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Should the new King's Quest game have unwinnable states?

posted by thejobloshow on - last edited - Viewed by 2.5K users

I'm a big advocate of death and losing in adventure games. I think if a gamer is given enough warning that what they're about to embark on involves an element of genuine danger it makes for a much more intricate engagement with the game out of sheer glorious TERROR.

The puzzles in some King's Quest games border on the masochistic and I would feel disappointed if there wasn't some attempt to beef up the difficulty in order to genuinely reflect what this series was all about. You were adventuring in strange new worlds where fairy tale and horror had come to life - sometimes the best approach to make sense of this crazy world was to take a stab in the dark. You better grab that item right now or else you might never see it again! Maybe if I write this guy's name backwards i can pass this area. Things like that.

Dead ends are considered the worst possible thing you could do in an adventure game. It was part of the LucasArts manifesto to go against this design flaw, which brought about a flurry of genre defining adventure games that lasted up until Grim Fandango. However, that was never King's Quest's concern. In fact, when they removed unwinnable states in King's Quest VII the game was lambasted by fans for being TOO EASY!

So, why not bring back the dead end? Some of the most popular adventure games today have refined what it means to have an unwinnable state such as Ace Attorney and Ghost Trick. Surely there's a way to reconcile delicious punishment in a modern era of adventuring without throwing away the whole thing!

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    Jennifer Moderator

    Please don't bring back the dead end. There was one in Hector episode 1 (I'm not sure if by design, or script flaw) where if you didn't pick up an item before you left an area it was gone when you came back, and I really didn't like it. It takes you out of the game, and that's what makes it really not a good design choice.

    Death is fine, and I'm sure Telltale will have plenty of it. Although, personally I'd go for a happy middle ground rather than go the Jurassic Park/The Walking Dead route of restarting the scene where you died or Sierra's route of game over where you have to load a saved game or restart: having options on death for retry and loading a saved game. That way the diehard Sierra fans can happily ignore the retry option and load a saved game, and the people who are new to the genre, never liked Sierra's design style, or those who prefer more leeway with their games, can just retry the scene The Walking Dead/Jurassic Park (or, going back, Full Throttle) style.

  • The retry option is just as bad as having no deaths at all. That's a big part of what made KQVII so terrible. KQVII didn't just remove unwinnable states (they were pretty much gone, though still not completely, by KQVI). It removed the consequences of death altogether. Death in a video game means nothing without punishment.

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    Jennifer Moderator

    @Lambonius said: The retry option is just as bad as having no deaths at all. That's a big part of what made KQVII so terrible. KQVII didn't just remove unwinnable states (they were pretty much gone, though still not completely, by KQVI). It removed the consequences of death altogether. Death in a video game means nothing without punishment.


    That's a pretty weird thing to say, considering what I posted. My compromise meant that you could have it both ways. If you don't like the retry button, just click the load game button instead. That way you can have classic Sierra unwinnable states if you want it. Just having the retry option there shouldn't upset anyone, if they give you the chance of death with consequences through a load game button, since you don't have to use it if you don't want to.

    Though considering how much a lot of Sierra fans love the unwinnable states in their games, probably the best way to do this would be through options to customise the UI like Telltale did with The Walking Dead. That way, if you want classic Sierra style deaths, you can completely remove the retry button from the death sequences and just have the load game button instead. That should please everyone.

  • This again? Oh well, I have some new points on this subject, so I hope nobody just comes in saying "oh not this again, can't you guys just agree to disagree?" If that's what you're going to do, then just hold your peace and leave the thread.

    Personally, I think "it takes you out of the game" is just an excuse for "it makes you aware that you aren't the perfect gamer you think you are". From the beginning, games have always been about overcoming hurdles and challenges. That includes the ultimate challenge: complete and utter failure. When you die in an adventure game you're failing at a game that challenges you on an intellectual level (with failing to figure out the puzzle) as well as a mortal level (failing to overcome basic gaming obstacles that threaten the character's ability to progress in the game; death). Dead ends are something else entirely and I can live without it if everyone's a book-burning over it, but dying? Bring it on, please.

    Retry? Yes, nobody has to click it if they don't have to. But everyone WILL just because it's there. It's possible to continue without any consequence whatsoever. Even those of us that hate it will use it because it's so available and easy. And that's PRECISELY why we hate it. At that point, the debate for us is that we've made save games precisely in perfect situations where we can continue if we die (even if we don't know death is coming). Now, technically, there's no difference between a save game and a retry button. But, again, that's exactly what we hate about it.

