Traditional Adventure Games Are Rubbish

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Traditional Adventure Games Are Rubbish

Good story telling doesn't require item hunts.

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Was wondering when you'd get to Lone Survivor. Shame there won't be a ZP on it, but at least you gave your opinion somewhere.

One of the first games I owned for my CD-ROM equipped PC was Kings Quest VI. Rubbish, but it took me years to realize it. On the first screen, there was a shining ring you had to pick up, that you could trade for various things. So most of the early game was going back and forth to the store, trading items for the ring so you could complete the various puzzles.

Until you find yourself in the catacombs, and nothing can save you from the crushing cieling, because its impossible to get through the catacombs without the brick, but you'll never be able to get to the catacombs without a different item. Game over, but it won't tell you so, it will just let you keep reloading to watch yourself get crushed to death over and over.

Oh wait, on that very first screen there was a nondescript piece of wood in the lower right corner, and if you click that you move the wood out of the way, and there's a coin. I only found that after the invention of the intertubes, and I could look up information.

That was just about the last time I played an 'adventure' game. Alone in the dark hit the deck not long after, and then it was all about civilization and x-com. I'll write my own story, thank you very much sierra.

I'm not in total agreement that traditional adventure games are rubbish. Then again, I never played the Lucas Arts ones or the Sierra Godawful King's Quest ones. Rather, my childhood was blessed with Humongous Entertainment and their beautiful games: Putt-Putt, Spy Fox, Freddy Fish & Luther, Pajama Sam. Perhaps the gameplay (rub stuff on other stuff) isn't amazing, but perhaps the games are more about exploring and seeing a new world. Perhaps I've got my nostalgia goggles on to tight, but the puzzles were simple enough that my six-year old mind could figure them out and the animation was top-notch, and I had too much fun with them to sit back and let them be called Rubbish.

The other problem with the whole "item hunt" style of gameplay is that it makes it very hard to take a game world seriously when you're trading toilet brushes for keys and vomiting over dominoes, so almost every adventure game has to have a wacky sense of humor and take place in some sort of insane world to make any kind of tonal sense.

Or is that just because every adventure developer wants to be Tim Schaefer?

ben yaaaaazeee hates himself and his dead tainted inner child, who knew??? waka waka waka.

Yahtzee Croshaw:
Traditional Adventure Games Are Rubbish

Good story telling doesn't require item hunts.

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This is where most games go wrong with stirring emotions in players -- most often either fear or desperation: They try to make things scary or desperate for the character, and they hope that will rub off on you, the player.

In doing so, the fear or desperation usually come off as visual tricks and execution challenges. The enemy is "scary" because it's big and hard to kill. Maybe makes some weird noises, too. But in structuring the game this way, they fall into the trap of ensuring that even a marginal player can find a way through -- because execution challenges create the expectation in players that the game will be fair.

When players are thinking about execution, they're very aware of the game. A good control scheme can do a lot to smooth that out, but it still gets in the way of a lot of the emotional content... which is why the more twitch-based action a game has, the more likely it is to cram the required emotional context into cutscenes (while the player takes a break from execution).

Games like The Walking Dead remove most of that execution stuff. And, in doing so, they remove a lot of that "The Game World Must Be Fair" baggage. That leaves real room for hard choices that (barring replays) you can't take back. It's odd, but the less action a player has to play through, the easier it is to connect them to the characters.

But Lone Survivor goes a different way. You're not connected to the character. Instead, the game structures its own mechanics to push the hard choices directly on the player. The desperation or fear you feel isn't necessarily in the context of the game's story, but our fragile, squishy little brains can't really tell the difference.

Hell, many of our worst fears develop as loose, near-superstitious associations. Maybe I got lost in the mall as a young child, and I was scared, and I kept seeing this awful clown face on every surface of this unfamiliar world. I was actually scared of being lost... but emotionally it manifests as a fear of clowns (or malls). My mind doesn't separate the two. (Not a true story. Please don't send clown pictures.)

Getting a player into the right emotional frame while they are playing is the important thing. Whether that feeling originates from the character or from the player themselves doesn't really matter, as long as your game effectively does one or the other.

