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discussion about modernizing/popularizing adventure games

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Simon_ASA - 19 February 2021 04:48 AM

What do you think of this?
https://gamasutra.com/blogs/AdrianChmielarz/20140430/216597/Seven_Deadly_Sins_of_Adventure_Games.php

Honestly, the article seems a bit confused, to say the least. I think the chosen format (one game, seven sins) hurts the points the author is trying to make. The conclusion is interesting though.

We loved the classics not because their game mechanics were great, but because some people managed to work around them, overshadow them with amazing writing and graphics, make them invisible and, in rare cases, useful.

I think this line of reasoning has led to stopgap solutions for the perceived issues of traditional adventure games. The notion that AGs are just structurally bad, this cannot be helped and needs to be compensated (great story/writing) and alleviated (streamlining).

Or maybe it’s true and half of this discussion is pointless. Like Sway, I don’t have all the answers.

Directly quoting all of you would make for a patchwork post, so I’ll just try to freestyle this to the best of my ability! Smile

Market/audience. I tend to be impressed by numbers, but I honestly have no idea which estimation is closest to reality. I do think there are people who do not really consider the genre when browsing for games. There is potential to win them over. Some have lost interest, others never had it and a fairly large portion probably are not very aware of the genre at all. There’s a reason big brands slap their logos and slogans on everything - if you’re not in the public eye, you’re losing the race. Adventure games took a backseat to pretty much every other genre - part of that is just PR. Those 40 pages in that 100-page magazine are gone. A lot of magazines are gone. But there are commercials on TV that promote the latest FPS.

That doesn’t seem realistic for adventure games. But I do believe more mainstream attention could (slightly) increase the audience. Not just for big budget titles that resemble adventure games: there are still people out there who haven’t discovered Wadjet Eye yet. If digital distribution services pick up on an increased interest, they will try to accommodate this trend. I think you can actually see this happening right now: Steam very recently had a huge promotion of adventure games and there’s another one on the way. GoG does this every once in a while, but considering what their name stands for, I don’t think that site is particularly useful when considering the future of AGs.

The sales of the former industry giants is a bit deceptive, since the competition with other genres was rather minimal and there was less of a paradox of choice. They both maimed their AG departments when other genres were on the rise, which seems to be the reason people talk about the death of adventure games. I think the first reaction (at the time) was to blame shooters. Then came the criticism of the genre, which was necessary, but led to the entrenchment of ideas/clichés that are not that helpful at this point in time.

@PacoTheSecond: I like how you’re points are conchise (I could learn something there) and from a relevant (consumer) perspective. What would lower the barrier for you? Could a game present itself differently, or advertise certain qualities?

@Adv_Lvr: Do you think shifting the focus to the narrative aspect of AGs will help the genre reach a broader audience? Should the lines between AGs and RPGS be blurred, in order to innovate and take advantage of the great amount of attention RPGs have gotten the past couple of years?

@PLanetX: I would be interested in that discussion as well. But maybe I get a bit too excited when talking about stuff like this. Wink

     
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Streamlining adventure games is an interesting question. That does make me wonder what they would look like and in many ways, modern hidden object games have given one possible answer to that question. A good many of them, especially the ones produced by Artifex Mundi, feels in many ways streamlined adventure games. They’ve made travelling around the gameworld easier with a map that shows precisely where the puzzles are, so there’s no need to try and guess what the game wants you to do and so on.

Now, granted, they are more or less casual games, but at the same time, I do think they have taken an audience that might have otherwise been interested in adventure games. And in many ways, the games in that genre keep those people happy: they provide stories tied to puzzles and in some cases surprisingly good production values as well in what comes to art, voice acting and music.

Now, I’m not saying that is the direction adventure games should move as a whole, but I do think adventure developers could learn something by taking a look at some of those games, especially in how making sure the player knows where the next objective is. And they even have difficulty selections, so you can make a choice in how much help you need. Something like this could also bring some new players to the genre.

     
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tomimt - 19 February 2021 08:27 AM

And they even have difficulty selections, so you can make a choice in how much help you need. Something like this could also bring some new players to the genre.

That’s an old idea.
It was used already in Monkey Island 2 - LeChuck’s Revenge, and I seem to recall that some game had that even earlier than that.

It might help some newbies to get into the genre, but have there really been lots of folks to try those more casual modes?

The last game that I have played with such an option was Kaptain Brawe: A Brawe New World. I played it through on both difficulty levels actually. I can see that it might help with the most challenging puzzles, sure. It doesn’t change the underlying game mechanics at all though, so if the problem is with the traditional structure, it’s not the solution.

