• Log In | Sign Up

  • News
  • Reviews
  • Games Database
  • Game Discovery
  • Search
  • New Releases
  • Forums
continue reading below

The Negative Psychology of No

Negative Psychology of No
Negative Psychology of No

Adventure gamers are gluttons for punishment.  Or at least, developers must think we are.  Playing an adventure game means having our wrists slapped time and time again, simply for being curious.  I haven’t heard the word “no” this often since I was a two-year-old who didn’t know any better than to try dumb things.  But at least it was warranted back then, done (mainly) for my own good.  Learning not to stick my finger in electrical outlets or put a plastic bag over my head allowed me to grow up and become a responsible, rational adult… who somehow ended up choosing a pastime that manages to treat me like a child all over again.  Only this time it’s supposed to be fun

But you know what?  It’s NOT fun.  “That won’t work.” “I can't do that.” “No need to go down there.” We’ve all heard these kinds of rejection lines so often that we take them for granted, blissfully unaware of the life-sucking erosion they inflict on our enthusiasm over time.  Or perhaps not so blissfully.  Not anymore.  The adventure genre is a niche for a reason, and I believe this constant negativity is a big reason why.  Little by little, it wearies us subconsciously, discourages us, maybe even drives some away completely, perhaps without ever really knowing what it was that turned them off.  "Just say no" might be a great anti-drug slogan; it sucks as an adventure game philosophy, and it's got to stop.

All genres have rules, of course, but others are able to conceal their restrictions in a natural way.  You can't store more weapons than you can carry.  You can't cast spells you haven't learned yet.  You can't build military units unless you collect enough resources.  Attempting such things just won't work, but you know that from the outset and it's foolish to even try.  Other rules are less defined, but even these are resolved organically.  You can confront a final boss monster with only a pistol, but it's no surprise when the creature whups your butt.  You can level up a mighty magician and wander into battle with no mana potions, but you know that can never end well.  You can storm a fortress with only a small infantry platoon, but you have only yourself to blame for the carnage that ensues.  Success depends on understanding the unspoken rules, but the common sense parameters are clearly established and the games let you try, even if the end result is failure.  (Note to self: take rocket launcher to boss fight next time.) 

Only in adventures are the rules so blatantly artificial and appallingly transparent, and the endless "can't do" attitude is depressing.  Obviously some actions deserve little sympathy.  It makes no sense to use mustard on a hammer or a balloon on a crocodile (although come to think of it, if I looked long enough I could probably find a game where both are viable puzzle solutions).  I have no complaints when such options are summarily dismissed.  But much of the appeal of adventuring is supposed to be exploring and experimenting, and more often than not, today's games not only fail to reward us, they actually penalize us for trying.  Far, far, FAR too often have I attempted an interaction that I felt was perfectly reasonable, either with a specific plan in mind or simply because it made sense to see what happened, and ended up with a terse refusal and no explanation – or worse, as some games seem to delight in making you feel stupid (the less said about those games the better). 

It's bad enough when games limit what items you can use on other items, even if the decision is entirely arbitrary.  No matter how logical other alternatives might be, usually only one object will work as the developers intended, and only then on one other object.  Why?  Because the game won't let you do otherwise, that's why.  No rhyme, reason, or sometimes any response given.  Just no.  But some games refuse to even let you try an action if the character isn't properly motivated.  I'm fully in favour of rewarding actual strategy over random trial-and-error, which this is obviously meant to stimulate.  But simply rejecting a viable option until you've "looked at" an item in plain view or talked to an NPC to learn they approve of your idea is simply making the matter worse.  Now we're not only stuck with guessing the developer's mind, but having to nursemaid an idiot avatar in the process.  Frankly, if I have an idea, he or she should have it too, dammit!  Some adventures won't even let you GO where you want until the appropriate time (if at all). Can't act, can't think, can't move for ourselves?  Nice.

Add it all up, and that is one great big pile of no.  If you thought I was going to say a pile of something else, I don't blame you.  The "no" pile is just as ugly, and it stinks too.  In fact, I'm not totally sure which is worse.  At least the other one turns into fertilizer eventually.  I don’t see any upside at all to never-ending rejection, especially for recreation.  Yes, I know the challenge of adventure games is in arriving at puzzle solutions that aren't immediately obvious, but this inherent genre trait is both a blessing and a curse.  On the one hand it encourages both logical and lateral thinking, but its implementation often denies us the ability to learn from our mistakes.  It's all-or-nothing in anticipation of that one "aha!" moment of final payoff, with just a lot of nopes, doesn't works, and can't happens in between. There's something to be said for rewarding perseverance, but demanding it without any emotional or even much intellectual incentive feels more like an endurance test than a leisure pursuit.

