1984 STILL KNOCKING ON THE DOOR
I was scanning the Chris Crawford "Art of Computer Game Design", published all the way back in 1984, and currently found here..
I noticed that Mr Crawford in the above text classes adventure games as "puzzles", not games. My first reaction was acceptance of that statement, if puzzles are to be considered in a separate class from games. Then came deciseconds of confusion. Then, How darest thee! Adventure "games" are most certainly games, as they are so involved and immersive, personal and interactive, and strive for a wide range of personal input from the player. The designer has combined various story elements in layered and interesting ways. Then I realized what was very obvious: from a mechanical classification, adventure games are always just a prebuilt puzzle. You can choose your own adventure, but you can bet in most any adventure game out there, there is always a clear ending that has been traced out by the designer. When the common adventure game player thinks of alternate-path adventure games, that person won't think much of late-golden-age graphical adventures, but more of the early games, like Black Cauldron, where it didn't take so many resources to craft each available ending. If there is a difference in the cauda of a late-golden-age game, it is usually, "Go back and collect what you missed". Responding to improbable player input could be viewed as responding to unexpected path taking, but that happened mostly in text-based adventures, less in point-and-click adventures, and was always a simple gameplay branch crafted by the designer. Theoretically, however, a certain level of computer AI could handle unexpected statements in a way unimagined by the game designer. That would require the system to be fairly good at relating symbols.
Scanning backward through the Crawford text, I noticed bizarre statements classing race-and-avoid-obstacle games, which most would call "action games", as puzzles also:
"One problem with all of these games is that they are not true games but puzzles, for there is no real interaction in a race between a player and his opponent. Indeed, it is difficult to identify the opponent in these games."
So, that writer does consider this issue a "problem", as these games do not involve an apparently important goal in game design: "real interaction between the player and his opponent". I would agree that racing against obstacles is not very personal; even though a designer may be very creative in designing obstacles, most just fly by quickly or shoot at the main actor. Aside from that, however, what constitutes "real interaction" to an audience is fairly variable in real life: some may believe they have real interactions with sharks; others may see them as nothing but obstacles no matter what events occur.
Scanning further backward..
"A game acknowledges the player's existence and reacts to the player's personality; a puzzle lies down like a dead fish."
Okay, that is definitely a pejorative.
The whole issue leaves me trying to find the right "out", as I intend to create an adventure-action game. Adventure games are important in the same ways that books and movies may be important - but they trade the high polish of an entirely preassembled sequence of words or images for that of a dynamic sequence. (Although you can pause a movie, play it backward, or watch it upside-down while talking to yourself, it is still intended for the general audience to be watched one way.) The player is involved in accessing their own abilities to interact with a story. In any adventure, the action elements are important, because the player can experience another way of thinking and acting. It breaks up the monotony, and immerses the player in the world, showing a new dimension - often, literally, a new physical dimension - to experience in that world. I think of entering the arcades in Space Quest and actually playing the games in that setting, where the games evolve as did those in our real world: Astro-Chicken, Ms Astro-Chicken, Stooge Fighter.
So let's sum up the Crawford criticism of the two separable parts of an adventure-action game:
->Adventure's problem is that it is too constrained to the designer's will.
->Action's problem is that there is too-little personal relation to an opponent.
An adventure-action game is by these definitions bipolar - too controlled by the mind of the designer, but at other times too impersonal and lacking in depth.
My argument, first, is that all entertainment truly belongs to its creator. The adventure game designer had an idea that was important to the designer, and so helped to create a game to link those images in an immersive way. One could consider every movie out there to be a bad movie for the same reason - it's too constraining as a form of entertainment. But movie viewers are willing to trade the independence of their thoughts to see where the experience will take them. Viewers may then talk about the movie in a common frame. Adventure games do not deliver the same experience to each player. They reward those who figure out the puzzles the same way that the creators envisioned. A movie, like all popular static art, rewards those who consider the movie's most generally accepted interpretation to reflect their own experience of the symbolic network related to the movie. But it really presents no challenge at all to the viewer. There is no requirement for engagement. A well-crafted puzzle requires attention and cognitive investment. It can pay back greater rewards as player resources are invested.
Your car was designed by someone else to operate in a certain way. A car doesn't care that the sunshield hits your face, or that it was designed for the average Japanese body, or that it will carry around 5 extra seat spaces when you're driving alone. It basically gets you where you want to go and knows that, in the end, you'll be grateful (if the car works). That is like a movie. Linear devices obviously have their purpose. I would be happy if all cars were made by the government using the same parts, but came in a couple of sizes. They'd be cheaper and more reliable. I'm not saying movies should be made that way, however (although some are). Where was this going?
Hopefully making more sense on this and related topics in a post to come..