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Author Topic: GTD: When challenges become puzzles - and nothing but puzzles  (Read 6832 times)

Andail

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Excellent topic! Even though it tends to resurface every 2-3 years or so :)

I remember how beating PQ1 back in the day (this was 91-92 I believe) took me and my friends more than a year of more or less constant playing. Heck, I remember having played for a really long time before anything even remotely important gameplay-wise occured. We were happy enough walking around looking at things and getting replies when we typed stuff.

Needless to say, this was before the Internet, but Amiga had a monthly magazine that had a page with puzzle hints and tips, and if you were extremely lucky they'd eventually print a tip that actually helped you wherever you were currently stuck... that's how I finally solved the nightstick vs bikers episode, hehe....

I definitely think there's a market for games that aren't super easy to beat, probably as a counter movement to how many modern games tend to hold their players' hand and tutorial the living crap out of them, when in actuality lots of players appreciate games like Dark Souls where virtuality nothing is explained and they're expected to discover and learn the game on their own.

No offense to anyone making them right now. I've just always wondered why there's so many of them, especially considering adventure games can work just as well with almost any kind of story you can think of.

Do you really wonder that? I think it's quite obvious that the adventure game genre lends itself quite well to investigative mysteries; following chains of clues, gradually unravelling a case, etc, plus the whole thing Mandle mentioned, how you don't need a contrived reason to put the protagonist there in the first case, or motivate them to actually solve the whole thing.

Even in literature at large, detective stories are quite prevalent, because they're easy to construct and people like them.

That said, loads of adventure games aren't detective stories, at least not in the sense of featuring an actual, official detective.

But sure, I'd like to see more perfectly mundane games, where the protagonist is just an ordinary person doing everyday stuff, not even catching a bad guy let alone saving the world, but that might be hard to construct a functional gameplay around, I don't know.
« Last Edit: 28 Feb 2017, 08:06 by Andail »

NickyNyce

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I'm certainly not looking for games where you don't save the world, don't catch a bad guy, and just do mundane stuff. I think those are the games that didn't have a good story, villain or action. I would just like to see the genre open up a bit. It all comes down to story. I've seen so many movies about detectives, books and games, that perhaps it's just me that seems to be getting tired of them. Maybe I'm just looking for something fresh. But mundane also stands for repetitive.

I understand it's easy to have the phone ring and have the detective go and look for clues. But I don't think easy should be a factor, especially for the developer. Again, no offense to anyone making these games. There are some really good ones. Perhaps it's the quantity of them that turns me off of them. I would probably enjoy them more if there weren't always 3 of them being made at a time, while I also watch 3 of them on T.V.

I guess my question has been answered though. Perhaps I am the only one getting tired of seeing so many of them. I think the problem may be not the games themselves, but just seeing them everywhere I turn. I guess it's hard for me to decide which one to play when there's so many to choose from. That might be my main issue.
« Last Edit: 28 Feb 2017, 12:38 by NickyNyce »

Mandle

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I understand it's easy to have the phone ring and have the detective go and look for clues. But I don't think easy should be a factor, especially for the developer.

That's another thing I was going to write actually:

The detective theme could be the sign of a lazy developer in many cases as much as could could be the sign of a developer who understands the genre and the fast plugged-in atmosphere it can provide.

Another thing to look for as you play the game (or watch the movie/TV show) to determine which you are experiencing is: Does the piece just run through the generic formula or does it do something new with it and take it to the next level?

My favorite example is Twin Peaks, which was loved by people who had grown tired of the "Whodunnit" formula and wanted an extra layer, but hated by those who just wanted more of the same.

Oh, and kinda getting back to the general theme of the thread:

I just watched this amazing video about the development of the original Zork series by one of the makers, and he talks a lot about how puzzles were developed or rather not developed in this fetus stage of the genre:

« Last Edit: 28 Feb 2017, 14:45 by Mandle »

A most interesting discussion!
Personally, I think that a big difference between Adventure games and other genres is how intertwined the story and gameplay are. I have seen many examples of FPS, RTS and RPG where players excuse a cliched or bad story and bland atmosphere because the gameplay is fun and entertaining.

With Adventure games, it's mostly just pointing and clicking with little variation, so the enjoyability almost always comes down to puzzles and story and atmosphere. And then, many fans are willing to defend games with bad/nonexistent puzzles if the story is good.

I also think that the argument that linear adventure games with few puzzles are too much like movies miss some of the other aspects of games, like the exploration and interactivity. While I can see why there is a demand for more challenging hardcore adventure games, I would also see more games focused on storytelling and atmosphere.

