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Adventure Game Interfaces and Puzzle Theory 149

Posted by Soulskill
from the use-square-peg-on-round-hole dept.
MarkN writes "It seems like whenever broad topics of game design are discussed on Slashdot, a few people bring up examples of Adventure Games, possibly owing to the age and interests of our members. I'd be interested to hear the community's thoughts on a piece I wrote on Adventure Games, talking about the evolution they underwent in terms of interfaces, and how the choice of interface affects some aspects of the puzzles and design. My basic premise is that an Adventure Game is an exercise in abstract puzzle solving — you could represent the same game with a parser or a point and click interface and still have the same underlying puzzle structure, and required player actions. What the interface does affect is how the player specifies those actions. Point and click games typically have a bare handful of verbs compared to parser games, where the player is forced to describe the desired interaction much more precisely in a way that doesn't lend itself to brute force fiddling. It's a point Yahtzee has made in the past; he went so far as to design a modern graphic adventure game with a parser input to demonstrate its potential." Read on for the rest of MarkN's comments.
MarkN continues:
"In addition to talking about the underlying concepts of the genre, the other main thing I touch on are the consequences of the simplification of interfaces — puzzles are more likely to be cracked by trying everything until it works since there are fewer possibilities for interaction. There are a few simple alternatives: requiring a number of actions in sequence, or requiring the player to achieve a more complex configuration or state to demonstrate their intent. But that can reduce the world of puzzle solving to explicit logic puzzles in order to get around the problems that more creative types of puzzles run into, since they depend upon actions that are simpler to specify. It's a topic I'd be interested to get the community's thoughts on, and what they see as the best way to craft a puzzle solving experience."
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Adventure Game Interfaces and Puzzle Theory

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  • by Viol8 (599362) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 @06:24AM (#26130715)

    Most of them when I played them back in the 90s seemed to require the following player input:

    find monsters
    kill monsters

    level

    And then when you go to a high enough level

    find newbies
    kill newbies
    run from angry wizards

    And that was about it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by EdZ (755139)
      Replace 'monsters' with 'pirates', and 'angry wizards' with 'Concord', and you have Eve-Online.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 16, 2008 @07:15AM (#26130925)

        Don't replace anything and you have World of Warcraft.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Vee Schade (6806)

          Don't replace anything and you have World of Warcraft.

          Technically, WoW, as with most other MMOs like it, is a [computer] role-playing game (CRPG), not an adventure game.

          Adventure games are distinguished by their puzzle-solving and exploratory aspects, where exploration is a fundamental component of the puzzle solving.

          CRPGs, on the other hand, are distinguished by the player taking on some "bad-ass killing dude" persona and performing "quests" (aka "missions") -- which typically means playing the part of a "bad-ass killing dude" on behalf of a beleaguered NPC.

          • I think you've missed the point of the joke. More succinctly: "whoosh".
          • I thought we were going to talk about Rhindle, Grundle, and Yorgle, and that dam bat....

          • Most MUDs are also CRPG's with levels, equipment, quests/missions, et cetera. Little to no puzzle solving necessary. Thus they share more in common with World of Warcraft than they do with adventure games.

            Survival horror games (e.g., Resident Evil, Silent Hill, et cetera) even though they have a lot of first person or third person shooter characteristics actually have more in common with adventure games because of the perpetual "find key to open door and advance storyline" situation.

    • by Xest (935314) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 @07:13AM (#26130919)

      The funny thing is that that sounds exactly like most modern MMOs.

      It's nice to know that decades of experience amongst game designers has led us round in a complete circle but hey, it works, people enjoy it so I guess that's why. Personally though I can't help but think there is room for more interesting, more complex team-based puzzles in games, but I guess games like WoW particularly have to satisfy the lowest common denominator.

      • by morazor (1422819) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 @07:35AM (#26131009)
        I think it's just a matter of sales. A game satisfing the lowest common denominator has more potential players than a complex and difficult game. Developing a game has high expenses: low sales means failure. Many software houses making complex and deep games had to face financial problems.