So what do we do about this negative psychology of no?  Ideally, adventures would become far more generous in their puzzle-solving approach, offering multiple solutions and a myriad of possibilities, even if they're ultimately wrong.  Let us discover for ourselves what works and what doesn't, limiting only those things that are physically impossible (or at least reasonably implausible).  But that invites the familiar elephant into the room, which is money.  It costs far too much for developers already scrimping on budgets to add extra interactions, animations, and branching paths to account for player experimentation.  Though they had their own limitations, the best text adventures of old were more flexible in this way, freely (or at least cheaply) allowing many more avenues to explore.  Modern graphic adventure designers no longer have that luxury.  I get that, and I sympathize, but it's no excuse to simply shrug our shoulders and accept the status quo of "no can do".  If there's a skill today's developers need to master, it's the ability to work smarter within their own limitations instead of exposing them at the player's expense. 

Doing so can take a number of forms.  One method slowly gaining traction is the cursor indicator that shows you at a glance which interactions and combinations are viable and which are not.  It's a subtle thing, but as a first step it's crucial in eliminating the initial wave of negative feedback.  Which would you prefer: a silent little image that instantly prevents you from wasting your time, or actually making the effort only to be treated to a worthless vocal remark that drags your mood down for your troubles?  My blood boils a little hotter every time I hear "there's no reason to use those together", especially when there's a perfectly good reason in my mind.  Avoiding these repetitive verbal downers in favour of a quick and easy visual notification is an elegant solution I intend to champion until all developers take heed, if only to shut me up. 

But that's just a start.  All that accomplishes is replacing negative feedback with no feedback at all. It's a definite improvement, but not nearly enough on its own.  Adventure games really need to start turning each slap on the wrist into a pat on the back.  At the very least, they need to start phrasing generic rejections with a more positive spin.  I'm far more likely to respond kindly to "I'm on the right track, but need to think it all the way through" than "There's no reason for me to do that."  The former motivates me to try harder, to press on, to view the problem from another angle.  The latter just makes me want to quit, fed up and disgusted.  Yes there is a reason, game!  I'm THINKING of a ^&%*@ing reason!  Why can't you?! 

Even that is merely superficial, however.  The real focus should be on turning negative (or non-existent) feedback into contextual clues.  I don't want a game to tell me how to solve a puzzle, but I do want it to offer some input on what I'm doing wrong.  When all you get is a canned answer for the umpteenth time, you learn nothing from the experience and have no idea how close you are to the actual answer.  This is a huge wasted opportunity to support players with useful information.  More games are adopting hint systems, but doesn't this really just suggest that the clues themselves are still insufficient?  Burying hints into context-sensitive feedback would be incredibly beneficial and feel far more natural than seeking an immersion-killing (and further confidence-deflating) tip elsewhere. 

The next step, then, is to ditch generic responses for all but the most unfounded options.  Yes, that means more work for the writers and additional dialogue for voiceovers, but many games can afford to cut out redundant commentary elsewhere.  Hands up all those who have clicked on a hotspot only to have the protagonist tell you what you could plainly see for yourself?  All of us.  We can (gladly) do without that, so now it's time to trim the fat and season the meat.  What to say instead?  That will be a balancing act between saying too much and not enough, but the emphasis should be on telling us why our attempt won't work instead of simply stating that it doesn't.  If I truly am close to the solution, indicate that, possibly with a nudge in the right direction.  If I'm way off base, tell me that too, so I won't keep trying variations of the same thing and proving Einstein's theory of insanity correct. 

This approach doesn't require an AI-level query/response system, just a thoughtful anticipation of likely player interactions (and a bit more complex programming if it's going to be done right).  Preferably clues would be tiered for repeated mistakes, and can be based either on the item being used (am I using it in the right place, just not under the right circumstances?) or the hotspot you're trying to use something on (is this object part of a current objective at all, and am I ready to utilize it at this point?).  Perhaps the best analogy is the child's game of hot-and-cold, where you direct someone to a specific object based on whether they're near or far from the actual goal.  Does that make an adventure game too easy?  Not necessarily.  The challenge lies in the abstraction of the wording.  Obviously a game shouldn't immediately spoil a solution, but it can certainly guide in subtle ways.  That's the challenge for developers, but hey, that's why they get paid the big (okay small) bucks.

I believe some concessions should be made in providing alternate interactions as well.  Not in big, cost-prohibitive ways, but in smaller, more attainable ways.  If I try using a knife on a rope in inventory, why not go ahead and let it be cut, even if makes the rope too short?  It's a viable player action and a natural outcome, and it feels far more satisfying to see it carried out than hearing "I shouldn't do that" yet again.  Of course, when it comes time to use the now-too-short rope, you'll need to address the newfound problem.  Ideally there'd be a new puzzle created to reattach the rope pieces or provide a substitute to replace it, but if nothing else, it wouldn't be difficult to add a single additional line about tying it back together and hoping it holds.  That's just a very basic illustration, but representative of the way you can both accommodate player choice and still keep production manageable. 

