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An inquiry concerning the design of Adventure Games

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May. 30th, 2001 | 11:25 pm

As I was feeling sick (and am still sick) I went looking for easy things to deal with on the net and rediscovered interactive fiction.

This got me thinking about the range of adventure games that have been invented and wondering about the trade offs between various designs.

Ranging at the technologically simplest like Zork & Adventure, to any of your latest multimedia extravaganzas like The Longest Journey and Kings Quest the Nth for straight forward puzzle solving games.

Then you have your character building games ranging from wizardry to ultima 7 or 8 or whatever. The final axis is for multiplayer games, which goes from your first text based muds to things like everquest.

I was wondering why the multimedia ones so completely dominated the text based games. Recently I realized that they're still the same kind of game. You enter a world, wander around a bit, pickup stuff, move it elsewhere, and by doing so unlock other parts and then move a plot forward.

Both the graphical and text versions can be used badly. In the graphical ones the problem is running your mouse over the picture to find the "obvious" active hot spot. In text ones it's guess the obfuscated verb.

I realized that wandering tends to be faster in text than in graphical games. In graphical ones you usually end up having to wait for your character to walk from one scene to another. In text you can do things like "n then e then u..."

The types of fiddling bits can change... In "neither nord nor bert could make heads nor tails of it". The entire game was based on word games such as puns and spoonerisms. While in the graphical games you can have puzzles based manipulating colored tiles or other visual clues.

There is however one way that the development of these games differs radically. A single person working in their spare time can write a pure text adventure in a few weeks. It takes a large and well funded team of programmers and artists working for a few years to put together something as complex as everquest.

The real question then is "Does all of that extra expense really make a better game?".

This weekend I ended up playing in a role playing game at a local rpg con. And one of the game masters was really impressive. His acting skills were good and he used music quite effectively to help set the mood.

So incrementally adding bits of visual or sound effects to a game does help add to the setting. Of course what happens if the setting or story isn't particularly deep as in everquest. Does adding sizzle counteract the lack of substance? (as an aside isn't this the problem with many of the current crop of hollywood movies as well?)

Alas I should go to bed and try to avoid staying sick instead of coming up with a conclusion. So if anyone's read this far any opinions on the tradeoffs between ease of development and pretty pictures?

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Comments {2}



from: marnanel
date: May. 31st, 2001 05:09 am (UTC)

I'm not sure that it's a simple trade-off between ease of development and pretty pictures. It might be a little closer if you changed "ease of development" for "breadth and depth", though of course the one often leads to the other. Any game has finite resources both for development and for transmission and storage (yessir, our new product comes on twelve CD-ROMs) and there have to be trade-offs.

Nevertheless there are many text adventures-- and not just the ones which rely on wordplay-- which I don't see could be done better as graphical adventures, either because they play with the standard expectations within a human-computer dialogue as part of the way the story's told (e.g. Spider and Web, Photopia) or just because the story is told so well (both in cleverness of art and in enjoyment in reading) that I can't imagine how it could easily be translated into what is, in the end, a different way of telling a story (e.g. Metamorphoses). It's comparable to taking a famously well-told graphic novel and turning it into a film.

That said, I'm not really into graphical adventures (despite being responsible for a couple of them in my younger days), so perhaps I don't know what I'm talking about.

Here's a parallel case: aren't there things which can be done on radio but not TV? Is radio just TV which is easier to make but lacks pretty pictures?

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Diane Trout

Re: Mmm.

from: alienghic
date: May. 31st, 2001 10:55 pm (UTC)

I was thinking that it takes fewer skills to develop a decent text game than a graphical game.

In both cases you still have to write a story and write software. But in the graphical case you also need artistic skills, and musical composition skills, and perhaps character animation skills.

One trade off example that I'd been thinking of is between novels and current mainstream movies. Many recent movies attempt to stand on their cinamatography and effects, yet seem to forget that writing is important too.

I suppose that the idea that there's a fixed about of time to deal with the various facets of a project cause various trade offs to be made.

For pure text media, the story is paramount, because there really isn't anything else for it to stand on.

A graphical media can hold interest with sequences of sufficiently stunning artwork.

I guess as you combine different media types, you add additional degrees of freedom. One possiblity of this is a loss of focus. Focusing on any one aspect (story, music, visuals) makes it more likely that it will be have a chance at being exceptional.

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