Favorite adventure game interface style

Uhm, what does it happens?



Ahahaha, what a wonderful bug!

(I’m replying to some older posts of this thread without reading what has followed. So forgive me if my opinions state something that was eventually written by other users. :slight_smile: )

I thought about this sentence of yours and I believe that PnC adventure games have become famous for motivating players to do things that they have no reason to do.

For example, I assume that a lot of PnC adventure game players just collect every object that they can take. When they put an object in the inventory, they don’t necessarily know if and when that object will be useful to them, so in that moment they don’t actually have already a reason to do that. But they take the object nonetheless.

This is a behavior that is quite far from reality and it has become common among adventure gamers just because the nature of this genre motivates players to behave in this strange way. My point is: PnC adventure games were never intended to create a realistic environment nor they were intended to increase immersion simulating the real world or expecting the player to behave as he would behave in the real world. Other genres of games were designed to simulate a more realistic world, but definitely not PnC adventure games.

I agree in a general sense, but I think that if the interaction with “useless objects” is optional, it really doesn’t matter if that ratio is high.

In Thimbleweed Park you have a giant library of books that you don’t need to read. Nonetheless, the presence of those useless objects helps creating the right atmosphere. To me it doesn’t matter if this atmosphere makes the game more believable or not, I’m just highlighting the fact that increasing the quantity of optional objects doesn’t necessarily create a situation in which the player looses or is disrespected.

I would also add that the way we (old school adventure gamers) play adventure games today may be profoundly different from how we played them when we were kids: even after we finish the game, our entertainment may continue on the Internet, socializing with other players. As a consequence, the large quantity of “useless” objects in TWP was completely optional from the perspective of the player who is focused only on solving the puzzles to advance the story, but it became instrumental to create and enjoy threads like this one, or this one, which makes me wonder if these useless objects are actually useless.

I like that. You will not find a lot of fans of this technique and people tend to link it to the straw man fallacy, but it’s a common and useful technique used in philosophy and, from a certain perspective, even math.

I’m a huge Star Trek fan but I decided not to play that adventure game and one of the reasons is the kind of interface that you described.

My impression was that the authors didn’t use this kind of interface to its full potential. I have not tried to analyze why I felt this way, but that’s what I felt when I played the game. Probably I perceived that some verbs were too rarely used to justify their presence.

Aaaand… I didn’t know that. :neutral_face:

Does it work in every version of the game?

If an adventure game requires you to do something that you have no reason to do, you wouldn’t call this a design flaw? For example, you get stuck until you push a tapestry which the authors did not give you any reason to push, and looks exactly like all other tapestries in the game. (I’ve just seen this in Dragonsphere, btw.).

It depends. For example, adventure games expect the player to discuss with other characters, even if the player doesn’t have a reason to do that.

Maybe a character can give you an important hint and maybe not. The only way to know is trying, even if you don’t have a reason to speak with that specific character.

Good point. Since there are few characters, it is not a flaw if the game requires you to talk to those you have no reason to, in order for the story to advance. Thanks for pointing this out.

So, let me reformulate like this: if there are few objects, then it is not a flaw if the game requires you to interact with objects you have no reason to interact with. But if there are many objects, it becomes a flaw. Because the player can only advance by trying everything with everything, and when he finally finds the right action, he will think “how was I supposed to know that?”. Agreed?

Not if the story tells the player what to do next.

If the story had told the player what to do, then he would have had a reason to do it, contradicting the initial assumption that he did not have any reason to do it. So we can rule this out.

If the player has absolutely no way to know which object he should interact with and if the only way to progress would be to try random actions on a great quantity of objects, making the whole experience super-boring, then I would consider that an example of bad design…

…but, I want to stress the point that the adventure game culture has always been quite familiar with the habit of trying things even when there isn’t a reason. Players tend to visit all the locations even when they don’t need to go everywhere, players tend to get all the objects that are not nailed down even when they don’t need them, players tend to talk to every character even when they don’t need to do it.

Some adventure games expect the players to behave in that way. Exhausting all the possibilities is in the DNA of every adventure gamer.

In the past it was even worse. For example, we had to check all the pixels in a screen, because pixel hunting wasn’t universally considered bad design and even in more recent years people think that it’s not always a bad thing.

