Curious blog post on adventure gaming seven deadly "sins"

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Curious blog post on adventure gaming seven deadly "sins"

Post by Expack3 » Wed Apr 30, 2014 5:51 pm

I recently read an interesting blog post featured on the front page of Gamasutra, a major video game industry news website, by a fellow named Adrian Chmielarz on what he feels are the seven deadly "sins" in adventure games and why they keep the genre dead. One could summarize the article as claiming adventure games died, and remain dead, due to poor writing, inconsistent, poor, and/or non-existent logic, misguided attempts at mimicking motion pictures, and pointless rewards, using Jane Jenson's Mobius as the prime example.

Personally, I thought the specific "sins" listed were, for the most part, good advice on what not to do in an adventure game, but given the language (e.g. words, not swearing) used later in the blog post, the post seemed more like a manifesto than a solid bit of opinionated advice. I also think the author missed an opportunity to illustrate how to turn the seven "sins" into "virtues" when he briefly alludes to Wadjet Eye's Blackwell series of adventure games doing so, but never mentioning how the series does so - essentially telling the reader they do and they should believe it because he says so (never actually saying that, but the intent is certainly evident).

Has anyone else read the blog post or the original article on theastronauts.com? If so, what are your thoughts on the article?
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Re: Curious blog post on adventure gaming seven deadly "sins"

Post by BBP » Wed Apr 30, 2014 6:16 pm

With the inclusion of "point system" he lost me. Bad writing is a deadly sin in pretty much any game, movie, book or other form of entertainment, not exclusive to adventure gaming at all: but many of the earlier games we all hold so dear, early King's Quest and all, barely had a plot. They were more about the puzzles and the combining items.
Bad game logic? Can relate to that, but it depends on the game, and the whole narration on the suitcase packing thing, seems to me like reaching for straws. Useless Pseudo Branching? Let me put it this way: I have a game called Fort Boyard The Legend (which I walkthroughed complete with subtitles on my YT channel) that puts Useful Pseudo Branching in and that's a ton worse. Misclick in this case means unwinnable situation, and you won't know, ever. What game ever did the dialogue thing right? You can't really do it: in Under A Killing Moon I found it terribly annoying. GK3 had a very very tiny subversion. In many games "all of them" is the needed option. There's no need for a dialogue tree, really. It's just a way to keep your player awake if he needs to perform an action every minute, even if it's clicking a mouse. Also note how incredibly angry he gets when people praise "creative puzzles". Their opinions are as valid as his.

I suggest we stop listening to Nobodies With Annoying And Not Too Well-Thought Through Opinions. This guy basically derides everything classic adventure gaming was ever based on, and by this guy's rules, adventure gaming was dead in the 1970s already. Yeah, uh huh. All of us here, all those people designing and playing those games back then and now, they're all complete morons.

Reading and writing this cost me 15 minutes of valuable Shivers Re-playing Time.
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Re: Curious blog post on adventure gaming seven deadly "sins"

Post by Collector » Wed Apr 30, 2014 7:37 pm

Andrea might have something to say about it as the article specifically cites Moebius. I think he was disappointed with it.

Some of what he says is rather obvious, like bad writing can ruin a game. Well, duh! I disagree with him on other things. He seems to feel that loading a screen with a lot of hot points that you can click on is bad design. I'd say that it depends on the implementation. Many love adventure games for the ability to explore the environment. If it is done in such a way that obscures the important hot points could be a distraction, but done done right it can make the environment richer and more immersive. If you get a more detailed description of objects in a room, but that description makes it obvious that it is not a potential inventory item, it will not be a distraction. Case in point, KQ6 where there were lots of hot spots, but you were not fooled into trying to pocket boulders.

As to the adventure game mechanics inherently not being fun, I have to say that this is a matter of good design. I dislike pixel hunting, but it is not a required game mechanic. If needed for the story, you can do it in a way that does not require the player to slowly sweep the entire screen with the cursor, clicking on everything looking for some possible missed hotspot. Again, in KQ6 the lost ring in the sand of the first game screen occasionally glint in the sun.

