Audience problem for traditional adventure games?

After reading the thread “two-brain mode is required”, I think it’s clear that there are two types of players of adventure games:

  1. those who basically play adventure games because of the puzzles, and for whom story and dialog is just something that has to be there, because you need it in order to enable a certain style of puzzles;

  2. those who give a greater value to the story and the humour (so much that they prefer to play with friends even if this means losing puzzles).

(If the thought of playing an adventure game together with a friend horrifies you, you belong to type 1. Also if you loved a game like Gobliins 2. Otherwise, you probably belong to type 2, or you are middle-ground)

Now, these two kinds of players have opposite tastes in two crucial aspects:

  1. players of type 1 usually don’t like to read (or to listen to) a lot of dialogue, because they see it as kind of an obstacle to the next puzzle; (they might still be avid book readers, but maybe they don’t like to read a lot in the presence of puzzles. ) players of type 2 usually don’t mind this.

  2. Players of type 2 usually don’t like to be stuck for days on a puzzle, which breaks the story pace; players of type 1 tend to love to be stuck for days, and to wake up at night with the solution.

For this reason, I’m afraid there is a marketing problem: if an adventure game tries to serve both types of players, it might end up with fewer customers, not more. In other words: how many puzzle lovers do you lose because of the large amount of dialog? How many story lovers do you lose because they don’t like to be stuck, and they don’t like a story which moves forward in “hiccups”?

Now, clearly we can try to find a compromise (Ron, for example, is very careful not to have more than 15 seconds where the player does not have control). But I wonder if a good compromise could be reached if two players have so different tastes. And I wonder if this could be the reason why old-style adventure games are now a niche genre.

What are your thoughts?

Surely there are ways in which future titles can garner a larger audience, but just a quick point on some of the sort of disconnect you’re observing at least here on this forum…

The original fandom tends to be of an age where it’s likely for them to have their own new families. Life has changed for many, and while that won’t automatically make everyone suddenly play TWP as a multiplayer experience it certainly does have an impact. Overall though, a lot of the playership is old school and we all still appreciate the same traditional PnC values even if we decide to experience it differently.

I don’t think that there is a so strict dichotomy between the two classes of players that you have defined. For example, I cannot be classified in just one of the two mentioned groups. Nonetheless I agree with you that it’s possible that this mix of logical and textual elements may have contributed to make the genre the niche that it is.

I would like to emphasize that I wrote “textual elements” and not “narrative elements”, because there are a lot of games that have been commercially successful, mixing puzzles and narrative (Braid, Portal, Limbo, etc.).

I think that Ron’s The Cave was an attempt to create an adventure game in which the narrative wasn’t conveyed with texts.


I think this is too simplistic. I think I’m more like Type #3: A player who loves puzzles and story; enjoys reading witty dialog that makes him laugh and advances the plot, but does not mind multiple puzzles at once or in series; likes to play with friends to share the experience; does not treat the game as a zero-sum competition in which only one person (if there are others) must solve the puzzle or else they “lose”; etc.

In other words, a mixture of the two. I personally loved playing The Room series of games; loved cracking my brain trying to figure out the pattern/maths/logic puzzles in The Seventh Guest and The 11th Hour games (although found the story a bit tedious and uninteresting); and enjoyed in mostly equal measure playing Thimbleweed Park alone or with my wife (although my fun and enjoyment was increased when my wife shared in the experience).

As we say in Spanish, “para los gustos, los colores” (“for every taste, a color,” meaning that people’s tastes area as varied as the colors of the rainbow). :slight_smile:


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I’m curious about the about this:

Is that really true, as a rule he follows? Does that mean that cut-scenes cannot last more than 15 seconds? Or does it mean that tries to fill up “game time” with puzzles to keep the player interested?

Just curious about what this means and its implications.


I’d also say I’m more of a type #3.

He tries to avoid it, e.g. no 30 minute cutscenes from him!

