Official Thimbleweed Park Forums

Favorite adventure game interface style

I agree with you that a worse issue is if there isn’t a clue anywhere.

But in case of the nickel, some players (who didn’t already visit the location where you get the clue) tried to exchange a dime, which is a perfectly logical thing to try; what I’m arguing is that this “trying approach” belongs to the normal way we play adventure games.

That’s especially true if you consider that in real life we can solve a problem in more than one way but in an adventure game the player has to find which specific solution to a problem the developers decided to code.

Your example also has the advantage in that it helps illustrate my concern about unintended uses for items.

Anyway, certainly adventure game players are expected to try various actions, especially since that’s the only way to determine whether or not something will work. But in a well-designed game, players aren’t meant to be randomly trying actions. For instance, making change for a dime is logical, even if not the correct puzzle solution. Taking a PillowBear from a hotel room and trying to somehow turn it into a nickel is not.

A game doesn’t always have to have in-game clues if real-world knowledge can be reasonably applied. Multiple puzzles in Thimbleweed Park require knowledge of '80s pop culture, and some simple puzzles would get a lot harder if one didn’t understand certain concepts, like what happens to wood when it burns or what heat and moisture can do to adhesives.

Basically, I’m drawing a distinction between trial-and-error, versus just trying random combinations of verbs and objects.

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Interesting. If I understand correctly, you are pointing out that a game is also, in part, “exploration”, and the very concept of exploration means that you are looking everywhere without a precise idea what you are looking for. The very purpose is to discover what is out there. So, it would not make sense to complain “how was I supposed to know that I needed to go there, to make the story continue?”. You did not need a reason to go there. You are supposed to go everywhere, it’s how the game works. It is an implicit contract between the player and the game, that you accept to be stuck until you have gone everywhere (and opened all drawers, and asked everybody about everything, and so on).

If this is what you mean, it makes sense. (A contract is a contract.) However, this is a delicate matter: I am not sure that a game that requires you to explore everything without telling you what you are looking for would be a good game. Without giving you a precise objective. In fact, I have recently raised doubts about this in another post. I said “I can’t put my finger on it but, for a game to work, your objective needs to be clear, and the objective can’t simply be “see if someone knows something about X”. For some reason, the objective “find a way to enter the governor house” is ok to me, but the objective “see if someone knows something about X” is not ok.”

Why is the second objective not ok to me? I think this is because it is equivalent to “try everything with everything”. If the designer tells you that you need to “see if someone knows something about X”, it is like he was telling you to use the “mouth” with everything. And this (for me of course) does not work. For one, why did he not simply do a cutscene where the character does this automatically? Why force me to try everything with everything?

From another point of view: we should establish an equivalence: to say that

“the game requires you to do something you have no reason to do”

is equivalent to

“the game requires you to try everything with everything”.

I see no real difference. (if you don’t see why talking to everyone is equivalent to trying everything with everything, just think of it as combining the mouth with every character. Similarly, a game that requires you to walk everywhere is basically requiring you to combine the feet with everything)

So, at first glance, it seems hard to defend a game that requires you to “try everything with everything”. True, if there are few objects or characters, such a game is not automatically flawed, as you pointed out. But still it is natural to ask why they did not simpy put a cutscene that did this automatically…

The distinction is clear and an important one: it’s what separates a perfectly normal (and often expected) behavior from a bad designed game.

Exactly. The player can’t take decisions and make deductions without first acquiring information and in adventure games the gathering of information is usually executed in an almost brute-force way: the player collects all the objects, visits all the accessible places and talks to every character even if no clue pointed the player in that direction.

When an adventure gamer sees an object on the floor it’s highly unlikely that he will not take it because the player assumes that eventually the object might be useful and decides to put it in the inventory so that if and when the need for that object should arise, he can conveniently take it from the inventory instead of going back to the location where the object was seen.