        Some examples:
        Troika Games [wikipedia.org]
        Black Isle Studios [wikipedia.org]
        Sir-Tech [wikipedia.org]

        As a matter of fact, a lot of people enjoy playing games that doesn't require too much reasoning. The others still play Nethack or ADOM for the lack of new interesting and challenging games.
        • Poor Black Isle (Score:3, Interesting)

          by EgoWumpus (638704)

          If you want a really good comparison of interface versus depth of a game, compare Black Isle's Fallout 2 to Bethesda's Fallout 3. Fallout 3 fails to have any interesting puzzles, and very little character or plot depth. It's pretty enough, and a 3-d (if buggy) environment - and they did a good job with the real-time/turn-based hybrid interface. On the other hand, Fallout 2 is a pearl of humor and interesting character choices - not just a black and white, good versus bad spectrum.

          I hope we can get through t

        • by nobodylocalhost (1343981) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 @12:09PM (#26133365)

          I beg the differ, why then are games like zelda or portal so popular? The way i see it, people do like puzzles. Usually people would enjoy easy to medium difficulty puzzles with the occasional hard puzzles that actually gives them a sense of accomplishment.
          Also, help guides on the net is an obstacle because when puzzles get hard all the time, people tend to just cheat and look online rather than figure them out. Overtime, this turns into an automatic habit which turns lots of games into lookup and grind since it is better to grind than not being able to solve the puzzle. This issue can be avoided by using a randomized puzzle generator.
          Another problem is on the game development's side. More often than not, the games we play doesn't provide the players with enough obvious clues. Puzzles need to make themselves visible and intrigue the players rather than stay hidden all the time. For example, in doom you have to collect three brightly color coded keys to advance. Sometimes these keys will be in a hidden area, but the players know they have to find those keys.
          The final issue in games are immediate rewards. People like to grind usually isn't because grinding in itself being enjoyable. If you take away the exp, money, or item gained from grinding, I imagine very few would grind. The problem with puzzle solving in most game is that there's very few rewards associated to it. And even if they do, the reward usually isn't appropriate for the feat performed. Thus, people end up skipping the puzzles and go for the easiest way to obtain reward.
          In the end, i think online games would be much more enjoyable if these problems are addressed.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Lars T. (470328)

            I beg the differ, why then are games like zelda or portal so popular? The way i see it, people do like puzzles. Usually people would enjoy easy to medium difficulty puzzles with the occasional hard puzzles that actually gives them a sense of accomplishment.

            Sure. But how many times can you solve the same puzzle, and how many times can you fight the same (type) of monster before it gets booooring? And how much time has to go into designing either task? When you get payed each month if people still play your game (as with MMOs), which task will you put your money to?

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            Very few rewards to solving a difficult puzzle? I feel much more satisfied solving a puzzle and being able to progress than I do gaining exp, gold, or an item. I play a game to have fun, not to get virtual "rewards". In a puzzle game, when I solve something, it's because the problem was real and I was able to solve it. In an MMO or whatever, when I get an item...why should I be happy? My character has one more item in their inentory, but "I" haven't really gained anything from it.
        • by fugue (4373)

          But there certainly is a market for complex games. Chess is still popular (isn't it?), and weiqi is far more so. Sudoku is (are?) new and already ubiquitous, and I seem to recall that there are several hundred acres of crossword puzzles published daily in the USA. Other examples abound.

          It seems that there ought to be plenty of demand for complex computer games. Is there something about the target market for puzzle games that makes them hate having to use a computer? Is it novelty (new sudoku in the n

          • It seems to me that part of the problem is that a lot of this stuff is simple to code (OK, not some much chess AIs, but crosswords, Sudokus, and such). If the market is niche, and it's simple to code, it's usually just a web app available for free or a three dollar box game. Not much margins in that.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by mdarksbane (587589)

          You make it sound as though coordinating 25 people to determine and use the correct set of gear, talents, and abilities to deal with multiple complex challenges in real time is less complex than old adventure games and "appealing to the least common denominator."

          Combat, and especially the raid combat in MMO's, is as much of a puzzle as "puzzle" type games, it just uses different rules, and happens in a more stressful environment.

          Now, I'd like it too if they added some more complex non-real-time problem solv

          • Less complex? Probably not, but it's not comparable. You noted the more stressful environment. Something that I find refreshing about adventure games is the lack of pressure, and the fact that (in a well-written game, at least) the player is given all of the information and tools to solve the puzzle, rather than dealing with balky internet connections, unpredictable players, etc.
          • by TXG1112 (456055)

            If I wanted to coordinate 25 people in real time to solve complex problems under stressful conditions in my free time, I would simply stay later at work.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Xaoswolf (524554)
          Holy Crap! I knew there was something I was forgetting to install on my new laptop. Well, I'm off to download NetHack...
      • by AlXtreme (223728) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 @08:57AM (#26131371) Homepage Journal

        Personally though I can't help but think there is room for more interesting, more complex team-based puzzles in games, but I guess games like WoW particularly have to satisfy the lowest common denominator.

