3/4/12

You design like a dairy farmer!


As promised, I've made a list with the most common flaws that can be found in adventure games. It depends on each game, mind you, but the risk of the issues being there is high. Be wary, this is kind of a long post!

Without further ado, here are some points worthy of attention.

Flaw 1: Nonsense chain of thought
Let's consider this rather simple scenario.

"You find yourself stuck in a room. The door's knob twists, but it seems something heavy is keeping the door from opening. There's a crowbar lying around, as well as a crude toolbox with a 3-digit padlock, and three torn pieces of paper. There's also a window with a balcony, albeit it's closed as well. You need to get out!"



So to sum up:
  • 3 Furnitures
    • Door: won't budge.
    • Toolbox: needs a combination.
    • Window: closed.
  • 4 items
    • 3 pieces of paper
    • A crowbar
If you've designed this, the path the player must follow can become really obvious. For instance, I have decided that in order to get out, you must:
  1. Get the crowbar
  2. Get the three papers
  3. Look at the numbers in the three papers
  4. Punch them in the toolbox padlock (changing the order if it does not work)
  5. Get the rock that's inside the toolbox
  6. Throw the rock against the window to create an escape route
  7. Grab the crowbar (as it will be needed for the next puzzle involving crates).
Of course, the puzzle seems tight enough when designing. However, you must already have guessed that a clueless player would see other ways of solving the jigsaw. Namely,
  • Using the crowbar to pry open the crude toolbox.
  • Using the crowbar to break the window.
It quickly becomes obvious that these ways of thinking are in fact reasonable and quite valid as a solving method. However since the design has been thought otherwise, it has obviously not been implemented that way. In harder puzzles this becomes an object of frustration. 

Thankfully, this is can be solved without modifying the engine, but rather through clever reflection of what the puzzles have to offer. In addition, you might consider implementing more than one way to solve a puzzle: such ramifications make for great replay value. Just take care that once one route has been taken, the other one is deleted - for bug hunting's sake.

Flaw 2: Pixel hunting
As stated in the previous entry, backgrounds are pretty. They are made to look pretty. And furniture, items and NPC should be pretty too, so as to not stand out from the scenery. The only teeny weeny problem?


Would you please tell me what object, in this scenery, are you able to pick up? No? What if I told you it was a rock? Still nothing?

The answer is the small rock under the cave in the middle. Would you have guessed it? Believe me, I didn't.

This is pixel hunting. Having to wave your mouse around the screen in a frantic attempt that something to interact with will display in your command line (the one with the "Look at" text in the example).

It is highly irritating and gives nothing to the game; instead of having the player use their cunning to deduce "Okay, this room looks quite full of items, but it seems like those scissors would be a good item to give that kid who's playing with paper", they are left to search without knowing what they're looking for.

Furthermore, the case portrayed above is a nasty one. Simon has to enter the dwarven mine in the middle, but a codeword is required. You can keep on guessing words, but the fast way should be finding out what's password. So instead of being able to ask a dwarf in the village pub (there actually is one), you have to, I kid you not, pick up the bloody rock to find out there's a paper underneath with the codeword "beer" written.

Would you ever have known that in a million years? Instead, you'd have been pixel hunting until you found a rock and made the connection. Still, that doesn't bring any good to the game experience. One must be clever when drawing the objects' images, so they're easily spottable, and better yet, identifiable as something relevant.

An interesting approach to this issue is the one that Curse of Monkey Island takes: the cursor, an X like those on treasure maps, is painted white when it points to nothing interesting, but turns red as soon as it's on something that is interactive.


Flaw 3: Too many actions
Okay, this is a simple one. If you have played nigh to no adventure games, you might have already gasped at the amount of actions you can perform. Opening, closing, pushing, pulling, walking, talking, using, giving, picking, turning off, turning on, wearing, removing, moving...

Of course, the reason for this is so the game makes sense. When you use a crate you normally open it, or use it as weight. That's different from moving it.

On the other hand, it's not funny when you try to use a furniture and get a null result, so you deem it useless, only to find out later you have been using the wrong action.

This is a little bit of nick picking, as many games implement the same response for the handful of commands with which that would make sense, but it's still necessary to ponder whether opening a crate could also be done through the use action.

It might interest you to know that in later games such as Curse of Monkey Island or Full Throttle the number of actions were greatly reduced, nicely solving this problem.

Four body parts for four actions:
Eyes, tongue, fists and feet.

Flaw 4: Time-based item appearance
Things that are meant to be static have to be static. If the player, after solving a puzzle, is notified (via cutscene or any other way) that a new NPC has entered the store, that's fine. If a shovel appears in your backyard for no apparent reason after solving a puzzle, that's no good. How are you going to know you need to go back to that place to advance?


Flaw 5: Unrepeatable essential dialogs
When a character gives you a quest and its details, unavoidably you're going to skip some information, be it voluntarily or accidentally. While designing it's important that you allow the information to be repeated clearly. You needn't tell the player every step that they've got to take, of course, but its good that you leave the direction to follow or the objective to reach.

A good alternative to this would be designing a quest log just like in the The Elder Scrolls series in which the player has a history of the quests completed and active.

Quest log in oblivion. A nifty interface
for keeping track of your objectives.


So to reflect: many of the design flaws that may happen to an Adventure Game are those that make the path to follow unclear. Mainly because the players will not know how to interact or with what. It is very important to keep their objectives in mind.

However, you can also validly note that these are hard-thinking puzzles and that being too generous with information will deliver a far too easy game and result in a boring experience.

This is true, for the most part. When telling details about a quest, balance between useful and cryptic; give the players food for thought.

Instead of blending the objects with the scenery, make all the furniture and items (elegantly) stand out, and let the player figure out what do they need.

And if there's more than one reasonable way to solve a puzzle, implement both, or figure a way to limit the other way of thought (deleting ambiguous items and substituting them for others with less ways to function).


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To conclude, I think this has been a fruitful analysis of Adventure Games. Even if they are not mainstream anymore, it's always good to analyze video games, see their strong points and their flaws.

Especially if you have in mind designing one like them.

...

What's this? Did you notice a hint of suggestion in that sentence? Could it be, I'm hiding something from you? Maybe the Adventure Games Adventure has not ended yet?!

Stay tuned for the next post in A Videogame's Tale, and I might just show you a little project I've been working on for the past few days...

1 comentario:

  1. 1) Jaja, la primera idea que me vino a la mente fue la misma: coger la palanca y abrir rompiendo la ventana XD Estoy de la misma opinión, es muy complicado y necio.
    2) O santos cielos...En qué caramba pensaban los de la empresa que había hecho este juego? 0___o De acuerdo, "Curse of Monkey Island" es un ejemplo perfecto de cómo debe crear juegos en el estilo de "Aventura" o "Quest".
    3) Jej, he jugado algunos aventuras que usaban uno solo botón de raton para todos estos acciones y estaban geniales de todos modos ;P
    4) Dices la verdad, ¡jaja!
    5) Sí, jejej, eso es una cosa que ocurria frecuentemente en el pasado, pero no más,¡ gracias a dios! XD
    Gracias por todo, fue muy interesante, divertido e informativo, que sigas así, amigazo! ;)
    À tout à l'heure! =D

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