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patla073

Making Adventure Games more expressive: The item based verb coin

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A problem I see with modern point and click adventure games is that the number of available verbs have been reduced too much, especially the verbs involving object usage. Most often the only ditransitive verb that is available is the use with. To counter this the designers often throw in a huge number of items to make the game more challenging. In my opinion this represents a dead end for adventure game design leading to games that are either too easy, or hard for the wrong reasons.

A way to solve this would be to make available different verbs for an object in the inventory depending on the object attributes (and particular features).

These verbs could be presented to the player using a kind of verb coin that pops up when the player clicks an object in the inventory.

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

itembasedverbcoin.png

These possible verbs would be choosen partly based on a taxonomy of the object, for example the verb CRUSH with would only make sense for objects that have the attribute hard=true and small=false set.

This would make the game much harder (in a good way) as the player would have to be more explicit about the actions he wants to take. The strategy of "using everything with everything" would be much less feasible so other aspects of the game could be made more forgiving.

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I agree that it shouldn't bee too simplyfied. The most annoying thing for me are one-click controls (there's no choice at all). On the other hand for me for example the Full Throttle / Monkey Island 3 interface worked fine. One possible problem I see with your approach is that in the game that interface would be a lot smaller. So it's going to be hard to read. From this point of view I like how it's handled in MI3 and Co. It's visual and it's not too simplyfied.

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It's not a bad idea. So it essentially gives each interactive/manipulable object its own set of verbs so that player doesn't have to figure out which verbs apply from a static verb menu, and that lets you safely employ more verbs, since you don't have to worry about the static verb menu becoming too overwhelming with a high number of verbs on a single menu.

But maybe some people wouldn't like that. Maybe for some people searching for the right verbs is part of the authentic point-and-click experience.

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Mikej:

This could perhaps be solved by centering the object on the screen when you click on it and place the verbs at predictable positions depending on how common they are across different objects, the universally available verb Look at could always be placed at 12:00 for example, so the player does not get confused when checking through several objects.

AnAnemoneInAnonymity:

The number and specificity of available verbs would have to be adjusted after seeing what works best in practice i guess. Another option would be to have the user select a difficulty level depending on how specific the verbs should be: an easy mode with very few (mostly generally applicable) verbs, normal mode with som more specific ones and a difficult mode with dozens of completely crazy choices for each item.

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The classic verb system died out for a reason. Usually, 2/3 of all interactions were meaningless. Some verbs were used a LOT more than all others (e.g. "use"). Most of these interactions wouldn't ever give useful feedback ("I can't do that"), because they were so many of them.

Reducing the possible actions doesn't necessarily take away the complexity from the puzzles. There are good examples (like the "Secret Files" adventure games, or like "Machinarium") how to do this. It's much better to balance the game via clever puzzles instead of just cluttering the interface.

Therefore: I strongly disagree. The simpler the interface, the better. Context driven interactions are much more flexible and understandable, and have proven themselves in countless modern adventures.

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The classic verb system died out for a reason. Usually, 2/3 of all interactions were meaningless. Some verbs were used a LOT more than all others (e.g. "use"). Most of these interactions wouldn't ever give useful feedback ("I can't do that"), because they were so many of them.

Reducing the possible actions doesn't necessarily take away the complexity from the puzzles. There are good examples (like the "Secret Files" adventure games, or like "Machinarium") how to do this. It's much better to balance the game via clever puzzles instead of just cluttering the interface.

Therefore: I strongly disagree. The simpler the interface, the better. Context driven interactions are much more flexible and understandable, and have proven themselves in countless modern adventures.

That's true. I would agree that context driven interaction is probably the best, most intuitive way to do this. I think I would definitely enjoy something like machinarium more than I would enjoy navigating a lot of different verbs, even if they were a set of item-specific ones. Plus, having different verbs on different items introduces the problem of remembering what all verbs are available. With a static verb menu, you know all the verbs all the time because they're just right there at the bottom of the screen. Putting the verbs inside the items means you may forget that a verb is in an item until you go and check. Not a tremendous problem, but not a necessary one either.

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The classic verb system died out for a reason. Usually, 2/3 of all interactions were meaningless. Some verbs were used a LOT more than all others (e.g. "use"). Most of these interactions wouldn’t ever give useful feedback (“I can’t do that”), because they were so many of them.

I think the reason that the verb use was used so much (tehe tehe) was because it is a very vague and general verb that includes other verbs as special cases. In this system the player would not be allowed to simply select the verb use but instead choose a more specific one.

