Author Topic: Worst Adventure Game Tendencies  (Read 2213 times)

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Offline NilG

Worst Adventure Game Tendencies
« on: December 08, 2019, 03:32:02 AM »
Just to kick off a discussion...

I would never want to talk shit on a single game and certainly have no desire to pick out a specific game from 20 years for its faults.  There've been plenty of "Worst Adventure Game" threads throughout the years, but...

Since I feel most of us have been playing adventure games for a long time (and some of us may have not been, but the question remains), what are some of the things that have popped up in adventure games that have transfigured joy into irritation or flat out rage?

Not a new question either, of course, but wanted to share my own thoughts on a few things and see what you all thought:

Parser Vs PnC - Possibly the primary question for us old assholes.  I'm a parser fan because of the freedom of exploration.  I also understand, particularly after coming up with a demo in the format, how reliant the experience is on the understanding of syntax and basic words/synonyms.  It's something of an early AI, and very limited by memory when not by care.  I always enjoyed parser, though, that ability to look at or try anything.  I remember reading the KQ Companion and how the skull in KQ3 was a rudimentary computer.  Goofy?  Sure.  As a kid, I recall wondering why I didn't look at that thing closer.  Parser doesn't widen the world, really; PnC can do all the same, but it always seemed to me when I was younger that the world was limitless.  You could type ANYTHING and maybe get a response.  I enjoyed PnC as well, but was initially disappointed when Sierra went the PnC route.  Of course, that wasn't the biggest issue with their first game in that direction, though many of them weren't initially introduced by the change, either:

Dead Ends - These kind of suck.  When I was in my single digits or an early teen, it was fine.  All the time in the world.  As an older dude, dead ends kinda suck.  It's tough to come up with a balance that avoids it, particularly in the older memory limitations.  But I get it; I can't imagine an adult or most kids today saying, "Sure, my bad, I'll go back and replay 6 hours because maybe I missed something then."  Didn't mind it then.  Don't have time for it now.

Deaths - Maybe a touchy topic or not.  I don't think deaths are awful in and of themselves, but sudden death is frustrating.  Again, as a kid, I learned to bounce when the random wolf appeared, but sometimes death makes sense in the context.  GK1 did it pretty well, I feel.  I think there are two kinds of adventure game deaths. and both can be avoided by saving and restoring, but there's no fun in entering a new screen and dying because fuck you, that's why.  It's a puzzle game, not a shitty luck game.

FMV - Obsolete as it was now, anyway.  GK2, which I enjoyed as a still young teenager, isn't generally placed on the same level as GK1 for I think obvious reasons.  Same could be said for early 3D games, I guess.  I'm not a graphics guy, necessarily, but there are certainly differences, and if the technology is negatively impacting the game portion of the... game, then there's probably an issue.

Bad/Impossible Puzzles - Ifnkovhgroghprm and Cat Mustache are obvious and explored to death.  This is one I feel like I may be trying to balance still.  I'm not sure if the puzzles in Sect are all fair or if there's a bunch of easy ones and hard ones.  I can think of one puzzle (as a backup to avoid a dead-end) that probably needs more clarification/hinting, and that's one way around this kind of puzzle.  Hints within the text or visuals can probably help bang this one out almost universally, as long as the puzzles aren't completely lacking in logic.  Don't want to make it too easy, but don't want a game full of picking up hammers and using them on nails, either.  Random, ambiguous letters in unrelated houses obviously don't work to improve it.  It needs to make sense.  Bad puzzles are a killer seeing as that's the point, right?

Basic Storytelling - Just for the sake of completeness, have an interesting story or an interesting game, like in any other medium.  If your game is some dude trying to go to White Castle or finish their term paper, the game itself better be interesting.  I shit every day; not gonna make a game around it unless Toilet Paper Quest comes with a pretty epic tale.

Surface exploration; definitely interested to hear any other opinions, though?  I feel like we all want to create entire worlds that (or recreate variations of this world in a way which) keeps things interesting and triggers a desire to explore.  What's prevented that in some otherwise stellar games?

BONUS!  Not enough information - Not as big, but if there's something on the screen that can't be deciphered visually, mention it in the general look or at least make it explorable with the right word.  Sometimes the screen just has a bunch of shit on it, and it's all garbage.  That's fine; just catch it with something.  It's perfectly fine to have garbage on the screen, but give it a LOOK response or something.  It sucks to look at that thing which is obviously a ***** and get a generic "don't know what you're talking about" message, particularly if the game's well aware of the word used.

It's tough and imperfect to create an entire world, which I think is part of the thought behind these games, and we want to make them interactive without being frustrating.  A tall order, probably.  Further thoughts into what just sucks sometimes about adventure games?