        The problem with puzzle quests in MUDs or MMO's is that it becomes very tempting to simply follow the walkthrough of someone who went before you.

        With adventure games the reward for completing the adventure is the knowledge that you completed the adventure without needing help. If you offer a benefit as a reward, that benefit becomes more important for many people. Thus, people will cheat simply to get the reward sooner. Which means you get left behind on the MMO treadmill if you want to do it on your own, giving you a disadvantage to those who look up the puzzle and get back to grinding boars.

        There is a reason why MMO quests are so simple. The more complicated they become, the larger the advantage becomes to those who look up the solution. I think only randomly generating puzzles will lead to a more challenging MMO game.

        • The more complicated they become, the larger the advantage becomes to those who look up the solution.

          I'd like to submit as a counterexample the Zelda series. To put my words in the right context: I have completed Twilight Princess two times (I own it), and my gf.ex[2] had Ocarina of Time, which I played most of a good while ago.

          For those of you who don't know (srsly? on /.?), it's single player. Your HP is measured on a scale from 12 to 80 (quarters of hearts), with most attacks inflicting 1 or 2 points of damage. You character "levels up" by finding items or by collecting hearts; you get a full heart container for beating a boss, and can find shards hidden in the bushes. The game has a fixed set of items: four bottles, a fishing rod, a bow plus arrows, a ball on a chain, a pair of iron boots, bombs etc., which you find at various story points; some of the bottles are hidden and found by off-storyline investigation, and some items or item enhancers (a bigger quiver) are found in side quests.

          Combat is fairly easy. Even for the bosses, you fairly quickly learn how to dodge their attacks and stay nigh-invulnerable, plus there's typically a big stack of hearts available if you look around. This minimizes the impact of gathering combat gear. [one exception is the Cave of Ordeals which is pure combat, tons of fun, and completely optional].

          That's for the character progression. It tends to be either (1) in lockstep with the story, or (2) not very important; something you do for completeness or (future) convenience.

          The main focus, not being on combat or character progression, is on solving puzzles. Each item has between (roughly) one and three important characteristics that outline how you use them. For instance, the iron boots make you heavy, slow and give you a lot of friction. The grappling hook lets you pull objects close to you, or you close to objects, and have a limited range; it also hits the object it impacts with and travels in a straight line. The bow hits the object it impacts with, doesn't move any object, has a limitless (for practical purposes) range but shoots in a parabolic curve.

          The trick is to figure out how to combine your items with your environment. In one dungeon, you jump and grab a hold of a handle hanging down from a ceiling, but nothing happens. If you put on the iron boots, you become heavy, pull the lever down, and activate something. In a later dungeon, you use the grappling hook to "jump" to a chandelier, then put on the iron boots to do the same trick.

          So, each object is fairly simple on its own, having typically only a single "wear" or "use" verb (and rarely both), but complexity arises from their combination and their interaction with the environment. I think that's a fairly good of building a rich system from simple components.

          The puzzles can get somewhat complex. For instance, there's a sliding block puzzle: some (~3) block reside on a frictionless ~6x6 chessboard with some squares cut off and walls on the edges; you can exert an axis-parallel force on a block, including from outside the board, but not from inside another block. Your goal is to move a subset of the blocks onto some marked squares. (think of sokoban with sticky arrowkeys and the player inside the walls if it helps you). They can get fairly demanding; less straightforward than "go kill diablo".

          Yet it's one of the highest ranked games at that site which averages out other reviews.

          How come?

          Well, the story itself is nice. It's fairly simple:

          SPOILER WARNING
          The villain kidnaps the princess
          SPOILERS END HERE ... but the characters are interesting and it's told in an interesting way.

          I posit this hypothesis: by emphasizing story progression and a sense of achievement (from solving puzzles) over greater combat ability (from MF'ing and tediously but trivially earned leveling), there's less to be gained from cheating--you're cheating yourself out of the feeling of accomplishment, and all your getting is a nice story and the possibility to cheat yourself in the future.

          • by Haoie (1277294)

            I suppose the emphasis on puzzles and the like is why some don't class Zelda titles as true role playing.

            Well granted the stories are better later on, but still. It's all about how you solve/do stuff.

          • by 7 digits (986730)

            > Yet it's one of the highest ranked games at that site which averages out other reviews.

