Remember when adventure games ‘died’? They didn’t completely die, but publishers certainly became less interested in funding them, and access varied, depending on your region and communities. Personally, I couldn’t find more than a handful of (what I would now consider) ‘classic adventure games’ for at least a decade.
Given my childhood was defined by an unwavering procession of colourfully-wrapped Sierra and LucasArts game boxes, Adventure Jam 2023 (which took place from 27 May to 10 June) is like all my Christmases at once. I’m genuinely shocked by the fun I’ve had exploring the jam’s output and the incredible quality of the small games on offer.
Everything discussed below is free to play, mostly in a browser, and many were created with free tools that you can experiment with yourself. Rest assured, adventure games have never been more alive.
Adventure Jam 2023 – Highlight Reel
No Rest for the Wicked
I was maybe thirty seconds into No Rest for the Wicked when I felt the incredulous need to verify that it actually had been created for the jam. Indeed, the itch.io page says, ‘Made in 14 days.’ What?! This game has voiceover, properly funny humour and the kind of straightforward yet deceptive puzzling that makes one fall in love with the point-and-click formula all over again.
You play as the servant to a sleepy vampire, whose goals are inscrutably evil. He sends you on a collection of weird fetch quests, which get convoluted, fast. Across 40 mins (or so) of content, I always knew how to proceed, but not immediately, which is good for creating that ‘clever clogs’ feeling adventure games do so well. There are a surprising number of items and small problems to ponder.
There’s also a dynamic music system, where stems weave in and out of the composition seamlessly, as heard in games like Return to Monkey Island. Genre-referencing gags abound, involving a cranky talking skull (like Murray, from Monkey Island), and a horse named ‘Powerhooves’ which reveals some of how this incredible overall result was achieved.
It’s obviously a reference to PowerQuest, the Unity plugin created by Dave Lloyd of Powerhoof, a tool used by four of the ten highest-rated games in the jam.
One sound effect in No Rest for the Wicked made me laugh, very hard, and, honestly, a singular, fun moment was probably all I was expecting from these jam games. But, no. This experience is impeccably detailed. There were lots of laughs. Play it to appreciate what can be achieved with two weeks of hard work.
The Telwynium: Book 3
Speaking of Dave Lloyd, Adventure Jam was where his Telwynium series first came to life. This year, Lloyd created a decent chunk of Book 3 for the jam. It’s a compelling tale, providing vivid nostalgia from the Conquests of the Longbow era, and puzzles that require practical, logical solutions.
In this previous interview for GamesHub, Lloyd explains the precariousness of his world, by asking, ‘What if Gandalf was murdered on Frodo’s first night away from the Shire?’ Certainly, in The Telwynium’s first two books, main characters have perished, which is why it’s such an interesting surprise to be suddenly playing as one (then two) of them. How storytellers frame resurrection is one of my favourite things about fantasy contexts.
My first question is always, ‘At what cost does this desecration of life occur?’ and I’m not sure The Telwynium has answered this yet. This is not to say the game is all sunshine and gravewort. One dark moment certainly takes the adventure genre’s severed hand trope to a whole new level. (Shudder.) It’s more that the protagonist, Pen, has used (potentially evil) magic to learn about himself and his abilities, rather than the player being allowed to make informed decisions about the consequences of messing with life and death. So far.
I thought that The Telwynium: Book 1 was amazing. Book 2 was even better. Book 3 has given me a taste for the series’ resolution. I’ve become hungry to know the fate of these brave characters, and more about the world’s hidden people and history. And, I hope I get to make one, world-shattering decision about resurrection before I’m done. Don’t play the Telwynium game created for this jam. Start at the beginning and work your way to it.
The Third Wish
The Third Wish is a story told in two (distinctly different) acts. The game opens with a parent cautioning his young adult son to be wary of ‘sand cats’ on the way to work, then promising him a cosy game of chess, later that evening. This parent could be me, except that my son and I don’t live on a desert planet, 17 light years from Earth, and predators concern me less than bike accidents. Like most science fiction, it’s the perfect intersection of relatable and fantastic.
