LucasArts versus Sierra: Part One

What happened to great adventure games? Although we’re told that they sell very well, we just can’t get excited about another new Nancy Drew adventure. Can you? Maybe it’s best to selectively restrict our memories of the much-loved genre to the grand age of adventure games when companies like LucasArts and Sierra regularly put out some of the most undeniably awesome adventure games of all time. But which of these two companies were responsible for the best ones? We decided to don our nostalgia goggles and look back on the evolution of the genre by recollecting the best adventure games from both the LucasArts and Sierra camps to settle the debate once and for all.

Above: Nancy Drew: The White Wolf of Icicle Creek sold more than 4 million copies. What the hell?


Mystery House
On-Line Systems (later known as Sierra On-Line and Sierra Entertainment)
Released: 1980

Developed by Roberta and Ken Willliams, Mystery House was the first game to add graphics to the completely text-based adventures that preceded it.  It was set in a Victorian mansion. When dead bodies start showing up, the mystery begins and you’ll need to use your wits to discover the identity of the murderer.

Above: Mystery House had one thing no other adventure game had before it: crudely drawn graphics 

Exclamation Points: We are awarding Mystery House with three cotton gins and one oversized “FIRST!!!” comment - framed by four solid gold exclamation points - for adding graphics to an adventure game, which helped push the genre forward.


The Dark Crystal
Sierra On-Line
Released: 1983

1983 was the year that gamers got an adventure game based on the creepiest Jim Henson movie we’ve ever seen: The Dark Crystal. In terms of gameplay, The Dark Crystal still closely resembled previously released text adventures. But you can clearly see how much the visuals improved since the release of past Sierra titles like Mystery House and Wizard and the Princess.

Above: This screenshot shows off the sort of cutting edge visuals Apple II owners enjoyed. Trust us, it was a lot cooler back then 

Above: A trailer for The Dark Crystal

Creepy Points: We award The Dark Crystal two dead Gelflings for being the first adventure game based off of a Jim Henson movie, which creeped the buh-jeebers out of muppet-loving kids around the globe.


Labyrinth: The Computer Game
Lucasfilm Games (now known as LucasArts)
Released: 1986

Developed by Lucasfilm Games (before it was known as LucasArts), Labyrinth: The Computer Game helped further bridge the gap between pure text adventures and more modern graphical adventures. The game used a “slot machine mechanic”, which allowed players to select words from two different columns of text to perform actions. Verbs like “ask” or “push” were listed in the left column, while nouns were featured in the right.

The idea for the “slot machine” mechanic came from Douglas Adams, author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series and one of the contributing designers for Labyrinth: The Computer Game.

Obscurity Points: Labyrinth: The Computer Game receives two dolphins and a useful towel for the involvement of Douglas Adams. We will also award it three David Bowie heads for the pixilated appearance of his likeness in the game.

Above: Labyrinth featured the imagination of Jim Henson, the money of George Lucas, and the music of David Bowie


  • Solid_Gabriel - May 17, 2009 2 p.m.

    There are a lot of great underground adventure games made by fans and small studios on the internet. You guys should check out games like 5 days a stranger, 7 days a skeptic, Pleurghburg dark ages, Enclosure, etc. I bet you'll feel like playing one of these great games made by Sierra and Lucasarts.
  • RonnyLive19881 - May 15, 2009 10:55 p.m.

    Lucas wins, they have Bruce Campbell!
  • Xeacons - May 15, 2009 3:49 p.m.

    I think it's pretty close! With all the Quests from Sierra and Lucas's movie licensees, it's tough. Don't forget Sam & Max! God, they need to go back and remake Labyrinth for next generation! Favorite movie ever!
  • Arucard04 - May 15, 2009 11:49 a.m.

    Wow this is an awesome article because I just recently "discovered" the adventure genre. I've played like 20 classic adventure games in the last couple of months and I gotta say....Lucasarts may look beaten in the 80's, but for anyone not familiar with the genres history, wait til the 90's! Also there's some great Adventure games still coming out that are not part of the Nancy Drew series.
  • notthatgoodthanks - May 15, 2009 7:11 a.m.

    Yeah its got to be lucasarts for the win! Monkey Island, Day of the tentacle, full throttle, sam and max, grin fandango....HAS TO BE... I got too much love for these games for lucasarts to fail. Can't wait to see the rest of this feature.
  • garnsr - May 15, 2009 4 a.m.

