Graphics were introduced in 1980 by a new company called On-Line Systems, which later changed its name to Sierra On-Line. Early graphic adventures, such as Sierra's Mystery House (1980), employed basic vector graphics, but these soon gave way to bitmap graphics drawn by professional artists. Examples include Return of Heracles by Stuart Smith (1982) (which faithfully portrayed Greek mythology), Sherwood Forest (1982), Dale Johnson's Masquerade (1983), Antonio Antiochia's Transylvania (1982, re-released in 1984), Sierra's King's Quest (1984), and Adventure Construction Set (1985), one of the early hits of Electronic Arts.
A number of games were released on 8-bit home computer formats in the 1980s that advanced on the text adventure style originated with games like Colossal Cave Adventure and, in a similar manner to Sierra, added moveable (often directly-controllable) characters to a parser or input-system similar to traditional adventures. Examples of this are Gargoyle Games's Heavy on the Magick (1986) which has a text-input system with an animated display screen, and the later Magic Knight games such as Spellbound (1985) which uses a window-menu system to allow for text-adventure style input.
In 1984 a new kind of adventure games emerged following the launch of the Apple Macintosh with its point-and-click interface. First out was the innovative but relatively unknown Enchanted Scepters the same year, then in 1985 ICOM Simulations released Deja Vu that completely banished the text parser for a point-and-click interface. In 1987 the well-known second follow-up Shadowgate was released, and LucasArts also entered the field with Maniac Mansion - a point-and-click adventure that gained a strong following. A prime example of LucasArts' work is the Monkey Island series.
The introduction of such high-quality bitmap graphics required more substantial storage capacity with many adventure games requiring several diskettes for installation, which would be the case until the CD-ROM made its appearance.
In 1979, after playing through Adventure on a Teletype terminal, and unable to find many other examples of the fledgling genre, Roberta Williams conceived her own, a detective story inspired by Agatha Christie's novel And Then There Were None and the non-linear gameplay of the board game Clue. After working on the design for a month, she was able to convince her husband, Ken Williams, to stop work on the FORTRAN compiler he had been working on in order to develop the game.
Mystery House, also known as Hi-Res Adventure #1, was released for the Apple II in 1980, and became the first graphic adventure game. The game used vector graphics above a standard text interface to convey its environments, and featured a simple two-word parser. Mystery House sold well and although Ken believed that the gaming market would be less of a growth market than the professional software market, he and Roberta persevered with games, founding On-Line Systems in 1980.
In 1984 Sierra released King's Quest, which used techniques pioneered in action games to animate a character that could be directly controlled by the player. This departure from the first-person perspective, the standard in graphical text adventures, was made possible by the Adventure Game Interpreter, Sierra's new game engine. This interface, with both animated characters and a traditional text interface, was used in Sierra's subsequent 3D Animated Adventures, and was adopted as a standard by much of the industry.
The transition from first-person to third person had the side-effect of allowing for richer narratives, where the character's personality and motivation was distinct from those of the player.
Soon after, Sierra had multiple successful series of adventure games running, including King's Quest, Police Quest, Space Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, and Hero's Quest (Quest for Glory), with each containing numerous games. A few years after these series had started, the classic graphics above the command cursor was fully replaced with "point and click" game-play and VGA graphics. Other notable series include Phantasmagoria and Shivers; Sierra's last and most critically acclaimed series was the Gabriel Knight series, which began in 1993 and ended with Sierra's last adventure game in 1999.
Sierra would develop new games and push the boundaries of adventure gaming until its purchase by Cendant in 1998. Then in 1998, Cendant sold off their entire interactive software branch for $1 billion to Havas Interactive, a subsidiary of Vivendi Universal.
Sierra pursued technologies for their games (such as hand-drawn backgrounds, rotoscoped animation, and in-game video) that were more advanced than most other genres at the time. However, the release of the Sony PlayStation marked the end of the adventure game era; as 3D became the dominant graphics format, the mostly 2D adventure market began to shrink.
Through its almost 20 year involvement with the adventure game business, Sierra employed several notable game designers, including Roberta Williams, Jane Jensen, Al Lowe, Scott Murphy, Jeff Tunnell, and Lori Ann and Corey Cole.
- Demaria, Rusel; Wilson, Johnny L. (2003), High Score!: The Illustrated History of Electronic Games, McGraw-Hill Professional, p. 134-135, ISBN 9780072231724
- Montfort, Nick (2003), Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction, MIT Press, pp. 169–170, ISBN 0262633183, retrieved 2008-07-11