Tacticular Cancer: We'll have your balls

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Digital Antiquarian: Ron Gilbert's 14 Deadly Sins of Graphic Adventure Design

Discussion in 'Adventure Gaming' started by Infinitron, Aug 1, 2015.

  1. Make America Great Again Infinitrongender: ⚧ Trade Master Patron

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    See also DA's history of LucasArts here: http://www.filfre.net/2015/07/a-new-force-in-games-part-1-fractal-dreamers/
    http://www.filfre.net/2015/07/a-new-force-in-games-part-2-a-habitat-in-cyberspace/
    http://www.filfre.net/2015/07/a-new-force-in-games-part-3-scumm/

    http://www.filfre.net/2015/07/the-14-deadly-sins-of-graphic-adventure-design/
     
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  2. Make America Great Again Infinitrongender: ⚧ Trade Master Patron

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    MRY This article is highly relevant to your interests. :M
     
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  3. SCOgender: ⚧ Arcane In My Safe Space

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    Butthurt detected on the pathetic scrub op quote.
     
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    From my point of view 1 and 2 are the only genuine problems, and the rest is mostly the writer grousing about how these games hurt his precious feelings.
    Dead ends are arguable (and have been argued to death), and I'm not a fan myself, but they were actually fairly easily avoided in Sierra games by checking whether or not you got points for an action that cost you something.
    The pixel hunting thing is true, but there's really only one truly egregious example in Sierra games (the invisible bridle in KQ). The puzzle he mentioned is SQ has a visual cue.
    The rest of his gameplay complaints boil down to "I don't like losing", and "Snark hurts my feelings" (ironic).
    I suppose the last two are a bit more interesting and debatable, but I'd be shocked if Sierra never went out looking for feedback on their products. That and having a testing period are different things, and the statement that they paid no attention to player feedback seems disingenuous at best.
     
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    TL;DR:

    I don't like Spehhhs Quest or Uninvited.
     
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  6. Make America Great Again Infinitrongender: ⚧ Trade Master Patron

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    Some comments:

     
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  7. MRYgender: ⚧ Prestigious Gentleman Wormwood Studios Developer

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    Going on a trip, so alas the world will have to turn without me. :)
     
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    I like The Digital Antiquarian's blog, but this is such a stereotypical case of a Lucas Arts fan writing about Sierra games that it's hard to even care. This could've been easily written by Richard Cobbett instead and no one would notice any difference.
     
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  9. Make America Great Again Unkillable Catgender: ⚧ WHERE THE FUCK IS YOUR CHIN? Patron

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    Even once the bias of the author is overlooked, the article makes a good point: (Adventure) games of old used some very dubious methods to claim to be full of content, and just from adventure gaming alone there can be pulled dozens of examples, even before we even reach the 1990s, that commit many of the "sins" put forth in the article.

    If there is one thing about the article that can be criticized, it's how trivial some of those sins are, or how they're over-exaggerated when it comes to Sierra games. Sierra loved to put mini-gambling games into their games? SQ1 had one, LSL1 had one...help me out here, what other Sierra games had them? Were there any others?

    I'd say about 5 or 6 of those "sins" hold true, but the rest are minor points.

    (Would it kill him to check his grammar, BTW? Some sentences are bad to the point of being mangled, while others just taper off with missing words and punctuation.)
     
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  10. Tramboigender: ⚧ Savant

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    I agree with most of the article.
    And something modern players tend to forget is that it wasn't nice nor fast to manage multiple saves with floppies in Sierra games, so it made this kind of meta-gaming even more tedious.
    So I stand with the Lucas crew, dead ends and arbitrary deaths had to go away. It was an inevitable change.
    For most point'n'click games obviously, meta-games like Lankhor sleuths needed this.
    Yet deaths + restore is an GUI issue, death is good if you just have to click "Ok I failed" and you're put back in a winnable situation. No swapping disks. No file selector.

    Considering pixel hunting in Sierra games, if "LOOK" had given all the visible keywords, it would have been less frustrating. You kept "looking at" objects that were drawn but were not interactive. Yuck. This was a regression from Infocom. Primitive parsers were a pain too. Again a regression from Infocom.

