What point and click adventures could learn from hidden object games

Thimbleweed Park

This week I’ve been tinkering with a preview build of Thimbleweed Park which is the point and click murder mystery from Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick (them off Maniac Mansion). I used to love playing point and click games when I was little – my siblings and I would play them together over weeks and weeks – but for me they feel so rooted in that time’s technology and gamescape that I don’t think I’ve found any of the modern revamps/revisits/reworks/riffs of interest. Thimbleweed Park’s recent trailers did trigger a little frisson of curiosity though, and I’ve also been tasked with booting up The Dig by John for a new Game Swap. The result of all of this was an unexpected 2am conclusion about what point and clicks can learn from hidden object adventures.

The core of this thinking is that a lot of my fondness for old titles comes from playing them in the context of the time and thus dismissing elements of the UI or particular design choices as “normal” where now they would chafe. This means that there’s a mismatch between how such a thing actually plays and the experience I remember having.

It’s something game developers are aware of and every now and again a classic will get remade with an emphasis on giving you the experience you remember while trying to sand off the bits that will chafe now that time and tech have moved on a bit. If you dust off an N64 and play Ocarina of Time then switch to any one of the newer versions of that game you’ll see bits of what I’m getting at.

Obviously when it comes to point and clicks there is a real contingent of fans and players who aren’t bothered by the finicky elements and don’t want the edges sanded off, but I’m willing to be that it’s not just me that would appreciate more of a casual mode. So this is about lapsed point-and-clickers who would go back to those games for the jokes and the story and the oddness of the whole performance but who start to chafe when context sensitive commands are revealed not to be part of that hazy glow of recollection.

Casual modes came up because Thimbleweed Park actually lets you choose between a hardcore and a casual mode at the start. I went with the casual mode because I’ve been burnt by returning to the point and click genre before! I was hoping for something closer to what I described above and that would lure me back in. That didn’t happen and I’ve been digging what a real casual mode would mean for me.

P.S. I’m still at the stage of working out exactly what I would want from the experience so I’ll structure this as a set of related thoughts rather than an exhaustive explanation.

When Thimbleweed Park invites you to pick it offers a casual mode for people who are new or who are “looking for a quicker experience because life is exciting and there is so much to do” and a normal mode which has some extra puzzles “because there is nothing more exciting in life than playing adventure games.”

What I realised early on is that my idea of a casual mode is very different from Thimbleweed Park’s idea of a casual mode. The game doesn’t say this when inviting you to pick, but I’d thought that a casual mode would be about reducing the friction as you go through the game, meaning you’d be able to flow through the story rather than hitting the frequent roadblocks I associate with point and click puzzling.

Thimbleweed Park

For me a casual mode with a quicker experience of the game would entice you through the broad sweep of the story making connections more obvious but still finding ways to include you in the humour. I was trying to work out what this would look like and I think it would be closer to a hidden object adventure, funneling you along the pathway of cause and effect more obviously than a true point and click, but still having a rich world that rewarded interaction.

I wouldn’t want a point and click to go full hidden object adventure, but those games are a useful contrast point because they ultimately offer a similar rigid pathway to most point and clicks for the gamer to pursue. They just exist at the opposite extreme with regard to the friction they need to provide to achieve their aims. Point and clicks are a performance – they seek to engage the player in dialogue or play with you through language or interface. Hidden object games are about punctuating an unvarying story with Professor Layton style minigames or object hunts. One requires you not to always know what to do/press/say so you can be surprised by the narrative or jokes you trigger by accident. The other doesn’t want you to be confused by the game because its reward moments are via gentle (or not so gentle) coffee break puzzles which happen along the way and the story is just the throughline.

It feels like a true casual modek (for me) would be somewhere in the middle of that continuum. I’d be happy to sacrifice some of the friction in the pathway through the story if it could perhaps be replaced with moments of confusion and reward elsewhere. Maybe that would come in the form of minigames, but maybe it would be more about having a mode where the puzzles were far more tightly plotted in single areas. It would be a lot of work and I can instantly see reasons why developers wouldn’t think that was a good or fun use of their time. Maybe it would also only please me. I’d obviously still be interested in developers catering to that limited audience, but I can see why it might not happen!

