Making the game
I think that there are three main elements to an adventure game; Story, Puzzles and Characters. True, you could say that these three elements are in practically every game ever made, but in adventure games they are core of the experience and all that is really needed. My rule of thumb is that if you can't select specific responses in a dialog then it isn't an adventure game.
That said, if you wanted to you could probably drop one or two of the above. The seminal Portal
from 1986 is an adventure game completely devoid of puzzles and relies only on the player having to piece together the story of what has happened to the human race after the main character, an astronaut awakened from suspended animation, finds he is the last man left alive on the planet. The only characters in the game are the player and the PC he uses as an interface to understand the story.
However, for the most part all adventure games feature characters and puzzles as their primary focus and players must spend their time either chatting with NPCs or using their wits to overcome the puzzles in their way.
So, what is the most important element of the game to our experts and what is it they think that adventure games do well (or badly). Why is that, when other people are crying out that the genre is dead, these two are still trying hard to prove us wrong? Both developers are trying to reinvent the adventure game in some way, Grossman through episodic delivery and Cage through fusing genres and increasing accessibility on consoles, but what is it about adventure games that makes gamers want to play them over the latest Halo
We put the question to Dave Grossman first and I have to say that I think he hits the nail on the head with his first swing.
“I think the biggest difference is that adventure game play tends to focus on ideas where other games focus on execution. In an adventure, most of what I'm doing is THINKING for my character, whereas in a shooter or a sports game or something I'm mostly ACTING.
“Say I'm telling a baseball story, for example. If I use a sports game to do it, the experience is mostly about things like skilfully swinging at different kinds of pitches, whereas if I use an adventure game, it's probably more about corking the bat, dealing with the players' troubled personal lives, and psyching out the opposition. One is a game film, the other is Bull Durham. Both are interesting and both are storytelling in some sense, but the adventure game is more directly akin to a traditional narrative.
Finally I seemed to have found a topic the two designers to agree on, with David Cage confirming that he felt a similar way and referencing the earlier John Carmack quote:
“In most games, the story is just a convenient way to link levels together, like in adult movies. Playing with a story is something extremely complex and difficult, because a story does not use patterns or mechanics. It is entirely based on context, which means it has to offer a virtually unlimited range of actions and situations, whereas an action game only relies on a limited set of actions and repetitive patterns.
Games like the Myst series have used a complex, gripping story to great effect
So, to both of our experts it would seem that the story is the single most important element of the adventure game genre.
With that in mind, I think it’s incredibly interesting that when most people think of adventure games they end up thinking about the puzzles. Sometimes they think about them in a good way and will actually look forward to trying to overcome a particularly fiendish conundrum, but a lot of the time they may think about it in a bad way. As Boiled_Elephant
proved nobody likes getting stuck
So, let’s look at puzzles next. How are they designed and what elements distinguish a good puzzle from a bad one? Should puzzles be used just to slow players down or do they have other uses? All you have to do to find out is figure out how to access the next page...