How the Graphic Adventure Video Game Genre Can Save Your Kids’ TV-to-Game 360 Transmedia Strategy

UGAGS, the Untold Graphic Adventure Game System, is a framework and toolset that we use to create graphic adventure games.

A graphic adventure game often adheres to these conventions:

  • Third person perspective (you can see your character’s body), rather than first person (you can see through the eyes of your character)

    Third person vs. first person adventure game perspectives

    Full Throttle (left) is a third person adventure game, while MYST is atypically first person

  • Emphasis on story and character
  • Inventory system (the player can carry objects)
  • “Puzzles” … these are choke points in the game which can be overcome through various means (read: The 12 Types of Puzzles in Graphic Adventure Games)
  • Dialogue. Characters “speak” either through on-screen subtitles, or voice-over, or both.

    Day of the Tentacle

  • Conversations. Many graphic adventure games use branching dialogue trees for character interaction.

    Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis conversation system

  • Humour. This is one of the only video game genres that consistently uses humour as a selling point and main attraction.

Some famous examples of graphic adventure games are The Secret of Monkey Island, King’s Quest, and Simon the Sorceror. (Note that games involving adventure, like The Legend of Zelda, are often called “adventure games”, but the “graphic adventure” moniker applies only to this very specific genre we’ve outlined.)

The graphic adventure game genre suffered its demise in the mid-90’s at the hand of more popular action-oriented games like DOOM. The criticism of graphic adventure games, at the time, was that they were too expensive to produce and didn’t provide the player with enough replay value. Games like LOOM could be completed in a single day, and carried a $50-70 price tag.

Advantages of the Genre

The causes of the graphic adventure game’s fall from grace have, in a strange way, become its new strengths – particularly in the context of extending children’s brands to new platforms.

Replayability and Kids

Graphic adventure games are not very replayable for adults and older, because the experience is the same every time; adults are constantly seeking something new and challenging. But this is actually a strength when it comes to children’s entertainment. Young children will watch a movie or a teevee show again and again, with each viewing immediately following the last. In fact, certain teevee properties have acknowledged and leveraged this fact: Nickelodeon aired each new Blue’s Clues episode five times in a row from Monday to Friday, and test results found that this increased viewers’ attention and comprehension. Every episode of Teletubbies contains a live action segment of children performing an activity. This exact same live action segment is repeated within the same episode.

Teletubbies and repetition

(It’s a real shame kids have to relive this.)

To a young child, everything is new and challenging. There’s a distinct comfort in knowing the answers. Just as a child will proudly repeat a newly-learned task to demonstrate his mastery (standing on one leg, clicking his tongue, drawing the letter “A”), children delight in playing and replaying graphic adventure games because they’re predictable. Children like knowing that they can play a game from beginning to end, predictably experiencing the same events and confidently overcoming the same challenges.

Development Costs

The entire aim of UGAGS is to reduce the cost to develop graphic adventure games. While it was once true that graphic adventure games have demanded high budgets for low value, the cost of developing games in other, more action-based genres, has skyrocketed.

Brand Extension

Very often, we see kids’ television brands being extended to other areas, most notably video games. The mistake people usually make is to figure “well, teevee shows are about story and character, while video games are about defeating enemies and jumping on platforms … so we’ll take our teevee character and make her defeat enemies and jump on characters.”

This errant thinking stems from a very narrow understanding of video game genres. The result is games like That’s So Raven for the Nintendo Gameboy Advance:

That's So Raven GBA

This game is the epitome of lazy and uninformed content development for kids.

That’s So Raven was based on the Disney show of the same name. The game’s genre is best described as action … as Raven, you have to navigate the halls of your school, dodging book-throwing baddies and spraying your enemies in the face with perfume.

On the Disney site itself, you also have That’s So Raven Pinball:

What do these two games do to extend the That’s So Raven brand to video games? As a That’s So Raven fan, is this how you want to interact with the brand? It’s the equivalent of just throwing That’s So Raven on a sleeping bag or a pencil case and calling it a day. What does That’s So Raven have to do with sleeping, colouring, or pinball? Are there any moments in the show where Raven has to make it from one end of the school to the other, while dodging thrown books? Nope.

HERE is an excellent pinball game brand extension:

Wizard pinball game

The Wizard pinball machine extends the Tommy brand, which is all about pinball.

HERE is a great sleeping bag brand extension:

Taun-taun Sleeping Bag

The Taun Taun sleeping bag unzips to reveal guts, just like in The Empire Strikes Back.

What’s That’s So Raven all about? Well, she can see the future. How about a That’s So Raven Tarot Card deck? Fortune cookies? A magic 8-ball?

As a fan of the show, i want to play as Raven (they got that part right), but i also want to do the things that Raven does. i want to talk to all my friends, crack jokes, use my future-seeing powers, and get up to zany hijinks. The Game Boy Advance game pays lip service to this, by relegating your hijinks to cutscenes (non-interactive segments that play between levels). This game treatment is the equivalent of slapping a logo on a toothbrush. It’s essentially a white label game with an irrelevant brand make-up job.

The good news is that you can extend the brand logically to video games with a That’s So Raven graphic adventure game. Instead of hijinks being tacked on superficially, the entire plot of the game can unfold like an episode of the teevee show, with the player as the central character. You can even produce a few games, and release them episodically, just like the show. It’s a mode of production that teevee people understand, and it can even employ the show’s writers and actors in its development.

Lost in Translation

When considering how best to parlay your teevee show into video game format, consider how your show’s fans may want to engage with your brand, and try to match the genre to the show. If you have a boys’ action series, it might make sense to do a top-down space shooter with lasers and power-ups. But since a majority of kids’ content is about story and character, a graphic adventure game is going to give the audience what they want, and will make for a much smoother transition into games if you don’t fully grasp their nuances.

iCarly I Dream in Toons

iCarly: I Dream in Toons is a hidden object game where you have to search for items on a list. The iCarly show is about a girl who has a popular web series. i spy with my little eye: a brand disconnect.

