the adventure. Often modeled on pen and paper role-playing games, adventure games offered players the chance to take part in a comparatively lengthy quest, which often had some sort of narrative purpose behind it. For the first time, games began to explore why the protagonist was risking his life and why he was being attacked. Furthermore, almost all adventures had an ending in which the player could actually win the game.
It wasn’t long before some adventure games began to offer players true choice, with multiple ways to “win”–for example, by rescuing the princess, defeating the dragon, or recovering the treasure.
During the home computer boom of the 1980s, the price of game distribution fell further, as software for home computers could be duplicated on regular audio cassettes. In addition, home computer programming languages put the means of game development in the hands of millions of people. This led to another explosion in the degree of complexity found in video games.
As well as graphical adventure games, there were adventures where the gameplay was represented purely as text. One of the earliest was called simply “Adventure”, and was developed in the 1970s on business computers which lacked any kind of graphical output. It was played at universities and colleges all over the world, before being adapted to run on home computers.
Text adventures were able to use the power of the written word to represent situations that the primitive computer graphics of the time were not suited to. In addition, because the player could type complex commands, it was possible to affect the game world in more sophisticated ways than was feasible with the four-way joystick with single fire button that was common at the time.
Hence for a number of years, text adventures led the way in showing what video games could be capable of. Most text adventures avoided violence entirely, encouraging players to find other ways to make progress within the game universe. Characters other than the player-controlled protagonist were commonplace, and they soon began to exhibit their own programmed personalities and act according to their own distinct goals. For the first time, games began to feel comparable in complexity to more established artistic genres; a text adventure game could feel like you were actually in a novel.
As the worlds modeled in the games became larger and more complex, many players began to find that exploring and mapping the world was an enjoyable and entertaining activity in and of itself. Games began to be advertised on the basis of how large they were and how many different locations they featured.
Meanwhile, the shoot-everything approach of arcade video games had run into a dead end, and the industry had collapsed. There were lean times for consoles too, as the limitations of their low priced hardware prevented their games from competing with those found on increasingly powerful home computers.
By the late 1980s, high resolution color graphics were commonplace on most home computer owners’ machines. This made it feasible to use full 3D color graphics in video games. One influential early 3D game was Wolfenstein 3D, which challenged the player to lead a heavily armed soldier into a maze-like Nazi encampment.
While there had been 3D action and adventure games on home computers as early as 1980, Wolfenstein 3D achieved notoriety for the level of violence depicted. The player was encouraged to kill hundreds of German soldiers, who were seen falling to the ground in a spray of blood. In addition, killing the “boss” at the end of a level resulted in an instant replay of his death. Although the game was controversial (and arguably tasteless), its high speed 3D graphics were groundbreaking, and it won many awards. It also kick-started the video game genre known as the first person shooter (FPS), still incredibly popular amongst Windows gamers.
The makers of Wolf 3D went on to make Doom, which ramped up the complexity of the 3D world. Rather than limiting the player to wandering in 4 fixed directions in a grid-like world, Doom provided the illusion of a true 3D world in which you could move in any direction at any angle. Doom also featured exploration-based puzzles involving locked doors and hidden switches. More controversially, it ramped up the violence level. It was another hit.
Before long, video game developers tried taking the kind of free-roaming 3D graphics popularized by Doom, and using them in story-based action-adventure games. The ultimate aim was to make a “cinematic” game; one that would feel like you were inside a movie.
By the mid 1990s, it was possible to model objects using polygons, and draw them at high speed on screen. This led to games in which both the world and the objects in it were truly three-dimensional. The launch of the Sony PlayStation boosted video game console power, enabling similar feats of programming in console games. But while game programmers could now draw and animate pretty much anything, the complexity of the resulting game worlds now became a major problem.
Next, in part 2: the complexity problem. © mathew 2017
© mathew 2017