Text: Ghost-Zombie-Demon-Undead Adventure Games

Ghost-Zombie-Demon-Undead Adventure Games,

Or Giving LeChuck’s Rebirthing Ability to a Dying Game Genre

In 1990, one of the most successful adventure games, The Secret of Monkey Island, was released.  The game featured an unscrupulous villain named LeChuck.  In that game, he was merely the “ghost-pirate LeChuck,” and he was defeated by the player and the protagonist of the game.  In subsequent games, the character of LeChuck found new and unexpected ways to revive himself, becoming a zombie, a demon and eventually undead.  Each time, the character is more impressive and exciting.  If only the genre from which this character originates had the character’s ability to live again after (nearly) dying.

In the last decade, the adventure game genre has declined sharply in popularity.  Fewer games are being produced commercially and only a small portion of those games are interesting and exciting.  Granted, the latter half of that statement is my opinion, but it is also possible to say that very few adventure games released in the last ten years have been innovative in their design.

In this paper, I will address the following questions:

  1. What exactly is an “Adventure Game?”
  2. How and why have adventure games declined over the past ten years?
  3. What could designers do to push adventure games, reviving the genre?

It is my hope that by addressing these questions, the adventure game can once again rear its head as a pirate that won’t back down.  My first question will attempt to define an adventure game by examining both community and theoretical definitions.  My second question will look at the statistics and setup the need for innovation in the genre.  My third question is an attempt to create ideas, springboards, as it were, to address the specific problems that are found within adventure games.

I will attempt to answer an additional question now: why are adventure games important?  The importance of adventure games is that it is a relatively unique genre of game.  Instead of focusing on game mechanics, the genre focuses on narrative.  Now, narrative is a touchy word when it comes to games (just ask Jesper Juul).  Adventure games are important for their perspective.

Most genres look at games from a mechanics standpoint first, then throw a story in on top.  You could play Final Fantasy X without all of the storyline and cutscenes, and the game would still make sense, be playable and enjoyable.  The storyline that is added in isn’t necessary; all it is doing is legitimizing playing a game that has been retrofitted through its nine previous generations.

Instead, the adventure genre approaches games from a story perspective.  The Dig wouldn’t make any sense if you threw out all the story (you wouldn’t even know what to do from the get go).  Although I wouldn’t say that adventure games are there yet, the genre has the potential for seamlessly merging game and narrative.  Of course, if the genre dies out, so does the potential.

So, with that “short” question out of the way, let’s get on to the “longer” questions.

What Exactly is an “Adventure Game?”

This question was innocently asked by a member of the Adventure Game Studio (AGS) forums (Phemar 2004).  AGS is a system for independently developing two-dimensional adventure games, in the style that was popular in the 1990’s, and so many independent game developers were available to offer their input on the subject.

The topic sparked 16 replies and there was a split consensus of adventure game definitions: GarageGothic’s and Edmundito’s.

GarageGothic suggests that adventure games follow two principles: Heavy scripting and non-linear environments (Phemar 2004).  What he means by heavy scripting is that the game uses hard-coding, most events are predefined, created by the designers so that the event always happens the same way every time.  The idea of being heavily scripted suggests that adventure games are predefined: the events of the entire game only occur in one way, and generally cannot be changed by the player taking a different course of action.

By non-linear environments, GarageGothic suggests that adventure games offer spaces which are revisited, accessed in different ways and for different purposes, as opposed to other games where a space is used for one specific purpose.  He clarifies, “Rather than running through a thinly disguised corridor, as in most shooters, you usually spend huge amounts of time walking back and forth between locations” (Phemar 2004).

Edmundito, coupled with Andail, state that adventure games are games that surround problem solving (Phemar 2004).  Andail goes one step further, stating that “adventure game” is a “[c]ollective name for games that are focused on solving problems via inventory items, conversations and logical thinking” (Phemar 2004).

