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Why Adventure Games Suck (1989) (grumpygamer.com)
150 points by networked 73 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 104 comments



Interesting and amusing read. Of course Ron Gilbert is a well-known authority on Adventure Games, but the original Old Man Murray article is even better (and funnier). In case anyone hasn't read it yet: "Who Killed Adventure Games?" http://www.oldmanmurray.com/features/77.html

(As an amusing aside, point-and-click adventure games were considered to be for "clever" gamers in 90s Spain and Latin America; gamers who mocked action games as simplistic. But there was nothing "clever" or "cerebral" about most adventure games; they were mostly arbitrary and nonsensical. And fun, of course!)

Before I read the Old Man Murray article I was already frustrated with (some) adventure games, even though I absolutely loved the Space Quest series (the original, 16 colors and text input!), and of course Interactive Fiction (aka text adventures). IF games in particular had something of a rennaissance some years (or decades?) ago and they evolved into something way more complex and with better UX than what we remember from the old Zork days.


Interesting thing about life in the 90s without internet is that we were able to consume something without being part of any larger culture around it.

I loved and played a lot of adventure games. All LucasArts' and a few others. I never even heard of this cultural trace of adventure gamers thinking of themselves as more clever and looking down to action games players.

For me it just something easier to play because it didn't depend on reflex or accuracy (I was never good those types of games) and I liked the story. I am the type who loves cutscenes up to today. In any game.


I learned about this phenomenon (looking down I mean) from the forums of Home of the Underdogs, which gathered people from all over the world. This was 2004 I believe. But also from magazines we got from Spain. For some reason adventure and text adventures were really big in Spain, and along with it the notion (in their subcommunities) that action games were for the "dumber" crowd.

It wasn't a vicious sentiment, like you would have nowadays, just a feeling of superiority from adventure gamers. They also reacted fiercely when game designers started introducing action gameplay in adventure games, creating action/adventure hybrids. The feeling was that they were "dumbing down" adventure games. Which, if you read the Old Man Murray article, is of course a hilarious notion.

I loved adventure games too! As I said, I cut my teeth with the original (and punishing) Space Quest series, and to this day I have fond memories of it. I also learned quite a bit of English from the series :)


Me too, I learned a lot of English. I would play Monkey Island and Indiana Jones with a dictionary on the side.

I remember taking hours in one of the first King Quests, that used typed text input, that the right verb was to "pick-up' a cup. Not take, not get, which were the only ones I knew at the time for picking up things.


Especially confusing since "get" to my knowledge has been the conventional keyword used for this action in the vast majority of parser games and MUDs (maybe "take" in some cases, but "pick-up"? Really?). I'm a native English-speaker and that still probably would have stumped me for a while.


Since "pick up" should not be hyphenated, as a native English speaker I don't think I would have ever guessed it!


That's probably on me though, not the original game. Let's keep in mind that this is a memory from ~30 years ago, so not that reliable in general


Back then, when there was no internet (or it wasn't widespread), Sierra On-Line games were vicious. Not only the wrong action meant instea-death, hope-you-have-a-savegame, but they were also sometimes impenetrable in an age where there weren't internet forums to ask for help. (There were hint books you had to buy, which in my mind were a scam).

For example, in Space Quest 2 there was a puzzle where some strange creatures tell you that in order for them to open a passage, you just had to "say the word". Keep in mind I was just learning English back then. The answer was you had to literally type "the word".


Ah, the old "Speak, friend, and enter" of Tolkien fame.


That isolation really contributed to a sense of wonder & discovery for me. The growth of game guides and later the internet pulled back the curtain, so to speak.

Not all bad of course. The dev console in Oblivion both broke me of my video game habits & got me interested in programming.


The console is still a must-have part of most Bethesda games. Was just playing Fallout 4 last night, no mods, and things bugged out bad enough to run to the console...


Man, LucasArts' 90's games were the best! I have vivid memories of feeling totally immersed in Monkey Island and Loom in particular.

Do you have any recent favorites with a similar feel?


I really enjoyed "Thimbleweed Park" also by Ron Gilbert.

It came out a couple of years ago, the look and feel is just like the old ones, the humour as well. I was completely immersed.


About a decade ago or so, there was a spate of fan-made games using the free Adventure Game Studio. I recall fondly Yahtzee's "7 Days a Stranger", which sparked some sequels. A horror game with the look of a LucasArts game and some experimental gameplay.


When I first got an iPad I was almost certain this was going to herald a great resurgence of point-and-click style adventure games. I still don't really understand why it didn't. Unwillingness to pay for software I suppose?