Offline Doan Sephim

Re: Worst Adventure Game Tendencies
« Reply #1 on: December 08, 2019, 01:47:56 PM »
Great list, NilG. I've been playing through some of the fan-made SCI games lately and there's a lot that can be learned from them as well:

One thing that stood out to me after playing Legend of the Lost Jewel Demo is that a lot of the negative aspects of puzzle design can be forgiven if the art and animations are good. The demo has almost nothing in terms of puzzles that cannot be solved very simply, there is no plot to speak of, and there are no other characters in the game to interact with, but after beating the demo, I still wanted more to play because there was so much attention to detail in the artwork and animations.

I'm not saying that art/animations are more important than those other things, but the game gains a lot of grace because of it.

1. So I'd add to the list, using text descriptions in place of animation. Text is easy, but animations add so much perceived production value and make the game so much more fun to interact with. Without them, the game gets to feel too mechanical.

2. Fetch quest puzzles. Don't get me wrong, you can always have parts in the game where you need to deliver an item from A to B, but when they become the premier puzzle mechanic of the game with little to no variation on obstacles in the way, the game becomes extremely boring.

3. Out-of-place-puzzles. Here I can use my own game as an example. Betrayed Alliance has a few puzzles that don't really have much relation to the world or story-line. I use a slide-block puzzle to get into an area, and there's really no justification for it. A lot of the puzzles work well, but some of them are a bit out-of-place. This is something I want to amend in the second installment.


Offline Collector

Re: Worst Adventure Game Tendencies
« Reply #2 on: December 08, 2019, 06:26:14 PM »
Parser Vs PnC - Possibly the primary question for us old assholes.  I'm a parser fan because of the freedom of exploration.  I also understand, particularly after coming up with a demo in the format, how reliant the experience is on the understanding of syntax and basic words/synonyms.  It's something of an early AI, and very limited by memory when not by care.  I always enjoyed parser, though, that ability to look at or try anything.  I remember reading the KQ Companion and how the skull in KQ3 was a rudimentary computer.  Goofy?  Sure.  As a kid, I recall wondering why I didn't look at that thing closer.  Parser doesn't widen the world, really; PnC can do all the same, but it always seemed to me when I was younger that the world was limitless.  You could type ANYTHING and maybe get a response.  I enjoyed PnC as well, but was initially disappointed when Sierra went the PnC route.  Of course, that wasn't the biggest issue with their first game in that direction, though many of them weren't initially introduced by the change, either:

I would argue that this "freedom" is mostly an illusion. A parser or a P&C interface is only as complete as the designer makes it. There are a LOT of parser games that simply fall back on genaric responses. "I don't know what a *** is", "I don't know how to ***", "How can you do that?", etc.

The floppy version of Freddy has responses for much of what might catch your eye. There were so many hotspots with game responses that much of the more extraneous content had to be cut for the MPC version.

You touched on it, but I do not think that it can be over emphsized that a designer must include *every* synonym or variant a key object or action. Having to play 20 question with the designer of "what word am I thinking of now?" is immersion breaking. I will note that SCI0 does have enough of the rudiments of a P&C interface that you can right click on an object and the game will apply the "look" action on that object. The game's response can give its name of the object.

A parser or a P&C interface is only as good as the game's design allows. Which is better is completely subjective.

Dead Ends - These kind of suck

Josh Mandel once said that there are two kinds of dead ends; unintentional ones (AKA bad design) and those that are part of the game design. In KQ6 if you do not have all of the inventory items needed to complete the catacombs and try to enter them you are told that you are not ready. In KQ5 if you eat the pie you will not be able to pass the yeti. There is no reason to eat the pie. This is not to defend this silly "puzzle", but it is an example of dead end by design. I don't mind the designed dead ends, but see it as poor design if the game lets you advance too far after your illfated decision. It should be apparent before you have too much game play invested beyond.

Deaths

Depending on the death I do not mind them, in fact they can be fun and/or humorous. What I do not like are the tedious ones, like stairs in so many of the AGI games.

FMV

Perhaps a technology too much ahead of its time. Maybe it never will be time for it. The intent may be better met by photo realistic 3-D. The games from the FMV era were too low rez and disjointed with clumsy idle animations.

Bad/Impossible Puzzles

The less said about adventure game moon logic the better.

Basic Storytelling

Duh. A good narrative is fundamental to a good adventure game. Otherwise it is little more than a poor excuse from which to hang a few puzzles.

Surface exploration

This touches on the first point of parser vs P&C. Again, the floppy version of Freddy was particularly rich in hotspots. I would say that the ability to explore the game's world is not quite, but nearly as important as the narrative.
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Offline Doan Sephim

Re: Worst Adventure Game Tendencies
« Reply #3 on: December 09, 2019, 08:24:07 AM »
I would argue that this "freedom" is mostly an illusion. A parser or a P&C interface is only as complete as the designer makes it. There are a LOT of parser games that simply fall back on genaric responses.
I agree with Collector here. While I generally prefer the parser games, I've played a lot where there's little care put into responding to lots of different input. Some of that, at least from my own experience, is due to heap concerns (I had to trim down a lot of input in my main script, for example), but a lot of it is insufficient play-testing.

