Adventure game

From Academic Kids


An adventure game is a type of computer game usually dominated by exploration, puzzle-solving, and interaction with game characters, with the focus on enjoying a narrative rather than testing reflexes. Adventure games often have more in common with other narrative-based artforms (e.g. films, novels and comic books) than other styles of computer game. Encompassing many genres and styles, including fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and comedy, adventure games were bestsellers in the 1980s, but today are much less popular with mainstream gamers. Notable adventure games include Zork, King's Quest, The Secret of Monkey Island, and Myst.

Adventure games are similar to computer role-playing games (CRPGs), except with less emphasis on combat and statistics, and a stronger focus on problem-solving. In general, if a game involves the use of player attributes/stats (whether visible to the player or not) it is an RPG, otherwise it is an adventure game. It should be noted, however, that this distinction is an extremely loose one, and many games blur the line between the two categories. In particular, the status of what are sometimes called action-adventure games as members of the category is largely in doubt, with adventure gaming purists (and, to a lesser extent, action gaming purists) labeling action-adventure games as belonging to neither the action nor adventure genres rather than to both.

Most adventure games are designed for a single player, since the heavy emphasis on story and character makes multi-player design difficult.



Colossal Cave Adventure

In the early 1970s, programmer, caver, and role-player William Crowther was working at Bolt, Beranek and Newman (BBN), a Boston company involved with ARPANET routers, developed a program called Colossal Cave Adventure on BBN's PDP-10. The game used a text interface to simulate an adventure through a spectacular underground cave system. Later modified and expanded by programmer Don Woods, the game became wildly popular among early computer enthusiasts, spreading widely throughout the nascent ARPANET in the mid to late 1970s.

The unique combination of Crowther's realistic cave descriptions and Woods' addition of fantastical elements proved immensely fun, and defined the adventure game genre for decades to come. Swords, magic words, puzzles involving objects, rascally opponents who steal those objects, and exploring underground realms would all become staples of the text adventure.

The "armchair adventure" soon spread beyond college campuses as the growing microcomputing movement gained steam. Numerous home brew knockoffs and variations on Adventure appeared throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s. The emerging market for computer games was ready for commercial product.

Scott Adams

One of the programmers who had the opportunity to explore the Colossal Cave was Scott Adams. After ten days of traversing the underground, he solved the entire game. Owning a TRS-80 and knowing that not everyone had access to a PDP-10, he decided to create an adventure on his own microcomputer. There remained, however, the problem of storing a lot of information in the small memory of machines of that time. Remembering that he had written several interpreters, he realized that that type of software was exactly what he needed. Furthermore, once an interpreter was developed, it could be reused for other adventure games.

Scott Adams's adventure game series — produced from 1978 to 1985 — was born, and the company Adventure International soon followed. The first adventure games were text-based and written in BASIC. To improve response times, Adams then translated them into assembler and the series was expanded to twelve adventure games.

Graphical progress

The great advance which immediately followed was the introduction of images. With the use of machine language allowing shorter programs, and computer memory increasing, it became possible to use the graphical potential of a computer like the Apple II and companies like Infocom soon switched from producing pure text-based adventure games.

Soon the clumsy basic vector graphics gave way to more aesthetic imagery drawn by professional artists. Examples include Sherwood Forest (1982), Dale Johnson's Masquerade (1983), or Antonia Antiochia's Transylvania (1982, re-released in 1984).

The introduction of such high-quality bitmap graphics required more substantial storage capacity with many adventure games requiring several diskettes for installation, which would be the case until the CD-ROM made its appearance.


In 1977, two friends Dave Lebling and Marc Blank, who were students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Laboratory for Computer Science, discovered Crowther and Woods's game Colossal Cave Adventure. After completing the adventure game, they were joined by Tim Anderson and Bruce Daniels and began to develop a similar game. Their first production, Zork, also started on a PDP-10 minicomputer and spread quickly across the ARPANET. Its success was immediate, and the game, which would reach the size of a megabyte, enormous for the time, would be updated until 1981.

On graduation, the students decided to stay together and to form a company. Tim Anderson, Joel Berez, Marc Blank, Mike Broos, Scott Cutler, Stu Cutler, Stu Galley, Dave Lebling, J. C. R. Licklider, Chris Reeve, and Al Vezza created Infocom on 22 June 1979. The idea of distributing Zork came to mind very soon, but the game was too big to port to the microcomputers of the time: the Apple II and the TRS-80, the potential targets, each had only 16 kb of RAM. They wrote a special programming language called Z-machine, which could function on any computer by using an emulator as an intermediary.

In November 1980 the new Zork I: The Great Underground Empire was made available for the PDP-11; one month later, it was released for the TRS-80, with more than 1500 copies sold between that date and September 1981. That same year, Bruce Daniels finalized the Apple II version and more than 6,000 additional copies were sold. Zork I would go on to sell over a million copies.