These two viewpoints, fortunately, do not interact and may be easily combined.  Thus from the community we have the definition: “Adventure games are heavily scripted games featuring non-linear environments in which the gameplay centers around problem solving by means of inventory, dialogue and logical thinking.”  This is a good definition, but something seems missing: the story.  There is some dissent here.  Edmundito states, “Story used to be an adventure game thing, but it seems that now days every genre has caught up and started using stories in their games, too” (Phemar 2004).  He is suggesting that story is not a unique feature of adventure games.  That doesn’t mean that it needs to be left out as one part of a definition, though.  Another poster, modgeulator, added that an adventure game must be a “game where the story is the single most important element, where all the gameplay is used to enhance the story” (Phemar 2004).  He suggests that a test for games as adventure games would be to remove the story and determine if a playable game remains (Phemar 2004).  So, the final community-based definition: “Adventure games are heavily scripted games featuring non-linear environments in which the gameplay centers around a narrative in which the player character solves problems by means of inventory, dialogue and logical thinking.”

Keep in mind that this discussion took place in 2004, and survived for only one day before dying out.  In an effort to rekindle this communal definition making, I have created a new, recent topic, and have received a number of replies already.  The split in discussion surrounds the importance of puzzles in adventure games.  Overall, the contributors seem to agree that story and environment are important, and that some form of problem solving must be present, although the kind of problem solving is debated (TygerWulf 2009).  This agrees with the definition extracted from the older discussion, though it does not address all aspects of that previous definition.

For the theoretical side of defining adventure games I turn to Mark Bronstring, the founding editor of AdventureGamers.com, as well as the “Adventure Games” Wikipedia article, where a contributor has consolidated parts of Andrew Rollins and Ernest Adams on Game Design.

Both sources give a flat definition.  Bronstring (2002) writes, “Adventure games focus on puzzle solving within a narrative framework.  There are generally few or no action elements.”  The Wikipedia article gives us the following definition, referencing the more recent Fundamentals of Game Design, “An adventure game is a video game in which the player assumes the role of protagonist in an interactive story that is driven by exploration and puzzle-solving instead of physical challenges such as combat.”  This expands on Bronstring’s definition.

Bronstring (2002) goes on to spell out “three characteristics that are always present in an adventure game.”  They are: narrative, puzzles and exploration.  He is suggesting that narrative cannot be extracted from adventure games.  In addition, the gameplay revolves around solving puzzles and exploring or navigating the space created by the game.  Wikipedia’s article offers two more characteristics extracted from Andrew Rollins and Ernest Adams on Game Design: “Player assumes the role of a character/hero” and “Collection and manipulation of objects.”  Here, the suggestion is that adventure games pit the player in the role of a character, who already fits into the game world, and that a major role is the collection and use of objects to achieve the solutions to presented puzzles.

From these characteristics, we can form the consolidated definition: “Adventure games are games in which the player assumes the role of a character immersed in a narrative, in which the player explores the space, collects and manipulates objects and solves puzzles.”  This compares to the community definition of “Adventure games are heavily scripted games featuring non-linear environments in which the gameplay centers around a narrative in which the player character solves problems by means of inventory, dialogue and logical thinking.”

The key difference in these two definitions is the difference between “puzzle-solving” and “problem-solving.”  Essentially, the two are the same, puzzle being more game, problem being more narrative.  The importance is in abstraction.  A puzzle may have nothing to do with the story of an adventure game, whereas a problem is created as a result of story.  As both definitions require that an adventure game cannot be divested of its narrative, so too should puzzles not be divested from the narrative.  A comparative definition, then, would be: “Adventure games are heavily-scripted games in which a player assumes the role of a character immersed in a narrative, in which the gameplay centers around non-linear space navigation, and solving narrative-based problems by means of object manipulation, dialogue and logical thinking.”

This is the definition I will be using for this paper.  Later, I will deform the definition, in an effort to begin transforming the genre.  Before that, I will examine a why a transformation is needed.

How, and Why, Have Adventure Games Declined over the Past Ten Years?

According to the Electronic Software Association (2008), in 2007, only 4.3% of video game purchases were in the adventure genre.  For computer games, where adventure games are more often found, only 5.0% percent of sales, in 2007, were adventure games (Electronic Software Association 2008).  In 2006, the numbers were 3.4% and 5.7%, respectively (Electronic Software Association 2007).  The average went up only one-tenth of a percent in the difference of a year (4.55% in 2006, 4.65% in 2007).

The numbers, if compared to the previous decade’s numbers, would likely show a sharp decline in the genre, while the gaming industry rises steadily each year.  Unfortunately, there is very little readily accessible market data to verify this.