     
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GateKeeper - 19 February 2021 09:50 AM

That’s an old idea.
It was used already in Monkey Island 2 - LeChuck’s Revenge, and I seem to recall that some game had that even earlier than that.

It might help some newbies to get into the genre, but have there really been lots of folks to try those more casual modes?

I tried the easy option in Monkey Island 2 after finishing it a couple of times in normal mode and I recall it featured some unique items and dialogues and it also mocked the player from time to time for choosing the easy mode.

Loom also had you choosing between 3 difficulty modes, although it was not about puzzles, but about the interface. And the game was easy anyway.

     

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@Adv_Lvr: Do you think shifting the focus to the narrative aspect of AGs will help the genre reach a broader audience? Should the lines between AGs and RPGS be blurred, in order to innovate and take advantage of the great amount of attention RPGs have gotten the past couple of years?

Yes it most certainly would. And yes, let’s blur the line between RPGs and Advenrure games. We have a few adventure games that is doing that right now:

The Council

disco elysium

I played the Council and the RPG elements did indeed make the game more interesting.

We are also seeing a resurgence in FMV games and they are well received also.

Lastly, we have to mention Persona 4 Golden. It’s an JRPG with a deep narrative, great characters and lyes, puzzles that need to be solved to allow the story to move forward. Also, it has a story mode where you cannot die.

The game has sold million of copies - which for an AA games is amazing.

One thing about many adventure games is that the puzzles are the same and are reused over and over. Nothing fun about solving the same puzzles over and over for hours with only minutes of story.

 

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I enjoy playing adventure games on handheld systems- PS VITA, Nintendo DS and ipad mini.

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I guess I’m just old and stubborn but when you start bending a genre wholy than that genre disappears.

For example, Mass Effect 1 was a very strong RPG with some action elements in it but by the time Mass Effect 2 and 3 came along it became a third person action game with some very light RPG elements in it. I did not personally care for this shift in gameplay and philosophy, but a lot of folks did because it’s sold even more copies I do believe.

Going back to disco Elysium I guess I just don’t get it… so does every game with a story count as an adventure game because from what I’ve seen and granted I have not played it. The game is a tabletop RPG. The player picks choices then the game figuratively rolls the dice and looks at your stats and you get the outcome. Am I wrong or is there actual puzzles in the game.

For the record by the end of Telltale Games run, I no longer consider them adventure games either I just consider them narrative-driven games which to me there is a difference. As another poster pointed out hidden object’s games are like adventure games but I think there is a distinction there too, but to me those are closer to a traditional adventure games than something like disco Elysium. But that’s just me.

I still say adventure game sales are pretty stagnant quantic dreams had Sony pushing them hard cuz they were exclusive and would only drop a game what once a generation. Plus for every until dawn there’s been three or four games that were similar that failed. I am pretty sure the same company released smaller adventure games in that same genre called the Meridian pack and so far they have bombed. Kings quest remake didn’t do very well or at least not good enough to continue on. I guess what I’m getting at is sells are all over the place, but when a company releases a first person shooter they have a more concrete expectation of sales, that’s why we’re up to Battlefield 28 and Call of Duty 36. Same thing with third person action adventure games which is why we have Assassin’s Creed 49 LOL.

     
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I really hate that narrative-driven games is now a synonym for adventure games bc there is a difference to me.

I’m convinced that if you did an experiment with 20 to 50 casual video game players and had them play a telltale game and then something even like Broken Sword 5 that they would be able to tell the difference between a casual experience or narrative-driven game like the borderlands and an actual adventure game like broken sword, at least I think so.

     
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The later Telltale games are adventure games imo. As I define it adventure games consist of story, exploration and puzzle or problem solving where the gameplay is narrative lead. As in solutions are determined by parsing narrative context (getting past a goat, drugging dogs to get into a mansion, finding a contradiction in witness testimony) rather than self contained/story independent criteria (match similar colors, line up shapes, fit pieces to make an image). Many adventure games contain both kinds of gameplay but since games are categorized into genres by what you do mostly: If your game consists mostly of the former, it’s an adventure game to me.

In this definition I consider late TellTale games adventures because making narrative choices is a form of problem solving. You’re trying to sort through which choice will produce a favorable outcome going forward. You could say that TTG game’s aren’t variable enough for this mechanic to be considered deep, and I’m sympathetic to that criticism. Still that’s a failure of design to me not a matter of genre distinction. Detroit by QD is effectively the same kind of game it’s just much better so thinking about the problems actually matters. Another example would be Westwood’s Blade Runner. The game has little to no typical puzzle solving. It’s instead about observing clues and making choices based on if you want to side with replicants or humans. But that’s still a form of narrative driven problem solving.