My problem with lots of items is that it becomes all too easy for the unneeded items to obscure the solution. As an example, there’s a point late in Thimbleweed Park where an object belonging to a specific character is needed to solve a puzzle. The problem is that the object itself isn’t of particular importance, so much as the fact that it belonged to the character. Within the context of the game, there were already multiple interactive objects that should have been viable for the puzzle, but there were few enough of them that they didn’t necessarily obscure the puzzle solution by any significant degree. But what if the game allowed you to interact with dozens of the character’s possessions, especially if you could pick them up? Either the puzzle has to be modified to account for all these alternate solutions, or a player is going to try to solve the puzzle with a few wrong items, and falsely think the solution was incorrect.

This same problem could apply to any number of potential puzzles. A throwaway item might have much more apparent use to the player than it does to the developer. If the player spends a lot of time trying what they consider to be logical solutions, only to find that the developer didn’t account for the potential usefulness of any of the throwaway objects, then the game will still become frustrating, due to the constant reminders that “you can’t do that”.

I like having lots of objects that can be inspected (especially in games with lots of humor), but interactivity should be limited to avoid an overwhelming number of potential solutions a developer couldn’t possibly account for.

That’s certainly true. Players have expectations. But it’s not clear to me what you think this implies. Certainly, to violate expectations risks to annoy the player. If I expect to buy a dvd of classical music and I find out it is rock music, I am annoyed, because I expected classical music. But why is that? It’s because, for me, to listen to classical music was an end, not a means. OTOH, at first glance I’d assume that, for adventure gamers, being able to pickup everything is not an ultimate end, but a means. So, if I start the game and I see hundreds of selectable objects, what will happen? Will I be angry because my expectations to be able to pickup everything were violated? Or will I simply say “oh, interesting, so in this game this is not how I am supposed to play. Not mechanically. I’m supposed to actually use logic to “cut” the set of possibilities. Interesting.”

If you want to test this theory, and see if you are annoyed or not by this, I suggest you try Dragonsphere. It’s a game close to what I mean: it has so many selectable objects that you are strongly discouraged to try to interact with them all. You are even strongly discouraged to look at them all, because they are so many, and the descriptions are so long. So you are forced to stick to what makes sense. However, the pickable objects are not many. But the experiment can still be done. Either the multitude of selectable objects will work for you, or you will be annoyed by it. For me, this worked fantastically. I was enthusiastic: it felt like a real world, with a lot of depth. However, there are design flaws in the game, because, as we said, in order for all this to work, the game must not require you to do things that you have no reason to do. And it seems that this game does.

I’m curious to try this game now. The name sounded familiar, and I only just now realized it was given to me free on GoG.

You raise a very good point. In order to have an adventure game with a lot of objects and “sidequests”, you’d have to give up some puzzles, even good ones, because they wouldn’t work anymore. Puzzles like “sell the bottle because it’s the only way to have a nickel” or “use the electric fence because there is no battery charger in the world”. These kind of puzzles exploit the fact that there are no “substitutes” for some objects. But in a big world there would be substitutes. However, you can have sections of the game where you are not in an open world (say locked up in a dungeon, or on Mars like in Zak), and put these puzzles back. Or you can create objects without substitutes in the whole world (say, a magic amulet). But in general, it’s true that this change does not come for free, and that the puzzle style must be different. I had started saying something similar, when I said that the challenge must now come from the quantity of objects, not from using objects in a way they are not designed to (McGyver style).

You are right, I didn’t finish my thought.

In my opinion the fact that some adventure games expects the players to do something that isn’t necessarily the result of a deductive process implies that we cannot consider the design flawed just because the game didn’t provide the player the information needed to understand how to proceed.

A part of the adventure game experience is to solve puzzles in a logical way and another part is to “try stuff” and see what happens.

For example, in Thimbleweed Park you can get a nickel in a very specific way and the game doesn’t provide any hint about where to find a nickel. The only way the player has to get the item is to visit all the places until he notices something that might help him solving that sub-puzzle. It wasn’t a deductive process, it was just “wandering around until you notice something”.

You asked “how am I supposed to know that…” and the answer is “sometimes you aren’t supposed to know”, you just have to try all the locations. Is that bad design?

In that case, I’d argue that you’re still given a clue, so even though you have to stumble around for a while, you still have a reason to try the particular action needed to get the nickel. Where the real problem comes in is if the clue in environment doesn’t exist, so the player has no way of figuring it out without trying wild guesses. There are games that are definitely guilty of that.

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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.