His article also seems to place puzzles in general in the required, but un-fun element, but this, too is a matter of how it is handled. Many, perhaps most, puzzles are random, illogical roadblocks. A lock in the guise of a slider puzzle breaks the immersion of the narrative. But a puzzle that is both organic to the narrative and helps advance the story is fun. Something where the narrative presents a problem, which has a logical solutions, or better yet, several solutions with varying degrees of success where you know you are advancing the story and can give you a sense of accomplishment. That can make you feel a part of the narrative.
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Re: Curious blog post on adventure gaming seven deadly "sins"

Post by Expack3 » Wed Apr 30, 2014 8:13 pm

BBP wrote:With the inclusion of "point system" he lost me.
As someone who's read this fellow's blog before - and by the way, Mr. Chmielarz certainly isn't a nobody - he has the same, incredibly angry reaction to points systems, achievements, and other such systems which developers use to track players' progress through their games because, in his view, they're nothing more than a dishonest psychological tool developers use to artificially extend gameplay by appealing to the average person's "gotta-get-'em-all" instinct. While this can be true, I would argue this is not universally the case.
BBP wrote:Bad writing is a deadly sin in pretty much any game, movie, book or other form of entertainment, not exclusive to adventure gaming at all: but many of the earlier games we all hold so dear, early King's Quest and all, barely had a plot. They were more about the puzzles and the combining items.
"Amen" to that sentiment.
BBP wrote:Bad game logic? Can relate to that, but it depends on the game, and the whole narration on the suitcase packing thing, seems to me like reaching for straws.
I believe the author may have a point in this case, but I also believe your sentiment is valid as well - it's a minor logic issue compared to what he could have talked about....
BBP wrote:Useless Pseudo Branching? Let me put it this way: I have a game called Fort Boyard The Legend (which I walkthroughed complete with subtitles on my YT channel) that puts Useful Pseudo Branching in and that's a ton worse. Misclick in this case means unwinnable situation, and you won't know, ever. What game ever did the dialogue thing right? You can't really do it: in Under A Killing Moon I found it terribly annoying. GK3 had a very very tiny subversion. In many games "all of them" is the needed option. There's no need for a dialogue tree, really. It's just a way to keep your player awake if he needs to perform an action every minute, even if it's clicking a mouse.


No argument here, BBP. Well said! :)
BBP wrote:Also note how incredibly angry he gets when people praise "creative puzzles". Their opinions are as valid as his.


The way he reacted to "creative puzzles" is part of the reason why I called his blog post a manifesto. The way it read to me was thus: "You call those 'creative puzzles'?! What a load of manure! They don't make sense to me, a creative designer for AAA and AAA-esque games - and if they don't make sense to me, how can they make sense for anyone else??"
BBP wrote:I suggest we stop listening to Nobodies With Annoying And Not Too Well-Thought Through Opinions. This guy basically derides everything classic adventure gaming was ever based on, and by this guy's rules, adventure gaming was dead in the 1970s already. Yeah, uh huh. All of us here, all those people designing and playing those games back then and now, they're all complete morons.

Reading and writing this cost me 15 minutes of valuable Shivers Re-playing Time.
I agree with your sentiment, although given Mr. Chmielarz's work history, I would personally rephrase it as "I suggest we stop listening to Industry Professionals with Big Egos and Annoying, Not Too Well-Thought Through Opinions." I also think the part in the beginning where he says he does love adventure games seems like a purposely-constructed paragraph to try and invoke comradery with his biggest detractors, adventure gamers, and gain the trust and sympathy of everyone else so the sting of his later paragraph deriding adventure games as empty, shaky, and flawed-from-the-beginning experiences is dulled.

I anticipated this kind of response when I originally wrote my post, yet in spite of my seemingly-light criticism of it, I agree with your assessment of the piece. The author, for all the good points he makes, mercilessly tore into adventure games manifesto-style (e.g. "My beliefs are absolutely true, and I will beat anyone and everyone who doesn't agree with me senseless using my beliefs until they do accept them."), making for a curious, but ultimately flawed - if not insulting - read. The worst part? I'm fairly certain work experience gives him pedigree which will make people stand up and listen - and he knows it! - which is why I posted this here in the first place.