    I remember the Sierra games, but I never had a computer, so I was only able to play Maniac Mansion on NES, and Monkey Island and Willy Beemish on Sega CD. I always wanted to play more, but Lucas Arts had tons I wanted, and Sierra just had titles I knew, but didn't think were as cool. When will these all be released on a single disc compilation on current systems? Argh!
  • JohnnyFirebird - May 15, 2009 2:22 a.m.

    If you're going to give Maniac Mansion points for advancing the genre, then you should be doing the same to Manhunter. It's style of room-based puzzle solving would be later emulated by games like Myst, especially since it was (almost completely) parser free, with a single cursor used for context-sensitive action. Plus the Manhunter games were awesome.
  • JeffK - May 15, 2009 12:04 a.m.

    I would bring up some of the forgotten titles, but they're not technically adventure games, and that lets in the whole gamut of Star Wars games for LA. But, ah, fuck it: (Incidentally, I knew I was missing an adventure game earlier...Gold Rush!) Jones in the Fast Lane Thexder 1 and 2 Manhunter 1 and 2 Codename:Iceman (this wasn't very good) Hoyle's Book of Games (I still play gin on this multiple times a month, as nobody has topped it) And then the not-so-forgotten: SWAT 1-4 (criminally underrated) Front Page Sports' line (FPS 98 is still played by thousands, the best football sim ever made, and Baseball was goddamn phenomenal for its time) Red Baron The Adventures of Willy Beamish (I'm leaving out Half Life...) M_L, I never got into LSL, even as a pubescent boy. Not sure why. I do remember the age protection on the first game that just asked questions any reasonably bright kid could answer most of, and just guess at the others.
  • Master_Leep - May 14, 2009 11:23 p.m.

    I am loving this article.. JeffK, I grew up with very similar video game standards. I remember getting Kings Quest I on cartridge for the family's new IBM PCjr. Ever since then I was hooked on sierra games. I too always got a new sierra game for Christmas or birthday presents, and I loved them. All of that plus the fact that the LSL series was perfect for an adolescent boy to misinterpret sex via computer game.... How many kids get that these days..
  • GrantG - May 14, 2009 10:38 p.m.

    3rd!! man, its nice to be on top!
  • CuddlyBomber - May 14, 2009 10:23 p.m.

    Aww man labryzzzzzzzzzzzzz...
  • smallberry - May 16, 2009 4:24 a.m.

    @muffchild - Damn I've watched a ton of Frasier and never seen that. Coincidentally, I'm watching the series finale right now. I believe Dean Erickson is a real estate agent now. reCapthca: must crapping <- heehee
  • GamesRadarCharlieBarratt - May 15, 2009 11:27 p.m.

    @ solsunforge - Sounds like you're talking about the new Sam & Max, which is pretty average from what I've heard. We're talking about the original Sam & Max Hit the Road, released by LucasArts in 1993. An undeniable classic.
  • GamesRadarCharlieBarratt - May 15, 2009 11:25 p.m.

    @ muffchild - You know I noticed! He served them coffee and had his hair in a ponytail. That's pretty much the only other place I've seen that poor actor. Dammit, now I've admitted to loving Gabriel Knight and to watching Frasier...
  • Demonflare - May 15, 2009 9:03 p.m.

    Ahh! Lots of words for this article! I have nothing to say which/who is better. I just think they both sux.
  • muffchild - May 15, 2009 6:44 p.m.

    has anyone who's played Gabriel Knight: beast within (2nd one) notice that the guy who played Gabriel (Dean Erickson I think) worked at cafe Nervosa on Frasier? it was one of the first season episodes. nearly shit when I saw him there. "thats me, gabriel knight."
  • pimlicosound - May 15, 2009 4:25 p.m.

    Nice John Lee Hooker reference.
  • solsunforge - May 15, 2009 8:13 a.m.

    Sam and max is way overhyped. Yeah its funy but it gets very annoying after awhile. I couldnt even play more then 1 episode in the same sitting. I also forgot another al lowe tital torins passage and roberta willaims phantasmagoria series was the first game to use fmv(full motion video)
  • SwampRock - May 15, 2009 5:55 a.m.

    these awards make me want to play beautiful katamari... my dad bought that game for my sister but she never played it and I did and I just love it a nice break from *rev *rev aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhh, F U marcus, wheres my wife?! I'm gonna shoot her in the face! dom, stop trying to add to the story I'm the main character
  • smallberry - May 15, 2009 5:40 a.m.

    I words. Thank you.

Showing 1-20 of 33 comments

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