The interaction is perfect for a touch screen, the display is amazing, and the casual demographic seems like the ideal one to pick it up. Even puzzle games, like Phoenix Wright, would have worked well. It's really a shame that stuff like Candy Crush ended up dominating the space instead. There are some bright spots, like "The Room" or some Professor Layton games, but they're few in number.


Hovering the mouse was an essential mechanic in all the best point-and-clicks. Games that don't give a hint that an object is interactable on hovering are impossible to play. Games that highlight all interactable objects from start are boring and cut all the fun of discovery.

That could be a a reason.


The original Kings Quest (on my PCjr, at least) had an interesting quirk that anything that was movable was drawn last. So you just had to spot that the rock appeared a second after you entered the screen, or the mushroom suddenly showed up, that it was something you could interact with.

The fun part was trying to figure out the magic phrase to affect an object, as not all of them were as obvious as "move rock" or "eat mushroom".


What about 'drag-to-hover' and 'tap-to-interact'? I don't feel like this is an unsolvable UI problem, when some core apps have 3-finger-pinch-and-drag-while-swiping gestures.


Never saw a 'drag-to-hover' design, but guessing from the name, could be a very neat solution to the problem I mentioned.

Worth trying. Startup idea: buy the rights of a critically-praised-comercially-failed adventure game from the 90s, port it to iPad with this mechanic. :)

I would play.


Drag-to-hover and click-to-click is common on touch screens. Try out scummvm or the various remasters of adventure games for android tablets. Highly recommend Broken Sword, Grim Fandango, Day of the Tentacle, etc.

Currently play Broken Sword on pass-the-tablet with screen duplicate streaming to the wall size tv, for effectively social couch coop. Try it with friends and family, or whoever you happen to be locked in with at the moment.


No need, just install scummvm on any android device (I don't know if it's available on iOS) and play the many Lucasarts titles. It has 'drag-to-hover' and 'tap-to-click' as well.


There's probably several ways around this. One could just be making everything interactable in a "drag it around" sense, but only some things actually able to interact with other objects or able to be placed in a bin for later.

Although, come to think of it, game design that compels you to put every random thing in a bin because "it might be handy later" is one of the things I hate about open world games and their crafting/inventory systems.

Alternatively, they could just make you double-tap to interact and single tap to take a closer look or something. 3D touch had some interesting possibilities as well.


I had a good experience with a PNK adventure on a large Android phone. My guess is these adventures are now competing with all other kinds of games. And the modern tech allows for so many possibilities.


I remember Doom in particular being considered the poster child for what some considered to be lowbrow gaming. Of course people dividing entertainment into highbrow and lowbrow groups is nothing new - it's common for people to think of someone who's entertained by Shakespeare to be more "cerebral" than someone who's entertained by Twilight.


Which is funny, because that would not have been true at the time. Shakespeare was pop culture.


In addition, my understanding is that while Shakespeare was well regarded during his life, he wasn't particularly held in much higher regard than many of his contemporaries. The excessive elevation of Shakespeare (Bardolatry) seems to have been a process that occurred over decades and centuries.

It's gotten to the point where it's hard to have a unbiased opinion. People aren't given a copy of King Lear and Tamburlaine and asked which one they prefer. People are usually told ahead of time that Shakespeare plays are wonderful works, that viewing them as wonderful is a sign of intelligence, and people are usually exposed to many plays by Shakespeare and none by his contemporaries.

Our society probably has a much larger impact on how we view these works than the works themselves.


You would enjoy Upstart Crow on BBC, a comedy series about Shakespeare. He is told by everyone his plays are way too long, the plots are often ridiculous, and the comedies are just not funny.


Some big literature classics in Brazil (I suspect other places too, Dickens maybe?) were published as weekly columns on newspapers. Kind of the soap opera of the times.

Now they are treated as high brow art, with the good and bad parts of this stereotype (e.g. sophisticated/boring).


Dickens' novels were most definitely compiled from newspapers - that's part of the reason for some unnecessarily verbose sentences


As were many US sci-fi classics.

A Canticle for Libowitz was published as three short stories. Lots of Asimov was the same.


