Author Topic: GTD; On game worlds  (Read 4258 times)

Andail

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GTD; On game worlds
« on: 10 Apr 2006, 15:33 »
(Sorry if this has been discussed or covered before.)

These are some thoughts about puzzles in relation to locations. The way I see it, there are two main structures when it comes to game worlds, and these structures pretty much govern the way inventories are gathered and used and puzzles are solved.

The first model is the Monkey Island-model, where practically all locations can be re-visited and where access to them is granted via an overview map or similar. By acquiring new inventory items, puzzles in old locations can be solved, new dialogue options appear and characters/items can be gathered.

The second model is the Space Quest-model, where most locations are linked in a straight chain, and follow the plot in a way that seldom allows for returning to old locations. Most puzzles - and the equipment necessary for solving them - are confined to one or two rooms.

In the first model, which in literary terms could be referred to as the syntactic model, there need never be walking dead situations, since there is always a point of return, and parallell puzzles can be solved simultaneously.

The second model would consequently be called the paratactic model, since the majority of puzzles and locations follow eachother in a simple chronological order. The main objective is often to just continue to another location. Space Quest games are for instance mostly about progressing/escaping through a series of locations.

In terms of narration, for a plot to progress in an exciting and non-humourous way, it's hard to construct a game based on too much syntactic gameplay. The ability to return to a location previously escaped (like a cell or a place where peril or extreme hardship has been overcome), especially if this location is poorly altered to the changes in the plot, takes away from the serious atmosphere, and destroys the feeling of relief of having escaped there and survived.

In a grand epic game where the geographical locations change a lot (like a long journey) this model is simply impossible. ("Yay, I made it to the shoores of The Lost Island of Forgotten Dragons. - But wait, I need to get back to my kitchen thirty screens ago and bring the bottle opener in order to solve the next puzzle").

So this is where I need your advice. How do I construct good inventory-based puzzles if most locations can't be re-visited, and I wish to avoid dead ends?

A few options:
* The inventory items necessary for future puzzles are automatically acquired after having solved earlier puzzles (left-over items).
* Leaving a certain area is impossible until all items are acquired. This solution is illogical. Why pick up items that are seemingly useless at the moment? And how do I justify the inability to leave the area?
* Puzzles only involve items that can be gathered in the immediate neighbourhood. This model is rather boring, since the gameplay will be pretty straightforward and simple.

Any thoughts/experiences you wish to share?

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Re: GTD; On game worlds
« Reply #1 on: 10 Apr 2006, 15:52 »
You surely don't have to work within one model or the other. Why not open up your locations in groups, so that you have in effect mini-maps or little sub-syntactic models bound together by a linear paratactic model. So you could travel to, for example, the North Shores and deal with all the locations there before crossing the sea to Mystic Island, etc etc.

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Re: GTD; On game worlds
« Reply #2 on: 10 Apr 2006, 16:25 »
Re-use of objects. This can also be treated as a sub-category of the left-over items category you mentioned. Make sure the player has aquires the needed item before leaving by requiring its use in a puzzle.

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Re: GTD; On game worlds
« Reply #3 on: 10 Apr 2006, 18:09 »
Another option is offering several alternate solutions, or alternate puzzles. The solution you "want" the player to use, involving that one item from near the start of the game 500 years ago, could be a shortcut around a more circuitous one, or one that involves the player losing an item that would have made another puzzle later on easier (or opened a different route to the next part of the game, or one to a different ending), and so forth.

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Re: GTD; On game worlds
« Reply #4 on: 10 Apr 2006, 19:25 »
Your analysis is sound. If you want to maintain the control of the pacing of the game, especially for dramatical purposes, you can't have too much syntactical back-and-forth.

The solution is to have simple puzzles with few inventory items, some reusable stuff, some variable solution puzzles as fuzz says, and focus more on puzzles where well-timed (yes, timing) ACTION (not just 'use' things, use them how. Give the player those options) is more important, where Dialogue puzzles are more important, where even tension-solvers like violence and high-risk situations are important. I'm not saying to make it Dragon's Lair, but there are a few other aspects to adventure gaming than 'use mustard on forehead' type of puzzle-solving.

Of course this becomes a matter of GUI design too then. A simple point-and-click sierra-type gui usually promotes absurd inventory use, whereas a more verb-heavy inventory gives the options you need. Consider the latter. Something like Revolution games, Lure of the Temptress era where there's more than one 'use' relevant to an object might be a good idea. Even a full game without more than just barely few inventory items is possible like that, and probably all the better for it.

