The Magic of Old Adventure Games

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The Magic of Old Adventure Games

Yahtzee explains what it was that made old adventure games great, and what modern adventure games like Broken Age fail to grasp in comparison.

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The whole lock-and-key item chain isn't unique to point-and-click adventure games. I'm look at you, Legend of Zelda!

I don't think Telltale has really even aimed to elevate adventure gameplay. For them, it's always been about storytelling and doing the best job they can at either building good characters or expanding well on existing characters. The writing in their Sam and Max games and in Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People is meant to match the humor of previous media from both franchises without simply retreading old jokes, and it succeeds. The writing in The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us is meant to incorporate everything that made their franchises great while remaining accessible to new players, and seeks to show believable characters who are worth caring about. They succeeded on all these counts. They may not have expanded much on the puzzle side of things, but they have taken major strides in adventure storytelling.

On the other hand, I fully expect Armikrog to be just the evolution on gameplay that the genre needs. Doug TenNapel already proved himself once with The Neverhood (IMO the true pinnacle of puzzle-heavy adventure games), and if his new game is even half as good it'll be a good deal more challenging and have gameplay a good deal deeper than what's currently popular in the genre.

P.S. Thanks

Edit:

Alcom1:
The whole lock-and-key item chain isn't unique to point-and-click adventure games. I'm look at you, modern Legend of Zelda!

To be fair, at least you have to aim your arrows at that eyeball to open the door. Not that this is hugely difficult, but at least it's slightly more involved than choosing "use thing" out of a menu.

P.P.S. Thanks

That lock and key chain idea sounds an awful lot like the earlier Silent Hill games and Amnesia: The Double D, though more effort was put into those games I imagine.

Yeah, as good as I found Broken Age, I sorely missed the option to examine things, like in the good old-school adventure games. Investigating and exploring while hearing how the player character sees the world around him/her in their own words, is really one of the main appeals of the genre to me.

This whole "one click to solve the next bit of the chain" approach seems like it was brought on by a need to appeal to the tablet using audience, and I think it is a damn shame.

How does a modern one-click game deal with pushing the lady? Dialogue options. You don't just have to have actual dialogue in a dialogue tree. Still, there's quite a difference between explicitly giving the option to push her in writing and simply having a push "verb".

I still think that Frictional's Penumbra games have always been close to really refreshing the Adventure Game genre. Instead of pixel hunting, you actually get to rummage through a room in a more logical way. Adding physics puzzles to an Adventure Game is a great idea. The first person POV makes exploration not only more interesting, but an integral part of the puzzle. I really wish they would make a traditional Adventure Game rather than only Horror titles though. I definitely want more of their horror games, but I'd also just like a Penumbra-style game where I'm not constantly worried about being chased by a monster.

The Oculus Rift might also be a huge boon for the Adventure Game genre. Exploring a 3D environment is suddenly much more interesting in VR. You don't have to worry about dealing with complicated action or movement really either. It might be the first video game genre to really catch on with the general public if VR becomes a big thing. The barrier to entry is much lower with Adventure games. However, that's always been the case and they never catch on. More casual players might just enjoy playing Hidden Item games in VR.

I think the things that Yahtzee lauds - the stuff that can make the game more complex - also have the potential to make the game more counterintuitive and needlessly difficult. Here's a classic example: you think there's something under a rug, and you want your character to move the rug out of the way. Do you "push" the rug, "pull" the rug, "use" the rug, or "pick up" the rug?

Most games will only accept one of those verbs, and different games by different developers tend not to be consistent about which one is acceptable. So you wind up wasting a lot of time trying everything.

Having limited, automatic interactions can restrict what you can do with adventure games, but they also do a world of good in preventing frustration trying to use different action verbs and items in contexts where the attempted combination won't do anything.

Personally I really like the puzzles in the telltale sam and max games, especially the bosses at the end of each episode.