The "I can't do that" response is a problem, but I think it could be solved as many of the actions are crazy in the same way, it is generally pointless to crush a big solid object with a small tool regardless of it being a mountain, a castle or something else, so it could be possible to have useful feedback based on the attributes of the objects (as well as specifically written funny feedback of course).

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I kind of agree with you, in the beginning, back with text based adventures, it made sense for games to have a handful of predetermined verbs for people to remember easily, and then when graphical adventures started, having a preset set of verbs made sense too, to avoid an overly cluttered verb selection area, as graphics got better and we got things like the CMI coin, which reduced it down to use with hands, mouth or eyes, which made sense, again to avoid cluttering, but with higher resolutions and bigger screens,I think we can afford to have a few more verbs, and with higher potential for the games size, each item having it's own item specific verbs might be quite a good idea, say give each item 8 verbs of it's own, you're not going to talk to a pair of scissors so why give the option to?

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It seems like the crux of modern adventure game design is trying to reconcile the need to allow the player to express himself creatively and the need for a simple, elegant means of interacting with the world.

There are those, like Scott Murphy, who have lamented that the genre ever even abandoned text parsers. Part of the joy of an adventure game is the experimentation. I think a system with at least some ability to use multiple verbs adds a lot of potential, although this can be mitigated somewhat by making these context sensitive so you don't have to have 15 of them on screen.

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The classic verb system died out for a reason. Usually, 2/3 of all interactions were meaningless. Some verbs were used a LOT more than all others (e.g. "use"). Most of these interactions wouldn't ever give useful feedback ("I can't do that"), because they were so many of them.

Reducing the possible actions doesn't necessarily take away the complexity from the puzzles. There are good examples (like the "Secret Files" adventure games, or like "Machinarium") how to do this. It's much better to balance the game via clever puzzles instead of just cluttering the interface.

Therefore: I strongly disagree. The simpler the interface, the better. Context driven interactions are much more flexible and understandable, and have proven themselves in countless modern adventures.

I think we're on the same page here :)

I keep seeing threads with individuals asking for "more verbs" "more complexity" but I think people forget there was a reason why more complicated interfaces (like for example the original Maniac Mansion) were replaced with the more simplistic Verb Coin. One of those reasons (as you said) is because two thirds of the actions available weren't being used. Some other reasons I can think of off hand might include:

1) It's more complex to program for multiple actions with similar meanings (pull handle, push handle, use handle, turn handle, etc...)

2) Just because an action makes sense in English doesn't mean it translates well to other languages (some jokes could be lost in translation)

3) It's more complex to test (aka takes longer and costs more money)

[Please feel free to add more]

Now having said that you could argue then that the Verb Coin could also be "simplified" so that only one default action is available; sort of like how the TellTales games seem to work. But I'd say that's taking things a bit too far in the other direction. Too much simplification can be just as bad as too much complication. So I would have to argue that the Curse/Full Throttle interface still gives us the most flexibility to interact with items robustly while still managing to remain generally uncomplicated.

The Whispered World took an interesting twist on the "Classic" Full Throttle/Curse interface by making the Verb Coin somewhat Context Sensitive. It still had the standard three actions (look, use/pickup, talk/mouth) but depending on what objects you were interacting with one or two of the options available could be disabled and leave the user with only the options that make sense in that context. An example would be if the user walked over to a Wall with writing on it.

Obviously you cannot "pickup" the wall so that option may be disabled but "look at" would be available and hey why is "talk to" still active? ;)

Man I need to start working on that video comparison of Adventure game interfaces so I stop writing these long winded replies that 1/10 people will actually read :)

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patla073, I love your idea. I think it represents the perfect "happy medium" between the old-style static verb list like that of Monkey Island I & II (most of which were interchangeable, rendered obsolete by the "Use" verb or never even used once) and the "just rub this on that" reductionism of the verb coin. The way in which this would open up the game is pretty interesting. If nothing else it will make one feel like less of a "tourist" and more directly involved in the puzzle solving; currently if you double-click on object to interact with it the player character figures out what needs to be done him/herself (switch on the light, open the door, slap the bald guy) rendering one's contribution to the character's actions rather indistinct and bland. There's also an interesting element to it that might work for or against the overall idea - having a set of relevant/contextual verbs to choose from might give hints to the player about what they're supposed to do to solve the puzzle, whereas they wouldn't have that nudge in the right direction from a standard verb coin. For instance:

"Dammit, how the hell do I shave this friggin' dog so I can use its fur to tickle that monkey-stripper and get its banana-skin-dollar-bill-substitute?? I don't see how my afro with matching chin-strap is gonna help, its verbs all seem to be related to blocking drains. Oh look, my prison-shankified spoon has a sharp edge on it, and oh look, the available verbs for this item include [Shave with...]! Excelsior!!" - It somewhat takes away from the investigative, lateral thinking aspects when we can just consult the verbs for each item and match the verbs to something that needs some doin' done to it.

