Author Topic: GTD(?): Handheld Adventure Games  (Read 6080 times)

Snarky

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GTD(?): Handheld Adventure Games
« on: 31 Dec 2004, 20:03 »
I've been playing with PocketSCUMM (ScummVM for Windows CE) recently. For those of you who don't know, it allows you to play classic adventure games like Monkey Island and Broken Sword on PocketPC PDAs and Smartphones running WinCE.


Flying back home after Christmas, I brought with me my iPAQ and a bunch of games I haven't finished: Loom, Indy 3, Flight of the Amazon Queen, and Simon the Sorcerer. I ended up playing FotAQ for much of the flight.

This got me thinking: How would you design and make an original adventure game to be played on a handheld platform? The discussion has come up before (#1, #2), but didn't touch on the specific design challenges imposed by mobile devices. I think that would be an interesting topic to consider.


Handheld Platforms
Let's start by clarifying what handheld devices we're talking about.

You have gaming systems: The Gameboy, Nintendo DS and the Sony PSP being the major ones. Screen resolution is, respectively: 240x160, 2*256x192 (two screens, you know), and 480x272. The games are controlled with joypad-style buttons. The Nintendo DS, however, also has a touchscreen with stylus.

Then you have PDAs: Your Palm and PocketPCs. Screen resolution: (up to) 320x480, and 240x320, respectively. Mainly controlled with touchscreen with stylus, although there are a few buttons, and you can buy (tiny) keyboard peripherals.

Then you have mobile phones: Specs for these vary enormously. You can get models with 320x240 or higher screen resolution. Some have touchscreens, some have keyboards. Most have telephone push buttons as well as arrow keys and other control keys.

There are also hybrid devices: The iPAQ in the photo also functions as a cell phone. The Nokia N-Gage is a cell phone and a (crappy) gaming system. Each new mobile phone has more PDA functionality.

The point here is that all of these devices are powerful enough to be adventure game platforms. There are already other games for all of them. Of course, you also have handheld devices that probably aren't suitable for graphic adventures, like iPods, digital cameras and graphic calculators, so let's focus on the ones mentioned above.


The Case for Handheld Adventures
Why would we want adventure games for handheld devices, anyway? Well, for one thing, it might turn out to be a niche for adventures to flourish (commercially). Having fallen out of fashion on the PC, and never really gained a foothold on console systems, mobile gaming creates a new opportunity for these games to gain popularity. There are some reasons to believe this might be possible:

The golden age for adventure games ended partly because they were superceded technologically, and never found a way to take advantage of the increased power of modern PCs.  Handheld devices have specs similar to back when adventures reigned, and it's possible that price considerations will mean that lower-end devices don't improve drastically in the near future.

Cell phones, in particular, are everywhere. My sister still doesn't have a PC, but she sure has a cell phone. Most of these people aren't traditional gamers, and might be a better market for adventure games than gamers are.

Some people predict a coming boom in mobile gaming. If these are the platforms of the future, we want adventure games to be along, right? There's certainly some demand for them, as seen in the threads I linked to.

Finally, even if handheld adventure games don't break through into the mainstream, it will allow dedicated fans (i.e. us) to play them while on the move. So in conclusion, I think it's worth trying.


The Challenges
Some of the problems facing handheld adventure games can be observed in PocketSCUMM:

Screen
The screen size of the iPAQ is 240x320; it is taller than it is wide. Since PC monitors are wider than they are tall, you have to tip the iPAQ on its side to utilize the screen optimally. That's not a big problem, and tipped over the screen size is perfect: The full resolution of the classic VGA games plus a bar at the bottom for the PocketSCUMM controls. However, other WinCE devices don't have standard screen sizes, and the original graphics have to be resized to fit on their screens.


Image originally posted by Jaz
For original games, I see two challenges here. First, many devices have non-standard resolutions, meaning that it would be difficult to release a game for many different devices. Secondly, most handheld screens are portrait-oriented (taller than they are wide), and not all can be tipped over as easily or elegantly as the iPAQ (think flip-open cell phones). Is a tall aspect ratio suitable for adventure game backgrounds? I have my doubts.

I expected that the small physical size of the screen would present a problem. In fact, I found it difficult to play Indy 3 because the text didn't show up well on the iPAQ (too thin, not enough contrast). However, other games were just fine, even when I tested them on another device with a much smaller screen. So if graphics are designed with this in mind, I don't think it will be a problem.

