Adventure Architect: Part One
Tap, tap. Hmm. Is this thing working? Testing, one, two, three. Yep, everything seems to be in order. Okay then, welcome to the first installment of my new online adventure game design journal. You might be wondering: Who’s writing this, anyway? Thanks for asking. My name is Josh Roberts, and I’ve been covering the amateur scene for Adventure Gamers since December of 2000, reporting on projects like Space Quest: The Lost Chapter, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis 2, and the King’s Quest VGA remake. But as of today, I’m a complete rookie in the area of game design.
It’s probably the industry's best kept secret that many of the most entertaining new adventure games these days are being designed not by the major studios, but by amateurs—fans of the genre working alone or in small teams to do something that we’ve all wanted to do at one time or another: create our own adventure game. Beginning this month, I’ll be taking my first steps down that road as well. I’ll report on everything I learn along the way, from choosing a game engine and deciding on a story idea to writing the plot and, eventually, even beta testing and completion.
I’ve never done anything quite like this before, but I do have lofty goals. I want to design a professional quality game that will have everything I look for in a graphic adventure: great characters, a compelling story, unique puzzles, and—of course—a good dose of humor. I’ll try to provide insights into the whys and wherefores of my decisions by discussing my philosophy for puzzle design and storytelling in puzzle-based environment, as well as character development, visual presentation, and project management. And when all is said and done, there’ll be a completed adventure game at the other end.
So you want to design an adventure game…?
Flash back to a few weeks ago. I’m staring at a blank screen and feeling a little like the Hero at the beginning of Quest for Glory. “So you want to be an adventure game designer?” asks a voice in the back of my head. Its tone suggests that I’m not particularly likely to succeed. “What now?”
Good question. To begin with, I have to choose a game engine. Do I try Adventure Game Studio, or AGAST—the Adventure Game Authoring System? These are the two most popular engines, and both have faithful users who swear by them. I know that both engines are powerful enough to run games that I admire, like Passage: Path of Betrayal with AGAST, and the King’s Quest remake with Adventure Game Studio.
I download Adventure Game Studio v2.3 first because it seems more inviting to the newcomer. Clear instruction manual? Check. Helpful demo? Check. Friendly online community? Check. I don’t feel too intimidated yet.
I quickly create a test game and borrow a few screens from the Reality on the Norm shared universe series. Why spend time designing my own backgrounds until I know if I can even handle the room editor? In just a few hours, I learn the basics:
· Defining walkable and unwalkable areas for the player.
· Adding walk-to, pick-up, talk-to, and look-at functionality.
· Designating walk-behind areas to produce a 3-D effect on a 2-D backdrop.
· Placing an item in a specific location, and allowing the player to pick it up.
· Learning basic scripting to enable the player to walk between rooms and appear in an specific horizontal-vertical location upon entry.
It doesn’t take long before I’ve tackled a basic scripting challenge, received help from the AGS community boards, and most importantly of all—actually made two working rooms. And it’s easy. What had previously seemed the exclusive domain of professional game designers is now within my grasp.
Putting the graphics into “graphic adventure”
I’m not done testing yet, though. Using a few existing game screens is a good way to start, but it’s only a start. The next challenge is learning to illustrate my own backgrounds. I look at some of the words being tossed about in the online forums: antialiasing, saturation, layers, filtering—these mean nothing to me.
I need a crash course in computer-generated artwork, so I go online and search for a helpful tutorial—ideally one geared toward adventure games. To my surprise, there are dozens. What I discover in my search for the right tutorial is that there’s no one way to create background art. Some types are entirely digital. Others are hand-painted and then scanned into a program like Adobe PhotoShop. I go with one by AGS user Eric Feurstein which falls somewhere in between — sketching a scene with a pencil and paper, scanning it into Photoshop (or, in my case, JASC Paint Shop Pro), and tracing the rough sketch on a new layer. Then I use the paintbrush to add colors to the new picture on different layers. The results aren’t bad for a first attempt. I play around with a few more techniques and background scenes—at this point just random settings unrelated to any story or plot—and I become more confident in my abilities.
With the game engine, basic scripting, and background art under my belt, I know that I’m capable of creating a functional adventure game. The technical aspects aren’t as daunting as I feared, and creating background art is actually fun. I leave some of the other tutorials until later, confident that I can learn what I need to when the time comes.
But now comes the hard part. I’ve wanted to make an adventure game of my own since I first loaded the original King’s Quest into my Tandy 1000 about 15 years ago. Suddenly I have the freedom to make any game that I want. I’ve been given the keys to the adventure game castle. But there are so many choices to be made before I can start.
Next: From story idea to storyline—choosing an adventure game setting.