The Wizard's Tower

The Wizard’s Tower

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Welcome to The Wizard’s Tower, a new regular feature in Retro Now! which aims to look at the history and development of computer ‘adventure games’ and the amazing range of such software which has been published over the decades.

The Wizard, from his high vantage point, will also be casting his scrying glass over individual games, playing them and looking at the software houses and programmers which became legends of lore. And he’s also on the lookout for newly-published retro adventure games, so please do contact him if you are a developer looking for a review!

But first, an introduction for those who may not be quite so familiar with this magical gaming genre…


What’s an adventure game?

Adventure game programs generally occupy a number of sub-genres, with different styles or modes of play, including text adventures, text-and-graphic adventures (usually known as graphic adventures), point-and-click adventures, escape the room games, exploration games, puzzle adventures and ‘visual novels’.

Adventure games were some of the very first games to be played on computers, created as they were, initially, for mainframes, with Colossal Cave Adventure (often known simply as Adventure) being released on the world as far back as 1976. The whole point of the game was to present the player with a story within a digital world with which he or she could interact, solve puzzles in, progress through and, well, have an adventure!

Colossal Cave Adventure running on a PDP-11_34 displayed on the minicomputer's VT100 serial console COURTESY Autopilot, Wikipedia

Colossal Cave Adventure running on a PDP-11_34

Because those early scientific or business-oriented computers didn’t use bit-mapped graphics, the first games, and many of those created for early home computers, were entirely text or character-based, and before the advent of VDU (video) display terminals, game progress would actually be printed out on a teletype machine or line printer.

As time went by and the ‘home computer’ revolution began to take off in the late 1970s with the launch of the video-based 8-bit Apple II and Commodore Pet computers, and following them the second-generation systems like the IBM PC, Commodore 64, Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC and BBC Micro etc, computer graphics began to improve and some adventure games began to include basic graphics for added atmosphere.

Commodore 64 version of classic Level 9 adventure 'Snowball' (1983) as seen in the SIlicon Dreams trilogy (1986)

Commodore 64 version of classic Level 9 adventure ‘Snowball’ (1983)

Arguably, the classic ‘graphic adventure’ reached its zenith in the 16/32-bit era with some amazingly atmospheric games being produced for the Atari ST, Commodore Amiga, Apple Macintosh and DOS-based IBM compatible machines. These games are still highly sought-after by players and collectors today.

Although, seasoned adventuring purists were always adamant that, like comparing a book with a movie, the imagination was a far more powerful tool for generating atmosphere than mere pixels on a screen!


The adventurer’s tale

Adventure games are also known as ‘interactive fiction’, since their object is for the player to take part in and influence a fictional story by exploring within the game, making choices, picking up and using objects, solving puzzles and, in the more sophisticated games, even interacting with other, computer-generated characters in the story.

In this regard there is some crossover with the superficially similar role-playing game, whether it be board-based or digital; indeed, turn-based RPG board games such as Dungeons and Dragons inspired the concept of the computer adventure game. There is also a link to the online MUD or ‘multi-user-dungeon’ games, which basically started out as text adventures which a number of people could play at the same time, but which were run from a remote computer system instead of on the player’s desktop computer.

Classic British point-and-click adventure Simon the Sorcerer was published in 1993 by AdventureSoft for the PC and Amiga

Classic British point-and-click adventure Simon the Sorcerer was published in 1993 by AdventureSoft

The storylines of adventure games are as varied as are those in written fiction, and many are inspired by the printed word in one way or another. In a turnabout, though, sometimes books have been published inspired by adventure games, and stories were often included as booklets in big box game packages for added background atmosphere. Typically, as you might expect given the geeky nature of computer gaming, fantasy, science fiction, horror and crime, and variations on these tropes, tend to be the most popular themes for adventure game storylines, but almost any subject can lend itself to the genre.


Adventuring today

A huge range of differerent types of adventure games were developed for home computers of all levels of power and sophistication, since the earliest games needed no graphics, and even in the modern era of high quality, even photorealistic graphics and animation, amazing point-and-click and puzzle games are still being developed for modern Windows and Mac machines. Arcade games have always been more popular, however, so adventures are often thinner on the ground if you’re looking to buy original works –though this makes them all the more collectable.

Thankfully, there are thousands of abandonware adventure games for past generations of computers still available to download online, and with a little technical knowledge the avid adventurer can easily amass enough adventures to keep him or her occupied for a lifetime!

Remarkably, with the rise in the popularity of retro computing and retro gaming, a trend has also developed in recent years for small indie developers to go back to the roots of gaming, and a number of new adventure games have been programmed and produced for the old machines and distributed online. It’s even possible to create your own text-based adventure game, and share it online.

So, for collector and the player alike there is much to commend this more thoughtful but no less absorbing side of computer gaming.

Watch out for the first regular instalment of The Wizard’s Tower next week, when The Wizard goes right back to the very first adventure!


Contact The Wizard

You can contact The Wizard, Stuart Williams, by dragon messenger, by smoke signal, or by email to:


Wizard’s Tower picture used courtesy of Greg Blake:

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