For a difference between games and movies are that in a movie, you are a passive observer, but in a game you play a character, and your interactions in the game depend on the character you play. For example, one of the game moments that made the most impression on me in Dreamfall: The Longest Journey was when you got to play different characters moving through the same area, but making completely different remarks on the things in that area. The freedom fighter April sees an abandoned hovel and thinks "Another poor fellow driven from their home by the empire", while the imperial soldier Kian looks at the very same hovel and says "No one should have to live in such a poor hovel under the empire's rule". Really, the bit I enjoy most in adventure games is to examine the surroundings and see how the character reacts, explore their mindset and walk in their shoes.

Therefore I think it's boring when too many adventure games start off with a protagonist with amnesia or a generic detective, or have have the protagonist do something that goes completely against their personality for the sake of making a puzzle, say having an honest character suddenly stealing a ton of things or vandalizing something.


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Frankly the only adventure game I can think of where the protagonist starts with amnesia is Planescape Torment, and the only one I can think of with a generic detective is the laura bow series. Are those tropes really as common as this thread suggests?

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Frankly the only adventure game I can think of where the protagonist starts with amnesia is Planescape Torment, and the only one I can think of with a generic detective is the laura bow series. Are those tropes really as common as this thread suggests?

This is so common among AGS games, I can't believe you're asking. It's more a sign of bad writing than anything.

Go look at the completed games forum.

It's an escape clause that allows authors to avoid writing a backstory, and some authors acknowledge that. See Emont's description here: https://www.adventuregamestudio.co.uk/forums/index.php?topic=50096.msg636482448#msg636482448

Recent commercial releases include Dead Synchronicity and Gemini Rue. Or I don't know, you could go look at the various adventure / survival horror titles named "Amnesia".

There are also games that avoid establishing a backstory for the main character altogether. Myst comes to mind.

Detective stories... there are so many. I can't tell if you're lazy or this is just some weird sophistry.

Darkside Detective, Tex Murphy, Thimbleweed Park.

Before you argue that these are not in some way generic, the point is not that the backstory is "s/he's a detective" and that's it. (Admittedly, Darkside Detective comes close.) The point is that most of the backstory is covered. The authors don't delve much into the character of these people outside of their detective work. There is also little in the way of character development. Basically, exactly what Mandle outlined. The game is set up and ready to go. You can jump straight into the action.

Even games that might bother with a little setup -- Sherlock Holmes games, Poirot games -- tell very little about the character. The best you'll get out of Poirot is that he's a neat freak who comes from Belgium. There is an occasional mention that Holmes has a brother. WOW. Outside of this, these characters only talk about their old cases.

This is intentional. Detectives are the original "player characters" -- left intentionally generic so YOU could get into the novels. It's tough to find a good twist on the detective character. The Raven, for instance, which has an avid detective novel fan cum amateur detective reveal that he's a master criminal. It's a trite twist, but that's at least something.
« Last Edit: 03 Mar 2017, 00:58 by Gurok »

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The Raven, for instance, which has an avid detective novel fan cum amateur detective reveal that he's a master criminal. It's a trite twist, but that's at least something.

Hehe... I've always thought that in the real world Miss Marple would be in jail for sure. To have been present at that many murders has "serial killer" written all over it. She's obviously a mastermind and planting all the evidence needed to frame someone else for each of her kills!

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The Raven, for instance, which has an avid detective novel fan cum amateur detective reveal that he's a master criminal. It's a trite twist, but that's at least something.

Hehe... I've always thought that in the real world Miss Marple would be in jail for sure. To have been present at that many murders has "serial killer" written all over it. She's obviously a mastermind and planting all the evidence needed to frame someone else for each of her kills!

Yeah, Miss Marple came to mind when I started typing the words "amateur detective". Though what about Jessica Fletcher? Arguably more likely to be a serial killer, in my opinion.

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Before you argue that these are not in some way generic, the point is not that the backstory is "s/he's a detective" and that's it. (Admittedly, Darkside Detective comes close.) The point is that most of the backstory is covered. The authors don't delve much into the character of these people outside of their detective work. There is also little in the way of character development. Basically, exactly what Mandle outlined. The game is set up and ready to go. You can jump straight into the action.

To be fair, adventure games in general tend to have little or no character development, or indeed backstory. This is pretty much expected of the genre, and not just limited to detective stories.

For example, the premise of King's Quest is "you are a knight" and that's it. Monkey Island goes with "you want to be a pirate" and that's it. Yes, in most adventure games the protagonist is effectively the Everyman, or AFGNCAAP.

Andail

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I'm a bit wary of calling things tropes and cliches, since it's hard to draw the line between unoriginal genericness and hallmarks of a genre. Let me explain:

For a long time I found it a bit uncreative and generic how many games would start in a locked room, and have the protagonist (often amnesic) escape it. But then this got so common it turned into a genre of its own - escape the room games. It wouldn't make sense these days to play an escape-the-room-game and complain that escaping a room is a bit of a cliche, since that's what people expect and presumably enjoy when playing them.