Adventure games are too rooted in single-solution puzzles to ever really change from a "no" genre to a "yes" genre.  But we can certainly come much, much closer to the middle than we are now.  And we must.  I play games for something to do, and all too often adventure game puzzles feel more like obstacles intended to prevent me from doing anything else.  Can't do this, can't do that... no, no, a thousand times no.  Ugh.  This negative psychology of no is far too destructive to let continue.  It may cost a little bit more to overcome, but I bet sales will start increasing when word gets out that games are actually FUN again instead of demoralizing drains on our once-eager anticipation.  Mainly, though, all it really requires is the commitment to make it happen through user-friendly interface improvements, smarter dialogue, and attention to context-relevant feedback all working together in unison.  Is it possible?  There's only one correct answer to that question.  And if you think the answer is "no", you've been playing adventure games too long.


continue reading below

Community Comments

Great article. As a mystery writer, I'm very keen on the psychology of clues. I think people are definitely wrong to think it will make things easier. It will make things FAIRER, for sure, but a well-worded clue doesn't have to scream out the answer. And if it does... well then the puzzle needs redesigning. Adventure game designers need to get into the mystery writing habit: CLUES ARE PART OF THE PUZZLE. They're not an optional extra. I wonder if the problem is that by the time the game goes for testing, the writers have already been packed off? (Or maybe testing is just of the exhaustive "try everything on everything" approach to search for bugs) I think it's a mistake to assume that the writers can anticipate what wrong solutions people will come up with. What there should be is an opportunity for people to play the game and give comments along the lines of "I tried X, and I thought it would work because Y" Then the designers could go back and add the necessary clues.
Mar 5, 2013
In some games this problem has been eliminated cleaverly: For example last two black mirrors, book of unwritten tales etc. had a feature when sensible solutions were hilighted in the cursor. Saves nerves from "this doesn't work" - kind of crap.
Sep 5, 2012
Very good article and very good points. It would be fairly easy for the system to organically track how many failed attempts a user had made to solve a puzzle or to combine images and provide more hints on how to solve that particular puzzle. This wouldn’t work in every game, but you could certainly make a very approachable adventure game. It could even adjust difficulty based on the behaviors of the player.
Aug 5, 2012
Resources - and many or much of them - come to mind. AGs with realtime 3D engines are very expensive to make, and as such needs to make sure to sell a lot of games, so that the publishers and game developers get their invested money back. Frogware's newer Sherlock Holmes games do partly or all of what Jack Allin suggests, as I see it.
Aug 3, 2012
Making AGs with realtime 3d engines would help in this area. As all objects are rendered in game, It is only a matter of internal programming to add whatever interactions are needed. You don't need to make dozens of animations or backgrounds to cover all of the permutations. It's all handled by the engine for you.
Jul 29, 2012
While trying to avoid getting involved in other issues... I feel a lot of this would be helped by proper playtesting. This could reduce a lot of the problematic aspects. If the playtesters find a puzzle (or the "answer") bad or incomprehensible, it can be changed before the final game is released. If they ask why the umbrella or a source of water can't be used, lines explaining why can be added. It could be done at a fairly early "design" stage with only rough graphics, no voices, etc. If it was also done when the game is basically finished, it'd also help the problems of bad translation, spelling/grammar errors, voice acting mishaps, etc... Yes, it may add to the cost and delay releases, but it'd result in a much better game overall.
Jul 28, 2012
Loved the article. I've mostly moved away from the adventure genre because I found it to be too limited. For those familiar with OO programming, puzzles almost fall into design pattern categories: how many times have you had a puzzle where someone is guarding something and you have to distract the guard to get the thing or get through? Or where you give something to someone and they give you something back? I feel that leaving text behind has severely hurt graphical adventures, because all the interactions we get now are 'use visible thing on visible thing/person' or 'click on text to get some info from person'. The verbs are too limited. Myst innovated in this regard by creating (or refining) the verb of 'push button here, push button there, and try to figure out how this works', but this is hard to pull off in an organic manner in most adventure games. In any case, I feel adventure games need to move in the direction of other genres: There needs to be an understanding of the feedback that a player needs to keep being involved. Ideally, what you want is a layered game. You can solve the puzzles the easy way to get some content and get through the game, or you can put in extra effort and get the bonus content. Most puzzles should be layered this way, because some people really enjoy the difficult puzzles, and others enjoy the story. So why not satisfy both camps?
Jul 26, 2012
While somewhat related, I miss the ability to solve problems in multiple ways among your improvement suggestions. Why can I pop the balloon with a needle, but not with a fork, knife or handgun ? If developers consequently went for each puzzle through the inventory, try to figure out as many successful steps as possible and pick at least the most likely and simple to implement that would be a HUGE step forward. The consequences would be less linear games, which has its benefits (e.g. an increased replay value) but also story telling problems, although actually I personally believe that it would just kick a lot of the bad crutches from under them.
