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Old 03-23-2005, 01:34 PM   #1
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Default Today I understood that puzzles matter

This post will spoil the games Grim Fandango and Cirque de Zale.

Puzzles in amateur games suck. The main problem is not that too many puzzles are of the I-give-you-the-scissors-so-you'll-give-me-the-electronic-monkey -variety. It is only a part of the problem. The real problem is that those puzzles just don't fit in the plot. At all.

Let me compare Grim Fandango with Cirque de Zale.

In Grim Fandango there's a puzzle in which you need to help the Lost Souls Alliance by getting them a replica of Manny's teeth and a few pigeon eggs. In return the leader of the LSA will let Manny continue his quest. The LSA has already played and will play a major part in the later development of the plot, and you solving the puzzle has a real meaning in the development of the story.

In Cirque de Zale there's a puzzle in which you need to give a basket of goodies to a random pimp. In return the pimp will... I don't remember what it was, but I'm sure it wasn't that necessary or important. She'll help you somehow.

There is no difference in the basic structure of those puzzles. However, the pimp is just a random person thrown out to the streets. After the first encounter you will never see her again. The pimp doesn't tell you anything that would help you with the game later on, and it isn't really an integral part of the plot.

Another example is from the award-winning game Apprentice II. None of the puzzles actually are a part of the story. In fact, you solve a number of puzzles that have nothing to do with the plot in order to make the plot progress. The game can be fun, but it's not very good game design.

Simply put, we have to get rid of making these parody adventure games. Apprentice II was otherwise very good and well developed as a game, but its puzzles has very little to do with the plot itself.

What do you think?

P.S. I've previously posted this at Adventure Developers.
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Old 03-23-2005, 04:35 PM   #2
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I agree. Another irritating thing is when designers expect me to switch from kid who needs guidance ("No, I'll take [put a name of the object here]" says character "only if I have a really good reason for it") to an omniscient being mode in a matter of seconds. Bunny slippers puzzle from Two of a Kind comes to mind, although this problem is just as common in commercial games as well.
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Old 03-23-2005, 05:40 PM   #3
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I couldn't agree more.

Of course, the biggest reason I don't play amateur adventures is the terrible story that most of them have. There happen to be a few goldies, but like you say, most of them feature very typical non-plot driven puzzles.
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Old 03-26-2005, 05:51 PM   #4
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I agree completely. I've just played Apprentice II and Grim Fandango and found that I needed to consult a walkthough with AP II for almost every puzzle but didn't need to much with GF. I don't think the GF ones were much easier, it's just that they were more integrated so you got more hints about what you should do.

Still, at least we get a good reminder about why the best things in the world usually aren't free!

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Old 03-26-2005, 07:25 PM   #5
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I too agree. Many amateur adventure game puzzles seem just like obstacles to your continuing the game. "You do this and you can keep playing. Period."
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Old 03-26-2005, 11:47 PM   #6
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I three agree! Somewhat. I enjoyed Cirque de Zale, especially the main character. It didn't have much of a story, but the puzzles did (sort of) tie into it, because most of the puzzles involved helping people so they'd join your troupe (and gathering the troupe is basically the story ). But I didn't much care about his troupe or gathering them, so that must be why those puzzles had such little impact on you or me. Actually, what bothered me more was the fact that they were so easy! I usually don't feel an adventure game is successful if it doesn't at least once lead me to the guilty pleasure of peeking into a walkthrough.
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Old 03-27-2005, 03:02 AM   #7
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The obstacle-puzzle is somewhat common in all adventures, not just UG ones, I think. For example in Moment Of Silence you have to get your colleague some food - and there's a puzzle which is the first thing in that game which felt like a puzzle.

However there still are games like Full Throttle. I read somewhere that Tim Schaffer didn't want to ruin the fast pacing of the game by adding obstacles. So as a result, the game got severely shortened.
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Old 03-27-2005, 10:42 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wormsie
In Cirque de Zale there's a puzzle in which you need to give a basket of goodies to a random pimp. In return the pimp will... I don't remember what it was, but I'm sure it wasn't that necessary or important. She'll help you somehow.

There is no difference in the basic structure of those puzzles. However, the pimp is just a random person thrown out to the streets. After the first encounter you will never see her again. The pimp doesn't tell you anything that would help you with the game later on, and it isn't really an integral part of the plot.
It's been a while since I played Cirque, but the way I remember it, the pimp did play into the story of the game. You get some sort of leaflet advertising the career in prostitution, which you need in order to convince the acrobat to quit her job in the circus you're trying to sabotage. Then later you recruit one of the hookers to be your new acrobat. This is even brought up in the end sequence, where you're trying to hit on her and getting rebuffed.