It’s true that they’re a different type of Adventure Game than the ones that typified the genre in the 80’s and 90’s but the same is true for every genre as they change through the decades. 

Of course, reaching into genre’s with entirely different gameplay loops like Persona is outside the bounds of the conversation I’d have. Regardless of any optional Quality Of Life features they add into the latest version, the gameplay loop is still majority RPG mechanics of character building, turn based battles, dungeon crawling, etc. Half Life 2 doesn’t become an adventure game if you turn god mode on. If someone wants to try and make that argument they can but it’s an extreme reach to me.

     
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PlanetX - 19 February 2021 08:06 PM

The later Telltale games are adventure games imo. As I define it adventure games consist of story, exploration and puzzle or problem solving where the gameplay is narrative lead. As in solutions are determined by parsing narrative context (getting past a goat, drugging dogs to get into a mansion, finding a contradiction in witness testimony) rather than self contained/story independent criteria (match similar colors, line up shapes, fit pieces to make an image). Many adventure games contain both kinds of gameplay but since games are categorized into genres by what you do mostly: If your game consists mostly of the former, it’s an adventure game to me.

In this definition I consider late TellTale games adventures because making narrative choices is a form of problem solving. You’re trying to sort through which choice will produce a favorable outcome going forward. You could say that TTG game’s aren’t variable enough for this mechanic to be considered deep, and I’m sympathetic to that criticism. Still that’s a failure of design to me not a matter of genre distinction. Detroit by QD is effectively the same kind of game it’s just much better so thinking about the problems actually matters. Another example would be Westwood’s Blade Runner. The game has little to no typical puzzle solving. It’s instead about observing clues and making choices based on if you want to side with replicants or humans. But that’s still a form of narrative driven problem solving.

It’s true that they’re a different type of Adventure Game than the ones that typified the genre in the 80’s and 90’s but the same is true for every genre as they change through the decades. 

Of course, reaching into genre’s with entirely different gameplay loops like Persona is outside the bounds of the conversation I’d have. Regardless of any optional Quality Of Life features they add into the latest version, the gameplay loop is still majority RPG mechanics of character building, turn based battles, dungeon crawling, etc. Half Life 2 doesn’t become an adventure game if you turn god mode on. If someone wants to try and make that argument they can but it’s an extreme reach to me.

Once again I just disagree in the later Telltale Games your choice actually matters very little because the game always winds back to the same endpoint so your choice has very little input in the outcome. usually just different dialogue responses for characters. I would also have to disagree in the fact as far as gameplay, traditional adventure games do have a fail state of sorts. if you cannot solve a puzzle the game stops and grinds to a halt, there are no fail states in a Telltale Game, you might have to do qte a couple times but you will never truly be stuck aka unable to finish the game. So there is very little problem solving no matter how you look at it. The choices are an illusion and the game play is walking and pressing button prompts during quick time events.

The illusion of choice affects all genres of games as I’ve said before look at Mass Effect the first game setup multiple choices and outcomes that seem like they truly mattered but by the end of the third game you realize that no matter what you did, you end up with three end game states when there should have been infinitely more outcomes.
That is one reason I do applaud Whispers of a machine, a small Dev team had actual more choices throughout their game that mattered than most modern AAA games. Choices that not only affected the outcome of the game but different puzzles and play styles depending on the choices you made.

     
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Jdawg445 - 19 February 2021 08:31 PM

Once again I just disagree in the later Telltale Games your choice actually matters very little because the game always winds back to the same endpoint so your choice has very little input in the outcome. usually just different dialogue responses for characters. I would also have to disagree in the fact as far as gameplay, traditional adventure games do have a fail state of sorts. if you cannot solve a puzzle the game stops and grinds to a halt, there are no fail states in a Telltale Game, you might have to do qte a couple times but you will never truly be stuck aka unable to finish the game. So there is very little problem solving no matter how you look at it. The choices are an illusion and the game play is walking and pressing button prompts during quick time events.

That’s a failure of design not a genre distinction. Your choices are supposed to matter. They even tell you that’s the intention before the game. So the fact that they sometimes do, often don’t, is a design flaw. But it doesn’t mean it’s a different type of game than Detroit, Life is Strange or other examples. It’s one with flawed design. Also, I never said they were traditional adventure games. The genre as a whole isn’t defined by adhering strictly to decades old design, no genre is. Call of Duty isn’t a Quake 3 style arena FPS but it’s still an FPS.

