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Whatever happened to Point & Clicks?

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I don''t know about you guys, but my favourite games of all time were the Lucasarts style point & click adventures, before they ruined them and went 3D - I particularly liked Zak McCracken and the Alien Mindbenders, and Day of the Tentacle. Why do you these kinds of games seem to have completely died a death in recent years? Is it because the market leaders did a rubbish job in their 3D games (Grim Fandango suffered from a very poor user interface that totally distracts the player from the gameplay, IMHO)? Or is it because these games tend to have fairly limited replay value? What could be done to create a new generation of Point & Clicks that have all of the things that made the originals good (great stories, fun characters, challenging puzzles that ideally weren''t too frustrating, and humurous dialogue) with the sorts of things that modern gamers appreciate (replayability, extensibility and sociability)? Do you think some kind of episodic approach might work? (releasing a new story four times a year, say)

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Ohhh Day Of The Tentacle, that game was totally insane I loved those games back when I was a kid.

Don''t be so hard on Grim Fandango, that game is the best game of the genre I ever played. Some of my friends that were used to the usual arcade, FPS, RTS, RPG blockbuster genres loved that game too. The story is just so damn cool. The interface is perfect, you just have to look at something and press "action", and use items on other items - instead of trying every combination of "push", "pull", "squeeze", etc like in those games you mentioned. Some of the puzzles in the old games are so non obvious that the interface got boring pretty fast, and that''s why it never got mainstream. Grim Fandango on the other hand was fairly popular back when it popped up.

These games still have a pretty small audience, and that''s why they have no place in the new games industry. Blizzard was developing an adventure game right before it quit and started making Warcraft III. I''m not sure if it''s possible to integrate it with the demands of today''s gamers.

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Games like Discworld II and Beneath a Steel Sky similarly had a single "Action" verb - but they were vastly superior to Grim Fandangoe''s interface because you could just scan a location in a matter of seconds using the mouse, rather than having to slowly wander around, trying to spot when the character''s head moves a few degrees towards an item. I won''t deny that the story was cool, but I could have enjoyed it a lot more if I''d been allowed to use the mouse like I should have been :-)

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Yeah you''re right I enjoyed the game though. The problem with the gaming industry is that they don''t want to produce quality titles and a game like this really has to be good to survive. Oh well ;P

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Traditional Graphical Adventures are booming in the independent game dev community, and a few good ones are still released commercially each year. I''d recommend checking out AdventureGamers.Com or one of its friend-sites.

Grim Fandango is probably my all-time favorite game. Mostly for the story, of course. But the interface actually felt natural to me... except when two objects were very close to each other. Then it could be difficult to get Manny to turn his head to look at the right one, and you could miss an item entirely as a result. Of course, thats not really any different from pixel-hunting in many PnC games.

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So why don''t we find any good 2D Adventures on the market ? Is it because 3D games are so much cooler! If you ask me, I prefer the nice looking 2D graphics to the 3D stuff that isn''t in a state yet where it looks nice. (Maybe in the next generation Doom3 & unreal4)
The Pro in 3D games is that you can view scenes from different positions but that''s not needed in a well designed Adventure like Monkey Island or DoT .
If I would have some more time and a good graphic designer then a 2D Adventure in the old style would definitely be my first project.

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I liked Grim Fandago''s story, hated the interface. Monkey Island 4 also suffered with the interface. IMO, choosing to have no mouse support was simply laziness. There are tons of games in a 3D world that let you select objects with the mouse. The point of these games is to figure out how to solve puzzles, but in Grim Fandango and especially Monkey Island 4 I find myself adjusting myself struggling character''s position most of the time. I hated having to inch my character around a room just to be able to observe everything. Oh, and the camera angles were of no help.

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Simon the Sorceror II by AdventureSoft had an interesting feature where you could press F10 and a star would flash up on the screen by every hotspot, so that you wouldn''t miss items. What did get me stuck for a long time, however, was the occasional location which was slightly wider than the screen, but without making it obvious - I missed whole chunks of the game world without even noticing it.

