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Old 04-15-2012, 10:38 AM   #1
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Default Past tense in adventure games?

Present-tense: "I can't pick that up".
Past-tense: "I couldn't pick that up".

What are your views on this past tense in adventure games?

Apparently Dave Gilbert wanted to write Emerald City Confidential in past tense but the publisher wouldn't let him as they thought it would be confusing to the player,

Personally the only game I've played that uses it is Discworld Noir and TBH it is confusing me a little bit there, for example I just loaded it up and tho most of the lines are past tense I then tried using the crowbar on a crate and he said:
"Perhaps the single crate would be a better choice."
Why isn't that line past tense?
Did the developer feel that "didn't" got annoying to write for every single sentence? was it a mistake? Or is the character in the present saying that thought out loud? Whatever it is it's confusing to me.

Also it makes the game seem more pre-defined as the story has already happened,
I mean logically I realize that most adventure-games ARE pre-defined (as opposed to RPG's where your personal choices reflects the ending) but there can still be a illusion of player-options that past tense might supress.

Reason I'm making this thread is because I love past tense (Tracer Bullet is my favorite comic), but I'm unsure if it belongs in adventure-games, what do you think? and can you think of more games that uses it?
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Old 04-15-2012, 10:44 AM   #2
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Made famous by Broken Sword, and influenced to its charm, imo. Not to say that every game needs to be in past tense.
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Old 04-15-2012, 03:01 PM   #3
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I may me wrong, but isn't "Perhaps the single crate would be a better choice" in the past tense? I mean, consider "I went to the docks and waited. Would she come?" Seems fairly past tensey to me.

I actually don't mind it. Instead of defining what the story will be, you get to unearth what the story is. It's a stylistic choice, the same way that you choose first or third person in a novel. It depends on the effect you want to create.
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Old 04-15-2012, 03:10 PM   #4
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I'm no expert, but i think it would sound: "Perhaps the single crate would had been a better choice"


but mixing present and past tense could be a stylistic choice as well, i can't remember exactly but Broken Sword probably done the same.
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Old 04-15-2012, 03:11 PM   #5
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Wow. For some reason, I've never payed attention to tenses while playing. This is a very interesting topic.

I think present tense makes people feel more in control of the situtaion, I'd wager.

Oh, and I believe it would be "Perhaps the single crate would have been a better choice".
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Old 04-15-2012, 03:58 PM   #6
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I don't know. If it were phrased "would have been" (which is grammatically correct), it would imply a certainty that it didn't succeed. As in "it would have been a better choice, but I chose wrong."

On the other hand "would be the better choice" is just a report of what went through his head at the time, just like "and then I went and puked on his shoes" is a report of something that went through someone's head in a more literal sense. What's confusing here is that the simple past of the present tense modal verb "would be" is also "would be". I think. It's been years since my last English lesson, so I may be talking out of my derriere here.

Last edited by wildemar; 04-15-2012 at 04:12 PM. Reason: made wording more good
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Old 04-15-2012, 09:52 PM   #7
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Oh great point that perhaps that line IS past tense, you guys just made a simple topic very complicated.

Also I'm happily surprised at everyone's modesty, usually a grammar thread would be invaded by a wannabe know-it-all who wants to brag how "I read books, therefore I'm smarter than all you morons".

Anyway, what I would have expected the line to read is like this:
"I felt like the single crate would be a better choice."

The line Diego suggested ("Perhaps the single crate would had/have been a better choice") sounds to me like it implies that he opened the crate but regretted it, which (as I forgot to mention) is not the case; rather the line is said as a refusal if you try to crowbar the wrong crate, he is merely hinting towards the player which crate he wants you to crowbar.

Quote:
Originally Posted by wildemar View Post
"I went to the docks and waited. Would she come?"
Oh god, I'm way over my head here..
to me that could either be:
a) I went to the docks and waited. "Would she come?", I wondered.
I.e. he qoutes an present-tense thought he had.

or,
b) I went to the docks and waited. Would she come? I'll tell you all about it tomorrow, now it's bed time, son
..as if the narrator is telling the story to someone in past-tense but posing rhetorical questions to the listener.

Quote:
Originally Posted by wildemar View Post
Instead of defining what the story will be, you get to unearth what the story is. It's a stylistic choice, the same way that you choose first or third person in a novel. It depends on the effect you want to create.
Another good point, perhaps past tense works as a shamelessly "owning" the choice of no/little player influence, so rather that pathetically trying the illusion that the story's outcome is yours to define (which may not fool anyone) it defines from the first moment "here's a pre-deteremined story, but even tho you cannot influence it, it might be a story you want to hear!".
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Old 04-15-2012, 10:17 PM   #8
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I think it's a matter of style-decicion. Broken Sword was nicely done, because you could crystally clear tell when George thinks to himself and when he actually speaks out loud. Not only the self-thinking was in the imperfect, but also the text was grayed, which was quite nice, if you ask me.
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Old 04-16-2012, 12:25 AM   #9
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What an interesting question! I'm with MoonBird - it comes down to a stylistic choice.

Discworld Noir uses the past tense given the film noir convention where a character tells a story of the events that occurred prior to when we meet him. If I remember correctly, Discworld Noir starts with our main character being dead so the past tense is appropriate.
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Old 04-16-2012, 04:43 AM   #10
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I decided to go with past tense in Scratches because it had a poetic feel to it, as if the protagonist was narrating a story that occurred a long time ago. It was also fitting with his profession as a writer.

Can lead to weird moments though and it's often hard to get right. I know it felt strange to many players. Also, I don't think you should mix past and present tenses unless there's a distinct role of a narrator (which could be the protagonist or someone else), telling his or her angle of the story in very specific moments, for example during cutscenes. Otherwise it can be confusing and probably not relevant.
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Old 04-16-2012, 07:39 AM   #11
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I agree with those stating it's a stylistic choice. It definitely changes the *feel* of the dialogue in an adventure game, and I reckon that's primarily the reason to use it.
Having an adventure game in the past tense implies that everything you do has already happened (like in a flashback or a story being told).

For Discworld Noir this was very fitting because that started with the death of the main character and then told the events of how he ended up dead.
I don't remember if the final chapters were past tense as well, though. Would seem fitting to have those in the present tense instead. But then again, that game was noir, and noir usually has a past-tense narrator...
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