    Yet there is a lot of rage in this one :)
     
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  11. Make America Great Again Infinitrongender: ⚧ Trade Master Patron

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    More comments from interactive fiction snobs:

     
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    Very strange. The Digital Antiquarian is usually quite insightful and even-handed, giving even flawed games a thumbs up if they did something original or interesting, and his series of articles on Trinity and the atmosphere surrounding it should be compulsory reading. This one, though, just seems like a vindictive rant. In some ways I agree with it, as I was never a fan of the Sierra games, but the gist that anyone who disagrees with him is wrong is quite a departure from the usual factual chronicling and rather distasteful.
    There rather too much defender of social justice in the articles to make DA the best thing on the internet, but it's pretty close. I read DA and Codex one after another to keep myself well balanced and mentally healthy.:retarded:
     
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    MCA Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Codex USB, 2014 Divinity: Original Sin 2
    #15: Releasing it on X-Bone
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  14. Desktop Commandergender: ⚧ Learned

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    Wowie, what a bad article. "I do not comprehend how subgenre x works, so every game that is not of subgenre y, which I understand and enjoy, is bad. Let me now write down a temper tantrum to prove my point." Yep, never seen that before...

    It's pretty telling how he does not mention the VGA remake of SQ1 and it's inclusion of a small puzzle to tip the gambling odds in your favour. Similarly, SQ6 had a different solution to the annoying minigames syndrome, where part of the puzzle was figuring out that beating said minigame was not skill-dependent at all.

    I can't see how 2 is a negative by default. It's a deliberate design decision to counteract brute force player behaviour, aka trying everything on everything. By adding a ton of useless objects, the player is incentivised to think ("Do I need to pick this up? Why/Where would I ever conceivable need to use this?) rather than brute force, since the latter is - while still technically doable, now way too tedious for the average player. But conditioning doesn't work for particularly stubborn people, I guess, who then need to complain that their mental deficiencies are now somehow bad design.

    Adventure games that kill you frequently are played in their own way. They are more about figuring out the points of no return, decisions that can have negative consequences, and going back and forth between points in time (aka saves) to figure out the larger puzzles. They often feel like doing detective work, regardless of the games actual theme, which is pretty unique and fun if you understand them.

    This guy sounds like your typical walkthrough gamer who - understandably - cannot comprehend how a normal person would solve puzzles in a subgenre that he never even tried to understand. The skimmer puzzle is actually very doable, as you have little reason to sell your skimmer at that point in the game. You are still in the middle of nowhere and want to get off the planet. You might think that you can repair the skimmer or trade it in for a spacecraft or whatever. In any case, the more sensible option is to refuse the guy's first offer. Once the player gets at least once the (OMG unthinkable) idea of saying no to a shady seller who offers you a pittance of a mere 30 bucks, they should be able to figure out the rest.

    Likewise, the mailbox example is pretty good design. The mailbox is huge and unlikely not to be examined by the player. The doors locking behind you and the mailbox contents being needed later on is the game telling the player what kind of game it is and how it should be played. All on the very first screen. This is now bad design, ladies and gentlemen.

    I could go on but the bottom line is that people in general should put some effort into their criticisms of others' design decisions; try to think about what their motivations were and what they wanted to achieve. Of course, I've you've never had to design anything in your life and all you ever do is write badly researched articles about how angry you are about games that were not meant to be played by following a walkthrough, then that makes things a bit more difficult...
     
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  15. Tramboigender: ⚧ Savant

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    2 is often a negative in practice because the combinatorial explosion means that there are only default "it does not work" answers.
    And the puzzles have to be solid and logical throughout the game to allow non frustrating red herrings (Maupiti Island, again).
     
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  16. Dehumanizergender: ⚧ Educated

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    I agree with the article in general, that all those examples are indeed faults in the games, coming either from lack of experience, or the fact that designing a "hard but fair" adventure took a lot more work than just filling the game with nonsensical puzzles (that you don't understand even after solving them) and walking dead situations, and it was just easier to take the lazy way out.

    And yet I have to disagree with the implied conclusion, that Space Quest (haven't played Uninvited yet) was a "bad" game because of those faults (though I may be reading too much into it). I think it was still fun to play, and those faults, while being faults (I also disagree with anyone who says walking dead situations, random deaths and absurd puzzles were actually a good thig), didn't "ruin" the game to me, while it apparently does so to Jimmy, with his Infocom (whose games where much more professional and playtested) background.
     
