By Jared Petty
Gamers are, overall, a hyperbolic people. Some of that’s likely the years we spend attending Video Game Church, otherwise known as E3, Nintendo Direct, State of Play, The Game Awards, etc… a collection of flashing lights and hype reel marketing strategically designed to convince us that whatever game we’re seeing is the most awesome, bodacious, radical, mind-breaking, genre-bending interactive experience ever unleashed from the pyrotechnic gates of Elysium. We are, speaking broadly, all about getting excited. As my friend Tim puts it: “Get hype.”
New games We refer to great games as works of genius, but a lot of the time, when we’re doing that, we’re likely stretching the definition of genius a bit.
Adventure is genius. It’s a landmark game, its brilliance belied by its aggressively unassuming appearance: a single pixel for a heroic avatar and its famous duck-dragons.
Adventure started life as an unauthorized pet project by Warren Robinett, a VCS programmer who saw the potential for a more sophisticated caliber of video game on home consoles. Before Adventure, most 2600 games were extremely simple affairs. The ambitious Video Chess and i had both dared push the system beyond primitive arcade-style adaptations, and Robinett’s own BASIC Programming cart had somehow managed to compress a limited but workable basic into 2K of ROM and 128 bytes of RAM. But Adventure’s scope dwarfed these efforts. Robinett envisioned a game experience with a sprawling world, multiple castles, wandering dragons, mischievous bats, mazes, secrets, multiple interactive items, and infinite replayability… all on a system designed to play PONG and Tank.
Robinett’s supervisor told him such a game wasn’t possible on the VCS and forbade him to work on it. He created it anyway, drawing on his skills in assembly language and, according to an interview in the documentary World 1-1, his knowledge of C programming and the use of pointers. He adapted the text and turn-based adventures of early personal computers into a glyphic, action-oriented approach, trading a full keyboard for a joystick and fire button. He built, for all intents and purposes, a new language of video game interaction, where items were represented and used not in menus or inventories, but by grabbing, wielding, and dropping on-screen weapons and tools to battle enemies, overcome obstacles, and solve puzzles. He invented the action-adventure as we know it today.
Adventure is still fun, still challenging, and still engaging. When I taught school in Japan in the late 2000s, I used Adventure as a tool for introducing language concepts, and my teenage students couldn’t get enough of it: shocked at first by its visual anachronism, then drawn in by its solid gameplay loop and its progressively-complex difficulty settings.
Adventure teaches you to play on its lowest difficulty, an early example of a tutorial. The world is truncated, only a fraction the size of the full map, the enemies are more manageable, the puzzles much easier. Stepping up to level 2, the world grows, the vicious red dragon appears, a new castle emerges, and mazes become more obscure. Level 3 uses the same map as level 2, but randomizes item locations, creating a fresh experience and a new challenge with every replay. And for those who prefer an even greater challenge, toggles also allow enemies to become much more interested in self-preservation, fleeing when you are armed but aggressively pursuing when you are vulnerable.
You can see Adventure’s DNA scattered across the landscape of gaming history: in The Legend of Zelda and Dragon Quest and God of War and a hundred other places. It was the first great thesis statement on what a console game could be, unique from the arcade and computer gaming experiences.
It’s an essential: historically important, a masterclass in design under constraints, a mosaic of creativity, and ridiculously entertaining. If you have a 2600, you owe it to yourself to experience Adventure firsthand and reish a touchstone in video game history. It’s available right now at Limited Run Games as Adventure Limited Edition. It's a killer display piece with a glorious light-up cartridge and some nifty pack-ins. Check it out by July 31!
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Limited Run Games:
is a subsidiary of “Freemode”, an operative group comprised of gaming and entertainment companies owned by Embracer. Limited Run Games is the industry leader in the production and distribution of premium physical video games. Limited Run seeks to celebrate the legacy of gaming through its award-winning collector’s editions. Founded in 2015, they have published over 1,000 physical games, exclusive merch, and collectables. Limited Run is the gold standard in bringing digital games to physical form and now re-releasing retro titles on modern platforms via their proprietary Carbon Engine. Visit limitedrungames.com for the latest offerings and to learn more about Carbon Engine development. Follow the brand on your social media platform of choice for all LRG-related updates:@limitedrungames.