"If I could have my way, I'd design games that were meant to be played in four to five hours. The games would be of the same scope that I currently design, I'd just remove the silly time-wasting puzzles and take the player for an intense ride. The experience they would leave with would be much more entertaining and a lot less frustrating. The games would still be challenging, but not at the expense of the players patience."

looks at her unfinished copy of Thimbleweed Park (Ron Gilbert et al, 2014)

hahaha sure Ron, sure you would


I couldn't go past the first few scenes of Thimbleweed Park either. I think I would have loved it when I was a teenager, but the point-and-click genre is just not for me anymore. (Also, and I know this is heresy, I couldn't finish the much lauded Psychonauts back then either). I think I simply had more patience for this kind of games when I was younger.

I'm more willing to give experimental Interactive Fiction a go though. Some real gems there.

edit: also, and this is stretching the "adventure" definition, I absolutely loved "The Return of the Obra Dinn" by Papers Please author Lukas Pope. I loved that game. At this point I'll play anything made by Pope, that's how much I trust the guy.


Pope nailed in with Obra Dinn in how he implemented the detective gameplay and story telling. The game had me with several wtf story moments. This is one of those games that I'm reluctant to start playing as I don't want it to end to soon but can't stop playing once I've started it.

Also worth watching are these insights into the game design (and a chance to enjoy the soundtrack again) (spoiler warning): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMi6xgdSbMA https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V0qxLrFycrc


"(Also, and I know this is heresy, I couldn't finish the much lauded Psychonauts back then either)"

I really loved Psychonauts, but... I've tried several times to replay it and I have a really hard time with it, because even as someone who loved it, the first 5-10 hours is a slog. There's this incredible premise under the game, and if you get to the point they start using it, it's pretty good, but they really frontloaded a whole lot of levels that are basically "Yeah, I mean, sure, this is nominally taking place inside of someone's head and is all like psychic and freaky and psychological & shit but actually it's just a completely standard 3D platformer". And not that great of one. And those levels just go on forever, with hardly any fun elaborations or anything. I tend to get to the lungfish, right where at least the game gets interesting (though I don't think it truly lives up to its premise until the Milkman level, which IIRC is next), and gas out from all the slog.

I hope for the sequel they sat down in the early design session and had some serious discussions about what did and did not work in the first game.


Yes, what you describe is exactly what happened to me. I simply couldn't go past those initial hours. It felt like a (cute) platformer to me. Everybody said there was something amazing once deep into the game, but honestly 5+ hours of jumping around was too much for me.


Yeah, I think adventure games were given a free pass in the 2000's when the narratology vs ludology debate was going on, being automatically labelled as narrative games. There is/was also a very vocal crowd for insane puzzles that drove out regular or casual players to other pastures.

Nowadays I either play a game for the dopamine rush (street fighter), the zen like thing (the witness/the talos principle) or the story (Virginia, sea of solitude).

Took me a while to realize that stories in classic adventure games were what I really liked, not the puzzles.


The witness is a very relaxing game


I thought Thimbleweed was a little half-baked at first, too, but I stuck with it and ended up liking it. I dunno if I'll ever play it again, but I did end up enjoying it the first time.


How does Thimbleweed Park compare with something like Stardew Valley, where the narrative is almost minimal, rather the gameplay is about understanding and manipulating complex interlocking systems. I find that a much more engaging game design that the point and click adventure games I have seen.


It's a totally different genre. Stardew Valley is essentially a "farming simulator". There might be one or two secrets I can think of that you can stumble upon, but they aren't essential to the game. There are also character stories you can discover, but they're again not essential to the core of the game.

Thimbleweed Park is an explicit tribute to LucasArts point and click adventure games like Day of the Tentacle and Monkey Island. It's all about solving silly puzzles with silly characters and some deliberately obscure puzzles for that nostalgic frustration.


I should have mentioned South Park: Stick of Truth and it's sequel, they are also nicely done and feel very dynamic.


Obra Dinn was SO GOOD, I made pages of notes in a notebook and had a great time. Not sure it really qualifies as an "adventure" though.

I finished Psychonauts. Once. I have tried to replay it and I just cannot, there is so much of it and I really do not want to slog through the tutorial area just so I can re-experience the Milkman Conspiracy.

Thimbleweed might have been better if I'd played it on the "light" version; the "full" version is mostly "lots of extra 'jokes' about how adventure games were better back in 1993".


You might be interested in watching this speedrunner go through Psychonauts while the entire dev team watches. I found it entertaining and much more fun than trying to play it myself. :)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsDc1YVxHA0


Reminds me of Life is Strange, which is a really good "adventure game" btw.


Life is Strange is, in a sense, a much better adventure game than Thimbleweed Park (not even talking about the storyline here) simply because there's no stupid puzzle to solve at every corner that defies basic logic - I guess TBP is made this way (to make you feel like you were back in the 80s) but I don't think there is much charm in being stuck just because your mind is not twisted enough.