The company continued developing text adventure games even as it opened a department for the development of professional software, a department which would never be profitable. High-quality games, with massive, intelligent plots, unequaled syntax analyzers, and meticulous documentation as integral parts of the game, succeeded in all genres. However, with the power of microcomputers increasing and the demand for graphics (which it refused to include in its games), Infocom saw sales decline and in 1989, it had shrunk to a mere 10 employees, compared to 100 game developers alone at its peak, and games developed after 1989 would have no link with the original team.


Missing image
Mystery House for the Apple II was the first adventure game to use graphics in the early home computer era.

At the end of the 1970s, Ken Williams sought to set up a company for enterprise software for the market-dominating Apple II computer. One day, he took a teletype terminal to his residence to work on the development of an accounting program. Rummaging through a catalogue, he found a program called Colossal Cave Adventure. He and his wife Roberta both played it all the way through and their encounter with Crowther's game would have a strong influence on video-gaming history.

Having finished Colossal Cave Adventure, they began to search for something similar, but found the market underdeveloped. Roberta Williams liked the concept of a textual adventure very much, but she thought that the player would have a more satisfying experience with images and began to think of her own game. She thus conceived Mystery House, the first graphical adventure game, a detective story inspired by Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None.

Ken spent a few nights developing the game on his Apple II, and in the end they made packets with ziploc bags containing the game's 5¼-inch disk and a photocopied paper describing the game. They sold it via a local software shop and to their great surprise, Mystery House was an enormous success. Though Ken believed that the gaming market would be less of a growth market than the professional software market, he persevered with games. Thus, in 1980, the Williamses founded On-Line Systems which would become Sierra On-Line in 1982. The company would be a major actor in the video-gaming of the 1980s.

Missing image
King's Quest I used colorful graphics which were much more immersive than the line drawings of the earlier adventure games. Below the image the command prompt can be seen, waiting for a command by the player.

Sierra soon took things further. Until this point adventure games were in the first person; images presented the dcor as seen through the eyes of the player. Williams's company would introduce a new feature in the King's Quest series: a game in the third person. Taking advantage of the techniques developed in action games which had progressed in parallel, Ken introduced an animated character who represented the player in the game and whom the player controlled. With the 3D Animated Adventures, a new standard was born, and nearly all the industry latched onto it. The commands were still entered on the keyboard and analyzed by a syntax interpreter, as with text adventure games.

Sierra would develop new games and push the boundaries of adventure gaming until its purchase by Cendant in 1998.


In 1987, when nobody seemed able to overcome Sierra's power, a programmer named Ron Gilbert working for the company Lucasfilm Games — which has since become LucasArts — made a fundamental advance: the script-writing system SCUMM and the point-and-click interface. Instead of having to type a command to the syntax analyzer, this system was controlled by means of text icons. To interact with his environment, the player clicked on an order, on an icon representing an object in her inventory, or on a part of the image. This system was used for the first time in the game Maniac Mansion and the days of text adventure games were numbered.

Missing image
Monkey Island advanced the state of the adventure genre by using 256 color images, as can be seen in this landscape from the game.

LucasArts would come to differentiate itself from its main competitor, the giant Sierra, by rethinking certain adventure game concepts to improve playability. Gone was the possibility to die during the course of the game and everything was done to ensure that the player was never completely stuck. Finally, LucasArts abandoned the system of points indicating the player's progress in the adventure. These innovations were immediately taken into account by the competition, especially Sierra.

Gilbert's attempts, Maniac Mansion and Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, however, remained in 16 colors, and the point-and-click engine wasn't completely integrated since the player would still have to construct sentences using clickable keywords combined with objects in the game. It was The Secret Of Monkey Island that was finally a complete work, with 256 colors, a complete point-and-click engine, a dialogue system with optional responses, puzzles solved with items, original graphics, atmosphere music, and a characteristic sense of humour. Above all, the script was written as for a film (which could be done in-house) and the dialogue and inventory served the needs of the script. The 1993 release of Day of the Tentacle, a remarkable success, began a line of cartoon-style games.

Steven Spielberg collaborated with LucasArts in the creation of The Dig — a science-fiction adventure game that the director had envisioned filming. It met with limited commercial success coming at a time when the gaming public was enticed by high-speed action games.

Taking advantage of advances in action games and integrating an engine similar to those of first-person shooters, the company took a new turn in 1998 with the game Grim Fandango, where it abandoned the cartoon style and its SCUMM scripting environment for a new 3D game system named GrimE.


Missing image
Myst used high-quality 3D rendered graphics to deliver images that were unparalleled at the time of its release. It became so popular that for many years it was the greatest selling computer game of all time, dethroned by The Sims in 2000.