So, what happened?  In 2000, Gamecenter (now Gamespot) declared adventure games as being “dead and buried” (Erik 2000).  The article, which is no longer accessible, reportedly blamed the death of the adventure game on technology being able to support action games and the popularity of Myst (Erik 2000).  Erik of oldmanmurray.com takes Gamecenter’s example of a notable title (Gabriel Knight 3) and uses it to explain what happened to adventure games.  “Who killed Adventure Games?  I think it should be pretty clear at this point that Adventure Games committed suicide” (Erik 2000).  The reasoning behind this statement is in relation to the absurd solution to in-game problems.   In this example, the main character must make a disguise by combining a number of objects, including cat hair and maple syrup (Erik 2000).

In this regard, Yahtzee (Ben Croshaw) agrees.  In the TV pilot for GameDamage, Yahtzee (2008) explains why adventure games have died away:

The thing is, while you’ll hear a lot of people praising the story and dialogue in games, no one will ever praise the gameplay, because most of them consisted of wandering around, gathering together all the arbitrary knick-knacks you could find and just rubbing them together until the story kept going.

Yahtzee, like Erik, is disparaging the mechanics of adventure games.  Typically, players navigate the game space, attempting to use various inventory items to achieve means that are sometimes unfathomable.  Marek Bronstring (2003) also points out a few other problems with the genre: lack of camera usage, liner gameplay, static environments and flat characterization.  Without reprinting Bronstring’s whole article, I would like to look at these problems and throw out some ideas as to how those problems could be addressed.  This leads to question three.

What Could Designers Do to Push the Adventure Game, Reviving the Genre?

Before I start to answer this question, I would like to make a disclaimer.  Much of what is presented in answer to this third question is plucked from my own brain.  I have arrived at these ideas in a number of ways: playing adventure games, absorbing others’ complaints, thinking about game design principles, synthesizing from other games and so on.  This section will be theoretical.  When I have the ability to do so, I will draw from my own applications of certain ideas that I present, but I have very little to draw upon that will be useful for this section.  Most of what you see here is based upon previous game design ideas that I have thought about, but have never implemented.  With that said, on to the answering.

I am going to structure this question after the problems that arose in the previous section.  Specifically, I will be addressing Bronstring’s (2003) issues: lack of camera usage, static environments, flat characterization and linear gameplay.  First, I will explain the problem in more detail, and then I will offer a number of game design solutions that address the problem.  The first problem is lack of camera usage.

Lack of Camera Usage

I am starting with this problem for a few reasons.  First, the solution for this problem ties into the solutions for other problems.  Second, I have very little to add from what Bronstring suggests.  He suggests that most adventure games are like stage plays, viewed from one direction (Bronstring 2003).  He suggests a move toward 3D, and a move away from 2D.  I believe that adventure games have made this move.  Commercially, very few adventure games are now released with purely two-dimensional graphics.  The camera, though, still serves as a static counterpart, viewing each scene from a particular angle and distance, occasionally panning in one direction.  It is very rare to find an adventure game that uses the camera to create dramatic tension, as Bronstring suggests.

Solutions?  I would say that the potential is there, game designers can manipulate the camera to be more dramatic, but the camera must also be functional.  A camera is useless and frustrating if it doesn’t help reveal elements of space and gameplay.  That being said, my proposal here is this: give the player control over the camera.  It sounds simple.  Allow the player to rotate the camera around a fixed point (the player-character), and allow the player to zoom in, all the way, to provide a first person view of the space with which they are interacting.  This doesn’t sound too innovative.  I can count a number of (non-adventure) titles that do this.  Further, this doesn’t address any dramatic aspect of the camera, only functional aspects.  I find myself underqualified to make suggestions for the dramatic use of cameras in games.  To me, a dramatic camera angle is a non-functional one.

Of course, Bronstring is, mostly, making a case for the use of 3D in adventure games, which, as I have pointed out, the genre has moved in this direction.  There is one major exception to this: independent development.  In comparison to commercial titles, the number of independent adventure games produced is much larger.  Most independent adventure games are produced by using Chris Jones’s Adventure Game Studio (AGS).  AGS is an engine for creating two-dimensional, low-resolution adventure games in the point and click style of older LucasArts and Sierra titles.

There is an obvious reason why the focus is on 2D, low-resolution games for independent development.  2D is much easier, and faster, to make than 3D ever will be.  Another engine for creating such games is Wintermute.  Wintermute offers a native 3D graphics engine, but only for objects.  The backgrounds of the game are still static 2D images, and the camera remains static.

