As of this writing, it’s been just a few weeks since I finished a project that took me more than a year and a half to complete — Adventure: All in the Game. Whenever I’m asked what this game is about by someone not familiar with adventure games, it’s always a challenge for me to explain it thoroughly. It’s a combination of so many different things clumped together that it’s hard to break it down into its essential parts. I suppose the simplest summary to an outsider would be something like, “You know those old games where you wander around talking to characters, picking up things and solving various puzzles in order to progress? Well, this game takes place in a world where all those games are connected to each other, and characters from those games all hang out together behind the scenes.”

Well, I suppose that wasn’t too difficult, in retrospect. Now, writing an entire article about that game and its predecessor, Adventure: The Inside Job…that takes a little more work.

Sometimes I wonder just what drove me to create an AGS game since I had little to no programming knowledge and prior to The Inside Job, the only game I created was a small Flash game called Area 50.5. I think it just might have been several different inspirations coming together in just the right way at just the right time, and that might have been all I needed to say to myself, “You know…I think I’ll give this a try.”

It’s tricky to pin down what my primary inspiration for The Inside Job and All in the Game, since the first game alone borrowed from many different sources (figuratively and literally). The idea of having all adventure games connected to each other with an agency patching up plot-holes and placating disgruntled characters behind the scenes definitely comes from Jasper Fforde‘s Thursday Next series. The same plot element is present in that series, except A), this series is where that idea originated (and thus is handled far more competently in it); and B), it’s made up of books, not computer games.

Another concept that inspired me was the way many of Sierra On-Line’s classic adventure series would often feature cameos from characters from other series. Cedric the owl appears in Space Quest IV and Freddy Pharkas, Frontier Pharmacist; Larry Laffer appears at the airport in Police Quest II, and Roger Wilco appears at the bar in Leisure Suit Larry 3. Not only that, but in the Hoyle Official Book of Games Volumes 1 and 3, various Sierra characters will play card games and board games with you! The idea of characters from various games casually mingling and chatting with each other was irresistible for me.

Of course, having ideas for a game is one thing, but creating the graphics of said game is another. However, since the world of the Adventure series is made up of pre-existing adventure games, it seems logical that the majority of characters and backgrounds would be from those games (with the occasional original character or background to spice things up as well as serve an important role in the plot). I was fully aware of the legal questionability of this, but it was my hope that these games would be perceived as a tribute to the adventure games of yore rather than an unappealing mess of ripped graphics and overused in-jokes practically begging for a “Cease and Desist” email.

Though using pre-existing sprites and backgrounds may sound easy in theory, it was a little difficult when I was working on the Adventure series. One of the rules I had set up for the game’s universe was that the characters and backgrounds that appear in them are either from obscure games, or more popular games in which they appear very briefly. Thus, I had to spend a lot of time hunting for graphics which met this criterion. Tools like SCUMM Revisited and SCI Viewer were invaluable since they sometimes turned up graphics that were present in a game’s resource files, but never used in the actual game. Implementing sprites was even more difficult because not only did I have to create unique animations for them on many occasions, but there were occasionally cases where a lo-res character/object and a hi-res character/object interacted in some way.

Since the games I was using graphics from were so wildly diverse, I had to come up with original characters and backgrounds that varied enough to make them look like they were from completely different games. If you take a look at just a few of the original characters, you’ll see that Thalia has pixellated outlines, Ichabod and his friends are photographs edited to appear lo-res, Qoppa’s design is almost nothing but blocks of color accentuated by highlights and shadows, and Sledge was pre-rendered in 3D.

I tried to make the original backgrounds equally diverse — the scenes from “the most offensive adventure game ever” have a very simple look (which probably makes it fairly clear that I’m not that good at hand-drawn backgrounds), while the room with the slider puzzle was originally rendered in 3D, then run through various graphic filters to achieve a softer, more natural appearance.

When it came to music, I generally used music from whichever spot in the game a particular room was from (e.g., in All in the Game, the room in The Big Red Adventure has the same music that the original game uses in that room). If I wanted to set a particular mood, I might use music from another part of the original game or from another source entirely (the two tracks used when Thalia and Sledge are on their way from one game to another are from Legend of Kyrandia 1 and Discworld). Since music is one of the only game elements I can’t create on my own, I relied heavily on free music sites such as for most of the rest of the music.

One facet of Adventure: All in the Game that people complement the most often is the animations. Since I enjoy 2D animation, it’s not too surprising that I put so much of it into the game. Just the tiniest bit of animation can make a game character seem less like an arrangement of pixels and more like a living creature. The enormous amount of animations in All in the Game is one of the reasons why it took so long to complete, and creating art and animations in a high resolution is not a task for someone who likes getting things done quickly. Still, I feel that the time and effort was worth it.

I’m still not entirely competent with AGS, so for me, making adventure games is in many ways a challenge in itself. I’m constantly asking myself how I can make a certain thing happen in a game, and if the method I try fails despite my best efforts, I have to find an alternate solution, or even rewrite the scene if push comes to shove.

While I’m writing, I’m often trying to think of the things I could add to make the game more interesting and enjoyable. I ask myself what sort of puzzle would best fit into a certain scenario, what sort of things Thalia could talk about with various characters, and what adventure game clichés I can poke fun at.

Due to the “unconventional” nature of these games, when I’m writing a plot, I often insert characters or scenes from pre-existing games into the script much later in the creation process — for example, I wanted Thalia to visit a very obscure game towards the end of All in the Game, but I didn’t know which game that should fit that role. However, when I heard about Tlon: A Misty Story, a rare adventure game that can’t be finished without a modified saved game because of a nasty glitch, I knew that that game was just what I was looking for.

I’ve read several amateur game development articles where the author gives the reader some tips about game-making, whether it’s a short list of dos and don’ts, a summary of his or her own approach to making games, or even just a few words of encouragement. Since I’m still fairly new to making games, I haven’t really come up with any particular method for working on them. My process more or less boils down to coming up with a story, creating the graphics to go with it, collecting various other resources, then molding them all together over a long period of time.

I could probably ramble on about my game-making experiences for many more paragraphs, but I think I’ll stop here. Before I do, though, I just want to say that creating games may be frustrating, time-consuming and insomnia-inducing, but the end result may make all the hardships worth enduring. Given enough time, skill, effort, and (most importantly) patience, just about any amateur game concept has a possibility of becoming a reality.

Jess Beebe
is primarily an amateur writer and artist that dabbles in multimedia experiments every once in a while. When those three fields of creativity combine in just the right quantities, occasionally a game is the result.

Download links: Adventure: The Inside Job and Adventure: All in the Game