I probably made that more convoluted than it needed to be.

I do like the verb coin though, I just don't think we should carve the idea of the verb coin in stone. It definitely has its own set of drawbacks.

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I like concision, but there are definitely times when it can make sense to have more options. What if you want to try giving a golf club to a character, but end up hitting them with it (to use a silly example)? Context sensitive will probably be all that is needed most of the time, but in instances where an object has more uses which are still relevant to the plot, perhaps those options could could appear as soon as you attempt to use the object on whatever it is you're using it on. I think it might clutter and make things more complex than they need to be to have a lot of permanent options per inventory object which are always there. It would make it much harder to have a unique response to each player action as well, not to mention the probability of having verbs there for the whole game which only have one place in the game they can be used. Perhaps options could appear only in situations where they make sense. That way the number of actions is not restricted but should never overwhelm the player, and a situation with a unique opportunity could have a unique option rather than being limited to the verbs which were chosen for that object.

There's definitely room for innovation here, but I think a good balance can be found between a streamlined, uncomplicated interface, and having creative options available to the player.

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The problem becomes: some actions might fit with more than one of the verbs... and then when one of them doesnt work, it misleads the player away from the solution making for frustration.

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The classic verb system died out for a reason. Usually, 2/3 of all interactions were meaningless. Some verbs were used a LOT more than all others (e.g. "use"). Most of these interactions wouldn't ever give useful feedback ("I can't do that"), because they were so many of them.

Reducing the possible actions doesn't necessarily take away the complexity from the puzzles. There are good examples (like the "Secret Files" adventure games, or like "Machinarium") how to do this. It's much better to balance the game via clever puzzles instead of just cluttering the interface.

Therefore: I strongly disagree. The simpler the interface, the better. Context driven interactions are much more flexible and understandable, and have proven themselves in countless modern adventures.

But the call here is for context driven interactions anyway? Just for more varied options? No one here wants back the static list of verbs of the old SCUMM interfaces. "Use" of course was always the most popular verb because it stands for any action, just like "thing" stands for any object. Text adventures don't even recognize the verb "use", because it's not specific enough.

And a lack of useful feedback exists merely when the designer didn't bother to put some in.

I think people misunderstand the reason for the call for more verbs here. It's not about making puzzles more difficult. It's about allowing for more experimentation and more avenues for exploration and witty responses. The joy of tackling a puzzle lies not only in solving it, but also in the way you get there.

I like it when I can communicate more concisely with the game than most modern adventures (like the ones from Telltale) allow me. The best puzzles are the ones which can unavoidably only be solved in one fashion, because everything else you try, all the other ideas you have, don't quite work out. I want to be able to try it my way before I find the one valid solution because otherwise I want to scream at the game "Why can't I do this? Why doesn't this work?" I stopped playing Sam & Max: Reality 2.0 for this reason. I had some good ideas in mind how to solve a problem at hand, but the game wouldn't let me try it. It sucked out all the fun of playing the game for me. I want to experiment, I want to come bit by bit closer to the solution. I feel the possibility of experimentation is a condition for good puzzle design. And I feel it's getting lost more and more.

Why did interfaces with many verbs die out? I don't know. But did you think that the interface of the Monkey Island 2: Special Edition was clunky or hard to use? I think its interface, with a few adjustments, would be ideal. One of the things that always bothered me was the miscommunication when you interacted with characters. Like, I have this knife in my inventory and I want it to show it someone, because it's a rare antique or something, and I want to let them know that I have it in my possession, to see how the character reacts. I try to do that and then the game tells me "It'd be rude to stab him to death right out here in the street". But I didn't want to stab him! I wanted to show him the item! At least I should've the options to "show", "give" or "use" (whatever "use" stands for) in this case. Gah!

