One single playable character VS multiple playable characters

When it comes to adventure games, I have always preferred those that have one single playable character.

The reason is that when the playable character is just one, the game helps me to identify with him/her more easily, because I have no alternatives. This inevitable/easier identification plays a big role into how much I become immersed in the game and in the story.

On the other hand, when multiple characters can be played, I perceive myself mainly as a director/puppeteer who moves the strings. Not as one of the characters but as an external subject that manages them.

Of course, this perception that I have doesn’t completely prevent me from identifying with one or more characters but this kind of identification is for me less strong: I have one or more favorite characters (maybe because they seem more similar to me) but I still feel a bit detached from them.

I was curious to ask your opinion about this topic. Does the quantity of playable characters influence in any way your gaming experience? If yes, in which way and why?


Well, Maniac Mansion was the first adventure game I’ve played, it came with 3 out of 7 selectable and playable characters, each one with they pros and cons, and I was raised with that in mind.
I feel comfortable switching among characters, or give items from one to the other.

When I first played Monkey Island, I felt a little limited, but that impression has soon disappeared.

To play with more than one character is fine, and you can like and dislike some of them.
Me, for instance, I have found Jeff from MM to be completely useless to the game.

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Like you, I prefer a single character. However, I can appreciate the rich complexity that multiple characters bring, and the very non-linearity that comes from just having more characters with which to interact. I just prefer the simplicity of identifying with one throughout.

Thimbleweed Park is a bit in-between both, since you have multiple playable characters, but most of them do largely the same things and offer the same dialog options. They just do it with their own personality twist, so it gives a bit more interest and charm.


What works for me is 1) the atmosphere and 2) the interaction between the playing characters.

Atmosphere is about the location, so of course it does not decrease if the number of PCs increases .

And of course the interaction between characters improves with multiple PCs.

But… if there are too many PCs, this can result in less interaction, not more (for cost reasons). so my rule of thumb would be: add PCs until this results in increased interaction, but not more. The ideal number is probably two (like indy4)

Good point. However, what about Thimbleweed Park, where the playable characters do not interact with each other, and their interactions with the world are essentially identical?

Honestly, it felt a bit disappointing and pointless going to the same place with a different character and having the exact same dialog options as with any other.


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I agree. In hindsight, it would have been probably better with only two PCs. But everybody is good in hindsight. If I had designed the game, I would have done much worse, so…

And the next patch will probably fix the problem, I hope. And we’ll have the perfect game :slight_smile:

Oh, I could not have done any better. In fact, I wouldn’t even know where to begin organizing such complex interactions.

As for the updates, the inter-character dialog that people have been talking about, and the other changes Mr. Gilbert has hinted at, sound like are going to be a great improvement. I can’t wait to see what Mr. Gilbert is cooking! :slightly_smiling_face:


I’d say Indy4 actually counts as single playable character game, as does the Sam&Max series since you are actually playing only one character directly and just sometimes telling the other one to do something (theoretically it could be any other NPC too helping you).

Are there actually any other real multiple playable characters games with two out there?
Many have three like MM or The Cave. Out of my head I only remember Gobliins 2 and maybe Goblins 3.


It tends to change the gameplay dynamic somewhat. I think TWP and DotT are two of the most clever adventures out there because of how solutions are intertwined between the multiple characters. Also, I’ve never really been one for identifying with a single soul but rather the many perspectives and importance of the whole living experience, so to speak. As such, I like big and grand shows that deal with all sorts of plights and narratives for many characters, all of whom are as important and vital as the next.

Memoria’s story-in-a-story structure does a good job of getting one quite deeply involved into at least two main characters but it would lose some impact if one doesn’t play Chains of Satinav first.

Hm… I would say for myself yes and no. I agree with you that one can identify with only one character more easily. But I can identify with several characters too. I would say more that it depends on the character of the character. :slight_smile: If there is only one hero that acts like a beep, I can’t identify with him/her/it. And on the other side I like adventures where you can play two or more characters where every hero has his own capabilities - like in MM or The Cave.

So: For me, it depends on the game. :slight_smile:

Here I would like to know: Have you played most parts of MM with only one of the kids? :slight_smile: This was my experience: Everyone I know has played only with one of the kids - mostly Dave or Bernhard.

