Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice
Information Complexity and the Downfall of the Adventure Game

Atul Varma | 25 Sep 2007 12:17
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Now, imagine the horror of real-time, 3-D, first-person adventure games like King's Quest: Mask of Eternity and Gabriel Knight 3: Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned. No longer does the player need to rake through a 2-D scene; he now has to carefully examine every part of a scene from every possible perspective to discover interactive objects.

Fortunately, those kinds of adventure games were short-lived, and for good reason. But even today, the trends continue: Games like Syberia display photorealistic, full-screen scenes at 800600 resolutions, which means the player needs to sift through a whopping 480,000 pixels of information to find what he needs. It's a lot easier to process the information space in Arthur Dent's bedroom and figure out what's important than it is to process the dozens of distinct objects in this complex scene from Syberia II:

(click the image for a larger size)

But spaces can still be high-res and good looking without being overly complex, as shown in Facade:

(click the image for a larger size)

Despite the fact Facade isn't an adventure game, the large areas of solid colors in this cel-shaded image make the visual space much easier to navigate than the turgid photorealism in games like The Longest Journey or Syberia II. There may be a lot of pixels in this image, but because the picture is geometrically simple, it wouldn't be hard to identify what's important. The use of simpler spaces is fundamental in making adventure games simple but engaging.

Adventure games, at their core, are about solving puzzles. The fun lies in figuring out how the pieces fit together, not going through mind-numbing tedium to figure out where the pieces are. As adventure games ascend to higher resolutions and more complex, realistic environments, players have to spend more time figuring out what their tools are rather than actually using them to play the game.

Of course, all this isn't to say visuals are bad; it's rather that today's adventure game developers don't usually understand the difference between making an adventure game that's just pretty and one that's fun to play.

Atul Varma is a freelance contributor to The Escapist.

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