I’d have loved to have covered this when it first released back in July 2022, but a premium product generally involves a premium price, and a premium price is generally reserved for birthdays or Christmas, so here we are, shortly after Christmas 2022, when I finally got my hands on another Bitmap Books opus, The Art of Point-and-Click Adventure Games! I have reviewed a few of these now, including Atari 2600/7800: a visual compendium, Game Boy: The Box Art Collection and The Games That Weren’t; there’s also a bit of a mini-review of Commodore Amiga: a visual compendium in one of our recent regular Weekly Spotlight features here too, which I also received for Christmas a few weeks ago as I write.
Actually, that’s precisely what inspired this review – I was initially going to feature The Art of Point and Click in the next Weekly Spotlight but I’ve been so thrilled by it that I decided it was worth going into a bit deeper right here and right now! Before we get too deep though, we should start at the beginning… To paraphrase its own shop window, The Art of Point-and-Click Adventure Games is a visual celebration of one of the oldest and most loved genres in gaming history, presented as a sumptuous, 528 page, hardback coffee table book packed with the very best pixel art and classic scenes from the games that most define this genre. As said at the beginning, this is a premium item, weighing in at 2.5kg and spanning 210mm × 260mm of edge-to-edge high quality lithographic print and a hardback silver foil blocked cover. There’s also a sewn binding for enduring quality and the ability to more or less get it to lay flat for double-page image viewing, although that didn’t always seem to be the case when I was wrestling with it to get a few photos!
I was going to suggest a quick rundown of the point-and-click genre before we step inside but actually the first thing the book does is give us a ten page history, so let’s dip into that before we go any further! That said, its beginnings lie in almost the same place as my own do with gaming as a whole – the text adventures of the very late seventies and early eighties, and in my case Scott Adams’ Pirate Cove (aka Pirate Adventure) on the VIC-20 around 1984. These were all about storytelling and a splash of imagination to suck you into their worlds, but as hardware evolved, graphics were added to supplement the text and increase immersion. Melbourne House’s The Hobbit on the ZX Spectrum is one of the best known early examples, although in reality that arrived a couple of years before my VIC experience, as early as 1982! Back in 1984, another game from Sierra, King’s Quest for IBM’s new-fangled PC thing, was doing even more groundwork for point-and-click, with your text and keyboard inputs reflected by an on-screen character doing their thing. It was the launch of the Apple Macintosh the same year that truly kickstarted the genre though, with its groundbreaking new interface peripheral – the mouse! A game called Enchanted Scepters came along soon after, complete with proper pointing at things and clicking on them, and that’s widely credited as being the first point-and-click, although Deja Vu: A Nightmare Comes True introduced a lot of the hallmarks of the genre, like action verbs, an inventory and dragging and dropping stuff, a year later in 1985, and that would go on to spawn a bunch of “MacVenture” games. In parallel, Sierra kept expanding its Quest series, then also introduced the world to the legendary Leisure Suit Larry in 1987, and around the same time LucasFilm was branching into more interactive text adventures, and then into pointing and clicking proper with Maniac Mansion (also where the term “point-and-click” was coined), together with the SCUMM engine behind it, which continued to evolve into the nineties with Monkey Island and beyond. And you can read the book if you want the rest, although we will come back to it through the course of the rest of this review!
After a lighthearted glossary of less obvious terms like “insult sword fighting” we begin our journey in 1984 and a beautiful monochrome double-page image, together with a brief rundown, of the aforementioned Enchanted Scepters before the same again for the gloriously full-colour King’s Quest. The book is organised by year, with games covered to a greater or lesser extent – could be one double-page picture-led spread or it could be six or so for some of the key titles, such as 1990’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure, which features some gorgeous screenshots as well as a full set of animation frames for its famous drinking from the wrong grail scene! The Art of Point-and-Click Adventure Games also contains over 50 extensive and exclusive interviews with the key developers, designers and artists behind some of these, including Al Lowe, Éric Chahi, Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer.
