Title: Hardcoregaming101.net Presents: The Guide to Classic Graphic Adventures
Author: Compiled and edited by Kurt Kalata, various authors.
Reviewer: ValkyrDeath, reviewed from Kindle edition.
As they’ve tried to cram every detail of what the book is about into the title, you probably already have a good idea of the contents. The Guide to Classic Graphic Adventures aims to be a thorough look at the formerly great genre, examining all the key games from the pre-2000 era.
The book is split loosely into three sections. The first part of the book goes into detail about all the games from the most important companies, then there’s a look at other key series of adventure games, and finally there’s a selection of the individual games from that period.
The first section is the largest and is where the book is at its best. It’s quite a long book and the opening section on Sierra alone takes up around a quarter of its length. Each of their series of games is covered in great depth, with each individual game getting a lengthy write up discussing everything from what the game is like, its historical significance, the background behind it, how it holds up today and even the different versions that are available. There’s at least one screenshot from every game included, and usually many more, a style that is continued throughout the book. This Sierra section is followed by similarly detailed coverage for the games of Lucasarts and Legend, and then some of the other companies that were focused mainly on adventures at the time. These companies get shorter coverage than the first one, but only due to not having the sheer volume of games that Sierra had, and there’s just as much depth. It’s also nice to see Legend get the recognition they deserve alongside the acknowledged masters, since they’re often ignored despite the quality of their work.
Another highlight throughout this first part is the four interviews with key developers from the time. They include Sierra veteran Al Lowe, best known for the Leisure Suit Larry series; Corey Cole, one of the creators of the Quest for Glory adventure/RPG hybrid series; Josh Mandel, who worked on many of the Sierra games; and Bob Bates, founder of Legend and creator of a couple of the later Infocom games. These provide really interesting insights into the creation of some classic games and what the industry was like back then, in the days where developers were seen as the equivalent to an author or a film director and got their names prominently displayed on the box.
Unfortunately, the other half of the book doesn’t hold up quite as well. Its origin as separate articles on a website is apparent, with nothing really linking things together. Some of the articles are fairly in depth but others are very short and barely touch on the details of the game. While the scope of the book is impressive and I couldn’t think of any significant adventure games that weren’t covered, it feels like they tried to cast the net too widely. If they’re struggling to find much to say about a game then perhaps it wasn’t worth including. There are times when pages and pages of mediocre games go by which could have been cut out to give the book more focus without any detriment to it.
There’s also a very small selection of games from the current millennium, mostly with a clear link to the classic era. They’re generally well chosen, such as some of the Telltale games and Jane Jensen’s excellent Gray Matter, but there are some strange inclusions here too, such as the generic Secret Files games. They didn’t seem to have anything much good to say about the games themselves, so there’s surely some modern games they could have found instead, perhaps looking at some of the games that are evolving the genre now, or some of the classically styled DS games.
What you ultimately end up with is basically a collection of reviews, in a book which loses focus and interest the further you get into it. It also suffers from an apparent lack of proofreading too, with mistakes occurring on almost every page. It’s a shame, since it’s generally well written and there are no actual spelling mistakes that I noticed , but there’s plenty of missing words or extra words. There are quite a few places where the author seems to have gone back to rewrite something and hasn’t properly deleted the original line, leaving a garbled sentence. These sorts of mistakes aren’t so bad when they’re on a free website but they really should be fixed before they’re put into a book that’s being sold. There are some oddly inconsistent choices of phrase too, such as where Police Quest 2 is said to be better than the original, yet Police Quest 3 is referred to as a return to form. I’m not sure whether that is because they were written by different people or if the writer just doesn’t understand the meaning of that phrase.
All of this detracts from the book but doesn’t completely spoil it. For anyone interested in the genre, it’s a very entertaining read and the first half alone makes the it worthwhile. As long as you’re not expecting an actual history on the genre, the reviews are well written. While no-one is going to agree with every opinion, they’re mostly fair here. It’s the only book of its type that I’ve found, and one of the rare places where you can view balanced information about the genre. (Mainstream game reviewers tend to automatically hate adventure games while the fan sites often give insanely inflated ratings to even the worst examples of the genre.)
The book is recommended to any fan of the genre, but, being a collection of reviews, doesn’t have much to offer to anyone not already interested. There’s no real analysis of the genre or examination of the impact on gaming as a whole. But for what it is, it’s very good, despite the mentioned issues.
Arbitrary Final Score: