The Cold Hotspot: Part 4
Written by Beiddie Rafól
As progressive as indie published adventures may be in investigating alternate means of distribution, that seems to be where the progress stops. Games like AGON and Boyz Don't Cry aren't really exploring to break the conventions of the genre; it's not what they're about. They are, in their own talented way, mimicking the strengths - and consequential weaknesses - of the standards of the past ten years, and show how well established those standards are. They are designed for specific hardcore fans, those who prefer the mechanics of their games to remain fundamentally the same.
Instead, for more serious progression in terms of bold new concepts and experiences, recent and upcoming titles re-ignite narrative driven gaming that emphasizes intellectual challenges, but without the limitations suffered by many other categorically labeled adventure games. These are not the adventure games you played years ago, and now you must let go those emotional clingings and sentiments and ready yourself for experiences that are new and challenging. After all, isn't that part of the adventure, to boldly go where you've never been before?
Enter titles like Dreamfall, the spiritual successor of The Longest Journey. Designer Ragnar Tørnquist is, thankfully, unapologetic about forging ahead with his vision. Whereas The Longest Journey was a classic 2D point-&-clicker, Dreamfall will feature a far more dynamic and alive experience and will include elements deemed controversial (at least to the conservative hardcore adventure gaming community), like real time 3D, direct control character movement, an innovative interface that dumps the old fashioned point-&-click style, and RPG-like problem solving for puzzles and situational challenges. That some action (mostly optional) will be included has been the subject of white hot fights within adventure communities, evincing many fans' refusal to move beyond the past and embrace change and new experiences. But in the end, the strongest advantage will be Dreamfall's potential to attract a new variety of gamers, ones who do not define their games in terms of interface or even graphics, but instead in how those games will give them uniquely memorable experiences.
Rand Miller, in an interview with AdventureGamers.com about his upcoming Myst V, puts it in perspective: "Quite frankly, I think a lot of people have dismissed previous Myst games because they weren't real-time 3D, because they felt old, because the technology felt like it was slightly winded. But this excuse is gone." That developers like Rand Miller and Ragnar Tørnquist are in some ways abandoning the dogmatic criteria of the 'adventure game' category - hence freeing themselves to explore beyond its categorical boundaries - is telling of just how restricting genre lumping has been as perceived by fans, developers, and publishers.
Beyond the boundaries: Dreamfall, 80 Days. These are the controversial titles causing excitement
and uproar in the gaming community, and wide-eyed attention from the press. It's about time!
There are games that, given a more open definition on how the genre is defined, seek to transcend even the ideas pushed by Dreamfall and developer Frogware's 80 Days. They often explore the nature, flexibility, and malleability of the experience itself, in ways that typically constrained adventure developers would not or cannot even think of (precisely because of their allegiance to ten year old conventions). I like to refer to these games as 'meta-adventures', because they move out of the sphere of formalist notions of how games are supposed to be played. Released a year or so ago, Missing: Since January (known in Europe as In Memoriam) uses the internet as a crucial part of the gameplay - site seeing, historical research, emails - to hunt for clues to help solve the mysterious disappearance of a reporter and his female companion. Internet research based adventuring here, however, is not so new - Anim-X's adventure game Majestic (released by Electronic Arts in 2001) was really the first one to explore the idea of pervasive online access recruited for single player puzzle solving, and though the game was full of flaws, it took this idea to extremes (to where you would receive faxes and actual phone calls in the middle of night informing you of related activities - if you wanted it).