The problem becomes: some actions might fit with more than one of the verbs... and then when one of them doesnt work, it misleads the player away from the solution making for frustration.

That isn't a problem at all! A good designer should know how to write responses that point the player in the right direction or when to allow multiple actions to lead to the solution. Of course, if the response is merely a "That doesn't work"? Well, then that isn't good design, plain and simple. No interface can take the duty of the designer away of actually designing the game. There is no magical solution. Lots of little details, like appropriate responses and a consistent, implied rule set, are something the designer has to work out.

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"Dammit, how the hell do I shave this friggin' dog so I can use its fur to tickle that monkey-stripper and get its banana-skin-dollar-bill-substitute?? I don't see how my afro with matching chin-strap is gonna help, its verbs all seem to be related to blocking drains. Oh look, my prison-shankified spoon has a sharp edge on it, and oh look, the available verbs for this item include [Shave with...]! Excelsior!!" - It somewhat takes away from the investigative, lateral thinking aspects when we can just consult the verbs for each item and match the verbs to something that needs some doin' done to it.

I understand that concern, however, how is it any worse than being stuck and literally using everything on everything for ages just to find a solution, if all sharp objects had the option to "shave", or all potentially ticklish items have the verb "tickle", then that would make sense in context, without spelling out the solution, also if you throw in a few red herring verbs into every coin and a few red herring items, it wouldn't be spelling out the solution.

Another idea might be that new verbs are made available if and when they are suggested in conversation with NPCs or by other means, that might make replaying frustrating, but perhaps a mode where the correct verbs are instantly usable is something you can turn on after your first playthrough,

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Too many actions. We should have the usual CMI coin interface along with 0-3 extra possibilities with the item. Even 3 extra options may be too much at that. Having a few (e.g. less than 4) options available specifically for an item can be cool and exciting. Having any more will just clutter the interface and make exploring the item possibilities mundane and boring.

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Ya know... 5 of those 9 options on the scissors seem like options Lorena Bobbit would use... But other than that I agree with you, a simple "use with" option is too simplistic.

I also imagine if there was a full coin Tim could work his comedic magic on his game. Such as if you have those scissors and a cop is preventing you from advancing, you could use the put in option on the cop and a dialogue box would pop up which would say "I won't arrest you if you agree to never speak of this again..."

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Too many actions. We should have the usual CMI coin interface along with 0-3 extra possibilities with the item. Even 3 extra options may be too much at that. Having a few (e.g. less than 4) options available specifically for an item can be cool and exciting. Having any more will just clutter the interface and make exploring the item possibilities mundane and boring.

extra verbs does open up the possibility for more jokes though, like in the OP "castrate with", just seeing that there is a bit funny, then you actually try to castrate a character and you get a funny quip.

I think having only 3 possibilities per item is more boring than more possibilities, when stuck, turns the game into an exercise in trial and error, because it doesn't take too long to just try everything, there is less pressure to really work out what you have to do. if you have a bunch of verbs per item, you aren't going to sit there and try every permutation, you are going to give what you have to do some more serious thought.

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Although I wouldn't dogmatically rule out some extra verbs here and there,

the longer I think about it, they tend to either feel like spoilers or misleaders, so they tend to put the wicked developer's puzzle designing mind between you and the actual puzzle.

So, as a matter of fact, choosing between constantly changing verbs would be a great puzzle in itself.

It could be a feature of some cruel supersmart comminication device you need to operate someone/something.

That's how those jokes mentioned above could be played out.

It reminds me somewhat of the not hilarious but still brilliantly fantastic computer hacking puzzle in Beneath A Steel Sky.

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Too many actions. We should have the usual CMI coin interface along with 0-3 extra possibilities with the item. Even 3 extra options may be too much at that. Having a few (e.g. less than 4) options available specifically for an item can be cool and exciting. Having any more will just clutter the interface and make exploring the item possibilities mundane and boring.

extra verbs does open up the possibility for more jokes though, like in the OP "castrate with", just seeing that there is a bit funny, then you actually try to castrate a character and you get a funny quip.

I think having only 3 possibilities per item is more boring than more possibilities, when stuck, turns the game into an exercise in trial and error, because it doesn't take too long to just try everything, there is less pressure to really work out what you have to do. if you have a bunch of verbs per item, you aren't going to sit there and try every permutation, you are going to give what you have to do some more serious thought.

