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Making Adventure Games more expressive: The item based verb coin

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Here is an example of the verb choices that could be made available when the player klicks on a scissor:

itembasedverbcoin.png

You left out Run With...

Seriously, though, I've been lamenting this very thing. The Monkey Island remakes were beautiful, but the control scheme just irritated me. So there was a situation where, if I wanted to play in SCUMM, I had to use the old-school graphics, which precluded me from the amazing updated art and Dominic Armato's VO.

I suppose the question that arises is, how much difference is there between Push/Pull, Open/Close, and Use? The puzzles kind of require a distinction between opening, say, a chest, and pushing it. So, in designing that puzzle, you would need to ensure that the player opens the chest and pushes it in the correct order, but you could still just 'use' the chest twice. Bad example, maybe, but you know what I mean.

These days, good game design is generally focused around how dumb average gamers are (I say this in the 'let's make a Call of Duty clone' vein), so that everything is simplified as much as possible in order to keep shooting bad guys as the priority. This is the antithesis of adventure games, in which good design is focused on anticipating the things that the player might try, and making sure the game doesn't break (or at least, break suspension-of-disbelief) when the player tries something unanticipated. The modern adventure approach is to reduce the amount of ways that a player can interact in the environment, because all the ADHD kids out there need immediate feedback, and if they don't get it, they'll switch back to Call of Duty.

Which brings me back to the question of Open/Close, Push/Pull, etc. To combat the Call of Duty attrition syndrome, designers are forced to cram half a dozen verbs into an all-purpose 'use'. I don't like it, and I don't condone it, but that's how things generally are with the dreaded publishers involved. My personal preference is the Monkey Island 2 interface, it felt just right.

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what a lot of people dont seem to realise, the interface is not important, we want an adventure game, it should be the story, the characters, the puzzles that grab our attention.

The verb coin type thing didn't go to make publishers happy, broken sword and discworld and probably loads of other games did away with the verbs, before monkey island 3 was released, and discworld was a brutal game. Adding multiple types of interaction would have added nothing to these games.

Discworld Noir had next to no puzzles involving complicated item combinations, yet was one of the best experiences i've had.

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Any thoughts on context-sensitive verb availability? For instance if you use a door, verb icons for 'knock' and 'open' could appear. If you use a cup of water on a character, 'give' or 'splash' icons, and so on. No excess verbs in the interface, but player choices made available where relevant.

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Any thoughts on context-sensitive verb availability? For instance if you use a door, verb icons for 'knock' and 'open' could appear. If you use a cup of water on a character, 'give' or 'splash' icons, and so on. No excess verbs in the interface, but player choices made available where relevant.

i think that's exactly what we're getting at,

but consider a glass of water has drink, splash, examine, give, pour, and possibly combine, a door could have knock, open, and lock, or if locked, knock, force, unlock if you have a key, and pick lock if you have some way of picking it.

different items and objects would have a different amount of potential verbs, i don't think you could limit it to only 2

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i think that's exactly what we're getting at,

but consider a glass of water has drink, splash, examine, give, pour, and possibly combine, a door could have knock, open, and lock, or if locked, knock, force, unlock if you have a key, and pick lock if you have some way of picking it.

different items and objects would have a different amount of potential verbs, i don't think you could limit it to only 2

Agreed that it should not to be limited to 2, of course. My point is simply in response to those concerned about interface clutter - It's not an issue if verbs only appear once you try to use the object in a context which makes sense to have those options. My interpretation of the discussion was that all the options were expected to be visible every time you go to use the object, though I may have misunderstood.

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Yes, I think it would make sense to remove some of the verbs depending on the thing you are interacting with. Perhaps the verb Give to would not be made available for interaction with inanimate objects for example. I personally think such a process if implemented should be very predictable and "mechanical" and only remove verbs that makes absolutely no sense at all for the objects involved. This because the game will not explain (insultingly) to the player why the action is not possible. I also would not want unusual verbs suddenly popping up when combining an item with a another object. I think it would be good to give the player as much freedom as possible to try out the actions that makes sense to him and not make too many decisions in advance (that should be up to the game designer). But I guess it would be neccessary to try it out and see where to draw the line in practice.

