Do funny games need a kickstart?


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Earlier this month, Al Lowe launched a Kickstarter to remake the original Leisure Suit Larry game. The project has since met its goal of $500,000 and still has until Wednesday, May 2, to generate further funding.

Double Fine's Kickstarter success opened the floodgates to a reemergence of the adventure genre, but in a guest blog post for Wired.com, Lowe talks about why this is important: games have lost their funny bone, and adventure games can bring it back.

Lowe attributes the decline of the genre to improved accessibility to personal computers:

Adventure games were perfect for 1980s’ computer users. Back then, if you weren’t a puzzle solver, you didn’t own a computer. Remember config.sys files, autoexec.bat files, setting interrupts, managing extended memory? No? Consider yourself lucky! It’s a wonder anyone got anything done at all.

I remember discussing with Ken Williams (founder of Sierra, the leading publisher of such games) about how great it would be when 10 percent of homes had a computer powerful enough to play our games. But when the majority finally had computers, they ran Windows. They didn’t have to solve operating system puzzles, or couldn’t. And they didn’t want to solve game puzzles either.

Sadly, this was widely interpreted that new gamers preferred action and 3-D environments instead of contemplation and humor. Within a year, most major adventure-game development was shut down. And with it went humor.

I remember the games Lowe references fondly, though perhaps because the years have removed me from the frustration they inspired. Although King's Quest and its kin were often infuriatingly inscrutable in their puzzles and riddles, they often had a quirky and consistent internal logic that tickled your imagination, giving you a knowing wink and a sense of accomplishment when you stumbled across the solution. It's a kind of challenge that's often missing in today's games — or am I just playing the wrong ones? The Xbox 360's DeathSpank, created by Ron Gilbert of Double Fine, had some clever dialogue, though I didn't play it far enough to find if that sense extended to the gameplay.

And I spent about two hours this week in the practice arena of Scribblenauts Remix for iOS, interested less in completing levels than in testing the limits of the player's capabilities and seeing what unusual creations and interactions the game's designers anticipated.

What do you think — is Lowe right? Have the humor and discovery of early computer games disappeared and are now ready for a comeback? Or have they been here all along, just in an unrecognizably evolved form?

UPDATE (11-May-12): I belatedly found Phil Elliott's interview with Al Lowe in my "to read" pile. In this article from April 2011, Lowe talks about how the humor in games has been replaced by replayability, and that he has no desire or intention to exit retirement. Ah, hindsight!

(Hat tip to Robert Boyd)