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  17. Dehumanizergender: ⚧ Educated

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    In Police Quest 1 you had to play (and win) two poker games near the end. Skippable in the VGA remake, but not in the original.

    There was also one in Codename: Iceman that was even more sadistic: if you saved and restored too much, the game called you a cheater and you got a Game Over.
     
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  18. Aeschylusgender: ⚧ Prestigious Gentleman Swindler Patron

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    ^ Fucking Codename:ICEMAN should have been the topic of this article. My hatred for that game burns eternal.
     
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  19. Make America Great Again Unkillable Catgender: ⚧ WHERE THE FUCK IS YOUR CHIN? Patron

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    If I'm understanding things right, the author is taking things on a year-by-year basis, and has only just reached 1986.

    He should reach Codename: Iceman shortly...
     
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  20. SCOgender: ⚧ Arcane In My Safe Space

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    Something, i might add, entirely missing from lucasarts except when something like monkey island got cute with the endless repeating sequence.
    Without sierra putting out part of the early zeitgeist 'dying is ok', 'lots of items', 'it's ok not to understand part of the story' and other design flaws, games like KGB, dreamweb, return rise of the Dragon, Azrael's Tear etc wouldn't even exist later on.
    Is dreamweb a bad game for introducing dozens of 4 pixels pickup-able items per scene, most without any single use? Yes. Does dreamweb feel unique (even if it isn't)? Yes.
    Rules are for dogs.
     
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  21. Make America Great Again Infinitrongender: ⚧ Trade Master Patron

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    You mean Rise of the Dragon?
     
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  22. SCOgender: ⚧ Arcane In My Safe Space

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    Yeah, i got mixed up with Return of the phantom.
     
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    I can't see how there is much to disagree with this article. The Digital Antiquarian does a good job as always.

    People telling him to replace the games into their context seem to be failing to replace the author in his context and in what he's trying to do in a broader term. Yes, hindsight is 20/20 and it can always be argued that difficulty added a lot to the values of these games but I'm still most certain people who read that felt extreme annoyments in what's been exposed.

    Finally, as I was saying, it's important to replace things in their contexts : a lot the complaints put there are outdated (some aren't though, bad puzzles will always exist), but it's a history blog, and bad adventure design is well, a video game history fact.
     
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  24. MRYgender: ⚧ Prestigious Gentleman Wormwood Studios Developer

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    I want to read the article again more closely, but my initial reaction is that the prescriptions put a huge amount of weight on vague terms that are really where the analysis should be. It seems to me that there is meaningful discussion to be had over what constitutes a sufficient "logic" to a puzzle, what constitutes fair warning to the player, when an abundance of items becomes "clutter," etc. But rattling off a bunch of failings from Uninvited is not moving the ball much in that regard.

    I recently read of a term for a form of argumentation called "motte and bailey doctrine." I am not sure that it is fair to accuse the article of engaging in such argumentation, but there is a whiff of it, all the same. It is a truism that "No one like an inventory cluttered by junk!" (Well, Victor Pflug would differ, but otherwise most would agree to that proposition.) But that truism is deployed not against inventories containing 100 items, of which only 10 have uses; instead, it is deployed against inventories containing 10 useful items. ("Why not stick to three, or six if you want to be really complex?") [Aside: text adventures have vastly larger inventories, which makes this an odd sin to ascribe to graphical adventures.] My impression is that the overwhelming majority of the "deadly sins" fall into this category: numbers 1, 2, 3 (what do "constantly" and "without warning" mean), 4, 5, 6 (how do you know that it "spoils the game"?); 7, 9, 10, and 11.