Having a character who's amnesic isn't just lazy writing - it's a rather effective dramaturgic device that lets the player experience the game world on the exact same conditions as the protagonist - namely with no prior knowledge or experience. They'll explore and learn about the world together, which is quite cool. There can still be tons of lore to learn, it's just presented very gradually.

This isn't some kind of defense speech - TSP was about a cryptologist helping a stranger to understand a family mystery-turned-tragedy, which I'd like to think is quite original, even though the actual adventure probably plays like a detective story, but I'm just saying it's sometimes hard to define what's cliche or not, or whether they're automatically bad.

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the only one I can think of with a generic detective is the laura bow series.

For the record, Laura Bow is not a professional detective. She is a student and then a journalist who just happens to come across a bunch of murders.

This is intentional. Detectives are the original "player characters" -- left intentionally generic so YOU could get into the novels. It's tough to find a good twist on the detective character.

There are plenty of literary detectives who are quite fleshed out with backstory, personality and individual quirks, which sometimes get as much focus as the mysteries they investigate, from Lord Peter Wimsey (gentleman dandy suffering from WWI shell shock) to Lisbeth Salander (possibly-autistic punk-rock hacker with a history of abuse).

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I'm a bit wary of calling things tropes and cliches, since it's hard to draw the line between unoriginal genericness and hallmarks of a genre.
"Hallmarks of a genre" is pretty much the definition of a trope. The word "trope" is not a negative term or an insult (although "cliche" may be).

For the record, Laura Bow is not a professional detective.
Clearly. She is, however, also an everyman with no backstory or character development.

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"Hallmarks of a genre" is pretty much the definition of a trope. The word "trope" is not a negative term or an insult (although "cliche" may be).
You're right, tropes aren't negative. As a matter of fact, they're practically unavoidable.
Cliches on the other hand are overused and should be avoided.

The main difference between the two is that tropes can be used in many different ways, even when they're very specific, and people generally won't grow tired of them.
Cliches on the other hand are usually things that were great the first time, but became groan inducing pretty quickly soon after.

If you experience a trope (for example, Zombies) for the hundredth time, you probably won't mind it, you might even like it.
But when you experience a cliche for the hundredth time (for example, the protagonist is actually unknowingly working for the bad guys), you will undoubtedly roll your eyes because you've seen it happen too many times.

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Obviously I have to stick up for the amnesiac hero, the Fugue wanderer if you will. I agree with the comment above that it sets you both on the same playing field; what's new to you, the player, is also technically new to the character. I don't think it's necessarily a sign of lazy writing - if anything it means the writing has to be even sharper in order to encourage the player to play on and unravel the story (and the reveal of the amnesiac heroes identity / backstory etc), normally through other characters, puzzles, environments etc.  Same goes for movies featuring amnesiac heroes, if the story telling is strong then it mostly works. However I can appreciate that it's been heavily used which can make it feel tired. For me personally, when I play a game I want the opportunity to stamp my own personality on the character - I want them to make my decision, not 'their' decision. Of course, amnesia doesn't need to be the plot mechanism to achieve this - but limited backstory normally helps. Firewatch is the most recent memorable example I played that let the player define the character through responses they choose as they go, including decisions regarding choices made in their backstory.

Anyway I digress, probably moving away from the topic (i'm not going to get involved in the cliches / tropes stuff).

Andail

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"Hallmarks of a genre" is pretty much the definition of a trope. The word "trope" is not a negative term or an insult (although "cliche" may be).
You're right, tropes aren't negative. As a matter of fact, they're practically unavoidable.
Cliches on the other hand are overused and should be avoided.

The main difference between the two is that tropes can be used in many different ways, even when they're very specific, and people generally won't grow tired of them.
Cliches on the other hand are usually things that were great the first time, but became groan inducing pretty quickly soon after.

If you experience a trope (for example, Zombies) for the hundredth time, you probably won't mind it, you might even like it.
But when you experience a cliche for the hundredth time (for example, the protagonist is actually unknowingly working for the bad guys), you will undoubtedly roll your eyes because you've seen it happen too many times.

Well, this post kind of proves my point that the line between tropes and cliches is a rather blurry one. You list one example as a trope and the other one as a cliche, and presumably we are to react negatively to the latter and kind of neutral to the formal, but surely many people would argue that both are cliches, or both are tropes.

I wouldn't even say that "Zombies" is a trope - surely, 'trope' implies a story telling device rather than just a... noun?

The - ludicrously extensive - site tvtropes.org covers your example of a cliche and call it a trope:
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/NiceJobBreakingItHero

so yeah, let's not pretend these are clear-cut terms and labels!