Jul 23, 2012
Well, how "helpful" the information is would entirely be up to the developers and the context of each puzzle, so I'm not dictating difficulty one way or the other. Or it could simply be optional, like I mentioned above. And hey, there's a chance to make the puzzles more complex if you're not wasting choice dialogue opportunities on throwaway comments that say absolutely nothing. I never get caught up in the whole "dumbing down" issue, though, because I honestly don't find all that many puzzles to be particularly "smart" to begin with. And the ones that are smart would still be smart no matter what.
Jul 23, 2012
I think I understood more of what you meant in the article by reading your posted replies. To be honest, at first it did seem a bit like "dumbing down" but now I think I get where you're coming from. Although I still can't say I agree with it, I respect your opinion as it seems like a valid point that probably is shared by the extremely heterogenic AG community.
Jul 22, 2012
Yes, my comment on hints isn't directly related to the article topic. But nor is it altogether unrelated, since it's still based on useful contextual feedback (instead of a big fat "hint" button that may or may not tell you something you want to know). "If you can’t possibly know why something isn’t working, more often than not, it’s because you either forgot about some info given previously or because you simply didn’t connect the dots." "More often" is highly debatable. Many puzzles are presented long before you have the actual means to solve them. But since you never KNOW when you have all the information and items you need, it's all too easy to fail simply because you haven't spoken to everyone or looked at everything or picked up every object yet. And without decent feedback telling you what you're doing wrong, you're just guessing. All I'm saying is that in those cases, a little prescient feedback could save players from flailing about in futility until a puzzle is actually possible to solve. "I have to say, I’ve never read a walkthrough because I kept hearing “no”." Of course no one ever gets stuck [i]because[/i] they keep hearing "no". A no is just non-information, not an absence of clues elsewhere. People seem to think I'm suggesting handing solutions to players. I'm not. I'm only talking about helping people know what they don't know. Big, big difference.
Jul 22, 2012
" I don’t want to be told how to solve a puzzle, but I do appreciate being warned that I’m wasting my time for reasons I can’t possibly know. " I think you crossed two different subjects there, Jackal. All good puzzles - note that someone above used the word "riddle", I think it suits much better than puzzle - give you information along the game to every challenge, unless it's a completly logical one - ex: found light bulb, put light bulb on empty socket. If you can't possibly know why something isn't working, more often than not, it's because you either forgot about some info given previously or because you simply didn't connect the dots. Note that I'm not talking about the "water water everywhere and not a drop to drink" kind of riddle, I'm talking about the ones that when you do solve , you think "oh, how didn't i think of that before". If you get a "that won't work" , and when you do solve the "puzzle/riddle" you feel like the answer makes just as much sense as what you've tried before then that's a flaw in the writing of the story/puzzle. So it was never a matter of "yes/no" but poor writing. I don't disagree that simply saying "no" everytime isn't ok, for a game based on text - art today is important aswell but clues are given mostly by speech/text - is very cheap but explaining why it's wrong and POINT you towards a solution, that would take away a lot of the genre, the sense of accomplishment. I have to say, I've never read a walkthrough because I kept hearing "no". Everytime I read one, I found out it was a matter of either pixelhunting or bad programming for hotspots - ex. having to put the cursor at an exact tiny pixel for the crosshair to allow interaction. I do understand your point and think it's a valid one, but I honestly don't feel you pitched a solution that wouldn't either make the game easier (hints) or stray it far from the genre (multiple possibilities for every action - rope example for instance)
Jul 22, 2012
Nah, I don't play most of the bad ones (at least, not to completion). But they all cross my desk at some point or another, so I know they're there. I'm hightlighting problems to raise the bar for [i]all[/i] adventures, not just accept that some are good enough already. I don't think your mentality vs. blind spots comparison is an either/or. If your mentality is to become a better driver, you commit to checking your blind spots, no? I don't think adventures need to change their entire fundamental problem-solving approach, if that's what you're implying. But they could sure stand to start treating players more like participants whose contributions are valued, and less like trained monkeys simply jumping through hoops. I could argue some of your specific objections, but really they were just ultra-simplistic examples, not something ever intended to stand up to much scrutiny on their own. Of course these things raise new challenges. But I'd rather developers start thinking creatively about how to solve new problems than merely shrug and accept the status quo because that's the way it's always done. "to make the players want to and be able to stay within the boundaries, and to guide them back when they start to stray." Well, yes, that's the goal. If you're saying a much more organic, informative means of conveying those boundaries that simultaniously respecting the player's efforts doesn't do that, okay then. I think you're wrong.
Jul 22, 2012