The one thing I actually like about parser that PNC doesn't and really can't do is making dialog options more player driven. With the parser it's up to the player to play detective a bit and zero in on important words/images to keep the conversation going in ways to find out new things. I actually really enjoy doing this, but PNC conversations are pre-set and all plotted out so that the detective work is gone.

That's not to say the parser is "better" because the PNC dialog allows a better (or at least more reasonable) dialog tree flow. It also allows far better "back-and-forth" conversations, and if the writer is really good, like a Tim Schafer, the dialog can become one of the best parts of the game. If you've ever played Psychonauts (which isn't an adventure game per-se, but its dialog trees are essentially identical), you'll discover dialog that is just too delightful to skip. But if the dialog is boring, then I get put off by the branching dialog trees and find it to be a chore to click through them. That's essentially why I tend to enjoy the parser a little more - it asks me to be more active.

As Collector said, "a parser or a P&C interface is only as good as the game's design allows. Which is better is completely subjective." I would just add that each has its own inherent strengths and limitations and being aware of them can help you exploit the good and circumvent the bad.

Offline NilG

Re: Worst Adventure Game Tendencies
« Reply #4 on: December 09, 2019, 03:00:42 PM »
I might not have strictly kept to the topic, or maybe the subject title's a bit off.  I definitely don't think PnC sucks, and would also agree that much of the "freedom" is illusory, though I'd also have to side on the parser vs dialog trees.  Technically, you can convey the same information either way, but I've always felt like the parser version plays out more as a user-driven conversation.  QFG1 and 2, which I've played through more times than I can count, can still occasionally give me a surprise when I ask a character about something I'd never thought to ask before.  That's largely due to designers' attention, of course (just did a recent run through of Police Quest 1 after many years and was surprised by how many "ask about" questions had nothing whatsoever, no matter how relevant to what was actually going on).  There was always just some extra bump in joy I felt when I found something new to ask on my own or some way to work with the parser as compared to PnC.

Speaking of the Yeti, though, one other thing...  this was a long time ago, so my memory could be hazed out, but while I don't recall eating the pie prematurely or having a ton of trouble with the Yeti, I suspect it was due to the "click everything on everything" manner of playing that becomes easy when you feel stuck.  Maybe that's a user-caused issue (don't do something unless you can think of a reason you're doing it), but I can guarantee the thought of throwing the pie in the Yeti's face Three Stooges style never crossed my mind.  It really is pretty silly as a "puzzle."  In that case, is it better to have the potentially more forgiving PnC over the parser?  Would "use pie with yeti" have yielded the same, or something like "A good idea, but how?"  I really don't know.  Come up with a better puzzle and it would work either way?  Perhaps.

Plus, on the other hand, "put bag in the bottle" or whatever the specific line from LSL2 was, shows how painful untested parsing can be, even when it's generally pretty good throughout a game.

You guys are right, though, the maximum enjoyment in either method comes from the developer caring enough to reward exploration with information, be it humorous or interesting, or just something to acknowledge that you can see what you can see.  The rest is probably subjective.

Deaths and maybe dead-ends can have their place...  The warning for the labyrinth is a nice touch, and when ignored, maybe it's all fair game.  I feel like there've been game puzzles where the correct thing was to ignore the narrator, as well, so it's potentially confusing, but if you can get a feel for the game and its characters, it could be pretty amusing.  I think Collector's got a good point: how long do they let you putter around as the walking dead?  Leisure Suit Larry 2 felt like one that could let you follow the linear story for hours before nailing you with a missing item.

And QFG, Roger "Red Shirt" Wilco, there are some humorous deaths.  I'm not a personal fan of random wolf attacks as you enter a screen or getting shot three seconds after someone else enters the screen, though both of those are fairly avoidable with some reflexes and care, and also save early, save often.  I guess it depends on the death and the payout; it's good to have some gravity to your actions, and the inconvenience of restoring really... isn't, so much. 

Great point about appearance and animation helping counter flaws.  There's a limit to what they can help pad, but they do provide some grace when done well enough to really be immersive.  Animation over text when possible can make a huge difference for sure, and it helps if those detailed screens let you interact with all those detailed details.

Fetch quests to excess... Oh yeah.  As an avenue for narrative progression, it can definitely make sense, but "take ****," walk for a couple minutes, "give **** to ****," repeat, does not a puzzle make.  Interesting things can be done with tricks and subterfuge on the characters or other variations to add some interest, but then there's a puzzle involved.

Out-of-Place puzzles...  I'll have to pay attention during my play through to the slide block puzzle.  Anachronistic puzzles, that sort of thing.  Not quite moon logic, but not quite part of the presented world.  An interesting thought, for sure.

Okay, more than enough words from me.

Offline Collector

Re: Worst Adventure Game Tendencies
« Reply #5 on: December 10, 2019, 09:34:55 AM »
I absolutely agree about out-of-place-puzzles. All puzzles *must* be organic to the game. Every time you have to think outside of the game's narrative it breaks immersion.
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