Most adventure games don’t have any limit to the number of objects that the player can add to the inventory, so there is nothing that stops or limits the player to just take everything he sees. In reality this would be nonsense but in adventure games it’s a dynamic that is intrinsic to this genre of games. Players do something without already having a reason to do it: it’s the norm.

Would you ask a stranger on the road how to reach a place or where to find a blacksmith or why all the shops are closed? A lot of adventure games put the player in places that are unknown to him and asking information is a normal way to acquire knowledge and progress the game.

In adventure games, things happens also by trying random stuff. In “The Secret of Monkey Island” the player has absolutely no reason to talk to the “Men of Low Moral Fiber (Pirates)” or to the “Melee Citizen”. Still, it’s required if you want to acquire information and objects. In the same game, the Voodoo Lady is a completely optional character: the player has no reason to interact with her and never needs her, but interacting with her is still useful to acquire (optional) information.

But I do try to speak with everybody.

But I do try to walk everywhere.

More often than not, speaking to everyone and going to every place is required to move forward in the story. The game lets me start a dialogue or select the place where I want to go so that it tricks me to believe that I have the control. I don’t. Going everywhere would have been necessary in any case. I can modify a bit the sequence of the actions, but all the actions that I take are expected.

A well designed adventure game doesn’t let you realize/think that you are following a script.

I think you are on to something. Double check: you are saying: if you want to make a game that never requires you to do things without reason in order to move on, be careful, because you are also giving up something that is important. Because this means that all the initial exploration part will have to be turned into a cutscene. Because after all, in that phase, you don’t have any precise reason to talk exactly to that person, or to go exactly in that place. And yet, if you turn all this phase into a cutscene, you are taking away from me the illusion of control. (and you are also forcing me to see things in a precise order)

I don’t want to step in to this discussion (again), but I can’t resist to throw in that “exploration” is an important part of adventure games. There are even (adventure) games that only consists of exploring and where the player don’t know what to do. Examples are Firewatch, Tacoma, Gone Home, The Novelist, etc.

These games work because humans are curious. :slight_smile: And you find the exploration in MI too: As Lowlevel pointed out, you don’t need to talk to the people in the streets (from the story point of view). But the player is curious who these people are and why they are there. And he is doing things in games, that he will never do in the real world. :slight_smile:

I know you are a civil person, so you are welcome to step in this discussion as much as you want. We are trying to arrive at the truth after all. :slight_smile:

To be clear, as you can see in a later reply, I am not doubting whether exploration is a good thing to have. What I am currently wondering is: is exploration when you don’t have any precise objective an important thing to have? is “try everything and see what happens” an important thing to have? or even a good thing? For example: in the beginning of Monkey Island, if Guybrush went automatically to talk to the important pirates, and only then you had been given control and allowed to explore, do you think something important would have been lost? More in general, “required exploration without any precise reason” == “try everything and see what happens” is something that works, at most, in a small world. In a big world, it would not work. because there you cannot “try everything”. Imagine if, instead of entering the Scumm Bar, you had been allowed to go to 100 other places. It would no more work. (And even in a small world, this is very doubtful: there is a reason why the sentinel in the beginning tells you to go to the Scumm Bar). Now, if this only works in a small world, then is natural to ask if this can be removed from any game. Is it so important to have in your game a phase where you are left exploring the world, or a new location, before you have been given a precise objective?

Depends on the game, but yes: It could be an important thing. Good examples are games like Firewatch or The Novelist.

And exploration without an objective is a good way to make the player familiar with his environment before he has to solve the puzzles. For example in MI1 you can walk around and look who is where in the town. This knowledge helps you later to solve the puzzles.

Both times: It could be, yes. I wrote “could”, because the game has to reward the player for his exploration. For example, if you open a drawer, you could find a letter that reveals another part of the story. Or after talking to a person, you are able to walk into a new room or area. If the game doesn’t reward the player, the game would be boring (because nothing happens).

