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Does Broken Age suck? Look at Ron Gilbert's Rules. [Spoilers]

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(This is not a troll post, I promise. Read on!)

Back in 1989, I would turn three years old. This very year, Ron Gilbert wrote an essay called "Why Adventure Games Suck." Read it or else.

In the following, I judge Broken Age by each of these principles.

Does Broken Age Suck?

------------------------------

1. "... at the beginning the player should have a clear vision as to what he or she is trying to accomplish."

--- Check.

2. "If the main goal is to rescue the prince, and the player is trapped on an island at the beginning of the game, have another character in the story tell them the first step: get off the island. This is just good storytelling."

--- For the most part. Half credit.

Shay's side was brilliant for this, but Vella's side dithered for a bit in Meriloft and a little bit in the woods. For some reason, I was caught off-guard by Shellmound. I really didn't expect that I was going anywhere, though several characters mentioned that Shellmound should be my next destination. Did I miss something where they said Shellmound was below Meriloft? Or was I right to merely trust the developers in a metagame way? I knew I wanted off Meriloft, but I really didn't know more than that, and I thought I listened to basically every dialogue option.

This one is more of a judgment call.

EDIT: I have a guess. There was a tram puzzle once which was a direct connection from Meriloft to Shellmound, and then there wasn't. If this puzzle were implemented, it might have solved a lot of the backwards puzzles in Vella's chapter, especially if there were certain things needed in Meriloft only found in Shellmound. Chalk this up to: Be darn careful with puzzles that connect your rooms. Throwing them out can screw up your balance.

3. "It is bad design to put puzzles and situations into a game that require a player to die in order to learn what not to do next time."

--- Check.

4. "Ideally, the crevice should be found before the rope that allows the player to descend."

--- Not quite. No credit.

I found there were plenty of these in Broken Age, and these items were not always used multiple times. Off the top of my head, there's the Dead Eye token and several, if not all, of Shay's items in the megaquest.

5. "Never require a player to pick up an item that is used later in the game if she can't go back and get it when it is needed."

--- Check.

6. "Each puzzle solved should bring the player closer to understanding the story and game."

--- For the most part. Half credit. (See No. 2.)

7. "Give the player some slack when doing time-based puzzles. Try to watch for intent. If the player is working towards the solution and almost ready to complete it, wait. Wait until the hat is grabbed, then slam the door down."

--- Check.

As I recall, this really only applied at the beginning and end of Vella's Act 1. It was done absolutely brilliantly during the first Maiden's feast. I believed it was a timed event when Mog Chothra first showed up. Only my metagame assumption that Tim was still using the LucasArts Design Philosophy drew me out of that assumption. These probably aren't timed puzzles, but they did definitely feel like them.

8. "The player needs to know that she is achieving."

--- Check.

Handled very well during Shay's side because nearly every puzzle on the megaquest seemed as if it revealed more about Momputer and the secret super secrets of a certain wolf.

9. "Figure out what the player is trying to do. If it is what the game wants, then help the player along and let it happen."

--- Check.

No pixel-hunting, though I should have done it when it came to the driftwood and the Dead Eye icon. Man, that was silly of me. I didn't even notice those things.

10. "If the designer wants to make sure that six objects have been picked up before opening a secret door, make sure that there is a reason why those six objects would affect the door."

--- Check.

This one was done so well it's hard to think of an example where the rule was violated.

11. "... think of the player as outside the cages, and the puzzles as locked up within. In this model, the player has a lot more options about what to do next. She can select from a wide variety of cages to open. If the solution to one puzzle stumps her, she can go on to another, thus increasing the amount of useful activity going on."

--- Checkity check-check-check.

Now, you naysayers might say that the utter ease of Vella's half of Act 1 makes Broken Age a de facto cage match. Not so, I reply:

a. Vella has plenty of puzzles going on at the same time, in Meriloft and Shellmound both.

b. Shay definitely doesn't have this problem.

c. You can freakin' switch between them at any point. You know, like in The Cave, or Resonance, or Maniac Mansion, or Day of the Tentacle, except better. It's also totally different than the Blackwell games because whosis and whatsit are always on the same screen. Basically, I guess I'm trying to say it does the Gemini Rue thing, only with easier puzzles.

Fake Dave's final score:

9 of out a possible 11

There ya have it. The ultimate vindication of Broken Age by the ultimate "Old School" principles. Enjoy and share!

