Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
The Magic of Old Adventure Games

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 4 Feb 2014 12:00
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The Secret of Monkey Island

Monkey Island is full of examples where the inventory puzzles are just a basis, not what passes for the meat of the sandwich. Often, dialogue would provide that. There's another puzzle where you buy a ship with a stolen note of credit, but doing so also requires lengthily haggling the salesman down with colourful discussions of the ship's features interspersed with lowball offers. You don't just Use Credit On Man and be on your merry way.

I look at people chucking out adventure games these days that do little more than string a few inventory puzzles together, call it a day, and then announce that they have done their bit for the preservation of a classic genre, and I despair. It's like watching someone chuck a brick out of the window of a moving car and announce they've done their bit for the construction industry.

Another interesting example is Loom, one of LucasArts' earliest adventure games. The thing most worth noting about it was that it had no inventory at all. You solved the puzzles by playing specific songs from your distaff to alter the fabric of reality, or - and this was the clever part - you could also play songs backwards to reverse their usual effect. Admittedly, though, Loom was less about the puzzles and more about creating a strange, mystical world through which the main character journeys, learning the significance of his power and his origins.

Come to think of it, of all the classic adventure games, Loom was probably the one that played the most like the modern adventure game, in that progression was fairly linear and you only had one button to generically 'interact' with objects in the world. And that's another problem, I think - adventure games that had big verb lists, allowing such diverse activities as both Pushing and Pulling, allowed the player to explore myriads of possibilities for every object they found, providing opportunities for more complex puzzling. Think of, say, the puzzle in Day of the Tentacle where you have to push an old lady down a flight of stairs. It was also possible to talk to the old lady first to understand why this measure was necessary.

Couldn't do that in your modern adventure game, could you, where you're lucky to have one click for 'interact' and another for 'examine'. There is only one thing you can do to every object in the world. They represent an eggshell-thin layer of complexity over a vast emptiness. How would you have done such a puzzle in a modern adventure game? The first click has you converse with the old lady, and the second pushes her down the stairs? But this removes all conscious agency on my part from the decision to push the old lady down the stairs. At no point did I specify such a thing. That old lady's broken hip is on your hands alone, game. How am I supposed to get hard?

Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn't talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.

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