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

posted by Anonymous on - last edited - Viewed by 851 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
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    Anonymous

    The points made in the original post are quite true.

    I am no game designer, but it seems to me that the genre "adventure" should be adventure. Nowadays, adventure game makers only include puzzles. No actual adventure, which is a bit annoying.

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    Anonymous

    [quote]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.[/quote]

    You forget the part where you swear to eat the lead designer's first-born while you try to figure out an unreasonably obtuse puzzle.

    I'm not saying that adventure games shouldn't force the player to think. What I'm suggesting is that they stop being cruel when you get stuck. Adding alternate solutions is a good option because it doesn't necessitate decreased difficulty, but it doesn't punish the player for not getting something.

    The puzzles I usually get stuck on have little to do with thinking. I remember a puzzle in The Longest Journey where I had tried to use an object, but that didn't work, not realizing the solution was to use a specific part of that object. That's not forcing the player to think.

    I don't understand why anyone would want to be trapped by a puzzle. The puzzzles that trap you aren't the ones that are logically difficult, but result from poor design. If I felt that every graphic adventure puzzle was simply a matter of taking time to figure things out, I wouldn't be complaining. This ain't the case. Too many are simply bad puzzles. Trying to portray them as anything else would be inaccurate.

  • User Avatar Image
    Anonymous

    [quote]The points made in the original post are quite true.

    I am no game designer, but it seems to me that the genre "adventure" should be adventure. Nowadays, adventure game makers only include puzzles. No actual adventure, which is a bit annoying.[/quote]

    What do you mean by 'adventure'?

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    Anonymous

    [quote]
    What do you mean by 'adventure'?[/quote]

    Pretty much any game that fits in the adventure category. Any new AG, really. In my own experience, I've found that there's a big differance between an adventure game and a puzzle game. For instance, "safecracker" is obviously a puzzle game, but when it comes to real adventure games, oldies like the "Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine" game is what an AG really is. Could be just me, though, who has that view on the subject.

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    Anonymous

    There are people who say Infernal Machine (like Tomb Raider) doesn't belong to the 'true' adventure genre, because it contains too much action. :D [>:)]

    --Erwin

  • You sure you didn't mean to write Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis?

  • I would actually say that you have very important points there Oilers99. Particularly in terms of puzzles. These are the sort of things which stop the adventure genre from being a mainstream genre. Particularly in terms of puzzle design.

    I personally hate puzzles which don't really seem to make sense. For instance, in Gabriel Knight 3 to make a disguise you have to put a piece of tape above a hole where it will take a small amount of fur from a cat (when it gets chased thorugh) and you get a false moustache. Even to me that makes little sense. Or Monkey Island 1 in which to get from one part of the island to the other you are forced to go find a chicken somewhere which so happens to have a pulley through the middle allowing you to hook it over the wire and get to the other side. Maybe to slightly crazy people such as myself that makes sense but nonetheless the solution involves a pixel hunt on the other side of the island. Couple "interesting" solutions such as these with having to guess precisely how the game maker wants you to do them (e.g. where they want you to place the balloon) and adventure games become an exceptionally irritating genre.

    In games like Discworld II they actually went on to complain about it in game but they still did nothing to change it. It's still continuing in modern games as well, especially in games like Syberia and Runaway where the developers apparently refuse to try and move the genre forward from the 90's. I like these games but I have to admit that I often find them frustrating.

    The first thing that needs to happen is developers need to sit down and actually think up clear and logical puzzles. No more combining shoe box with dead salmon to distract laser cannons to allow the clown into the toilets where he can open the secret safe. More allowing access to secret base by sneaking into and disabling control center so the lasers stop and having to blackmail the clown using the pictures you took of him taking cocaine so you can get the combination for the safe.

    But this leaves how people are going to attempt puzzles.

    But how to solve this? You can make it easier for people to figure out where to use what but you still don't know if they're going to do it. Obviously you cannot completely solve this. Nobody can completely account for how a total stranger is going to approach a puzzle. Whether they're going to attempt to try and push the safe out the window or try and break it open using the explosives in their inventory meant for later. I think the best idea would be to allow a slight level of open endedness. For those who do not think to throw Max into the switchboard, put a door in the back which can be opened by bargaining the key off the owners or ripping it open with a crowbar. Perhaps in these new fangled 3D games you could allow a character to make a costume and try to trick his way in or for the casual player you can allow them to try and sneak their way in, the difference being the person who goes out of his way to get the costume will find more puzzles but won't get caught by guards and be forced to restart while the casual gamer has to knock people out and avoid guards to get about. This not only allows for how people are going to attempt to solve puzzles but also adds a little more action and other genres so that people can replay and experience a slightly different game PLUS the other genres might attract people who play different genres like FPS and stealth-'em-ups.