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so yeah, let's not pretend these are clear-cut terms and labels!

They are clear-cut terms; the part that you're missing is that cliches are a subset of tropes (specifically, a cliche is a trope that's overused to the point of being trite or irritating; that mekes it somewhat subjective but nonetheless clearly defined).

"Zombie" is not a trope. "Zombies that act in such-and-such manner" is a trope, and several of those are cliches (whereas other writers can create a non-cliche story that uses different zombie tropes).

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so yeah, let's not pretend these are clear-cut terms and labels!

They are clear-cut terms; the part that you're missing is that cliches are a subset of tropes (specifically, a cliche is a trope that's overused to the point of being trite or irritating; that mekes it somewhat subjective but nonetheless clearly defined).

"Zombie" is not a trope. "Zombies that act in such-and-such manner" is a trope, and several of those are cliches (whereas other writers can create a non-cliche story that uses different zombie tropes).

I understand the theoretical definition of the words - I'm not illiterate - I'm just saying that applying them is difficult since the whole thing is a bit of a grey area.

Since another forum member just gave an example that you immediately contradicted, and another example that a website dedicated to this concept has already contradicted, why should we maintain that this is an exact science?

Actually, my original point was that it's kind of interesting when things go from cliche to becoming a genre of its own (as in how escape-the-room became a type of game rather than a cliched story element of a game).

Re: When challenges become puzzles - and nothing but puzzles
« Reply #37 on: 04 Mar 2017, 21:39 »
Maybe its just me, but I do wonder why there are so many detective adventure games. It's not like in order to make an adventure game the character needs to be a detective. Adventure games can have the lead character be just about anyone, or anything that's got a brain and limbs. Maybe it's because I'm old and have played so many of them, but when I see the...You're a detective, I do kind of get a bit turned off. I'm not bad mouthing any detective games in development because I know there are some, and many of them pretty darn good, and everyone has their own tastes, but I've seem to have grown away from them.

I don't know if it's the classic hat and coat, detective office, pencil and pad, questioning of people and suspects, but I feel that it's been done so many times. I've not really heard anyone else ever mention this before. I have heard many people say they love adventure games for the story, and it makes me wonder if just changing the bad guy is enough to keep them happy when it comes to detective games. Maybe I'm just an old fart.

No offense to anyone making them right now. I've just always wondered why there's so many of them, especially considering adventure games can work just as well with almost any kind of story you can think of.

I also find detective (or detective-like) stories as adventures to be quite prevalent.  It's a large subset of the adventure genre, and as far as current indie production is concerned there is a lot of precedent from the golden age of adventure gaming.  Examples include Police Quest, Sam & Max, Tex Murphy, Grim Fandango, Gabriel Knight, and more (they do seems to be more prevalent among LucasArts games then Sierra).  Even some of the more popular adventures from the modern era contain similar ideas, like Blackwell, Ben Jordan, or the Chzo Mythos, for AGS examples.

I do understand why this is so, and many have pointed out good reasons for this already.  It makes sense, as any adventure protagonist picks up whatever they can carry, and in the case of detectives these things will be valuable clues.  And not only does this story framework allow for a quick entry into the game, it also sets up a simple formula for sequels.  Each game is another case for the detective (investigative journalist, police officer, etc) to solve.  And of course the tradition of detective stories is even longer and more illustrious than it is in the adventure gaming world, so there is a lot to build on and compare to.  There is also a lot to break down, challenge, and invert.

It gets to me, personally, because I'm not drawn to these types of games.  I'm drawn to more 'adventurous' adventures, like the Quest for Glory, King's Quest, or Legend of Kyrandia series.  Aside from that, I'm happy that they continue to get made, because there is a large audience for these types of games.  I'm happy to see those players get games they enjoy.

Maybe detective games are to be seen as a sub-genre of adventure games, though I think it's worth to make some kind of distinction between games where solving the mystery is the main attraction and the protagonist is almost a blank slate, like in the Nancy Drew series, and character-driven stories which happens to star a detective, like in Technobabylon.

However, I only think that games with a blank-slate protagonist works if they are used to better introduce the audience to the setting and it is an engaging setting.

I also think that a big problem with some games that starts with amnesia and/or a murder mystery, is that it feels like the writer came up with an intro without having any clear ending or plot twist in mind, and then the ending either is massively underwhelming, or something completely derailed from the original premise.

Some have said that having the protagonist be amnesiac or a detective is an easy storytelling device, but it can be just as hard, if not harder, to make that engaging than to write a protagonist with a backstory and distinct personality. With a protagonist without backstory the risk is that the player don't feel like a part of the game world, and don't care weather the protagonist succeeds or not, which leads to the story losing most of it's stakes and tension.