    When the "deadly sins" are not self-evidently true (but ambiguous) they are instead simply matters of taste. For example, sin #8 describes more or less the entire gameplay structure of The Last Express, universally lauded by hipsters as one of the greatest games of all time. Sin #12 describes a whole host of adventure games (graphical and text) that are beloved by players. Sins #13 and #14 are harder to gauge. To begin with, they are different in kind from the rest: they don't describe elements of the game-as-designed but instead the process by which the game is designed. Moreover, they might be right or the might be wrong: I have no idea which designers did or didn't play their competitors' games or listen to fan commentary. Unlike the other items, which seem to me points that can be discussed in the context of games, these process arguments have to be discuss in the context of secret history: for example, can we ascribe The Cave (generally considered a vast disappointment) to Gilbert's having played Trine? Did the Coles play other adventure games before making QFG? I have no idea what the answers to these are, and it seems somewhat silly to treat as moral prohibitions what are essentially factual questions (i.e., statistically speaking, which method has yielded better games).

    More importantly, I think it is very possible that the Digital Antiquarian may have that secret history wrong. In creative/competitive industries dominated by a couple key players, there is a real problem with raiding employees and stealing trade secrets. (See, e.g., the Bratz litigation between Mattel and MGA.) So when Ken Williams says, "We were fairly phobic about playing or studying competitors’ products. I refused to hire anyone who had worked at a competitor, and really didn’t want our team focused on competitors’ products," it reads to me as the kind of thing a well-counseled businessman might say, either because it was true (and based on legal advice) or because it was false (but helped conceal appropriation of someone else's designs). Remember who exactly Sierra's competitor was: not a bunch of game design nerds, but George Lucas's fantastically powerful company, one of the most litigious defenders of IP ever. (I can't find the source of DA's quote, but it appears to be this book, blurbed as being about an "intensely private company," namely Lucas Arts.) In other words, I think it is (at a minimum) open to debate whether no one at Sierra was playing Lucas Arts games. My own strong suspicion is that I think they were.

    As for the last sin -- not soliciting player feedback -- I certainly agree with it, but it seems to me pretty tangential to his concerns. Codename: Iceman came out in 1989, two years after Sierra had a dedicated testing division (per DA). QFG came out the same year. Both games' credits identify two QA testers, but the games couldn't be more different in fairness and playability. More importantly, long after large-scale testing became common, stupid puzzles and other flaws persisted in games. My own experience with Primordia was that the testers were invaluable, and I wish I had listened to them more -- so DA is right that you should do this. But I'm not sure that it's quite as big a deal as he suggests. If you rely upon in-house professional testers and a core of dedicated fans, your testers are those least likely to identify the kind of flaws that trouble DA (i.e., demanding adventure game design) and most likely to forgive those flaws if they spot them.

    Setting aside these points, I guess I'd add that there's something tragic about writing a prescriptive list of "deadly sins" that describes a genre that no longer exists; the sins he identifies are gone in the mainstream and largely gone even in indie games (though they are invoked as a drumbeat in the endless march toward autoplay). It's like writing, "14 deadly sins of military strategy" and describing the major mistakes the combatants made in WWI. It's not merely that such advice might no longer be useful; it might be affirmatively misleading: telling today's adventure designers that they should primarily be concerned about limiting inventory items, avoiding player death, and removing "fiddly" interfaces is bad -- akin to urging generals to invest in static defenses or something (to be honest, my knowledge of military strategy doesn't get much further than spamming zerglings). I realize that a title like, "14 mistakes of early adventure game design" may be less compelling, but it would be more accurate (though even then, debatable).

    A last note: I think DA doesn't really grapple with the fact that people enjoyed the things he identifies as "deadly sins." (I suppose people tend to enjoy the more famous deadly sins as well, though.) Just as I think it is glib and unhelpful to dismiss things that people enjoy in today's streamlined adventure games, I think it's glib and unhelpful to say that the millions of hard core Space Quest fans, or thousands of hard core Shadowgate fans, should never have been able to play the games they enjoyed because those games had design elements DA didn't understand. A better argument is needed: my argument against streamlined games is that they do a poor job of developing players' ability to engage more deeply with game systems and thus generate a slippery slope toward the end of gaming as such, and that many players who love those game could be gently taught to enjoy more robust game systems if the designers had more faith in their players. I'm not sure that a comparable argument can be made against the games DA doesn't like, though.
     
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  25. Redlandsgender: ⚧ Arcane

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    Those aren't really Sierra things; they were inherited gameplay components from earlier text adventure games (and that was assuming that there was even a story to understand).
     
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