I was pleasantly surprised by this game. I got it on a Steam sale for a great price and thought, why not? One of the best games I've played all decade.

In fact I bought the next one in the series, I think "Before the Storm" hoping it would continue the magic but ugh, nope. I stopped playing after the first few iterations it was just so off-key. Appears that another studio took over for that one and boy can you tell.


Or "The Pillars of the Earth", or "Heaven's Vault"... As adventure games have been maturing, it is increasingly more difficult to pull off an "old-school" kind of adventure puzzle game; and so, the linked advice piece gets even more relevant for game designers who want to land on the better side of the Sturgeon's Law.


I haven’t seen a good analysis of it yet, but has anyone seen a list of “Guidelines for creating a good/entertaining ‘Troll’ Game” (e.g. IWTBTG, most Mario Maker levels, etc.)?

It seems like such a guide would almost be an inversion of some of the principles in this guide: in troll games, you tend to learn only by dying; the puzzles always require things you forgot in the previous room, and you can’t go back, so you must commit in-game suicide to try again; etc.

And yet, given that these guidelines are for the sake of making an entertaining game, how does inverting them then also make for an entertaining game?

Can troll games even be entertaining without the context of having played good games that do follow these rules? It seems like having a mental model of these sorts of guidelines from previous gameplay, allows the player to predict a sort of meta for how things like puzzles should work; and only in that context would an inversion of good design principles carry a comedic punchline.

I guess it’s similar to the question: can you create satire that makes sense without knowing what it’s satirizing?


Defender, one of the Mario Maker trolls, wrote a big guide: https://docs.google.com/document/d/13ZoqeblLs45HuEfTtsOrq6X0...

I'm sure it's possible to make an original troll game (never bet on an artistic idea being impossible), but it certainly seems to make it harder. I've noticed that when the Mario Maker troll community tries to make Super Mario World trolls instead, it's just not as funny. The hacking tools for SMW allow vastly more freedom than MM's editor, since you can always patch the game's code. The decrease in quality might be from a lack of restraint, but I think the element of fair play that MM has is important as well. Everything in MM behaves the way it was programmed by non-trolls (more, Nintendo seems actively anti-troll), so every subversion comes from the level maker showing that they know something about how the game works that the player doesn't.


The IWBTG maker has a rarely updated blog in which he talks about game design in stuff he has played or made which I enjoy. Maybe check this out? This post seems relevant.

https://kayin.moe/?p=2653


> It seems like such a guide would almost be an inversion of some of the principles in this guide: in troll games, you tend to learn only by dying; the puzzles always require things you forgot in the previous room, and you can’t go back

This guide exists because the inversion was the norm. Especially true of Sierra games, somewhat less true of LucasArts.

Leisure Suit Larry is a prime example of trolling. You die a myriad number of quite humorous ways in order to solve the puzzles. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Rrh_YBZBC0

> can you create satire that makes sense without knowing what it’s satirizing?

Looking at IWTBTG, I'm sensing the satire is in the game mechanics. Adventure games don't really work that way. They don't have physics or action like Mario, that you could poke fun of. Adventure games work with mouse hovering, clicking, and typing simple phrases. Those mechanics don't really lend themselves to satire, because the game is not really about the mechanics. It's about the logic of puzzles. Which, as Leisure Suit Larry, Kings Quest, etc. all show, satire in adventure games has existed since nearly the beginning. However, even back then the satire was quite meta and self-referential. Take, for example, the Boss Key (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boss_key):

> The first few games in Sierra's Leisure Suit Larry series included a boss key in the pulldown menus (shortcut usually Ctrl+B). However, when this is used, it results in an instantaneous game over with the first game saying "Sorry, but you'll have to restore your game; when you panic, I forget everything!"

Perhaps a better example of this sort of meta-level of messing with adventure game mechanics is the game Eternal Darkness, on the GameCube. They developed this mechanism of a "Sanity meter" and certain effects would occur if your sanity dropped to a certain level. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eternal_Darkness

> While minor effects include a skewed camera angle, heads of statues following the character, and unsettling noises, stronger effects include bleeding on walls and ceilings, entering a room that is unrealistic before finding that the character never left the previous room, the character suddenly dying, and fourth wall breaking effects such as "To Be Continued" promotions for a "sequel", and simulated errors and anomalies of the TV or GameCube. While the latter does not affect gameplay, they can be misconstrued by the player as being actual technical malfunctions.