It's an... interesting article. Some things to agree with, some things to disagree with, but my main takeaway is that maybe Jack needs to take a break from playing adventure games. At least the bad ones. I really only play games I like these days, and when you stick to a few good ones each year, it really doesn't seem like the genre has a "No" mentality. I think everyone will agree with specific complaints like the (hypothetical) umbrella that can't be used as a stick and the "water water everywhere but not a drop to drink" example. Those are just arbitrary restrictions and bad design. As for "I can't do that", it's fair enough that reasonable attempted actions should ideally get some more meaningful feedback, at least an explanation of why it's not going to work or isn't the right approach, and possibly a hint as to the actual solution (if appropriate). But it's obviously impossible (or at least uneconomical) to do this for every possible action in any reasonably large game, unless you somehow radically constrain the space of possible actions. So Jack admits that even if you add better feedback to the plausible but incorrect solutions many players will attempt, that still leaves a whole bunch of other ridiculous combinations and pointless actions that only deserve generic feedback. So are we really talking about changing the mentality of adventure games, or just investing a little more into the design and playtesting of games to find the "blind spots" that the designers didn't originally think of? Because the better adventure games already do this, and if they don't manage it perfectly 100% of the time, that's because designing adventure game puzzles is hard, and checking every possible unintended action to see if it might make sense somewhere in the game is expensive. (And yes, if you're going to offer more built-in hints, that's going to make the puzzles easier, so there's a balancing issue too.) As for the cutting up rope thing... I agree with the other objections that it introduces more problems (e.g. red herrings) than it solves, assuming there's no point in the game where you might legitimately need the rope to be cut up. It's also going to make it that much harder to check the puzzle logic for consistency and holes, because now you have to consider whether maybe multiple rope [i]pieces[/i] could be used somewhere else in the game, or in combination with something else. And once you introduce the precedent that you can cut up random things for no particular purpose, you'll either need to add the interaction for everything in the game that is cuttable, or make an even more conspicuously artificial limitation. All games have limitations, and that's not generally a problem in games that are very stylized. But adventure games tend to camouflage the game mechanic and its limitations behind realistic-looking environments and meaningful story events (and often relies on these to provide the logic of the puzzles), so the player is tempted to use real-world logic to challenge the game boundaries. The answer isn't to expand the boundaries (make all kinds of non-puzzle-solving actions possible) or even ideally to make them padded (come up with something less discouraging than "I can't do that"), but to make the players want to and be able to stay within the boundaries, and to guide them back when they start to stray.
Jul 22, 2012
Interplay, I disagree that more feedback inevitably makes things easier. If you try to use an umbrella to fetch something from a tree and get "I could try, but it isn't nearly long enough" isn't necessarily a clue. It [i]may[/i] be a clue that you need to make it longer, or it may simply be descriptive information that makes you feel like the attempt was valued, even if it doesn't work. (It's still a "no", but not dismissive like the canned answers.) Are you any closer to the puzzle solution? Not really. But at least now you know why. I WOULD like to see a tier system in place, though, that alerts you if you're clearly (no pun intended) barking up the wrong tree. When your third attempt to retrieve an item that simply can't be retrieved yet inevitably fails, THEN I'd like to see a "hint" of some kind to alert you that your attention is needed elsewhere first. I don't want to be told how to solve a puzzle, but I do appreciate being warned that I'm wasting my time for reasons I can't possibly know. Having said all that, since the current feedback system is so basic, it could easily be maintained as a difficulty setting to choose from. Just like hotspot highlighters and more blatant hint systems can be manually enabled/disabled, so too could more context-sensitive feedback. If all you want is the "no", that's the simplest thing to arrange. Ascovel, sure, no devout adventure gamer finds a slow pace inherently boring. But it's hardly a stretch to suggest that many, many people do. As for other genres, of course they have their own rules, as the article states. But invisible walls and permanently locked doors aren't rules so much as similar design weaknesses that are also heavily criticized. That's their version of "I can't do that" and is no more acceptable in those games. But it's not like a shooter suddenly won't let you use a rifle on Enemy A, even if it's going to be totally ineffective. It lets you find out for yourself, and that's what I'm talking about. Your options for interaction may be limited, but it's crystal clear what they are, and you're generally given free rein to use them as you wish. Adventures... not so much. Of course, whether one enjoys the type of interaction other genres provide is a whole different matter.
Jul 22, 2012
"I more or less agree with you that adventures are “boring”. The question is WHY they’re boring. The innate slower pace is only part of the answer." Boredom has little to do with slow pace. Boredom is all about lack of interesting content. And in fact, I find adventure games the least boring genre. What bores me the most personally is repetitive content - either slow-paced, or fast-paced. Action and RPG genres in particular have got that in spades. "Another part is the tendency of adventures to arbitrarily prevent players from doing much of anything, or from ever feeling like they’re really in control. Hence, the article" Oh, but I don't feel like I'm any more in control in other genres. Invisible walls, scripted events, locked doors, only one or two types of interaction available (e.g. shoot and change weapon). Games are games, not virtual worlds.
