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Three major problems with graphic adventure games, and possible solutions.

posted by Anonymous on - last edited - Viewed by 1.2K users

Since most people seemed to ignore my rather lengthy reply, I thought I'd cut to the more interesting half of my post, and make it a discussion unto itself.

There are three major problems with graphic adventure games.

1. Uneven puzzle design. Even the best of them can get tricky. Grim Fandango threw some real curve-balls at me, as did The Longest Journey, Syberia, Day of the Tentacle.... they were all plagued by certain puzzles that were just bad ideas.

It's been said that a writer should assume nothing about what their audience knows, but to assume the audience has some intelligence. The same principle applies to graphic adventure games. Do not assume your player immediately understands what something does, the context of a situation or that they know what's happening. This doesn't mean you have to tell them outright; if you want, feel free to puzzle it out. However, you better be sure that every single person, with some thought, will be able to understand what an item does or what a person wants.

My single biggest pet peeve is to attempt to solve a puzzle multiple ways, fail, then check a walk-through only to find out that I had attempted something similar. Grim Fandango had this puzzle where you had to pop a balloon in front of these birds, but if you tried simply using the balloon, you failed. This ruled out, in my mind, the possibility of the balloon being at the heart of the solution, even though it was. It's possible to allow this sort of thing to happen, as long as it's implied that you're on the right track, and should be doing something similar.

Getting stuck will happen even if you design intelligently. Some people just won't get the puzzle. For them, provide an out. Make at least one more puzzle solution that will get them to the same place. One of the things I like about graphic adventure games, actually, is that there is only one solution. That said, I don't like it so much when I'm stuck, and I have no idea what to do. Have an alternative puzzle or two that will show up when the player gets stuck.

2. Graphic adventure games are so alive... until you get stuck. How many times have I been punished for not knowing what to do next? New areas stop popping up. Dialogue options are exhausted. Every item in your inventory seems to be entirely useless. This has to stop. You can do all you want to help the player get through the puzzles, but at some point, they're going to get stuck anyway. Might as well give them something to do in the meantime.

When the game stops moving forward, get it moving sideways. Open up new dialogue options, create little cut-scenes, allow the player to go on a vacation of sorts from the real game, and visit some sort of eccentric and fascinating location totally aside from the story. Needless to say, none of this should be important to the main game, but it will at least keep the main game a game, rather than a puzzle come to an absolute standstill.

Misery loves company. If I'm frustrated, I want my main character to be frustrated too. It makes sense; after all, he's the one who can't move forward until he figures things out. If anything, the main character should be more frustrated than the player. There should be dialogue options opening up whenever the player is stuck that reflect that. In fact, this is a good place to integrate hints for a solution (though that won't work for every game).

Integrating character into solution is a good idea. I don't get the sense that graphic adventure designers ever ask themselves, “when this character reaches an impasse, what would he/she do?â€. It's a good way to integrate the alternate solutions I suggested earlier. If a character is a hitman, then why wouldn't he try force? If the character is a diplomat, wouldn't she try to talk her way out of her problems? It's a good way to ease the obtuse, abstract nature of some of the puzzles without ever breaking out of the reality of the circumstances.

3. For a genre called graphic adventure, there doesn't seem to be much adventure. This one drives me crazy. There is a large element of exploration, but it's not properly handled. There seems to be a real lack of proper pacing in this area.

Most adventure games show their hand too early, giving you access to most areas quickly, then forcing you to retread them repeatedly. Come on, the pacing has to be better than that. Open up a new area every couple puzzle solutions, consistently reward players with new areas. Not only will this better distribute the novelty of exploration, but it will better motivate players to solve puzzles. Just be careful that you don't give the player access to too many different areas. If you do, you exponentially increase the number of variables, and therefore possible puzzle solutions, making the design overwhelming. Open up new areas gradually, close off old areas gradually.