At first, I played with everyone. When I became aware of each one’s abilities, I figured out that Bernard could do most of the things. But I played with Bernard and Syd or Bernard and Michael (to develop the microfilm).
The first time I finished MM was with Bernard and Michael, 60% B., 20% M. 20% Dave, this one especially at the end.


Bernard was the most skilled one and it seems like he was the most popular choice (he was also the only kid who made it into DOTT).
But useless-Dave… off to the dungeon! (he was always my key-master/janitor)

I chose one of the other two kids and played most of the time with this one, collecting all the items etc.

I think that you have introduced an important distinction: some games let you manage more than one character but not at the same time.

For example, Gray Matter is divided into chapters and in each chapter the player can play only one of the two protagonists. When you play character A, character B is rarely seen/met and even then it is a NPC. This is an interesting design choice, because in each chapter the player is always focused on the only character that can be played and on the tasks that the playable character has to execute.

Broken Age has two playable characters and the player can switch between them in any moment, but the two characters can’t interact or collaborate because they live in two different places and don’t communicate with each other.

Day of the Tentacle has multiple characters: the player can switch between them at any time and they can cooperate, even if they don’t physically meet.

In Nanobots (funny indy adventure game) the player manages six different small robots, each having its own special abilities. They cooperate in real-time to solve the puzzle together. The kind of interaction between PC is very similar to what the player does in Gobliiins.

Ben There, Dan That! has two protagonists, who always go in tandem everywhere. One of the two characters is also an icon and the player can use it to tell that specific character to do something different from the other one. It’s a limited form of cooperation.

The Book of Unwritten Tales has multiple playable characters who can cooperate in some scenes.

Gemini Rue: in each chapter of the story the player manages one of two characters. In this case the characters never cooperate. It is a special case, though, for reasons that I will not specify.

Secret Files: Tunguska: two playable characters. Sometimes you can play only one of them, other times you can play both, switching between them so that they can cooperate to solve puzzles.

To sum it up, all of them are games in which the player can manage more than one character, but…:

Game                  | Switch any time? | Real-time coop?
Gray Matter           | No               | No
Broken Age            | Yes              | No
Day of the Tentacle   | Yes              | Yes
Nanobots              | Yes              | Yes
Ben There, Dan That!  | No               | Sometimes
TBoUT                 | Sometimes        | Sometimes
Gemini Rue            | No               | No
Secret Files: Tunguska| No               | Sometimes
Gobliiins             | Yes              | Yes

I prefer those cases in which the characters don’t interact between them nor cooperate, but I understand that real-time cooperation can provide a richer experience and nice puzzles.


I put him in the dungeon too. :wink:

That leads me to the question: Why did we do this? Were the kids “unbalanced”? Or (to come back to the topic) can’t the player identify with more than one kid?

(I think that Bernard was one of the few kids that have a more complex character. He was the scary nerd with the brain. :slight_smile:)

Dave just really doesn’t have any skills in the game beside losing-his-loved-ones and not-being-afraid-of-tentacles, although the latter one is more a skill of Bernard (being-afraid-of-tentacles; Bernard is the only one!).

There is not a lot dialog in the game, so beside their short descriptions in the game and in the manual it’s all left to the imagination of the player what he makes with those characters.

The reason people playing with mostly one character is likely just out of practicability (having to manage only one inventory and then using the others only when necessary, giving them the necessary items only).

I think in games where you are controlling multiple characters you aren’t identifying so much with those individuals and you are perceiving the story in another, maybe not so personal way. Also often it seems the environment becomes a more important role, like the mansion in MM, or the cave in The Cave (which is actually the main character in the game).

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But only in the hallway? As far as I remember Bernard can go into green tentacles room?

Yes, I think it affects the tentacle feeding puzzle only.

It’s funny they didn’t make anyone else afraid. You could still win the game when playing with two afraid characters. That would be finally a reason to let Dave into the upper floors of the mansion!

Bernhard isn’t that “afraid”. :slight_smile: At least in the C64 version Bernhard gives the foot to the green tentacle in the hallway, if you place him at the right spot. So you only need two kids to solve the game (or is it possible with only one? I’m not sure at the moment…).

I don’t think there is enough time to empty the pool or turn off the power and do the other thing quick enough.

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Ah, yes. I forgot the pool.