Thimbleweed Park

I say this because the casual mode in this particular game has still got me to a point where I don’t know what to do next and the thought of trying to press on is just not appealing to me. I can switch between two FBI agents, one of whom is in an area large enough that the idea of having to comb back through it for whatever I’ve missed seems daunting, and the other has a far smaller area available to explore but one of the interactions I can use her for takes so many clicks to perform that the idea of experimenting with a few ideas makes my eye twitch in frustration.

There actually was a section where I played as Ransome the foul-mouthed clown where the friction was severely reduced. That was welcome in that I didn’t get stuck, and I also had the space to appreciate a couple of interesting things that the writing and the interactions brought out. But this section is why I’m saying that rather than just cut out the friction altogether it needs to move to a different place, because aside from those interesting snippets the rest of that bit was not engaging. The clown felt like a riff I’d seen many times before in the character of Krusty in The Simpsons.

The other thing which felt odd to me was that in this casual mode, I found myself with the same interface frustrations as I’ve found in the genre before. It’s to do with the implementation of the familiar SCUMM-esque verb-object system. My issue here is that going back to a point and click after years playing other games and after years of developers working out how to make actions seem intuitive is painful. When I click on a door and the game assumes I want to walk TO it and not walk THROUGH it I feel myself starting to glare.

Thimbleweed Park

I get that it’s leaving the agency to the player and that perhaps you might want to try something else, but if we’re thinking about casual experiences, why have the interface taking me to the door and just standing next to it if that won’t yield a rewarding result, either in the form of a joke or a reaction or… anything? If I wanted to stand near the door I’d then just click near it but without clicking on the object itself.

The verbing of objects is intrinsically linked to point and click adventures and I’m not advocating for its removal. What I’m trying to get at here is that it feels like this is an easy point where devs might miss opportunities to tweak the interface and make it smoother. For example, Thimbleweed Park’s own blurb says “Today’s players don’t want the same experience they had in the 80s… they want the experience they remember having.” As one of those players (albeit more from the early nineties than the eighties with my pointing and clicking), I remember the stories and the jokes and the puzzles being the experience, not the multi-click-to-get-someone-through-the-blooming-door.

I’m going to go back to The Dig soon having bounced off it pretty hard a few weeks ago when I got frustrated and couldn’t seem to get past the first section intuitively. I’ll be creating my own casual mode by simply using a walkthrough for that bit and any other bits I get frustrated by because the thing John’s evangelised is the story. I want to find a way to experience that without also experiencing the frustration of accidentally triggering a conversation that won’t end quickly enough a few times because of a misclick, or accidentally opening my space phone one too many times.

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54 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    CdrJameson says:

    Be careful you don’t spoiler The Dig! It’s about figuring out an alien world/technology, and it has consistencies, patterns and hints when you spot them. But you won’t spot them if you walkthrough. It doesn’t have the same reliance on object puzzles as most adventures.

    Also, I didn’t think there was anything to get stuck on the first section? You just do your mission. It’s just there to establish ‘normality’ before screwing it up.

  2. fenriz says:

    I don’t get why we can’t simply accept a game’s peculiar logic regarding verbs, puzzles and stuff like the door dilemma the writer of this article mentions. Why must we impose our own narrowminded logic and knit over idle details like these?

    Because accepting a new logic is what makes adventures challenging, i think! To try and think in a different way. To adapt, to open up to new point of views.

    the thing is, we’re simply spoiled.

  3. criskywalker says:

    I guess what you want is something more akin to the Telltale adventure games. If anything I miss the verb list and the old Lucasarts gameplay after more modern and more frustrating games like Broken Age.

  4. MrBehemoth says:

    Pip, I get what you mean. I love most of the classic Lucas Arts adventures, up to a point. I’m one of those people you mention who doesn’t want the edges sanded off, but then I find the older ones, like Maniac Mansion or Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, very, very frustrating.

    But look, maybe you just need to say “I don’t like point-n-click adventure games” – it’s OK to not like them. John may even forgive you in time. In fact, I’m going to come out and say I really don’t like hidden object games, or jigsaws, or kitsch murder-mysteries, apart from Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock Holmes, Pip! …It’s fine. Group hug.

    If you say “FPS’s could be more like first person puzzle games” you might end up with something like Superhot, which is great, but that doesn’t mean all FPS’s should be Superhot.

    • Philippa Warr says:

      I don’t like playing point-and-click adventures of the kind that I did back in the day because I’ve changed. I never said that wasn’t the case. The point of this piece isn’t to say that those games shouldn’t exist just because I don’t get on with them. The point of this article is that developers of point-and-clicks sometimes seem interested in providing an intermediate experience or something that’s point-and-click-esque without being the hardcore experience. If they are then I think hidden object adventures offer an interesting discussion point because of the things I outlined above.

