What's so great about adventure games?

Matt Barton's picture

I received a notification today that Google is about to shutter Reader, so in my quest for finding a replacement (I ended up with Feedly), a blog post from Rampant Coyote caught my eye. He features the new trailer for Broken Age, which I must say just doesn't impress me as much as I hoped it would. Then Jay talks about how he has plenty of unfinished adventure games on his shelf now, just as he did back in 92. Like Jay, I also tended to give up on many adventure games, only finishing LucasArts classics like Monkey Island and a few other series such as Myst, Broken Sword, Gabriel Knight, etc.

For Jay, strong characters is the most important criteria. I definitely think that's a factor in the LucasArts games such as Day of the Tentacle or Sam & Max. Can you imagine how dull those games would be if they used one of those "everyman" cardboard characters that most adventure games prefer? Sadly, I notice that in most modern adventure games, the smart-mouthed ne'er-do-well has been done to death. It's not a bad character to play, but it does get old. I'd love to encounter characters that surprised me as much as Ash did from the Evil Dead/Army of Darkness movies--i.e., a character that you totally makes the movie (or game) and elevates what would otherwise be utterly forgettable into a cult classic. I don't know about you, but when I try to think of really memorable videogame characters, I have to struggle a lot harder than if I were making a list of TV show characters. There's just too strong a temptation, I guess, to copy what's been done to death or (worse) do that "everyman" thing where you strip the player character of anything resembling a personality.

I'd have to say that Jay's #4 (euphoria of solving puzzles) is probably #1 for me with this genre. I love a game like Safe Cracker, for instance, that has tons of fun puzzles and not a lot of boring dialog to sit through. The Nancy Drew games I enjoy are also like that--just enough dialog and story to make them interesting, but the focus is on great puzzles that are actually fun to solve. Lesser games I've played try too hard to spin a big narrative, and usually fall pretty flat--you're sitting there, waiting, and just hoping they'll shut up so you can play again. I find that most adventure game designers seem to think they are MUCH wittier and funnier than they actually are, and they'd be better off if a savage editor came along and wiped half their dialog.

Most of my favorite adventure games know when to shut up and let the player take control. Take a game like Scratches, for instance. I really enjoyed this, mostly because the game doesn't constantly take you out of the immersion to sit through a dialog. Probably my favorite of the recent slew of adventures, though, is The Walking Dead adventure game. It's just fabulous, and by the time it does get dialog-heavy, you've actually come to care about what's being said, and you can always interact less if you don't care about a character.

What do you think of Broken Age so far? Is it this generation's Grim Fandango?


Rowdy Rob
Rowdy Rob's picture
Joined: 09/04/2006
Adventure: The Toughest Genre to Design?

Thanks to your link, I went ahead and read Jay's blog post about adventure games. Many of the points he discusses are things I can identify with, especially the part about not completing (or even playing) many adventure games after the mid-1990's era.

Can you think of a tougher genre to design for than the adventure genre? Adventure games are inherently story-driven, so you have to have an involving story with intriguing (and attractive) characters. Heck, that's make-or-break right there! Then, you also have to have an interface that allows the player to perform complex actions in an intuitive fashion. You must also, by modern standards, have attractive graphics, great audio, and (hopefully) professional voice actors.

Most importantly, the puzzles have to be perfectly balanced between logical and brain-flexing, while still fitting the overall narrative of the story.

With (most) other gaming genres, there's a general template to follow. FPS's, you basically have to run around and shoot things. Racing games? RTS's? RPG's? There are basic templates to follow, even if they are hard to get totally right. And in most of these genre's, you can keep replaying until you become skilled enough to "beat" a certain "level."

With adventure games, the narrative must be totally involving, or else you don't have a game. A racing game can have better "racing," a shooter can have better "shooting," but how can an adventure have better "adventuring?" (That's a whole can of worms right there...)

The thing about adventure games is that they intimidate me. I can't think of many (or any) adventures off the top of my head where I was able to play to completion on my own. There's always that "brick wall.' I almost pulled the trigger and purchased a few of the "Telltale" games on GoG recently, but the fear of the "brick wall" holds me back. I don't like consulting walkthroughs, because that's cheating, but in adventure games, it's a requirement for speck-brains like me. But then you find out that a) it was a "crackhead" puzzle that no one would logically solve, or b) the solution was obvious, and therefore you're a complete imbecile.

Speaking of "Walking Dead," it sounds like that game is doing something a bit different than other adventure games. While most adventure games focus on puzzles, it sounds like "Walking Dead" focuses a lot on narrative. Your actions might not end the game, but they will definitely change the narrative in later episodes! That sounds like quite a groundbreaking addition to the adventure genre to me.

It just seems like it would be extremely tough to design a great adventure game. There are so many factors that can go wrong in this genre.

Mark Vergeer
Mark Vergeer's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006
Adventure games, narrative, getting stuck...

Adventure games are a great genre, I love a good story and indeed the narrative has to be very good otherwise the game just won't work. I too found it harder to complete and finish the later generation adventure games but that doesn't necessarily have to do with the games themselves but perhaps more with me not being able to invest prolonged continuous stretches of my time in a game experience due to being a grown up having multiple responsibilities.

Getting stuck is something that is an integral part of an adventure game and it's fun and quite rewarding to find out you're clever enough to beat the impasse and continue. If you have enough time on your hands that's not a problem but as an adult one constantly has to get in and out of the game world making the 'being stuck' bit often one of the bits where the game ends up getting put back on the shelf unfinished. So is there an inherit game mechanic in those games that make them unfinishable?

I love reading, movies and an adventure game that is an experience like that without the getting stuck bit - I never get stuck in a movie or a good book unless the plot is too nasty and convoluted and I finished those 100%. I still love adventure games but I find I have less tolerance for unnecessarily getting stuck on some stupid puzzle that prevents me from completing the game/experience. So that's my reason for not completing adventure games as much as I want to.

Then there are the games where the story is disappointing and doesn't captivate me enough to want to continue. Don't get me wrong I totally hate putting away a book not finishing it or no finish watching a movie and I usually end up watching or reading a bad one at least once but with games I find myself much less tolerant and willing to put up with crap.


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