Blarg Blargson:
I think the things that Yahtzee lauds - the stuff that can make the game more complex - also have the potential to make the game more counterintuitive and needlessly difficult. Here's a classic example: you think there's something under a rug, and you want your character to move the rug out of the way. Do you "push" the rug, "pull" the rug, "use" the rug, or "pick up" the rug?

Most games will only accept one of those verbs, and different games by different developers tend not to be consistent about which one is acceptable. So you wind up wasting a lot of time trying everything.

Having limited, automatic interactions can restrict what you can do with adventure games, but they also do a world of good in preventing frustration trying to use different action verbs and items in contexts where the attempted combination won't do anything.

Having more to doesn't automatically lead to a game being counterintuitive. It only goes in that direction if the designers didn't know how to fully handle what they were working with, or they simply ran out of time while trying to polish it up. Part of making a good game is delivering a deep, meaningful experience while not presenting it in such a way that it gives the player a headache. And as for the verb discrepancies, that should mostly iron itself out in time as different conventions become more standard.

Sure, there are plenty of games, even good ones, that fail to fully capture a deep yet intuitive experience, but that doesn't mean it is a lost cause or that we should just give up on it to make less complex games.

Actually the WORST adventure games are the ones that allow you to break the "chain" and never complete the game.

Looking at you, KING'S QUEST.

So let's not pine for the mechanics of the classics too much, or someone will make one of those travesties again.

Before anyone asks: Yes, "Day of the Tentacle" DID have a puzzle of pushing an old lady down the stairs. Don't feel too bad for her... she's a regular old witch and if you don't set up the push correctly, she will deck you hilariously.

Blarg Blargson:
I think the things that Yahtzee lauds - the stuff that can make the game more complex - also have the potential to make the game more counterintuitive and needlessly difficult. Here's a classic example: you think there's something under a rug, and you want your character to move the rug out of the way. Do you "push" the rug, "pull" the rug, "use" the rug, or "pick up" the rug?

Most games will only accept one of those verbs, and different games by different developers tend not to be consistent about which one is acceptable. So you wind up wasting a lot of time trying everything.

Then that's the game's fault.

The aforementioned "Day of the Tentacle" had a moment where you had to violently assault a clown statue and "push" or "pull" or "use <knife> on clown" would all do something.

Reducing complexity to avoid this is the lazy way out. Decent QA will inform the developers what actions they didn't account for, and adding simple input triggers is trivially easy.

If all else fails, simply having a likely-yet-incorrect action return a different-than-normal response will alleviate frustration, because it encourages you to keep making sane choices. Instead of saying "I can't do that", the game might say "I don't think assaulting the clown with this fake gun will be very useful."

EDIT: Typo'd.

MysticSlayer:

Blarg Blargson:
...

Having more to doesn't automatically lead to a game being counterintuitive. It only goes in that direction if the designers didn't know how to fully handle what they were working with, or they simply ran out of time while trying to polish it up. Part of making a good game is delivering a deep, meaningful experience while not presenting it in such a way that it gives the player a headache. And as for the verb discrepancies, that should mostly iron itself out in time as different conventions become more standard.

Sure, there are plenty of games, even good ones, that fail to fully capture a deep yet intuitive experience, but that doesn't mean it is a lost cause or that we should just give up on it to make less complex games.

I didn't say anything about giving up - I'm just pointing out that having more buttons doesn't necessarily make a game better. I also reject the notion that having a simplified control scheme must make a game less complex.

Case in point - the third season of Telltale Games Sam & Max was made so that it could be played on a console. There was only one button for examining things and another button for interacting with them, but there was a huge range of different kinds of puzzles, particularly dialogue-based puzzles. The dialogue-tree arena fights in the third episode in particular stand out in my mind as a stellar examples of how you can do a lot with just a few options and a sufficiently complex environment to use them in.

There are quite a few adventure games I've enjoyed recently. One of which is Gray Matter is a fun little game that asked you to do some magic tricks for some the puzzles in the game; slight of hand rather than hocus pocus. It also had logic puzzles aside from the inventory puzzles and I think that helped vary things up. The game had the sensibilities about it of a game made around 2000 rather than 2009.