Eternal Darkness was not satire, though. They were playing it straight, and when a popup appears telling you to reconnect the GameCube controller, you would really check it and then start questioning your own sanity.


I finished Grim Fandango because it is a wonderful, beautiful, heart-breaking game. Still dear to my heart. But let me be honest, I looked up most of the solutions. I don't have a sense for the weird solutions to a good chunk of the problems. Often I don't even know what is the problem.

I purchased the HD remake of the game on Steam in 2015 to experience it once again. Just followed the solutions. It was much like watching a movie (a very good one).

I remember I once played a Broken Sword game (I believe it was The Sleeping Dragon) and that was an exception in that it was super easy to solve. Disappointingly easy :-)


I haven't tried it, but there's a website where you can get hints for these adventure games, if you don't just want to follow a walkthrough. You've reminded me I need to give another shot at Grim Fandango. http://www.uhs-hints.com/uhsweb/grimfand.php


I so desperately want to like adventure games. I love the visual styles, I love the storytelling opportunities, but the idea of being defeated by an opaque puzzle infuriates me.


Indeed, this is the only genre of video game I really care for.

And yet even as I keep buying and playing the games, I am always disappointed.

I don't know what the future of adventure games looks like, but it definitely does not involve inane inventory "puzzles."


try monkey island. they may be complex puzzles (and at least in the monkeywrench puzzle even opaque for me as an italian kid with no idea of the word "monkeywrench") but at least they are funny :D


Try the walking games, like Firewatch, Gone Home, Ethan Carter, Edith Finch, Dear Esther? Dour though.

Revolution (Broken Sword, etc) tend to have fewer puzzles outside the context of the story than Lucas Arts (Monkey Island, etc).

Some of the modern groups have built some really good stuff. Try Resonance for a great brain fry, or Technobabylon, Gemini Rue, Shardlight, Cathy Rain for lighter noggin usage. IIRC telltales Sam and Max had fun story and humour while light on puzzles.

adventuregamers.com has a large library of reviews with a general scoring and som "good" and "bad" points. I've found their taste to be relevant enough to look at, while figuring out which good/bad to look for or avoid respectively.


Well, you can still settle for reading/watching Let's Play of them.


Check out Kentucky Route Zero. It has all the visual styling and storytelling of an adventure game, but no way to be defeated by opaque puzzles.


The Walking Dead telltale games are worth checking out. Almost all narrative


I played the first one and legit cried at the end it was so intense. Been meaning to play the rest of them.


There did seem to be a huge gap for many years in the existence of good adventure games. I have fond memories of many ones from yesteryear, but then it largely felt that anything that was out was pretty boring or just trying to copy them.

And last week I started playing Disco Elysium, and it's everything I ever wanted from something like an adventure/rpg and more.


I was going to say exactly the same about Disco Elysium. While classed as an RPG, I'd say it's more of an adventure game disguised as an RPG. The game is just point and click, talk to people, interact with the world, and solve puzzles. The leveling up mechanic makes it much more interesting to play, but it's not really the core gameplay


Well it is RPG indeed (unless someone understands it as "Ravage, Pillage, Grind"), but on the adventure spectrum it is more lika a choose-your-own-adventure game. The game interface is pretty much dialogue trees, at some point close to the end of the game, the game even poke at it not-so-subtly. Puzzles in those kind of games are prone to brute-forcing all dialogue choices.


I subscribe to Grumpy Gamer's RSS feed and I think this was the article that got me started on this blog.

I recently played Milk Maid of the Milkyway. It's a super cute indie title and it's an adventure game. Despite the beautiful dialog and wonderful music, it still had a lot of the issues that Grumpy Gamer touches on that killed the original genre.

You end up clicking everything on everything, looking up hints for objects you didn't realize were even clickable, and have stupid puzzles like putting a frog in a random hole and poking it with a needle so a guy oils a gear.

By contrast, Red Strings Club is an indie adventure game that gets this totally right. It's story telling with game mechanics and you don't need any hints or need to solve any insanely stupid puzzles to get through it.

Night in the Woods is another great Indie adventure game that's more about story. It doesn't have the same level of puzzles as other adventure games, but the puzzles all make sense. The game has a lot of mechanics that keep it going forward so you don't get stuck.

Life is Strange is another one that's more story driven. I had trouble with it initially. It's slow and was difficult for me to get into, but I'm glad I stuck with it as the story is really interesting and does some very bold stuff for a game. I haven't tried the 2nd one yet.