      Not everything is for everyone, and there are types of games I don’t naturally get on with, but Thimbleweed offered a casual and a hardcore experience which got me thinking about the differences, as did the way I ended up deciding to approach The Dig and still wanting to get something out of it.

      It’s not a zero sum prospect – the whole thing is about the potential of casual modes, not in saying hardcore point-and-clicks shouldn’t exist.

  5. caff says:

    Good article, and some of you points about Thimbleweed have me equally as baffled as you are. I’m a backer of the game and now I’m concerned I won’t know which mode to play, or whether it will wind me up something chronic with it’s quirky ways.

  6. R. Totale says:

    The Dig has some pretty brutal puzzles. I’m looking at you, disassembled animal skeleton.

    • Shazbut says:

      That f***ing thing…

    • Marclev says:

      I tried playing The Dig recently, from GOG, as I’m a sucker for sci-fi, and was about ready to throw it out of the window at what I’m assuming was around the half way point, at which point I quit playing and have no desire to go back to it.

      It’s a spiteful game that starts out super promising and then just goes out of its way to punish you for making progress as it goes on.

      It may have a good story, but is a terrible game.

      There’s a massive clue to that [disassembled animal skeleton puzzle] on the previous screen!

      Which is drawn in such a way that it doesn’t properly match the pieces you have to assemble, leaving you to guess where they belong. As I said, it’s a spiteful game.

      • KenTWOu says:

        Which is drawn in such a way that it doesn’t properly match the pieces you have to assemble…

        What are you talking about? They match each other very well. If that fossil image would be more clear, it wouldn’t be interesting to solve that puzzle. Besides all pieces snap to each other, which helps tremendously. Seriously I think it’s a very well designed puzzle, and I’m very surprised to see people had problems with this clever thing.

    • Turkey says:

      The Dig is evil. It looks and acts like a Lucas Arts adventure game, but it’s actually a Myst!

  7. Magus42 says:

    Thimbleweed Park may not have been the best starting point for this particular experiment. It is intentionally trying to move the genre back towards more complex interfaces. A lot of modern adventures are much more streamlined and constrict the set possible choices available at any particular time so that the player never wanders too far from a solution. If you’re looking for a title to follow up on this article with, Daedelic’s recent Silence is an interesting but flawed work with a very simplified interface which should be an interesting contrast. It is a sequel but I don’t think the first game is necessary to understand what is going on.

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    Andy_Panthro says:

    The verb issue is why I preferred the Sierra alternative. When you use the “hand” icon, the game is coded to push/pull/open/close/pick up/etc. as appropriate for the thing that you click on.

    I did think that the later Lucasarts ones had very good automatic choices for their verb menu though, where hovering the mouse over an item would show the default action that you would take if you clicked on it, and it was usually appropriate (except in more complicated puzzles).

    Of course Monkey Island 3 simplified things considerably with the “verb coin”, which I liked.

    The Monkey Island games (2+3 at least) also had difficultly choices. However, while they reduced the number of puzzles that you had to solve, and reduced the complexity (welcome for many people), sometimes this meant removing sections from the game. I hated this, because in a comedy-heavy game like Monkey Island, removing a section or a puzzle can remove jokes too.

    I do like the idea of a more constrained approach for an easy mode though, but it would have to be thought about from the start. Perhaps it would change things so that every item you need for a puzzle would be in the same location, so you know that you don’t need to hunt around lots of different rooms to progress to the next area? Probably hard to do though, especially when such games often have puzzles that chain together across multiple rooms (and probably in this game, multiple characters!).

    You’ve also made me think of King’s Quest 1, and Quest for Glory 1, both of which (while not having easy modes) have relatively easy puzzles. They even have multiple ways to solve those puzzles (especially QFG). Multiple solutions do make the game easier, but in both of these cases there are “better” ways of doing things than others, so that when you complete the game you can attempt it again with the aim of solving the puzzles the right way (to get maximum points!).