Blachman201:
Yeah, as good as I found Broken Age, I sorely missed the option to examine things, like in the good old-school adventure games. Investigating and exploring while hearing how the player character sees the world around him/her in their own words, is really one of the main appeals of the genre to me.

This whole "one click to solve the next bit of the chain" approach seems like it was brought on by a need to appeal to the tablet using audience, and I think it is a damn shame.

You would think that those verbs would work for touch screen even better than PC if it were organized the way the original Monkey Island games were with the verbs at the bottom corner of the screen.

I hate what happened to the Circle of Blood/Broken Sword series to try and make it appeal to the console audience. The first two games were adventure games through and through and then the third turned into a 3d box moving simulator with very few inventory and dialogue puzzles like the first game. The fourth I'm only part way in before I got sick of it but I've already had to push around a few boxes. The games remind me more of an inept sort of Tomb Raider like game than what they were originally.

For a while I've thought that the best direction to take the adventure-game genre would be to put the player in a relatively small environment with a relatively simple end goal, and then give them free reign to do anything they wanted with anything they could get ahold of. There'd be no pixel hunting for specific items to interact with among things that are just part of the background; everything small enough to pick up can be picked up and everything light enough to be moved can be moved. And there would be more than one solution. Kind of like the original Scribblenauts but with the limitation of only using the items on-hand. All the budget that would normally be put into making a massive game world would be put into including an outcome for every possible player action and playtesting it to death.

Blachman201:
This whole "one click to solve the next bit of the chain" approach seems like it was brought on by a need to appeal to the tablet using audience, and I think it is a damn shame.

It wasn't. The first season of Telltale's Sam and Max games were released back in 2007, before the iPad even existed, and it wasn't even their first game.

If you haven't tried it yet, go play "the dream machine". cardboard/clay art and story are great, and the puzzle part, being sometimes pretty classic in a good way, has very original (and relevant-to-the-story) parts that make a clever use of dream logic.

Did anybody else notice that his insult example differs only in the fact that the insults and responses aren't literally in your inventory? They're in a hidden inventory. That's all. That's the only difference. You're collecting keys which go in locks, and at the end the locks are displayed differently. Yippee. It was neat and clever (and trivially easy), but everything that's wrong with Adventure gameplay was still wrong with it.

Adventure gameplay inherently sucks for the reasons given, and always did. The only saving graces of the genre are the cleverness of the writing and puzzles, but good writing is difficult and good puzzles are even harder, with most being either trivially easy or requiring less logic and more mind-reading and/or exhaustive combining and/or walkthroughs and/or obscure references (which, if you do know, convert the puzzle to trivially easy).

Blachman201:
Yeah, as good as I found Broken Age, I sorely missed the option to examine things, like in the good old-school adventure games. Investigating and exploring while hearing how the player character sees the world around him/her in their own words, is really one of the main appeals of the genre to me.

I personally think the fact that there are a boatload of different responses for trying to combine different items with each other, the environment, and different characters more than makes up for that. Yes, there is some repetition, but for the most part combinations have unique and entertaining dialogue.

OT: I had never played adventure games until last year when I went through the Monkey Island special editions. While the characters, story, and environment were immensely entertaining, I would have never finished the games without the hint system in the special editions. The puzzles often had unclear objectives which required finding a hidden item in an entirely different area, and I just don't have the patience for that sort of shit.

I personally really liked the more simple, less obtuse puzzles of Broken Age. Yeah, the first part isn't very difficult, but the first half of most games isn't very difficult. I have no reason to believe that the second half won't be more challenging, and I wish people would stop writing it off until the second half is released.

I liked what Telltale games did with Puzzle Agent, adding more traditional mindgames to the adventure game format

Thanatos2k:
Actually the WORST adventure games are the ones that allow you to break the "chain" and never complete the game.

Looking at you, KING'S QUEST.

