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Iron Curtain

In defense of easier Point-and-Click Adventure Games

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Look, I'm a fan of the classic Lucasarts adventure games, but let's be real, Adventure Game (IMHO, good adventure game) designers don't want to defeat the player like they did in the heyday of Adventure Games. Here's why I think why:

1. We have the internet now. If Broken Age were as hard as those days, people would just look up the solution on GameFAQs instantaneously if they were stuck. Granted, there were strategy guides back then, but they cost cash/money and weren't as 24/7-accessible as help from the internet.

2. Easier games get played to the end, but not harder games. There are indeed harder adventure games out there, such as A Vampyre Story. However, the solutions were so counterintuitive that I gave up playing. Meanwhile, in the easier games, such as by Telltale or Broken Age, I usually play them until the end, and my experience is more enjoyable because I get to enjoy the story as I explore rather than get frustrated by illogical puzzles. Granted, the puzzles are important, but if I find them too difficult or illogical, I just won't play them seeing as I don't have time to play games all the time…

3. Besides, LucasFilm Games was supposed to make Adventure games easier. Think of how revolutionary the Secret of Monkey Island was: You never died, puzzles were logical, you could save a game without irreparably screwing yourself. Ron even wrote it down here. All of these made games easier compared to the text adventures (now called Interactive Fiction) or the Sierra adventures. Kvetching about how the games should be harder loses the point why Ron Gilbert (along with Tim Schafer and Dave Grossman) made them easier to begin with.

That's my view on the matter. What do you guys think?

Note to mods and admins: the reason why I put it in this forum is because I noticed there were a lot of complainants about how Part I was too easy and not a "real" classic Adventure Game and I wanted to put that notion to rest.

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1. We have the internet now. If Broken Age were as hard as those days, people would just look up the solution on GameFAQs instantaneously if they were stuck.

Another pitfall to this is that once someone has a walkthrough open, they may end up just following the walkthrough through to the end--it's easier to accept, because it's already open. This has happened to me on more than one occasion.

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Still, though, the first Act of Broken Age served as an introductory stage for Adventure Game fans and Non-fans alike. It seemed to ease you into the game, and as the story progressed, the puzzles got more complex. Act Two, having griped you into the story, looks to set you with more difficult puzzles. However, looking at the vid of Tim and Ron discussing Point-and-Click games pre-Kickstarter, Tim mentions that games have gotten easier because there is so much more competition now. Gamers, if stuck, will just move onto the next product

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It's a difficult balance, there were the same complaints with Broken Sword 5 part 1 from backers so part 2 was a *lot harder*. I enjoyed the challenge but there were still a few frustrating parts. I think a game should get harder but balancing a curve in an episodic game it's even harder than doing all together.

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I mean, I do get the appeal of having the satisfaction of solving a trickly little clever puzzle, totally. And I'm glad that Act 2 seems like it'll have more to the puzzles, because that's a good feeling.

That said, I do think that there are a few more complex things going on here in our memory of adventure games. One is that I don't actually think VERY many adventure puzzles managed to find that sweet spot of difficulty at all. Most puzzles are either immediately obvious from context, or easy enough to figure out with a few moments' reflection, I really do believe that from my memory of playing adventure games in the mid-to-late 90s.

What we remember most, though, are the handful of puzzles that 'got' us, and these are split into two types: first, the really satisfying puzzle where the solution is arrived at at an a-ha moment, an intuitive leap. Then there's the ones that were just obtuse and we end up using everything with everything, and then, failing that, looking up the solution.

Some puzzles 'feel' clever without actually being clever. For example, in DOTT there's this puzzle where you have to switch hammers so that a sculpture gets mirror-imaged, so that when someone gets pushed they don't have something to hold onto on their way out the door. It's a clever idea, and it's a neat puzzle, but it's not really all that interesting in execution, except for being funny. I doubt very many people actually swapped that hammer because they realised if they did the twin would urin the statue, and his left-handed brother would have to take over, and the statue would end up flipped. I think they just did it because swapping like-items in adventure games tends to yeild funny and cool results, and possibly they knew they had to do SOMETHING with the statue (if, and only if they'd bothered to mess with Edna by this point)

Adventure games are full of examples of the above - puzzles that are fun to watch play out but aren't that intrinsically tricky to pull off, or as clever as they might first seem.

But the real kicker is that all of this tends to come out in the wash anyway. 20 years later I don't remember which puzzles I solved, or which ones I looked up. I remember Iused walkthroughs a lot in magazines for the first two Monkey Island games, and I remember I had to look up a few things in Grim Fandango, and Escape from Monkey Island and so forth. And I remember a couple of puzzles I particularly liked. But actually the reason I still go back to the games has little to do with any of that. The fact I cheated my way through most of Monkey Island 2 did nothing to change the fact that it's one of my favourite games ever, especially because now I don't even remember which bits I cheated on or not, and I know the puzzles so well that any challenge I might have felt once is evaporated.

