I know they were hoping this whole project would generate some interest at Disney. Disney is so big that they didn’t even really know what [Monkey Island] was, because it’s just ‘some old game from the ’90s that people like.’ So we were hoping that there was enough money generated that they’d be like, ‘OK, people are interested in this Monkey Island thing, and here’s the original designer who would be interested in doing something with it, so maybe make some sort of connection happen.’ … The stars have to align. Someone who works with [these companies] has to be a fan of these games. Somebody has to care.”