As we wind up to our ever delayed launch (4 to 6 weeks, I swear) and I spend more and more time bashing my head against php and html in notepad (one day I'll get a visual html editor, I swear*) my mind keeps itself handily away from my work by thinking about adventure games and the lack of good ones these days. (I'll stop putting things in brackets after every thought at some point in this post, I swear)
The sad thing was that even back in the day, when adventure games ruled the EGA, most of them were pretty crap. Sure, there were some absolute classics, but it wasn't as rose-tinted as I like to recall. I think that was just the blue gun in my monitor giving up.
The gold was pure though, thanks to these men and the other luminaries at Lucasarts. Great days.
So it was, with great excitement that I downloaded the demo for Bone. I loved the comics (Bish, you'll get them back one day) and I loved adventure games. And possibly it was the unrealistic expectations I had given myself in the short time between discovering and playing the game, but I was to be both exhilarated (hurrah!) and disappointed (boohoo)
Don't take this as a negative review - I've played the game for a sum total of maybe 12 minutes, which qualifies no one to apply the 'review' moniker on anything. It just stirred some thoughts. First off though, the good bits:
The animation, design sound and puzzles. Animation was beautiful, the design of everything was very true to the source and the puzzles, such as they were, were quick and fun. The voices were well performed and the characterisation faultless.
So... where did it fall down for me?
Point 1 - It was very linear. The flow went like thus: Be on a screen. Solve the puzzle/s. Move to the next screen. Latherrinserepeat. In the opening sequence, I forgave this, knowing the story and knowing that the 'game proper' would take place in the valley, but Bone would have to get there from the desert first. I quite liked the notion of ludicrously simple puzzles and nice animations with some character control as an introduction. It worked for me, were I to do the same thing in a game, I would keep this to around 5 minutes.
Then I get into The Valley, where I meet a character I had in fact totally forgotten from reading the comic, which was a nice surprise. But from this point on, I was hampered by having to solve a puzzle to move any further into the game. Yes, the puzzles were nice, and yes, changing the character I controlled to make a different kind of puzzle available to me was refreshing, but this is an Adventure Game - not a hypercard stack of puzzles! I want to explore. I want to find out about this world. I want to meet interesting characters and talk to them when _I_ think it's time. There is a way to do this, if you follow Ron's Guidelines. You could make a valid argument for the linear puzzle genre, but in making things a little more open, when the player reaches a puzzle that takes a little more thought to solve, they'll move away from it and look at some other aspect of the game, instead of (like me) remembering that they're meant to be working and exiting. This wasn't such a problem in the old days. Somehow over a few months you'd scrape together your $70 and then buy the latest Noun's Quest. But in today's try before you buy world of gaming, you don't want anything that reminds the player they could (and probably should) be doing other things.
The other thing that didn't work for me was the dialogue interface. The dialogue itself was very well executed, and there were even some puzzles based on it very early on, where you could (in the one conversation) pit two other characters against each other. My problem comes from the doubling up of information. When I have just read my three possible choices for my next contribution to the conversation, I don't want to wait around while my character reads the line again before I get to what I really want - to hear the other character's reply. I don't care how good the acting is, it's just repetition. Which is dull. Repetition is dull. It's not interesting... repeating things.
And another thing - Let me click through dialogue. I can read faster than characters can speak. We don't have a 'language' for games in the way films, plays and the various forms of literature have. These 'languages' are used to describe the progression of the audience through the information in the story. The progression or flow is used to suggest and dictate mood and interest. In games, and especially in adventure games, the flow is on getting peices of information and _using_ that knowledge to solve the puzzle, not the presentation of the information. It's about action, not immersion.
The team behind Bone have done some fantastic things to breathe life back into a genre that could be so popular (and profitable!) both in terms of modernising the graphics and their business model. If we can solve a few of the teething issues I mention, there's so much fun we could have.
To sum up (and add a few things):
- Give me a definite goal but freedom to approach it from different angles (even if there is only one correct solution)
- Don't double up on the information delivery
- Let me click through dialogue and cut scenes
- Don't have cut scenes
- Except where they're REALLY necessary
- Seriously - even if they're funny.
- And when you do have them - keep the really short. Really short.
Oh, and anyone out there writing an adventure game, or thinking of doing so - take another very important lesson from Monkey Island: Use A Five Act Structure. It Works. It Keeps Goals Clear For The Player. It works across so many genres of storytelling that in not using it you're just being arrogant. If you don't beleive me, play Monkey Island again. I just can't beleive how few games that followed did the smart thing and copied it.
Seriously. Use a five act structure.
Damn I want to make an adventure game now. Maybe I'll just go to bed instead.
* if notepad had tabs on it, and a goto line number option in one of its menus, I'd never need another text editor. Ah well.