Controls
This, I think, is the biggest obstacle to adventure games on handheld devices. It might also present the greatest opportunity. Almost all modern graphic adventure interfaces work within a point-and-click paradigm. You have a mouse pointer, you move it around, and you click on things. This doesn't apply to handheld devices. Using a touchscreen and a stylus, like on PocketPCs, might seem like it's equivalent, but there are major differences. There's no mouse pointer. That means you can't indicate when the player moves the mouse over a hotspot. There's no right-click. That means you can't switch modes quickly in Sierra games, or perform default actions in LucasArt games. You can't place the pointer anywhere without having it count as a tap (a click). (PocketSCUMM allows you to map the buttons on the device to get around these problems, but it's still somewhat awkward, especially when pixel-hunting.)

Taking adventure games away from point-and-click interaction and to tap-and-drag interaction means rethinking the interfaces, and I think that's a great opportunity to move the state of the art forward. How about an interface that allows you to circle stuff? Or rub parts of the screen? Nintendo DS is experimenting with these interactions right now. Or how about voice-driven interactions (since most handhelds are guaranteed to have a microphone)? How would Loom play if you actually had to hum or whistle the notes? Can the camera that is now commonly built in be used?

For devices that don't have touch screens, the interface issue becomes more thorny. A pointer that cycles between hotspots instead of moving around all the screen? Allow users to select their action from a list of options? Back in the day I played Indy:FoA without a mouse, moving the pointer with the arrow keys on my keyboard, but I doubt it would be very popular as a standard control.

Mobility
The essential point of mobile and handheld devices is that you can carry them around with you and use them anywhere. That creates some additional considerations for game design. Players might be jostled, interrupted or distracted at any moment. So all actions should be undoable and/or repeatable, there should be a handy way to pause/suspend/quit the game instantly, and the game should not allow players to possibly miss critical information. You can't assume players have access to paper and pen, so code-breaking puzzles are out, as are most mazes (yay!). The battery might run out, so a reliable autosave/backup feature is required at the least.

Also, the game might be played in public, and this might affect what sort of content is appropriate. Music, sound effects and speech might prove irritating to others and embarrassing to the player (unless headphones are used). Some amount of discretion is probably required.

Play Patterns
It seems likely that a handheld game will be played in shorter sessions (maybe in the line at the supermarket, on the bus to work etc.), and this should influence the design. It should be quick and easy to start up the game (no forced intros or lengthy company logos) and jump back into play (maybe some kind of reminder about what's going on, like the notes in the Ben Jordan games). It should be possible to make some progress in five-ten minutes. In terms of storytelling, players may perhaps not be as patient with reading lengthy dialogues or found diary entries. You may have less of their attention as they're playing. I'd assume this would make simple or humoristic plots more appropriate for handheld adventure games.


Developing and Distributing Handheld Adventures
Making games for the portable gaming systems, whether the Gameboy, DS or PSP is (AFAIK) only possible for commerial developers. Writing the games requires access to platform SDKs, and distribution is on propietary formats.

For cell phones and PDAs it's much easier. Games can be downloaded directly on to the device, or to a computer and transfered to the device wirelessly, over a cable or on a standard memory card.

Java runs on a large number of these devices, and is probably the most feasible development option if targeting more than one device. For PocketPC and WinCE devices, there's also the .NET Compact Framework, with the option of developing in C#. Writing in C(++) runs into the problem of getting hold of compilers for each platform, ensuring native support on all devices, and possibly problems deploying the game (devices that allow you to run Java apps don't necessarily allow you to run external native apps).

Of course, there's no AGS for making handheld adventure games. Ideally, there would be an engine that ran games on handheld devices, or failing that a library of classes useful for making an adventure game. However, the first few people to develop handheld adventures will probably have to do it from scratch.


Conclusion and Further Discussion
Dammit! I want some adventure games for my phone and for my iPAQ.