I therefore think the puzzle was quite well integrated in the plot. I'm not a big fan of the puzzles in the game, since most of the time you're just carrying objects from one screen to another, but that's a problem with the nature of the puzzles much more than how they fit into the story.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Wormsie
Another example is from the award-winning game Apprentice II. None of the puzzles actually are a part of the story. In fact, you solve a number of puzzles that have nothing to do with the plot in order to make the plot progress. The game can be fun, but it's not very good game design.
I don't think that's entirely fair. All the puzzles tie into Pib's efforts to be recognized as a magician (or apprentice, at least). There's no real plot development in the game, but for such a relatively brief one I don't think that's critically important.

Anyway, Ian Schlaepfer acknowledged this concern in the interview for the 20004 TCN Awards:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ian
I read one comment on Apprentice 2 that criticized the progression of the story. I never really thought about it, but he definitely had a point. There are a lot of puzzles Pib solves, but nothing really happens in the game. If anything, the things Pib does are mere busywork between Ironcrow’s two visits to the tower. There is no gradual build-up to a climax and a resolution (although there is an initial equilibrium and a disruption). In the game’s defense, it is a chapter from a larger story, but the only real story that occurs in the first two games can be found in the opening and closing sequences. Maybe I was too focused on trying to make it fun.
Quote:
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Simply put, we have to get rid of making these parody adventure games. Apprentice II was otherwise very good and well developed as a game, but its puzzles has very little to do with the plot itself.
I fail to see the connection between parody games and lack of integration between puzzles and plot. When you say "parody", are you talking about games that are clear Sierra/LucasArts pastiches, or just humorous games in general? Regardless, I don't see any evidence of a correlation with arbitrary puzzles.
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Old 03-27-2005, 11:20 AM   #9
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I disagree.

Actually, I agree, I just thought this thread could use some variety.
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Old 03-27-2005, 02:21 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Snarky
I fail to see the connection between parody games and lack of integration between puzzles and plot. When you say "parody", are you talking about games that are clear Sierra/LucasArts pastiches, or just humorous games in general? Regardless, I don't see any evidence of a correlation with arbitrary puzzles.
I noticed that I was a bit unclear there. It's just that Cirque de Zale is "Just Like Monkey Island"(tm)! Therefore it thinks it is copying Monkey Island, when in fact it isn't.
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Old 03-27-2005, 02:28 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Snarky
It's been a while since I played Cirque, but the way I remember it, the pimp did play into the story of the game. You get some sort of leaflet advertising the career in prostitution, which you need in order to convince the acrobat to quit her job in the circus you're trying to sabotage. Then later you recruit one of the hookers to be your new acrobat. This is even brought up in the end sequence, where you're trying to hit on her and getting rebuffed.
I admit my argument has crumbled. But if you read the paragraph, doesn't it sound a bit obscure? A bit like a bad story? I still think that the pimp is a very insignificant character, comparable to the clown in Grim Fandango. Perhaps one part of the problem is that there's too many of those weird puzzles and characters whose connection to the story is weak at best. I now realise that of course anything you do in the game is a part of the story, but maybe the story in Cirque de Zale just isn't worth anything.

Quote:
Anyway, Ian Schlaepfer acknowledged this concern in the interview for the 20004 TCN Awards:
(I was the individual who pointed that out.)
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Old 03-27-2005, 02:39 PM   #12
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Also, I think puzzles should gradually teach you more about the game world and the plot and the characters. This does not happen in games like Apprentice II and Cirque de Zale. There's a very fixed goal with no surprises.
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Old 03-27-2005, 03:02 PM   #13
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Maybe it's just that many adventure games, commercial and underground, merely blindly follow the conventions without ever actually examining them very closely, critically, and constructively.

All too often it looks like this: story > puzzle > story > puzzle > story... There doesn't seem to be an organic structure to these games, if you know what I mean. They don't seem to follow a particular cohesiveness and even chaos, that we are accustomed to when we step out our front doors. And so they end up not only lacking cohesion, but also dimension. I feel like the games take me by the hand and lead me from point A to B, no questions asked.

The elements in the games - character, details, narrative expositions, items - have nothing to do with each other and exist for the sole purpose of waiting for you to click on them.