A quick count of the index says there’s just short of 160 games covered in total, spanning the best part of four decades, right up to 2021. Just some of the classic titles featured that we’ve not already mentioned so far include Broken Sword, Myst, Toonstruck, Discworld, Blade Runner, Gabriel Knight, Flight of the Amazon Queen, Simon the Sorcerer, The Dig, Full Throttle and Kentucky Route Zero, but all the big-hitters are covered, as well as some lesser-known games and homebrews. This third edition also benefits from 28 all-new pages, and those bring us new interviews and a bunch of extra games that weren’t in previous editions, and we’ll have a look at a couple of those and more besides now… There is way too much here to cover everything, so just to give a flavour I thought I’d do something similar to my previous book reviews and home in on a couple of different time periods containing games I know, then a couple I’ve never played but like the look of, and finally one I’ve never even heard of before but would very much like to play after finding it here. Let’s see how that goes!
If we’re talking games I know, then there’s only one place to start – at the beginning! Police Quest: In Pursuit of the Death Angel has the dubious honour of being one of the first games I ever copied for myself on the Atari ST! That was late 1989, but it had first launched in 1987 and was built on Sierra’s AGI, or Adventure Game Interpreter. Unlike other games built on the same engine that preceded it, such as King’s Quest, this one was all about the gritty realism, and that was down to the first three games in the series being designed by a former police officer, Jim Walls, so while the travel sections between locations offer a bit of action for the player, the actual puzzles follow real police procedure! By pure chance this was a really cool game to start with here because as well as a double-page shot I’d gladly have in a frame on my wall, it’s followed by six pages of interview with California Highway Patrol (yes, CHiPs, so cool!) Officer Walls, and a load more screenshots from the series. You’ll find this kind of treatment throughout the book, and it’s way more immersive and informative from these guys than you’d get second-hand from a mere journalist or similar. In fact, elsewhere in 1987 alone, we’ve also got the same for Maniac Mansion and Ron Gilbert, and, of course, some Leisure Suit Larry!
As predictable as it might be, if I’m only giving myself two games I know to work with here, then the second has to be my all-time favourite in the genre, The Secret of Monkey Island! Just looking at the number of pages consumed by each year covered, business really starts picking up for the genre by now, which is 1990, with over forty pages of stuff. It peaks around 1995, at sixty pages, and while there’s a steady stream after that, the impact of the PlayStation and the modern PC with their fancy 3D blockbusters was certainly being felt by then. Anyway, no such concerns back in 1990, when the insane amount of disk-swapping was the only thing we had to complain about! As you might expect for something that set the standard for everything that followed, this one gets a generous amount of coverage, not only in the eight pages of artwork (out of those forty-plus for 1990) but all over the place in developer and artist interviews too (including more artwork), which is another testament to the quality of people gathered together here. Things kick-off with the same scene I included in my recent Wonderful Sights in Gaming series, then some of the more realistic cutscene character shots not often immediately associated with the original version of the game, plus some beautiful examples of the game’s clever perspective system, and then some more on that insult fighting system from the glossary earlier! Not sure how they stopped at only eight pages in retrospect, but if you want more, on top of all those interview references to this game you’re also getting other entries in the series covered too.
As there’s so much going on there, I think we’ll hang around in 1990 for our next game, which is going to be one I’ve never played but very much like the look of. And in the case of Loom and that glorious sight you can see here, how can you not like the look of it? First though, a quick peak at some other highlights from 1990 covered, which begins with a fancy King’s Quest remaster, and King’s Quest V and Operation Stealth, then all that Indiana Jones stuff we saw earlier, then big, beautifully illustrated interviews with Corey and Lori Cole from Sierra, along with their Quest for Glory, and Douglas Crockford from Lucasfilm, and their genre-spanning artist Mark Ferrari who was behind this incredible Loom art that’s still distracting me from writing! Unlike other SCUMM engine games from what I think might by now be known as LucasArts, your character, Bobbin Threadbare, uses his magical musical staff to solve the game’s puzzles and escape the island of Loom rather than using items like you do in Monkey Island, for example. As a result, it seems to have been criticised for being too short, although we’re also told that its designer, Brian Moriarty, claims this was deliberate so everyone could experience the whole story. My kind of game! With that and the screenshots that accompany the artist interview, as well as two incredible double-pages images, I really need to play this one!