I once tried to create an adventure game that took place in a house where every room was monitored by cameras.  I wanted the game to be viewed from the point of view of each room’s camera.  I was using AGS; it was familiar to me.  I am fortunate that I tried to make a room using this technique first, before continuing with the game, as the room creation baffled me.  There was no way to create a hallway where I could have a camera in the center, and still follow the player to either side of the hallway.  Keep in mind that I was using static backdrops, rendered from a 3D modeler.  I tried everything: multiple images shot at different angles, using unusual field-of-view rendering, AGS just couldn’t handle the concept.

So, while I feel that the commercial games are addressing Bronstring’s (2003) concern, I feel that independent games are not.  Truly, independent adventure games are still stuck in 1999, when the original AGS version 1 was released (when it was called Adventure Creator).  What I feel needs to happen, then, is for an engine to be made that is as accessible as AGS, but for 3D games.  I would also like to make a short case for portability.  Instead of using Microsoft-based DirectX, why not use OpenGl, which is cross-platform (Simple DirectMedia Layer does this nicely, for example).

But this is getting off topic.  I believe I have addressed this genre problem.

Static Environments

Adventure games are plagued with environments that are self-contained, small, and static.  Players are only able to navigate through the game world in particular, preset ways, and they are unable to interact with the environment except in ways that the designers want them to interact with the environment, which is, as is often the case, as little as possible.

In many adventure games the player can mostly interact with objects that are integral to the game.  Although, often, the game provides mysterious and interesting locales, you can’t get any more information about details in the locales, than what you can see on your screen.  Bronstring (2003) calls this lazy programming, and I agree.

I once created a game experiment in AGS called “Neighbors.”  “Neighbors” was a game that occurred over one day, with the goal of changing the life of the main character for the better.  The settings were the character’s apartment and his neighbor’s apartment.  For each apartment, I wanted to space a place that looked personalized, functional and, above all, like somebody with their own thoughts and ideas lived there.  I wanted everything in that space to have meaning.  I scripted descriptions and interactions with the hands and face for every object in the character’s apartment.

If I remember right, there were about 120 objects.  I did something similar with the other apartment, but there were far fewer objects in that space (the sparseness was intentional).  These 360 actions (plus the rest of the game’s scripting) I created in a span of four days.  Granted, I didn’t do the scripting very well, but it was done in a very short amount of time.  Too, I am only a single person, and definitely not a god of scripting.  Certainly a team of experienced programmers could do better, faster.

But let’s step beyond the objects of the game and talk about the characters.  Generally, interactions with other characters are kept to a bare minimum, unless the characters are part of the main cast.  The minor characters will say the same thing over and over again, always be in the same place, doing the same thing, or simply appearing in a convenient place at a convenient time and never appearing again.  This is done, of course, so that the player can find the specific person that is needed to advance the plot.

The problem is: people have lives.  They go home, they go to the store, they occasionally go out to eat, they change clothes etc.  Bronstring (2003) phrases it,

Admittedly, it does make sense for some characters to be doing the same [things] all the time.  For instance, when I go to a store I expect the storeowner to be at his place behind the counter.  That’s his job.  But why is the old lady sweeping the pavement in front of her little house all day, quite likely for all eternity?

All the characters are put there for the player, and they only exist for the player, as if the only reason for their existence is to help (or hinder) the player.  From a technical standpoint, this is true.  The old lady sweeping the pavement is only there because a game was created for the player to navigate; she wouldn’t exist otherwise.  What is important, though, is to hide this fact.  Make it seem like the old woman has a life of her own.  Maybe she plays Mah Jongg in the evenings at a seedy gambling parlor to pay for the doctor bills for her son, who has lymphoma.  At some point in the game, the old woman is going to have to get off that porch, or her son is going to die.

For an example of a game that did this extremely well, in my opinion, I am going to go quite far back to 1988’s The Scoop.  I rarely ever hear anything about this game, and so I am going to talk about it briefly here.  The Scoop was a mystery-adventure game released by Telarium, based on the collaborative novel of the same name.  The game followed the player character, who could be either male or female, of a small newspaper, who is charged with getting “the scoop” on a double murder before the larger newspaper (The Morning Star).  The game spans one week of game-time.  Characters move about according to their daily routines, go to work, go home, meet with other characters and other things.  On the weekend some characters sleep in.  One character tries to commit suicide, which, as far as I’ve ever been able to tell has nothing to do with the main plot of the game.

