When researching articles of the early days of Text Adventure games, I discovered so much misinformation out there, not online, but with some bad facts dating all the way back to the early computer magazines of the ‘80s.
So here you’ll find the most common myths and facts about adventure games, how they originated, and the real truth behind who truly invented the genre.
Myth – Rob Gilbert Invented the Adventure Game Genre
In the first video for Double Fine’s record-breaking Kickstarter campaign, Tim Schafer explains why they are trying to create a “fan funded old-school adventure game”.
At the 1:32 mark he explains “We’ve got the inventor of the genre here, Ron Gilbert” voiced over an image of Rob Gilbert and his two most historic games, Maniac Mansion and The Secret of Monkey Island.
While I have much respect for both Rob Gilbert and Tim Schafer, and love the games they have created both separatly and together, Gilbert was not the inventor of the adventure game genre. Text adventure games had already been around for eight years, and graphical adventure games had their debuted five years before Gilbert designed and coded his first adventure.
Fact – Rob Gilbert Co-Created Point-and-Click Games
What you can say with 100% accuracy is that Rob Gilbert co-created the standard of how we interact with modern adventure games - point-and-click.
Gilbert also co-created with fellow LucasArts team member Aric Wilmunder the scripting language SCUMM (Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion). SCUMM became the primary language exclusively used by LucasArts for all of their major graphical adventure games from 1985 to 1998.
Point-and-click quickly became the standard interface for adventure games, and has yet to be improved upon.
Myth - Zork is the First Adventure Game
While Zork is a terrific and an ideal example of an adventure game, it is not the first. It isn’t even the first text-adventure game, however Zork is the first widely available adventure game, having been ported to nearly every computer platform since its first release in 1980, and is still available to purchase and play today.
Zork was created by a group of programmers at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) after the gang had discovered and played the first true text adventure game (for that title, see Part 2 of this article). They started Zork in 1977 and finished in 1979, then made a deal with publisher Personal Software (aka VisiCorp) in 1980 to release the first version of Zork. Later that same year, the team decided to publish the game themselves in three parts under their own company name Infocom. Zork I, II and III were huge successes, leading to numerous sequels, and constantly being upgraded and ported to the latest systems. Today Zork is available for both Windows PC computers, the iPhone, and even the Kindle.
Fact – Ken and Roberta Williams Invented the Graphical Adventure Genre
This one is true. In the late-70s when Ken brought home an Apple II computer from his job at IBM, he and his wife Roberta discovered a copy of the first adventure game in the computer's software. They played though it and Roberta was inspired for a game concept that mixed both text and graphics as part of their gameplay.
She went to work designing the game, and Ken programmed. This went on to become the first graphical adventure game, Mystery House.
The two would later form Sierra On-Line, one of the biggest graphical adventure game companies in the history of the industry.
- For more on the first Graphical Adventure game see: Mystery House - The First Graphical Adventure Game