I really need to play Scooby Doo Mystery too! I need to be very specific here, just to avoid any potential perceived association with the dreadful Scrappy Doo, but Scooby Doo, Where Are You! is my number three favourite TV show of all time, and to my shame, I didn’t even know this even existed until I got to page 342 of this book! We’re in 1995 now, and this year begins with Discworld – a game I’ll never play because I’ve never got Terry Pratchett, but the huge interview with designer Gregg Barnett is fascinating all the same, and not just because he was behind Hungry Horace, The Hobbit from earlier and Way of the Exploding Fist on top! The interviews in the book are first class, and there’s more when we get to Flight of the Amazon Queen (including some cool development sketches) and The Dig, which was surely one of LucasArts most ambitious as well as darkest titles. Also this year we’re treated to some of the stunning hand-drawn art from Simon the Sorcerer II (a sequel I also didn’t know existed until now!), the gripping Full Throttle and a bunch more. Back to Scooby Doo Mystery though, this was a Sega Genesis North American exclusive, so I’ll gladly take that as my excuse for not knowing it before, and what really intrigues me about it is how they’ve applied the very familiar look of the cartoon to the now very familiar LucasArts template. What’s also novel is the choice of cursor or character control. We’re also told it’s a fleeting experience but does capture the essence of the subject material, so it’s definitely another for my list. Thanks Bitmap Books!
The Loom and Scooby Doo Mystery are going to have to wait though, because I’ve already committed myself to another first, and that means we need to head back a couple of years to 1993 and Call of Cthulhu: Shadow of the Comet! By the way, if you want to play along, as I write this is 95p in the Steam sale, and that’s considerably less than Ghost Pirates of Vooju Island, which was my initial choice for this section! I’m a big fan of Lovecraft’s mythos though, so no great hardship, and just look at that screenshot – I want to live there! This one’s by French developer Infogrames, and while it certainly looks like the enthusiastic recreation of the Cthulhu universe the book describes, it also goes into the downside, which actually brings into question my choice of first game to play inspired by the book… It’s not a proper point-and-click! Yes, it eschews mouse control for something similar to those early Sierra games, using the arrow keys and action keys, such as “T” for talk, instead. And it’s all the less elegant as a result. Just the one double-page on this one, but as is the nature of this book, that’s more than enough to leave me wanting to find out more!
Let’s finish with a bit of visual love for that poor old Ghost Pirates game, which I won’t be able to resist for long now I also know it exists, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg having read The Art of Point-and-Click Adventures. Twice and counting! Return to Monkey Island might have been my game of the year in 2022, and Day of the Tentacles might have been my first Platinum Trophy on PS4, and I might have happily got to the end of Grim Fandango without realising there was a run button, but actually I’m not much of a connoisseur of the genre beyond those… Apart playing the first two Monkey Islands to death over the course of decades, I guess! Anyway, you get the point! As I’ve said many times before, the greatest thrill this retro gaming thing has to offer me is discovery, and above all the outstanding quality of this book, and its outstanding artwork, and its outstanding interviews, that’s what it’s given me. In spades! Yes, at £29.99 it’s an investment (or an ideal Christmas present!), but for me it’s already paid for itself in full. Now my only challenge is to not spend a fortune on everything it’s shoved in my face! For the time being though, I reckon 95p on Call of Cthulhu is alright, so I’m off to play that, and if it’s any good and I can get beyond the funny controls, I promise to do a full deep-dive over there too in the not too distant future!