            > How come?

            Well, the things is extremely well designed and executed. There are virtually no bugs. Story flows logically. The quality of the design is astounding (for instance, in the Minish Cap, you will go through the same level at different size, solving different puzzles with different items).

            I really think that Zelda works because of the quality of the design & attention to details.

      • Part of the problem with team-based puzzles is that they're very difficult to do in a persistent world. Once they're solved, they're solved. Do you put them back? The person who knows the solution is wandering around some place, and is free to post the solution on the Internet. If you don't, then players not at the cutting edge of the game essentially play clean-up -- assuming, of course, that one *has* a cutting edge. An ARG is essentially a kind of MMO - it has a persistent world that's shared amongst all

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Hatta (162192)

          That's not a problem with team based puzzles. That's a problem with persistent worlds.

        • by Xest (935314)

          Two examples that IMO worked in MMOs would be the puzzle chests in the PvP dungeon in UO (can't for the life of me remember the name now, began with K I think) and some of the master level challenges in Dark Age of Camelot's Trials of Atlantis expansion.

          The problem with the latter is that the execution was horribly, Mythic had a great idea with their ToA addon for DAoC but they rushed it to market and it felt like an early beta/late alpha on release, driving away massive amounts of their player base. It als

        • WoW has found the start of the solution to persistent world problem with "phasing". It's apparently used several places in the expansion, though I've only played it in the Death Knight start area. Essentially you complete several quests in a "phase" and that keys you to move on the next phase, with the stuff you've done staying done. They use instance technology to make it work. Unfortunately it's still pretty limited, the quests in each phase are still static, and your social interactions are mostly l

    • by QuantumG (50515) *

      Oh dear. Ya know, there still are plenty of good MUDs out there. It's never too late.

      A lot were just hack and slash, yes, and plenty fun regardless, but there were plenty that had interesting puzzles and could be played by non-tanking characters.

    • Bah! Kids these days!

      When I played them they seemed to require the following player input:
      plugh
      use brass lantern
      drop no tea

      There were no levels, but you still had to run from angry wizards every now and then.

    • Some MUDs, like New Moon [pdx.edu], have quests.

      They give more XP than beating other players up. You have to find something funny in the game and fix it.

      The problem is that many of them require exacting syntax. For example, "search box" will work while "search boxes" will not.

      It reminds me of those old Sierra *'s Quest games.

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      When I helped run a MUD, we definately added real adventure style puzzles to it, and a lot of exploration, so that there was more than just "kill monsters, sell loot, level up". Later I was disappointed to find walkthroughs on the net... The simplified kill/level style didn't seem too interesting to us, and yet that became the mainstream when the graphical MMOs arrived.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 16, 2008 @06:36AM (#26130763)

    I once had a similar debate while discussing with a guy who was doing a nethack port on the Game Boy Advance platform.

    Nethack is a keyboard-driven game, where you specify actions (go, eat, attack, loot, force, open, close, zap...) by pressing a given key before you specify the object upon which your action is performed (if any), thus taking advantage of the large number of keys available on an average keyboard.

    Console RPGs have a limitation in input keys : on the game boy advance, you only have 8 useful keys (directional pad, A, B, left and right shoulder keys).

    So porting nethack to the Game Boy Advance platform required either simulating the keyboard in some way, which was the approach of the guy I was talking to, or defining a different interaction paradigm.

    In console RPGs you usually specify objects before you specify actions. The reason is simple: objects, displayed as a list, are easy and fast to browse with directional keys. Then for one object you select, you get to select which actions is available for performing on that object, once more a small list, fast to browse with few keys.

    So I ended up figuring out that the best way to port nethack was to actually invert the interaction paradigm, going from action->object to object->action.

    For the player, it meant that the game would be played in very different ways. You don't think "what am I going to do now?" but "what can I use at this point to do something?" Still, the game engine is the same...

