I was considering doing this essay in the style of that great documentary television series In Search Of... from the 70s(American viewers like me might know it better from the early 90s when it was rerun extensively by a then fledgling arts and entertainment network that now delights in showing tiring "original" film productions of overrated works of nineteenth century Anglo literature, but let's not get into that here.) What was nice about In Search Of, besides Leonard Nimoy being the host, was that they really delved into the heart of the subject they tackled each week...no matter the subject. One week the topic could be "In Search Of...God." Then the next week the topic could be "In Search Of... The Gigantic Plush Pooh Bear That Haunts The Outer Limits Of Our Galaxy." Either way, you can bet that In Search Of would cover that topic extensively and professionally without descending into sensationalism. No matter how obscure the topic, a gang of crackpot experts would be found, and you know crackpot experts...give 'em a spotlight, and they just can't shut up. These brilliant souls' erudite commentary was interposed between exciting documentary footage, thus making the viewer even more comfortable with the subject at hand, no matter how foreign it might have seemed to him an hour before. Perhaps Leonard would, at the end of the show, give his own verdict on the week's topic. As major-domo of the series, this was his right. But it went without saying that ultimately, it was completely up to the viewer to decide for his or her self. Good series. So, as I mentioned earlier, I was seriously considering doing this essay in the style of that television program, but then I realized that it would just be too much work to simulate a gang of crackpot experts, an introspective, probing Leonard Nimoy sans pointy ears, and exciting documentary footage when I could just write it in the boring ol' style of me. This piece of crap essay will just have to suffice. I'm sorry. My production values are low, and my ambition? Nonexistent!
Jane Jensen, the authoress of the no-longer-as-popular-as-it-once-was Gabriel Knight series for Sierra Online, once described Infocom and Sierra as being the "Rome and Athens" of the adventure gaming world. True enough. Both companies actually started out(officially) around the same time - it just took Sierra a little longer to make its mark on the world with the release of King's Quest I. We IF devotees tend to be more rabid fans of Infocom because we dig text adventures, and Infocom did the best text adventures. But Sierra Online deserves some respect, too, and I'll say without blushing that I really enjoy most of their pre-mouse only interface games. King's Quest III, IV, Space Quest III, Hero's Quest...dude, those were great games! Even with the pictures. It should come as no surprise that there are still many people who worship at the temple of old Sierra, and they dream of making their own adventure games in the style of their favorite company just as so many bright young lads dreamt of the opportunity to make text adventures in the style of Infocom years ago. A micro-community has developed online concerned exclusively with the development and play of fan-made games written in AGI, Sierra's first graphic adventure game language/interpreter. A wonderful program entitled "AGI Studio" was written by this guy named Peter Kelly, and it spearheaded the sudden growth of the community: this fantastic program gave folk the ability to make their own AGI games! There's even a friendly GUI to go along with it; even Bill Gates could figger it out! AGI interpreters to play user made games are still in the works, the most promising at the present time being one called Sarien - The Alien AGI Interpreter, but it still has a ways to go. In the meanwhile, to play the AGI games made by others you'll have to use the interpreter included with the old Sierra games. It's something of a complicated, confusing process to get the new games working even when you own copies of the old games, but there are a couple newbie's guides to AGI that can help. (I've linked to helpful AGI sites at the end of this essay as well as given a few hints of my own).