In 1991 when the world of adventure games seemed forever dominated by LucasArts, a small team of nine from the company Cyan, Inc., headed by the brothers Rand and Robyn Miller and run out of a garage in Spokane, Washington, began to push the limits of Apple's HyperCard software. By means of a Macintosh Quadra battery, they invented a new type of adventure game, transforming the genre. Their game Myst was a first-person game with few animations, but the images completely left behind the prevailing cartoon style in favour of ultra-realism. The game was intriguing and captivating, and allowed a level of immersion never previously attained.

The adventure began on an island; the player knew nothing. There was no inventory any more; the player could only carry one object at a time. The game's puzzles were rather classical in their conception. However, thanks to its detailed graphics where everything could be important, the game captivated the player.

Part of its success also seemed linked to the fact that, for the first time, a video game didn't appear to be aimed at an adolescent male audience, but a mainstream adult audience. Released in 1993, Myst for many years the most profitable computer game ever; it sold over nine million copies on all platforms. It wasn't dethroned until the release of The Sims in 2000, currently the most successful computer game ever.

Myst gave way to several sequels, Riven and Myst III: Exile as well as Myst IV: Revelation. There is also a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), Uru: Ages Beyond Myst, which isn't actually part of the Myst series. Three derived novels found their origin in its world: Myst: The Book of Atrus, Myst: The Book of Ti'ana and Myst: The Book of D'ni. The game was also parodied by Parroty Interactive's Pyst.

Types of adventure games

There are many types of adventure games, depending on the criteria. Adventure games vary in their subject, interface, setting or plot. A definite categorization can't be done since some of them may belong to 2 or more of the below mentioned 'types'.

Puzzle adventure

Adventure games that don't rely on obtaining items, their use, and character interaction belong to this genre. It emphasizes exploration, reading logs, and deciphering the proper use of complex mechanisms, often resembling Rube Goldberg machines. The plot of these games is usually obscure, and relies on the player's interpretation of the setting and the scenery, and information from the logs in order for him to understand the background scenario. Almost all of these games are played from a first person perspective with the player "moving" between still pre-rendered 3D images, sometimes combined with short animations or video. Typical examples include Schizm, Mystery of Sphinx and Myst which pioneered on this kind.


A popular and commercially successful genre of adventure gaming, action-adventure games typically emphasize combat or other reflex-based forms of gameplay as well as puzzle-solving and exploration. The most prominent example of action-adventure is the Legend of Zelda series. The popular Resident Evil series and other similar survival horror games can also be considered action-adventure games. Action-adventure games are common on video game consoles, and have spawned subgenres like "survival horror" and "stealth action games".

Text based

The first adventure games to appear were text adventures (later called interactive fiction), which typically use a verb-noun parser to interact with the user. These evolved from early mainframe titles like Hunt the Wumpus (Gregory Yob) and Adventure (Crowther and Woods) into commercial games which were playable on personal computers, such as Infocom's widely popular Zork series. In recent years, a vibrant and creative community of interactive fiction authors has thrived on the internet. Some companies that were important in bringing out text adventure games were Adventure International, Infocom, Level 9, Magnetic Scrolls and Melbourne House.

Graphical adventure

Graphical adventure games were introduced by a new company called On-Line Systems, which later changed its name to Sierra On-Line. After the rudimentary Mystery House (1980) they established themselves with the full adventure King's Quest (1984), appearing on various systems, and went on to further success with a variety of strong titles. In 1987 a second major developer entered the field, LucasArts, with the release of Maniac Mansion, a game that replaced the text-based parser with a point-and-click interface. The classic example of LucasArts work is the Monkey Island series.


Some adventure games rely equally on the common adventure elements, but also on the 'character building' of RPGs. The main character(s) usually has a certain "Hit point" meter and a chart of skills. Some puzzles and feats need a minimum amount of skills in order to be solved (like Climbing above 5 to climb a tree and obtain a lost ring) so the player may have to choose one character over another to solve it, or spend time building the skills of the first character. As in RPGs, the games involve battles, the result of which depends on his character's skills and health (and on the player's reflexes in the case of real-time combat). However, these kinds of games don't belong to the 'Action adventure' above. Typical examples include Quest for Glory, Fallout and Final Battle.


A few adventure games have defined themselves as "original" because they distanced themselves from the main adventure genre and put focus on other elements. They are considered unique because they didn't develop into genres.