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ubrgeek (679399)
      When I was a kid (30'ish years ago) my brother and I would go to the arcade, primarly to watch the older kids play games (I was terrible at them, so it was interesting to watch.) There were a handful that always struck me as the most interesting and those were the ones with the unique interfaces: Centipede and Missle Command, because of the trackball, Tempest because of scrolling wheel (which reminded me of Pong) and some kind of crossbow game where the player grabbed a replica crossbow. But there was one
    • by Ksempac (934247) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 @08:00AM (#26131113)
      Not to be mean, but have you ever played Nethack seriously ?
      What you say is wrong because, Nethack doesnt limit you, you can try any action with any object (it may lead to nothing but at least you can try to do it). You select an action, it suggests obvious choices but you can also try everything else.
      For example, if you want to "wield a weapon" (== "equip a weapon"), the game suggest items that obviously qualify as weapons (sword, bow, ...) but if you want to wield another object such as a potion, a monster corpse, or anything else, you can do it and you may discover interesting effects with this.
      My point is, if you go from action->object to object->action, you would still have to display all the objects available and then display all the actions available : you didn't reduce choice or the difficulty to navigate the interface at all.
      • by bar-agent (698856)

        My point is, if you go from action->object to object->action, you would still have to display all the objects available and then display all the actions available : you didn't reduce choice or the difficulty to navigate the interface at all.

        True. And even if the action doesn't do anything right now, it might in different circumstances, or change the way other things interact with you.

        Still, I think its useful to go object->action. For one thing, you probably have fewer actions than objects, so the

        • by SQLGuru (980662)

          Powder: http://www.zincland.com/powder/ [zincland.com] -- it's for the PocketPC, you can get the emulators from Microsoft if you want to see what it's like.

          This game is similar to Nethack in play but has an interface that would probably work on the GBA (shoulder keys rotate through the menu, B to activate the menu, directions to move, and A to "do").

          Layne

      • by genner (694963)

        if you go from action->object to object->action, you would still have to display all the objects available and then display all the actions available : you didn't reduce choice or the difficulty to navigate the interface at all.

        From a pratical standpoint you would have to limit the players actions to the obvious.
        Now you know why console RPG's always seem to be dumbed down.

        • by Ksempac (934247)
          Then you wouldn't port Nethack, you'd make a Nethack-inspired game that wouldn't be Nethack. The whole point of Nethack is having a seemingly "open" gameplay : tons of availables actions, your imagination is most often than not the limit.
          Hell, Nethack's motto is "if you think something is possible, do it, the devs probably thought it about it before". Actually, limitating you to the obvious would probably prevent you from finishing the game (which is already insanely hard as it is).
          However, mentioning Ne
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Sancho (17056) *

        Pedantic Man to the rescue!

        You cannot attempt to [W]ear most items in Nethack. If you type W with no armor available, it will tell you that you don't have anything else to wear. Similarly, you cannot [P]ut On non-accessory items--if you type P and have no accessories, it will tell you that you don't have anything to put on. It doesn't even give you the option to select an item. [q]uaffing works similarly.

        If you have an item of the appropriate type, and you type P, q, or W, and you select an item of an i

    • by Viol8 (599362) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 @08:09AM (#26131153)

      "So I ended up figuring out that the best way to port nethack was to actually invert the interaction paradigm, going from action->object to object->action."

      So you translated it into German!

    • by STrinity (723872)
      I've always thought it'd be neat to turn the Zork series into a top-down Zelda style game.
  • by mvanvoorden (861050) <mvanvoorden@NoSPam.gmail.com> on Tuesday December 16, 2008 @06:57AM (#26130857)
    I really miss the interfaces the older adventure games used, like Police Quest 1 and 2, Space Quest 1 and 2, Leisure Suit Larry 1-3, and the other Sierra adventures from that time. Just walking around, and typing instructions. Of course this could be modernised by using voice commands, but I like it better than just clicking around on everything until the right thing is clicked.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by HungryHobo (1314109)

      I play Discworld Mud. Text based online game based on the discworld books.
      Kind of interesting to me since I grew up after text games went out of fashion.

    • Leisure Suit Larry 7 had both, in a sense. You could interact with something, and it would give you a list of actions. If you didn't like them, you could type in your own. I really don't think the clicking/vs typing argument holds much weight. It's really all about the quality of the puzzles. You can still randomly try out commands The frustrating thing about some older adventure games to me is that you'd know how to solve a given puzzle, but you'd have to "fiddle" with the command in order to get it
    • by Hatta (162192)

      The old style parser adventure games grew out of the text adventure tradition, also known as interactive fiction. Many of the great old adventures have been liberated, and people are still writing new ones. You can find enough text adventures to keep you occupied for ages at the if-archive [ifarchive.org].

      I'd also recommend tracking down a copy of The Lost Adventures of Legend [mobygames.com]. It contains 8 great graphic adventures that lie somewhere in between a text adventure and the "3d animated adventures" from Sierra.

