Return to Adventure: Part of the Story.

I talked about how adventure games might be able to attract the casual market by giving them a good story to work through while avoiding all the issues with RPGs and FPSs like complicated combat, reflex-gaming, and abstract and confusing character building. But there is one thing that a lot of RPGs, at least, have that adventure games should incorporate into their model: the ability to make a player feel like they’re a part of the world and can have an impact on the story.

Let’s return to my previous comments on what adventure games might have over TV or DVDs, which is that it’s a game, not a static story that you sit there and watch. With the puzzles and gameplay elements, adventure games put the player into the story and make them part of it. They aren’t watching what someone else is doing, but are participating in it. This is, of course, what makes it a game.

But a lot of that is lost if all you do is follow a pre-scripted path where the characters do and say everything and all you do is solve a puzzle occasionally. That becomes an awful lot like sitting in front of a television. It gets even worse if you don’t agree with what the characters in the game are doing; it’s bad enough that characters on a TV show act like idiots, but it’s far worse when they act like idiots when you’re supposedly in the world with them.

It isn’t hard to make it feel like you’re a part of the world. You don’t need to have massive branching paths or major customization, if you set the atmosphere up right. For example, the innovative game “Missing: Since January” aimed precisely at that sort of feeling and to get you to completely suspend your disbelief. It was all aimed at making you really think that you were trying to solve a murder mystery by puzzling out clues left behind by a kidnapper/murderer, using the disk that the authorities sent you. It used websites and E-mails to make you think you were in the game, and I still remember one section where two of your E-mail contacts were both copied on one of your replies and one of them remarks that she was happy to meet the other one. Little things like that can really help you feel like you’re a part of the world.

But that’s not going to work for a game like Gabriel Knight or a game based on Sherlock Holmes or Nancy Drew, or a game that can’t just rely on making you and your computer the whole environment of the game. For those, there needs to be a way for you to feel involved with the world without having to make you — the real you — the main character, because if you go too far with that you’re building an RPG, and no one wants that. So how can you make a player feel like they’re in the world when, really, they aren’t?

For games that are based on established or set characters, give choices as to how the story turns out. Build in a few side plots and let the player decide how they work out. Even things as simple as deciding which romantic interest the character ends up with at the end of the game can really help the player feel like they have an impact on the game, and makes it far superior to watching Smallville and griping that Clark really should have gone for Chloe instead of that Lana … woman.

If the game is aiming to put the player into the game, then you need some customization. Gender, I think, will be huge for this sort of adventure game, especially if you want to pick up the casual market since there seem to be more women in the casual market than anyone expected. And you’ll need to make sure that you avoid forcing the players to act like idiots for drama. But customization is the big thing; RPGs have survived for years by making players act like idiots to increase drama, so why should adventure games be any different?

Ultimately, adventure games have to compete with at least two different media. They have to be easier to play than your average RPG or FPS, to pick up casual gamers, but on the other hand they have to be more interactive than your average television show. If they get it right, they can slot in the middle and profit. If they get it wrong, they’ll fade away again.

Next time: making sure that adventure games are easier than your average RPG or FPS

Advertisements

5 Responses to “Return to Adventure: Part of the Story.”

  1. malcolmthecynic Says:

    But a lot of that is lost if all you do is follow a pre-scripted path where the characters do and say everything and all you do is solve a puzzle occasionally. That becomes an awful lot like sitting in front of a television. It gets even worse if you don’t agree with what the characters in the game are doing; it’s bad enough that characters on a TV show act like idiots, but it’s far worse when they act like idiots when you’re supposedly in the world with them.

    This is exactly what made “To The Moon” such a huge risk, and why despite the simple engine and graphics it was actually incredibly ambitious.

    The indie game “To The Moon” does exactly what you say it does. There’s just one difference: The story is not just good, but phenomenally good. I won’t even hesitate to say that it’s the best story in a video game of all time. I haven’t, of course, played them all, but I can’t imagine any being better. It’s better than the majority of novels out there. How many video games cross genres into science fiction, romance, mystery, comedy, AND adventure?