Challenge is cool and all, I like it when it's present in adventure game, but I've been playing them and replaying them a long time, now, and it's hard for me to get mad about Act 1 of Broken Age being pretty easy when I just breezed through Full Throttle or Fate of Atlantis without a single thought about how difficult the puzzles were, and loved them all the same.

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Here's the problems with games these days..actually not even just games most forms of entertainment.. they don't want people to think anymore.. everyone assumes we don't have enough time to think about something...take your time..try and solve a problem.. and we are worse off for it because everything ends up dumbed down to the lowest common denominator.. maybe forcing people to think and be challenged is a good thing...

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I just don't really think that's true. Apart from what I said above, which I think is relevant here (old adventure games are not as 'hard' as people take for granted) there are a couple of things going on here: 1 is that games are about more things than they ever were, and there are more being made than ever. That's bound to encourage more variety, because there is something for everyone now.

But also the other thing is that a lot of what was associated with difficulty in older games was just obtuseness. I like it when a game doesn't hold your hand, but there is also something good about the game design principles exemplified in games like Portal where concepts are taught largely via clever use of visual and audio cues and so the player never feels confused about what they can do, only about how to use those tools to win.

A lot of older games have a sort of layer of obfuscation over their actual natural difficulty which makes things seem harder than they are. A lot of this stuff has been smoothed out lately.

But when I think of games which are satisfyingly in terms of puzzle solving many of my examples are quite recent:

Portal

Braid

Antichamber

Spacechem

Hack 'n' Slash

Maybe DOTT would scrape the list, but even as one of the finer examples of Adventure Game puzzling, I think its puzzles are generally more 'clever' than they are 'satisfying to work out'

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Tim explained his reasoning, and his intentions, for simpler puzzles back in Episode 2. I just don't think anyone was really listening to what he was saying -- I certainly didn't notice him taking about it until I went back and re-watched it -- otherwise I think the community might have been more vocal earlier. That's said, I LOVED Broken Age.

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I backed, I blew through the game in four hours. I was satisfied and hungry for more, but I felt it was very easy.

Then I handed the game to my little sister who is 12. (i'm 31) She played all the way through vella and played shay through to the head shrinking puzzle. She couldn't solve it so she hasn't gone back since, though she seems interested but frustrated.

Remember there are lots of people who get to play this game, and what's easy for a grown adult may not be for everyone. We certainly want the game to scratch that nostalgia itch for us, but we also need it to inspire the next generation of players to get into these games.

Just wanted to add a little perspective.

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I just want to say that I appreciate the replies by everyone! It makes me look even forward to Part II when it finally comes out!

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head shrinking puzzle
Is funny because I solved that puzzle by accident... I was just like "my head shrunk... I wonder if it would get any smaller!"

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There is a fantastic feeling in easy adventure games as well, but I think the classic LucasArts structure is obsolete if you are going that way and ignores all the improvements of plot-based adventures in recent years, eg more dynamic scenarios and originality in interactions should be prioritized, together with a much bigger attention on synchronous character growth. Any element you pick should enhance your design intentions or the end result would feel unfocused.

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Its also the generation gap these days, the kids are mostly used to mobile games difficulty level unless they have been specifically trained , some of us grew up with harder dos games,8 bit /16 bit consoles. I guess that's the reason why you can see the game is touch screen friendly, easier puzzles etc.

innovative puzzles that adds to the story is awesome , puzzles which are just put in to troll the players and extend gametime are the detested ones.

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Here's the problems with games these days..actually not even just games most forms of entertainment.. they don't want people to think anymore.. everyone assumes we don't have enough time to think about something...take your time..try and solve a problem.. and we are worse off for it because everything ends up dumbed down to the lowest common denominator.. maybe forcing people to think and be challenged is a good thing...

The problem is that a ton of the puzzles in old school adventure games required no thinking either. I program, I like to problem solve and I like to work through logical problems. I hate most adventure games because the problems aren't logical, they are more like riddles that require some non sense logic that is only found through massive trial and error.

I don't want to place a sign post in 85 different spots to find out which one is the correct one.

Give me a language to decrypt, let me write it down and figure it out on my own. Maybe even give math problems that you have to solve by hand (nothing is coming to mind that wouldn't be easily solved by wolfram alpha though, just thought of something actually use a non base 10 number system or something) so you really have to think.

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well, i think the thing is not so much having like super irrational unsolveable puzzles for the sake of it.

its just the wish to have everything more complex, having a bigger need to interact with more things and characters to slide deeper into that world. (and, longer)

no one really wanne get stucked for ever.

the puzzles in theorie wasn't bad or too easy in pt. one ... but than there was nohing else you could have done beside the solution as a downside. ;)

but the reaction on us difficulty-critics was quite great in the documentation and much an well explained. having two storylines in one first half and a quite straight forward plot. in velas case even with plenty settings made it naturally not easy having big complexity and different ways to interact with characters and things in the different settings.

