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Interview: Adventure Gaming Expo

Fans of some of this year’s most uncommonly popular titles—Professor Layton, Zack & Wiki, and the continued Phoenix Wright series (of course)—may have forgotten where these and many other games originally derive from: the classic Adventure genre, whether text-based, graphical, or point ‘n’ click. This September will bring a very welcome reminder to gamers nationwide, with the Adventure Gaming Expo in Atlantic City.

Howard Sherman, President and CEO of Malinche Entertainment, was kind enough to speak with GotGame about the expo his company is organizing and ecstatically preparing for. They’ve had an extra year to get pumped up, as the expo was originally slated for 2007 at the Mirage but fell through due to time constraints on the extensive planning required.

“This time, we really mean it,” Sherman laughs.

Last year “was truly a journey of discovery, as to what location, who to invite, who didn’t respond…it was quite literally all over the place. Everyone was wonderful, very understanding of the different hoops we had to jump through…they didn’t really blame us when we kept re-computing just what the show would be like.”

Those reconfigurations have led to an outstanding lineup of guest stars and events for this year, many that even the non-Adventure gaming guru can appreciate. Sherman’s voice speeds up slightly as he gushes that “the stars, the legends of adventure gaming” are the most exciting part of the expo, to him. “I was telling one guy in an email, a fan—whatever the show might cost, I would pay $10,000 to hear Al Lowe mumble in his sleep.”

He continues: “Scott Adams—the man who started everything. We wouldn’t be anywhere without Scott Adams. Just to be in the same room with these people, it’s very humbling. That’s the number one reason I want to be there. Just to meet all those people that gave us all these phenomenal games.” In addition to Al Lowe, creator of the Leisure Suit Larry series, and Scott Adams, essentially the very first Adventure game developer, fans will be treated to time with Chris Jones (Tex Murphy), Scott Murphy (Space Quest), Lori and Corey Cole (Quest for Glory) and Tony Van, executive producer of Myst V, creator of the CSI game series, and currently COO of Genesis Interactive and GotGame. There will be a mixer for hotel guests and a cocktail hour with all VIPs in attendance.

”Going into the weekend, there will be general Q&A questions, where people can ask any question they’ve ever had…I’m picturing this dream team of designers on a discussion panel, and proposing what would be the ultimate adventure game.”

The event itself may produce just such an ultimate experience, with its Live Action Adventure Game. This real time, real life adventure will be played across the entirety of the Borgata / Water Club hotel property, where the convention is being held. “The parameters of the game itself is the Borgata Club. The gaming area is going to be tailor-made for the experience.” Sherman mysteriously reports that “[The players] have no way to separate what is the game from reality, because the game becomes real.”

“It’s real, it’s happening, and there’s no pause button. Your impressions must be acted upon immediately, so you have the right cue at the right time, or it’s game over…I’m already imagining some hysterical reactions, like going to get a matchbook, getting the wrong one, wandering around, going and getting the right matchbook from under a coaster…I can’t even do it justice. It’s going to be the experience. Adventure game fans will be beside themselves.”

When they’re not rubbing elbows with the genre’s heroes or chasing down clues in the hotel lobby, attendees / players will have access to workshops on the design and experience of adventure games, and a charity auction from which all proceeds will be donated to Pencils for Kids, a non-profit group dedicated to offering children the tools to learn. The charity auction, selected and encouraged by Tony Van with great appreciation from Mr. Sherman, will include a wide variety of autographed and historic adventure game treasures, from background art used in Space Quest’s production to an original Zork game, zip-lock-sealed and on Sherman (an avid Zork fan)’s list of must-haves: “I might call up my bankers for a second mortgage on the house…I’m gunning for it, without a doubt.”

Sherman’s enthusiasm is contagious—and we’re not the only ones who feel so. While explaining his official title of ‘Implementor’, Sherman drops an entirely new bomb on us: “For me, Implementor is someone that develops, produces, and publishes professional Interactive Fiction. And I won’t be the only one now—Lori Ann and Corey Cole, the famous husband and wife team behind the Quest for Glory games, colossal works, have signed on to write an Interactive Fiction title for Malinche. It’s called ‘School for Heroes,’ and when they write it, it will work on the Mac, Windows, iPhone, Palm, Windows Mobile…I am honored to be working with them. I really am.”

Malinche is known for releasing its Interactive Fiction on a wide variety of hardware, including iPods and the Nintendo DS, and soon the iPhone “to reach out to more people,” according to Sherman. “If you’re a gamer, and you love a good story—and everyone does at some point—they have a new draw, what is to them a new kind of game.”

He continues: “I think Adventure games have such a wide range of appeal; pirate ships, horror stories, there are so many different flavors of Adventure games out there that if mainstream gamers had exposure to that…[they] would gain a whole new level of understanding of what is available.”

Whether the genre is entirely new to you, or one of your favorite memories from childhood, there’s something worth seeing at the expo and watching for at Malinche.

“No matter how a game is developed, graphics or text, the player has to have a meaningful amount of interaction, or else it’s a movie. The designer has to keep in mind that there is a player, if everything is given on a platter…what can the player do in response?”

Malinche and Sherman keep his advice in mind while developing games, and remain confident: “We’re sitting in a pretty strong nest, because Adventure gaming is a powerful medium: past, present, and future.”