    We've earned the skill of saving games from experience in other games. It's a badge of honour to be able to overcome death when it comes, even if we didn't see it coming. Now any old Joe schmo can come along, completely fail, and be given infinite second chances without doing any work whatsoever. This reduces the skill we've refined of being wary of the gaming environment and saving to a redundancy. We might as well press retry because it's the same thing. But it's the principle of it that bugs me. Why do inexperienced players get to cheat? Yes, cheat, because half the skill of many adventure games -- minus 95% of the LucasArts catalogue -- is sensing when death might be near and saving at pivotal game moments. The retry button completely nullifies that. To me, it's like using God mode or skipping a level in an FPS game. Or using an infinite resources command in an RTS game. Or maxing out your stats and all power/level-ups in an RPG game. It's no different because it's totally subverting a main obstacle that's meant to be overcome by means that the game itself offers you. When the retry button came along, it took that challenge away, nullifying death (like Lamb said) by making it totally pointless and a mere nuisance compared to the immense foreboding shadow that hangs over your head throughout the game like it used to be.

    Deaths are far more effective when there's a chance of losing everything without a way back, except the long journey you came from. Yes, it is punishment to the player. Rightful punishment. For failing. As it should be. Like anything else.

    Does anyone on the other side of the fence see my point yet? How about this as a compromise? And I ask this to people on both sides of the fence.....limited retries? Without the option to save exactly where you want to. That's the only alternative I can come up with that makes any sense. Similar to the "continue?" countdown in arcade games. If you run out of quarters you have to start all over.

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    Jennifer Moderator

    @MusicallyInspired said: Personally, I think "it takes you out of the game" is just an excuse for "it makes you aware that you aren't the perfect gamer you think you are". From the beginning, games have always been about overcoming hurdles and challenges. That includes the ultimate challenge: complete and utter failure. When you die in an adventure game you're failing at a game that challenges you on an intellectual level (with failing to figure out the puzzle) as well as a mortal level (failing to overcome basic gaming obstacles that threaten the character's ability to progress in the game; death). Dead ends are something else entirely and I can live without it if everyone's a book-burning over it, but dying? Bring it on, please.


    I wasn't talking about death taking you out of the game. I was talking about dead ends. I don't mind deaths in adventure games (even those without retries). But I hate dead ends. If you didn't notice a tiny group of pixels, you can't go back to look for it, even in some cases (like I mentioned with Hector episode 1) if you actually can go back to the area in question. That's not very good design in my opinion, and it's not fun.

    @MusicallyInspired said: Retry? Yes, nobody has to click it if they don't have to. But everyone WILL just because it's there. It's possible to continue without any consequence whatsoever. Even those of us that hate it will use it because it's so available and easy. And that's PRECISELY why we hate it. At that point, the debate for us is that we've made save games precisely in perfect situations where we can continue if we die (even if we don't know death is coming). Now, technically, there's no difference between a save game and a retry button. But, again, that's exactly what we hate about it.


    But if there was an option in the menu to turn retry off in the UI, that would solve the problem of temptation. Since Telltale games started having hints, they've always had the option to turn off hints in the UI. The Walking Dead has options to turn off the Back to the Future style mission messages as well (and there has almost always been the option to turn off text names of objects, and The Walking Dead lets you turn off highlighting of clickable spots). Having the options in the menu to transparently make the game as easy or hard as you want the game to be seems like a good solution for both newcomers, those more used to LucasArts-style adventures, and Sierra veterans.

    @MusicallyInspired said: We've earned the skill of saving games from experience in other games. It's a badge of honour to be able to overcome death when it comes, even if we didn't see it coming. Now any old Joe schmo can come along, completely fail, and be given infinite second chances without doing any work whatsoever. This reduces the skill we've refined of being wary of the gaming environment and saving to a redundancy. We might as well press retry because it's the same thing. But it's the principle of it that bugs me. Why do inexperienced players get to cheat? Yes, cheat, because half the skill of many adventure games -- minus 95% of the LucasArts catalogue -- is sensing when death might be near and saving at pivotal game moments. The retry button completely nullifies that. To me, it's like using God mode or skipping a level in an FPS game. Or using an infinite resources command in an RTS game. Or maxing out your stats and all power/level-ups in an RPG game. It's no different because it's totally subverting a main obstacle that's meant to be overcome by means that the game itself offers you. When the retry button came along, it took that challenge away, nullifying death (like Lamb said) by making it totally pointless and a mere nuisance compared to the immense foreboding shadow that hangs over your head throughout the game like it used to be.


    You can make the same argument about in-game hints, and that's not something that's likely to change in Telltale's games. And I personally don't care. I don't mind that people use them. You can turn them off in the menu, so if you don't want to see the hints you never will. If you can do the same with retries, there's really no issue.

    @MusicallyInspired said: Does anyone on the other side of the fence see my point yet? How about this as a compromise? And I ask this to people on both sides of the fence.....limited retries? Without the option to save exactly where you want to. That's the only alternative I can come up with that makes any sense. Similar to the "continue?" countdown in arcade games. If you run out of quarters you have to start all over.


