We sat down with Mr Chris Picone and answered some of his burning questions about our adventure games.
The fearless rogue directors of the 80s, such as Lucas, McTiernan, Scott, and Cameron, became our guides to the world of adventure and science fiction. Their movies had such simple concepts but very tight execution that they have become synonymous with well-made science fiction. Their far-flung visions spilled over into our imagination. As the passage of time has ticked on, we find ourselves looking back on that art through a nostalgic lens. So have many others. The following decade saw a new medium for storytelling that Chris and I obsessed over.
CHRIS ON HIS FAVORITE GAME
Space Quest 5 was the first adventure game I ever completed on my own. I think thats why the idea of death in adventure games has stuck with me. I never saw them as failing, instead finding out that you were on the right path and needed to adjust your thinking. So I see FALLOUT as my visual aspiration.
NIC ON HIS FAVORITE GAME
If I had to choose a single game that has influenced me more than any of the other thousands, Id have to pick STAR CONTROL 2. It has a beautiful meld between a point-and-click adventure, a fantastic story, and RPG-lite elements. I could gush for hours on how well Toys for Bob designed it. Its unrivaled in its union of mini-games in a collated product and showed that adventure games could have incredible depth.
Some say that RPGs are adventure games with combat, and others proclaim that if an adventure game has any skill-based combat in it, its no longer an adventure game.
An adventure game puts most of its focus on the story and tells that story through puzzles. I suggest that if you had to remove either of those two elements, we would be hard-pressed to call that an adventure game at all.
If I am myopic and technical, Id say that a point-and-click adventure game should only have a single input source at a time, and this pointing device should provide direct feedback to the player. Further to this, the avatar should be limited in their world interactions, but they should be solving a puzzle at all times.
Understanding what a puzzle could be is a constantly shifting goal post. The use of verbs eliminated a lot of guesswork, and eventually, the amalgamation of the verbs into a single USE command streamlined the process even further.
I think a puzzle, in whatever form it takes, should drive the story and be anchored in a fraction of reality. Arbitrarily placed puzzles are just not fun! Nobody uses a sliding puzzle to turn on a light switch in their house, and door locks arent in other rooms. Puzzles should have their roots in the environment they are in. The context of the puzzle should be tied into the puzzle itself.
In Stasis, we stuck with inventory puzzles and some logic puzzles. The game was designed to be a lonely experience and to push the ideas of loneliness, and we had no dialogue puzzles. There is minimal interaction with other characters in the game. It was a case of the context and the world that the player found themselves dictating how the puzzles were designed. The one timing puzzle in the game (a surgery sequence where you operate on your spinal cord) is placed in such a way to provide friction with how the player has played the game up to that point. According to our players, the most successful puzzles in our games are the ones that feel like they are part of the world.
Ron Gilberts "Why Adventure Games Suck" has a small piece of advice - something that is at the very core of adventure-game puzzle design and yet it is also one of the most brutal rule to follow!
"The backwards puzzle occurs when the solution is found before the problem. Ideally, the crevice should be found before the rope that allows the player to descend. What this does in the players mind is set up a challenge. He knows he need to get down the crevice, but there is no route. Now the player has a task in mind as he continues to search. When a rope is spotted, a light goes on in his head and the puzzle falls into place. For a player, when the design works, there is nothing like that experience." ( https://grumpygamer.com/why_adventure_games_suck )
This rule for interactive storytelling dwells on the concept of foreshadowing, clue dispersion, and the impact of information on decision-making. It dictates how puzzles flow, how environments are designed, and how the narrative should unfold. While in many cases, this additional information is not essential to the completion of the puzzle, it provides clues and hints that can expand the games lore and, in so doing, make the world feel alive.
Computer games are complex art forms. They are a marriage between technical and artistic methods. Its the equivalent of writing a book with chapters that can be read in any order yet still have a coherent crafted story.
While game narratives share many of the same challenges as films or novels, they overcome those pitfalls differently. Games use the constant feedback loop of challenge-reward-challenge-reward to push the player forward in the narrative. As a result, there is a continuous need for rising action to keep a player engaged. In adventure games, these challenges are generally found through puzzles, which lead to the reward of pushing the story forward. The storys momentum is created by the discovery of new areas, new characters, and new sets of challenges.