Scott Adams

Scott Adams Grand Adventures

Posted by Matt Barton, Philip Jong.
First posted on 09 March 2013. Last updated on 31 December 2013.
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Scott Adams
Scott Adams is a prominent game designer and interactive fiction author, whose most recent work is The Inheritance.
Scott Adams
Scott Adams
Scott Adams
Scott Adams
Scott Adams

All images are courtesy of Scott Adams and Micah Ray Photography © 2013.

For more information, visit Scott Adams Grand Adventures (SAGA).

While the name Scott Adams may conjure up the thought of a certain comic artist, fans of interactive fiction will remember instead the iconic game developer and publisher of classic text adventures such as Adventureland, Pirate Adventure, and the Questprobe series. Indeed, Adams played a pivotal role in the early years of the computer games industry, releasing some of the most popular game titles for the personal home computers in the late 1970s and the early 1980s. For many computer owners of that era, a Scott Adams adventure game was among their first-ever computer game purchases.

After a hiatus of more than a decade, Adams is back once again creating games. His latest game is called The Inheritance, a brand new interactive fiction title that Adams describes as a "bible text adventure". It is also the first title in a new game series called Scott Adams Bible Adventure. Released in February 2013, the game is being published by his own company, Scott Adams Grand Adventures.

We are extremely privileged to have an opportunity to interview the legendary Scott Adams. In the interview, Adams speaks of his early contributions to the adventure game genre, the spiritual inspiration behind his latest game project, the core gameplay in The Inheritance, and what fans can expect from his new game series in the near future.

As both a witness and a participant in the early years of interactive fiction, what do you consider to be the most important watershed moments for the genre?

First would be Colossal Caves being created by Crowther and later updated by Woods. They led the way and gave birth to the entire concept of Adventure games or Interactive fiction.

Next I would place Zork as being an extension of and what Colossal Caves was doing, but it instead of being an accident, it was truly planned from the start to be an Adventure game.

Third I would put Adventureland. It is the first adventure game that was designed to run on a micro-computer. It also was I believe the first game to be based on a database and an engine, as opposed to being coded as one large program. This concept would allow the engine to be easily ported to other platforms and then future games could use the same engine with new databases.

Next would be Roberta and Ken's first graphic adventure. Showing that Interactive fiction could be illustrated and also be text. Following that the original King's Quest that put the concept of point and click into adventure games.

Putting my first 5 adventure games on cartridge for the Commodore VIC-20 showed the genre could be fitted in tiny memory space.

Marvel licensed Hulk Questprobe adventure game was the first game to use major licensed and recognizable culture images and characters along with a tied in comic book series.

Then Buckeroo Banzai, the first Adventure game released with a major motion picture tie-in.

Return to Pirate's Island was the first ever fully graphical adventure game running from a cartridge on a personal computer (TI-99/4A).

Next would be Myst. A well thought out graphical extravaganza that set new standards for graphical Adventures.

Your last game prior to The Inheritance was Return to Pirate's Island 2, released in August 2000. What prompted you to finally release a new Scott Adams Grand Adventure game 13 years later? What was the development history of The Inheritance? When did you begin writing and programming the game?

I believe I was inspired by God to start the game on Dec 25, 2003. Unfortunately I only worked on it very intermittently over the next 9 years. In that time I completed what I considered the intro area of the game but had not storyboarded out the rest.

In March of 2012 I was a guest speaker at the Midwest Gaming Classic.

I showed what was completed on my game to the audience in a session where I would take questions from the audience in between the audience determining what the next move in the game would be. They played completely through what was then my introduction area. The response during that session and the folks coming to talk to me afterward inspired me to continue and finish the game. I spent the next 9 months completing and fine-tuning the game. I had the finished end to end playable game on its 10th anniversary on Dec 25, 2013.

I also feel that the market for family friendly bible based games is sadly lacking and I wanted to bring out something to fill that gap. I have felt often, that it is a God lead effort, and I hope this game will help lead people closer to their creator.

The Inheritance is called a "bible text adventure". To what extent is the game intended to reinforce Christian values among believers? How worried are you that the game may be criticized by non-believers to be merely religious preaching in disguise?

I have beta tested the game with both Christians and non-Christians and all have given positive feedback. One tester was pleased that all bible verses used help point them to a loving and caring God. Non-Christians felt that the use of the bible was appropriate without ever being preachy.

Embedded within The Inheritance is a copy of the King James Version of the Bible. How will the Bible be incorporated into the gameplay for the game? How frequently will the player need to consult the Bible during gameplay to solve certain puzzles in the game?