While I welcome discussion on any point raised in this post, I'd especially like to hear back on these questions:

  • Do you have any ideas for an adventure game interface on mobile devices?
  • Some sketches of backgrounds in a tall aspect ratio (say 200x320)
  • What would the business model for commercial handheld adventure games be?
  • If I, hypothetically, was to develop an adventure game for handhelds, would you prefer I wrote it in Java or .NET CF, or something else?
« Last Edit: 01 Jan 2005, 14:37 by Snarky »

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Re: GTD(?): Handheld Adventure Games
« Reply #1 on: 31 Dec 2004, 22:44 »
One way to overcome the problem with not having a mouse over hotspot activated statusline (at least for touch sensitive screens) is to drag the stylus across the screen. When it is over a hotspot, the statusline would show its name. I think the verbcoin GUI would be great for a mobile. You tap on a hotspot, and the verbcoin shows up. You then tap whatever action you want to do.
As for keypads, you could have the arrows move the characters around and the numbers (on the mobile at least) represent different actions, such as talk, pick up, etc. To perform an action on something, you would have to go up to it using the arrow keys, and then press the appropriate number. Admittedly, "looking" at something would be hard. Perhaps when someone clicks the look button, the game will pause and a pointer will come up which can move with the arrows. You move it over what you want to look at and click the look button a 2nd time.
About the playlength, yeah, they would have to be pretty short, easy games to hold the players attention, and to be playable in comparitively short lengths of time.
By the way, the 1st pic in your post (presumably of a pocketPC with an adventure game) is not showing up
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Re: GTD(?): Handheld Adventure Games
« Reply #2 on: 01 Jan 2005, 00:05 »
One way to overcome the problem with not having a mouse over hotspot activated statusline (at least for touch sensitive screens) is to drag the stylus across the screen. When it is over a hotspot, the statusline would show its name.

Yeah, that doesn't work so good. The problem is that in order to drag the stylus around the screen, you first have to tap somewhere, which tends to cause something to happen (like the character starting to move around). Also, it seems like PocketSCUMM clicks on anything you drag the stylus over, because you can't find a hotspot without activating it.

The workaround is a "free look" mode where tapping and dragging just moves the pointer, and never registers a click. I mapped it to one of the keys, so when I pressed it I could look for hotspots, and when I pressed it again I could activate them. It's a bit tedious, though.

Quote
I think the verbcoin GUI would be great for a mobile. You tap on a hotspot, and the verbcoin shows up. You then tap whatever action you want to do.

Actually, the documentation indicates it's kind of fiddly:

Quote
Helpful Hints Running Curse of Monkey Island
1. Make sure to assign a button for Rt-Click in Options.
2. As usual, tapping the stylus acts as the Left-Click. Tapping
on an area of the screen that causes the cursor to turn Red means
that some action can be taken. To do that, hold the stylus at that
position until the Action Interface (also called the Verb Coin)
comes up. It will have on it a 'Grabbing Hand' to pick up, push or
use something, a 'Skull' to examine objects, and a 'Parrot'
to talk to, eat, drink, taste, blow, or bite. AT FIRST, IT WILL
SEEM TRICKY USING THE VERB COIN- the best way is to hold the stylus
on the screen until the Verb Coin appears and then, without taking
the stylus off the screen slide it over the Hand, Skull or Parrot,
then withdraw it.

Quote
As for keypads, you could have the arrows move the characters around and the numbers (on the mobile at least) represent different actions, such as talk, pick up, etc. To perform an action on something, you would have to go up to it using the arrow keys, and then press the appropriate number. Admittedly, "looking" at something would be hard. Perhaps when someone clicks the look button, the game will pause and a pointer will come up which can move with the arrows. You move it over what you want to look at and click the look button a 2nd time.

Yeah, that could work.

I really think forcing the point-and-click style interaction on devices that don't have a mouse is wrong-headed. Devices with button controls should have keypress interactions (like you describe), devices with a touchscreen should take advantage of that, and so on.

Quote
About the playlength, yeah, they would have to be pretty short, easy games to hold the players attention, and to be playable in comparitively short lengths of time.
By the way, the 1st pic in your post (presumably of a pocketPC with an adventure game) is not showing up

Hmmm... I can see it. Does my avatar (a toothy grin) show up for you? Can you open it in a separate window?

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Re: GTD(?): Handheld Adventure Games
« Reply #3 on: 01 Jan 2005, 00:20 »
Another interesting way of playing could be using 1st person view. Sort of like Heart of China. The screen would show what the character sees, and will generally be a static screen. When the player taps on something on screen, it will open up a list of actions that can be done with that. If there is nothing to be done, perhaps only a "look" message will show up. If the player taps on an arrow at the edge of the screen, the game will move to the next screen, in the direction of the arrow.
And no, your avatar does not show either. Not even in a new window
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Re: GTD(?): Handheld Adventure Games
« Reply #4 on: 01 Jan 2005, 00:22 »
Just to put in my 2 pence :P

I had the ability to play SCUMM games on my mobile, using escummvm and its touchscreen, it was the best thing that happened to a bus journey in a long time. It was great, easy to use and the most fun to be had on a mobile phone.

