AGS: Adventure Games Studio

13 Dec

If you are a fan of the old Sierra/Lucas Art point-and-click adventure games and aren’t a snob when it comes to graphics quality (AGS’ are basic, to say the least), then chances are that Adventure Game Studio will provide you with plenty of hours of pixel hunting, puzzle solving, manic objects collecting, and all the good stuff that these old adventure games provided.

One of the wonderful thing about AGS, is that it’s free.

Basically, once upon a time, some British dude called Chris Jones created an engine made to design point-and-click adventure games (although some nifty game creators worked out ways to bend the engine in order to design platformers and shooters, but the bulk of AGS games are P&C adventures), called it the Adventure Game Studio, and plopped it online, available for download, for free, to anyone who fancied trying their hand at small-scale game developing.

When I use terms like “basic” and “small-scale” to describe the graphics and the level of game creation, I’m by no means being a snot. There is only so much that can be expected from a game engine that is offered for free and has likely been created by a guy driven by his passion for adventure games. However, rest assured that “basic” and “small-scale” don’t go hand in hand with mediocre. Of course, there are some crappy games on AGS, there are some crappy games everywhere. But there are also some very, very good ones, which easily rival, even surpass some commercial titles.

Maybe not graphics-wise, but does a game have to look like “Call of duty” or “Grand theft auto” to be enjoyable?

Well, in my opinion, it doesn’t, and AGS demonstrates that with imagination, creativity, a good story, good dialogues and clever puzzles, (and likely a lot of hard work), you can create one hell of a game.

Some AGS games, I’ve enjoyed immensely. Several times, I have been blown away by the talent, the creativity, the imagination and the wit of some of these guys (and girls) who spent many months in front of their computer, inventing characters, storylines, puzzles, writing dialogues, scripting, animating, and whatever else creating an adventure game involves, and all that, for the sake of having a few people play their game and throw in a little feedback.

AGS games are created by amateurs. Just fans of the adventure genre, who happen to have ideas and a lot of patience and dedication.

On the heels of the success of their some of their earlier games, a few of these game creators have gone commercial, still using the engine to make their games, but to create larger, more ambitious, and I imagine, sleeker, more professional-looking projects.

When you venture on AGS, I’d suggest you do what I did when I first decided to check out some of their games, and that is to go straight to their Award Winners category, in the “Games” sub-menu on the left of the homepage.

Each year, AGS holds some kind of online awards ceremony, where members of the community nominate and vote for their favourite games, based on a variety of criteria; for instance, you’ll have an award for best story, one for best puzzles, one for best character, best dialogue, etc, with the biggie being the coveted “Game of the year”. This section is a good place to start, since the games that you’ll find there are, at their worst, decent, and at their best, outstanding.

The quality of the games on AGS can vary greatly. They have a large collection of them, and selection can be hit and miss.

They are divided into three categories: short, medium, and full-length. In principle, short games can be completed within an hour, medium-length, I’d say around 1 to 3 hours, and full-length, 3 and over? Hard to tell, because I find it hard to be accurate about this, simply because the time required to complete a game can vary hugely, depending on many factors: have you played many P&C adventures before? Are you the type of person who looks at a walkthrough after being stuck in a game for more than 30 seconds? Are the puzzles logic? Do you look at everything, talk to everyone in the game, or do you just try to progress as fast as possible? Do you skip cutscenes and dialogues?

All these details tend to make the line between medium and full-length very blurry. I know some medium-length games took me longer to complete than certain full-length ones, so these descriptions only give you a very vague idea of a game’s duration.

On the games’ main page, you can select games based on genre (horror, comedy, investigative…), setting (historical, fantasy, sci-fi…), story type (original, parody…) among other options.

Each individual game has its own page, with a synopsis of the story, credits, a list of the game’s creator’s other work, download links, as well as ratings and feedback from the players.

