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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The objects with which you can interact are obvious; the player, on the left side of the screen, and a dead guy and a soldier on the right side.

Now, let's fast-forward to the early 1990s. At this point, computers could display 256 colors, and the screen resolutions of most adventure games had doubled in area to 320×200. Take a look at Gabriel Knight's bedroom, from Sierra's Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers.

(click the image for a larger size)
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This one's a little more complicated than Arthur Dent's bedroom. There's a mask, some beads, books, a toilet, a bathrobe, some shirts, a bed, three lamps, a rug, a poster, a chair and so on. To further complicate things, this game uses a point-and-click interface, which means even objects on the screen that the user can't identify - a tiny, colorful 3×3 blotch of pixels, for instance - could still be relevant to gameplay.

What this means is the player must systematically move the cursor across the entire screen to determine what is relevant to gameplay. Manually sifting a cursor through the non-empty parts of this screen - a 320×124 area, or about 40,000 pixels - isn't a whole lot of fun, but it's manageable.

Still, most games at this time were distributed on 3.5-inch disks, which could each store 1.44 MB of data. This space restriction meant the game's developers had to significantly limit the number of screens they could put in their games.

Then came the mid-'90s, when the resolution of adventure games quadrupled to 640×480. We'll take a look at the bedroom of April Ryan in The Longest Journey:

(click the image for a larger size)
image

April's bedroom is a little sparser than Gabriel's, but that doesn't mean that there aren't plenty of things the player can potentially interact with; there are at least 25 distinct objects in this scene. The non-empty area of this screen is about 640×365, which means the player needs to sift through about 234,000 pixels of cluttered photorealism to cover the whole area. Kind of daunting.

To further complicate the situation, CD-ROMs are now the primary medium for games. This means game developers have virtually no restriction on the number of screens they can put into a game; often, clicking on one part of a screen yields a close-up shot of the area, and some areas are shot from multiple perspectives. Several screens are purely cosmetic. While this is all quite pretty, it also requires the user to sift through even more irrelevance.

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