I think well-made adventure games are still good. I was late to the party, only being introduced to the genre about 5 or 6 years ago, but I love them, particularly the LucasArts classics. I think they're still some of the best examples of storytelling in games, and I like the relaxed cerebral challenge of the puzzles.

PureIrony:
Or is that just because every adventure developer wants to be Tim Schaefer?

Most of Tim Schafer's adventure games weren't actually that wacky. Yes, he made Day of the Tentacle (part of it, at least. Dave Grossman was the co-leader for that title), but he also made Full Throttle and Grim Fandango.

Eternal Darkness was a wonderful game. I wish they released it again.

I enjoyed he King quest games.

Most traditional adventure games are rubbish, it's a genre that is hard to do well. But those few games that do it well are great. The limitation is not in the genre but in the imagination of the designer. In an excellent adventure game the story and the puzzle gameplay melds together as a whole, but there are a lot of examples where it doesn't work.

My own favorites are Day of the Tentacle, Grim Fandango and some of the Infocom games like Enchanter, Sorcerer and Planetfall.

I feel adventure game puzzles are like magic tricks or jokes. They are hard to invent and can't be reused, I imagine this limits how many good puzzles a designer can come up with.

Radioactive Kitten:

Most of Tim Schafer's adventure games weren't actually that wacky. Yes, he made Day of the Tentacle (part of it, at least. Dave Grossman was the co-leader for that title), but he also made Full Throttle and Grim Fandango.

Grim Fandango had quite a few wacky moments and a constant undertone of humor, though I can't speak for Full Throttle, having not played it.

My point was, mostly, that I can't really see an adventure game playing itself completely straight, because the gameplay itself is so often absurd that it would almost be mocking itself. The genre seems to necessitate it, because I've yet to play a current-day one(Sam and Max, Phoenix Wright, Broken Sword, Machinarium) that wasn't trying to be funny or surrealist.

Again, I'm not entirely sure if that's because developer's think they need these kinds of games to be funny or if they're just following the Tim Schaefer model.

How do you feel about Myst, then? It's a "traditional adventure game", but the inventory puzzles consist of "not actually existing".

Especially in the sequels.

This is a harsh realization. Does this mean Resident Evil and it's continuously pumped out sequels also subside on this 'story'? Because the 3d movement style is just bollucks in comparison to standard 2d movement with a d-pad.

Adventure games can still be good. I liked all the pheonix wright games - even the apollo justice and miles edgeworth ones.

There are some reaally good adventure games out there. Sure, item hunts can be annoying, but there is always a certain sense of satisfaction after solving a particularly convoluted puzzle and also a sense of wonder or adventure when exploring interesting settings that is sorely lacking in many other genres. I personally have a soft spot for an old PS1 adventure game called 'Blazing Dragons', and I also had a lot of fun with the Myst games and Timescape: Journey to Pompeii back in the day. Adventure games deliver on a lot of things that are hard to come by elsewhere in gaming. I think it is a bit much to write off the genre because of item hunts.

Hmm, a fail to see the point were adventures are rubbish. I even love the TellTale stuff like Sam&Max or their take on MI. Can`t agree and there wasn`t nearly enough adventure talk for this wannabe provoking title.

I can't quite agree that ALL adventure games are rubbish.
However, the reason the puzzles were so ridiculous was the same reason that old arcade games were so hard; so that you'd spend more money. Although, with adventure games, rather than constantly inserting quarters, the developers wanted you to buy their overpriced hint book. Some games even advertised the hint book in the game over screen.
Luckily, not all of them were like this. Beneath a Steel Sky and "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream" are my personal favorites.

chewie8291:
Eternal Darkness was a wonderful game. I wish they released it again.

I agree. I played a part of it a long time ago, but at the time I wasn't able to properly respect it. A re-release on the XLBA and PSN would do it a lot of good.

Yahtzee:

The point is that the traditional adventure gameplay is rubbish. Oh, sometimes they'd come up with a really clever puzzle like using insults to win sword fights, but these were the exceptions rather than the rule. Most of the time the inventory puzzles only served, as in The Walking Dead, just as a token effort to be able to call itself a game rather than a linear story with an unusual pause function.