AGS has also a large and very active community, with a forum divided into different sections for technical discussions, games discussions, non-gaming related topics, etc. They also have a “Hints and tips” section, but the problem is that they’re in forum form, with someone asking a question, and someone else hiding their reply with the spoiler tag. Problem is that as more and more people post and quote one another, most of the posts end up being in spoiler form, making it virtually impossible to find exactly what you’re looking for. That’s why personally, when I’m stuck, I prefer to search Google for a walkthrough. This way, I can just scan the walkthrough for the solution to the part where I’m stuck.

But maybe you’re not a walkthrough type of person. And I commend you for that. I can’t be arsed, me, after a few minutes of walking around, looking at stuff, trying everything in my inventory on every hotspot, I lose patience and am off to the internet for the solution.

Anyway, enough about me.

Now, for a few personal suggestions, I thought I’d give you a list of my favourite AGS games. Not all of them are AGS Awards winners, but most are, hence my advice to check out this section as a starting point. However, don’t limit yourself to it, some of my favourite games were not award winners, but I still enjoyed them hugely.

For more games suggestions on AGS, you can also check out the “Picks of the Month” section. And read around the forums; in the games discussion topics, you’ll find threads on the most popular games, the best horror games and so on.

As I previously said, on my first visit on AGS, I headed immediately to the Award winners section, and picked one of the games which had (back then) won the most: 5 Days a Stranger . This horror game is still, to this day, my favourite AGS game. Nostalgia probably plays a part in my being biased towards it, but the game’s atmosphere is extremely creepy and claustrophobic, the story is solid, the puzzles are clever, the characters are well developed, the dialogues are excellent, it has humour, suspense, gore, and successfully achieved to make me almost shit myself several times. I was extremely impressed with this game, created by the infamous Yahtzee.

Yahtzee is now a notorious figure in the world of indie gaming. From what I gathered from sniffing around online (I’m a big fan of message boards drama and flamewars, y’see, so I always look for the threads where the shit hits the fan), Yahtzee was once upon a time a respected and well-liked member of the AGS community. Then, as his games garnered interest, I understand popularity caused his head to over-inflate, turning him into a diva with an attitude problem who was pissing everyone off, and he eventually left AGS in a huff.

But diva or not, it must be said that Yahtzee is one hell of a talented guy. He has made quite a few games, and I’ve played most of them, but this one is definitely my number one. However, I recommend you check out his other ones too. 5 Days a Stranger is the first installment of a series of four games; however, I didn’t enjoy 7 Days a Skeptic and Trilby’s Notes nearly as much as 5 Days, and I haven’t yet played the latest of the series, 6 Days a Sacrifice (I am not kidding you about the games’ names, by the way.)

While I’m on this topic, here is Yahtzee’s website; I only took a quick look around, so the only thing I can tell you is that his forum, on which he doesn’t appear to post at all, is amusingly dysfunctional. But he’s an interesting and gifted guy, so go take a look at his stuff.

EDIT: OK, I have now taken a better look around his site, and read on his blog that he had reviewed “Guitar Hero World Tour”. Given that one of my best friends recently purchased it and that we live in the same building, I have had many an invite for a few rounds of karaoke guitar playing, something in which I’m always happy to indulge. Incidentally, I’m kicking his ass at it, but he broke his arm a while back, so I’ll give him a break until it heals properly. By then, hopefully, I’ll be tackling the expert level (I now play on hard most of the time.)

ANYWAY (got lost again, sorry), I went to check Yahtzee “video review” of the game, and I must say that it’s quite something. I don’t know if “video review” is the appropriate term for whatever the hell it is that he does there. It’s more of a whacky animated short accompanied by a rapid-fire delivered narration which takes the piss at the game more than reviews it, but it’s nonetheless fucking hilarious, as well as very clever and witty. And since he does these reviews on a regular basis, I ended up watching 5 or 6 of them, some about games I’d never even heard of, but given these “reviews” high entertainment values, it really didn’t matter. So go watch them HERE, it’s worth it. Dickhead or not, this guy is mad talented and his sense of humour, simply wicked.

Let’s now leave Yahtzee alone, at least for a while, and let’s get back to AGS, shall we?