So let's not pine for the mechanics of the classics too much, or someone will make one of those travesties again.

Which one? I have King's Quest 7 on my to-play list and I don't want to make a no win situation.

thatonedude11:
I personally think the fact that there are a boatload of different responses for trying to combine different items with each other, the environment, and different characters more than makes up for that. Yes, there is some repetition, but for the most part combinations have unique and entertaining dialogue.

OT: I had never played adventure games until last year when I went through the Monkey Island special editions. While the characters, story, and environment were immensely entertaining, I would have never finished the games without the hint system in the special editions. The puzzles often had unclear objectives which required finding a hidden item in an entirely different area, and I just don't have the patience for that sort of shit.

I personally really liked the more simple, less obtuse puzzles of Broken Age. Yeah, the first part isn't very difficult, but the first half of most games isn't very difficult. I have no reason to believe that the second half won't be more challenging, and I wish people would stop writing it off until the second half is released.

I agree, I always look forward to the snippets of dialogue when you try daft combinations of items, much more so than trying different verbs which all too often just result in stock phrases ("I'm not putting my lips on that"). Yes putting in the extra lines is a trivial task, but they all add up into a big writing burden and extra pressure on the VO budget. Much as I'd love to Broken Age to have a ton of different hotspots and verbs, the smaller possibility space actually meant that my exploration was really rewarding. Hell just trying the spoon and the knife on every object on Shay's side resulted in more memorable lines than most adventure games outside of the Lucas classics contain over their whole length. I would like an examine button though, for sure.

And yeah, they've already said they're aiming for part 2 to be longer and harder, and even moreso after the feedback from part one (to the point that they're getting very cagey about the release date where before they had set it to be April)

To this day I still love Monkey Island, every last one of them even 3,4 and Tales. It makes me sad that Disney Have apparently shelved the series to focus on Pirates of the Caribbean. Screw Jack Sparrow the world needs Guybrush Threepwood, Mighty Pirate!

Cyan worlds had the right idea, but ever since they wrapped up the myst series they've just been re-releasing the first game over and over again on every single platform. Although their games started off a little on the hard side, the last 3 were easy enough for everyone to solve, but not so simple that you felt as though the game was patronizing you.

Yahtzee, what is your opinion on the game "The Whispered World"? it's about a clown that is supposed to destroy the world, and no not that one, or that one.

-Dragmire-:

Thanatos2k:
Actually the WORST adventure games are the ones that allow you to break the "chain" and never complete the game.

Looking at you, KING'S QUEST.

So let's not pine for the mechanics of the classics too much, or someone will make one of those travesties again.

Which one? I have King's Quest 7 on my to-play list and I don't want to make a no win situation.

I think all of them. Especially 7, which I played a lot when I was younger and about half the time I would find myself unable to finish at the end of the game because I forgot to pick up one single item. Very frustrating.

Pyrian:
Did anybody else notice that his insult example differs only in the fact that the insults and responses aren't literally in your inventory? They're in a hidden inventory. That's all. That's the only difference. You're collecting keys which go in locks, and at the end the locks are displayed differently. Yippee. It was neat and clever (and trivially easy), but everything that's wrong with Adventure gameplay was still wrong with it.

Well, yeah, I suppose that's true. But it's the presentation that makes it so great.

And that's really the thing about adventure games. They aren't about the gameplay. The gameplay is always the same in the end. It's about the world, the characters, the story, the writing. Monkey Island's insult swordfighting was fun because it was a different take on the item chain thing. Like you said, it was neat and clever. That's basically all they have to do. Thinking of all my favorite adventure games, I like them because they have really good stories and worlds. Maybe they made me laugh, maybe they made me sad. But I can't think of a single adventure game I've played that I like because the gameplay was some new radical thing that changed the genre.

Except the aforementioned King's Quest (or other Sierra games) which would just frustrate me when I accidentally screwed myself into a game over, and that's more of a negative change than a positive one. And when you don't accidentally screw yourself, they're no different than any other adventure game.