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i think that's exactly what we're getting at,

but consider a glass of water has drink, splash, examine, give, pour, and possibly combine, a door could have knock, open, and lock, or if locked, knock, force, unlock if you have a key, and pick lock if you have some way of picking it.

different items and objects would have a different amount of potential verbs, i don't think you could limit it to only 2

Agreed that it should not to be limited to 2, of course. My point is simply in response to those concerned about interface clutter - It's not an issue if verbs only appear once you try to use the object in a context which makes sense to have those options. My interpretation of the discussion was that all the options were expected to be visible every time you go to use the object, though I may have misunderstood.

Yes totally, I think the general idea trying to be put across is that you click on an item and a wheel of context appropriate verbs pop up, much like the verb coin in CMI, where you click on an object and a coin pops up with some images that imply certain verbs

CmiLauncherCoin1.jpg

perhaps some people are thinking about having the verbs on screen all the time, but that's not the case.

Also people should consider that screen sizes and resolutions are a lot larger/higher now than they were 10 or 15 years ago, there's a lot more room for verbs without cluttering.

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Any thoughts on context-sensitive verb availability? For instance if you use a door, verb icons for 'knock' and 'open' could appear. If you use a cup of water on a character, 'give' or 'splash' icons, and so on. No excess verbs in the interface, but player choices made available where relevant.

i think that's exactly what we're getting at,

but consider a glass of water has drink, splash, examine, give, pour, and possibly combine, a door could have knock, open, and lock, or if locked, knock, force, unlock if you have a key, and pick lock if you have some way of picking it.

different items and objects would have a different amount of potential verbs, i don't think you could limit it to only 2

I think while these door/glass examples make sense on a certain level, I still think they overcomplicate things. It's easy to imagine a scenario where you might have, for example, a door that you could knock, open, or lock. But then you have to imagine that all of those verbs have to have a result, even if it's a useless one. And then if you imagine all items in the game having all of these different options, and that you'll have to create results for all of them, that puts you in a situation you've probably got a lot of objects with a lot of useless results associated with them. (Yes, they could be funny results, which is a kind of value, but speaking purely in terms of practicality.)

I mean, just imagine that the game has 12 doors in the entire thing. All 12 doors have the option to knock, lock, or open. Most of the time, 2/3 of those are probably going to be useless in the given context. You might have one door where all three of those are applicable to a puzzle of some kind at some point, but it would doubtfully be necessary for all 12 doors. But I think even having 80 different objects with a menu of verbs that "make sense for that object" would still mean that you weren't using most of those verbs, because you probably won't need to use all 80 objects six different ways in order to solve the game. For most of those, you are probably just using it one way. So most of those verbs would probably prove unnecessary most of the time (humor aside).

It would be simpler, if you had a puzzle that involved opening, knocking, or locking a door to just do something like clicking on the knob opens the door, clicking on the door knocker knocks, or using a key in your inventory (or a slide lock on the door itself!) locks the door. You can still have that door puzzle, but you don't have to have useless verbs for the rest of the doors in the game after that.

BUT someone might argue. Maybe just the one door would have the context-sensitive "knock/lock/open" menu, whereas all subsequent doors would just have an "open" menu. But that would be disingenuous to the argument that all objects should have "all verbs that make sense for that object". If you're going to make the menu options context-driven, then you might as well just go purely context-driven. =P

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Well imagine MI1, where every item needed to have 12 things to say for the 12 verbs, even if it was "I can't do that" or whatever,

And in your example of 12 doors, if they are all unlocked doors, they could all have exactly the same reaction on knocking or trying to lock,

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I first read the topic as "Making Adventure Games more expensive: The internet based verb coin", kinda scaried me for a moment.

Good idea though.

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Well imagine MI1, where every item needed to have 12 things to say for the 12 verbs, even if it was "I can't do that" or whatever,

And in your example of 12 doors, if they are all unlocked doors, they could all have exactly the same reaction on knocking or trying to lock,

It's true that you could just call a one-size-fits-all "that doesn't do anything" string whenever the player enacts a verb with a negative result, but that's only half the problem. The other half of the problem I was getting it is why all those verbs need to be there in the first place.

