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Retrospective: The Legend of Kyrandia: Book One

Everyone called Malcolm is evil.

It takes a big man to admit when he's wrong. I am a very big man. One of my greatest laments about the state of the adventure game is the reduction in interactivity.

Time was when an adventure game had infinite inputs. A parser bar let you type in anything you wanted. On the billion to one chance the game understood it, that command would be carried out.

Of course, inevitably you'd type "Do a poo" and then be annoyed the developers didn't write in a funny response for that. But in principle these games offered you extraordinary freedom.

Then came the verb system of LucasArts' SCUMM, where sentences were constructed in chunks. "use HAIRBRUSH on MOUNTAIN", for instance. Once again, the degree of choice felt overwhelming.

This was simplified further by Sierra, years before LucasArts moved over to it, into what I would argue was the best system: the rotating mouse cursor.

Here you would right click to change the cursor through the various verbs and then click on the item in-screen. This opened up the whole window for the gorgeous graphics of a Space Quest IV, or a Sam & Max, while allowing the player to improvise and experiment.

As the adventure's heyday drew to an end the system was reduced further - first with a "verb coin" that gave you three or four options to choose with a right click, then with the left click becoming a general "use" and a right click providing "look". It was never the same again.

Oh, sorry, spoilers.

Now, most of the blasted things just have a single button which does everything. One stinking button. We went from infinity to one in 20 years.

That's not progress, that's regress. Presumably the next generation will ask us to press any button to start the game, and then play themselves for us.

That's my rant. I've made it for years. I've been wrong. Because in 1992, Westwood - the developer most famous for creating Command & Conquer - released the almost forgotten point and click adventure, The Legend Of Kyrandia: Book One.

It contained a single cursor.

I'm not really sure what to do with this information. Does it undermine everything? Is everything that's being produced now a homage to Kyrandia?

Obviously not. And not only because Kyrandia also suffers from the same issues.

To say the story owes something to the King's Quest series is a bit like saying Vodafone owes something to the Inland Revenue. In this fairytale land an evil wizard - brilliantly named Malcolm - is removing all the magic and, er, killing a few trees.

He's also turned your friendly wizard grandfather to stone! The cad. So you must seek out an amulet and then fight Malcolm because you are the chosen one, as destined before your birth.

See how pretty it was? Oh, you just don't understand.

It's an odd game. The tone slips between deadly serious and slightly silly. Oddly, the guff about your destiny seems to fall entirely in the serious camp, which lends the game a sense of pomposity it really cannot sustain.

So you march about, solving puzzles, and eventually it stops. That was the model for most adventures of the time - a story happening at you between inconveniences. It's all rather charming, really.

The single cursor was in fact something of a noteworthy novelty when Kyrandia was released in 1992. LucasArts was still verb building, while Sierra had introduced the rotating cursor only the year before.

Rather than a sign of the adventure's declining mind, here it was an experiment to see if the focus could be shifted elsewhere.

In Kyrandia it was onto the inventory. Another unique element for a straight point and click adventure was the inventory's limitations.