  9. Babymech says:

    I still don’t know how it makes sense to separate the difficulty from ‘the story’. It’s like separating the vocabulary an author uses from the story she’s telling, or the sequential panels from the plot of a comic. Obviously it should be fine to criticize sloppy or silly difficulty when it gets in the way of everything else, but it doesn’t make sense to say that game will be the same game if you introduce a ‘casual’ mode (or in this case a casualer mode). It’s not exactly useful criticism to say that Pale Fire would be a better book if it were written in a straightforward and more accessible way, and it’s not exactly sensible to say that SF V would be a ‘smoother’ game if it were a one button fighter – it wouldn’t be the same book, and it wouldn’t be the same game.

    • Aninhumer says:

      >I still don’t know how it makes sense to separate the difficulty from ‘the story’.

      I don’t understand why this is confusing you? The story in most point and click games is only loosely connected with the gameplay, and it would be relatively simple to remove or simplify the puzzles without affecting the story much at all. Hell, plenty of people already do it by watching Let’s Plays.

      Of course the resulting experience wouldn’t be “the same”, but for people who find the traditional gameplay frustrating, nothing of value will be lost.

      • Risingson says:

        “The story in most point and click games is only loosely connected with the gameplay,”

        No. The story of not good adventure games is only loosely connected.

  10. draglikepull says:

    It seems like what you’re looking for is basically Firewatch, isn’t it? Firewatch takes some of the basic structure of point-and-click adventure games (it’s even made by some people who used to make Telltale adventure games), but it strips out the inventory management and most of the puzzles while letting you enjoy the characters and the setting without blocking your progression.

  11. mujie says:

    Hidden object games are the most boring types of games. All it is is clicking and hoping you get the object. I wouldn’t want any mystery game to be a hidden object. It’s lazy. A mystery game should be about using your brain, not clicking randomly.

    • Caiman says:

      Some of the simple ones are as you describe, but these days the best ones are basically point and click inventory puzzlers with some mini games and hidden object scenes thrown in, plus more emphasis on story etc. A lot of these have really dire stories and voice acting, but some are pretty good. Try one of the more recent Artifex Mundi games as an example. This is I think what Pip is getting at. What I’d like to see is a bit more comedy in these things. Hidden Folks is a great example of how this can be done, but the whole subgenre could do with exploring possibilities further.

  12. v21 says:

    Pip, have you tried the Amanita games? They seem to have that same mix of constrained areas/possibilites, but also that sense of surprise and wonder that adventure games can often give. Although of course, less of the dialogue based rewards, and much more in terms of charming animation. Personally, I much prefer the Botanicula side to the Machinarium side of things – I’d rather get the most juice and animation and charm for the least head-banging, but maybe you’ll exist somewhere else on that spectrum.

  13. Deano2099 says:

    Try playing The Dig not with a walkthrough, but with UHS Hints – link to uhs-hints.com – basically you click the bit you’re stuck on and it gives you a nudge, and you can get more and more detailed clues by revealing more hints.
    Love it for adventure games as I find I usually only need one or two hints but then still get the ‘buzz’ of figuring it out.

  14. Muppetizer says:

    Playing Kentucky Route Zero made me feel pretty much the exact same thing regarding other modern point and click adventure games. The act of playing it seemed way more honed in on the actual ‘adventure’ part of the genre, and never really felt bogged down by the few potentially progress blocking puzzles as they were woven in so deeply to the experiential intent it felt like the game was going for.

    Having dialogue choices and puzzles intended to shape your personal experience more than substantially altering or preventing outcomes seems like something Walking Dead/Wolf Among Us-era Telltale games were going for, although by this point it feels a little like they’re doing it for convention’s sake (or more likely budget/scope) than with due thought behind it.

  15. ldgonza says:

    If I may provide the opposite point of view, multi-click interactions are, to an extent, part of the experience I remember and still like.

    Pull rug, take key from under rug, use key on door, open door, walk through door. Couldn’t all that be trimmed down? Yes it could. Ron himself would probably try to trim it down today. But these type of “micro actions” add to the flow in a characteristic way, a complement to the puzzles themselves, and inject some gameplay to other, more mundane, interactions.

    As just another tool, they can be abused (as they have been in the past)… hopefully Ron knows better by now. And as a component of the “flavor” of the gameplay, I get the negative reaction to them. I just think they’re more than quirks in an outdated interface: they’re part of the style.

    (PS: doesn’t right clicking on the door make the game choose some context-sensitive action like “open”?).

  16. airknots says:

    The verb list is something I really enjoy, but only if there are tailored responses for trying each verb. If there’s half a dozen verbs and the character’s script is just a simple “I can’t do that” for trying different combinations, then the game would be boring as fuck. With added context though, like “I can’t carry that cause it’s too slippery”, “I can’t open that while the guard’s watching” etc., then the verb list turns into a feature that casual telltale-like adventures can’t offer to me.

