Tuesday, 24 January 2017

History of Adventure 4: Verb-select (Point and Click) Graphical Adventures (1985)

By the TAG Team

Notable Titles: Deja Vu, Maniac Mansion, Labyrinth, Monkey Island 1 & 2, Day of the Tentacle, Indiana Jones 3 & 4, Simon the Sorcerer 1 & 2

Notable Creators and Companies
: ICOM Simulations (Darin Adler and Tod Zipnick), Lucasarts (David Fox, Ron Gilbert, Hal Barwood), Adventuresoft (Simon and Mike Woodroffe)

In 1985, almost at the exact same time as King's Quest was reaching some amount of prominence, a company named ICOM Simulations came up with a very similar idea. Whilst they wanted to create adventure games, they did so in a way that was notionally going to make adventure gaming easier.

A typical adventure game of the time relied on parser, which not only depended on a certain amount of typing proficiency as it came to a lack of typos, but imagination – if a game wanted you to 'CRAFT PAPER AIRPLANE' and didn't let you use 'MAKE', you needed to realise that the people who were writing the game only had the word 'CRAFT' in mind, which was always going to be an issue. Deja Vu made the potential for a game where one's imagination was the only real limit. By including the use of a simple drag-and-click interface, one needed only minimal computer skills to play through an adventure game.

You still have plenty of choices – but none of them are impossible to guess

Though the MacVenture suite of games is largely maligned due to difficulty, it doubtlessly inspired many adventure game companies to replace parsers with menus or lists of commands. Some of these early attempts took this approach to extremes.

Are you sure we really need all these verbs?

One of these early attempts was published by what would become the perhaps most influential adventure gaming company of all time.

I bet you weren’t expecting this

Starting their adventuring journey with the not so well known Labyrinth (1986) and continuing with the much better known 1988 classic Maniac Mansion, Lucasarts became undeniably the leader of point and click adventure games. Largely known for their wacky designs, the company which now sadly has been eaten up by Disney repeatedly hits 'greatest adventure game of all time' lists for their iconic and quirky games. And unlike Sierra, Lucasarts had some successful imitators.

Hey, it’s just the interface we copied!

One of the key things to come out of this time period was that game saves were far less important than they'd ever been – to open up to a larger market, it was repeatedly made at the very least 'quite difficult' to have an on-screen character death, meaning that they were games that all of the family could enjoy.

You can kill Guybrush Threepwood - but you really have to try it.

This period of gaming was doubtlessly where adventure games began to shine, with many people who are on this website likely having started their adventure gaming career either with this style of gaming or the other subtly different one to come.


  1. I recall Labyrinth as having two interfaces - first the standard text parser, then a species of "spin the wheels of verbs and nouns until your desired actions and subjects come up" - but I have no memory of pointing and clicking being involved.

    Sierra's the Black Cauldron and their Manhunter games, on the other hand, would both be relevant waypoints prefiguring the wave of the future for the genre's interface. Legend's hybrid system would also be a good fit here, and also Cyan's early games. (And to demonstrate what good things can come from humble beginnings, cast the spotlight on CliffyB's first couple of games - Dare to Dream and Palace of Deceit.) The Mac's World Builder games demonstrate a good bridge between OS GUI and game interface GUI.

    1. True, the sentence was somewhat inaccurate - it was meant to indicate both the beginning of the Lucasarts adventure games in general with Labyrinth and its eventual development to the status of leading point and click adventure game developer. I hope the meaning is now more clear.

      Come to think of it, as the main point in this part of classification is the verb-selection and not the point-and-clicking and the early examples of this type could be e.g. menu-based, I've put the point-and-click of the title in brackets.

      Black Cauldron would in a sense fit here and so would Legend's games partially, although the latter can be played also as parser-based games and we therefore included it under IF with pictures. But I think Manhunter and Manhole belong to a different category, since there's no verb selection in either of them.

  2. Having "adumbrate" on a very limited verb list is hilarious. I had to look it up even though I guessed it was related to "umbra" (Latin for shadow/darkness).

    1. It's actually a necessity in the game - you need to adumbrate an elephant to get out of jail, if memory serves.

    2. I seem to remember that it was none other than Douglas Adams who suggested adding it to the game (he was involved in brain storming the concept of Labyrinth).

  3. The Labyrinth game was great, starting off with the text adventure until the cinema until the true game started. Very cool, remember it fondly. I destroyed two crappy c64 joysticks playing Maniac Mansion - it even had a short tv spin off