Also not having the game grind to a halt doesn’t preclude something from being problem solving. You’re making a choice for a desired outcome that you may or may not correctly achieve. That’s problem solving without question. In fact some of the most intense problem solving in a game like Detroit is timed and doesn’t halt you. And the punitive element is actually far harsher because the game continues regardless of whether you succeed or fail because you only get one chance.

Another example would be Kate on the rooftop from Life is Strange. Having to make the right choices to talk her off the ledge/remember details from exploring her room is problem solving. The fact that the game actually let’s you fail is a harsher punitive element than if you just got infinite chances to get it right.

     

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Seems to me a lot of the problem is the definition - it means different things to different people so if you look for an “Adventure game” you don’t know if it matches what you want. In the old days, at least to me, it was clear.

An adventure game had a Sierra game as its archetype - text parser with graphics. A “Text adventure” was just the parser. 

“Point and Click Adventure” - a natural evolution, however I honestly feel this is a different beast to the classic Adventure Game. Games like Leisure Suit Larry are interesting because they make the transition between those genres, and so blurred the line.

Quern, Obduction, The Witness - they are a new genre as well (which I love!), more focused on the puzzle aspects - modern graphics with real puzzles, and playing them to me feels similar to the way it was with the classic adventure game, but very different implementation and genre.

The Room - similar to those but even more puzzle focused. Leans towards pure puzzle and not so much an adventure game. Popular genre though.

So back to the topic, with regards to popularising “Point and Click Adventure Games” - I think you need a really tight definition and then its really just attracting new players. These days, you need to make it something a popular youtuber is going to want to promote. For me, if I hear it somewhere that it’s a good game, I’ll probably give it a go. It’s unlikely I will seek them out myself.

Forums like this are really useful - pretty much all of the recent P&C adventures I’ve played have come from suggestions here.

     
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PlanetX - 19 February 2021 09:42 PM
Jdawg445 - 19 February 2021 08:31 PM

Once again I just disagree in the later Telltale Games your choice actually matters very little because the game always winds back to the same endpoint so your choice has very little input in the outcome. usually just different dialogue responses for characters. I would also have to disagree in the fact as far as gameplay, traditional adventure games do have a fail state of sorts. if you cannot solve a puzzle the game stops and grinds to a halt, there are no fail states in a Telltale Game, you might have to do qte a couple times but you will never truly be stuck aka unable to finish the game. So there is very little problem solving no matter how you look at it. The choices are an illusion and the game play is walking and pressing button prompts during quick time events.

That’s a failure of design not a genre distinction. Your choices are supposed to matter. They even tell you that’s the intention before the game. So the fact that they sometimes do, often don’t, is a design flaw. But it doesn’t mean it’s a different type of game than Detroit, Life is Strange or other examples. It’s one with flawed design. Also, I never said they were traditional adventure games. The genre as a whole isn’t defined by adhering strictly to decades old design, no genre is. Call of Duty isn’t a Quake 3 style arena FPS but it’s still an FPS.

Also not having the game grind to a halt doesn’t preclude something from being problem solving. You’re making a choice for a desired outcome that you may or may not correctly achieve. That’s problem solving without question. In fact some of the most intense problem solving in a game like Detroit is timed and doesn’t halt you. And the punitive element is actually far harsher because the game continues regardless of whether you succeed or fail because you only get one chance.

Another example would be Kate on the rooftop from Life is Strange. Having to make the right choices to talk her off the ledge/remember details from exploring her room is problem solving. The fact that the game actually let’s you fail is a harsher punitive element than if you just got infinite chances to get it right.

I still say its not probling solving, it is cause and effect, based on the character you are role playing as. Choice a leads to outcome z and so on. There are some games that do use dialogue choice for solving actual gameplay problems such as sherlock holmes and detroit become human. That is why i used telltale as an example bc it is purely only a narrative driven game. Detroit is an adventure game and so is life is strange.

     
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Another example would be Kate on the rooftop from Life is Strange. Having to make the right choices to talk her off the ledge/remember details from exploring her room is problem solving. The fact that the game actually let’s you fail is a harsher punitive element than if you just got infinite chances to get it right.

I actually think that now is a great time to be playing adventure games. Indies can be a hit, and make major bucks if they are different and not the same old same old.  There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension Is a good example of this. Life is Strange was a huge hit because it was different, the puzzles different and people could relate to the characters.

