Pick a side: that moment in Labyrinth where it goes from parser to proto-SCUMM

I dunked hard on Interplay’s ADVENT 2 (goofy, screen-hogging, do-little GUI) in a Tass Times In Tonetown writeup. My reaction surprised me. I guess I hadn’t thought about it for a while.

I know that pressure to add GUI elements came from a lot of corners (wanting to make those early Mac and Amiga adopters feel like their mice were useful, general us-too trend-following, etc.) and I know it survived well into the 1990s, but the click-aided parser never felt like anything but window dressing to me, then or now*.

And then I remembered the moment in Labyrinth (notably released the same year as Tass Times!) where the game goes from text parser to all-graphics. The game was a bit of a false start, most significant now as the table-setter for Maniac Mansion and later SCUMM titles. But it was a very clear statement: “pick a side.” And I think it’s very notable that the “pick-a-side” approach even won over Sierra, who had done a lot to shift the what-does-an-adventure-game-look-like conversation with the clunky-in-a-different-way AGI. Even they eventually had to agree that trying to live in both worlds did no one any favors.

*- Am I forgetting some shining example from the late 80s or early 90s of a really great use of one of these hybrids?


I think the original verb-grid version of SCUMM was probably the best interface hybrid that struck a balance between a parser and a “click to do this” interface. Especially with the game mechanic in Maniac Mansion where you literally had to pixel-hunt in the dark for light switches which felt very natural. If you couldn’t see a hotspot to click, it wasn’t in scope!

The only verb-grid interface game released recently I know of was Thimbleweed Park.

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I think Gateway and Eric the Unready are generally well-regarded, although I don’t know whether people specifically like(d) the hybrid interface or rather the writing, story and puzzles.

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Right, I readily grant that it’s possible to make a good/enjoyable game with a hybrid parser interface. (I like Tass Times a lot, despite the dumb interface.) I’m just not at all sure that hybrid interface style iteslf ever added more than it subtracted.