Again, apologizes for not making my position clear in my original post, and I apologize for causing you to waste valuable time, BBP. That was not my intention whatsoever.
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Re: Curious blog post on adventure gaming seven deadly "sins"

Post by Expack3 » Wed Apr 30, 2014 8:16 pm

Collector wrote:Andrea might have something to say about it as the article specifically cites Moebius. I think he was disappointed with it.

Some of what he says is rather obvious, like bad writing can ruin a game. Well, duh! I disagree with him on other things. He seems to feel that loading a screen with a lot of hot points that you can click on is bad design. I'd say that it depends on the implementation. Many love adventure games for the ability to explore the environment. If it is done in such a way that obscures the important hot points could be a distraction, but done done right it can make the environment richer and more immersive. If you get a more detailed description of objects in a room, but that description makes it obvious that it is not a potential inventory item, it will not be a distraction. Case in point, KQ6 where there were lots of hot spots, but you were not fooled into trying to pocket boulders.

As to the adventure game mechanics inherently not being fun, I have to say that this is a matter of good design. I dislike pixel hunting, but it is not a required game mechanic. If needed for the story, you can do it in a way that does not require the player to slowly sweep the entire screen with the cursor, clicking on everything looking for some possible missed hotspot. Again, in KQ6 the lost ring in the sand of the first game screen occasionally glint in the sun.

His article also seems to place puzzles in general in the required, but un-fun element, but this, too is a matter of how it is handled. Many, perhaps most, puzzles are random, illogical roadblocks. A lock in the guise of a slider puzzle breaks the immersion of the narrative. But a puzzle that is both organic to the narrative and helps advance the story is fun. Something where the narrative presents a problem, which has a logical solutions, or better yet, several solutions with varying degrees of success where you know you are advancing the story and can give you a sense of accomplishment. That can make you feel a part of the narrative.
All of what you say is true, Collector; though, as I stated in my (admittedly long and detailed) response to BBP, the author seemed more interested in delivering his beliefs manifesto-style than as opinionated advice - hence why his opinion might seem...rather 2-dimensional.
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Re: Curious blog post on adventure gaming seven deadly "sins"

Post by adeyke » Wed Apr 30, 2014 8:46 pm

I think the article made some very good points. While I haven't (yet) played that game in particular, so I don't know how problematic it really is, the general points do seem sensible.

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Re: Curious blog post on adventure gaming seven deadly "sins"

Post by adeyke » Thu May 01, 2014 8:22 am

To elaborate a bit:

First Sin: Cinematic Wannabe

I really don't care for credit sequences. They're not there for the player's sake. If opening credits are necessary, they can be shown during the early interactive parts of the game. I also don't generally care for long opening sequences of any sort. There's a tendency for them to be info dumps where players don't yet have the context to see which parts are actually relevant. The sooner I can actually interact with the game, the better.

Second Sin: Undisciplined Writing

I definitely agree on this one. It's all about the conservation of detail. In any creative work, there tends to be a good reason for the inclusion of every element. If an NPC specifically mentions a location and indicates a next course of action, then that should actually be part of the game.

Third Sin: Lack of Internal Logic

I also agree here. It really annoys me when a game doesn't let you do something that would obviously be what the character would do. If you don't think that opening your suitcase or packing for an upcoming trip is important to the game, it's certainly okay to omit that, but there then shouldn't be a visible suitcase at all.

Fourth Sin: Useless Pseudo-Branching

This one is tricky. Certainly, players can't just be given complete freedom. That would both be impossible to implement, and it wouldn't let the game tell a story. But the player shouldn't be put into the position of wanting to deviate from the story. If the player ever thinks "I know I shouldn't do this, but the game won't proceed until I do", that's a failure. And if the player doesn't want to deviate from the story, there also doesn't need to be an option for letting them try to do so.

Fifth Sin: Extrinsic Rewards

This one I have mixed feelings about. I like achievements. And for certain games, point systems make a lot of sense. If each play through is short, a score can help you judge whether you've been getting better.