It may be funny for about 10-20 seconds until the "castrate" option just gets in the way. the "3 possibilities" is extra. e.g. you'll have the "look at", "use", "talk to/eat" as well as up to 3 extra options depending on the item and how important it is and how much it will be used. There's only so many things you can do with a scissor that isn't essentially a variation of cutting something.

And your oher point is wrong. Assume you're stuck at one point in a game. You have 10 items in your pouch, 5 characters you can interact with, 10 world-items you can interact with. Assuming 4 actions for each item/character, as well as items used on items/characters you have 4x10 + 4x10 + 4x5 + 10x(10+5) = 250 different possibilities to go through. By no means, it's not insanely many, but it's not an attractive option to just go through all of them instead of spending a minute or 2 thinking about what makes sense. Especially not of the game is built in a somewhat intuitive way. However, if you know that you have to use the scissors in some way on the balloon to progress and have to find the right verb amongst 20 different options, I assure you that's not something anyone would prefer.

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20 verb options is way over the top, the OP has 9 and that's probably a little too may, 6-8 would probably be better, examine plus a small group of item specific verbs, a couple of red herrings and a joke verb, by each item having its own compliment of verbs, you wouldn't need pointlessly to have the option to just "use" which would be made redundant by a couple of more specific "use" verbs, or "talk to" for inanimate objects, unless there's a joke in it.

and sure 250 different possibilities is quite a lot (although it would be even less with only 3 verbs like in CMI, and discounting the fact that some permutations aren't even worth trying) but I think most people would be lying if they said they have never got stuck and at least begun to try the trial and error technique, more specific verbs would serve as tips to point players in the right direction without spelling solutions out.

as for using the scissors on a balloon, I think stab, cut with, put in and castrate would work equally well for popping it, without the specific verb of "pop with", it wouldn't be like only one verb works in some circumstances.

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But that just shows how useless the "castrate" verb is doesn't it? A scissor cutting would be the regular form of using it, so as far as can see, the only reasonable additional verb to use would be "stab". Anything more than 6 different types of interactions with an object is counterintutive and will subtract from the experience in my book. Beyond the basis verbs, there's really not all that much more that needs to be covered before verbs are overlapping and essentially useless. I'd rather have 3-6 well thought out and intuitive interactions that will make sense throughout the game. Throwing in red herrings and joke verbs will just clutter up the interface without any real use and will not help the game. I'd rather the jokes be in the game rather than in the interface.

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well you are in for a disappointment because iirc Ron Gilbert said in one of the DFA videos that he loves to put jokes in the interface. :-\

Is it really useless if it brings a smile to our faces? I don't think so, so what if it's pointless as far as the actual game goes, if it's funny it doesn't need another point, in my opinion.

as far as "anything more than 6 verbs it too much" my Adventure gaming life started with Indy 3 and Monkey Island which both had 12 verbs, and I didn't mind a bit.

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Reducing the possible actions doesn't necessarily take away the complexity from the puzzles. There are good examples (like the "Secret Files" adventure games, or like "Machinarium") how to do this.

Actually Secret Files IMO is taking away a lot complexity and the Machinarium puzzle design is not a good example because the puzzle design is pretty different to usual adventure games.

For me it's important to be able to

... pick something up if I want to do that,

... look at something if I wanna do it

... use something if I want to

... talk/eat to someone/something if I wanna do that (even if it makes no sense *lol*)

These are things that would be important for me to be able to choose from (if there's more - okay. But I don't need it)...and I think they are useful to make some puzzles more interesting. In DOTT for example you also have a puzzle where you have to push someone. That's not really working with the 2-click approach - not without giving away the solution.

But in the end this is an issue where people will have opposing opinions. From my point of view: Obviously I'd be for a classical compromise and this would be the "Full Throttle" / "Monkey Island 3" type of interface. This allow a good enough flexibility and usally I think you don't need more. For me it's not only about complexity - I wanna feel free to do many different things in a game.

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It may be funny for about 10-20 seconds until the "castrate" option just gets in the way. the "3 possibilities" is extra. e.g. you'll have the "look at", "use", "talk to/eat" as well as up to 3 extra options depending on the item and how important it is and how much it will be used. There's only so many things you can do with a scissor that isn't essentially a variation of cutting something.

I love the idea, but the fun should be in the puzzles, not the interface.

So it could be really nice to have one device working this way, some kind Swiss Knife with a weird interface/personality.

It can be used on the weirdest things and have results no-one would have thought of.

A handy tool that cuts crap, and screws unsuspecting customers.

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