Telltale got a lot of this gene right I think. People complained how you don't really affect the story in Telltale games and that is true, but it is also very difficult to create those types of games with true multiple outcomes (especially if you have sequels planned. You only want 2 ~ 3 maximum outputs at the end. Mass Effect was good about being more complex; they had to plan for certain characters simply not being in future games -- but Bioware too ultimately collapsed the story down into very few possibilities by the end anyway).

Finally, Quantic Dream does a super good job of this (Heavy Rain, Beyond Two Souls, Detroit). They've been PS4/Sony exclusives for a while, but I heard some of these games are making their way to PC. They are slow games you can't run through, but they don't require insane puzzles and keep moving. Detroit does a really good job with totally different narrative paths and endings, and they don't skimp on the writing, even on endings people would rarely get to.


Adventure games are still not dead! Amanita Designs is making some of the finest games around - in particular, their masterpiece Machinarium. Anyone who even has a passing interest in adventure/point and click games owes themselves the pleasure of playing it. Sublime music and art, a lovely wordless story, interesting setting and characters, and well-designed puzzles.


There's a bad taste left by Machinarium developers.

It was originally sold for Android here:

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=air.net.machin...

That is now abandoned and left to bitrot. I don't know, whether they were expecting that people will purchase it again, but for me the effect was, that I won't touch anything made by them again.


Yes, I love Machinarium and I wish I could upvote your comment multiple times.


Sierra adventure games were my favorite single-player games from my childhood. I understand why a lot of people don't like them, e.g. many of the puzzles have nonsensical solutions, it's possible to get stuck because you didn't get an item in an area that you can't return to, etc. And the games haven't really aged well. But for the time they were my favorite.


The two I played were the first Leisure Suit Larry which was so funny, and the first Police Quest which I really loved but never finished. I ended up watching a playthrough of PQ on youtube. I think the designer was a former CA city cop and was very intent on the developers designing the following of police procedures to the tee e.g. if you forgot your gun somewhere the game ends/have to start back at last save point.


It'd be interesting to me to play the KQ series but with the parser replaced with something more state-of-art.


The later games in the series used a 'point and click' interface, but are still filled with arbitrary or unfair puzzles, some badly written dialogue and cringe-worthy story moments.


Interesting, I feel like the Author is describing what a well done Visual Novel does in their critics of the whole Adventure Game Genre. To summarize lazily: "remove the stupid puzzles and just take the reader on a wild ride for a couple of hours"

Maybe they kinda predicted YUNO and the whole VN explosion in Japan that came soon after their article was published. Or a least the reason why the demand was there.

Granted, these games still cost 40+ bucks and deliver 20+ hours of gameplay, which differs from the vision the Author outlined. But that seems to be because the extra effort does lead to better returns (and maybe that consumers want 20+ hour games), so it's a good thing.


> There is nothing more frustrating than solving pointless puzzle after pointless puzzle. Each puzzle solved should bring the player closer to understanding the story and game.

A friend of mine was recently complaining about how adventure games and even rpgs (in both video and board game formats) lack significant character development, even the best ones with great worlds and stories. I don't personally have enough experience to have an opinion, but I thought it was interesting that the relevant guideline here shows exactly that: it mentions "story" but not "character". (I'm not sure what is meant here by "game"). Maybe my friend is not wrong.


For (C)RPGs the problem might be that developers try to give players so much freedom that the character ends up being more of a blank slate, and it is pretty difficult to write meaningful development for that. And even when the character is not a blank slate then it might be something very bland/average so that most people can identify with and immerse in that character. As it turns out, most people don't really seem to want to play a role, they want to play their own thing which is very different.

Think how much character development a play writer can write if they expect the actors to form their characters on a whim? And the actors being not professional ones who would be very good at it but your average common people.


a classic blog post on this topic from "Old Man Murray": https://www.oldmanmurray.com/features/77.html

"Who killed Adventure Games? I think it should be pretty clear at this point that Adventure Games committed suicide."


While playing through the Deponia series, I noticed that all the fiddly little puzzles, like the rail-car switching puzzle, had a "skip this puzzle" button. Yay for learning that some people don't want to go insane on brute-forcing all the possible solutions to advance the story.

Even so, there were still a lot of attempts made at overcoming an obstacle, using normal logic, that failed because they required a joke punchline instead, such as... finding a straw in a needle stack.

Modern I.F. games are a lot better in that respect, because you can code in a half-dozen solutions for the same puzzle, without creating new voice and graphic resources for all those alternate solutions.


