Our dedication to preserving video games and charting histories, legacies, and more is paramount at Bitmap Books, and like any other entertainment medium, storytelling is at the core of video games. This is never more true than in point-and-click games, so join us as we look back at this popular genre and discuss the games that pushed it forward.
You can read about point-and-click games in The Art of Point-and-Click Adventure Games.
The Hobbit (Melbourne House, 1982)
Before there was any pointing or clicking, the best way to get immersed in a story was with the humble text adventure. Via a series of interlinked locations, each described in as much detail as the developer wished (within memory limits, of course), the player journeyed throughout these worlds, and few early adventures came as impressive and memorable as Melbourne House’s The Hobbit. Across the pond, Massachusetts-based Infocom was doing great things with various themes, notably, its series of dungeon crawls, Zork. Yet while the typed input and written word format may appear aesthetically different, the genre’s basis in exploration, puzzle solving, and a graphical depiction of each scene is a stepping stone to point-and-click games as we know them today. You can read about The Hobbit inside Bitmap Books’ beautiful book, Sinclair ZX Spectrum: a visual compendium.
King’s Quest (Sierra On-Line, 1984)
King’s Quest’s popularity made it an early flagbearer for the graphical interactive fiction genre. Most previous examples contained static images, mere set dressing for the written scenario below. King’s Quest furthers this concept, putting the player character into the graphical area while the familiar command line is underneath this window. Instructions for your character are typed here – as in classic adventures such as The Hobbit – yet the game reacts on-screen to the player’s prompt instead of the traditional written reply. King’s Quest was a notable advancement in player interaction in 1984 and is today seen as a crucial stepping stone in the development of point-and-click games, even though there isn’t any actual pointing or clicking going on.
Enchanted Scepters (Silicon Beach Software, 1984)
The Macintosh was an early home for many interactive fiction games, and it would not be long before developers expanded the genre's breadth on the Apple computer. Enchanted Scepters evokes King’s Quest in its initial moments, the player summoned to the king, who has an uncomplicated fetch quest for them. Unlike King’s Quest, however, there’s no on-screen representation of the player character – instead, each image is static, with a written description to the right. So, much like the text adventures of yore, except for one key difference: in Enchanted Scepters, the player can use the mouse to click on objects inside each image and interact with them accordingly. Surely it wouldn’t be long before someone combined the on-screen avatar of King’s Quest with Enchanted Scepters’ new form of interaction? You can read more about Enchanted Scepters inside The Secret History of Mac Gaming: Expanded Edition.
Maniac Mansion (LucasFilm Games, 1987)
As text adventures slowly died out, the rise of graphical interactive fiction took up the mantle. Finally, in 1987, someone had the idea of combining the twin facets of King’s Quest and Enchanted Scepters, or at least do it with a good measure of success. With the latest in Sierra King’s Quest series, King’s Quest III, still stuck in the typed-command mould, Lucasfilm made the leap to a keyboard-free point-and-click experience by employing its SCUMM engine, exhaustively listing the available commands below the image window. The player could string simple commands together by clicking on one of these, then the relevant object above, and also directly move their character using the mouse. This jump led to Maniac Mansion appearing on consoles, specifically the Nintendo Entertainment System, something previously impossible due to the genre’s reliance on a keyboard.
Beneath A Steel Sky (Virgin/Revolution, 1994)
Inevitably even that list of words beneath the image panel would ultimately disappear. Games such as Revolution’s Beneath A Steel Sky dispensed with these clickable phrases, allowing the player to interact directly with the environment. This enabled developers to increase the size of their pictures to full screen, employing pop-up menus for the player’s inventory and conversations. The whole process worked seamlessly, with the player’s eyes fully focused on the imagery rather than the written word.
Blade Runner (Westwood, 1997)
Westwood stunned gamers in 1997 with its technically advanced point-and-click adaptation of the dystopian sci-fi movie. In truth, it’s more a ‘sidequel’, exhibiting a new story inside Blade Runner’s world and moody vibe. The puzzle-based gameplay of previous games has a novel detection bias (most notably in the brilliant recreation of the film’s visual analysis machine, Voight-Kampff), but it’s the graphics that mark Blade Runner as another critical step in the evolution of point-and-click games. Presented in pseudo-3D, Blade Runner’s real-time graphics, operating independently of player input, work marvellously in immersing the player in its world.
The Walking Dead (Telltale, 2012 onwards)
Released in an episodic format (evincing its television origin), Telltale’s The Walking Dead brought point-and-click gaming into the modern age. An on-screen option wheel, fully-animated display, branching storylines and time-sensitive scenarios combine to form a new style for a more action-orientated audience. While the original Telltale Games is defunct, its legacy continues today, as the point-and-click genre continues to blossom. Whether nostalgic pixel-based indie games or sleek, fresh experiences with a modern sheen, there can be no doubt that the point-and-click genre is here to stay.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about these eminent and influential point-and-click games. Read about these titles and more inside The Art of Point-and-Click Adventure Games.