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Adventure Games are Dead, Long Live Adventure Games

Do a search for “adventure games” and you’ll find no shortage of journalists ready to declare the genre dead or else talking about its miraculous resurrection. In fact, it’s been in and out of the ground so many times over the last two decades, you’d be forgiven for mistaking the genre for a Dune-esque sandworm or a claustrophobic miner. The reality is slightly less dramatic.  

After laying low for a while during the ascendance of the first-person shooter, adventure games are now all over the place. And now, in lieu of extensive media coverage, adventure game developers are banding together to celebrate and promote each other’s work, posting and retweeting their games under #AdventureGameFriday on Twitter. The hashtag has become a platform for creatives to show off their work, a way to connect with the greater development community, and is a testament to the vitality and variety of the adventure game genre as a whole.

3 Minutes to Midnight
3 Minutes to Midnight

Point and Click

Polygon Treehouse is the studio behind the #AdventureGameFriday hashtag. Co-founded by two ex-Guerrilla Games art directors, the studio is currently working on Röki, an upcoming 3D adventure exploration game inspired by Scandinavian folklore. The game has players taking on the role of a young character named Tove and exploring a world populated with creepy monsters they can try to befriend. 

“I think ever since we founded Polygon Treehouse, we’ve been active on social media,” says Alex Kanaris-Sotiriou, co-founder and art director at Polygon Treehouse. “You know, thinking about ways to promote our own game. We dipped into #ScreenshotSaturday and #MadeWithUnityFriday, but we were looking for something to help us reach people who might be into adventure games.” 

They had the idea to start their own hashtag specifically for adventure games. And they wanted to make sure it spread beyond just them, so they decided to nominate a new studio to host the event every Friday. The response so far has been incredible, with a host of developers both new and experienced getting involved.  

Lantern Studio is one such developer. The studio’s debut game Luna – The Shadow Dust is a hand-animated point-and-click adventure game featuring beautiful artwork and a wordless approach to storytelling. For Beidi Guo, the founder and art director at Lantern, the event has been a great way of showcasing her studios’ debut game each week.

“The community is very supportive and everyone is just super nice,” says Guo. “I guess it’s the genuine passion for what we love that brought us into game making in the first place. Rarely I’ve heard someone say they make games to be rich or famous, most of the time just pure joy or it’s their passion or dream. People in the community are very honest and love to help each other.” 

Luna the Shadow Dust
Luna — The Shadow Dust

Patience is a Virtue

Speaking to some of the developers who are part of the greater adventure game community on Twitter, it immediately becomes clear just how tricky it can sometimes be to get eyes on their games. 

“Reaching your (potential) audience is hard work when you are indie,” notes Pavlína Kačerová, the marketing and PR person at Spanish-based studio Scarecrow Studios, the development team behind the fabulous-looking LucasArts-inspired point-and-click 3 Minutes to Midnight. “There’s no correct formula, so, naturally, you keep trying different things. Some work, some not so well, and formulas “that worked for someone else don’t necessarily have to work for you and vice versa. It’s complicated.

The problem? “Inevitably [the genre] does require a lot of thinking and investment from players,” Guo says. “The rewards and experience are not as instantly achieved as some mainstream games. This is not really the fault [of the design], but overall a culture shift. We’re getting less and less patient nowadays.” 

The hashtag, however, has proven a great way to get potential players excited about upcoming titles. Plus, it’s accessible to smaller developers who may not be able to afford to show their games at conventions and industry events.


A Very Angry Yak

What’s so amazing about #AdventureGameFriday and what draws me into scrolling through it every week is the vast variety of games on display. There’s everything from rain-soaked noir-adventure titles about Raccoon detectives to Gilliam-esque point-and-clicks repurposing renaissance art.  

“There’s a wide range of things [posted on the hashtag],” agrees Kanaris-Sotiriou. “Some of it is more kind of action-adventure-y, some of it is visual novels, some of it is interactive fiction, some of it is more point-and-click. We were keen to be very inclusive from the start basically in saying adventure games of all shapes and sizes are welcome.” 

Tobin’s Tale is one of the many impressive games I’ve come across. It’s a refreshing take on the genre that translates the verb-based commands of classic adventure games into a first-person point-and-throw experience. 

“In classic point & click adventure games you marry objects in the world and verbs together by clicking on them,” developer Pete Brisbourne explains. “In Tobin’s Tale, you throw the verbs at things you want to interact with. So if you wanted to open a door, you would throw USE at the door but then it might bounce off the frame and — OH NO — it’s landed on the yak trebuchet instead. And now you have one very angry yak.”

Apparently inspired by throwing sticky notes at a kettle, Tobin’s Tale is still in its very early days, but Brisbourne has been using #AdventureGameFriday to show off its ongoing development and generate attention.

“The development community is great,” he says. “There is a real mutual respect between developers making adventure games. I think everyone involved genuinely loves the genre. Plus, we all know how hard it is making a game so a bit of support goes a long way.”

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Elsewhere, there are also a ton of great-looking horror games being shared, including Saint Kotar from the Croatian studio Red Martyr Entertainment and Incantamentum from Cloak and Dagger Games. Incantamentum, in particular, draws from cult horror films like The Blood on Satan’s Claw, The Wicker Man, and The Witchfinder General, as well as M.R. James’s ghost stories and The Game Kitchen’s The Last Door series. It tells the story of the barrow digger Thomasina Bateman, who is invited to the isolated village of Bewlay to inspect a curious barrow with an odd local reputation.

“I love Adventure Game Friday,” says Shaun Aitcheson, one Incantamentum‘s developers. “The online adventure/narrative game development community really is lovely. We all encourage and support each other. By utilising #AdventureGameFriday we share our projects among each other’s followers, which has ultimately resulted in quite a lot of extra attention for our games, not to mention extra support and encouragement from fellow devs. It’s a great initiative that is another important cog in this new era/revival of adventure games.”

The games mentioned here only scratch the surface of those I’ve come across since following the hashtag. There are also plenty of other projects like Clam Team’s peculiar looking Clam Man and its in-development sequel, Backwoods’ mystery game Resort, Spider Lily Studios’ queer mystery adventure game Retrace, and Grundislav Games’ western Rosewater. But apart from simply showcasing some brilliant upcoming and newly released games, the hashtag is demonstrating the altruism of the community and the unending support of others. 

“Game development is quite hard,” says Kanaris-Sotiriou. “Indie development is probably even harder. The generosity and friendliness of all indie developers, no matter what they’re making, has been really really great.”

About the Author

Jack Yarwood