The online AGI community is as fragmented as the IF community is organized. There are no truly reliable "exhaustive" link sites available that are up to date because AGI sites seem to come and go like leaves in the autumn wind. The webring devoted to AGI is now about 80% filled with sites that have not been updated in a year or more. There is also no single central place where one can look to find all the AGI games - instead, there are a number of small, incomplete archives and a whole mass of different web sites devoted to single games. Not only is there not an AGI equivalent for the Interactive Fiction archive at ftp.ifarchive.org, but even the AIF archives are far more useful and organized! Basically, the AGI community is at the present time a rogue band of hackers who are passionately in love with the idea of being able to create their own graphical adventure games, but who are not necessarily all that interested in roping in an outside audience of new fans to play their games. In short, these people are artists, not businessmen or politicians. They create. They don't bend over backwards to share their creativity with other people. I understand this perfectly, and I even approve of this spirit. Still, it is my hope that gradually a "fan" element will be introduced into the AGI community so that game creators will have even more of an incentive to make their work better, knowing that an eager and appreciative audience is anxiously awaiting the games(and expecting them to be rather good, too)but it's going to happen slowly if at all. Even in the IF community I would estimate that between 75%-80% of the people involved in the scene write games or have written games or have begun to write games but never finished them - comparatively few folks have no ambitions whatsoever of creating their own IF. But in the AGI community right now basically 99%(if not 100%) of the people are working on games. I'm writing this essay principally in order to vouch my support for the AGI scene, but also to leave the door open for a few IFers to check it out and see if maybe they wouldn't be interested in following this new branch of adventure gaming more closely. Ideally, the freeware graphical adventuring community and the freeware text adventuring community should be closely related, if not occasionally overlapping. It makes sense that we should become friends rather than remaining blissfully unaware of each other's existence. I, for one, will be following the development of this scene very closely, and I intend to write a few reviews of player created AGI games before my time on this Earth is up.
Many fragments and demos of games made with AGI Studio have been quietly released through the Net, and the quality of these early releases has impressed me tremendously. In particular, I'm amazed at how high the quality of graphics and music commonly is in these games(often the prose is a little shabbier than the piccies and the sound, but, hey, who needs words anyway?). While it is probable that most demos will not ever really advance beyond the demo point(just looking at AGI logic coding gives me a headache, and many others feel the same way after working on getting a playable demo in working order for a few months), the ones that I've played definitely do go to show that there is a wealth of unexploited talent amongst AGI scene regulars. A few full length games have been released, and these, too, are quite good. I haven't yet played a game that really rivals any of the early Sierra AGI games, but I feel that such a game will be coming soon. The keyword for the AGI community is "potential." It has a ton of it. Will it be realized eventually? I think so. But only time will tell for sure, of course.
Now, here's my promised list of my favorite links to AGI related resources on the web:
Sierra's AGI Interpreter Message Board
The best resource for AGI on the web, this discussion forum is fairly active and the first place to go if you're looking for the latest updates on interpreters and games, or seeking AGI Studio help. There's also a fairly popular Delphi message board, but I'm not linking to it as it makes my browser crash.
An excellent site in French maintained by game creator Robin Gravel. This has a nice archive of games, a couple of which are already setup and ready to play, with the Sierra interpreter illegally included and everything! In fact, what I advise you to do is to go this site, click on "Jeux", download Robin's game "Naturette", unzip it someplace, and KEEP THE GAME. It has all the files you need to play others' AGI games: the interpreter itself(RETTE.COM), the *.ovl files(you need all of 'em), a file called AGI, and another file called HGC_FONT. So, whenever you download an AGI game without the interpreter included(and most of them do not include the interpreter with the games for legal reasons), just copy those files from the "Naturette" directory to the directory where the new game is and knock yourself out!(Running the com file, in this case RETTE.COM, will always invoke the game.)
The Ultimate AGI & SCI Web Site
This is probably the best AGI "portal" site on the Web. It nicely combines information(including some introductory bits for the newbies), downloads(both utilities and games/demos), and a decent links list(including plenty of pages that have not been updated in years). I appreciate it most of all for the tremendous amount of stuff it has for game creators - basically all the AGI/SCI utilities you could want you can find here. It's nice to have a site with such a wide array of information and features written by a real insider(the webmaster is the author of SCI Graphic Studio, which is the equivalent to AGI Studio for Sierra's later interpreter/language.) And it's updated often!
Sarien - The Alien AGI Interpreter
A freeware work in progress, Sarien looks like it will be the AGI interpreter of choice for playing new AGI games once all the sound and display bugs are worked out. Beta versions for MS-DOS, Win 98, and a couple flavors of Unix are available, but I haven't had much luck getting them to run correctly myself so far.
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