------------------------------

To Tim Schafer and the Double Fine crew: Now, it was really easy, and that I do have an issue with, but I'm not mad about it, or even that disappointed. Y'all pulled through and made the first game where my suspension of disbelief wasn't broken more than two or three times. Monkey Island and Grim Fandango, I practically had to use a walkthrough all the way through, and sometimes for stupid stuff. Broken Age, it was always my own darn fault, and never yours.

You guys did a beautiful, immersive, breathtaking job, and this was money well spent. I can't wait for Part 2!

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Great post! :D

Yeah, I had to think of Ron Gilbert's complaint about backwards puzzles in regards to Broken Age. I guess in that regard it doesn't hold up quite as well.

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The other one I can think of is number 10 violated... For example why it specifically had to be three eggs to gives as an offering...as the script implied anything.

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The other one I can think of is number 10 violated... For example why it specifically had to be three eggs to gives as an offering...as the script implied anything.

Because Gold was the heaviest thing in Meriloft. If you listen to all the dialogue options, you'll see that the Gold is the heaviest thing up there, that the clouds float based on surface area (pounds per square inch!), and that the ladder to H'rm'ny Lightbeard's is equidistant from Meriloft as Meriloft is to the Forest (straight up said by H'rm'ny). Add that to Vella's reason for wanting to leave Meriloft (to try to face Mog Chothra, and you get a pretty good explanation of the reasoning behind that puzzle.

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Agree with 4) definitely there were a few too many situations where I already had exactly the thing I needed

Not sure 2 and 6 deserve half credit. I suppose it's true that you don't really know your goal explicitly right after Meriloft, but I think the game is very clear in all other situations what the major goals are except that bit:

1) Shay - Get out of this routine - becomes obvious the longer you stay in it, and shay says so.

2) Shay - Missions from Marek, all perfectly explained, with 3 trials of Boom Arms, Navigation and Omicron Inhibitor clearly stated.

3) Vella - 'Find that knife' - Check

4) Vella - Escape the feast - clearly

5) Vella - Meriloft - Leave the clouds - check. Becomes quite apparent it's to do with the eggs.

6) Vella - Curtis's house - not entirely clear.

7) Vella - Shellmound - 3 trials of 'get hold of a weapon, get into the maiden's feast and make sure maiden's feast goes ahead' are made pretty clear by talking to the Mayor and to the Druids.

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I noticed something in the last paragraphs that definitely seemed to apply to Broken Age:

If I could have my way, I'd design games that were meant to be played in four to five hours. The games would be of the same scope that I currently design, I'd just remove the silly time-wasting puzzles and take the player for an intense ride.

If act II is of a similar length to act I, Broken Age will actually be longer than four-five hours, but still be without silly time-wasting puzzles!

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I have to agree with no points on #4. It felt like for most of the puzzles, I had everything I needed to solve it before encountering it. Which added to my feeling that the first act of the game was a smidge lacking in the challenge department. And also made it feel a bit short. I also felt that it was a tad too linear, perhaps for the same reason again. I almost never had to go back for anything or look for anything or think twice about anything (which is probably why I finished vellas part first and never switched between them). I can't help but to compare broken age with games like monkey island or day of the tentacle, and wow the difference here is huge. But the comparison is probably not fair :)

Loved the first act though. Beautiful to both eyes and ears.

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Well, the manifest states what rules should not be broken or else an adventure game would suck.

It sadly does not state when an adventure game is really good - and that's the point to me.

BA does not suck, but as an adventure game it was not that great either. Even though I liked most aspects about the game (great voice actors, great sound design, good animation and VFX, etc.), the puzzles were poorly implemented. Most of them were probably designed good, but the implementation lacked very much.

As a somewhat experienced adventure fan you end up with...

...having the items to solve the puzzle beforehand almost every time (if you try to take everything with you - which isn't hard given that there are very few hotspots and items)

...NPCs just giving you what you want by simply asking (which would make sense in Real Life, but is not fun in a game) (which is extremly lazy and just screams: "We didn't have enough time to implement this the right way")

...Puzzles solving themselves for no apparent reason (E.g. Harm'ny just dropping the third egg)

...NPCs spoiling the puzzles by blabbing out very obvious hints before you event had a chance to try to solve the puzzle yourself (which could b solved)

...solving puzzles by accident (The solution to the "riddle" was literally the first item on my inventory bar)

...way too few and far to large hot spots (should be called "hot places") - I blame the cross-plattform design goal for small-screen touch devices for this

...under-developed side characters as of Act 1 (perhaps they gain more personalty in Act2)

Edit: ...character switching was implemented very poorly because it was not necessary to switch and they did not interact in any way. In fact there wasn't even the point of "let's try to solve some puzzles over at Vellas side of the story because I'm stuck here" because everything was so obvious and easy (that could change of course and hopefully in Act 2)

And that is why BA for me is a highly polished game with a lot of stuff to like, but it's still not a good adventure. It's simply not enough that a game "does not suck".

