Monday 9 January 2017

History of Adventure 3: Parser-based Graphical Adventures (1984)

By the TAG Team

Notable Titles: King’s Quest I-IV, Police Quest I-II, Space Quest I-III, Leisure Suit Larry I-III, Gold Rush, Conquests of Camelot, Hero’s Quest, Quest for Glory II, Colonel’s Bequest
Notable Creators and Companies: Sierra Entertainment (Roberta Williams, Jim Walls, Al Lowe, Lori and Corey Cole, Mark Crowe, Scott Murphy, Christy Marx)

Sierra Entertainment had a fantastic idea for the next logical step of adventure gaming. Some time earlier, Sierra already had an engine that was capable of rendering pictures to go along with a basic IF-styled game, with the at-the-time groundbreaking idea that they could create an on-screen image using purely vectors.

Great things come from humble beginnings

Then Sierra had the original, if not revolutionary idea that they could have a game which would allow the player to play an adventure game where they were actually able to control their onscreen character, not being limited by the mainstay parser issue of having to have each new screen give a brand new description of what was going on. The AGI interpreter and King's Quest was born!

They truly reached for the skies with this game

Thanks to King's Quest, the directions 'NORTH, SOUTH, EAST and WEST' were no longer the bane of all adventure gamers, unsure as to whether the thicket to the top of the screen could be walked through or not. No, we could now find out by simply attempting to walk our character directly into the obstacle and seeing what happens! The trope of dying over-easily was already quite strongly embedded into all games of this era, so the fact that you were more than likely to walk directly into said thicket and be impaled was really the least of all concerns.

Well, we had to give it a try.

These games all included the option to further clarify what something onscreen was, giving an old-fashioned text screen of what was going on in addendum to simple pictures that gave a solid idea of what was on screen. The main problem with these games was and is that they faced the dilemmas of both interactive fiction and graphical adventures. They continued to use the parser system – there's a classic example in Leisure Suit Larry 2 where this actually made the ending of the game almost impossible to complete. By giving the freedom of both typos and alphabets, there was always the possibility for minor issues to sincerely impact gamers.

What am I doing wrong here?

At the same time, these games were very particular on the position of your character - “Go a little bit closer” is a message you are bound to see in many games of this style. Furthermore, not knowing that a small speck on the screen is a pen/rope/bar of soap means that if the item isn't named in the overall LOOK description, the game is made exceedingly difficult. Later versions of Sierra's games included mouse support, which meant that one could right click on the things in question to LOOK at something without the parser – which is where we all know the gaming world ended up heading.

Another problem: you know you should check the condition of your vehicle, but parser doesn't appear to understand your commands, because you are meant to just walk Sonny around the car

When you combine all these problems with the occasional pointless death scene and dead end, you might find a reason why this particular style of adventure gaming was not favoured by any other prominent producers. A few other games of this style were published at the beginning of 90s - notable examples are Hugo-series, Les Manley: Search for the King and Earthrise, but these were more like a last breath of an outdated fashion.

This was retro already in 1990

It seems then no wonder that no commercial game producer has bothered with this type of adventure game in a long time. If you find a new parser-based graphical adventure game somewhere, it will most likely be a fan continuation of some popular Quest-title.

Space Quest: The Lost Chapter. Did they have to beat Sierra in its own
game and create the world’s most annoying adventure game scene?


  1. Trilby's Notes is a particularly noteworthy modern take on this adventure game subtype.

    1. I'm almost tempted to add something about that game to the post, but maybe I'll just let it pass.

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