Why not? This:

is not true, because can try something. :slight_smile: For example in the real world you can fly into the jungle, try to microwave your hamster, put nose-glasses on, talk to a stranger, offer free hugs in you shopping mall, etc. And I bet, you have tried “something with something” in your real life - at least as a child. :slight_smile:

In this case the player explores the places he is curious about or interested in. Try “Dear Esther”. This game works in a similar war: You can walk on different paths on an island and every time you hear different parts of the whole story.

A good adventure game is a mixture of puzzles, exploration and the story. The story guides the player through the game. It’s up to the developer how much exploration and how much puzzles he integrates. There are games where you have just to explore the world (Dear Esther) and other games where you only have to follow the story (Telltale). So I wouldn’t say that it is important to have a phase where the player is left. But a lot of adventure games have this phases.

It seems to me you are losing track of the assumptions… We are talking about a game that requires you to try everything in order to go forward. it’s not enough to try something, because it does not allow you to go forward until you have tried everything. (It is not clear to me if the rest of your answer is still relevant with this misunderstanding. I will think more about this later)

In an adventure game, the reward of a sidequest would simply be that you have solved the quest: you have helped someone recover the stolen jewelry, you reunited the child with the mother, things like that. Even in Ultima 7 there are quests like this, that don’t make you stronger. I don’t see why you feel that the reward should be something more.

(and let’s not forget that they could be achievements)

He he, Yes, there are several threads about game design now. :slight_smile:

The Novelist? Dear Esther? These games don’t tell you what to do next (and not only at the beginning).

So I have to combine every object with every other object - after this is done, the game plays the credits? This wouldn’t be a game anymore, because the player has no feedback or rewards.

Yes, these are rewards too. But they aren’t connected to the main story, so you have two stories in one adventure. (For example the story “reunited the child with the mother” and another story “reveal the secret of monkey island”) Some adventure games did this, but most don’t (because the side quests could be irritate the player).

What I meant was: In most cases the side quests in RPGs are there to improve your character. So the side quests help you to solve the main story line. In an adventure game such side quests won’t help you to solve the puzzles in main story line. So they aren’t there for a reason (only to entertain the player).

it seems, right? and yet, lowlevel has made a compelling case that this is not always bad, that there are legitimate cases where the game can expect you to “try everything” until it moves forward, and yet this cannot be considered automatically a flaw, but is instead the way you are supposed to play. e.g. when the game expects you to talk to everyone and go everywhere. (this is like saying that the game expects you to combine the mouth with everything, or the feet with everything, and yet it is not automatically flawed).

this is possible because in some games there are so few possibilties that it is not automatically a flaw if the game requires you to try them all.

Then I understood that right. :slight_smile: The important thing is moving forward.

Example: Imagine a game where you wake up in a bedroom with serveral objects. You don’t know where you are nor who you are. What do you do? You try everything with everything until you find the letter in the drawer that gives you a first hint, saying that in the kitchen there is waiting a meal for you. So next you walk through the door and explore the rest of the house. In the kitchen you find another notice with another hint. This kind of exploration are doing many games. And this is what I meant with my post above: Exploration could be necessary or useful to move forward in the story. :slight_smile:

Another example: Imagine a game where you wake up in a house with several objects. You have to try all things with all other things. There are no hints or notes. After you put the book in the toaster, the games ends with the credits. Such a game isn’t fun. It’s not a game at all. In this case the “try everything” technique is a flaw.

That depends on the game and the story. :slight_smile: Generally speaking: If a game forces me to try everything with everything, it is boring. For example if the game gives me no hint why I should put the book in the toaster, the game is getting frustrating. (I had that feeling in some parts of Broken Age, btw.)

Yes, that was my point.

More generally, exhausting all the options (visiting all places, talking to all people, collecting all objects) is a common behavior among adventure gamers and it’s an activity that cannot be automatized, because depriving the players of this interactivity would also deprive them of the illusion that they are not following a script.

