My current fascination with classic adventure games began last summer with Revolution’s Beneath a Steel Sky. I’ve played through several other adventure games since then from various other notable developers, including Sierra and Cyan Worlds, with each one having its own distinct feel and style. However, I recently finished playing through Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars, which was also by Revolution, so it felt like I had gotten back to where I started.
After playing it, I started to think about how adventure games implement their puzzles. When I started with Beneath a Steel Sky, I had to rely often on a walkthrough to get through it. But the more adventure games I played, the less I found myself looking for help. I assumed that I was building up my “instincts” for the genre. But with Broken Sword, I found myself getting stuck a little more often then I would’ve liked, and having to get hints to move forward. In some cases, the solutions irritated me more than the puzzles, because I was left wondering how I was supposed to have known what to do outside of blind experimentation.
Then something occurred to me: puzzles don’t necessarily have to make logical sense as long as they adhere to their own rules. There has to be some sort of consistency. It’s a common rule of game design that we see in many genres. A game lays some groundwork and teaches the player how things work, and then the player uses this knowledge to take on future challenges.
Indeed, narrative media in general uses a similar principle. No matter how fantastical or irrational a story may be, it’s easier to suspend disbelief as long as the fictional world plays by its own rules.
Based on my own experiences so far, adventure games seem to be a bit loose and messy in this regard. The puzzles don’t really follow any strict rules for how things are supposed to work, and thus there are few skills for the player to learn. Puzzles in the latter parts of a game may be more complex, but they aren’t really building off of any foundation other than “click on this, then on that.” In other words, it was rare to have to draw back to any experiences from the earlier parts of the game that would help me in the latter parts.
It is that free form randomness that leads to a puzzle feeling obtuse. Finding the solution to a puzzle and thinking, “How was I supposed to know to do that?” is a result of not understanding what rules the puzzles was based on, if indeed there were any rules to begin with.
I don’t mean this to be a slam against Broken Sword specifically. It was an awesome game, and I highly enjoyed it. But adventure games, in general, could stand to improve in this area. (Maybe they have in more recent games, and I just haven’t played them yet.) In my opinion, Myst and Riven came pretty close in regards to establishing consistent rules and building off of them.
But anyhow, now that Broken Sword is behind me, I have moved on to The Longest Journey. I’m not sure how long it will take me to play through it, but it may be an on-and-off affair like Xenoblade Chronicles. There may be a “Long Haul, Part 3” article in the future.