Essentially, the characters all have lives.  Sometimes it’s hard to find someone because that person is on a date on Araby Street, instead of their home where you might expect.  Sometimes, the player is forced to make a choice when many choices are available.  Early in the game there is an inquest where a number of characters are introduced.  After, they all go home, but as you’re standing outside the courthouse, there are all these people you don’t know about, and they’re all going in different directions, and you have to choose.  Do you follow the cocky reporter from the other newspaper, or do you follow the maid who had been employed at the bungalow of the first murder?

In short, these people have lives.  As the player, you get the feeling of a real, breathing place, where you have to interrupt peoples’ lives.  They may get angry with you, may have you arrested, or might have to cut you off because they’ve got an appointment.  They’re people, not characters.

Sure the characters look and act like people, but do they sound like people?  I’ll leave The Scoop behind for now, although the game does alright in this area too.  We’ll move on to the next problem, which is flat characterization.

Flat Characterization

Brontsring (2003) describes two major issues related to flat characterization: unrealistic dialogue and lack of character arcs.  Traditionally, dialogue in adventure games only pertains to the task at hand.  As I said before, characters will say the same thing over and over again, no matter how many times you talk to them.  In longer dialogue, the characters will speak directly about the issue plaguing the main character.  The opportunity to get information through dialogue isn’t there.  Further, the information that is there is a dialogue written for the player not the character.  More on this in just a bit.

Character arc is a tool for the main character.  Too many games feature a main character that does not change as a result of the journey that he or she has just undergone.  The main character, then, becomes a shell, an agent through which the player works, trying to be as invisible as possible.

My answer for both of these issues: they’re artifacts of bad, cheap writing.  Let me put on my creative writer hat for just a moment and explain what’s wrong with these issues.  Dialogue, in fiction, is best when the characters are speaking to each other, and not to the reader.  A husband and wife, who have known each other for decades, do not need to (and won’t) give all the information up front.  A pause is sometimes more expressive, carrying more weight.  They may speak in short, clipped statements.  They will have an hour’s worth of conversation in just three lines.  They will say “I love you” without ever saying the words.  This will work for adventure games just as well as it would work for fiction.

As for character arcs, if there is a story, or a novel, in which the main character does not change as a result of the writing, then what point was there in reading it in the first place?  To get the reader to reflect upon what you’ve written, you have to have a character arc for the reader to examine and question.  If you want to get the player to come away from a game feeling like they’ve done something, the character they’re playing cannot remain static.  Whether or not this is the designer’s choice (as in The Longest Journey) or the player’s choice (as in The Dig), will vary depending on how the game is designed.  For the player to change as a result of playing the game, the player’s identity in the game also needs to change.

Creative writer hat off, I think that adventure games are making progress in this aspect.  I know that independent games, are certainly making an effort to provide character arcs.  Dialogue is still spotty.

This brings us around to the big kahuna: linearity.

Linear Gameplay

Adventure games suffer from the only-one-way-to-beat-the-game syndrome.  The games only allow one solution, usually enacted in a particular order.  Occasionally, like in Riddle of the Sphinx and its successor The Omega Stone, the player must complete every action in a specific order, under the onus of “the character must have a reason to do anything.”  This rigid, linear gameplay causes games to be played once, and then sit on a shelf or in a drawer, collecting dust.  There are a few notable exceptions.  Bronstring (2003) proffers up Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis as an example of multi-linear gameplay, and The Last Express and Discworld Noir as examples of good non-linear gameplay.  Unfortunately, I have not played any of these games, so I will defer any readers interested in how these games break linearity to Bronstring’s article.

I consider two games that I have already mentioned to have examples of non-liner gameplay: The Scoop and my own project of “Neighbors.”  Although I never completed The Scoop, I suspect that it, like “Neighbors,” did have a particular way to positively complete the game.  I’m not going to make a case that either game is non-linear in terms of story outcome, but rather that they were non-linear in terms of gameplay.