Jul 22, 2012
I'm of two minds on this issue. On the one hand, I also despise the "water water all around" factor that iznogood raised. It's frustrating to come up with a solution that you think should work, but doesn't work because the developers didn't think of it. On the other hand, I think this "psychology of no" is one of the things that makes adventure games more challenging. I want to figure these puzzles out on my own. I never use any hints or a walkthrough. I would rather be stuck in a game for two hours and think about the solution while I'm trying to go to sleep at night than look up the answer online. So, if I try the wrong thing in a game, the last thing I want is some subtly-worded hint that makes the solution obvious when it wasn't before. To me, that's like an unsolicited hint, and one that decreases the challenge of the game. And any response other than "that doesn't work" will likely offer a hint of some kind. Again, I think the solution to this (maybe) problem is more creative programming. Traditional point-and-click games by their nature tend to have to be either somewhat obtuse or they become very easy (collecting an item on one screen and using it in its obvious place on another screen). What makes a game like Resonance genius, is that it doesn't just have a finite number of questions you can ask to which it answers "no". By the nature of the game mechanics, you have to come up with the right question to ask in the first place. It is out-of-the-box thinking like that that will move the genre forward, imo.
Jul 22, 2012
Shoal, the entire purpose of writing an editorial like this is to raise issues that people might not have thought about otherwise. Jerk or no, that seems like a pretty obvious point you somehow failed to grasp. I more or less agree with you that adventures are "boring". The question is WHY they're boring. The innate slower pace is only part of the answer . Another part is the tendency of adventures to arbitrarily prevent players from [i]doing[/i] much of anything, or from ever feeling like they're really in control. Hence, the article.
Jul 21, 2012
3 things i really really hate in adventure games: 1. The classical "Water water all around, and not a drop to drink." I resently played a game, where there were no less than 4 viable sources of water near by, and i had at least 2 suitable containers, but NO i had to find some stinking river water and use a wooden box to collect it - Grhhh. 2. When you can't do someting or go somewhere, because the protagonist hasn't realised it has to be done yet, and you have to click on some obscure item or talk to someone first. So called investigating games like Gray Matter or GK2 seems to be exceptional "good" at this. 3. Hint systems that only tell you what you already know. Like "Try looking for some water" - You don't say so! I have already found several viable sources of water, but you wont accept any of them! Couldn't you at least point me in the right direction? A poor hint system is worse than none at all.
Jul 21, 2012
(Note that I have not read any of the previous comments.) With all due respect (and I mean that), all I could think while reading this article was, "In all my 25 years of adventure gaming, I have never even once thought of this as a problem or even a minor annoyance." I kept thinking, "This dude needs a good time-out, a chill pill, or therapy or something. Wow!" Again, I mean no offense whatsoever. I'm just being a jerk. I realize I am not the author and that we are two different people, I do recognize that. Therefore it's true that we're going to have different tastes and expectations. But I have to admit I was, indeed, seriously surprised by the aim of this article! :) As for why AGs are a niche genre, call me cynical, but here's my take: 1) They're BORING. I say that with as much love as possible since I'm a big fan of the genre. But man, they are just plain old SUPER BORING compared to every other genre! :) They're boring first because they're puzzle games (see #2 below) and second, on account of their puzzles, their pace relative to other genres is about as fast as an elderly woman with bad knees using a walker. What picks up the pace in an AG? What makes an AG more exciting? Greater speed at which players experience rewards of real substance that move the game forward. (Or the inclusion of regular, well-implemented and adrenaline-pumping action elements.) 2) Maybe it's dangerous to brush too broadly, but I believe that most folks absolutely do not want to use their brain in anything approaching a critical, abstract manner. That's not stress-relieving in any fashion for most people. (This is also causing huge problems for governments, especially democratic ones.) The solution? Make the puzzles easier. 3) AGs vary vastly in content since they rely so much more heavily on plot, characters and setting than any other genre, even roleplaying games. As a result no one adventure game is going to be able to please every AG fan, let alone fans of other genres!
Jul 21, 2012
The difference between adventure and genres such as shooters is simple: adventures ask you questions. These are often broad questions designed to make the player consider a large number of scenarios... so naturally there are wrong answers to the question.. and the deeper an adventure game is, the more possible wrong answers there are. A shooter tells you "you have a pistol, shotgun and rocket launcher to use, this is what they do and how its applied for the whole game." In a good adventure game you will be faced with solving a completely different problem at every turn: "how do i open this box? why does the water flow this way? how do i convince someone to help me?" These arent questions that easily fit in one mechanic, so you inevitably have many actions you can try with very few of them being successful. There are plenty of games that give you relevant clues when you try a wrong combination, but ultimately its just another "no" dressed up like somthing else. If every potential viable solution you could think up needed to have results because "in your mind it should work", then every puzzle would have to have at least 5 acceptable solutions... and that likely results in a horribly easy game. Adventure games are like solving riddles: you arent looking for any potential answer, youre looking for ~the~ answer that fits the context of the question and the person who asked it.