    • Jekhar says:

      This exactly. Each failed attempt should ideally give a little hint why that was the wrong thing to try as well as provide a tiny world building snippet. If you got 12 possible actions and eleven of them result in “can’t do that” you might as well not have them.

      • phlebas says:

        Quite so! It’s not just an issue with verbs though – it applies to inventory actions too. Too many recent adventures don’t bother with interesting failure responses – a lot of players will resort to a walkthrough rather than trying things out, especially if they’re playing for the story.

      • airknots says:

        For any adventure game/visual novel/RPG, I always choose the wrong answers first even if I know the actual solution. Good adventure games will always have a funny script ready if you try something stupid.

        • phlebas says:

          ONE OF US
          ONE OF US

        • Ejia says:

          Yes! It’s like slowly chiseling away at a block of material to get to the bits of story that slowly turn into the complete thing. I make a save just before making a choice in case I accidentally select the correct response and can’t go back to see the results of the other ones.

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      basilisk says:

      The Day of the Tentacle remaster released by Double Fine last year did this quite brilliantly. The optional modern interface is a verb coin (of sorts) with all of the game’s nine verbs, but when you open it on an object, it hides all the verbs that don’t have a defined specific response. So you still get the jokes for silly stuff like “Pick up Nurse Edna”, but are spared all the default “I can’t do that” lines.

      Because I think that’s what people miss when they lament the loss of the verb interface. I don’t really believe that anyone is very sorry that they can’t try to “Push” every single object in an adventure game and in 99% of cases hear “It won’t budge”.

      • airknots says:

        Oh, they did that for TDotT? Good to know, I might just purchase and play that again just for that feature. Just finished Broken Age a while ago, and though it never really captivated me as much as some of Schafer’s older games, I really appreciated the amount of script they put into it.

  17. Booker says:

    I thought I didn’t like adventures anymore too. But then I played Technobabylon and I realized that the reason I thought I didn’t like adventures anymore and that my taste somehow changed, was only because most adventures I played before that, had boring or even outright shitty stories and characters. Or worse, were even only filled with dumb puzzles whose sole purpose it was, to stretch the game.

    So it all still boils down to the question, does the game have a good story? Is it funny? Good characters? If that’s the case, it doesn’t even remotely matter what genre it is. Then I still like adventures a lot.

    If Thimbleweed Park is going to be funny, it is going to be a good game. Nothing else will matter and if the game is just boring or even annoying, even good puzzles won’t save it.

  18. Humppakummitus says:

    I guess the casual mode doesn’t go far enough in this game. For the people who play for the experience and story, they should remove the puzzles, since they’re roadblocks preventing them from enjoying the game. KRZ is a magnificent experience and it doesn’t need puzzles or minigames.

  19. Premium User Badge

    pegolius says:

    So today’s expectation towards point and click adventure games is that they should have the difficulty level of a walking simulator? *mesad* because I like adventure games that are not just visual novels with some QTEs added to them.

    • Humppakummitus says:

      I think the idea is that an adventure game should offer a difficulty level of a walking simulator. Good idea, in my opinion.

    • Premium User Badge

      Graham Smith says:

      You should try reading the article.

  20. Marclev says:

    What I realised early on is that my idea of a casual mode is very different from Thimbleweed Park’s idea of a casual mode. The game doesn’t say this when inviting you to pick, but I’d thought that a casual mode would be about reducing the friction as you go through the game, meaning you’d be able to flow through the story rather than hitting the frequent roadblocks I associate with point and click puzzling.

    That sounds like you don’t actually like point and click adventures as a genre. Maybe not the best choice of game to try and review?

    I was trying to work out what this would look like and I think it would be closer to a hidden object adventure, funneling you along the pathway of cause and effect more obviously than a true point and click, but still having a rich world that rewarded interaction.

    Please no! One of the best innovations in point and click games of recent years has been just pressing a key to highlight all “clickable” objects on the screen. One of the most frustrating things about the old ones was having to pixel hunt and hidden object games turn this activity into the whole game!

    They’re completely different genres and they can stay that way, thank you very much.

    The verbing of objects is intrinsically linked to point and click adventures and I’m not advocating for its removal.