> Never require a player to pick up an item that is used later in the game if she can't go back and get it when it is needed. It is very frustrating to learn that a seemingly insignificant object is needed, and the only way to get it is to start over or go back to a saved game.

This reminds me of Return to Zork, in which on the very first screen the player sees a small plant growing out of a rock. If the player misses or ignores it, or if they choose to cut it or tear it out instead of gently digging it out, they won't able to defeat the last boss.


I'm gonna react to the 2004 date instead of the original 1989 publication date.

Runaway was released in 2001, Myst in 1993 and the sequel in 1997, Lucasfilm Indiana Jone in 1992 (a game of such quality that fans demanded a movie based on it), Broken Sword 1996, etc.

These are just the few I bothered looking up. There has been a good amount of adventure game masterpieces between 1989 and 2004. Lots of bad ones, but also a fair count of great ones. There have been rough times for adventure games, but they were not dead between 1989 and 2004.


You realize that the author is Ron Gilbert, who made a bunch of good games after he published this article, right?


Personally, I call Zelda Breath of the Wild an Adventure Game (non-linear tho, most the games you listed are linear), and is one of the greatest games I've ever played.


Tangential question, does anyone have any tips for someone who has lost all interest in video games?

I used to like them as a teenager and whenever I pick up a game now (I'm in my early 40's) I am just completely bored. Part of it I think is because it requires some form of mental engagement after a day's hard work?


Same. My reasons:

1. I understand software better and can see that my in-game actions are mostly changing variables, or values in a database.

2. Games are 'balanced' and therefore limit the upside for a potential great strategy I might come up with.

3. Nothing new under the sun: How many more pseudo-scifi research trees or weapon mechanisms or unit capabilities am I supposed to learn in my lifetime?

4. They don't make them like they used to. Older games had a hardcore element to them, were often quite difficult and unforgiving (a result of less market pressure and less polish). Instead of online guides and pro streamers showing how they are played, the games had a mystery about them; we often didn't even have a manual for a game we copied.

4. Less need to prove myself in competition with my peers through games and play (which is aparently a fundamental thing for children)

5. Less magic: The first game that had real voice actors, the first real 3D game seem to have had a greater impact than today's incremental improvements.

6. Limited time and energy. I find it tough to spend the prime energy of a day for a game.

7. Computer work makes me want to get away from computers eventually.

I do watch streamers and youtube videos of the games of the 90ies occasionally and find entertainment and closure (through experiencing games I never got to play).


> 4. They don't make them like they used to. Older games had a hardcore element to them, were often quite difficult and unforgiving (a result of less market pressure and less polish). Instead of online guides and pro streamers showing how they are played, the games had a mystery about them; we often didn't even have a manual for a game we copied.

Right. Pick up a copy of Dead Cells and come back here in 100 hours.


All of that rings true to me. Some will take issue with difficulty (From Software games are still difficult, for example), or balance or whatever. But generally all these rules apply.

The last bit of "magic" I felt was World of Warcraft. Stepping into a world that actually felt like world was an entirely new experience. The game felt alive in a way that no other game has since felt. Years later Blizzard would largely destroy this magic by turning that sense of awe into a grind, and allowing players to fast travel wherever they wanted. The magic of possibility and random encounters disappeared.

Every game since then has paled in comparison. After WoW, you also feel that every moment spent in a game is largely a waste of time. I'm incapable of playing these massive 30-90 hour games that seem to dominate the industry today. Sometimes I pick up Quake for a few quick rounds. But 30+ hours is a solid investment of my incredibly limited time.


> 2. Games are 'balanced' and therefore limit the upside for a potential great strategy I might come up with.

Wouldn't a 'balanced' game make the impact of strategy even greater? Many of the most strategic games in the world like chess or go are balanced.

> 4. Less need to prove myself in competition with my peers through games and play (which is aparently a fundamental thing for children)

It's never been easier to find and compete against the best in the world at games. If you're good enough at an online game you can find yourself essentially playing pick-up basketball against LeBron James.

> 7. Computer work makes me want to get away from computers eventually.

Yeah agreed on this one for sure.


#2 Well chess isn't quite balanced, with white having a big advantage. If it was a modern game, people would complain in the forums and the developers would try to help out black, maybe with an extra pawn. Even if that was a good idea, it would take something away from the game.

#4 Just as we get older, it's no longer about computer games, the playground, or sports where we need to prove ourselves? Don't mind me if that's not actually a thing, psychologically.


The complaint was less need, not less opportunity.