I'd rather play a well-written, well-paced game any day over a puzzle-heavy syntactical 'lol adventure game' throwback to the early 90's. But that may just be me.
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Re: GTD; On game worlds
« Reply #5 on: 10 Apr 2006, 23:09 »
What's wrong with serial and parallel?

The other solution to avoiding dead ends in the serial (or paratactic) model is to rob the player of his inventory items and have the puzzles in the new locale rely on all new inventory items. That's not annoying at all. No sir.
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Re: GTD; On game worlds
« Reply #6 on: 10 Apr 2006, 23:43 »
Players shouldn't have to pick up items before they have a use for them.

But then, I try to avoid inventory puzzles at all cost. Even Myst puzzles are better than inventory puzzles.
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Re: GTD; On game worlds
« Reply #7 on: 11 Apr 2006, 12:24 »
As much as I disagree with Redwall's anti-Myst stance, I agree with what he's saying.

I think Ron Gilbert identified the problem with Sierra-style games being that you end up unable to write a letter in New York because you forgot to pick up a pen in LA. You should be able to find a pen in New York.

For the player to meet the problem before they find the solution needn't require your paratactic structure. If each location is part of a rounded world, whatever problem you meet on the Lost Island of Dragons should be solvable with items found on the island.

Players shouldn't get objects before they need them, but they can get infomation before they need it. Instead of forcing the player to pick up a certain object it would be more interesting to compel them to uncover certain clues or what-have-you. That way when they arrive at the island of lost dragons they solve puzzles with ideas that they picked up earlier and inventory items that the've just found.

And, if necessary, they could travel back to the library 30 screens ago to re-read that book about can-openers.
« Last Edit: 11 Apr 2006, 12:33 by Ali »

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Re: GTD; On game worlds
« Reply #8 on: 11 Apr 2006, 12:52 »
It is also important to think as the player might about how every other inv item they may be carrying might be a solution to the problem. .e.g Ben Jordan 5:

Spoiler: ShowHide

When you need some metal near the end, you can use a trophy or a broken metal door, but my first thought wa the metal hook that I also had, which also seemed much more wieldy. Grund got it half-right, here!


Re: GTD; On game worlds
« Reply #9 on: 12 Apr 2006, 03:56 »
If there's a point in your game where you need an inventory object from 30 scenes ago, and you haven't used it yet until that point, that puzzle should be revised. Because honesty, who wants to walk around with a chicken with a pully in it for 30 scenes. If you pick something up, you should use it then. Re-using an object is also a good idea too.

Lets say I need this can opener to shove into a door or something and it has to be this can opener. Then in an earlier puzzle, the character should be forced to use the can opener to open an can of something, for another puzzle.

Things like a pen I can see can be forgotten, and it shouldn't be that hard to find in another area. Another possibilty would be to have the character use the object in a cut scene and automaticly be equiped with that object. IE: While reading about whatever event, the character opens a can of dog food for his pet.

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Re: GTD; On game worlds
« Reply #10 on: 12 Apr 2006, 13:19 »
I partially agree with Evil's point (and others' as well), walking around with a chicken with a pulley in the middle for most of the game seems rather pointless (nevermind about the staple remover!). But using only items from the same room makes puzzles too easy. Challenge the player a bit instead. So long as the combination of objects is sensible (not "use staple remover on wax lips") it's OK to walk around for the whole game with an object before you use it. Especially if you design the game such that the player will ALWAYS get the item. E.g. you need a map to get from LA to NY, it's in a desk drawer: as you open the drawer/take the map, character says "I'll take this pen as well, I might need it."

Another option is to use more dialogue puzzles and fewer inventory puzzles. And there are more options if you think outside the box sufficiently.

Example: I walk around with a credit card all the time, but I hardly ever use it*. So long as I have it with me when I need to use it ;D

* So if anyone was in doubt about my gender, this should quench all doubts! ;D ;D

Re: GTD; On game worlds
« Reply #11 on: 12 Apr 2006, 15:12 »
Supplying a character with an item through a cutscene or by placing an item on top or beside another, immediately needed item, so that both of them are taken simultaneously shouldn't be overused as it often looks forced and can lead to situation in which the player starts metagaming by asking himself which items he hasn't used yet, especially if the designer took great pains to make sure that the character had them.

Most of the time though, if you need an item from a previous location, you should have had to use it somewhere along the way in order to get to your current location, be it for opening a door, operating a boat or casting a spell or even indirectly to get another item for opening a door.