    No it’s not intrinsically linked to point and click adventure games. It’s linked to old point and click adventures and was a hold over from text adventures. The system went out of fashion in the 90s because it was so unintuitive. Most point and click games released in over the last two decades just have “Use / Interact” and “Look at” and that covers anything that the old style verb system without the ambiguities of that system.

    It’s somewhat mind boggling that a new point and click adventure would implement that “old school” interface, there’s a good reason the genre stopped using it.

    • Philippa Warr says:

      1. This isn’t a review.

      2. This is a series of thoughts about how to implement the casual modes which developers do sometimes suggest they want to add, with Thimbleweed Park explicitly offering one. These presumably wouldn’t be for people like you who don’t want it and would select the hardcore mode. It’s not a zero sum situation and I never suggested it should be.

      3. That’s fair, so it’s probably more accurate to say they are an intrinsic part of the point and clicks I used to play a lot of and love when I did play them.

      • Marclev says:

        1. This isn’t a review.

        Maybe not by name, but you’ve persuaded me not to buy Thimbleweed Park! The “old-school” Scumm style interface coupled with what seems like quite a high difficulty (I suspect any adventure game needing a “casual mode” might by definition have puzzles best described as “retro”, and the comment about being given a large area to roam about in and backtrack through while trying to figure out the solution to puzzles turned me right off).

        2. This is a series of thoughts about how to implement the casual modes which developers do sometimes suggest they want to add, with Thimbleweed Park explicitly offering one. These presumably wouldn’t be for people like you who don’t want it and would select the hardcore mode. It’s not a zero sum situation and I never suggested it should be.

        Fair enough. I’m not sure I’d select the hardcore mode though. I find those old Lucasarts adventures are often best viewed through the goggles of nostalgia, the puzzles can be pure hair-loss inducing frustration. The example you gave, The Dig, is a particularly guilty offender of that and if “Hardcore” is anything like that, then it’s most certainly not for me. However, it being a point and click adventure, I feel like there is a certain base expectation that it will have puzzles requiring a certain amount of lateral thinking, even in an easier difficulty mode. It seems that completely streamlining that would basically turn it into a visual novel, however I understand that some people might actually want that (the sequel to The Longest Journey did basically exactly this). Having said that, I’ve not played it, so don’t know what was actually done for casual mode.

        3. That’s fair, so it’s probably more accurate to say they are an intrinsic part of the point and clicks I used to play a lot of and love when I did play them.

        I loved them at the time, but that was because I had a child’s brain that was hard wired to persist with things in order to better understand them to learn about things. Modern adventure games are so much more playable, as the industry by and large has learnt that having puzzles that can be solved without a walkthrough actually makes for better gameplay.

  21. Risingson says:

    Ok, one thing I have learnt about adventure games is that, frustratingly, there is no canon. I hate reading this at work because I barely have time to explain but

    – even in monkey 2 both difficulty levels looked weird
    – thimbleweed is aimed for adventure “hardcore” gamers. Sorry for using that word.
    – Philippa, you don’t like adventure games. None in RPS but Cobbett likes them. You like grinding, repetition, same kind of puzzles, safe zones (as it happens in most casual adventures, based on very simple minigames). You don’t like, wait for it, LATERAL THINKING. No one likes lateral thinking nowadays. Too much on a disruption, you all want to “enjoy the story”. You already had a hard day at work.
    – Please, adventure developers who like puzzles, don’t listen to Philippa and keep on doing puzzles and fun games. I have nothing against Firewatch or those light on puzzle games, so I don’t understand how gameplay variety in different games is looked by game journalists as something to get rid of.

    • Philippa Warr says:

      “Philippa, you don’t like adventure games. None in RPS but Cobbett likes them. You like grinding, repetition, same kind of puzzles, safe zones (as it happens in most casual adventures, based on very simple minigames). You don’t like, wait for it, LATERAL THINKING. No one likes lateral thinking nowadays. Too much on a disruption, you all want to “enjoy the story”. You already had a hard day at work.”

      That is a whole heap of assumption after reading my thoughts on how a casual mode within a genre might work.

      “I don’t understand how gameplay variety in different games is looked by game journalists as something to get rid of.”

      It isn’t. Nothing in this article suggests it. In fact I’m advocating the polar opposite: keeping the original approach and adding more options and more variety for those who want it and who developers suggest they want to design for sometimes. That’s more gameplay variety, not less.

    • alms says:

      Richard specifically wrote a post complaining about the failure of adventure games to produce a renaissance like RPGs have.