I think a lot of people are over-protective of this game - probably because of the documentary and the feeled "connection" to the developers. After all: It's hard to criticize someone you "know" for something that we know they worked really hard for. I wonder how the game reviews would have been if it hadn't been for the documentary... On the other hand: Perhaps I am overly critical? Who knows: As long as the BA "lovers" are happy with what it is and the BA "haters" can move on to play other real adventure games - everyone's happy, right?

Edit: See above

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Well, the manifest states what rules should not be broken without a good reason or else an adventure game would suck.

Fixed.

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Of course, the first reasonable question is, does Ron Gilbert know what makes a good game?

When was his last classic? Monkey Island 2?

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Of course, the first reasonable question is, does Ron Gilbert know what makes a good game?

When was his last classic? Monkey Island 2?

Let's see what his rules say about The Cave (SPOILERS obviously):

1. "... at the beginning the player should have a clear vision as to what he or she is trying to accomplish."

Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Sometimes there's just stuff you kinda have to combine but you don't know why. And in the end of each character specific act, the goal of that character is revealed. The character seems to know quite well what he or she wants the whole time though, but you as the player are left to find it out.

I suppose the reasoning behind this is to then "shock" the player like "oh wow, had I known this before! That's horrible!", so this gets a pass from me.

2. "If the main goal is to rescue the prince, and the player is trapped on an island at the beginning of the game, have another character in the story tell them the first step: get off the island. This is just good storytelling."

I think subgoals have been made clear more than end goals, which may have been the design philosophy behind this story driven experience.

3. "It is bad design to put puzzles and situations into a game that require a player to die in order to learn what not to do next time."

Happens a lot in the Cave, but you get resurrected without penalty. So this works.

4. "Ideally, the crevice should be found before the rope that allows the player to descend."

I don't remember this violated either.

5. "Never require a player to pick up an item that is used later in the game if she can't go back and get it when it is needed."

Definitely done.

6. "Each puzzle solved should bring the player closer to understanding the story and game."

In combination with #1, yes that's actually well done in this game. The closer you get to the solution, the more you get to understand your character's motivation and the more it dawns on you what cruel thing you're about to do, but because you're eased into it slowly, you just continue.

7. "Give the player some slack when doing time-based puzzles. Try to watch for intent. If the player is working towards the solution and almost ready to complete it, wait. Wait until the hat is grabbed, then slam the door down."

This is also done I'd say.

8. "The player needs to know that she is achieving."

Each small item found or puzzle solved was a very clear sign of progress.

9. "Figure out what the player is trying to do. If it is what the game wants, then help the player along and let it happen."

I don't think there are any "almost" solutions that could distract you from the real one because they don't work.

10. "If the designer wants to make sure that six objects have been picked up before opening a secret door, make sure that there is a reason why those six objects would affect the door."

Don't remember this violated either.

11. "... think of the player as outside the cages, and the puzzles as locked up within. In this model, the player has a lot more options about what to do next. She can select from a wide variety of cages to open. If the solution to one puzzle stumps her, she can go on to another, thus increasing the amount of useful activity going on."

In some rooms this is done, in some it's not. But you can't always force multiple puzzles, right?

Hm looks like The Cave is a better game than I thought :o

At least, what disappointed me with The Cave was certainly not the puzzle design, more the implementation. The whole platforming while solving puzzles was a bit cumbersome, but at least it urged you to think before doing, which is a good thing. I also think the game might have worked better with only 6 or 9 characters (a multiple of 3), and the filler parts were repetitive and discouraged from replaying.

I should replay it again, I still miss the knight and the monk.

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Just because a game follows all of these "rules" doesn't mean that it automatically turns out to be a good game all around. There is nothing about specific puzzle designs in this list (like whether they're straight-forward, multi-layered, etc). It just lists the 'what not to do's' for a few factors, little of which are even geared towards puzzles at all, and the ones that are are extremely non-specific to the nature of puzzles. So there's leeway in the design, as there should be. Otherwise, every game designed by such specific rules would all be the same. This list is more of a general guideline in designing the framework of a good game, not an in-depth laundry list recipe guaranteed for "adventure masterpieces". It certainly does not absolve Broken Age's "old school-related" flaws that many of us see in the game just for following so closely to that list.

Broken Age could score a perfect 11/11 on this list and still be a bad game.

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