This article feels like one of those cases of "writer goes too far with his grand unified theory of what gaming ought to be".

I would rather agree with Jim Sterling, that "art shouldn't be limited". Individual creations should be seen as art first, video games second. If they don't fit into your narrower definition of video games, then they should be seen as a separate medium or adventure games, with their own values, instead of just bad video games.


For example I always campaigned for not talking about Visual Novels as if they would be video games. Not just because they are even more linear than adventure games, with nothing but literary content only interrupted by a handful of A/B/C choices between major novel-lenght story parts, but anyone who imagines them as video games, incorrectly pictures their romantic plots as dating sims (that would be more creepy than just romance plots in a novel).

And anyways, what's the point of taking a story, either an Adventure Game, or an Interactive Movie, or a Visual Novel, that is great at what it is, but declare that since it's an interactive software, it is officially categorized as a Video Game, and a shitty one for not being as interactive as the average?

Love the reference to insult sword fighting in Monkey Island. By far one of my favorite moments in video gaming. That (and really good writing) make the game worth playing.

I can see the point, but don't fully agree. Adventure games were conceived to appeal to a completely different crowd, the people that did not want action in their games. Back in the day, they took pride in the fact that theirs was the "intellectual" audience. Anyone who was there will remember the controversy over "arcadey" sections in games like Space Quest and Heart Of China.

The allure of traditional adventure games was creating a world worth visiting, where you did not have to fight to stay alive (only stay away from ledges, but I digress). When done right, it was magical. I still have many fond memories of those worlds, as if I had actually been there.

The reason adventure games lost their appeal was the limited game mechanics. There's only so much you can do with the take object A to person B system. Good stories became scarce as the pressure not to repeat old puzzles got to the designers. That's what led to the absurd solutions Yatzhee points out. Cat moustache anyone?

The question is whether someone can come up with new mechanics to revive the genre. How to tell an interactive story where you don't have to kill anyone/anything. Its harder than it sounds, but I'm hopeful.

On the other hand, as you play modern action games, with their well defined characters and interesting worlds, you are in debt to the old Adventure Game.

If you want horrible Adventure games, check out the Trapped trilogy over on Newgrounds.

Trapped
Pursuit
Escape

So much moon logic...

Police Officer can't leave the house without taking her teddy bear and unscrewing a light bulb? No problem! Get locked INSIDE a car? Logical! Catch a fish with glue, a rope, a banana, and a pocketknife? That makes perfect sense! Ugggg....

I could understand taking a sanity hit if the monsters looked significantly human. There's still that part of your brain that puts an automatic do not kill sticker on humans you meet. If it wasn't stressful, soldiers probably wouldn't have so many problems.

I don't see how failing to fulfill some arbitrary definition of a fully realized game invalidates a whole genre. It's only rubbish if it's a poorly executed example of that genre.

The best adventure games were good despite being adventure games, not because of it. When I think of The Longest Journey, Loom or Grim Fandango, I think of the storytelling, the characters, the art style... not the puzzles. I'd happily watch any of those made into a feature-length film; I almost certainly will never want to replay them.

I grew up with Infocom games, but I get what Yahtzee is saying. It's a "story with an unusual pause function". I mean, I loved the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy game, but really, that's because I love Douglas Adams (and curse the fact that I've never been able to play Starship Titanic). But c'mon, that section with the Babelfish? Yes, it was funny. But mostly I remember being frustrated that I couldn't, as Monty Python would say, GET ON WITH IT.

So, like a previous poster said, I went out and forked over for the hint book. And growled in irritation when I got through that part.

BTW, said game is online at the BBC these days. http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/hitchhikers/game.shtml Worth playing, but again, mostly because anything written by Adams is worth a look, not because its gameplay is anything other than a nuisance.

Hmmm... adventure games... like zelda and startropics...

Yeah, that's right, adventure, not rpg. If you gotta pick up your health like some kind of scavanging hobo rooting through the garbage, you are definately an adventure game. Hell, while I'm at it, I would like to classify demon souls as an adventure game as well. Sure, the adventure is being anally violated over and over, but it's still more of an adventure game than an rpg.

This article is rubbish.