Easy: you used to like games decades ago, so get an emulator, get the games you used to like back then (I'll leave the specifics out here), and play the games you used to enjoy. Then get some other games from that era that you never got a chance to enjoy, and try those.

Actually, I think archive.org has a lot of those old games, playable directly through a web browser, so it depending on the game it may be much easier than what I wrote above.


Nah, then they would be fun on a Saturday morning. I think it's just age. I still buy the occasional title on steam, but hardly play beyond the 1h mark.

The only ones that caught me surprised were Factorio and dota2 both of which I then ended up playing far too much. The first singleplayer, and the second with a group of RL friends.


The same thing happened to me. In my case, I've basically been in chronic burnout since 2000 because of some poor business and career decisions where I spent too much time working for too little. So every task began to feel like work, and just separated me from what I wanted to do (invent things).

I still can't hardly play video games, but I've been between gigs this last year and have been working with my hands building stuff. That's done more for my psyche than anything, even the self-help reading material that I immersed myself in to recover from burnout, depression and anxiety.

I worry for people living in big cities or around too much technology with no creative outlet. So if you are reading this and thinking "crap I don't even have a garage", try finding a local group into the same stuff you are. I got lucky that there's a local Burning Man group where I live. But there are almost certainly maker spaces or startup enthusiasts somewhere near you. Older folks are surprisingly good at this, so you might get lucky and find a mentor to bounce ideas off of.

I would play video games with any of the interesting people I've met lately. So maybe it's not the games, it's the immediate company.


Prioritize games without grinding or fluff. Short games or skill based. Start with games that can be finished in an day or afternoon: Mirror's Edge 1, Braid, Machinarium, Hotline Miami 1...

And if you do not enjoy games anymore, that's fine. Plenty of things to do in the world.


After a little more than a decade away from video games, I'm finding myself really enjoying 1st person horror games with no combat element: Soma, Amnesia: Dark Descent, and Outlast. This didn't really exist before, at least not games that were so immersive and terrifying.

Soma is especially great. It's utterly scary, it's beautiful to explore (per my taste), and the way the story unfolds really pulled me in.

SubNautica somewhat qualifies if you have a hint of thalassophobia. There is a very small combat element that you can entirely ignore.

Most other games bore my adult self as well, but the above are so compelling that I only play them in the right conditions so that I really enjoy them: alone at night with headphones.


Similar. 37 yo. I loved NES, Sega, and SNES. I really enjoyed Doom. Later, half life and a couple counterstrike mods. Heros of might and magic, StarCraft 1 and 2.

Nowadays, nothing perks my interest really. I did really enjoy Breath of the Wild and Ori and the Blind Forest. Everything else is just kinda meh.

I have scarce time. Something has to be really worth it to take away from family time, home projects, chores, work, professional development, working out, and hobbies (reef aquarium, banjo, audio books, and smaller interests like ATV, bows and guns, and emergency prep).


I think at least part of it is that whether its fast twitch or dense strategy/simulation, it takes a fair commitment to really get into a lot of games. Personally, I've always liked the idea of complex games (especially strategy and simulation) but I mostly didn't have the patience for them and that's even truer today.

I did like Infocom games though I didn't finish most of them.


Try new genres. I used to love FPS and action/adventure games but now I play cities skylines or satisfactory and have a lot of fun.


I played through "A Short Hike" this week (because it was free on the Epic store.) Easily the most enjoyable indie adventure experience I've had: a unique but intuitive flying mechanic, simple "quests", and a short (<5 hour) overall gameplay time.


Makes me think of the Kings Quest games. In Kings Quest 5 you could find a pie and then you could eat it. But you needed it later to throw in the face of a Yeti.

Still loved those games though


First thing I thought of, too. There were lots of things you could do that would make the game unwinnable. Like in the first one, leaving a gate open would allow a goat to wander off and you needed the goat later. In another one, you there was a fire that would go out X screen changes after finding it for the first time, and you needed embers from it.

This article seems to directly call out a lot of the King's Quest mechanics and puzzles.


Btw: Can somebody please make a VR version of Machinarium? O:)


One word: Danganronpa.


and zero escape


YOU ARE STANDING AT THE END OF A ROAD BEFORE A SMALL BRICK BUILDING. AROUND YOU IS A FOREST. A SMALL STREAM FLOWS OUT OF THE BUILDING AND DOWN A GULLY.

> enter building


THERE IS NO DOOR OR OTHER VISIBLE ENTRANCE.

YOU SEE A LARGE SNAKE EMERGING OUT OF THE STREAM.




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