Jul 21, 2012
I just recommended this article as "must read" on the July Casual Games thread. I just finished a game that reminded me of early adventure games. where everything must be tried with everything. But, every wrong combination was met with a "you stupid s**t" statement. I used to think this was fun. I'm not sure anymore.
Jul 21, 2012
Nice and thought provoking article. It's obviously not all black&white;, or in this case - no/yes, but as conveniently mentioned in the article - the truth could be somewhere in the "middle". I'm opening the thread for further discussions.
Jul 21, 2012
Oscar- "It’s a genre, but a very diverse one. I don’t like talking about it as if they all have the same elements." Exactly what you said. It's a diverse genre, and here we're talking about evolution, not restriction. There's nothing wrong with trying to set the level of immersion higher by simply establishing a better and more consistent internal logic (as Jackal also said). These are not MY expectations and I don't believe there are a lot of AGs that actually enjoy the NO psychology. Not to be misunderstood, I'm not saying that all adventures should become sandbox games. That would be the opposite end of the spectrum that you mentioned. Keeping a logic and understanding with the player (and not inconsistenly reminding him now and then that he is playing a game after all) is not nearly the same as following real physics. "I don’t believe that at all. Many HOGs have immersion and good writing" I never said that there weren't any good HOGs, or casual games in general, out there. There are always exceptions to the rules (pun not intended). But we're on this site because of adventure games, which in their majority, are richer in writing and immersion than most short-lifespanned casual games, and I merely mentioned those traits cause they have absolutely direct relation with the matter at hand.
Jul 21, 2012
There's the ol' "dumbing down" chestnut, at long last. This has nothing to do with making games easier. It has everything to do with making them better. If a puzzle is only difficult because it doesn't disclose enough information to solve it or learn from your mistakes, it's a lousy puzzle. This isn't directly connected to the "no" theme, but merely as an example of why difficulty isn't the issue, there's a reason people complain about GK3's cat hair puzzle and not Le Serpent Rouge. I have played all of the games you mentioned, by the way. Well, I'm not finished Resonance yet. I don't recall any standing out as exceptional in this area. But even if I'm simply forgetting, I didn't say no games ever do any of the things I suggest. But none (or very, very few) do it consistently. "The rule I was talking about is that there’s one solution to the puzzle programmed in and you have to find it. And the solution or clues may be arbitrary. And all I’m getting is that you don’t like that rule (or it’s not “fun”). It sounds like the article is trying to bring in real life to the games - I can put the rubber chicken in the rasperry jam in life so why can’t I do it in the game? Because it’s a game and doesn’t need to follow real physics, logic or laws." I'm fine with one-solution puzzles IF incorrect attempts are accurately and informatively conveyed, not summarily dismissed with a deliberately useless "no" all the time. I doubt you'd find a single developer to ever agree that their puzzles solutions are intentionally "arbitrary". They only appear that way because they're so poorly conveyed. A game doesn't need to follow real physics, logic or laws, no, but it DOES need to establish its own internal logic and then stick with it, or it's being unfair to the player. To use someone's earlier example, if a long stick does something an umbrella can't, there'd better be good reason given for it for the player to understand why. And if there isn't, you're not [i]solving[/i] puzzles, you're merely guessing. I already said that the most ridiculous interactions are not worth pursuing. It's the myriad reasonable ones that meet with pathetic or non-feedback that need to be fixed.
Jul 21, 2012
TechSmurfy - "I think that is a narrow-minded thought -or at least the chess example was weak. It’s not chess. Chess is one game. We’re talking about a genre here. Rules evolve, genres evolve. Role-playing games are not what they used to be twenty years ago (for better or for worse), adventure games can do things better or different as well. As a matter of fact, they’ve stuck with a set of ‘rules’ for too damn long, if you ask me. And casual adventure games have only made matters worse." It's a genre, but a very diverse one. I don't like talking about it as if they all have the same elements. Read the forum for a while and you'll find some people love one end of the genre and hate the other. I wouldn't like to upset the extreme I dislike by demanding it conform to my expectations. I'd rather the adventure genre be heterogenous and appeal to all gamer types. "Immersion and good writing -as pfleury also stated above- is what I, and most of us I believe, wanna get from an adventure game and these are the things that set it apart from friggin HOGs. And tackling with “the negative psychology of NO” surely helps on both aspects." I don't believe that at all. Many HOGs have immersion and good writing - Drawn is one of the most immersive games I've played of any genre. It's the gameplay that sets apart adventures and HOGs. And it irks me that some people want to dumb down the adventures I like in the name of "positive psychology" when there are tons out there that already do that. "Your “if you don’t like it exactly the way it is, do something else” philosophy is not only ridiculously