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Here''s a rough draft of my thoughts so far on Point&Clicks [I''m sorry for getting too big for my boots and thinking about Massively Multiplayer Point&Clicks (!) but it seems to me that extensibility is what''s most lacking about the P&C genre, and what players today want most out of a game]:

What Makes Point&Click''s Great?
===============================
Examples used: Zak McCraken and the Alien Mindbenders; Monkey Island 1, 2 & 3; Simon the Sorceror 1 & 2; Day of the Tentacle

- Intriguing storylines (e.g. Zak McCraken)
- Fun characters/dialogue (e.g. Simon the Sorceror, Day of the Tentacle, Monkey Island)
- Interaction with myths/famous people (e.g. George Washington&co in DOTT, Aliens/Pyramids/etc. in Zak)
- Satisfaction of solving puzzles
- Exciting locations (e.g. Monkey Island, Zak)
- Fun cartoon graphics

- Often fun to play straight through, knowing the solutions to all the puzzles
(so executing the solutions to puzzles is often as fun as solving them)



Likely Features of a Successful Point&Click
===========================================
- Engaging setting/background story (so just exploring/talking is interesting in itself)
- Interesting NPCs (more often than not they are just for scene-setting and disclosing information, but always fun to talk to)
- Puzzles can be solved in more than one way, but not in so many ways that there is no thought involved
- Lots of exciting locations that cannot be immediately accessed (i.e. reaching them is both a challenge & reward)
- High quality cartoon graphics



Challenges For a Massively-Multiplayer Point&Click
==================================================
- Storyline: Events cannot significantly alter the game world (all players must be able to progress). Some of the best puzzles in DOTT were things like adding vacuum cleaners to the American Consitution - how do you stop all players from benefitting from one player''s genius? Do you need to allow players to lock areas as well as unlock them? How do you ensure that a locked area can always be unlocked again? Is part of the challenge being the first to reach a particular location?

- Characters: How do you make player characters different from each other? Do you make some NPC dialogue accessible only to ''charismatic'' players, some brute force puzzle solutions available only to ''strong'' players, and certain item combinations possible only for ''resourceful'' players? How would you promote co-operation between players with different skills?

- Goal: For the game to remain open ended, the goal cannot be to reach a conclusion to the story. What is the player''s goal? What are they progressing towards? How do you continue to reward players once they have explored every location? Is it necessary to periodically release new content?


I could imagine scope for different roles: a security guard gets an assigment to escort a shipment of gold to the airport; a thief gets a tip off and has to work out how to steal the gold; a reporter wants to be the first person to get to the scene of the crime. Is it necessary to stop the thief and the reporter collaborating? Can I think of other examples which don''t promote crime?



Design Trade-Offs
=================
- Number of verbs: too many is frustrating (which is the right one?) but too few gives you less control
(I don''t want to push the door open, I want to knock on it!)
- Freedom in conversation: witty banter often comes at the expense of freedom of expression

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You can still find top quality Adventure games. I can recommend Syberia for example. I simply loved that game. Wonderful graphics and an engaging story. They just released Syberia II recently.....which reminds me that I better go buy it soon.



There''s no place like 127.0.0.1

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The problem with adventure games is that once you finish, you're done. At least for me, I don't like playing a game thrice or even twice once I've solved it all. There are a few exceptions, like Half-Life, where just getting through the game is somewhat of a challenge, but adventure games are usually slow paced with simple puzzles (simple meaning that once you've solved it, you can easily do so again).

If you could make one multiplayer, with people working against eachother or somesuch, you could probably bring them back fully. By working against eachother, I don't mean a time competition or anything liek that but rather that they get to make puzzles for eachother. It'd probably have to be realtime (in the sense that one person is solving puzzles at the same time others are building them, and not a two-step create-then-play process like making a map is in most games).

I _REALLY_ don't think MMO would be the proper solution (because MMOs stagnate until the developers make something new), but something like the online model used by starcraft, warcraft, diablo, etc would be very appropriate and allow players to easily get together to challenge eachother.

[edited by - Extrarius on May 19, 2004 10:39:33 AM]

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In some industry rags and mags, electronic and otherwise, there is a lot of noise that the unfortunate Lucasarts cancelations of late were probably due to:

1. Low sales of adventure-genre titles

2. Pirates have a much easier go of pirating single-player games.

Now if there is a large piracy problem on a title projected not to sell more than 150k copies, its barely a break-even proposition for the distribution channels, whom then ask for a much larger cut form the publisher, which in turn can put the publisher in a bad place for making money (or even breaking even) on the title.

Apply this info to the conversation as you will.

[edited by - SteevR on May 20, 2004 4:45:46 AM]

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I''m sure you''re right, but at the same time I seem to remember Monkey Island 4 and Grim Fandango topping the games charts for months on end when they were released, at least here in the UK. And if shoddy 3D adventure games like that can do well, I''m sure I high quality, old-style Point&Click could do even better.

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