After 5 Days, I played many other AGS games, a lot of good, even very good ones, but none came anywhere near 5 Days for me, until a couple of years later. I hadn’t been on AGS for quite a while, and decided to go take a look at the games that had been released since my last visit. Prodigal was one of them. Which is prodigious. Well, maybe not quite, but damn, it’s good. Another horror game with a very creepy atmosphere, an excellent storyline, good puzzles, interesting characters and a nice, tight pace.

Prodigal is like a very good thriller, it sucks you in and you can’t look away until it’s over.

I played it in one sitting. I just HAD to finish it, I was too caught up in it, although it was late at night and the game was creeping the living shit out of me. It took me maybe 3 hours to complete, with only a couple of peeks at a walkthrough; not that long, given that it’s in the full length games section. Regardless, Prodigal is excellent and I strongly recommend it if you enjoy sitting at the edge of your seat for a a few hours in a row.

Remaining in the creepy thriller category, another very good game is Pleurghburg: Dark ages , which, like 5 Days, is another multi-award winner AGS classic. Pleurghburg is full-length, and features plenty of white knuckles-moments, including a very creepy stroll in a morgue. It’s been a few years since I played it, but I remember enjoying it a lot and being really sucked into the story, which to me, is the very essence of adventure gaming. An adventure is supposed to take you through a journey, and the story is basically your vehicle. A shitty story is like a malfunctioning vehicle. You might get there eventually, but you won’t enjoy the ride and will get very frustrated at times.

And Pleurghburg doesn’t let you down; it takes you where you’re supposed to go, and you don’t want to get off until you reached your destination. Very immersive and gripping game.

Although the Ben Jordan: Paranormal investigator series aren’t exactly horror games, they too have their fair share of suspense, tension, and creepy atmosphere. The author, Francisco Gonzalez is a prolific game creator who (I hope) is currently working on the 8th (and supposedly last) installment of the series. I have played every episode of Ben Jordan, and overall, they range from good to very good. I believe they all come with a voice pack (although I’m not positive about the early ones), which is a plus, since the voice acting is pretty good.

Each episode takes Ben Jordan to a different part of the world, where he is called to investigate whatever weird paranormal shit is going on there. What is clever on the part of the developer, is that the inspiration for each of BJ’s cases comes from real-life legends, which contributes to root each story in reality. In case 4, Ben meets Simon and Alice, two other investigators who subsequently become recurrent characters in the later episodes; this relationship is helpful to character development, and playing each new episode is like meeting with friends you haven’t seen in a while, if you get my gist.

I strongly recommend the BJ series, but although each installment works as a stand-alone game, I suggest you play them in order, since the newer episodes often refer to events that occurred in the earlier ones. Ben Jordan also has some comedic moments, to relieve some of the tension caused by all these spooky happenings. Good writing, good puzzles, good plotlines, make for a fine collection of games which you should be able to complete in 2-3 hours.

My next favourite, The uncertainty machine , had the misfortune of being released on the same year as heavyweights 5 Days and The Apprentice (nothing to do with Donald Trump). Although it got nominated in most of the important categories in the AGS awards, it didn’t win in any. Which is kind of a shame, because it may have caused it to often get unfairly overlooked.

However, award winner or not, TUM is yet another adventure with a solid storyline, a bleak, oppressive atmosphere, good puzzles and multiple endings. It’s a full length game, which, if you are new to adventure gaming, will likely get you acquainted to carpal tunnel syndrome, since it’s very hard to quit once you’re caught up in the story.

And now, for something different, let’s head to more light-hearted stuff. Another game which I enjoyed enormously is Cirque de Zale . At first glance, Cirque is the kind of game that wouldn’t appeal to a horror buff like yours truly; some kid called Alexander Zale wants to start his own circus… Yeay!… not.

Like TUM, the timing of Cirque’s release was unfortunate. Although it garnered quite a bunch of AGS awards nominations, it won squat, thanks to award gobblers Yahtzee-The-Magnificent and game-making-machine Francisco Gonzalez, Ben Jordan’s creator; though ultimately, it’s the Apprentice 2 which gave its competition a run for its money that year.

However, Cirque has one particularity which likely played a part in the reason why the game got a fair bit of attention: it’s one of the very few AGS games created by a woman. Rebecca Clements, her name is, and her medium length game is proof that women can kick some serious ass in the predominantly male world of videogaming.