There are quite a lot of Adventure games that try to "innovate", but Broken Age isn't really one of them. Double Fine seems to be more interested in trying to casualize Adventure games to make them more readily available on tablets and mobile phones.

For instance these games, which are inspired by Quest for Glory from SIERRA and are creating a RPG/Adventure hybrid in that style:



(The second one is even free, people who endlessly go on about strong female protagonists but never seem to use the chance when a game featuring one comes along to actually buy or play it.)

This actually got me to play Quest for Glory for the first time and I like it a lot more so far than Broken Age despite the technological differences.

Also tried Testament of Sherlock Holmes and it's actually a rather tough Puzzle Adventure game with a lot of logical and deduction based puzzles and somewhat interesting mechanics and minigames like the "deduction board" with a new one called "Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments" coming out soon too:

And not to forget STASIS, which seems to offer a rather unique top-down view and an atmospheric horror story on a seemingly abandoned space station:

I think even just going back and looking at what some Adventure games did right in the gameplay and presentation department and taking it from there and advancing would even be great for now since they seem to have largely taken a turn for the worse from around 2000 onward.

Pyrian:
Did anybody else notice that his insult example differs only in the fact that the insults and responses aren't literally in your inventory? They're in a hidden inventory. That's all. That's the only difference. You're collecting keys which go in locks, and at the end the locks are displayed differently. Yippee. It was neat and clever (and trivially easy), but everything that's wrong with Adventure gameplay was still wrong with it.

Adventure gameplay inherently sucks for the reasons given, and always did. The only saving graces of the genre are the cleverness of the writing and puzzles, but good writing is difficult and good puzzles are even harder, with most being either trivially easy or requiring less logic and more mind-reading and/or exhaustive combining and/or walkthroughs and/or obscure references (which, if you do know, convert the puzzle to trivially easy).

I came in here just to post this (well, your first paragraph, anyway. I never cared for the genre to begin with, but I can't say for sure if it's bad or just not for me). When you boil it down to the extent Yahtzee did, everything he described is a lock in key inventory puzzle, including the things he said didn't boil down to lock in key inventory puzzles.

Then again, when you boil it down to that extent it's true of pretty much every game ever made, even games where the only solution to any of the "puzzles" is "use <gun> on alien."

Owyn_Merrilin:
Then again, when you boil it down to that extent it's true of pretty much every game ever made, even games where the only solution to any of the "puzzles" is "use <gun> on alien."

Obviously you could boil everything down that far, the difference is that in Adventure games there's no really boiling. Collecting keys and figuring out which key goes in which lock is the beginning and the end of the gameplay (for the most part - there are exceptions, but the insult game isn't one of them).

In an FPS, "use gun on alien" is the required action, and figuring out which gun to use on which alien (if it even matters) is barely a sideline, but that's not the gameplay challenge. The gameplay is primarily aiming and avoiding being hit too much in return (while managing ammunition, etc.). You can't just "boil that out" and still have any meaningful comparison. And, let's face it, simple FPS's doesn't exactly win awards for innovative gameplay, either.

The equivalent of aiming/dodging for Adventure games is figuring out puzzles, and IMO linear puzzle gameplay is extremely difficult to get right. In fact I doubt it's possible to simultaneously satisfy the masses and puzzle aficionados.

Pyrian:

Owyn_Merrilin:
Then again, when you boil it down to that extent it's true of pretty much every game ever made, even games where the only solution to any of the "puzzles" is "use <gun> on alien."

Obviously you could boil everything down that far, the difference is that in Adventure games there's no really boiling. Collecting keys and figuring out which key goes in which lock is the beginning and the end of the gameplay (for the most part - there are exceptions, but the insult game isn't one of them).

In an FPS, "use gun on alien" is the required action, and figuring out which gun to use on which alien (if it even matters) is barely a sideline, but that's not the gameplay challenge. The gameplay is primarily aiming and avoiding being hit too much in return (while managing ammunition, etc.). You can't just "boil that out" and still have any meaningful comparison. And, let's face it, simple FPS's doesn't exactly win awards for innovative gameplay, either.

