A good book and an engaging adventure game have plenty in common, and many of the best point and click games around tend to wear their love of the written word on their sleeve. Indeed, some of the strongest narratives in gaming, if not all media, belong to the humble adventure genre that keeps on plugging (despite constantly being accused of being dead, for some reason).
Adventure games tend to take you to many places, and before too long you’ll get to know the best. When you’re not idling your time at home, you can expect to visit stores with moody shopkeepers, forgotten tombs with secrets to unearth, winding city streets with plot tokens galore… and of course, the library.
In your many adventure game endeavours, chances are you’ll be visiting the library to gather information on a clue, plot-point or location to be uncovered. More often than not, there’s a fusty and ill-tempered librarian to avoid (although the gentle librarian of Guard Duty was a much more agreeable influence).
And of course, the heaving shelves teem with plenty of jokes, puns, or indeed — as in the case of Monkey Island 2 — an entire index card system packed with comedy, all of which lead to actual books to stuff in your pockets.
In many ways, the faithful adventure game library has been expanded in its comedic potential in truly gargantuan directions. Look no further than Thimbleweed Park to find bookshelves whose every pixel leads to a new and remarkable tome — or the time-travel sidequest of The Book of Unwritten Tales 2, secreted in the magical library, which itself is a marvellous extended gag on adventure games as a genre.
Speaking of schools of magic, wandering the shelves of Unseen University was your humble writer’s first ever adventure game library experience. Gags abound, of course, but so does intrigue and, indeed, yet more time travel.
If you’ll forgive a potential spoiler for a decades-old game, hapless Rincewind eventually gains access through the library to L-Space — the highly Pratchett-esque nature of the compounded knowledge of books bending time and space to such an extent he can casually stroll back in time to last night and pre-emptively solve Ankh-Morpork’s woes.
Of course, time travel being what it is, Rincewind can’t help but cause a fair few of the city’s troubles through his meddling with temporal dynamics too…
An honourable mention, while celebrating the best adventure games’ libraries, ought to go to bookshops as well. Essentially libraries that functional via alternative economical means of transaction, their value as a repository of knowledge and comedy alike is truly vast.
And indeed, it’s the towers of tomes seen in Gibbous that kick off the events of that wonderful game’s fiendish plot. Likewise, peer into the history of our beloved genre enough, and you can’t help but notice that wannabe womaniser Gabriel Knight happens to reside in a bookstore as well.
Of course, business isn’t exactly booming….
Of course, for all the sumptuous visuals, ambience and sense of place, adventure game libraries exist because, in this of all genres, knowledge is power. Whether it’s a throwaway line in a random passage of text, or an entire book devoted to the goals our hero has to see the storyline through, adventure game libraries are all about putting game mechanics into action to serve the story.
In many cases, this is effortless. Find the book, grab the book, add to inventory, sort the problem. Yet if you take a step back, and bring in inventory systems that function via clues and ideas as much as physically picking up the books themselves, you’ll find yourself in your humble writer’s favourite adventure game library of all time.
Protected, beloved and simply oozing with lore, the Libraris Apocrypha of Ankh-Morpork in Discworld Noir rivals perhaps only Unseen University for the sheer wealth, breadth and brilliance of books on offer.
Yet because of how Discworld Noir is played, there’s a wonderful marriage of game mechanics and plot that takes place within its lovingly rendered room. Central is the box of index cards, which private investigator Lewton refers to when navigating the library and identifying what’s the most useful book to read next.
Yet Discworld Noir is rather unique among adventure games, as the major inventory of the game is actually the player-character detective’s written notes. The game features a traditional inventory and associated puzzles, of course, but you spend just as much time thumbing through Lewton’s notebook using written clues — ideas and suspicions themselves — as tools in the game too.
The ingenious part? Almost every clue Lewton notes in his book is an ‘item’ you can use with the mansion library’s index card system. Do so, and Lewton takes a few seconds to find where the book he wants is, goes and gets it, then tells you what he’s discovered in its pages.
Maybe it’s a joke, maybe it’s a clue, maybe it’s nothing of consequence. But the attention to detail is superb, and this is the only adventure game library outside Phatt Island you can gleefully lose hours in and never get bored. The more clues you get, the more you have to research, too!
So, as a great man once said… what do you know about a dwarf named Al-Khali?