In spite of not finding its subject matter particularly exciting, I decided to give Cirque a shot anyway, due to all the good feedback it received. A good move, since it is one of the funniest adventure games that I played to this day. The writing is hilarious, the dialogues, witty, whacky, sarcastic and irreverent, the main character is a completely disrespectful smart-assy prick, the story is original, and, if I recall correctly, the puzzles are fairly easy. All in all, this game is a wild ride filled with bizarro characters, talking animals and many a laugh. Well worth playing.

I just noticed that the download link for Cirque is broken on AGS, but I found the game on Abandonia.com, where you can get it from THIS PAGE .

Another favourite of mine is The Trials of Odysseus Kent , another offering from Yahtzee, that bitchy genius (sorta). If I’m not mistaken, he released this one shortly after getting hit by the diva syndrome and telling the world that he was DONE making those damn adventure games. After playing it though, I was quite happy that Yahtzee was talking bullshit when he said that, because TTOOK is another very good game which I remember enjoying a lot, although again, it’s been quite a few years since I last played it.

EDIT: OK, we are now the day after yesterday (which is when the previous paragraph was written), and in the meantime, I replayed TTOOK. I’ll be honest, it’s not as great as I recall it, but it’s still good nonetheless, though some of the puzzles are a bit on the iffy side. However, there is one thing where Yahtzee never (as far as I know) goes wrong, and that is the writing. The dialogues are a hoot, and in fact, the whole game is funny, something you wouldn’t initially believe, given the fact that you start off in a graveyard with a shovel in your inventory.

However, I’ve had technical issues with this game. I tried to replay it a year or so ago, and remember it kept crashing near the start, and I never could get past that point so I quickly gave up. Then yesterday again, I had problems; everytime I tried to minimize the game by pressing ctrl-esc, my desktop would end-up in what I think you call low-resolution, where I could only see a tiny chunk of my screen. To make a long story short, I had to restart my computer twice, just to restaure the original resolution; annoying, that. Playing the game in a window instead of full-screen didn’t work for some reason. And saving, closing, and re-starting the game forced me each time to have to sit through the introduction before being able to load my saved game. Somewhat frustrating.

But still, I don’t want to knock this game down too much, because I remember liking it a lot when I first played it, and it’s been released 6 years ago now, so I guess it makes it an old game by today’s technology standards. So I say give it a go, it’s not that long or hard anyway, and the dialogues alone make it worth it. It’s a Yahtzee game after all, so it can’t be bad. Right?

Some people may wonder why I chose to put the following game in my favourites. After all, it’s been given AGS’ lowest rating (besides no rating at all, which is the lowest of the low): one blue cup, meaning “Don’t bother wasting your time”.

On AGS, games are rated with blue cups; the more blue cups, the higher the rating. Why blue cups? I’d venture it’s got something to do with the website’s URL, BigBlueCup.com. But I could be wrong. Anyway.

Robert Redford Saves The Day is quite possibly the whackiest, most absurdly hysterical “game” I’ve ever played on AGS, or anywhere else for that matter. It’s classified under “joke games” and I guess that is exactly what it is. This game is like some really fucked up dream written by a humourous weirdo while he was likely under the influence of a generous helping of premium magic mushrooms.

Not a masterpiece by any means, barely even a game, for that matter – actually, make that three “barely even” games; RRSTD is in fact a trilogy of short games which has been packaged under the pompous name of “Deluxe”, meaning you get the three games in your download. But they are short, completely crazy, absolutely hilarious, and I could go on about them until the cows come home, or you could just check them out for yourself, thus saving us both some potentially valuable time.

Obviously, the above are just of few of the many AGS games I’ve played. I simply listed the ones which I enjoyed the most, for whatever reason that was. But there are many other good ones. My list is obviously limited by my own preferences; since I’m not a fan of historical, medieval or fantasy settings, and am more into the dramatic, horror and investigative genre, I will obviously lean towards these type of games.

Also keep in mind that I first discovered AGS like five years ago, and only have a vague recollection of some of the games I played then, if any at all.