I've played only a few underground games, and mostly forgot about them. But it seems that they merely mimic what many commercial games do, and what they do is mimic as well. Which imparts a feeling of sheer drone mechanics, and the world never cracks open for me. I feel like I'm just.....playing a game.
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Old 03-27-2005, 03:03 PM   #14
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I played Cirque de Zale and thought that some of the "bad approach" might've been done on purpose because the whole game is pretty much a parody on adventure games and tries to "defy" and "expose" its flaws. So, I'm not sure if the "pimp puzzle" was done on purpose to be bad or not. However, I didn't like the game anyway for different reasons. A lot of stuff just wasn't funny. It seemed to try too hard to be a parody, so that pretty much every step was an attempt to ridicule some adventure game "flaws". I would definitely enjoy an occasional "expose the flaw" joke in a normal adventure game but when it's all it's built on, the game becomes boring. Some of the "jokes" just seemed extremely lame too, sorry to say. But hey, no one said it was easy to be funny or make a good game. No game is perfect, and I hope the designer's next one will be a bit less of a parody and more of an exciting adventure.
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Old 03-29-2005, 05:02 AM   #15
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I was thinking about this last night and realized two things:

a) I might have come across as being too negative about amateur games (Apprentice in particular). I want to state that I have nothing but admiration for the folks that devote so much time, energy and love into these wonderful games. I had a blast playing both Apprentice games and will download AP III the moment it is released. To compare one of the best amateur games with, arguably, the best professional adventure game ever released (Grim Fandango) is a little unfair!

b) The title of this thread is really wrong! What it really should say is "Today I understood that story matters". Because what we're really saying is that what many amateur adventures lack is true story. If you start from the story you can add the puzzles in so they fit. If you start from the puzzles you end up with, well, the puzzles.

Andy.
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Old 03-29-2005, 06:15 AM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by plattyaj
b) The title of this thread is really wrong! What it really should say is "Today I understood that story matters". Because what we're really saying is that what many amateur adventures lack is true story. If you start from the story you can add the puzzles in so they fit. If you start from the puzzles you end up with, well, the puzzles.
Hmm. I admit that my starting point was a bit off - as I stated myself: "I now realise that of course anything you do in the game is a part of the story, but maybe the story in Cirque de Zale just isn't worth anything."

However, I still think the problem is that the creators start with the story. Then they add puzzles that addvance the story, but not in small enough segments, but big chunks. The puzzles should tell the story. That's what I meant about puzzles mattering. You can have a very good story, but only tell it through cutscenes, and in between cutscenes the player is occupied by little side quests (learning more about Centaur Races, for example).

It is unfair to compare Apprentice II and Grim Fandango, but amateur games will always stay bad if nobody is willing to criticise them and say "that is not good enough".
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Old 03-29-2005, 10:07 AM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wormsie
However, I still think the problem is that the creators start with the story. Then they add puzzles that addvance the story, but not in small enough segments, but big chunks. The puzzles should tell the story. That's what I meant about puzzles mattering. You can have a very good story, but only tell it through cutscenes, and in between cutscenes the player is occupied by little side quests (learning more about Centaur Races, for example).
You've confused me here. I would always approach story-based game design from that very position - of telling a story. Puzzles evolve organically out of that, or at least they should if the game is any good. I agree with you that the puzzles should be part of the story, and that they should be in small segments, but puzzle design should arise from the game and not the other way round. You then appear to contradict yourself by saying that puzzles "should tell the story" and then immediately following this with a suggestion in which cutscenes tell the story and the puzzles are minor points .

Ignoring this, though, I would never personally advocate basing a storyline around puzzles in preference to writing the story first. By all means modify the storyline to allow puzzles to come out of it, but the story is what one is here to tell.
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Old 03-29-2005, 10:35 AM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RLacey
You've confused me here. I would always approach story-based game design from that very position - of telling a story. [...] I agree with you that the puzzles should be part of the story, and that they should be in small segments, but puzzle design should arise from the game and not the other way round. You then appear to contradict yourself by saying that puzzles "should tell the story" and then immediately following this with a suggestion in which cutscenes tell the story and the puzzles are minor points .
That's not what I meant. Allow me to be clearer: "You can have a very good story, but only tell it through cutscenes, and in between cutscenes the player is occupied by little side quests. That is bad."

"Puzzles evolve organically out of that, or at least they should if the game is any good" is kinda what I meant. My approach is still that there has to be a reason to tell the story as a game. I try to think about that consciously, and even put some kind of deeper idea into the solution of the puzzle so that the playing experience would be coherent. The reason is the puzzles - how they enhance the story.
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Old 03-29-2005, 10:39 AM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wormsie
That's not what I meant. Allow me to be clearer: "You can have a very good story, but only tell it through cutscenes, and in between cutscenes the player is occupied by little side quests. That is bad."
Now THAT I can agree with totally.
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Old 03-29-2005, 10:44 AM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wormsie
That's not what I meant. Allow me to be clearer: "You can have a very good story, but only tell it through cutscenes, and in between cutscenes the player is occupied by little side quests. That is bad."
To me, it's bad because it's overused, not bad by definition. If the little side quests are as well written/designed as the main story, I'm OK with it.
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