Monday, January 11, 2016

Please Stop Sticking Things To Animals

In this article, game designer Francisco Gonzalez implores adventure game designers to avoid puzzles with sticky animals so that players can have a better gameplay experience.

Allow me to go on a bit of a rant, if I may. Adventure games have become infamous for their puzzles. I say “infamous” because when you ask most people what feelings they associate with playing games of this genre, they often respond with “frustration,” “annoyance,” or “hate.” The reason for this is mostly because many early adventure games featured puzzles with logic so obtuse, players wouldn’t be able to proceed unless they called the company-run hint lines (at roughly 75 cents per minute) to get the answers they needed. In fact, the founders of Sierra Online have admitted that at one point, revenue from hint books and hint lines far surpassed that of sales of the actual games. Once the internet became popular, this all went away, since finding solutions was just a Google search away. What didn’t go away, however, was ridiculous puzzle design. What’s worse, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in recent adventure games that have all adopted a common solution: sticking things to animals.

“What on earth are you talking about?” you may be wondering. Allow me to enlighten you, dear reader, on the
intricacies of this terrifying new trope. In what can only be described as “creative desperation,” there are several games which feature this type of puzzle. In the interest of integrity, I will refrain from naming them, but I will describe the puzzles in detail so as to warn you in case you ever encounter them in your gameplay experiences.

We’ll begin with a recent release, which features not one, but TWO instances of the stick things to animals puzzle. In the first case, our protagonist finds himself in a mountaintop cable car station. The villains have stopped the cars from running by sabotaging a fuse box. Our job, as the player, is to repair the broken fuse and get the system running again. If the player attempts to look in the fusebox, they can see that the broken fuse is located at the far end of the box, out of the player’s reach (he doesn’t want to stick his arms in for fear of being electrocuted.)

Now, there are a number of ways this could have been handled, but this is how the game designers chose to go about it in this particular case: in the player’s inventory is a matchbox containing a live cockroach which we have been carrying all game, along with a crumbled tea biscuit, a paper clip, and several other items which serve no current purpose. In the station are a pair of large gears, on top of which is a lunch box. Activating the large gears crushes the lunchbox, which causes a jar of jam inside to explode and leak around the area. The player must then use the paperclip on the jam to make it sticky, then paste it on the back of the cockroach, toss the biscuit inside the fusebox, which then lures the roach to the exact spot where the paperclip on its back makes contact with the ends of the fuse and restarts the mechanism.

Take a moment to recover from that. As long as you need. Now, let’s move on to the second instance.

The second to last puzzle in this game features an ancient temple being guarded by some armed thugs. In the vicinity is a goat. To scare the thugs away, the player must take a piece of old sausage, stick a fuse in it so it resembles dynamite, light it, then tie it around the goat’s neck and lure it over to the guard with some fruit, scaring them away.

One might think this sort of thing was specific to this one game, but another one released in the mid 2000s did something equally ridiculous. In this game, the player is required to spy on a conversation being held inside a house, to which they have no access. Hanging around outside is a cat, and through some exploration the player can notice that the cat’s water dish is inside the house. In order to spy on the people talking inside, the player must tape their cell phone to the back of the cat, then feed it some extra salty tuna so it becomes thirsty and runs inside to drink water from its dish. The player then listens in via another phone.

One more example of this is a rather famous puzzle from a well-known game where the player needs to retrieve a key from some subway tracks. The solution requires you to tie a rope and clamp to an inflatable duck flotation device. The deflating duck causes the clamp to slowly close and grab the key. While technically not a living animal, this should be included for its sheer ridiculousness.

The lesson to be learned here is that animals should not be included as viable solutions to adventure game puzzles. Forcing the player to think up these outlandish and ridiculous solutions only hurts the genre and causes nothing but frustration and anger.

 Francisco Gonzalez has been writing and designing point and click adventure games since 2001. His favorite aspect of designing narrative based games is the writing process, and being able to create worlds and make characters come to life. He currently works at Wadjet Eye Games as a designer.

1 comments: said...

While I agree that the solutions you describe are ridiculous and that no one outside of MacGuyver would even think of them, I think that these outlandish solutions to puzzles in the point-and-click adventure game genre is actually acceptable. By the very limited nature of the verb sets in the games, actions are not driven entirely by logic, but moreso by trial and error. In designing puzzles this way, the game designers reward perseverance, as the player randomly mashes items together, or tries using every inventory item sequentially on an object in the game world. And while the obvious reward is advancement in the game, the more fun reward is the humor we get from seeing these crazy combinations being used in solving an in-game problem.

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