The equivalent of aiming/dodging for Adventure games is figuring out puzzles, and IMO linear puzzle gameplay is extremely difficult to get right. In fact I doubt it's possible to simultaneously satisfy the masses and puzzle aficionados.

Oh I know. But even in adventure games you have to abstract it a bit to get down to the key in door level. It's just weird that he took it to the point of figurative keys in doors (in a genre that has plenty of literal examples) and then gave examples of the same thing with a separate inventory and called it a different kind of puzzle. It wasn't. It was very much "solve this puzzle (use this key) to go on to the next part of the game (open the door.)"

Agreed. I think it's revealing, in a sense. The point was never really gameplay; that was just rationalized in Yahtzee's head. The point is that it was funny, clever, and well written. If you can achieve that, simple key/lock puzzles seem much more satisfactory than they would be otherwise.

I don't know if I should bring this up or not but alot of the foreign adventure games look like interesting elevations of the concept, stuff like Virtue's Last Reward really seems to build further on the whole lock-and-key item chain when the keys are memories and information from alternate realities where different choices were made.

-Dragmire-:

Thanatos2k:
Actually the WORST adventure games are the ones that allow you to break the "chain" and never complete the game.

Looking at you, KING'S QUEST.

So let's not pine for the mechanics of the classics too much, or someone will make one of those travesties again.

Which one? I have King's Quest 7 on my to-play list and I don't want to make a no win situation.

They made a 7th one!?

Losanme:
Also tried Testament of Sherlock Holmes and it's actually a rather tough Puzzle Adventure game with a lot of logical and deduction based puzzles and somewhat interesting mechanics and minigames like the "deduction board" with a new one called "Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments" coming out soon too:

I played Sherlock Holmes too and was surprised by how good it was. Highly recommended.

the reason why we are not seeing that gameplay innovation with adventure games is because there are barely any true Adventure games anymore, they died out and survived in the form of "hidden object games", a subgenre of casual games. So the few adventure games we get with DoubleFine and TellTale, they haven't gone that far out of their comfort zone (possibly because they are stuck in the past).

I didn't expect to see so much interest in adventure games from others. It's refreshing.
I've pretty much kept to the Lucas Arts ones and I've tried desperately to find the Discworld games(no clue if they're good or not).

For me, it was always the story. I'm not a clever or creative person, so most of the puzzles for me was exhausting options until I eventually found the solution. Indiana Jones and The Fate of Atlantis was probably my favourite, since it had everything you'd expect from the movies (humor, horror, action and romance) and three different paths, which was something I'd never seen before in a game. Atlantis had me genuinly terrified as a kid... it was something special.

So for me, if the story goes on long enough and the dialogue is remarkable, the puzzles just have to be okay not to ruin the game.

Pyrian:
Agreed. I think it's revealing, in a sense. The point was never really gameplay; that was just rationalized in Yahtzee's head. The point is that it was funny, clever, and well written. If you can achieve that, simple key/lock puzzles seem much more satisfactory than they would be otherwise.

Exactly. This is I thought it very odd for Yahtzee to mention Telltale as one of those at the root of the problem. Far from just repeating key/lock puzzles over and over again they've removed them almost entirely and instead focussed very heavily on the writing end. In The Walking Dead, for example, the only "puzzles" that exist are trivially easy ones which are only there to get you to look around the area, not to actually give you something to work out. You don't just blindly pick up every object knowing there will be a lock it will fit in later, the puzzle is instead in wondering if you should pick it up at all and what the consequences of doing so might be. This is exactly the kind of elevation of the genre Yahtzee claims to want - the dictionary entry for "adventure" does not read "endlessly click "use X on Y" until something happens", and Telltale's recent games are actually much closer to the real meaning of the word than the point and click adventure games of yore.

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