      I’m pretty sure both John and Richard love them adventures, but they’re also obviously frustrated by the stagnation of the genre, and adherence to age-old paradigms.

      The way John once summarized humorously this phenomenon (games designed like the Lucasfilm help-line, and printed guide books were still a thing) was, quoting loosely, everyone had their patience gland removed in 2000.

      As for Pip she’s obviously the spawn of DOTA2 evil so please excuse me while I go fetch my cross, holy water and exorcism kit. VADE RETRO! SATAN!

  22. This banana says:

    I don’t know, but to me this article seems to be slightly bitter about adventure games in general. As if you went out of your way to just focus on any negative aspects that cropped up… maybe you just had a bad day?
    I know, the article isn’t about the game, it’s story, it’s puzzles or it’s humor. But as an update, with it’s nearing release in mind it just seems a bit harsh. I was very disappointed with Broken Age, which was pitched as an ‘old school point-n-click’ but really wasn’t in the end. So I’m really looking forward to this actual old-school point-n-click, edges be damned.

    • Philippa Warr says:

      This article is about casual modes within point and click adventures and how looking at another genre might help with achieving the balance of friction and reward in that specific mode.

      Thimbleweed Park is being referenced because it adds such a mode, explains why it exists and is something I would like to play. This led to thinking about what a casual mode might entail and what might be fruitful to include within that. As someone who was drawn by the existence of a casual mode these thoughts might also be of interest to people in a similar boat.

      If that isn’t you, there are plenty of other people out there writing about these games from a point of view closer to yours, and they’ll likely be the ones tasked with reviewing the experience closer to release because that’s generally how games sites work, pairing specialists with games in their genres where possible.

      Also, just as a heads up in case it wasn’t intended this way, but adding things like “maybe you just had a bad day” comes over as patronising and dismissive. I hadn’t had a bad day. I was interested in the problem and was mulling over what might be done to change things around a bit given casual modes or nostalgia-but-not-for-everything is something developers do come back to in their work.

      • This banana says:

        You’re right. It wasn’t very nice, I’m sorry!
        Hm, I guess like with everything one wants to see succeed it upsets somewhat to be reminded of it’s flaws, and I wound up being the bitter one in the end…
        But thank you for taking the time to answer! :)

  23. punkass says:

    I started trying to get into adventure games, having bounced off the original iteration when I was younger. But I had a problem – I try to play them in an immersive, role-playing way. So I stopped conversations when I thought my character would.

    I don’t know if this is something that happens in all adventure games, but in The Inner World, a game I was loving for its world building and art style, I got stuck on a puzzle that almost made me quit the whole genre. I needed an object and it was clear where I could get it from. However, in order to make the actions I wanted to do unlockable I had to talk to another character right to the end of their dialogue tree, including about something I felt my character wouldn’t want to talk about.

    I mean, I get it. More dialogue is more jokes. But I take a bizarre amount of pleasure in trying to string out real conversations from limited choices, rather than just trying to click on every subject until its greyed out. Maybe I’m alone in this. Is this something that all adventure games do?

  24. Mr Underhill says:

    Or maybe point and clicks are not (any longer) for you?

    I’m personally a fan of verb coins in adventure games. I’m not crazy about the verb thing, especially if, as an above poster mentioned, it doesn’t result in different responses. But I’m not crazy about the right click to examine left click to use formula, especially since I played through half of Primordia without realizing I could examine stuff. And that’s just mildly straying from the recipe.

    Us adventure game fans still want those old mechanics. Telltale stuff was touted as both the logical evolution and death of the genre, yet here we are – more classic-style adventures are being made than 10 years ago, and a lot of gamers feel the Telltale way of making games has grown stale. Can’t say the same for the classics.

    It’s one of the very few genres that has crystallized its ideal form and hit its stride back in the late half of the 90s, and it’s been going strong without much improvement other than auxiliary things such as hotspot highlighters and autosave. Yes, some puzzles were obscure and idiotic as hell – devs seem to have learned their lesson and clue and integrate them a lot better. The formula is still the same classic one.

    It’s a super sweet recipe that works 20 years down the line, so I don’t see it going away any soon. I’m excited about games that shake the formula up, but historically games sticking to the formula I’ve found I’ve enjoyed a whole lot more.

