Last week, a post on Kotaku referring to the days of drawing your own dungeon maps in games like Zork struck a chord with me, as well as my co-worker at Touch Arcade (find him at @blakespot). Suffice to say I've been in one of those retro gaming moods where lots of shiny high-def new releases have been hitting consoles, and for whatever reason, not a single one of them has appealed to me.
This morning, I stumbled upon this not-at-all-new video which I somehow had never seen: a fan's remake of Shadowgate for PC, which was never completed but fascinating all the less. In case you have no idea what I mean, Shadowgate was one of a short series of games (MacVenture series) created by ICOM Simulations back in 1987 that led the player through a series of point and click scenarios. Other entries in this series included Deja Vu I & II, two hard-boiled detective mysteries, and Uninvited, a haunted house adventure.
I loved these games.
However, even as I read the aforementioned article about Zork maps last week, I asked myself the question: Are these forms of gaming obsolete? I recently spent some time playing Atlus's remake of Persona 2: Innocent Sin for the PSP, and while the dialogue and characters hold up quite well, I found I had much less patience for the random monster encounters every three steps. Sure, I played those when I was a teenager, because I had nothing to compare them to. Now, gaming is more intuitive, and we don't need to draw our own maps or spend weeks grinding in randomized fights. Some of us prefer those methods, but those numbers are dwindling.
The point and click adventure genre is not entirely dead, but it surely seems antiquated in terms of modern gaming. Look at my beloved Shadowgate as an example: rather than use a menu to select my actions, such as moving to a new room, my environment could simply be navigated with a controller. It saves time, but it also takes something out of the experience that I miss. Perhaps the MacVenture series created an unusual tension in that we were only allowed a window into the surroundings of their titles with no alternate views. We couldn't adjust the camera, so our imaginations were forced to generate whatever was outside of our line of sight.
This limited peek into a world will not interest most developers, who prefer to show you the entire world, and I understand why. I do. Why peek through a keyhole, when you can use the key and stand in the world? It makes much more sense. Except that I keep passing up these fully explorable universes, or spending time in them and finding for all their glory, I'm just not enjoying myself. It has nothing to do with the quality of the game. It's just that as gamers, we all like to stand in different types of worlds.
Can these games come back, exactly as they were? They cannot. They were experienced at a specific time, and the reaction to them is partially affected by the time period and the gamer's personal state of mine. Can they be created in new ways? They can. Jake Elliot's Ruins is a perfect example (and it's free, so you really should play it.) I applaud the developers courageous enough to continue to give us worlds that we can explore that differ from the norm. My true hunger as a gamer is to find those worlds that are not so average, and experience that magic again of peering through the keyhole. Perhaps I will find the key, and open the door, and find that what is inside is exactly what I was hoping to find. Or even better -- Nothing like I could have possibly imagined.