  • Nice article, good points. Fiddling with the different option to obtain the right combination can be fun (monkey island)
    But a major way of improving gameplay would be to have multiple ways of solving the puzzles. For example the closed door, you could:
    -open it with a key
    -use a crowbar
    -ask a NPC to open it
    -open it from the other side
    etc.

    It would make the decision tree more complex, but more fun. The game could adapt/react to your action, making it more replay-able. A simple example is Indiana Jones fate of a

    • by Culture20 (968837)
      King's Quest V(?) was deviously annoying in that respect. You could cast a spell that needed gold, and you could use either the easy to find gold needle (which you need later), or a difficult to find gold coin.
  • by biscuitlover (1306893) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 @07:29AM (#26130985)

    I think one of the biggest hurdles with adventure games, which the article touches on, is the fact that it's hard to make a complex world that is still easy to navigate.

    For example, I love the idea of Sherlock Holmes games but often they devolve into a laborious click frenzy where you start investigating every object in the environment in the hope that it will be somehow relevant.
    Similarly, how many people here have played Resident Evil and spent a lot of time walking awkwardly against the walls while mashing the X button?

    I think the most successful adventure games are those that can make their world seem at once complex and immersive yet still easy to navigate and explore without becoming an exercise in endless clicking frustration.

    • For example, I love the idea of Sherlock Holmes games but often they devolve into a laborious click frenzy where you start investigating every object in the environment in the hope that it will be somehow relevant...I think the most successful adventure games are those that can make their world seem at once complex and immersive yet still easy to navigate and explore without becoming an exercise in endless clicking frustration.

      I have fond memories of King's Quest VI because of that. It was a graphical, "click on stuff" game, but at the same time, you didn't just click everywhere around the screen in the hopes something would be useful. Things that you were meant to interact with were always obvious: the puzzle wasn't finding things for your inventory, the puzzle was about discovering what to do with things you obviously needed to interact with.

      The only thing they could have done better was to remove the DRM that was common at

      • by bzzzt (313005)

        Having to look up stuff in the manual is DRM?

        • Having to look up stuff in the manual is DRM?

          I was being facetious by calling it DRM, but it was the copy protection of the day, it was also annoying, and it was also ineffective.

  • My basic premise is that an Adventure Game is an exercise in abstract puzzle solving -- you could represent the same game with a parser or a point and click interface and still have the same underlying puzzle structure, and required player actions. What the interface does affect is how the player specifies those actions. Point and click games typically have a bare handful of verbs compared to parser games, where the player is forced to describe the desired interaction much more precisely in a way that doesn

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Aladrin (926209)

      "clicking your hand icon on a tree isn't much different than 'climb tree.'"

      I disagree. Clicking your hand icon on a tree could mean innumerable things, some of which I might never think of. 'Climb tree' 'pat tree' 'touch tree' 'rub tree' 'get bark' etc etc.

      So a graphical game will inadvertently hold your hand and help you along, where a text parser makes you figure it out.

      Don't get me wrong, I like both kinds of games. Hero's Quest and QFG 1 VGA were both great games. But clicking and typing aren't the

      • by murdocj (543661)

        If you want to see how well done a graphical interface can be with puzzles, get The Longest Journey. It's close to 10 years old now, so the graphics are dated, but it has really really really good puzzles. It's a great example of how an adventure game can work really well with a point and click interface. I'm surprised that Yahtzee didn't mention it.

        Personally, I don't miss the demise of trying lots and lots and lots of words in a text adventure until you find out what word was coded into the program.

        • by Aladrin (926209)

          I've played it. And while I enjoyed it, I didn't enjoy it as much as even older games like the QFG series and the Myst series (some of which is newer than TLJ.) As I remember, a lot of the puzzles were of the 'oh, I'll just randomly click items on other items' variety.

      • What you're describing is fighting with the parser. And that's what I was getting at in my first paragraph; the PnC interface limits you, as there are no modifiers. In HQ, you *could* do things like touch the tree, and expect a description of how it feels. With a PnC, you're spending as much time figuring out what the developers might have the interface do as what you're supposed to do.

        Of course, with a text parser, you're spending lots of time figuring out which magic combination of keywords it's lookin

  • by petes_PoV (912422) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 @07:55AM (#26131089)
    There's no way to discover, on your own, that there are magic words, let alone work out what they will do or where they may be applied.

    For that reason, adventure games are more than mere problem / puzzle solving games. They require of the player some skills to hack around inside the source (or to know someone who has) to get the most out of them.

