What's Wrong with Adventure Games
By Bionic Bill
Game Theory Discussion
Well, Mittens is over, so I'm taking it upon myself to get this discussion thing going. Some of you may vaguely recall a post about this a few weeks ago, and today it begins.
This weeks spine-tingling question: What is wrong with adventure games?
I think this a good healthy question to ask, especially among adventure game designers. So, go ahead, let it out. What grates on your conscience daily, gets underneath your fingernails, and scratches on the proverbial blackboard of your mind?
Ground rules: Post one thing that you think is flawed about the adventure game genre as a whole, or at least how the adventure game is usually designed. Don't worry if it's a basic component of adventure games, be as critical as you like. If someone has posted something you disagree with or think MUST have clarification in order to make sense, then make one cogent post addressing that poster. To this the original poster can of course respond, but try not to draw out a conversation, because it could result in multiple confusing conversations occurring at the same time in the thread.
Puzzles, as they are implemented in most adventure games, can, I think, detract from the experience of a game.
I think the most painful flaw in design is, whether or not it is the designer's intention, the narrative of the game seems to be used as the means by which the player reaches the puzzles. In other words, the puzzles don't lend relevance to the narrative, but the narrative lends relevance to the puzzles. The adventure game can sometimes be tetris, but with context. This is fine sometimes, tetris with context can be fun. But when a game is attempting to have fleshed-out characters and a developed storyline(something the adventure game genre in particular allows for), the puzzles can take away from that.
1. The inclusion of "boot-strapping" scenes, or mundane activity can, I think, increase immersion. The character you are playing actually has to walk over there and talk to that guy, and then walk way over there. There are puzzles which amount to boot-strapping, especially near the beginning of games. You have to find Jake McUrks keys in Pleurghburg, or fix the elevator in The Uncertainty Machine. I recall distinctly, and it might just be me here, saying, "Why am I doing this?" Why don't we get up and find Jake's shoes and socks, and why don't we help Susan fix her electric toothbrush? The point I'm nearly making is that puzzle-making is a selective process, and not everything can be a puzzle, despite the bit of boot-strapping that must make it into adventure games. What we choose to be a puzzle is important, and we should have a good reason for choosing what we do. When a puzzle is completed that neither reveals character nor furthers the plot, the narrative remains disconnected from the puzzle aspects of the game.
2. The other way puzzles take away from games can be warped logic where it doesn't fit. This is expounded quite well in this old man murray article. The Longest Journey comes to my mind, where you need a key to get in a fuse box, so you put bread down on a metal grate so a bird flies off, and pull up this chain which releases a rubber ducky, and eventually you put three or four unrelated items together to gain something that somehow makes a contraption that will retrieve the key that is inexplicably laying on a subway track. It is all very disconcerting and takes you out of the narrative into The Incredible Machine(the video game from years back). Even working this out without a walkthrough, I was left thinking "WHAT!?" but my adventure gamer instincts helped me to try everything, despite it making sense. I went to a walkthrough after that puzzle.
Okay, the example is my contribution to discussion. Someone would reply saying,
Bionic Bill: You are full of poopy, and nobody likes you.
If you want to add to someone's point, that's allowed too. And I'll probably change general rules if things go terribly this time. PM me with better ways to run discussion. I'm not a mod, so I can't do anything about people breaking the rules, except calling their mother.
Next week: Prescription! What do we need to do to improve the adventure game?
I agree with the puzzles aspect -- a lot of the time puzzles don't contribute greatly to the advancement of the narrative and thus feel tacked-on.
However, my biggest problem is the generic plots used in adventures.
Most of the time it's a bog-standard Monkey Island clone/stop the evil scientist/game set in the future/detective game.
What about stories with difference?
Forexample, I dug Full Throttle because the story and characters (especially the Uber-Protagonist) were different to standard game rip-off and numerous Sierra sequels.
Tim Schafer once described in a magazine the difference between Bernard (DOTT) and Ben (FT) -- Bernard would have to unlock a door using a sandwich by taking apart the beard putting it under the door while using the toothpicks holding the sandwich together to push the key out onto the bread slice (like the old newspaper trick).
Ben, on the other had, would eat the sandwich and then kick the door down.
Thus, an orignal narrative give an original set of puzzles too.
BB: about the puzzle in TLJ, it actually made sense to me, because you use the ducky, the clamp, and the chain thing to create a hook, and "fish out" the key. The key was dropped there. It all depends on what you see as logical, sometimes in games it's fun to have a bit of illogical puzzles. A game would be boring if everything was totally logical, for example a key would always be sused on a door, and to cut a piece of paper for example. IMO, it's more interesting when the objects you use are not used how you would excpect to use them, but instead in an origianl way. This can also include things that would sometimes seem illogical. That's why providing hints is important, to make the player see the logic in things, or give him an idea. Grim Fandango is a great example of this.
DGM: I agree, that's one of the biggest thing that bother me too. I like original ideas, like GF for example (how do I always bring it up? Wink). TLJ was original too, because it took the cliche story of saving the world(s) etc, and turned it into something origianl and interesting, with a huge nackstory. This is also important, to have a lot of details about the story (the exception would be in a humourous game, but even in a game like MI it's important to know details and backstory, even if the player doesn't get to know them). If the designers have a lot of details worked out, they feel much more natural when
When it comes to AGS games, what is most noticeable is the lack of animations, interesting non generic story and good characters, and sound effects IMO. There are of course games that have all these, but generally I think many games lack this.
Aniamtions are hard to do and many games don't have many animations except for walking talking and a few more. A great excpetion to this is Apprentice, with the best animations I've seen in an AGS game, on the level of old LucasArts games like MI. What I've seen of FoY, it will be on that level too. I think having things moving in the background is important too, otherwise the game may seem static at times.
The story can be generic and cliche if it's altered and implememnted in a good way. Like I mentioned TLJ. Apprentice also has a story which could be considered cliche, but the humor which is used makes the story unusual, special, and engrossing even in being based on humor. If making a humourous game, the humour should be in good taste, and in context. Sound effects I mentioned, as an addition to animation, sound effects are great for immersion and making the game not static. Once again I bring Apprentice as an example, because it did these thing so well.
But enough about AGS games, let's talk commercial. Tongue
Puzzles can be a problem yes, because sometimes they are brought as a standalone, when they should be intergrated entirely into the plot. They are the means, not the end.
Both in AGS and commercial games, characters aren't always done very well. It doesn't matter if it's humourous, serious, or somewhere in between, it's important to have characters with an intereting personality, preferably with some special twist to it. Character devlopment is also nice, though not neccessary IMO.
Umm, in cemmercial games, I'd like to see better voice acting, which is ussually not great. TLJ and GF have splendid voice acting for example. Though some would disagree, I'd also like to see voice acting in AGS games more, though I know it can be hard, since it's important that it's good. If it is good though, it adds so much IMO. Plus, I find myself reading the text and missing the talking animation, with voices I can look at the animation instead. Also, talking animations should be made more interesting than just moving the mouth, it should have something more to it, like head movements and hands possible. Or like Stan in MI, who moved his whole body while speaking. It added a whole lot of personality to him.
(Is this some sort of official discussion always started after Mittens, each time a new topic?)
That's about all for now... Smiley
I'd like to continue on the puzzles. Now, we often contemplate around the ideas of more innovative games. DG brought it up and I can't do nothing but agree. How can we play for instance an emotional conflict? These things are often included as something besides the goal for the protagonist, as a way to affect HOW he/she reaches his/her goal. A goal which is based around the idea of 'accomplish something specific' (through puzzle solving). I've fooled around with the idea when reading books which have great stories, if one could make an adventure game out of it, but I always stump on one specific thing: how to play it, how to do the gameplay.
The way an adventure game is played limits the way we can tell them. Just as Bill starts out, puzzle design is a crucial part of an adventure, and how can we make them have any relevance. I am planning a rather unusual game in which I have no idea how to make a descent puzzle. It's rather a story without "must do this and must do that", based on certain things the protagonist will experience.
Now, there's puzzles and there's "must do's". Must do's are actions that you must carry out for the story to continue. Puzzles are challenges for the mind (how can I accomplish this/aquire that/whatever). How woul,d you feel about a game that only consists of "must do's", or perhaps sometimes not even that, but timed events carried out by NPC:s which of you have no control over. The actual GAMEPLAY is reduced, so it's perhaps not more than an interactive story of you can affect the way the plot will evolve. Is the puzzles the adventure GAMEPLAY, or is it also experiencing the story?
I very much dislike the handling of the character's inventory. Often, a the player character picks up some seemingly random item, only to find a use for it later. It's as if the character knows of the challenge ahead. It just doesn't make any sense. There are many examples, although none spring to mind at the moment.
DG, I believe we are discussing the shortcomings of the genre as a whole, not of specific games. Yes, some use cliche stories. But this is not the problem of the genre, but the problem of individual adventure games.
I'll probably think of some more later.
I mean, it's so stupid! I click "use" on a furnace and I have no idea whether the protagonist will open it, push it, sit on it, piss on it, try to eat it... Of course, there are GUIs with more detailed actions, but still it's nothing compared to the Richness of Interactive Fiction. In IF you really have to think, not just click everywhere with every item from your inventory. The solution could lie in the text input, like it was done in Police Quest II, but then we would need a better parser, something along the lines of TADS combined with AGS.
Another thing is combining inventory items, which I find ridiculous mostly because I usually have no idea what the protagonist is trying to build. NO, dear Longest-Journey-designers, the player didn't use clamp on the duck as a result of 5-hour brain-storming and planning, it just happened during the act of every-clicking-on-everything-with-everything-of-my-inventory, Ma! Again, text parser to the rescue.
I'm starting to think fondly about graphic adventures with text parser mostly because TADS and HUGO proved that a flexible parser with which you don't need to "guess verb" is possible. And as it IS easier to become involved when some nifty graphics are on the screen, the combination seems perfect... hm?
Quote DG, I believe we are discussing the shortcomings of the genre as a whole, not of specific games. Yes, some use cliche stories. But this is not the problem of the genre, but the problem of individual adventure games.
Um, I am talking about the genre as a whole, ijit!
Most adventure games used tired cliches.
It IS a problem with the genre because developers (commercial AND indie) rely upon it too much.
So stick that up your bumcrack and fart it! Grin