    It’s definitely not a genre that goes well with the zeitgeist of more and more information and entertainment and less and less time, but that’s the beauty of it. It’s a nice respite of maybe more clicks than you’re comfortable in a world of experiences that, the sooner they end, the happier and more accomplished you feel. It might also have to do with the fact that game journalists need to go through heaps more of games than your average gamer, hence the desire to move things along.

    But there’s still a lot of us that are very much in love with these weirdo hoops you need to jump through to get your new location or at least a joke or two, and that’s who these designers make their games for. I know Ron Gilbert has been vocal about wanting Thimbleweed Park to be the one game he’s making where he’s trying to reach other casual players, too, but if he doesn’t pull it off it isn’t a tragedy. I have a feeling the game will sell well because people want this kind of game, and the desire for it has never really gone away. I know I’m buying two copies.

  25. Zeewolf says:

    I’m glad that not all games are made to appeal to all people. This particular genre is about the synergy of puzzles, exploration and story, and you can’t remove one of those and still have the same genre. You can change things around, sure, but you need that combination. You need the friction that the puzzles create.

    Kentucky Route Zero is great. It’s its own thing. It’s not a point & click adventure. Just like Dear Esther is not a first person shooter.

  26. tomimt says:

    It will be interesting to see how I’ll feel about Thimbleweed Park. I love Maniac Mansion and Day of Tentacle, but at the same time I don’t really have to make an effort with either of those games, as I know how to play them through, so there’s no great deal of using different verbs in order to see the results. With those titles I’ve accustomed to the interface the same way I’m accustomed to a text based interface of older Sierra titles, but I don’t really have to make an effort with those either, as the challenge of the guessing the right word doesn’t exist for me anymore.

    But now, after playing more modern, more streamlined adventures in the past years, it’ll be interesting to jump in a new game that uses the oldschool verb interface, as it will make me really reflect on if the interface is really good or not.

  27. noodlecake says:

    It sounds like, for the most part, what you want is a Telltale Game. They remove most of the annoying aspects of old school adventure games, but they also remove the sense of satisfaction you get from figuring out a problem and then solving it. It’s both a positive and a negative depending on what you want from story driven games.

    Personally I loath the system of having a load of verbs to choose from. I own the Day of the Tentacle redux and I was instantly put off by that and never touched it again. I also started Grim Fandango and found the puzzle design just so absurd that you couldn’t possibly figure out how to get anywhere without trying anything and everything at random.

    I think Wadjet Eye Games get it just right. Heavily plot driven but still with some clever puzzles that make you think, but are pretty much always logical enough to solve rather than randomly trying to combine everything and click on everything till you chance on the solution. There’s also lot of work put into those games (for the most part at least) to make sure that if you miss information you can always hear it again from somebody (The later Blackwell games were particularly good at this).

    Also. Kathy Rain is really good and feels like a Wadjet Eye game with it’s old school presentation. It also was designed with make sure you always had access to all the information you could need at any given time.

  28. alms says:

    Hey Pip, do you have any particular HOG in mind that you would feel like recommending as an example?

    I’m asking because, IME, HOGs do suffer from roadblocks too, and the way they tackle this is what I would call minimum energy, in terms of game design effort:

    Add a shining effect on stuff the player is supposed to notice, slap a huge hint button which will literally lead the player in the exact spot the game wants them to be, and afterwards, a huge arrow on exactly what it wants the player to click on.

    PnC adventure designers could copy that verbatim, if they were so inclined (in fact, some, like The Inner World, have a built-in hint system to suggest first and provide help later)

    E.g. if you turn on Expert mode and/or refuse to use hints in many an Artifex Mundi game (afraid I have played little by other devs), it’s not unlikely to get stuck as well.

    In absolute terms, HOGs are not as vicious as the worst offenders amongst PnC adventure games, no, but, even if they had anything to say, or genuine craft to showcase, rather than aiming at pleasing certain market segments (under this respect I would say no better and probably worse, more manipulative for instance, than PnC adventures), I don’t see that they support story-telling so much better, per se, which is what would strike me as the “Casual Mode” you’re suggesting – a way to enjoy the narrative content of the game without having to put up with roadblocks.

    The problem, IMO, is more that aspects like story-telling, world-building, and so on, all take a backseat to keep the old faithful happy. The other problem is that when adventure games move towards a more narrative-driven format, they’re dismissed as being boring/pretentious/non-games/walking sims/younameit.

    BTW I couldn’t finish reading your post (but felt a moral imperative to reply NAO ofc), so apologies in case it already provides replies to my question and consideration.