For adventure games, though, it's different. You're not expected to just repeatedly play an adventure game, hoping to beat your previous score each time. Instead, you generally play it once, or you replay it as some far later time. Also, a given adventure game isn't something you can get better at. You either know the solution, or you don't.

Also, while modern adventure games generally don't let you enter an unwinnable state (and I'm really glad of that!), having missable points reintroduces that. Getting to the end of a game with a low score is a feel-bad moment, and, unless you're following a walkthrough, you can't tell at what point you've entered a "impossible to get a perfect score" state.

And if there aren't any missable points, the entire system is pointless. You can tell if something was the right thing to do because it advances the game, without the need for a jingly noise and a score increase. And the score can't really serve as a progress indicator, since points aren't gained at a continuous rate.

Sixth Sin: Bad Writing

Not much to say here. Obviously, good writing is better than bad writing.

Seventh Sin: Second Guessing

This is tricky. If a puzzle is too straight-forward, it's uninteresting. If it's complicated, but in a way that makes sense to a player, it's very rewarding to solve. If it's complicated but doesn't make sense to the player, it's really terrible, especially if the situation seems to be solveable in a much more sensible way (which the game doesn't allow).

Overload of boring activities

So much agreement here. Some games have the problem of a seemingly really interesting object not being interactable, but the opposite is just as bad. If something isn't interesting or relevant, or if all the information about something can be gleaned from just seeing it on the screen, there's really no need for a hotspot. A boring, information-less message is worse than no message at all. This also comes down to conservation of detail.

I'll also add that walking around can be another such boring activity. If you know where you want to be, any time spent just watching your character walk through screens is just wasted. I really appreciate it when games have some sort of instant map travel mechanic and/or the "double click an exit to immediately leave the screen".

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Re: Curious blog post on adventure gaming seven deadly "sins"

Post by BBP » Thu May 01, 2014 1:51 pm

TVTropes has a page for the Useless Pseudo-Branching thing he describes, it's entitled "But Thou Must!" It happens in a lot of games, and it might be annoying but it's hardly reason to call a game bad. Nasty example for me is being forced to drink or get shot by Margot Kidder in Under A Killing Moon, since that drink is obviously spiked: you can stall until the cows come home but otherwise there's no option but chug. On the other hand, you could consider it nice that the developers acknowledge the fact that a player might prefer another route. Beats an invisible wall or a deus ex machina.
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Re: Curious blog post on adventure gaming seven deadly "sins"

Post by adeyke » Thu May 01, 2014 3:28 pm

I don't think But Thou Must is necessarily bad, and I certainly don't think that one questionable trope is enough to make an entire game game bad. However, I don't think that, if handled poorly, it can be a negative aspect of a game.

It all comes down to how the situation is handled. Characters should have some motivation behind their actions. If the character is established to be desperate, naive, foolhardy, etc., it would make sense for them to take some apparently stupid action. Ditto if the clues that that action is stupid aren't made available to the character. However, if there's really no in-universe justification for that action, and it really is just "in order to advance the game", that's problematic. And if the character does have a real motivation for taking the action, there's no need to give the apparent choice.

A "not yet" option does make sense if the character can then prepare or get new information that helps convince them to take the option. Otherwise, it's not really useful.

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Re: Curious blog post on adventure gaming seven deadly "sins"

Post by Fender_178 » Thu May 01, 2014 8:39 pm

The author does make some good points but about the 1st Sin is that some games now a days have alot of cinematics adventure or other genres of game either at the beginning or the end. I also agree that But thou must situations are not that bad. In some cases they can be funny in such as in Rambo or Dragon Warrior 1 on NES. In other cases they can get you stuck in an unwinnable situation such as in SQ1.
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Re: Curious blog post on adventure gaming seven deadly "sins"

Post by adeyke » Thu May 01, 2014 8:55 pm

"Other games do it too" isn't really a defense.