But i love the story, the animation and how everything is crafted and animated. if it had been just one character in on or two settings ... well, i know such things work for me ^^ but man, i was sad i just played 4h because i loved the different worlds, characters and the quite genius thing that it was perfectly tied together with one really interesting story.

so i love broken age for what is different and new.

So really, i was just sad i rushed through this, because everything was really well done.

for me its less the pure task having to think about it. i like the fact you really do come forward with trail and error in adventure games. (i also love the fact it is gonne get exiting as soon as trail and error don't work anymore and you have to sit back and think ;) )

but it is for me more like escaping into a different wolrd, where i really am, as i have to solve problems there. save my life, really talk with the characters ... as i have the option what my main character says. like beeing there.

it has much in common for me with readeing a book. getting into another but complex world ... where also problems have to be solved and stories be told. ;) so i like also taking my time for a book.

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I've actually been thinking about this a lot lately and I think design-wise it's way more nuanced than simple vs difficult, because adventure game puzzles have unique design challenges in comparison with more traditional logic puzzles. So, lots of text incoming.

It's hard to make a genuinely difficult (rather than just obscure) adventure game puzzle. I think of it this way - if it's a logic puzzle like something in an action puzzler like Portal or Braid, you have specific tools at your disposal, and so they can carefully built a nice little knot of logic for you to untangle. You're never in doubt about what you -can- do, but there are just a lot of logical hurdles to getting the end result you want.

Adventure game puzzles rarelyhave all that much of a logic knot, although some of the best puzzles feel like it (like how DOTT sometimes feels like one big puzzle box rather than multiple strands of puzzles).

First of all, the tools you have to work with aren't so well defined. You have a bunch of inventory that might have various uses, sometimes puzzles that work through particular dialogue options or your positioning, and so you have to think not only about how to arrange the tools at your disposal but realise what those tools actually are - and it's in that second one that adventure games most often hide their complexity, rather than the first.

It's also the trickiest one to get right: for example, Tim often talks about a good puzzle in Full Throttle, and I agree it's a good puzzle:

The one with the chain where you pull it to open the door but you can't reach the door before it closes, so the solution is counterintuitively to lock the door and then with the chain now unable to move you can use it to climb. It's a neat little puzzle, indeed, but it isn't perfect: chiefly the gate, art-asset wise doesn't really (to me) particularly appear like something that can be locked with a padlock. I remember not trying this for ages just because it didn't look like the right place for a padlock, so the art assets come into play. That's hard to balance because if it looked TOO much like a place for a padlock, the puzzle would become much easier. Designing these things is hard, and it's a problem rarely encountered in other forms of puzzling.

I would conjecture that most times people get stuck on adventure games, it's not because of that knot of logic they can't quite puzzle out (like how someone might get stuck in Braid or Portal), but it's because they didn't understand the tools at their disposal. I'd also suggest that most of the time this is because of the fuzziness of how adventure puzzles are designed in comparison with other genres.

This is an interesting problem because one of the things that modern game design does, and it's generally (though not always) to its credit, is remove confusion from the player about what tools they have at their disposal. You might not know what to do with them, but games have gotten a lot better at providing visual cues and the like to make sure that you know what you have, at least. The design commentary in Portal is a masterclass in this.

But traditionally, because adventure games have very often used that fuzziness as a sort of faux-difficulty in place of harder logic problems, if you bring design lessons into adventure games, you also have to up the difficulty of the logic-knot in order to maintain a similar feeling of difficulty.

Or, to put it another way, I don't think it's a BAD thing that most games are now expected to be clearer in terms of telling you what resources you have at your disposal (notable exceptions are games where discovering the rules are part of the game). But it does mean that the barrier between developer-brain and player-brain is smaller than ever, which means writing puzzles is harder than it ever was when you could rely on a bit of obfuscation to work in your favour.

At least that's how it seems for me. I'm not sure where I'm going with this, just felt like a thought-dump.

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Addendum to the above:

I've just realised that maybe that's why I liked Machinarium so much. It had 2 main types of puzzles: locked room adventure game type problems where you're in a limited situation with a few tools, and need to figure out how to proceed, and I think this sort of puzzle works really well in adventure games. And the second type is particular logic problems which are built bespoke. Some people hated that, but I actually kinda liked it.

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Didn't like Chapter 1 because it was way too easy!

Full Throttle was harder to solve and we all know FT was an easy game.

Don't like the idea that this should be an introduction.

It's too long for an introduction and players who played and liked it because it's so easy won't finish Chapter 2 if they changed the puzzles a lot.

Will judge the complete game after it's available but I hope they did implement much more old-school puzzles!!

There aren't many challenging point and click games available these days.

But I'm thankfull that there are still a few companies out there that develop games like 'back then'.

The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 is the newest and most awesome example!!

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