The 3 tedium of an adventure game
First posted on 10 August 1999. Last updated on 10 September 2008.
Graphic adventure games belong to a genre of computer games that has certainly been hard to define in recent years. Once recognized as the Sierra On-Line and LucasArts character based systems, the times (along with Myst) have changed all the rules. Many adventure gamers still define this genre to mean something in the style of King's Quest or Monkey Island (surely, you have heard of those series?).
With that in mind, this article applies more to the original graphic adventure genre than the confused entity seen on retail shelves today. Since I am a game developer currently working on a new graphic adventure title, as well as an avid adventure gamer, I shall try to sum up the 3 major make or break elements of an adventure game in where I think a title can go wrong. I shall call these the 3 tedium of an adventure game. These elements are discussed below, not in any particular order of importance.
Graphic tedium can occur when a game tries to stretch out a single graphic theme for too long. It can become downright boring for the player, especially if the artists are actually using the same graphics over and over again. An example is the maze that is thrown into many adventure games of today, or even a game that simply uses a bleak setting, like a deserted ruin.
To make matters worse, because of a loss of focus in the scene and the general repetition of everything, designers do not even bother making each scene unique. What end up are big empty areas that really annoy the gamer. The player is seeking unique interaction with everything in the game world, but all they are getting are big static areas.
Graphic tedium can also be caused by washed-out, dreary, or just plain, bad graphics. The main cause is either poor artist or poor designer. Sometimes it is the fault of the artist who is looking to fill a large area with minimal effort, sometimes it is the fault of the designer. Either way, the results suck. If the gamers are paying for a piece of entertainment that is billed as an adventure, they certainly expect some variety and flare in the game locations and actions.
Although it is incorrect to say that the graphics are the most important element of a game, it is appropriate to demand graphics that are functional during gameplay. Scenes have to convey the right feelings and emotions to players, as well as a decent sense of interaction.
Not just limited to dialogs, this tedium covers any time in a game that becomes too non interactive. The cause can be a long boring dialog or even scripted action sequences or cut scenes. The point here is one of relevance and entertainment value. A designer that tries to fluff a game out with lots of flat dialog is evil. Nobody wants to be bored. All talk in the game should be engaging and interesting. The same goes for cut scenes. A game that flashes lots of irrelevant movies may get on the player's nerves fast.
The length of the dialogs is another potential design pitfall. Most people enjoy snips of animation here and there rather than having to sit through a ten-minute sequence every time they accomplish something. An adventure game is supposed to make belief of a world the player can interact with, and any time that their control of this world is limited it takes away from the player this connection. There are appropriate times for flashy sequences such as when a player accomplishes a major feat, as well as severely inappropriate times such as when a player has yet to accomplish a damn thing. It is a rather obvious balance that should be maintained, but one that is often abused by designers looking to fill game time.
This is probably the most difficult aspect of a game to handle for any designer. Puzzles have to be integrated into a storyline that makes sense, are not too difficult, and are entertaining. Many times designers just revert to things that have already been tried. These include gathering and using inventory items, talking to characters, accomplishing small action tasks or quests for characters, and solving the dreaded logic or mechanical puzzles.
Puzzles of an unintuitive nature can bring down a game worse than anything else. The most annoying of these are logic puzzles brought on by the Myst generation. Personally, when I go out and buy something called an adventure game, I do not expect to have a calculator and notebook handy when I get home and play it. The heart of an adventure is not in deciphering codes, but being able to explore around and experience and evolve a story. It is the ability to enjoy rich characters and environments you choose that marks a limitation which other mediums do not allow. Myst has some semblance of a story, but its many clones usually have nothing other than the few words of setup to solve logic puzzles after logic puzzles. Those types of games are just simply puzzle collections and should not be called adventures. It is unfortunate that they have been loosely tied to the adventure genre and, in some cases, have become confused as games that define the genre itself. Any real game designer who has a story to tell should thoroughly examine the classic adventure games that so many of us have once enjoyed. The puzzles in those titles, although not always perfect, are at least part of an actual adventure, an actual experience.
These are my quick impressions of the major pitfalls which one must watch for in an adventure game. I believe both game players and designers should benefit greatly from the recognition of these tedium.