LucasArts Hopes To Turn Old Into Gold With Adventure Games

There was a time when gaming was left more to the imagination than the pixel-count. When the written word was mightier than the joystick.

Adventure games started as just black on white, or perhaps green on black. Word told the story. Words described the scenery and through words people played.

Text adventures like Pyramid 2000, Adventure and Zork, didn't just passively entertain, they taught us to imagine, to think, even to type.

But as the medium of gaming continued to thrive, to grow, to evolve, it left behind its roots as money losers, relics of a past that today's gamers may not be interested in.

Ironically though, it's that same evolution of technology that may now be able to breath new life into classic adventure games and open them up to a new audience of gamers.

Earlier this week LucasArts announced a deal with digital download service Steam to start releasing some of their classic games through the on-demand gaming service.

Among the short list of initially offerings are a number of LucasArts' early graphic adventures. While they aren't text adventures, titles like The Dig and Loom rely more on imagination than graphics to deliver fun.

It's a shift in philosophy at the company spurred by the increasing popularity of downloadable games and the increasing number of platforms, like the iPhone, Dsi and upcoming PSPgo, that are built to support them.

LucasArts had, at one point, mostly given up on their adventure titles, Mary Bihr, LucasArts vice president of global publishing, told Kotaku.

"We thought, 'Gee, maybe classic adventures don't do well in the market," she said.

But that changed when LucasArts replaced much of their upper management and they started looking at the potential of digital distribution.

"In looking at the history and heritage of LucasArts it's clear we have some much beloved titles," Bihr said. "With the advent of digital distribution it opens up a whole new avenue where are games can be experience by new players and delivered in new ways.

"These games have stories that are broad enough and games that are deep enough to attract that audience. We are looking at new markets, people who have never played adventure games."

The hope is that the release of these titles on both platforms known for these adventure games, like the computer, and platforms perhaps new to the genre, like the iPhone, portable gaming devices and consoles, will allow LucasArts to both extend their titles among older fans of the genre and build up an entirely new fanbase.

And because the publisher doesn't have to reburn the game on discs, put them in boxes and worry about distribution, the barriers for success have been greatly reduced.

The Steam announcement comes at a time when LucasArts is making waves with other classic titles as well.

The publisher put classic adventure title Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis as an extra game on their Wii title Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings. They're also releasing a "reimagined" version of The Secret of Monkey Island, now with easier controls and better graphics. And they've cut a deal with TellTale Games to continue the Secret of Monkey Island story as episodic content.

"Those decisions were all made in parallel," Bihr said. "They are all tied to the larger decision to revive our classic games and bring them out to new markets."

Bihr said that LucasArts is looking over their library to see which of their other classics could be reimagined, turned into new games or released to Steam.

"I think we will explore any and everything," she said. "We will allow the marketplace to inform us."

And that means, she said, keeping a close eye on both the reaction to and success of these three announcements, essentially using them as test cases.

When asked if LucasArts adventures could make their way to the iPhone or the Dsi, or PSPgo, Bihr would only says that the company is platform agnostic and that they are "looking at a number of different platforms." Apple's guidelines don't allow a developer to announce a game before it has been approved.

"We are looking at a broad spectrum of ideas," she added.

What is obvious is that as the popularity of digital distribution continues to increase its impact on gaming spreads in interesting ways, making some games and ideas, once financially implausible, a possibility.

"There are so many different types of customers," Bihr said. "The way in which they consume games and media is so different now."