This is was Ron Gilbert said:

[…] These nodes are the playable flashbacks and consist of small self-contained little adventure games, complete with their own puzzle charts (not shown). Each of the flashback adventures should take about 15 minutes to play and help set up the characters and their backstories. We wanted to do them as “playable” so players didn’t have to watch long cut-scenes.

I firmly believe players shouldn’t lose control for more than 10 or 15 seconds, maybe 30 at the most (and rarely). Adventure game stories should be played. If I wanted to watch a story, I’ll watch a movie, they do a much better job of it.

Ah, I think I understand, and I’ve read that comment from him before. I must agree with Mr. Gilbert: cut-scenes are useful to convey background information to the player, to advance the story, or to provide insight into events occurring outside the immediate purview of the player. However, they should be brief.

About the only “long-ish” cut-scenes I accept are those that kickstart the game proper, introducing the player to the world and its current state. Think of WarCraft 3, or The 7th Guest. And even then, I watch it only once and skip it on subsequent plays.

During play, I enjoy watching cut-scenes, but get bored quickly if they take more than a few dozen seconds. If it feels like watching a movie, I turn it off and go watch TV.

For me, there are three things that are the most important, equally:

  1. Setting/concept
    I think exploration is a big part of the enjoyment so there needs to be interesting places to explore, and this usually means there needs to be an interesting general concept (eg. trying to become a pirate in the Caribbean, being a janitor in space, etc.)

  2. Humor/characters
    I think the humor, and types of humor from each character, is important to keep it entertaining.

  3. Puzzles
    Having interesting/rewarding/challenging puzzles ties the whole thing together and a lot of the enjoyment is the feeling of figuring out the puzzles.

I think if it’s all puzzles and no humor or interesting setting, then it becomes a very boring/dull game. If it’s all humor/settings without good puzzles, then it’s not challenging and becomes more like watching a TV show with some clicking. I think you have to have all three to really nail it.

A lot of people talk about “story” being important in adventure games and occasionally it can be (eg. The Dig), but I think it’s often not that important… just a general simple story and concept is needed.
For example, the first two Monkey Island and the first two Simon the Sorcerer games are my favorite games, but I can never remember the actual plot or story points. I just know the general idea and find them hilarious throughout and they have really interesting places to explore and good puzzles. The story is just a general framework to hang humor/settings/puzzles onto.
Sometimes I think you can swap humor for a really good story, like The Dig, but then the story needs to be exceptionally good.

I think playing alone or with friends is just a personal preference and not really related that much… I also watch stand-up comedy DVDs on my own, that’s just what I prefer.


Yes, this is what I was referring to. Ron also explains that adventure games cannot compete with movies in storytelling. Even if you are careful not to take away control for more than 10 seconds, the fact remains that the story advances slowly. There are long periods where the story will not advance, because it’s waiting for you to solve a puzzle.

So to you, adventure games is a comedy genre? The equivalent of comedy films but for games…

I don’t find that important. I enjoy good humour but I see the genre as more all-encompassing than having to pander to humour all the time. Like many good books, many good adventures will have at least some splashes of humour even if it’s not a focal point because they tend to be well rounded and have an array of elements from the human existence (romance being an obvious example).

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I don’t think the whole genre has to be comedy games, that’s just what I prefer… and it seems to work out well when it’s like that (like how a lot of the most acclaimed adventure games are comedies).

I think the genre lends itself naturally to being really funny, with the number of “look at” and object-combining responses you can get (if they aren’t amusing in some way it can get pretty tedious pretty quickly).
Maybe it’s also just been lucky in that some of the developers of the classics were really funny and were able to instinctively add so many jokes in there.

I think it’s tough to tell a really well crafted story because you might be stuck on a puzzle for ages and that can then let things like tension and character building slip away that are usually necessary to carry a regular story.

Like I said, I think you can swap humor for a really good story, it just seems harder to do.

I’d say TWP had super pacing and that when one gets stuck it feels quite natural because of the premise — so one accepts they need serious time to solve a mystery and gather the evidence and the story never quite feels stagnant. Point being that if your point 1. is satisfied well enough it makes it much easier to effectively combine a satisfying pace of storytelling with rewarding and sometimes even challenging puzzles. The open and parallel nature of TWP also aids this tremendously as it keeps the momentum going and successfully brings you to new leads and breakthroughs “just in time”.