Anyway, the fact that we have FMV, cartoon, 3D, Visual Novel, even text adventures at the same time is amazing and makes today the best time to be playing adventure games.

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I enjoy playing adventure games on handheld systems- PS VITA, Nintendo DS and ipad mini.

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Adv_Lvr - 20 February 2021 11:31 AM

Anyway, the fact that we have FMV, cartoon, 3D, Visual Novel, even text adventures at the same time is amazing and makes today the best time to be playing adventure games.

With at least 10.000 adventure games existing, more coming out all the time, and software like ScummVM and DOSbox making running older titles easier than ever, that’s certainly true. From an adventure fan’s point of view, there shouldn’t be much to complain about.

All that doesn’t change the fact that we are not seeing major publishers and developers rolling out AAA level releases. Even the strongest adventure IPs have become niche market. Contrary to what many like to believe, lack of games has never been the problem, lack of interest is the real problem. Both within the industry, and among players.

     
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Jumping into the discussion late with a super long post, but I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot and wanted to share some thoughts.

I see 3 distinct kinds of adventure games, each with their own future:
- Text adventures (Infocom, modern text parser games, etc.),
- Traditional 2D point and click third person adventure games, (LucasArts, Sierra, Wadjet Eye, etc.)
- Non-traditional adventures (Telltale Games, Life is Strange Walking Sims, etc.)

Text adventures
Games that are strictly text may seem beyond niche and not commercially viable anymore, but I actually see them as the subgenre with the biggest potential for growth and the one I’m most excited about. The reason being AI. Consider AI Dungeon for example. The game reacts to your input in the text parser to create stories unique to the player. In its current text only iteration it’s not that compelling, but the potential is there. I think a version that uses voice that you could play on your Alexa or with Siri or Cortana on the phone where the voice changes to have different characters and learns from the voice commands of other players to create unique stories will be hugely compelling for a lot of people that wouldn’t normally play an adventure game.

Picture a streamer playing this game, reacting to the unpredictability, with the option to donate to influence the direction of the story. The lack of visuals is less of a problem because people will be watching the streamer. The tech to make these kinds of games shine isn’t quite there yet, but I think it will be in the next five to ten years and I hope that someone does because there is the potential to capture that early magic of adventure games where the text parser provided a lot of freedom and flexibility that is currently missing with point and click games, also the replayability means that watching a stream is not equivalent to playing the game.

Traditional 2D point and click third person adventure games
This is the genre we’re most familiar with and unfortunately has the weakest future. Let’s look at the success on Steam of the most recent traditional Aggies GOTY winners, here the data comes from SteamSpy:
Röki: 0 - 20K
Whispers of a Machine: 100-200K
Unavowed: 100-200K
Thimbleweed Park: 200-500K
Stasis: 100-200K
Of course Steam isn’t everything, but does represent 75% of the PC market and point and click adventures do sell best on PC, although there is potential on consoles like the Switch and Mobile.
Now notice the difference between the older games that have been on sale for deeper discounts and in bundles and the most recent title. If the best of the genre can only do 20K without a huge discount what chance to all non-Aggie winning adventure games have of being profitable, not very much.

Also how many young people are playing these games? I would think the average is much higher than for other genres. I don’t like how so many games still want to reference Monkey Island. I mean I love Monkey Island as much as the next person, but we have to move on. It would be like if every movie had a reference to Casablanca.

This comes to my main point about sales, it’s like the music industry, there’s games from major studios at the top that get all the sales and a few breakout indie titles each year, but the vast majority of games are languishing in abysmal sales just like the vast majority of artists have abysmal streams. There is a difference in the payment models between the two, but the point is that you should be thinking of most games like you think of artists on bandcamp, if more people than their friends and family are interested in their game they’re doing well.

Non-traditional adventures
There is where we have seen some support from larger independent studios and even the odd title from a major studio. This is the other niche that I also think has room to grow. The reason being the upcoming switch from sales to streaming. Just like in music and movies most people will not be paying for downloads of their games in the future. The tech isn’t there now, but will be in the next 5 – 10 years. You’re seeing this already with Microsoft and Gamepass. I bet for a lot of Xbox owners, a subscription to Gamepass could be enough that they never need to buy a game again. It’s in this market where I see the potential for non-traditional adventure games to grow where Microsoft will need smaller titles to fill out their release schedule and for people who don’t want to buy a game they will finish in a few hours, taking a chance on a narrative game will no longer be a barrier to entry. My prediction is that this is where we’ll see the next adventure game from Doublefine after Psychonauts 2.

     

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