Suppose we keep things very simple and say it is the world's smallest point-and-click and there are a total of 10 objects with which the player can interact in the game:

Door

Pineapple

Bar Tender

Knife

Hamster

Microwave

Potted Plant

Wristwatch

Fire Alarm

Chocolate Bar

Now imagine that we are saying all of these manipulable objects should have a minimum of 3 verbs associated with them when you click on them. Even if you have an easy go-to result for interactions that don't work, you still have to face the fact that most of these items are probably only going to be used one way in the game. Games have A LOT of doors, and a lot of uses for doors; but they don't necessarily have a lot of pineapples or a lot of uses for pineapples. So why have a pineapple or potted plant with lots of different object-specific verbs when you probably just need the one verb? If only SOME objects in the game have multiple applicable verbs, then that just seems to me like an argument for context-driven interactions.

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I agree with Anemone. Some important items could use a few contextual verbs associated to it, but having a bunch of them is just bad practice when it comes to facilitate for puzzle-solving. A few verbs could help, but having a bunch of them is more of a hindrance to the puzzle-solving and interactivity of the game than anything.

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@AvatarIII ,

I didn't mean that anyone was thinking of having all the verbs on the screen all the time... I'll attempt to clarify my thought.

I understand the idea of clicking an object and having contextual verbs appear in a coin, relating to that object. My point was... Lets say you click an inventory item (lets call it 'A'). Rather than having all the verbs for what you might be able to do with that item come up, the game could wait until you actually attempt to use the item on something, in the world or another inventory item (lets call this thing 'B'). At that point, verbs could appear which represent the different ways you can use A on B specifically. If there is only one thing you can do, it would simply happen without verbs appearing. The idea is that all redundant verb options can be eliminated in all cases. Options which aren't the solution and have a funny outcome could still be included, of course.

So, using an object in the world directly can bring up the relevant options, as in the knock\open door example - no redundant verbs. Secondly, using an inventory item on something else would bring up only the verbs which relate to how that item can be used on the something else - again, no redundant verbs appearing at any time.

So my point (which I tried to convey in my post on the first page of the thread, though I may have done a bad job at explaining it :P That'll teach me to watch yt while posting..) was simply that we can have all the options without sacrificing a concise and uncluttered interface. Redundant verbs need never create confusion or overwhelm the player.

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This is exactly how it works in The Sims: the context-sensitive verb coin.

Think how hard it is for text adventure writers! The player can literally type any verb that they think of... The potential for them to enter something that the writer didn't think of, or to come across a misleading default message is frighteningly high and very real. Generally you have to come up with sensible default responses for a dozen standard actions (my recent attempt has special considerations for Attack, Climb, Cut, Eat, Go, Jump, Listen, Look, Pray, Push/Pull, Search, Sleep, Smell, Take, Squeeze, Taste, Wait and Wave) but you have to make sure that there are exceptions for particular objects. A common mistake is to use something like "You feel nothing unexpected" as the default response to Touch, which isn't very appropriate for "touch sky" or other things that aren't within reach.

Of course, graphical games are a different breed, and you don't have to worry about the player typing anything they want. At least in text adventures you only have to think of and write hundreds of responses, you don't have to get them recorded with voice actors...

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If you want to see this type of interface in action in an Adventure game, go and play 'A New Beginning' from Daedalic Entertainment. You can get a link to the demo from the official website'>official website.

The game uses a coin interface with up to four verbs and choices. Those are context sensitive texts offering suitable actions which can also change after your actions.

When playing it, you'll notice that for the majority of hotpots, having more verbs only ends up in having a dozen variations of 'pick up' and 'use'. In essence, actions doing the same thing under a different name. You can see that they tried to add non necessary verbs to the coins (with special reactions) to richen the game experience. But if you play the game for a longer time you'll notice that at some point you just stop using those additional verbs to concentrate on enhancing the story. A few times there's also the problem that just a specific verbs works the right way, even if others would also make sense. So additionally, you're trying to figure out what kind of logic the designers want you to use to come up with the solution (or you'll end up using brute force).

The basic flaw with having a lot of verbs with a coin interface gets worser with a better story. The more you're captured by the flow of a great story, the more having a lot of verbs will slow you down until it just feels tedious. The gameplay of MI3 or Full Throttle feels very slow to me after being used to faster paced games like Secret File: Tunguska, The Book of Unwritten Tales or Deponia.

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The fact is, a verb coin is pointless.

I'd prefer to be without one, but either way i'm not overly bothered, worst case it gives me functions i don't need.

If a verb coin is a make or break aspect then i'd question if people are truly wanting an adventure or a retro game with a monkey island interface.

I personally want something that can take on grim fandango regarding story and style i don't care how it controls.