(Besides, there’s always casual mode for the newly acquainted.)

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There are definitely more than just those two types of players. Once I heard Thimbleweed Park was in development, I went into a self-imposed media blackout for anything involving the game, because I wanted everything about the game to be a surprise. I was equally concerned about puzzle spoilers and story spoilers, because both are very important to me.

I’m the sort of person who wants to figure out all the puzzles myself, and the sort who plays an adventure game multiple times to enjoy the story. And I don’t play for the puzzles first, and then the story next time–I want to experience both at the same time. No bypassing cut-scenes. No skipping dialogue. Easing up on puzzles for the sake of story would disappoint me, and easing up on the story for the sake of the puzzles would also disappoint me. I want a legitimate challenge AND an entertaining story at the same time, and in that regard I think Thimbleweed Park succeeded.

I’m not so sure about this. Maybe movies know how to do it, but if a gamer is really invested in a game e.g. because he is living it, the storytelling can feel much superior than watching a movie which requires a lot more attention to be really invested into it.

Speaking for myself, when I mention “story” I mean the actual premise and world environment, its characters, and situations in which the game takes place. It could include “plot” but not necessarily.

To say it more simply, it is the difference between something like The Room, which has atmosphere and a world which can feel real even if the actual plot of chasing down the “creator” is rather thin; and Bejeweled, which is purely a puzzle game with no characters, atmosphere or world at all.


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I see. Maybe it can be called the “setting”.

I think story is fine, so I’ll call it that, thanks. Plot, narrative, diegesis, etc. are distinct things. :slight_smile:

I am player #4 :

  1. I love stories and read every text
  2. I love to be stuck and dream about it
  3. I love to solve puzzles and eat candy if i solve it, and donate 500$/puzzle to the catholitic church (should be rich by now)
  4. And most important : i sit naked in front of the screen and hope that the playable characters can see me (5th wall breaking) and adore my sexy body.
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Sorry. You can’t break it down like that. Those examples you gave simply are not mutually exclusive.
However, the “modern” gamer is just not cut out for a game like Thimbleweed Park. I watched a Twitch streamer play Day of the Tentacle the other day, and he was getting so frustrated when he couldn’t figure out how to advance. He kind of knew what ultimately needed to get done, but couldn’t identify/remember the puzzle that needed to get done or how to solve it. There is this need for the “modern” gamer to be able to keep the story moving, and when the gamer cannot figure out how to do it, he gets frustrated. He expects it to be easy for him to just continue with the story without being presented with such a challenge.
I had to reintroduce myself to this fact when playing Thimbleweed. It had been a LONG time since I had been stuck on an adventure game puzzle. I reminded myself that when I was banging my head against the wall for quite a few minutes and was stuck, that I needed to save the game and call it a day. I had to remember that that’s what it was like, and that it was okay to get stuck. Sometimes the game called the shots- You could keep “playing” if you wanted, but you usually ended up just cycling through your inventory and backtracking aimlessly. You kind of learned to listen to the game when it was “telling” you that it was a good time to call it quits.
I feel like there should be a disclaimer in the beginning of games like Thimbleweed- a disclaimer that informs the gamer that he most likely will get stuck- several times. And, when that happens, it’s best to just save the game and pick it up another day.

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I’m also the kind of player that wants story AND puzzle… and humor. So I agree 100% with @Paul

That’s why I was waiting so eagerly for TWP. I played other adventure games, but it’s very difficult to find interesting puzzles that merge seamlessly into the story. I’m also the kind of player that, even if he knows what to do to solve a puzzle, or what to say in a dialog, still tries the wrong paths to hear/read everything that’s there.

That’s probably why I prefer humorous games. Not “comedy”, just not too serious. I love when the character makes a sarcastic remark when I’m trying to combine two things in a silly way, and nothing breaks immersion more than a sequence of “that doesn’t seem to work”.