The bible verses are an intricate part of many of the puzzles. In some cases they are just hints for standard adventure type puzzles, in others they are a key element of the puzzle. The KJV of the bible is included, but any version of the bible would work as well. The translation is not important as much as what the verses mean.

How difficult are the puzzles in The Inheritance when compared to those in your previous games? Who will most enjoy playing The Inheritance?

There are many levels of puzzles. I have had both novice players and seasoned veterans play the game. There is a unique built-in multiple tiered help system that is designed to gently point players in the correct direction and only give them as much help as they desire. A seasoned player may never even need to use the help system.

I have two extremely interesting mazes in the game. One of my beta testers said I should get an Oscar for one of these maze puzzles.

I have seen that groups have greatly enjoyed playing the game even more that solo players. They feed off each other's ideas. I frequently asked local testers how long they thought their play test session was. Invariably they would say something that indicated they had lost all track of time while playing. For example saying they played an hour when it actually had been 3 hours!

How does the in-game help system work in The Inheritance? How worried are you that a built-in help system may too easily spoil the fun of playing the game?

The game has a 5-part help system. There is a tutorial given when you press the help button or type help. There is then a general help system. It can be requested at any time by “general help” or it triggers if help is asked for on something the game does not understand. The general help looks at the player's progress through the puzzles and tells them in general terms what area they can be profitably working on.

Next there is the specific help system. This activates by saying "help on XXXX", such as Help on Mailbox or Help on Sleep. It will give a small hint on XXXX and inform the player they can now ask for "more help on XXXX" or "final help on XXXX" and each level of help gives a more advanced hint. Lastly they are then informed they can ask "solution on XXXX" and the complete solution is supplied.

I am hoping folks will fight the desire of using the help and shortchanging their own gameplay. The game can provide many weeks or even much longer of game play if they resist the temptation, but it can be over in as short as a day if they overuse the help. It will be up to the player to manage it though.

The Inheritance incorporates sound effects, a feature that is uncommon in interaction fiction or text adventure games. How are you using sound effects to enhance the game's immersion?

There are both environmental sounds, specific sounds and voice acting in the game. Some of the sounds are actually a bit annoying but there are ways to silence them, if the player is able to solve some puzzles. There is also the ability to shut off the majority of sound effects and leave some of the voice acting available or completely shut off all sounds. I am hoping the players will find the sounds making the game even more fun. There are also audio clues to things, not essential, but information will be gained if the audio is used.

Adventure International existed from 1978 until 1985. During those years, how intense was the competition with Infocom, Level 9, and Magnetic Scrolls? Looking back, what sounded the death knell for the company?

There was always friendly rivalry going on, in general though we were trying to appeal to different tastes. Two things helped speed up AI closing. One was a major contract with Commodore computer. They had a contract with us and Marvel to produce the Questprobe adventure series for all machines. They ended up doing a very poor job of packaging and marketing and in the end had to pay penalties on their performance to us and Marvel. This was a major financial setback. Another issue was the extreme downturn in the industry in general. For example, at the end the $1,000+ TI 99/4A was being firesaled at $50 as they left the market. We also had a major contract with them as well and only a few thousand of the Return to Pirate's Island cartridge were made and then firesaled with the machines. AI was completely privately owned and we had no investors, all profits were poured back into the company. We did not have the deep pockets necessary to weather the slump of the mid 1980s.

How different is the interpreter used in The Inheritance compared to the interpreter used in your previous games?

It is evolution that now accepts full sentences and can handle complex sentences, such as "open the mailbox with the large brass key and look inside it."

A number of modern programming languages, such as Inform, now exist for creating interactive fiction games. What do you foresee in the future in the development of text interpreters and language systems, particularly those that can parse natural language?

As processing power grows it will indeed become interesting to see what will be on the horizon. Right now I have no predictions of my own but I look forward to the future.

What interactive fiction or adventure games have you played recently? What lies in the future for the adventure game genre?

The last type of adventure game I played was the Sam and Max new episode when it first came out. Just played the demo version.

In general I don't play IF games myself these days. I tend to not to want to subconsciously steal other writers' puzzles and ideas.

I would love to see adventure games thriving again; I can see in my beta testers' responses that it still brings a great deal of joy to people to play them. That AHA moment when a particular knotty puzzle is final unraveled. I think, that just like novels over comic books, there will always be a place for good text adventure games.

The Inheritance is advertized as Scott Adams Bible Adventure #1. How many games do you plan to make for the series? What will be the theme common to all of the games in this new series?

The ending of #1 actually has a hook that opens up the storyline to many more games. The players will have to complete the game to find out what that is. :)

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