Something the early video games only flirted with was a really immersive atmosphere. Metroid’s ambience only hinted at what could be done with graphics and sound in the future.
For me, SCUMM or point and click adventure games were the first games to make me feel completely absorbed in another world. It was here that the PC first started to outperform the consoles in graphic and sound capability and the combination of classic text games and modern graphics and sound created a memorable sense of escapism. It’s the first time I encountered professional voice acting In a game too, something we take for granted today.
For a few years now, There has been a great SCUMM emulator available to let you relive some of these excellent masterpieces from the early 90s, here’s a list of ones worth checking out.
LucasArts was primarily responsible for many of these games. There are WAY more than these four but these are the ones that resonated most with me. Feel free to add your own to the comments.
The Dig (PC)
As one of the first games to feature real actors voicing characters and a soundtrack by the legendary John Williams, Lucasarts The Dig set the bar very high. Robert Patrick (from numerous sci-fi and action films of the 80’s and 90’s) voices the main character and the hand-drawn backgrounds really draw you into the amazing alien world that the three astronauts find themselves on.
Exploring the abandoned alien world light years from earth is one of the most memorable experiences from my childhood. The game’s sense of isolation is incredible. It’s also a fairly relaxing game. The puzzles stump you but you can’t die. It’s a game you can play while drinking a coffee with your feet up on the table.
Kings Quest (PC and NES)
The kings quest series is one of the most prolific in the early adventure game genre. Lots of the content had to do with finding the right items and using them in the right places. This is one of the earliest games I can remember that had things in the “foreground” to create a bit of 3d In a limited way.
Maniac mansion (PC and NES)
Probably one of the strangest games ever made, maniac mansion is a sort of b-movie camp sci-fi affair about a sentient meteor controlling a local scientist in his mansion. Only a group of teenagers seems to be awAre that something is amiss in the neighborhood and has to rescue their friend from the mansion.
This is one of the earliest games I can think of that had multiple endings, various solutions to problems and fairly non-linear gameplay. I literally had entire sections of the game bypassed simply by using another character who found himself in new situations. It must have been a nightmare to plan all possible scenarios and combinations of teens and abilities. It’s said you can finish the game with any combination of the teens. This game even spawned a short lived TV show.
Nightshade came out a few years too late for it’s own good. This genre crossing game is mostly a SCUMM but occasionally you have to fight bad guys in a side view ninja-gaiden style mini-level. The film noir atmosphere juxtaposed with cheesy humor is great. I just love the opening, nightshade strikes a
Dramatic pose and speaks about how he’s going to right the wrongs in metro city..then the game cuts to a few hours later..he’s already tied up and captured in the bad guys fortress, off to a great start, there .it’s also cool that instead of a simple game over/continue system, when you are defeated you Are put in a bond-villainesque death trap that is easily escapable. Get out, and the game goes on!