Puzzling mostly happens in the first act. Why are the moisture farm’s generators and turbines offline? Whose job is it to find out? Yours. (You’re the dad.) Across only 4 or 5 scenes, you’ll deal with wild beasts, tools and repairs. Puzzles are engaging because they are mundane, but set on a different planet. I didn’t get stuck, but I enjoyed trying out different solutions, before the real answer became clear.
The second act begins after a galactic trader drops in, with an artefact from ‘Old Earth’. A familiar, cautionary tale then begins to unfold. I was honestly hanging off every word. Puzzling becomes lighter, which matches the new pace of events.
After playing The Third Wish, if I could make a wish, it’d be that the parent/son relationship actually hadn’t been quite so relatable, after all. How can an experience this small, created in only 14 days, be so traumatic? Excuse me while I go check my son’s bike helmet and make sure his dad isn’t asking any old friends around for dinner.
The Restricted Archive
The Restricted Archive is every student’s worst nightmare. Not only do you solve problems by having to search the library catalogue, people in this game are literally destroying their minds by reading. Professors are to be genuinely feared. Given my day job (as an academic lecturer), I loved all of it. Take that, students. Learning is properly dangerous, evil even. I knew it.
If you’re not a fan of Lovecraft, there’s some assumed knowledge here. You’ve arrived at the Miskatonic University of Cthulhu Mythos, after ‘your dreams’ have told you to steal the Necronomicon, the infamous Book of the Dead. Made with Ink and a tool that designer, averyhiebert, intends to release soon, this feels more like a text adventure than point-and-click (although with neat graphics), and combines dialogue, description and branching accordingly.
You do interact by pointing and clicking, but given the perspective is first person, this allows for some very fast navigation, almost like teleportation, around maybe 10 unique scenes. Click on the door and you’re in the next location instantly, rather than waiting for a little sprite to walk there. For me, this highlighted that our human forms are a prison, preventing us from achieving our truest, most occult potential, which ties in very well with the narrative themes presented.
The Restricted Archive challenges you to understand the gravity of what you are stealing, before deciding what to do with it. As a teacher, I love the idea that ‘not paying attention’ could lead to a catastrophic end. Probably one for the teachers, not their students, really.
Shards of God
Must the artefact products of Adventure Jam always be small? There are enough examples of larger, commercial games originating from jams, but I’m not sure I’ve ever rooted for one as much as I’m now rooting for Shards of God. It was published for Adventure Jam as a ‘demo’ but how much more might it become, before I can wrap it into a box for Christmas?
There’s a very satisfying mix of tech and mysticism to this experience. The Sisters of Vigil may have arrived to this desert planet in a spaceship, but they are conservatively garbed and their mission is very religious. You can appreciate how ancient their duty is because of the (exceptional) chant-like vocal music and unrelenting drone. Things go wrong very quickly, in a way that surely must test the outer limits of Sister Ava’s faith, although she remains politely obedient, so far.
The opening doesn’t have ‘puzzles’ as such. You’re required to explore and draw conclusions about what’s happened. It’s also an opportunity for narrative exposition, mostly via dialogue. This could turn out to be a ‘wordy’ adventure, in the best possible way, perhaps like Strangeland, in which puzzles felt secondary to a richly developed universe. Certainly, I could imagine this being similar in scope to a Wadjet Eye game, given its relaxed initial pace.
The coolest thing about this demo was that it understood it was a demo. Upon reaching the Gnaath farms, I was greeted with, “I’m sure that whatever mystery you have set out to unravel shall soon be concluded to your satisfaction” – and a discussion of ‘Gods’ who can, or cannot, create worlds in as little as two weeks. Given the (in-game) God I’d met only minutes earlier, it took me a surprisingly long time to realise that they were referring to the jammers, as creators, and the jam’s short time frame.
After playing The Telwynium: Book 3 and Shards of God, I leave Adventure Jam 2023 both very satisfied and wanting more. Only five games have been featured here, but I also thoroughly enjoyed many others, including the neat little medical mystery, Eva, and the delightfully weird Lucid.