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The fact is, a verb coin is pointless.

I'd prefer to be without one, but either way i'm not overly bothered, worst case it gives me functions i don't need.

If a verb coin is a make or break aspect then i'd question if people are truly wanting an adventure or a retro game with a monkey island interface.

I personally want something that can take on grim fandango regarding story and style i don't care how it controls.

This! Inspite of the inane controls, graphical glitches and a certain sequence where you have to wait for over a minute to get a 2 second window of timing (I'm gonna let it shine!), it was the most immersive adventure game I ever played. Of course it is somewhat at odds with allowing for cool, complex puzzles to be easily designed (though I'd wager it's still plausible), but IMO GF is the best adventure game ever made.

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seeing as both tim and ron have been very creative with coming up with new types of controls for adventure games Im hoping theyll come up with something completely new and not too retro. I like retro but theres a lot of people who make retro adventure games. everyone in the AGS community for example.

am really hyped for Resonance. the basic interface seems to be RMB look LMB interact-type, but that memory system looks so cool! (and difficult) cant wait to try it out! seems like a good example of a newish UI integrated well into the gameplay and story.

and by the way, theres seem to be a lot of love for and talk about squeezing in humor with all the feedback from different actions. am I the only one who thinks adventure games generally have too much text and dialog when it comes to trying out "wrong" things? it just gets tedious to listen to after a while, even when its not just "I cant do that." I say keep the feedback minimal and short. just shaking the head for the most part will do me to be honest. (maybe I click around too much when Im stuck.)

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I think it's important to make a distinction between two types of objects, those you can put in your inventory and those you can not.

Objects that can be put in the inventory generally affords the ditransitive verbs making up the standard Use with verb. The character have full control of these items and can use them however he likes. These are the items i want to have more expressive verbs for.

Objects in the environment that you can't pick up generally have more limited possibilities for interaction, like a door, a lightswitch or a safe. You seldom use them with other objects because the character can not move them around and manipulate them as he wishes. There are some corner cases of corse, like a scissor attached to a chain (but they could be handled by treating them as an inventory object that must be put back after the character leaves the room for example).

So I don't see any point in having lots of object specific verbs for a door, mountain in the distance, night sky, etc.

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I still don't really think that holds up, though, because when I think back on most of the point and clicks that I played, most of the items that I put in my inventory only had one real function toward completion of the game. I only really see two arguments for this:

Argument 1: One thing I liked about the old school point and clicks is trying all the different verbs and being wrong a lot until eventually something worked.

Argument 2: I know probably only one of those verbs will progress the game, but I just want to be able to do a bunch of extra stuff because it would be fun.

For the first, I'm just not a fan. Yeah, that's what they were like back then, but we don't necessarily have to suffer them anymore. I won't cry if we do still have to sift through verbs, but it's not how I would vote if a poll were taken.

For the second, I just don't know that it's necessary. You can have plenty of funny and interesting thing happens by just trying to use the object on lots of different stuff in the world or other object in the inventory. You don't necessarily need a bunch of extra verbs on top of that.

It just seems that if you can click the object and drag it onto the thing you want to use it with and have the intended action carry out automatically without any need to select a verb, then the idea of going back and choosing between several different verbs seems like a step backward. =\

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I agree that story, characters, art direction, music and so on are primary, but a slick interface can make the experience much more satisfying just as a poor interface can create frustration, and innovations which provide more creative freedom to the player can also add a lot to the experience. It it absolutely an important factor when developing an adventure game, and no doubt the team will give it due consideration.

Edit: @Anemone, good points. I feel like there is potential for good middle-ground, though, by having expanded options only become visible\available when it would provide the player deeper interaction with a puzzle or the world. Even if it only happens once in the game, it could really add something. I think the interface should be as unobtrusive and concise as possible, but I wouldn't want to completely discount the possibility of having more than one way to use an item on something, when it makes sense.

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...If there is only one thing you can do, it would simply happen without verbs appearing...Options which aren't the solution and have a funny outcome could still be included, of course.

So, using an object in the world directly can bring up the relevant options, as in the knock\open door example - no redundant verbs. Secondly, using an inventory item on something else would bring up only the verbs which relate to how that item can be used on the something else - again, no redundant verbs appearing at any time...

I think you do a great job of finding a happy medium between possibilities and context sensitivity. Rather than have the character say something that wouldn't work for the particular scenario, every option presented would have some sort of unique outcome.