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Re: GTD(?): Handheld Adventure Games
« Reply #5 on: 01 Jan 2005, 02:04 »
Another possible solution to the control problem would be to create the games more akin to their handheld bretheren, controlling it much in the way that the control of Grim Fandango and Monkey Island 4 were handled - by having the character controlled using the arrow keys, and seperate buttons for different actions, (or a button to scroll actions, and another to cause the character to execute the currently selected action on the nearest hotspot, possibly selectable). Obviously, as they would be 2D, the controls would be a static cardinal direction sort of deal, but you get the drift.

I think that that's really the only truly simple option for handheld systems that don't offer touchscreen capabilities. This would, of course, rule out playing games that were designed with the mouse in mind, as it would be less a 'point and click' adventure and more a 'walk around and interact' adventure.  It would also make it near-impossible to have games that required 'throwing' objects, or interacting with distant things, unless an RPG-style cursor (Something along the lines of what Babar described, where you chose the action first, then the subject is chosen afterward) was also implemented, where you could scroll through hotspots with an indicator telling you what you were interacting with.

As long as the games don't require any truly precision pixel hunting, or timed puzzles, an adapted point and click like the method Snarky described where one would play adventures entirely with the keyboard is also a slow but reasonable option.
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Re: GTD(?): Handheld Adventure Games
« Reply #6 on: 01 Jan 2005, 14:57 »
Another thing that might be worth pondering is the additional capabilities these devices sometimes offer. I mentioned using the microphone and the camera; some handhelds also come with GPS sensors, gyroscopes that can detect tilt, or perhaps most commonly, network connectivity. These features could be used to create context-sensitive games: how about a game which went down a different path if you traveled a certain distance while playing it? Puzzles that required you to shake the device?

I also had an idea for a business model: A company would give the game away or sell it cheaply, then charge people for hints. An in-game hint system would allow players to buy a clue when they get stuck. This would generate and send a coded text message to the company servers, which would respond with a text message giving the hint. The whole process would be transparent to the user, the hint would appear within the game.

The system might work because users are accustomed to text message services they have to pay for, and because actually connecting to the Internet to look up a walkthrough would also cost them money, as well as take them out of the game. Also, reading long documents on a cell phone is unpleasant.

And no, your avatar does not show either. Not even in a new window

Hmmm... I've logged on to the forums from different computers on the opposite side of the world, so I know it's not just locally cached or anything. On the other hand, Lycos did say something about hotlinking images. Does anyone else not see it? Maybe I should look for a different host.

Re: GTD(?): Handheld Adventure Games
« Reply #7 on: 01 Jan 2005, 19:18 »
My friend once programed a working version of Worms Armageddon onto his graphing calculator. It was only "black and white" but it was still pretty sweet.

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Re: GTD(?): Handheld Adventure Games
« Reply #8 on: 01 Jan 2005, 22:52 »
i got a oshiba e400 for christmas and im extrordinarily(sp) pleased with it. I installed pocketscumm and it works marvellously. unfortuanatley, all of my compatible games are cd versions and therefore have talkie tracks, is there a way to remove the talkie track and just have music? i think size is the issue, i mean, the largest sd card i can find is a 1gig and thats not really enough room to store a decent amount of games. but the genre is very worthwhile experimenting in and if AGS was compatible with pscumm i would certainley participate. i know cj has a viable reason for it not being and therefore will not mither.
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Re: GTD(?): Handheld Adventure Games
« Reply #9 on: 01 Jan 2005, 22:54 »
scummvm can play mp3 versions of the cd sounds, you'll have to read the documents that come with it

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Re: GTD(?): Handheld Adventure Games
« Reply #10 on: 02 Jan 2005, 01:18 »
Yeah, the mp3 compression is pretty sweet. I can fit all the ScummVM-compatible games I have on my computer on a 1GB SD card. That's 8 talkie games!

Re: GTD(?): Handheld Adventure Games
« Reply #11 on: 02 Jan 2005, 03:01 »
Hmm, I when i read the introduction in the thread, i had a few ideas of my own to the concerning problems.
But, while reading the text i saw you covered pretty much everything, even if only superficial.

