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TechnoGoth

Death and Dead Ends in Adventure Games

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I'm working on an adventure game for #cyberpunkjam its an adventure game a bit of modern taken on the old choose your own adventure books. The game is very time sensitive every action you take consume time and there is no extra time available to win the game.  I've designed 3 possible ways to win, each with a different ending. But performing a wrong action at any point should result in you eventual loss.

 

Its only a short game but is this old school approach too tough for modern gamers?

 

There is a big difference between death and a dead end.  Death is instant you get the game over right away and have to restart for the beginning.  Well in most cases but there actually 2 delayed death actions.

 

Dead ends on the other hand are different.  If on the suave  path you choose to visit a location you don't need to go to you waste precious time which means you'll be unable to complete all of the required actions in time. There is no feedback to this effect, but you are now in a state were the game is unwinable.

 

What do people think? Figuring out how to win is the main point of the game so dead ends seem mandatory to me.  But it does break the instant satisfaction and all ways winnable paradigm that exists in modern gaming. After all long gone are the space quest days where you can miss a keycard at the start that is required at the very end.  Or old school shooter games where you could get to boss without sufficient health or ammo to beat them.

 

 

 

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As a player I'm glad these old games extincted. I find "modern" (by modern I mean Secret of the Monkey Istand and newer) Point & Click adventure games far more fun.

 

I mean, don't mix adventures and reguelikes. Dead end and death = roguelike, explorational/dialogue puzzle without a way to die = adventure.

If you want "limited resources and the best way to utilize these" you definitely should go for roguelike genre, not adventure. It's simply far more suitable to convey it.

 

For inspiration I suggest playing Deponia (a great modern take on humouristic adventure genre).

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But if you have a puzzle doesn't that mean there has to be a chance at failure?

If you have dialog puzzle where all paths reach the same result then it really isn't a puzzle.

 

Most adventure games these days are more boxed games you explore an area and you can't move to the next area or chapter until you find everything and complete every goal. Which I agree does make them easier and more enjoyable to play.  

 

But there is room for games where resources are limited and choices matter. An example of an adventure game with limited resources and only one path to victory is I have one day which is a short fun game.

Is limited resources and failure such a bad thing? 

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But if you have a puzzle doesn't that mean there has to be a chance at failure?
Failure in puzzles means inability to solve it. Also good puzzles are always solvable by a master player, no matter what the current state of the puzzle is (no way to turn the puzzle into an "unwinnable" state, example: Rubic cube).

 


An example of an adventure game with limited resources and only one path to victory is I have one day which is a short fun game.
Ehm... you should not aim for such level of quality. That game is poor (only being a quick flash game saves it).

 


Is limited resources and failure such a bad thing?
Yes :D

 

 

Besides [player mode on], it all does not matter. I want you to make something like Deponia, because I want to play something like Deponia, but don't make it like Deponia 2 becuase I have not liked it that much, make it like Deponia 1. And I don't care what everyone else thinks/wants/etc [player mode off] :D

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As long as the dead ends are also interesting, I see no problem.

That is, instead of being "dead ends" they are "alternate endings"

"The world exploded and you are an asshole who everyone hates" Is also an end, even though it might be hard to say you won :)

 

It would probably be better with some kind of feedback that you are on a "bad" path though...

 

Since this is for a game jam, I wouldn't worry too much though...

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My input is probably pretty late at this point but...

 

If you were writing a story you wouldn't be obligated to give your audience a happy ending. However you'd probably want to look at giving them a satisfying ending. One that makes them feel like the investments they made in your story (money, time, emotion) was worthwhile.

That said, I think your time sensitivity and non-end-of-story death elements are most likely to negatively impact you. If you're up front about the fact that the player is getting into a choose your own adventure sort of a situation, then it's probably fair to have dead ends and expect the player to explore and navigate the story a few times to reach a more desirable ending. I think you'd find it's that exploration that's at the center of fun of your game. As a player, non-ending related deaths are just going to get in the way of that exploration. If the time sensitivity element in your game is twitch based or "think fast to solve this puzzle" based, then I think that will also get in the way of the exploration. However, if the time sensitivity is part of the exploration factor (say like the whole Groundhog's Day movie thing) then it could encourage exploration and add positively to your game.

In any case, getting a game together in a limited time for a Jam is going to be an accomplishment which will hopefully outweigh any design flaws.