From a certain point of view we are all sentient instances of TesterTron3000™ (discussed here, here and in a few other places). The only difference is that the real TesterTron3000™ traverses the puzzle dependency chart in a random way while players traverse it following some logic and enjoying the illusion that their actions are not part of a script.

I’m not. I think that truth is an unreachable objective for humans. At most, we can all just agree to the point that we believe that our conclusions are universally correct, but that might be an illusion as well. :stuck_out_tongue:

In my opinion yes. It gives the player the illusion that he’s free.

And if we consider games outside the PnC adventure game genre, then some of them consist of pure exploration.

I would have lost the backstory told to me by the electoral poster, Mancomb Seepgood, Estevan, Cobb and Spiffy.

Gathering information is an important part of these games: it makes the world more real and the story more intriguing. From a psychological point of view, freely interacting with characters contributes to the illusion that the player is in an open world, while actually he isn’t.

I think that it depends on the goals of the player. I’m still reading books from the Edmund Mansion mansion library to see what interesting things I find.

If you consider “walking simulators” a kind of adventure games, then in some of them you don’t even have a goal and the only thing that you can do is to explore the environment (like in “Dear Esther”). In others you do have an objective but the main activity is still exploration (“Gone Home” comes to mind).

What do you mean exactly by “going forward”? Speedruns usually skip all the unnecessary steps. Would a speedrun be an acceptable way to go forward or do you think that going forward in an adventure game has to include optional steps that help the player to understand/enjoy the story more?

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Yes and no: In Dear Esther the goals are to reveal the story (via the notes) and to reach the center of the island (the radio tower). So there are goals even in Dear Esther. :slight_smile:

I really can’t name an adventure game at the moment that has no goal. Games without goals would be sandbox simulators like Minecraft.

Interesting. A bit ad-hoc situation, but clever. But in this case I’d argue that there you do have a strong objective: to find out who you are. and this objective is strongly related with what you need to do. So you are not really asked to do things without reason (i.e. things that are not connected to your objective). (In other words you found a special case where “to require to do something without reason” is not equivalent to “to require to try everything”).

This gave me an idea! Maybe we should focus on objectives, and incorporate them in the gameplay. Listen to this: your character has, at each time, an explicit list of objectives (like the notebook in TWP). And the way you play is to combine an objective from this list with a room object (or character). Basically you need to understand that this object helps you achieve this objective. If you are right, the story will go on, otherwise the character will say “I don’t see how this helps me achieve this objective”. Seems interesting…

I correct myself: in “Dear Esther” you are not given a goal.

The same happens in “Proteus”. In “The Stanley Parable” a narrator tells the player what to do and the game revolves around the consideration that players of this type of games have not really free will even when they don’t want to follow the expected path.

That one is such a wonderful parody of a game! The similarities with the narrator of The Cave and the frequency in which Ron has positivly mentioned the game in interviews in recent years really should have given us a pointer in which direction TwP will be heading. We should have payed more attention.

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@lowlevel

You guys have put a lot of meat, and it will take time for me to read everything and think about it. In the meantime, can I ask you one quick question? If we accept what you say, then we can no more say “this is bad design because the game requires you to do something that you have no reason to do”. Right? (because you have shown that this is not necessarily a bad thing). But then, how can we say that the “Cruise-for-a-Corpse flaw” is actually a flaw? the “cruise-for-a-corpse-flaw”, I remind you, is this: at one point, the story does not go forward until you look into a porthole. Now, in the game there are a dozen portholes. In addition, you had previously looked in that porthole many times, and you had never seen anything. And the game gave you NO CLUES WHATSOEVER that now, at 11:15 o clock, it would suddenly have been useful to look in that porthole. Ok. Now, I have asked myself why this is bad design. And the best explanation I was able to come up with is “this is bad design because the game does not go forward until you do something that you have no reason to do”. Now, if you are correct, this is no longer a valid explanation. So how do you explain that that is bad? Why is the cruise-for-a-corpse flaw a flaw? (At this point I am open to the possibility that there’s actually nothing wrong with it :))