It'd also be nice to be rewarded more often for going off the beaten path. If the player tries to go someplace out of the way, or do something rather odd, try to give them some kind of reward. Some kind of gag, a pretty animation, many a new little area, just a little perk of some kind. Just don't let these things become possible puzzle solutions, or you'll unnecessarily complicate things.

As a personal aside, I'd also like to see more graphic adventure games explore time as a puzzle element. In some games, it adds an intriguing layer of depth and urgency, having to consider both what to do, and when to do it.

The graphic adventure that has true longevity is the one with terrific writing and storytelling depth. Accomplish that, and most will overlook the faults.

32 Comments - Linear Discussion: Classic Style
  • I read your post on the other thread, but didn't reply because I didn't really have anything useful to contribute. Still, I think you make excellent points - I actually made mistake #3 quite blatantly in my last independently-made adventure.

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    Anonymous

    [quote]I read your post on the other thread, but didn't reply because I didn't really have anything useful to contribute. Still, I think you make excellent points - I actually made mistake #3 quite blatantly in my last independently-made adventure.[/quote]

    What? How dare you be imperfect! *shakes fist*

    Kidding. Live and learn, right? :)

    The reason why I'm posting this as its own thread is because there needs to be a lot more discussion about what the problems are, how to address them, and whether or not certain suggested solutions are valid. I haven't seen much of a shift in adventure game theory, so I'm trying to start some talk in a place that seems to have a decent number of intelligent, passionate adventure game fans.

    My ideas are not impervious to criticism, nor are they complete. Maybe there are other glaring issues with graphic adventures that I've forgotten. Perhaps one of my principles, upon further inspection, isn't all that productive. Maybe there are simply better alternatives.

    People tend to think better when they are challenged with differing perspectives. Defending or changing ideas in response to factors you never considered helps complete theories. For everyone involved, it's better to question and argue.

    I'm not trying to pick on you, really. If you don't see anything you object to, that's fine. But I'd encourage you to voice any quibbles you might have, or air another possible solution, if you have anything like that. I don't want you to think it's your obligation to respond in that matter, though. I just felt that I should explain that almost anything related to the topic would be a useful addition.

    Don't know why it seems that the shorter the length of a statement directed at me, the longer my reply.

    Anyways, thanks for your words of encouragement.

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    Anonymous

    [quote]I read your post on the other thread, but didn't reply because I didn't really have anything useful to contribute. Still, I think you make excellent points - I actually made mistake #3 quite blatantly in my last independently-made adventure.[/quote]

    That's funny, because the way I see it, providing access to the entire gameworld at once isn't necessarily a wrong thing. For some games it works. Exploring doesn't always mean accessing new territory.

    --Erwin

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    Anonymous

    I completely disagree with your post.

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    Anonymous

    For the record, i read your entire post in the other thread also.

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    Anonymous

    [quote][quote]I read your post on the other thread, but didn't reply because I didn't really have anything useful to contribute. Still, I think you make excellent points - I actually made mistake #3 quite blatantly in my last independently-made adventure.[/quote]

    That's funny, because the way I see it, providing access to the entire gameworld at once isn't necessarily a wrong thing. For some games it works. Exploring doesn't always mean accessing new territory.

    --Erwin[/quote]

    There are some perks involved. It's very easy to modulate the number of variables, as at any one given time, the number of possibilities should be about the same. It also breeds familiarity with the game's world, and allows the player to more naturally react to puzzles. Still, you run a very high risk of things getting very old, very quick. There are ways to work around that. If you have a world that is very dynamic, constantly changing, constantly presenting new possibilities, then having a world that is open all at once can be quite beneficial. I imagine it's quite difficult to design that way. Unless you're creating with a divine touch, things will likely get old for the player at one point or another. So yeah, you could open up the entire world at once, but because the difficulties associated with keeping it fresh consistently, I'd say that's a path that should only be taken when there's a good reason.