The Scoop, as I have said before, offered a very open ended environment.  Once the game starts, the player can go and explore a number of locations, in whatever order he or she wished.  Case in point: at the very beginning of the game, the player is supposed to go to a train station to investigate the second of two murders.  But, instead of doing this, the player can travel to the first of the two murder sites and check it out.  And then there is the scene I described above, that the player must choose who to follow and interact with after the inquest.  That was providing that the player went to the inquest at all.  He can choose not to go, or he can be forced not to go (by visiting the scene of the first murder the night before, where the main character is subsequently knocked out).  The game follows this non-linear player-must-choose style for the remainder of the in-game week, when the game ends.

“Neighbors” opens with the main character being woken up early in the morning by a loud thump from the neighboring apartment and the vague notion that the neighboring apartment had no tenant.  Then, the player is given free rein to interact with the environment.  The idea is that the player will go and check out the neighbor, but the game does not require that this happen.  The player is free to guide the character through his apartment, interacting with his minutia to evoke memories.  The player can check out the neighbor later, or not at all; the game will, regardless, end at the end of the day.  In fact, the game doesn’t check if the player has “won” until the end of the day.  To finish the game with the “best” ending, the player must achieve a number of specific tasks.  These tasks, aside from two time-centric tasks, can be done in any order.

What do “Neighbors” and The Scoop have in common?  Open-ended space and time.  In both games, the player is mostly free to explore the space however he or she wants.  In The Scoop, this is navigating a number of long streets in the outskirts of London.  In “Neighbors,” this is navigating the tight, tiny space of two, one-bedroom apartments.  Further, in both games, every action takes time.  In both, even being idle takes time, as the games tick away real seconds.  When the time reaches a specific point, the games end.  In the case of The Scoop, the end result is the loss of your job at the small newspaper.  In “Neighbors,” the game ends with a hint as to how the game might have been continued further.

Of course, these are just examples of non-linearity from a space perspective.  A game can also be non-linear in terms of story.  The question is how?  I have thought about the how for quite some time now, and I have two ideas that are, generally, at the forefront of my thinking.  I have called the two ideas deterministic narrative and modular narrative.

Deterministic Narrative

A deterministic narrative is a narrative that is created as a result of the player’s actions.  In this design concept, the narrative is mostly generated, but may use static elements.  The basic idea is that the game reacts to the player’s actions.  They player is able to do whatever he or she wishes, and the game reacts to those actions to form a narrative.  This isn’t to say that this is multi-linear.  That is, a deterministic narrative isn’t simply three paths through the game and the player’s actions put the main character on one of those paths.

Rather, the player’s actions contribute to the story.  If the player wants to take the knife and stab the bad guy, so be it.  If the same player wants to use the knife to cut a length of rope in order to bind the bad guy, that’s ok too.  Hell, the player could decide that what they really want to do with the knife is make sushi, that’s fine as well.  What’s more important is tracking whether or not the game is in a state where a goal has been reached.  Until a goal has been reached, the game just reacts to the state that it’s in.

In a deterministic narrative, it is important to let the player come up with his or her own solution to the game’s problems.  To this end, instead of setting up that a rope must be cut with a knife, I suggest that all cutable objects can be cut by anything that is sharp.  A system of attributes helps to allow the game to understand what is happening, without having to know anything specific.  If a sharp object is being used on a character, for example, the game will be able to recognize this as a violent action, and the nearby characters can react accordingly.

Deterministic narrative has both benefits and limitations.  The benefit is that the game supports player agency to the point where the player feels in control of the story.  In addition, a deterministic narrative invites players to play again, as any game using a deterministic narrative will change on each play through.  The limitations for deterministic are that the idea is difficult to implement, requiring much more difficult programming than usual, and that the narrative is taken mostly out of the hands of the designer.  Attempting to create a meaningful story will be difficult, as the player can rip the meaning right out of the game and feed it to wild dogs.

Modular Narrative

A modular narrative utilizes a much more static approach, occasionally slipping into the dynamic realm.  Modular narrative works by creating a story that can be broken apart and refitted.  By story, here, I do not mean a storyline, but a large, encompassing story that bleeds into the lives of all the characters.  The narrative is created by looking at how a player solved a problem, and then applying the appropriate puzzle piece of story that is associated with that kind of solution.  This can be done very static, by cutscenes, or more dynamic, by changing the options and opportunities available to the main character as a result of how the player solved the problem.