The main consideration I would ask for every proposed UI is whether each minimizes players using trial and error as well as stumbling across solutions without using any problem solving.

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AnAnemoneInAnonymity:

Yes, I think it would be cool to have the character do a lot of stuff that don't actually solve the puzzle, one thing that would be possible with this system is to have a lot of actions that mainly depends on the item that the character uses (or the scissor in this example). So if you for example use the verb Threaten X with scissor, the character would look at the object, take up the scissor and say something threatening (before noting that it did not seem to work). If you throw something, the character could throw it at the object and it would just hit it and land on the ground.

This would give you the sense that you were controlling the character rather than just hunting for triggers to progress the story.

Another thing that could be done is to have generic results of actions rather than just responses from the character based on the object attributes. I think Scribblenauts is a great example of what you can do with a smart object system and some attributes. I personally don't think Scribblenauts is a very good game (things that are structured always gets boring after a while), but a similar but simplified system could be used to get more interesting generic results when an action is taken using Object of type A on Object of type B (for example throwing a hard object against a metal object would result in a "cloink" sound). Then the really funny and original stuff would be implemented on top of this.

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I wrote an article on Hardy Dev covering this very topic a while back!

am really hyped for Resonance. the basic interface seems to be RMB look LMB interact-type, but that memory system looks so cool! (and difficult) cant wait to try it out! seems like a good example of a newish UI integrated well into the gameplay and story.

Thanks Mats! The

is supposed to do exactly what this thread is talking about: allowing for a clean-intuitive interface (like newer adventure games strive for) without sacrificing the complexity of possible interactions! It makes the player have to think critically and removes the ability to brute-force puzzles.

But most of all it allows the player to flesh out the world if he wants to. You can ask any NPC in the game about pretty much anything you see and get a response that helps you learn about the characters and the world they inhabit. Some responses might be silly, some serious, and some might give you hints and clues for puzzles. Players who aren't interested in that and just want to blaze straight through the story can do so as well!

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@Vince oh wow youre on here! figures. =)

thanks for the reply! yeah thats exactly what has bothered me about a lot of games - that a lot of times youre thinking in terms of "try hand..." instead of what you actually want to do and would do in the real world. Ive written and a concepted a game that also has a memory system but its not as open as yours, its just a memory-inventory for pre-decided topics just like physical objects. (promise I wont steal yours even if I really like it =) )

I also toyed with the idea to have a "recall" function that lets you very quickly zoom back to other locations and screens (greyed out or summin) to let the user remember any given place or object. but the main problem I thought with that approach (other than memory issues and clunkiness) was that it wouldnt handle things that people have told you very well. would you care to elaborate how resonance handles that? (or I guess we ll find out in may!)

thanks for the article as well, great read! it seems I was right in saying that the physical interactions are revolution-software style? did you think about making the physical interactions more elaborate as well or was that never an issue for you?

like I said Im really looking forward to resonance, it looks just great. best of luck with the launch, I hope you make a ton of money off it!

ps. if you dont mind a personal question - how long did you live in Japan for? as Im also a fellow gaijin living there/here now Im just curious.

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Yeah, I took a totally different approach to making physical interactions more elaborate. For some interactions, instead of just left-clicking and letting the character take it from there, I have a tactile interaction scene pop up where you have to use the mouse to pull levers, turn cranks, thread wire through a circuit board, etc. It doesn't really give you the range of expression as having twenty different contextual verbs popping up, nor is it implemented on every physical interaction in the game, but it does help immerse the player and it's just fun!

Thanks for being interested in the project!

I lived in Japan for four years and change. Met the woman who would later become my wife on my second day there! Living in Japan was the most life-changing event in my life! Good luck!

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ah nice. that also sounds great! detailed interaction...that does sound like a better "context-sensitivity" than a lot of verbs that dont do anything anyway.

ooh. second day! thats some quick marching sir =) Im on my 10th year myself.

thanks again for the replies! toodles

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Immediate response to a verb coin: heck no. Because whenever I get stuck on a puzzle, I eventually resort to trying to use all my items with every object in the world. 10 items on 10 objects is like a hundred combinations. Add extra verbs to those objects and the numbers just get bigger.

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I think a system that prevents mindless clicking everywhere whilst retaining a control system isn't irritating and doesn't get in the way of one's thought process, and that.

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