    I'm totally wrong? Ack, my ego is destroyed... :p

  • I love getting stuck when I play a graphic adventure.
    It's a true satisfaction when I understand what to do next, after 3 days of no ideas.

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    Anonymous

    Exactly guybrush.. heaven forbid game designers actually make people.. THINK!!

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    Anonymous

    [quote]2. Graphic adventure games are so alive... until you get stuck. How many times have I been punished for not knowing what to do next? New areas stop popping up. Dialogue options are exhausted. Every item in your inventory seems to be entirely useless. This has to stop. You can do all you want to help the player get through the puzzles, but at some point, they're going to get stuck anyway. Might as well give them something to do in the meantime.[/quote]

    Won't making the game larger make solving the problem tougher and more confusing? - If the player knows he has say, five screens to move around in, two characters he can talk to and only a taco in his inventory, then he knows the puzzle can be solved within that space...

    If he has the option to drive/fly to multiple different destinations, then he's going to get overwhelmed by the potential options, how does he know the solution is within that area - maybe they need to get that skull in Botswana or guitar from Guantanamo Bay before the solution can be found (its gonna take a good 5-10 minutes to get the character there, and then back again when theres no potential clues) - Essentially I guess I 'm saying Adventure games are all about solving problems - You set the player up with the situation, and the tools (i.e. characters, inventory, etc) & let them take it from there?

    At the end of the day, whatever the developers add - new dialog options, mini-games, etc.. are going to get old for the player at some point and he's going to be stuck in the same situation anyway?

    The only alternative I've seen is to have serveral plotlines running concurrently, then the player can switch between between them when hes stumped with a particular puzzle and come back refreshed at the end

    e.g. In order to leave the house the character needs to solve the puzzles of 1, getting washed, 2. Making breakfast, 3. Feeding the cat, 4. Getting rid of the annoying hangover...

    Theres no set order these need to be completed in, he can do bits of the puzzel at a time

    e.g. the character has figured out how to get the tin of cat food off the top shelf, get the bowl away from the phyco cat, but need to put together a makeshift can opener in order to feed it.

    Since the player is stumped he might want to try going back to the making breakfast puzzle/quest or the getting washed and dressed thingy...

    But even then, your going to end up in a position where you've completed all the quests/storyline/puzzles, except the one for getting rid of the hangover, which you just cant find an solution to... so your back to having 5 room, two characters to talk to and a kipper in your dressing gown pocket.

    I guess what I'm saying is that solving puzzles is the point of adventure games (having a solid, fun, entertaining, engaging story is why you keep playing) - You want to be challenged by the puzzles (& as long as the solution makes sense and isn't too obscure), otherwise theres no satisfaction in solving them.

    Otherwise Adventure games developers might as well just make the whole thing an animated short (though it would be cool if you could watch the game played through as an animation after you'd completed it - just the once though, and you'd probably get bored and turn it off after the first five minutes, like with the commentary's they've started adding to some games, I tried listening to the FEAR one - I could actually feel my life draining away with each passing second - It was a lot scarier than the actual game, which just seemed to be about a little girl throwing a strop because she couldn't find her hairbrush?)

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    Anonymous

    [quote] Grim Fandango had this puzzle where you had to pop a balloon in front of these birds, but if you tried simply using the balloon, you failed. This ruled out, in my mind, the possibility of the balloon being at the heart of the solution, even though it was. It's possible to allow this sort of thing to happen, as long as it's implied that you're on the right track, and should be doing something similar.
    [/quote]

    But it did imply you were on the right track..the fact that something happened with the balloon showed that you wern't far off.. this is one of my fav puzzles.. it took a little common sense to figure it out.. how can i get those damn birds to move.. after a few failed attempts..i returned with an arsenal of bread sticks multiple balloons and i tried everything until it worked..and when it did I loved it! thats a great puzzle, that when you solve it you think great! made sense, was a good idea, made me think and was fun.
    Thats whats great about adventure games..the challenge..

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