insular, it’s flat out misguided. As I said, the original text games (then later Sierra and LucasArts and Legend and the like) were far more generous in their degree of interactive feedback than modern games. You’re now upholding a stripped-down version as the ideal, when it was actually better before." I'm not really upholding anything except diversity in games, but in any case I don't think feedback was better before. I played Planetfall recently and the feedback was terrible. And I can't think of many games this year that uphold the "I can't do that" tradition, but many that reject it - there's Yesterday, Walking Dead, Deponia, Superbrothers, Resonance. Why not play those games? "The chess analogy is a poor one. There are indeed legitimate “rules” that govern chess’s gameplay, and are clearly established going in. No two chess games have different sets of rules. But when it comes to adventures, we’re not talking about actual rules, just arbitrary restrictions with no rhyme or narrative reason. More importantly, even with its rigid rules, chess actually lets you make extraordinarily stupid moves if you want. It sets the parameters, then gives you freedom to operate as you please. You live and learn by doing. The adventure game equivalent would just tell you you can’t do that if it didn’t like your choice, and wouldn’t even tell you why. THAT is the negative psychology of “no” I’m talking about. " The rule I was talking about is that there's one solution to the puzzle programmed in and you have to find it. And the solution or clues may be arbitrary. And all I'm getting is that you don't like that rule (or it's not "fun"). It sounds like the article is trying to bring in real life to the games - I can put the rubber chicken in the rasperry jam in life so why can't I do it in the game? Because it's a game and doesn't need to follow real physics, logic or laws. If you think that's worse it's because you don't like it and not because it's a universal law that it should do those things. The evidence is me and anyone else who likes these games.
Jul 21, 2012
Wael, I would certainly welcome better, more varied experiences overall. But since most adventure games still rely on the standard genre formula, I'm mainly focused on how to refine that formula itself so that it's more rewarding. Even The Walking Dead falls back on it occasionally (and perhaps not coincidentally, that's generally when it's at its worst). Oscar, "fun" is just a catch-all word for the entire art/entertainment spectrum. The word itself has no relevance to the topic. The chess analogy is a poor one. There are indeed legitimate "rules" that govern chess's gameplay, and are clearly established going in. No two chess games have different sets of rules. But when it comes to adventures, we're not talking about actual rules, just arbitrary restrictions with no rhyme or narrative reason. More importantly, even with its rigid rules, chess actually lets you make extraordinarily stupid moves if you want. It sets the parameters, then gives you freedom to operate as you please. You live and learn by [i]doing[/i]. The adventure game equivalent would just tell you you can't do that if it didn't like your choice, and wouldn't even tell you why. THAT is the negative psychology of "no" I'm talking about. Your "if you don't like it exactly the way it is, do something else" philosophy is not only ridiculously insular, it's flat out misguided. As I said, the original text games (then later Sierra and LucasArts and Legend and the like) were far more generous in their degree of interactive feedback than modern games. You're now upholding a stripped-down version as the ideal, when it was actually better before.
Jul 21, 2012
I think that is a narrow-minded thought -or at least the chess example was weak. It's not chess. Chess is one game. We're talking about a genre here. Rules evolve, genres evolve. Role-playing games are not what they used to be twenty years ago (for better or for worse), adventure games can do things better or different as well. As a matter of fact, they've stuck with a set of 'rules' for too damn long, if you ask me. And casual adventure games have only made matters worse. Immersion and good writing -as pfleury also stated above- is what I, and most of us I believe, wanna get from an adventure game and these are the things that set it apart from friggin HOGs. And tackling with "the negative psychology of NO" surely helps on both aspects.
Jul 21, 2012
I don't agree with the article in two points: 1. The "can't do" aspect of traditional adventure games is part of what makes them so rewarding and success in solving a puzzle so gratifying, to me at least. 2. Do all gamers play games for fun, or at least your idea of fun? I know many reasons to play, just as there are for reading, going to an art gallery or doing crossword puzzles - exercising the brain, learning, experiencing another's creation, and so on. But this is really about what you like as a gamer and what you don't. It's no more "negative psychology" that a game has a single solution and no branching paths than it's negative psychology that a bishop in a game of chess can only move diagonally. There's no reason for that rule, it's the simply a rule of the game. Would chess be better with a more "can do" attitude and if the pieces had more options? Of course not. If you don't like the rules of chess, play checkers. Don't try to change the game because you don't like the rules or because it's inaccessible - some people happen to like it that way.
Jul 21, 2012
Cool article. I'm more encline to think you want a better gaming experience overall. Maybe the changes to adventure games mechanics need to be really deeper than just "positive feedback" . Walking dead makes it very well, proposing a classic P&C gameplay but reworked so well that frustration is not part of the game anymore and therefore make it available and playable to a far broader audience. That seems more 2012 than 1996 in term of Fun and what you expect from a game.
Jul 20, 2012
Post a comment

You need to be logged in to post comments. Not a member? Register now!
Back to the top