Slaves of the 80’s

Again, here’s a scenario i see all the time, and it’s a perfect example of what not to do: your show’s lead character doesn’t ride a skateboard, but you once heard of a popular game franchise called Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater (your nephew plays it … or he used to, a few years ago. You can’t remember – you don’t follow this video game stuff too closely).

So you cook up the idea to put your character on a skateboard, jumping pylons and ducking seagulls, because you figure you’d basically be producing the same effect as the Tony Hawk game and reaping that popularity for your own brand.

There’s a (hopefully) obvious disparity in development time and budget here (a Tony Hawk game costs millions, and has a bona fide cool factor, celebrity endorsements, and legacy of prequels wherein the gameplay was refined over the course of a decade). Then there’s the brand disconnect: you feel your character should ride a skateboard in the game, simply because it’s more “gamey”; your show doesn’t have enough video game-like action in it, so you need to manufacture some. The good news is that if you understand game genres, and are aware of the graphic adventure genre in particular, you don’t have to squeeze your characters into genres and scenarios that aren’t a good brand fit.

You’d never market a Smurfs Chainsaw. You’d never redraw Martha Speaks anime-style and have her punching and kicking as a ninja in feudal Japan. It’s just as inappropriate and off-putting to have a Suite Life of Zack and Cody Pac Man clone:

i know exactly what happened here: a group of folks who don’t fully understand video games got together in a board room to decide on a video game concept for the Zack and Cody. The most recent frame of reference they had was Pac Man (25 years ago), so that’s what the game was modeled after. i’ve seen this situation unfold time and again. By leaning more on the understanding and expertise of game developers, you can avoid this brand disconnect and still end up with a fun video game that engages and entertains your players. Building a graphic adventure game from a show property is the most straightforward way to avoid this brand disconnect.

If your show is about putting on shoes and going on adventures, like in Frannie’s Feet, you can do exactly that in a graphic adventure game. If your characters have to visit planets to learn new things, as they do in Rob the Robot, a graphic adventure game makes the perfect brand extension. In fact, i’ll go so far as to say that the genre works with any narrative kids’ teevee show on the market today. Give the graphic adventure genre a shot for your next teevee-to-game project!

For more information on UGAGS, please contact

Here is a list of games that have been made to date with UGAGS:

And here are some movies and teevee shows that have been logically extended into the video game realm within the graphic adventure game genre:

Dr. Who Adventure Games

Dr. Who

Beavis and Butthead in: Virtual Stupidity

Beavis and Butthead in: Virtual Stupidity

Duckman: the Graphic Adventures of a Private Dick

Duckman: the Graphic Adventures of a Private Dick

Star Trek 25th Anniversary

Star Trek 25th Anniversary

Blade Runner

Blade Runner

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Back to the Future

Back to the Future

11 thoughts on “How the Graphic Adventure Video Game Genre Can Save Your Kids’ TV-to-Game 360 Transmedia Strategy

  1. Mushyrulez

    Yes, perhaps there’s a huge disconnect between non-interactive media (television) and interactive media (games), but that seems to be primarily a North American thing. If you go into Japan, you’ll find tons of Visual Novels (the equivalent of graphic adventure games) – many of which have been adapted or are adaptations of other non-interactive media, such as televisions, books, etc.

    I agree with what you said – the primary disconnect here is non-gamers trying to create a game. However, if the creators of the non-interactive media /are/ gamers, the interactive media generally becomes much more well thought-out. People creating children’s television shows generally aren’t gamers, though – and that’s the big problem.

    1. Ryan Henson Creighton

      That’s a very keen insight. The Great Divide has always been people who play games, vs. people who don’t. Gamers “get it”, and are able to turn around and design enjoyable games. Non-gamers terminally don’t get it, and we wind up with these brand extensions that could be a lot better thought out. A further problem is that non-gaming folks from linear media like teevee think they understand games. It’s a bit of a “how hard could it be?” attitude, and it’s causing a lot of crummy stuff to get greenlit.

  2. Facebook Indie Games

    I buy into this completely. TV shows are about characters. Graphic adventures are the only genre yet devised where you can interact with the characters have the same personality in the game as they do in the show.

    I’m not sure replayability is an asset for kids old enough to appreciate graphic adventures. However replyability doesn’t matter as much now as it used to: you can make adventure games episodic as Telltale have done. This means you can reuse the same assets over several smaller games. Nice.

    Proof is in the eating. Prototype a That’s So Raven adventure at your next game jam.

    1. Ryan Henson Creighton

      I’m not sure replayability is an asset for kids old enough to appreciate graphic adventures.

      i challenge your fallacy! If Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure proved anything, it’s that kids as young as 4 and 5 years old can enjoy graphic adventure games.

  3. Facebook Indie Games

    Another strength is that they are a game that parents and children can enjoy together: humour for the grown ups and puzzles for the kids that are just hard enough to need help.

    You’re onto something here Ryan.

  4. Pingback: IndieCade 2011: Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn misconceptions | PUII - News Blog

  5. Pingback: IndieCade 2011: Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn misconceptions | Game Ninja

  6. Pingback: IndieCade 2011: Sissy's Magical Ponycorn misconceptions | Joystiq

  7. Pingback: IndieCade 2011: Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn misconceptions « GameBooze – Bottoms up! Aggregated gaming news, guides, cheats and fixes to quench your gaming needs.

  8. Pingback: Adventure games. | chatcclub

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.