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As a long-ago CYOA fan, they were cool but also annoying. I was one of the people who would keep four fingers in the book just so I could go back if I chose the wrong path. ;) I don't think dead-ends are unforgivable, but here's some points I would consider:

 

  • Make dead-ends short and not too branchy. People will hate you if they spend an hour exploring a single branch that has no good outcomes, thinking that it is a valid path.
  • Put value in the dead-ends, e.g. easter eggs or they learn something about the game world that they wouldn't by succeeding. Especially if it tips them off what they did wrong.
  • Make it obvious that something is a decision, especially if it's something people would naturally do. Imagine if walking straight ahead through a door and picking up the obviously visible gun guaranteed failure because there wasn't enough time left to finish something else much later.
  • Put a little wiggle room in with resources, as not everybody will think to do things the optimal way, or indeed know that optimality is the difference between success and failure.

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I think ground hog day and majoa's mask are great examples of the kind of game I'd like to make if I do another more complex game like this in the future. Where you have several different arcs and events playing out over the course of fixed number of turns or time and the real goal is find a way to achieve an ending where all the arcs reach a good or bad conclusion.  For instance if it was a murder mystery where any characters could die depending but there is a path you can take where they all live.  But to do it you have to trigger certain events at certain times and succeed at them.

 

I'm actually finished the game now, and I even had time to add achievements and a leaderboard. Although I have to admit I haven't actually implemented the Lucky Ending yet... But I will at some point. I took peoples advice and gave them a little wiggle room in terms of time.  So you do have more time then you need to allow for a little exploration but essentially if you trying to go to the Tor after 20:00 then you've done something wrong. I also did some pruning from the original plan, so apart from a few death traps every choice is relevant to 1 of the 3  endings.  

 

You can get it here for those with android phones and interested: End of Line

 

Some thoughts on what I'd do differently in future:

  • Build UI for my easy scripting language - Managing complex scenes in notepad isn't the best and a gui would eliminate typo related syntax errors and allow for auto generating a global variable list.
  • Add a story map. - Since one wrong decisions in the this game essentially means inevitable death although there are several branching routes so not ever choice has to be made in the right sequence although some do. A story map I think would make for a more enjoyable problem solving experience.  It would show you the route you took along the different possible paths and show you where you made your mistake.
  • More Graphics - Looking at text gets boring after a while I think even a few 8 bit graphic images would have made it more appealing
  • Dead ends feel like wasting time - There is weird feeling about writing a scene that doesn't go anywhere.  It does feel like wasting time that could be better spent elsewhere. So in future I think all content should go towards advancing an arc in someway, and there should be more crossover in choices.  
  • More mini games - Again like graphics or the old Manhunter games breaking from the normal flow with a mini game can be a fun distraction.

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But if you have a puzzle doesn't that mean there has to be a chance at failure?
If you have dialog puzzle where all paths reach the same result then it really isn't a puzzle.

 
Technically, there is no real "failure" in your game. Since there is a "sure-win" strategy: try every possible path, restart the game each time.
 
So technically, there is no real "puzzle". Therefore, it really boils down to how much pain you want your player to go through to reach the ending.
 

Most adventure games these days are more boxed games you explore an area and you can't move to the next area or chapter until you find everything and complete every goal. Which I agree does make them easier and more enjoyable to play.


What I said above is a good reason why most adventure games are like that. Since the "sure-win strategy" is to try every path, there is really no point in making players restarting the game and repeating all the exact same actions again just to try a different branch.

So instead, break the game up into pieces, and make it so that players can "solve" each piece one by one. Instead of making it painful: forcing a restart and having to solve all the pieces again.

But there is room for games where resources are limited and choices matter. An example of an adventure game with limited resources and only one path to victory is I have one day which is a short fun game.
Is limited resources and failure such a bad thing?


Yes it is a bad thing because of my first point: there is really no way to fail since "trying every possible path" is a sure-win strategy.

Not breaking the game up into smaller pieces is just trying to make the process as painful as possible without actually making it difficult or "puzzling".

I don't know about you, but I love adventure games. Too bad they are mostly dead nowadays. But I don't love them because they are hard to figure out or painful to complete. I love them for the story, characters, interesting scenarios/environments etc. The puzzles are really secondary for most players (who WILL turn to walkthroughs if they're stuck).

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But if you have a puzzle doesn't that mean there has to be a chance at failure?
If you have dialog puzzle where all paths reach the same result then it really isn't a puzzle.

 

Let's observe a jigsaw puzzle.

 

Have you ever failed a jigsaw puzzle that had all the pieces? I'm pretty sure there's only one result when that type of puzzle is done. Not all puzzles have multiple solutions, and not all puzzles have a failure condition.

 

You mentioned paths in diolog. Well usually there's a lot of back tracking, and dead ends. Only one true path with mountains of flavor text that requires your ingenuity. Guessing every move or comprehending the answer. Different means, same ends. It's a puzzle.

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