Ok, some things:
Because of the battery and other mobile concerns, my idea too, was to make the adventure games into shorter series, as in sitcoms, connected but also not too much( but that is also subjectively ).

The interface, as i was imageing it to be like (for non touch screens):
You could divide the screen (if it is scrolling, or has more hotspots, you'll see why) into parts which you could number. Then, when you are in that number, your screen changes, so that on top of the hotspot stands a number. When you press the number the name of the hotsopt appears, and then you know the stuff.

But ofcourse, that would make the game too easy you say?
Maybe it would, maybe it wouldn't. My opinion is that it is up to the designer.
This interface would mean no pixel hunting, so it could mean more clever puzzles to make less a cartoon, and more of a game.

Yes, I had other thoughts, but as it took me more than 2 hours to read this thread (i was kind of a busy man), i lost some.
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Re: GTD(?): Handheld Adventure Games
« Reply #12 on: 02 Jan 2005, 10:58 »
On the subject of a workable GUI: it would be possible to use the old Lucasarts context sensitive text interface (like they used in Labyrinth): a scrolling list of verbs and nouns. That would be easy...

Re: GTD(?): Handheld Adventure Games
« Reply #13 on: 02 Jan 2005, 12:37 »
I also had an idea for a business model: A company would give the game away or sell it cheaply, then charge people for hints. An in-game hint system would allow players to buy a clue when they get stuck. This would generate and send a coded text message to the company servers, which would respond with a text message giving the hint. The whole process would be transparent to the user, the hint would appear within the game.

I'm not sure I like that idea. Sounds like an incentive for developers to create overly difficult or downright unfair puzzles. Of course, people are less likely to play games by a company that makes frustrating games, but what if everyone's doing it? Also, games like LOOM or Full Throttle would be unprofitable (and therefore would not be being made) because they cost as much as Monkey Island or The Dig but would probably create much less revenue through hints...

As for the problem of screens that are higher than wide, it doesn't seem like that much of a problem to me. A background doesn't have to have the same aspect ratio as the screen, does it? Even today there are games for which have scenes much wider than 4:3. Of course, too much scrolling might be annoying, but it's hard to say without seeing it in action.
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Re: GTD(?): Handheld Adventure Games
« Reply #14 on: 02 Jan 2005, 17:06 »
how do i compress the cd track into mp3?
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Re: GTD(?): Handheld Adventure Games
« Reply #15 on: 02 Jan 2005, 17:10 »
See  '* 7.5 Using MP3 or OGG to store/compress audio' of the readme

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Re: GTD(?): Handheld Adventure Games
« Reply #16 on: 02 Jan 2005, 17:14 »
thnks privateer, will go do that now!

EDIT: or perhaps not. i read the readme and have no idea what it is talking about. i have found the monter.sou but have no idea what i am supposed to do with it or which program to se to compress it. any help?
« Last Edit: 02 Jan 2005, 17:31 by Zooty »
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Re: GTD(?): Handheld Adventure Games
« Reply #17 on: 02 Jan 2005, 19:56 »
i have found the monter.sou but have no idea what i am supposed to do with it...

Quote from: Readme
extract monster.sou

Which means that you should run "extract monster.sou" at the prompt. ;)

Quote from: Zooty
...or which program to se to compress it. any help?

Quote from: Readme
You need LAME, and our extract util from the scummvm-tools package to perform this task, and ScummVM must be compiled with MAD support.

The scummvm-tools are available from http://www.scummvm.org/downloads.php , the downloads labeled "Tools". And LAME (for Windows) is available (among others) from http://www.hot.ee/smpman/mp3/ , it's the very first link on that site.

If you're using windows, it's probably best to put your "monster.sou", the ScummVM-Tools and LAME all in the same directory, then open your Command Prompt, go to that directory, type "extract monster.sou", hit RETURN and wait a couple of minutes until it's finished.

Quote from: Readme
Eventually you will have a much smaller monster.so3 file, copy this file to your game directory. You can safely remove the monster.sou file.

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Re: GTD(?): Handheld Adventure Games
« Reply #18 on: 02 Jan 2005, 21:29 »
Well,having been active in mobile gaming industry for a while already, I can say that adventures aren't way to go unfortunatelly... I will write more laters, posting from a cell phone...

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Re: GTD(?): Handheld Adventure Games
« Reply #19 on: 05 Jan 2005, 17:35 »
Could you please elaborate, Jaz? You were very enthusiastic about mobile adventure games before, and I'd like to hear what's changed your mind.