Any conception that considers a game as story + gameplay is a bad conception, as bad as considering a film as a visual story while in fact story plays a very small role and it's the good films which realise that and bad ones which don't.

No wonder Yahtzee failed at making adventure games. Besides, I'm willing to bet Yahtzee hasn't played some of the better adventure games in recent years.

Alterego-X:

Yahtzee:

The point is that the traditional adventure gameplay is rubbish. Oh, sometimes they'd come up with a really clever puzzle like using insults to win sword fights, but these were the exceptions rather than the rule. Most of the time the inventory puzzles only served, as in The Walking Dead, just as a token effort to be able to call itself a game rather than a linear story with an unusual pause function.

This article feels like one of those cases of "writer goes too far with his grand unified theory of what gaming ought to be".

I would rather agree with Jim Sterling, that "art shouldn't be limited". Individual creations should be seen as art first, video games second. If they don't fit into your narrower definition of video games, then they should be seen as a separate medium or adventure games, with their own values, instead of just bad video games.


For example I always campaigned for not talking about Visual Novels as if they would be video games. Not just because they are even more linear than adventure games, with nothing but literary content only interrupted by a handful of A/B/C choices between major novel-lenght story parts, but anyone who imagines them as video games, incorrectly pictures their romantic plots as dating sims (that would be more creepy than just romance plots in a novel).

And anyways, what's the point of taking a story, either an Adventure Game, or an Interactive Movie, or a Visual Novel, that is great at what it is, but declare that since it's an interactive software, it is officially categorized as a Video Game, and a shitty one for not being as interactive as the average?

This.

So much this.

For the record, I haven't played a lot of visual novels or the like, but I still completely agree with this. A game, or a movie, comic, or even stuff like Indigo Prophecy, is 'good' if it succeeds at what it sets out to do. Just because what it sets out to do involves less interactivity than most games doesn't make it a bad game. Citizen Kane is not a bad game because it's not a game at all.

That being said, since 'adventure games' are still labelled as games, that creates an expectation that they'll be more like other games. Perhaps, like the word 'gamer', point and click adventures need a new label.

I wonder how many Myna birds flock to send you recommendation emails after Extra Credits puts up a "Games You Might Not Have Tried" episode.

DeadlyYellow:
I wonder how many Myna birds flock to send you recommendation emails after Extra Credits puts up a "Games You Might Not Have Tried" episode.

Oh god. I just realized that. The poor bugger.

I guess you could fix that problem of killing enemies (the least challenging method) being the most rewarded by giving some kind of canon consequences to killing that are worse than avoiding the monsters. Like perhaps if you kill an enemy it makes even more take it's place, or that after it dies it's essence somehow infects you. Maybe killing them slowly turns you in to one of them.

leet_x1337:

This.

So much this.

For the record, I haven't played a lot of visual novels or the like, but I still completely agree with this. A game, or a movie, comic, or even stuff like Indigo Prophecy, is 'good' if it succeeds at what it sets out to do. Just because what it sets out to do involves less interactivity than most games doesn't make it a bad game. Citizen Kane is not a bad game because it's not a game at all.

That being said, since 'adventure games' are still labelled as games, that creates an expectation that they'll be more like other games. Perhaps, like the word 'gamer', point and click adventures need a new label.

More like we need to realize that "game" is not a single medium with a singe set of goals.

A game of soccer, a game of chess, and a game of cops and robbers are not the same categry at all. Why should a game of CoD, a game of Heavy Rain, and a game of Sim City be?

All I know is that wikipedia says Snatcher is an adventure game. And if that game is rubbish then holy hell the games of today are some kind of awful I can't even comprehend.

I'm a little surprised that no-one's pointed out the obvious flaw in Yahtzee's argument yet. The best adventure games make it *fun to fail*. With fun exploration, adventure games are far different from a "story with pauses".

Space Quest was genius at this (as long as you saved often). On many screens I would try and figure out amusing ways to die just as much as figuring out how to progress :)

I always found that the biggest flaw of the LucasArts "no fail" approach -- too many dead ends that weren't worth finding. But their later games, particularly Day of the Tentacle and Grim Fandango, did this well.

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