    That would cut away a large chunk of the current adventure game market who likes a more casual adventure game. I don't think the game should actively turn away that market, when they can let you control the difficulty of your game transparently. It works well for The Walking Dead, and it worked well for the Sam & Max games, Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures, Strong Bad, and Tales of Monkey Island in the past.

    I do think that they should up the difficulty level of the puzzles though. The in game help is there for people who are more casual adventure gamers, so Telltale should take that into consideration. The highest level of help since Back to the Future has been hand-holding gamers on exactly how to solve puzzles, so there shouldn't be any problem getting casual gamers past hard puzzles that way if they want to use the highest level of hints.

  • I would say there is absolutely no way the game will have dead ends. They were cheap design back then (throwing all puzzles together is always easier than taking all possibilities into consideration and making sure that the player can't run into an unwinnable situation) and they would be cheap design now; even more so. And, perhaps more importantly, virtually nobody liked them. Al Lowe, Jane Jensen, Scott Murphy, Mark Crowe... all of them reduced the number of dead ends, or avoided them altogether, as they matured as designers. Even Roberta Williams, whom I've never considered a good adventure game designer, decided to stop including dead ends in her latest games.

    On the other hand, it wouldn't surprise me if Telltale's King's Quest does include deaths, because they are one of the most distinguishing traits of the series, and they can be introduced without turning the design of the game into a cheap mess. The usefulness of a retry button (although I think they will include one anyway) depends on how they approach this: if the death scenes are introduced in a remotely reasonable way, there should be some ways of predicting and avoiding them if you play somewhat carefully, so a retry button is not really needed. If they are introduced in an unfair, completely unpredictable way, there is actually no ability involved, just pure trial and error. Therefore, the retry button could be useful, so the player doesn't have to compulsively save the game when entering every single screen, just in case a thunder falls randomly from the sky and kills Graham.

  • "Doesn't have to" is the viewpoint that irks me here. Like I said, that was a gaming feature and obstacle to overcome, not an annoyance. You "have" to save in FPS games too (although, a lot of FPS's have automatic retries now, which is even worse). Just because Adventures are all about puzzles doesn't mean that dying shouldn't be something that can end your gaming experience like anything else. It's not trial and error. Yes, some deaths are unpredictable, but I don't personally find that annoying. At all. I'm not "forced" to "compulsively" save my game. It's not about that. The viewpoint is just so different now and skewed from what it used to be.

    Regarding turning off the retry button, if that was to happen, it would have to be unavailable to re-enable once the game has started. You can always turn in-game hints on again whenever you want currently. I don't like the idea of customizing the game rules while the game is still playing. Ideally, I'd like hints to be grayed out once the game has started as well. It just feels like cheating. Customizing your game experience before starting and then being forced to stick to it is something I would prefer.

    [quote]That would cut away a large chunk of the current adventure game market who likes a more casual adventure game. I don't think the game should actively turn away that market, when they can let you control the difficulty of your game transparently.[/quote]

    I look at it more as introducing these gamers to new experiences and challenges. I don't really agree with the idea that people get exactly what they want out of a game they've never played before. Where's the fun in that?

  • If you can't somewhat predict most of the death scenes in a game (which is what happened in many, if not most, of the earlier Sierra games), yes, it's trial and error. I obviously don't mean there has to be a big warning sign: I have no problem whatsoever with the death scenes in games like King's Quest VI (I can even tolerate the dead ends in this one, because they are reasonable, they are not the result of cheap game design and they are not out there just to screw the player); I don't even have a problem with the death scenes in King's Quest V (although the design in this one is noticeably worse and, as a result, many of the dead ends are just ridiculous). Those, for me, would be similar to the FPS example you provided. I don't have a problem with that.

    Many other Sierra games, however (especially the earlier ones, as I said), would be more like an FPS in which you are randomly shot dead by an invisible enemy. Most people wouldn't like that FPS.

  • For me it's not a big deal if you can die or can't die in adventure games. In some games it's a good thing that you can die and in others I'm happy that you can't get killed, because death would feel unsuitable considering the style and story of the game. In old Sierra games death was frequent and it would be difficult to imagine King's Quest game where you can't die (although it's even more difficult to imagine Space Quest game where you can't die, because many best jokes were on death scenes).

    However I generally don't like dead ends. I can live with those if I know in advance that dead ends are possible and I know to save my game before doing something with an item which might have limited uses etc. In early King's Quest games dead ends didn't bother that much, because replaying the whole game didn't take much time if you knew what you were doing, but I doubt I would enjoy if in TTG's King's Quest I couldn't finish the Episode 5, because of a wrong dialogue choice in Episode 1 or something like that.

  • although it's even more difficult to imagine Space Quest game where you can't die, because many best jokes were on death scenes


    Oh, come on every single KQ game had ways to die.

    As for Space Quest, oddly enough there is a fan game that as far as I know has no ingame deaths. Shocking as it may be :p... It really is kind of 'missing'.

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