    As for versions written since the early 80's - I haven't a clue. They all seem to be variations on the earlier theme, so once the (original) problem had been solved, they held no interest for me.

    • A while back, I read some site that had the synopsis and solutions to all the old adventure games...Planetfall, Zork, and so on. I didn't mind spoiling them, I will never play them. I was astounded at the number of XYZZY type things in those games - just stuff that I would ever think of, ever, not in a million years. The only way to win was to brute force your way through the game, or make a lucky guess. Fast forward to today, when the puzzles are straight lines with signs marked the whole way, and bloc
      • by Hatta (162192)

        The only way to win was to brute force your way through the game, or make a lucky guess. Fast forward to today, when the puzzles are straight lines with signs marked the whole way, and blocks to prevent you from doing anything wrong.

        And somewhere in the middle lies the golden age of adventure games. When Sierra and LucasArts were king. It's all about balance.

      • by pavon (30274)

        The only way to win was to brute force your way through the game, or make a lucky guess.

        For the most part, I'd disagree with that. There was some trial and error, sure, but there was almost always some logic to the puzzle, and most of the puzzles I ended solving with "aha" moments as opposed to finally trying the right random combination.

        I don't know if these were the same, but a lot of the solution manuals that I have read present the fastest or easiest method of finishing the game, which is often counter-intuitive, and not the way one would naturally figure out the puzzle. They usually pipel

    • by Gulthek (12570)

      > xyzzy
      A hollow voice says "Fool."

  • by mgiuca (1040724) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 @09:11AM (#26131437)

    A very good article. The author knows his adventure games.

    The whole concept of "the underlying game is the same, just presented through a different interface" isn't really true. I find that the different interfaces make way to whole different sub-genres of game.

    For instance, consider the point-and-click style Sierra / Monkey Island games, in which you have many verbs and inventory. Such games tend to be very much object based and character based. All of the puzzles are about either a) using the right object in the right way with the right target, or b) choosing the right dialogue path.

    Compare this to the first-person Myst-style games, which are all left-click based. No inventory, only a single verb. Well these kind of games tend to have very few characters for one thing. The character interaction is usually limited to cutscenes, as opposed to dialogue trees. The puzzles tend to be more mechanical (figuring out how to make certain devices work) rather than purely logical. The solutions tend to be more about what this author calls "implicit information" - having to write down passwords rather than carrying keycards.

    For example, consider that you are stuck in a locked room. In Myst, you will probably see some kind of complex lock mechanism, and have to figure out its controls, and how the device works, and then "hack" the device to open the door. In Monkey Island, you will probably be interacting more with the environment; have to use some item you find in the room or already have in your inventory, or bribe the guard by choosing the correct dialogue.

    I think the interface directly influences the style of gameplay. For example, the Monkey Island interface is nowhere near complex enough to let you figure out the workings of a locking mechanism in the Myst style, and nor does the Myst interface have the ability to let you use items on the environment or have a conversation with a guard.

    • by Hatta (162192)

      Exactly. It's barely appropriate to call Myst an adventure game, when it's really just a series of logic puzzles. A real adventure game is more about plot, character, and interaction with a rich virtual world.

      • by mgiuca (1040724)

        Sorry, but I disagree with you there. Myst is just as much a descendant of Colossal Cave as Day of the Tentacle is. It's just that Myst eschewed the complex verbs for simple clicks and interaction with complex visual interfaces instead.

        As I said, it's a subgenre.

        You seem to have a problem with Myst as a game. So you could say "it's not a very good adventure game", but you can't throw it out of the genre!

        As BigCow already said in reply to you, Myst certainly has plot, character and interaction with a rich vi

        • by Hatta (162192)

          You seem to have a problem with Myst as a game. So you could say "it's not a very good adventure game", but you can't throw it out of the genre!

          There's nothing wrong with Myst as a game, except that it's not DotT. In fact, it's one of the best puzzle games there is. The addition of cutscenes is nice, but that doesn't make it an adventure game any more than Quake 4 is an adventure game because it has a plot and characters.

          • by mgiuca (1040724)

            There's nothing wrong with Myst as a game, except that it's not DotT.

            Well of course Myst isn't an adventure game if your definition of adventure games is "Day of the Tentacle".

            Clearly we, as individuals, can define "adventure game" however we like. But the commonly accepted definition encompasses games from Zork to Day of the Tentacle to Myst. Now we're just arguing over definitions.

