Missing the Obvious: Silence SCUMM

The day I write this (currently a Monday with all the trimmings of Spring) is a glorious day. I’m putting aside Mass Effect, which I’m doing an article on. I’m ending my quest to get 100% on Lego Lord of the Rings. I’ve even stopped my foolish crusade at restarting Skyrim from scratch including deleting all of my old save games.

Why?

The BBC has released the 30th Anniversary edition of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy game. It’s a text adventure game originally released in 1984 based on one of the most seminal pieces of British comedy radio/TV/play/books/film to have ever graced the mushy neuron sponge that is the human brain. It’s an important game for me. Along with the original Hobbit, it was the game that infuriated my five-year-old self, amused my parents and had no graphics. Yet its sense of adventure, and surprising capacity to teach you how to spell was apparent.

Hitchhiker's GuideThis is being mentioned because it is without a doubt, one of the major forbearers for the greatest series of adventure games ever produced. LucasArts were the masters of all with their terrific Monkey Island series and the following one off games that accompanied them like Full Throttle, Sam and Max Hit the Road, Day of the Tentacle, Indiana Jones, The Dig, et al.

Their success in triumphing over the text based and even simple graphics based games was the point and click mechanic. They created games that were as funny, as intuitive, as puzzling and as enjoyable as their predecessors but, with the simplicity of pointing and clicking along with great graphical content to accompany your controls. This was the game engine of gaming. Not just graphics, or physics or destruction modelling but actual gaming. This was SCUMM.

It stands for ‘Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion,’ which was the first game to use this invented language. The idea took the concept that you use your adventure by selecting the appropriate verb for the action you want or need to do, or want a humorous comment on behalf of your protagonist on. It replaced the typing of words with a clickable sequence of easy commands to advance through the game.

Of course there were others in the gaming world that used similar mechanics based on the success of this. Broken Sword, Beneath a Steel Sky, several Star Trek tie-ins and Discworld 1 and 2 (still my personal favourites). But as the PC market began to lose touch to a console era in the late 90s these games slipped away, unable to be played by a generation with snazzy 3D graphics and no mouse controller.

Recently a comeback of sorts has happened although in a very low-key way. The ScummVM PC software project has enabled the old games to be played on any operating system practically (that includes console and mobile). The recent indie release Broken Age is a great homage to this era, even being written by one of the masters of the game genre Tim Scahfer, the architect of so many LucasArts titles.

Broken-Age-Act-I 3In fact it is this release and the combination of easy to transfer developing code that is why we are missing the obvious. I don’t mean for nostalgia though. The amazing remastering of the Monkey Island games was amazing and successful, as I presume the Broken Sword remasters are too for nostalgic gamers. But we are missing new intellectual property, to coin some industry lingo.

What I mean is that there hasn’t been a new original series of games that has new characters, fun worlds or exciting things for use to point and click on. Sure there’s licensed games but practically nothing brand new. The tools are there, and it is relatively easy to develop, code and release. All it takes is a great imagination and the firing of some of those neurons around the sponge to start developing these titles.

Broken Age was developed though Kickstarter and is a large-scale project compared to my thoughts. But the fact that a small team could create an easily portable and enjoyable game means that publishers are missing a trick here, right? Well… Not all of them.

If you had any doubts that this wouldn’t be a viable option, that there isn’t an audience for this genre, that consoles won’t abide by it, that mobiles won’t let you play it properly and, most importantly, that it will gross income, then let me point you in the direction of Telltale Games and The Walking Dead series.

I rest this case and return to figuring out how Douglas Adams intends me to get out of my bedroom with only a dressing gown and a hangover. Don’t Panic.

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