    What’s remarkable about it is that conventional wisdom says it really shouldn’t work at all. Puzzles are few and extremely simple. The player has next to no impact on events (the only things the player can actually change are a couple of throwaway scenes near the beginning of the game that don’t affect the story at all). But the game is in my top five because the story and soundtrack are just so incredible. The climax of the game is beautiful and utterly heartbreaking. The ending is simply perfect. The music is gorgeous. It is to this day the only game I’ve bought the soundtrack for, along with its sequel.

    And what makes it so ambitious is that the creator, Kan Gao, put himself out there and said, “Here you go. Here’s a game with virtually no gameplay. But I bet you you’ll like it anyway just because the story is so good.” That takes guts, and the fact that it was successful is a testament to Kan Gao’s ability.

    Basically, of all the recommendations I’ll ever make on this blog, if you can only pick just one game pick this one. It’s just a two to four hour experience. It took me two sittings and easily could have taken one. It’s ten dollars and on sale all the time. Everybody should play this.

    • verbosestoic Says:

      How many video games cross genres into science fiction, romance, mystery, comedy, AND adventure?

      Persona 3 and Persona 4 [grin]! (Although they’re more fantasy than sci-fi)

      And what makes it so ambitious is that the creator, Kan Gao, put himself out there and said, “Here you go. Here’s a game with virtually no gameplay. But I bet you you’ll like it anyway just because the story is so good.” That takes guts, and the fact that it was successful is a testament to Kan Gao’s ability.

      While I’m sure that the story is excellent and that appeals to me, the big question — and the one I ask here — is that in that case what does it being a game add that it being, say, an anime or short movie wouldn’t? To put in another way,if you take the Persona 4 anime and the Persona 4 games, there are reasons to enjoy them as themselves, for the things they can do that the other media can’t, or at least can’t do as well. For them, the big difference is probably that the game makes it feel like you’re the one doing it, while the anime makes it feel like you’re watching the story of Yu, not of you. As such, they can do different things and give a different and great experience. But what do the interactive and puzzle parts add to that excellent story?

      So, while “To The Moon” is a valuable game in at least some ways, I couldn’t recommend it as a way for games to go. I’d rather recommend something like “Missing: Since January” since it really did use the media of games well to make a non-standard game and gameplay experience.

      • malcolmthecynic Says:

        Did you play it, then?

        It’s funny you say that. He originally considered writing a novel.

        I’d say the main difference is that there’s just something about controlling the characters that makes the whole thing feel more alive than an anime would. The interactive bits are a part of that. The puzzles not so much – they’re more like a fun diversion.

        I don’t think I’d recommend it as a way for games to go in general, because you’re right – it’s a really, really, really odd duck among games. It takes all of the stuff you’re not supposed to do, does them, and is successful. But I can’t see other developers pulling it off so successfully…you know, rules are there for a reason.

        Basically, what I’m saying is that Kan Gao’s a genius, man.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        I haven’t played it. I did look it up, and am listening to the soundtrack now. I do know how the plot goes.

        But again, my main point is this: if doing things yourself adds to the experience, then it’s appropriate as a game to get that, which you can’t get anywhere else, no matter how linear it is. Missing is very linear but it really does work to insert you into the game at a deep level, and this game might be another example of that. But as I say in the article, that doesn’t work for ones that give you a protagonist, and like adventure games in general AREN’T trying to be a linear RPG. I think there’s a distinction there, and “To The Moon” is definitely on the RPG side, as is missing, and I think adventure games don’t have to be RPGs to be good or successful.

      • malcolmthecynic Says:

        I never really thought of it as an RPG, because I always associated RPG’s with a lot of customization.

        “To The Moon” is kinda tricky. Like, I feel as if it would lose something (and maybe gain something else, though) if it wasn’t a game. I just don’t know what it is. The simple fact that you’re the one moving the characters around makes a difference.

        The game really blew me away because I had zero expectations for it. I had no idea what it was, and if you told me that it pushed story over gameplay before I played it I might have left it alone, because 9 times or more out of ten that is the WRONG thing to do. But it pulled it off, and in spectacular fashion.

        I don’t disagree with your general point, though.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: