Off Topic: The Challenge of Adventure Games

Good Youtubers re: Adventure Games:

PushingUpRoses

Pixelmusement

Cannot be Tamed

So I’m working through a bit of a nostalgia trip at the moment, playing through a few, and also absorbing as much Youtube content of old Sierra Adventure games. I very much grew up with these games, Kings Quest, Space Quest, Quest for Glory and of course Leisure Suit Larry. I also much enjoyed the likes of Monkey Island and even Hugo’s House of Horrors.

Something funny about looking back is I always kinda took it for granted that these games were often ridiculously hard, or more specifically almost always needed a walkthrough, but I never questioned such difficulty.

Learning up, I’ve heard a couple of interesting terms “walking dead” often refers to an aspect of adventure games where due to some earlier misfortune or even more banal, simply failing to pick up some item or help some individual means you’ve failed the game, but might not realize until later. This was very common in early adventure games where often later puzzles required the use of an item that could only be collected at an earlier stage.

The other term is “moon logic” a great phrase referring to the often bizarre or esoteric solutions to puzzles that some adventure games had that leave players scratching their heads (or throwing monitors out windows). Probably the most extreme example I can bring to mind is Space Quest 2, where in one section after successfully entering a swamp you must find one area to dive underwater – this area has no visually distinct signals and is literally just a random patch in three screens of identical swamp water. ALSO you must remember to type (this was an ancient text entry game) to take a breath before swimming otherwise you’d perish.

Now I could probably ramble about these challenges on their own merits, but what struck me about these issues was that I kinda found myself wondering what that alternatives are.

Don’t get me wrong, ‘walking death’ is probably more of a design flaw BUT the idea of needing having items and puzzles connected across the game seems like a pretty important point (I have recently played through KQ7 which interestingly almost eliminated the risk of ‘walking death’ and there was a sense of simplicity to the puzzles). This was an RPG but I remember Ultima 8 has a function where it wouldn’t save your game if you were stuck (man did it take a long time to save your game).

When it comes to Moon Logic, obviously there is a bit of a problem. Adventure games can very quickly become ridiculously out of control if there is are obscure references or potentially the unusual psychological bias of transparency (believing that what you know is obvious – so if game makers know the puzzle answers they will overestimate how easily players will too).

And I think this is where a major challenge for adventure games arises – create problems that are too simple, or even just well explained or references, players are probably going to destroy the game in seconds and feel like its for rookies. Adventure games are particularly troublesome because unlike other game genres the mechanics are almost universally not skills or luck based. (Yes I know that many adventure games have examples of RNG, and some even have quick-time (sort of) events but very broadly speaking adventure games mechanics are about puzzle solving. All the different ways adventures games do this (inventory, logic, dialogue trees) is probably a post in itself but the nature of the games is less about quick decisions, skilful use of abilities, or RPG grinding (actually Quest for Glory has this and is glorious) and more about thoughtful consideration.

This is where a catch-22 or paradox comes in. Almost all single player games have difficulty progression, e.g. starting easy and progressively becoming harder as players learn and master mechanics, this is pretty much a mainstay of gaming. However for adventure games the wheels can come off a bit, what are you going to do, have more moony logic puzzles, more complexity, more death (death is a weird one in adventure games and its often more of an annoyance than a major stake – so having more probable death towards the conclusion of a game makes it more annoying rather than higher stakes).

Even without difficulty progression, hitting the Goldilocks rules for adventure games is a tricky matter. For some specific examples Kings Quest 5 is (allegedly) renowned for being a pain in the arse but having several inventory tasks where specific people had to be given specific items – but you never get told who wants what (and you can give the wrong thing to the wrong person and become the walking dead) whereas Kings Quest Seven pretty much has any character who wants something just outright tell you what they’re after – which is unfortunately a little simple.

When developing adventure games there are really an infinite number of considerations: how close should puzzles be (e.g. will you have items from the beginning of the game needed for the end) will puzzles be based on in-game knowledge? (something irritating KQ7 does is require you to get advice from other characters about certain puzzles before you can necessarily do the puzzles, not great for a replay). How referential can you get? Most of the Kings Quest games have puzzles referencing fairy tales.

Something interesting about Adventure games is they kinda peaked in the 90s and then seemed to disappear basically in the world of Shoot-em-ups and WOW, however I think thanks to game development becoming somewhat more fraught and unreliable, and Indie gaming so much more accessible adventure games are coming back.

This is a good think because I think other that nostalgia dosing what I like about Adventure Games is the focus on story in a unique way, you sort of get character, lore, world-building and decisions all rolled into one package.

Anyway just a brief off-topic for yas. Tell me do you like adventure games – do you have any egregious examples of Moon Logic or Walking dead?

Check out the links up top and let me know if you have any other good channels or blogs to follow!

3 thoughts on “Off Topic: The Challenge of Adventure Games

  1. Pingback: Off Topic: The Challenge of Adventure Games — Lonely Power Poles – Thought Attempts

  2. I’ll have to check out those channels.

    Most of the old Sierra games were a bit like Dark Souls in that they expected you to try things, die, try again. As you say, death was treated as a minor annoyance (or an excuse for more bad jokes if you’re Space Quest), and sometimes dying was the only way to learn about a situation. You learned to pick up everything to prevent “dead man walking” scenarios. By King’s Quest 5, players had been trained to be “save scumming” kleptomaniacs, so the developers had to try harder to make it impossible with proto-quick-time-events.

    The worst offender was the rat – you had a random event with a short time frame, where you had to a) notice that something was happening, b) figure out how to act, and c) take that action. If you failed, you were a dead man walking.

    I think part of the reason behind this is that Sierra made a substantial amount off hint books. An adventure game released today must necessarily work differently, because internet.

    King’s Quest 7 was released in 1994!?! Welp, better sign up for my zimmer frame…

    Liked by 1 person

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