downfall.jpg[Adventure Game Studio, a freeware game creation tool for bringing adventure games to life, plays host to a variety of brilliant graphical adventures each year, and the AGS Awards celebrates all the best releases. In this round-up piece, Igor Hardy of A Hardy Developer's Journal looks through some of the AGS gems of 2009 and shares some of his personal favourites.]

2009 was a year of great achievements for Adventure Game Studio. Two AGS-made titles appeared among IGF 2010 finalists (Boryokudan Rue and Ulitsa Dimitrova), several others were released commercially by both established and starting up indie studios (Blackwell Convergence, Time Gentlemen Please!, Dante's Divine Comedy, Downfall) and are considered to be among the most interesting adventure games of recent times.

And yet there is much more to 2009 than this short list of titles. As in previous years the most important AGS-centered events remain: all 12 MAGS monthly competitions and the yearly AGS Awards, for which the first round of voting has just ended. Nominated for the Best AGS Game of The Year are:

! - Ben Chandler
Shifters's Box - Outside In - Ben Chandler
The Marionette - Team Effigy
The McCarthy Chronicles: Episode 1 - Steven Poulton
Time Gentlemen, Please! - Zombie Cow Studios

You can check out the nominees for all other categories in the freshly established list at

Concurrently, I've tried to select a small number of games that would the best representation of what excited the AGS community during the course of the year. I think I’ve managed to choose a group of titles that are particularly striking and creative. However, I want to be clear that the way the picks were taken was highly subjective - these are all games I can recommend based on my own experiences and I left out some promising titles I haven’t properly played yet.

For getting the newest updates on the AGS Awards I recommend this excellent AGS-themed blog.

Horror Adventures

The Marionette by Team Effigy

The major freeware AGS release of the year - 3 years in the making during which it teased with samples of superbly painted graphic art and a hefty demo. Storywise, The Marionette is a first person supernatural mystery-horror concerning ghosts from the past that come back to haunt you – an experience low on cheap scares, heavy on character drama. Tragedy, art, revenge, and many strange locations to explore. The game is already collecting great opinions not only from gamers, but also from the gaming press.

The McCarthy Chronicles: Episode 1 by Steven Poulton

Short, (mostly) b&w gothic horror that shows a lot of love for cinematic atmosphere, but not much for puzzles. It is also fully voiced, with very polishedm professionally edited audio. Plot: Nicotine addict and P.I. Rick McCarthy roams around an eerie mansion until soon enough trouble finds him. The game got a huge reception from the genre’s fans with heated discussions about it being style over substance or not. Also, about if the next episode will be equally interesting or even more so.

Downfall by Harvester Games

Full length commercial title created by a one-man team. With all sorts of gory scenes and Stephen King influences at its core this horror game is neither a pastiche nor a traditional homage, but a well thought up thing of its own. The unfolding story is smart, crazy and disturbing. Also, the game has excellently implemented choices the player will have to make during the game. Choices which consequences are much more interesting and real-life-like than what games usually offer.

Wacky Adventures

Time Gentleman Please! By Zombie Cow Studios

Commercial game. Sequel to the freeware Ben There, Dan That from 2008. Good friends Ben & Dan - avid Magnum P.I. fans – accidentally kill all the people on Earth and as they attempt to reverse history, they sort of break the space-time continuum, unleashing Hitler and his hordes of robot-dinosaur clones who are set on making things even worse. TGP! has its puzzles and humor tuned up to perfection and might be the past year’s universally loved game.

NecroQuest 1. Deluxe by Yarooze

The deluxe version of the 2008’s Necroquest is quite a delight. Excellently voiced and attractive looking. Following in your grandfather’s footsteps you come to Transsyberia and take up necromancy. Soon you’ll be forced to fight the bad guys, and make love to the seductive succubus your grandfather kept in his basement. But only a true necromancer will survive this kind of fun. Overall, it’s a very enjoyable parody of both fantasy and Transylvania-horror genres. Besides the game, a major NecroQuest treat are action figures of the succubus Tzuko.

Sci-fi Adventures

Death Wore Endless Feathers (Disk 1) by Scavenger

Rarely is cyberpunk so well realized. Even if the characters are played by Disney-esque mammals and lizards. Superb graphics and animation, excellent puzzles, and, most importantly, a very neat depiction of the cracker scene of the future. Virtual Reality, street couriers, rundown buildings, Asian fast foods, crackerz technical lingo, boot demos, robots – it’s all there. Even a lovingly-crafted cracker readme file.

Shifter’s Box – Outside In by Ben Chandler

People go crazy about steampunk (have a look at the October edition of MAGS). But Shifter’s Box has even more to offer than amazing steam-based contraptions and the presence a 19th century gentleman-scientist in the role of the narrator. It offers a journey through many beautiful and unique dimensions – an epic journey that makes the players melt when recalling its atmosphere. Yet still such grand game can actually be played to the end in one evening. All thanks to the magic of the mysterious device known as Shifter’s Box.

Pulpy Adventures

Indiana Jones and The Temple of Spheres by Screen7

Indiana Jones Holiday Special! Created by the team that brought you Indiana Jones & The Fountain of Youth Demo and presents similar high quality in all departments. Includes a new Indy-girl Shelly.

Mr. Danger's Contest by Bill Garret

X-men meets Clue! Maybe not much to look at, but lots of fun to be had. In his mansion Mr Danger has organized a contest for young people with special talents. You are one of them - master of magnetism McMagnus. But the game takes a darker turn as strange murders start to happen…
Being able to use super-powers is certainly cool, but the even coller thing are the game’s sound effects and music. Bill Garret performed them himself using only his vocal talents and a microphone. The result is one of a kind.

AeroNuts by Dirk Kreyenberg

Declared the best MAGS game of 2009, AeroNuts tells the tale of an aerial confrontation between Elfie McMillen – daughter of genius military scientist – and Baron Borisov – a nefarious evil-doer. It’s actually not a pure adventure game – it alternates between typical adventure game portions and arcade shooter sections where you control a WWI kind of a plane and blow-up The Baron’s minions. Technically flawless and very fun to play with its different pacing at different points. Has a perfect Saturday morning cartoon feel.

! by Ben Chandler

Even exclamation marks can be used to create an ultimate doomsday device it seems. The demented Count Can’t is using a certain special “!” to perfect his evil laugh, which will make him unstoppable. Meanwhile, the town’s mayor assigns a robot to reclaim the stolen “!”. The game is unique for offering the player 6 screens in 1. Also, there’s no inventory, conversation puzzles dominate, and the color palette is limited for a very specific visual effect. Adventure game minimalism at its most beautiful.

Art Games

Ulitsa Dimitrova by Lea Schönfelder

Finalist of IGF 2010 Student Awards. The player becomes Pjotr, a homeless child in St. Petersburg, who spends his time robbing, begging, anything to get the means to feed his nicotine addiction and get alcohol for his prostitute mother. There are no happy endings in this one. In fact pursuing your goals doesn’t lead anywhere – it’s all one big inescapable dead end. Or is it? Excellently animated, interactive response to The Little Match Girl.