  • King's Quest VIII: although it could be labelled as an action adventure, when the game came out, it was hard to define because the genre was not popular at the time. More than action, it combined many other elements, like 1st person view, over the shoulder view (like Tomb Raider), riddles, dialogues, inventory and RPG elements like weapons and experience.
  • Colonel's Bequest: generally regarded as an adventure, Sierra's definition is different. This game although containing riddles and interaction with items and objects, focused mainly on communication with other characters, and obtaining as much information as possible. The game advanced when the player was present at certain times and places that might reveal information on the plot and backstory. The full score would be attained not for only solving riddles, but for perceiving "suspicious" elements, like the relationship between the characters, objects that changed position or traces of information about the killer's identity.
  • LOOM: this game was greeted with much enthusiasm as original and innovative, not only because of the plot, but for the whole concept. Unlike all other adventure games, this one did not have an inventory and puzzles that rely on combining objects. The only actions the player could do (aside from the common ones, like examining, or entering a door) was casting spells on objects, which were composed of musical notes.

Modern adventure games

For much of the 1980s, adventure games were one of the most popular types of computer games produced. But in the mid-1990s their market share drastically declined, as action games (particularly first person shooters like Doom) took a greater share of the market, particularly ones like Half-Life that feature strong story structured solo games, leading many publishers and developers to see adventure games as financially unfeasible in comparison.

During the 1980s and early 1990s several adventure games were usually published per year. The average in the 2000s is only one or two prominent adventure games per year. Well-known names like Sierra and LucasArts have left the market of adventure games. In reaction to this trend, many fans have taken on the challenge of developing their own adventure games, called fan adventure games which are in some cases remakes of oldes classics, or sequels. Such games are either programmed from scratch, or composed by using authoring tools. Examples for such graphical development environments for adventure games are Adventure Game Studio [1] ( and Visionaire [2] (

Few recent commercial adventure games have been hits. It has been suggested that the reason for this change in gamers' tastes results from more gamers having been weaned on console video games and first person shooters rather than traditional computer games as the original crop of adventure gaming enthusiasts were. Another explanation is that MMORPGs, which offer a persistent, multiplayer world, have at least partially supplanted the genre.

Although traditional adventure games are rare today, action-adventure game that combine elements of adventure games with action games are quite common. There are also similarities between adventure and role-playing games, particularly those in a more modern, story- and character-based mold. Computer role-playing games in this vein have been published more frequently since the success of Baldur's Gate in 1998, and console role-playing games have generally been quite focused on plot and story, thanks in part to the success of the Final Fantasy series.

Many famous adventure games cannot be run on modern computers. Early adventure games were developed for the C64 or the Amiga, computers which are not in much use today. There are now emulators available for personal computers that allow these old games to be played. One Open Source project called ScummVM provides a free engine for the LucasArts adventure games. Text adventure games have survived much more readily. There are only a small number of widespread standard formats, and nearly all the classics can be played on modern computers. Even some more modern text adventure games can be played on very old computer systems. Text adventure games are also suitable for PDAs, because they have very small computer system requirements.

Common features

Adventure games, like RPGs, feature secondary quests: in order to advance, the player has to help a character in order for him to give some information or an important item to the player as a reward. Often this character is a healer or magician and the secondary quest is finding artifacts or items, not uncommonly, ingredients for a potion.

Adventure games have been criticized because many adopt the attitude that 'the ends justify the means': a usual challenge is obtaining 'immorally' an item from someone reluctant to cooperate with the player, and the only way to solve this challenge is to distract him or her in order to steal the item by force. On the other hand, many adventure games have quests or missions that urge the player help others eg. tormented spirits that seek deliverance, free a trapped animal, or feed them. Helped characters will reward the player, mostly essentially, in the future.

Early adventure games sometimes trapped the players in dead ends. For example, if the player overlooked and missed an important item early in the game (eg. a key), the game cannot be completed if he later finds himself trapped in a cell. But it won't end either since the player wasn't killed, leaving him to search around his cell until frustrated and decided to restart or restore a game. This of course was not very endearing to players, and some companies, such as Lucasarts, were against this policy. These companies designed the plot that way, so that the essential items would be always found when they are needed (or at least, already claimed). Other companies as well eventually followed this, even Sierra.

Some items are featured very often in various adventure games, and have many uses. Two examples are a rope and a crowbar.

Notable adventure games



Originally translated from the article on the French Wikipedia, which cites the following sources:

  • ANFOSSI, Grald, La programmation des jeux d'aventure, Editions du PSI, Paris, 1985
  • MITCHELL, David, An Adventure in Programming Techniques, Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., London, 1986

See also

computer game, Heureka-Klett, list of graphic adventure games, list of text based games, MUD, roguelike, video game

External links

Online adventure games

  • Banja (
  • Over the Top (


da:Adventurespil de:Adventure es:Juegos de aventuras fr:Jeu d'aventure ja:アドベンチャーゲーム nl:Adventure no:Eventyrspill sv:ventyrsspel (datorspel) fi:Seikkailupeli zh-cn:冒险游戏


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