This, however, doesn't solve the problem for rooms with exits that aren't obstructed, but that are one way only. In some situations a room might only become inaccessible after the player picked up all the necessary items (possibly at the cost of drama). For eaxample a room in an ancient temple will only collapse after you found the mystical diamond or the guards will storm into the secret lab only after you've acquired the chemicals you'll eventually need to escape from their clutches again, but what if the exit is a cliff, a hole in the ground or a one way teleporter. Nothing (logically) stops the player from leaving through them, even if he hasn't picked up everything yet. I once played an adventure (can't remeber which one) where the main character kept saying things like: "I have a feeling that I've forgotten something", when trying to leave a room too early and while this solved the problem and it is probably preferable to dead-ends, it was also very unsatisfying.
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Re: GTD; On game worlds
« Reply #12 on: 12 Apr 2006, 16:39 »
Adventure game puzzles are some of the hardest to design, no duh. Shooter games are easy and puzzle games are tricky but once you figure out that you should work backwards. Adventure game puzzles are either excellent or shit.

My preference I think is a merging of both your models. Force me through a story and change my location a lot please! But give me a few rooms to play in in each location. Maybe [conceptually] a game should look like this:


At the beginning of the game there aren't too many places to explore as I learn the story and learn how the game works, then as I'm moved through the story, more locations open up until I have a lot of options open to me as in people, inventory and locations, at this point I should be well on my journey and fully engrossed in the story, then the ending begins and focus is given to the player so you start stripping away at locations [not necessarily game play options] and presenting them with a funnel or a clear path in the story to the ending.

Or please please mix it up and give me a game like this:


I don't know if these diagrams mean anything to anyone else but me, but writing this has at least helped me solidify thoughts I've had.
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Re: GTD; On game worlds
« Reply #13 on: 12 Apr 2006, 17:00 »
I absolutely, 100%, agree with that second diagram, and that's kind of what I was saying in my first post (although the diagram says it much, much better).

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Re: GTD; On game worlds
« Reply #14 on: 12 Apr 2006, 17:13 »
I think those diagrams are super useful, thanks for posting them MrC.

The narrow beginning is very important. I remember being baffled and enraged by the start of Jack Orlando when I knew I had to go to the tabacconist but had to search about several different locations and about 30 screens just to find it.

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Re: GTD; On game worlds
« Reply #15 on: 22 Apr 2006, 18:08 »
The diagrams are cool, and actually somewhat reminiscent of traditional narrative models where you have periods of tension or complexity alternating with periods of relative rest or simplicity. I liked how monkey island games did this (the way I remeber it at least). Each new island had various rooms/locations, that could be solved and completed as a whole, with some one-room puzzles and other types of gameplay in between (insult fencing and such).

Quote
How do I construct good inventory-based puzzles if most locations can't be re-visited, and I wish to avoid dead ends?

Just came to think that a spell-book would be useful here (but where wouldn't it right?).
Imagine a spellbok containing spells that are perhaps incomprehensible to the player at first but are then made available along the way as he learns more. The spells could show up as individual inventory items that are unlocked along the way, or even prohibited in some locations. The spells could also require spell components, which would make it more plausible for the player to carry around seemingly useless stuff, but which may also naturally limit where certain spells could be cast. I think the spells would be a nice way of linking character deveopment through the story directly to the inventory items and give a high degree of flexibility with regard to locations. Coming to think of it, a skill system might be designed to work similarly.

 

Re: GTD; On game worlds
« Reply #16 on: 22 Apr 2006, 19:29 »
Quote
* Leaving a certain area is impossible until all items are acquired. This solution is illogical. Why pick up items that are seemingly useless at the moment? And how do I justify the inability to leave the area?

This one is probably best avoided, for the most part, but it could make sense in a situation wherein the player character -knows- s/he is about to leave for somewhere where the required items would be useful.  Sort of, "I'd better make sure I'm prepared for my journey."  Then just make sure the items aren't too off-the-wall.  (It might make sense if the character wouldn't leave without food, a change of clothes, writing utensils, rope, maps, etc. depending on where s/he is headed, or maybe s/he never leaved home without his/her favorite stuffed animal, but you'd have a harder time logically justifying refusal to leave with out the aforementioned Rubber Chicken with a Pulley in the Middle, a rotten tuna, a computer print-out of the Mona Lisa, a urine sample from your neighbor's cat, and a handful of pencil shavings.)

I would imagine, though, you probably wouldn't want to use the supply hunt more than once or twice, even if you could justify it.  It'd get repetitive, and would hurt the pacing in a more suspenseful, action driven story.