That’s three different questions! My personal experience doesn’t make a game famous, and a game being famous doesn’t necessarily excite me.
The most famous adventure game (assuming a pretty classic definition of “adventure”) has to be Myst. Selling six million copies means a hell of a lot of people have heard of it, and probably even started it up. What other adventure has ever reached that level of popular notability?
(Monkey Island sold “north of 100,000, far south of 1 million” according to Dave Grossman.)
I really miss the parser graphic adventure games. Police Quest 2 was probably the best implementation; most memorable for me, at least. Quest For Glory I was absolutely amazing, but my opinion is clouded by the RPG mechanics that blew my mind. Leisure Suit Larry III was pretty damn good too, actually.
Why did the parser in graphic adventures disappear again?
The article touches upon the lawnmowering encouraged by parsers. I guess that was the nail in the coffin? People just wanted smoother gameplay. I still like the parser in graphic adventures best though, but I march the beat of my own drum… right off the edge of cliffs.
1.) The most famous, from my experience was Maniac Mansion. Though I was never a huge fan of it, I managed to play it in a few incarnations over the years. Notably, it was quite good as an NES title.
However, my favourite NES graphic adventure was Shadowgate. (The latest PC remake is absolutely gorgeous.) Though Shadowgate is an exercise in “how not to die”.
2.) Again, I wasn’t a huge fan of the Maniac Mansion, but the exploding hamster is one of the most culturally relevant adventure gaming moments. It’s right up there with, “You have died of dysentery.”
I remember that game very well because I had just gotten a shiny, new 486 computer and the video cutscenes were stuttering. I took it back to the shop and the guy realized that I had a 1X CD-ROM drive, not the top of the line 2X drive that was on the order sheet. Well, after that was addressed… I practically lived in that haunted house. I can still hear the narrator talking about how everyone had to own a Stauf toy…
I think this question can be answered in multiple ways thanks to different demographics. Before I played interactive fiction but played a number of graphic adventure games, I would’ve likely answered MYST or Secret of Monkey Island. Younger people may be even more unfamiliar with these classics might answer with visual novels like Higurashi, adventure games adjacent to visual novels like Ace Attorney, walking sims like Gone Home or CYOA-inspired works like The Walking Dead games. I guess trendier answers would be The Witness too.
I’d probably answer with MYST because it’s the most recognizable title for justified and unjustified reasons.
Personally, I prefer Riven, so I’ll just talk about that instead. What I liked about that game is how it eschews traditional dialog and narration in favor of what we now call “environmental storytelling”. MYST has always toyed with the idea that we are investigating alien worlds, but they’re kinda game-like and the notorious puzzles there are just based on screwy logic. Meanwhile, in Riven, every puzzle and every map screen feel connected to the world (or for MYST-heads, the Age).
Most of the story is “written” through the puzzles, the little details that are etched throughout the map, and the world itself. Traversing through Riven gives me a deep appreciation of what the world was before it was brutally colonized by the antagonist; you’ll see the organic lands form together with the indigenous technologies, and then suddenly metallic ironworks clash with the blue-green seas. You don’t have to see the word “colonialism” because you are already seeing this and the puzzles are quite connected to this idea too.
Riven does tell a good chunk of its backstory through text, but by that point you’d already be deeply immersed into the game. There’s an infamous puzzle in the game where the solution is only possible if you love the Age so much that you become a geologist. You’d also know how the indigenous people there count numbers too. The game design of Riven makes you love and care for the world, even if you are a tourist using colonial technologies to traverse these lands. I still dream about Riven from time to time … and the ending of the story is honestly worth it. It’s a great ending to what MYST is all about.
I think the MYST series is rather underappreciated for how sensitive it is to the colonialism in fantasy literature. Even though I recognize the puzzles in later games aren’t to my fancy, the storytelling in MYST III: Exiles is what I would deem a postcolonialist response to the tensions within the series. There’s no attempt to downplay the violence of the technology used in MYST and you are always aware that what brought you into these fantastical Ages is also the stuff that ruins these indigenous civilizations. The series is conscious about the power fantasies of tourism in adventure games and it doesn’t provide easy answers to it, which is something I really appreciate.
If an adventure game series makes me think of the ethics of the tourism industry, I guess it must be intellectually stimulating.
The Quest For Glory series are some of my favorite games of all time. The third one is a little off, and I never played the fifth, but I love the series overall. The point & click remake of the first one was my introduction to the series, then I went out and bought a set that reissued the first 4 games. Played those rabidly. 1 and 4 are probably the best as originally released, but the unofficial remake of 2 allows you to bypass the tedious mazes. I think it even has an optional parser in it, which the official remake of 1 did not.
I was interested if some of my favorite adventure games sold well. But Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis only sold around a million copies, and Loom (which I only ever beat 10% of but moved as a kid) sold around half a million (unless I mixed those two up). That made me look up Loom to see if it’s on sale; apparently it is, but only a newer version with voice acting that cut out a lot of material to keep dialogue short.