  • User Avatar Image
    Anonymous

    [quote]Pretty much any game that fits in the adventure category. Any new AG, really. In my own experience, I've found that there's a big differance between an adventure game and a puzzle game. For instance, "safecracker" is obviously a puzzle game, but when it comes to real adventure games, oldies like the "Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine" game is what an AG really is. Could be just me, though, who has that view on the subject.[/quote]

    Hey man - See, I'm still little confused [:">] Do you mean arcade style segments (which weren't ever really a standard part of point and click adventure games - more your Tomb Raider style games (arcade-adventure to old-fogies like me)).

    Going back to the old space-quest, Labyrinth etc... Through Monkey Island, Beneath a Steel Sky, etc.. to Grim Fandango, Dreamfall, etc... There doesn't seem have been much change to the way the point and click adventure was played

    Point and clicks always seemed to be a more approachable version of text adventures (Hobbit, Zork, et. al) especially when you go back to the old Sierra games where you could control the character by using a text interface.

    I don't think you're wrong in what your saying, I'm just not too sure I understand what you mean by adventure is with regard to point and click games (as opposed to games like Dark Corners of the Earth, etc...) :-/

  • [quote][quote]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.[/quote]

    You forget the part where you swear to eat the lead designer's first-born while you try to figure out an unreasonably obtuse puzzle.

    I'm not saying that adventure games shouldn't force the player to think. What I'm suggesting is that they stop being cruel when you get stuck. Adding alternate solutions is a good option because it doesn't necessitate decreased difficulty, but it doesn't punish the player for not getting something.

    The puzzles I usually get stuck on have little to do with thinking. I remember a puzzle in The Longest Journey where I had tried to use an object, but that didn't work, not realizing the solution was to use a specific part of that object. That's not forcing the player to think.

    I don't understand why anyone would want to be trapped by a puzzle. The puzzzles that trap you aren't the ones that are logically difficult, but result from poor design. If I felt that every graphic adventure puzzle was simply a matter of taking time to figure things out, I wouldn't be complaining. This ain't the case. Too many are simply bad puzzles. Trying to portray them as anything else would be inaccurate.[/quote]

    Think for a second about Monkey2.
    Lots of puzzles were totally crazy and incredibly hard.
    Just to mention some, USING JOJO WITH THE PUMP, or just a simple "pick up dog". Those kind of puzzles made MI2 one of the greatest (if not THE greatest) graphic adventures.
    You could think about what to do next for days and days, and when you finally did it, you were enthusiastic.
    Maybe what you're saying is more appropriate for a game like Maniac Mansion, which didn't even give you a hint for being following the right logic. But during the next couple of years the problem's been solved, I think.

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    Anonymous

    [quote]There are people who say Infernal Machine (like Tomb Raider) doesn't belong to the 'true' adventure genre, because it contains too much action. :D [>:)]

    --Erwin[/quote]

    The question that I ask myself is, "should adventure mean action, or puzzles?". The term "adventure" has, for as long as the term has existed, meant Raiders-of-the-Lost-Ark kind of whipping, shooting, and running. Or Lara croft kind of running, jumping, shooting, etc. etc. Pointing and clicking is just not what adventure means, if you go by the usual use of the word.

    And Lara Croft and Indiana Jones games have always included puzzles, at least in the the one's that I've played.

    [quote]You sure you didn't mean to write Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis?[/quote]

    No, but in reality, all the IJ games, Fate of Atlantis included, should fit in the adventure category.

    [quote]Hey man - See, I'm still little confused Do you mean arcade style segments (which weren't ever really a standard part of point and click adventure games - more your Tomb Raider style games (arcade-adventure to old-fogies like me)).

    I don't think you're wrong in what your saying, I'm just not too sure I understand what you mean by adventure is with regard to point and click games (as opposed to games like Dark Corners of the Earth, etc...) [/quote]

    ^^^ What I said above.

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