  • by One Monkey (1364919) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 @09:33AM (#26131637)
    I think it's more likely a lack of imagination on the part of designers. The fact is the basic building blocks of the design are fundamental.

    Stephen Poole made the point that the more things Lara Croft became capable of in the Tomb Raider games (climbing ladders, auto aiming etc.) the more bizarre it seemed that she couldn't use the rocket launcher to blow wooden doors off their hinges.

    I think a lot of times the reason puzzles devolve into an endless series of finding blue keys for blue doors is not so much because of an inherent problem in the interface but more because the designers can't be bothered to think of creative uses for that interface. Not saying that I can necessarily but nobody complains that you can solve Sudoku puzzles with a bruteforce online tool. The point and fascination for the participant is that it's more entertaining to do it without just cheating.

    If your game isn't entertaining enough even if someone knows every answer ahead of time it sure as hell isn't going to be made more so by the addition of High IQ required brain busters.
  • I implemented an LP-MUD like driver for use on web pages as seen here [dutchpipe.org], and both typed commands and click commands can be used. Each web page becomes a "location". The typed commands are geared towards power users but at the same time is the engine for the graphical interface. Effectively, you can type "open door" or you can click on the door and select "open door" from the menu. By default, you get a chat line when you press TAB, and commands are preceded by a / ("/say hello", "/get key") although you can s
    • Just because you keep the list of possible actions in your head instead of in a menu doesn't make it any less brute force playing a text adventure. It's game quality, not format, which reduces the appearance of "brute force" nature.

      "stick string into clay" after trying everything else is no less brute force than clicking on the string, then clicking on the clay, then selecting from "stick, tie to, cut with, " etc.

      The only difference is in one, you get to see instantly what the developer hasn't thought of, w

      • The difference is still there in that you have to think of the action or "perfectly logical" option on our own in the text version, while the graphical interface will give spoilers because it makes you choose between different options.
  • by tjstork (137384)

    That they killed Floyd. Man, that just crushed my whole life. I haven't been right since... that shaky, almost annoying robot, so brave so suddenly, about to go into that room. Planetfall, you broke my soul.

  • "Mirror."
    "So I should run? Okay."
    "No, no, no, don't, no..."
    [runs in circles]
    "What are you doing? Oh, you're really, really, really stupid. Huh!"

    "Case."
    "Are you talking about this?"
    "Yes. Trunk."
    "So I should run?"
    "No, don't run!"
    "Okay."
    [runs in circles]
    "Don't run, don't run, don't run. Stop, stop, stop, stop."

    "Trunk."
    "Yes."
    "Wh-- no, trunk. Trunk!"
    "I am walking."
    "I don't want you to walk! Trunk."
    "I am walking."
    "Trunk!"
    "I am walking."

    "Camera."
    "It's just an antique."
    "Do what I tell you!"
    "Can you at least try to

    • Ahhh, I've always wanted to try that game. I have one of those kinds of voices that people say has very good diction, and I've wanted to see if the voice recognition would work for me when it doesn't for others. My mother, who has Rheumatoid arthritis, couldn't use voice recognition because she has one of those voices that doesn't work well with it. I told her to enunciate better but she simply couldn't.

    • by rkanodia (211354)

      Man, that game was a hoot.

      Game: Do you ever feel like you're not really alive?
      Me: I'm a zombie!
      Game: What?
      Me: ZOMMMMMBIIIIIE!

  • by grumbel (592662) <grumbel@gmx.de> on Wednesday December 17, 2008 @12:36AM (#26141851) Homepage

    Considering adventure games just as a series of puzzles is really missing the whole point. The main objective of adventure game is to tell a story, the puzzles are merely a way to engage the player into the world, not a means to an end. And the important part isn't really if you have one or three verbs, but how well the puzzles integrate into the gaming world and how believable they are, many of todays games fail at that, leaving the player with awkward puzzles (tape mobile phone to cat).

    Another thing is that the three verb interface didn't just reduce the number of verbs, but it made the verbs more organic. In The Longest Journey or Full Throttle for example you don't have explicit verbs, but body parts. You have a "hand" action, a "mouth" action and a "eye" action for example. "Mouth" is not only used for talking, but also for drinking potions or sucking on a hose to get fuel out of a tank. So the whole game becomes a matter of combining objects instead of applying specific verbs to objects.

A holding company is a thing where you hand an accomplice the goods while the policeman searches you.

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