I can certainly appreciate a But Thou Must played for laughs. Monkey Island had several amusing cases where you were either given a list of responses that all meant the same thing, or where you were given a list of dialogue choices but Guybrush actually ended up saying the same line regradless of what you picked. That's different from playing it straight, though.

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Re: Curious blog post on adventure gaming seven deadly "sins"

Post by BBP » Fri May 02, 2014 11:58 am

"Other games do it and do it well" is.
Gold Rush has that, sort of, doesn't it? Why would you need to sell your house and go out to find gold anyway? 'Course there isn't much of
a game if you don't go, but you have the option to stay in Brooklyn and be bored.
(anyone up for a GoldRush script? You know, like my GK, LB, LSL7, KQ3, KQ6 ones?)
I don't know why he bothered writing it. Disappointed in Moebius I suppose. I'm rather disappointed in seeing all these negative reactions from people whose opinions I trust, and in seeing such hideous screenshots, but that's no reason to deride literally everything adventure gaming is based on.
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Re: Curious blog post on adventure gaming seven deadly "sins"

Post by Collector » Fri May 02, 2014 12:28 pm

BBP wrote:(anyone up for a GoldRush script? You know, like my GK, LB, LSL7, KQ3, KQ6 ones?
Sure
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Re: Curious blog post on adventure gaming seven deadly "sins"

Post by Datadog » Thu May 08, 2014 6:24 pm

Another "Why Adventure Games are dead" article? Just throw it on the pile along with all the other articles that don't understand the finality of death.

I'm not going to argue that his points aren't relevant. Adventure games do go hand-in-hand with moon logic and mundane task-work. But that's largely part of the genre's appeal. These games already exist in an out-of-the-box state where the definition of puzzle somehow involves throwing pies at Yeti and zip-lining across cables with rubber chickens. Point-n-click adventure differ from other genres in that they appeal to the player's curiosity and sense of exploration, and not towards satisfying an action-reward addiction that's dominant in all mainstream gaming. (i.e. "You crushed another candy! Noise and sparkles! Delicious!") It's a niche market, but not a dead one.
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Re: Curious blog post on adventure gaming seven deadly "sins"

Post by adeyke » Thu May 08, 2014 8:03 pm

I like adventure games. I've played dozens of them. Adventure games were among the first computer games I played, my first Internet community was the official Sierra message board, and I was significantly involved in testing AGDI's remakes (and I still moderate the AGDI forums). I'm not an outsider to the genre. However, I think it's perfectly legitimate to criticize the flaws in the genre, and it's possible to praise the genre without denigrating others.

I don't think adventure games really do offer that much in outside-the-box thinking. Everything you're able to do is something the game designer already thought of. You're never creating original solutions; instead, you're just finding the solution the designer planned for you. No matter how smart, creative, and resourceful you are, you'll never find a way to thwart the yeti other than throwing the pie, and you'll never find a way to reach Meathook's island other than via rubber chicken. This is the weakness of a system where each individual interaction has to be scripted. There are games in other genres where the player is just provided with tools that reliably work in certain ways, and these can then let the player find solutions the designers didn't think of.

Adventure games also don't provide that much in the way of exploration. Compared to some RPGs and sandbox games, adventure game worlds are tiny. Also, your methods of interacting with an adventure game world often come down to either just getting a text message with no further consequences, or finding one of the necessary actions to complete the game. There's certainly some degree of exploration, but it's not something adventure games have a monopoly on.

And I don't think that the issue raised by the article are something that's inherent to the genre, much less something that's actually admirable. There can be adventure games without drawn-out vanity opening sequences. There can be adventure games that are internally consistent. There can be adventure games that don't railroad you into stupid decisions or ask you questions without a right answer. There can be adventure games with good writing. There can adventure games without logic-defying puzzles-for-the-sake-of-puzzles. There can be adventure games without boring busywork. And in each of those cases, the game could be better for it.

If you want to defend an aspect of a game, defend it! If something really does make the game better, show why that is. Don't just accept that it must be that way because it's the way it's always been, and don't invoke tribalism by putting your preferred genre on a pedestal while lumping all others together under the banner of Candy Crush Saga.

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