A few years ago, Ron Gilbert posted his old article "Why Adventure Games Suck" on his blog. He states that he doesn't necessarily agree with all the rules anymore nowadays, but I've always found it to be very truthful, and when I dislike an adventure game I can almost always use the "Rules" to point out why it failed, in my opinion. Also, I think one of the reasons that the classic LucasArts adventures are the very best the genre has to offer is because they manage to pass every one of these rules of thumb.
So, having just finished Launch, I figured I'd see how it fares against Ron Gilbert's adventure game design rules from 1989. By the way, I won't be using spoiler tags, because that'd be incredibly tedious, so if you haven't finished the game yet, turn back.
End objective needs to be clear
It?s OK if the objective changes in mid-game, but at the beginning the player should have a clear vision as to what he or she is trying to accomplish. Nothing is more frustrating than wandering around wondering what you should be doing and if what you have been doing is going to get you anywhere. Situations where not knowing what?s going on can be fun and an integral part of the game, but this is rare and difficult to pull off.
This worked well. You instantly knew you had to get off the island.
Sub-goals need to be obvious
Most good adventure games are broken up into many sub-goals. Letting the player know at least the first sub-goal is essential in hooking them. If the main goal is to rescue the prince, and the player is trapped on an island at the beginning of the game, have another character in the story tell them the first step: get off the island. This is just good storytelling.
This also worked. Davey instantly told you that you couldn't get off the island because of the winds, and then provided you with the lead you needed to figure out how to do something about them.
Live and learn
As a rule, adventure games should be able to be played from beginning to end without ?dying? or saving the game if the player is very careful and very observant. It is bad design to put puzzles and situations into a game that require a player to die in order to learn what not to do next time
This has never been the case in LucasArts or Telltale adventures that I can recall.
The backwards puzzle is probably the one thing that bugs me more than anything else about adventure games. I have created my share of them; and as with most design flaws, it?s easier to leave them in than to redesign them. The backwards puzzle occurs when the solution is found before the problem. Ideally, the crevice should be found before the rope that allows the player to descend. What this does in the player?s mind is set up a challenge. He knows he need to get down the crevice, but there is no route. Now the player has a task in mind as he continues to search. When a rope is spotted, a light goes on in his head and the puzzle falls into place. For a player, when the design works, there is nothing like that experience.
The only time I can recall this happening in LotSN was with the pyrite parrot and the nasal cavity. I put him in there before having lured de Singe to the door, and I was kind of miffed that not only did nothing happen, but I had lost the parrot for no good reason too. The "see if you can open the door from the inside" thing was a bit of a cop out, really. The only thing the parrot ever did was lie around, so there was no reason to assume that it'd suddenly be able to work ancient doors. I think it would have been better if Guybrush had refused to put the parrot in there because he didn't want to lose it, until you had lured de Sing and it became clear that de Singe would open the door if he had reason to suspect Guybrush already being in there.
I forgot to pick it up
This is really part of the backwards puzzle rule, but in the worst way. Never require a player to pick up an item that is used later in the game if she can?t go back and get it when it is needed. It is very frustrating to learn that a seemingly insignificant object is needed, and the only way to get it is to start over or go back to a saved game.
Fortunately, I have never seen this happen anymore in the last 20 years or so of adventure games.
Puzzles should advance the story
There is nothing more frustrating than solving pointless puzzle after pointless puzzle. Each puzzle solved should bring the player closer to understanding the story and game. It should be somewhat clear how solving this puzzle brings the player closer to the immediate goal.
I think this all worked nicely as well. You knew you had to make a Dark Ninja Dave because you needed D'oro to find treasure because you needed Davey to divulge the whereabouts of Deep Gut, etcetera.
Real time is bad drama
One of the most important keys to drama is timing. Anyone who has designed a story game knows that the player rarely does anything at the right time or in the right order. If we let the game run on a clock that is independent from the player?s actions, we are going to be guaranteed that few things will happen with dramatic timing. When Indiana Jones rolled under the closing stone door and grabbed his hat just in time, it sent a chill and a cheer through everyone in the audience. If that scene had been done in a standard adventure game, the player would have been killed the first four times he tried to make it under the door. The next six times the player would have been too late to grab the hat. Is this good drama? Not likely. The key is to use Hollywood time, not real time. Give the player some slack when doing time-based puzzles. Try to watch for intent.
I think they pulled this off too, for instance in the scene with de Singe and the gun at the fourth idol. Something I particularly appreciated was that it only knocked you back to the previous screen, so you could walk right back in there when you failed, rather than towards a random point on the map like in Monkey Island 1.
The player needs to know that she is achieving. The fastest way to turn a player off is to let the game drag on with no advancement. This is especially true for people who are playing adventure games for the first time. In graphics adventures the reward often comes in the form of seeing new areas of the game.
This worked too, if you ask me. The jungle divulged new locations at a steady rate of puzzle solving.
(I'll continue this in a second post, because for some reason I can't post any long posts. Posts.)