Again, as in deterministic narrative, it is important to give the player multiple solutions to the same problem.  A system of attributes works well here also, allowing the player to look for solutions, rather than guessing at what the designer had in mind.  What is important in modular narrative is that each play of a game will have missed narrative points.  That is, different pieces of the game’s narrative are revealed for different solutions.  This makes the player think about what he or she is going to do and what might happen as a result of a particular solution.

The benefits of a modular narrative would be that a game designer has control over the narrative and that the player can still enjoy the game on different plays.  A limitation is that the designer must be able to find a way to effectively measure the play style of a player, to be able to connect a variety of different puzzle piece narratives together.

These are just ideas.  A design of a complete system for either of these is way out of the scope of this paper.  The point is simply to begin a discussion on non-linearity in terms of narrative, rather than just in terms of gameplay.

For non-linear play, there are two concepts that I would like to suggest aid in creating this style of play.  They are time, and generative spaces.  These have already been talked about before.  If the game exists in time, and actions take time, the game can be designed to be much more non-linear.  If a space is generated, that is, through 3D, rather than static backdrop images, it is much easier for a character to interact with the space, and thus allows for more non-linearity.

The point of the whole matter is this: if a game offers only one experience, the player will only experience it once.  Let the game offer more than just the one experience, and the player will experience it again and again.


Let’s grab that definition from before and take a look at it again:

Adventure games are heavily-scripted games in which a player assumes the role of a character immersed in a narrative, in which the gameplay centers around non-linear space navigation, and solving narrative-based problems by means of object manipulation, dialogue and logical thinking.

This definition describes what adventure games have been, but it excludes games that would include most of what has been discussed in this paper.  For adventure games to come back to life and grow, the definition needs to be changed.  Just as LeChuck in the Monkey Island games changed in order to grow stronger and live again to torment the desirable Elaine in a new game.

What needs to change?  We looked at the problems of linearity, flat characterization, and static environments.  These problems need to be addressed within a transforming definition.  I propose the following:

Adventure games can be games in which the player takes control of a character who lives in a living, breathing environment, set against a narrative, in which the gameplay revolves around the player helping to form the narrative by changing the way in which he or she tackles problems, be it by means of object manipulation, dialogue, logical thinking and ingenuity.

Personally, I think that much more needs to be done.  This paper is limited by a lack of examples from very recent adventure games.  A real application of theoretical systems would be useful to help explain the systems and show their benefits.  This paper represents only one person’s perception.  Further, my perspective is subject to change, to be altered.  I am willing to consider other alternatives, and admit error.  Then again, I think that if game designers spoke about their design ideas with this perspective, transformation can more easily occur.

If nothing else, this paper serves to raise the discussion that will lead to the revival and growth of the adventure game genre.  I hope that, in order to revive adventure games, game designers will not need to resort to dangerous voodoo rituals.


Bronstring, M. (2002). What are adventure games? AdventureGamers.com. Retrieved on May 12, 2009 from http://adventuregamers.com/article/id,149

Bronstring, M. (2003). What are adventure games? AdventureGamers.com. Retrieved on May 12, 2009 from http://adventuregamers.com/article/id,318

Electronic Software Association (2007). Essential facts about the computer and video game industry. Retrieved on May 12, 2009 from http://www.theesa.com/facts/pdfs/ESA_EF_2007.pdf

Electronic Software Association (2008). Essential facts about the computer and video game industry. Retrieved on May 12, 2009 from http://www.theesa.com/facts/pdfs/ESA_EF_2008.pdf

Erik (2000). Who killed adventure games? Oldmanmurray.com. Retrieved from http://www.oldmanmurray.com/features/77.html

Phemar (2004). What’s in an adventure game? Bulliten board post.Message posted to http://www.bigbluecup.com/yabb/index.php?topic=13599.0

Telarium (1988). The Scoop. Video Game

Thomét, Michael (2008). “Neighbors.” Video Game. Retrieved from https://incobalt.wordpress.com/games/neighbors/

Tygerwulf (2009) A question about adventure games. Bulliten board post. Message posted to http://www.bigbluecup.com/yabb/index.php?topic=37723.0

Wikipedia (n.d.). Adventure game. Retrieved on May 12, 2009 from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adventure_game

Yahtzee (2008). Whatever happened to point and click adventure games? GameDamage Pilot. Video retrieved on May 12, 2009 from http://gamedamage.net/


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