Another thing keeping my list of favourites reasonably short, is that I never play demos (unless I don’t know it’s a demo); I just hate being left hanging there at the end of a game, with a Goddamn “To be continued, stay tuned for part 2” message. Especially when part 2 never comes… Yes, Dave Gilbert, it’s you I’m looking at. Instead of making the promised sequel, Gilbert reworked the excellent Bestowers of Eternity into a commercial game called the Blackwell Legacy , and sold it for 15$.

Not that I blame him though, the guy undeniably has talent, he might as well use it to make a living, and I really enjoyed BOE (up until its non-ending, that is). But finding out after playing part 1, that part 2 wouldn’t be, and that I’d have to play 15 bucks to find out the end of what may or may not be the same story, was frustrating. Then after reading from someone who had purchased the game, that they completed it in two hours, I just thought why bother? Spending two hours at my local bar listening to a live band would cost me less than that and would allow me to kill two birds in one stone, by giving me an opportunity to socialize at the same time. Playing videogames is a lonely activity, so one needs to balance it out by interacting with real people once in a while.

Wow. And I thought this entry would be short and sweet. Goes to show my inability to censor myself. But at least, I’ve said what I had to say, in many more words that I needed to say it, but that’s by the by. I am, after all, French, so give me a break already. I’d like to see you try to review a website and a bunch of games in your second language, as eloquently, if not efficiently as I just did here. Go ahead, give it a shot, I challenge you…

So to conclude my conclusion, AGS games are not perfect, nor do they pretend to be. But you have to give it to these guys who spend months and months putting them together, for no money and little glory, simply because they just love this shit. You have to give it to Chris Jones for creating this engine and just giving it away to the world. You have to give to the AGS community for getting together and keeping the adventure genre alive, even if only in a poorly lit area of the internet. At least, it is alive somewhere, and as long as people like them keep up their labour of love and keep on creating games, and as long as people like me are lucky enough to stumble unto websites like AGS so that I can get to play them, then adventure gaming will stay alive.

So I want to pass the word around, go on AGS, play some games, and if you like them, pass the word around yourself. And I’ll keep you posted, should I play other AGS games that I think deserve a mention or a place on my list.

On a final note, I wanna say thanks to Chris Jones, thanks to the AGS community, and thanks for all the games creators who, for a few hours, kept me sitting in front of my monitor, satisfying my cleptomaniac urges and keeping me sufficiently caught up in their story to make me forget about having supper or had me fighting off sleep for a while. Keep up the good work guys.

 

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6 Responses to “AGS: Adventure Games Studio”

  1. Guy with the broken arm ? December 14, 2008 at 10:50 am #

    Very good blog.. Enjoyed reading about ags, games and all, like your style.. but must get back to my physio (!!) .. if I’m going to have any chance at all of catching up… now, where is that bloody guitar !?

    Like

  2. Flea December 14, 2008 at 10:54 am #

    It’s next to my food bowl !!!!!!!!!!!

    Like

  3. SSH January 26, 2009 at 12:13 pm #

    Wow, really long and good article about AGS. Anyone who wants to keep up to date with AGS things can do so at my own blog.

    Like

  4. salomey5 January 26, 2009 at 1:14 pm #

    Hey! It’s the famous SSH!!! I’m flattered! 😉
    I’ve visited your blog before, and I know who you are from the AGS forums, where I’m a long-time lurker (my, I sound like a stalker, lol!)

    Thank you very much for swinging by and commenting, and feel free to pass this along to other AGSers or anyone in search of some games suggestions.

    Take care, and keep up the good work, you guys rock!

    Like

  5. salomey5 January 28, 2009 at 5:14 pm #

    This may come across as rather pathetic, but what the hell…!

    I’ve gotten quite a lot of hits on this post over the last three days. However, the number of comments seems disproportionately low in comparison…

    I’d be curious to know what y’all think, if you like my article, hate my article, think I rock, or suck… Anything! Please, do share!

    Thanks.

    Like

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  1. » AGS: Adventure Games Studio « Rebel Without A Clue »Free Games - December 13, 2008

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