Chronicles of the Absurd: Puzzles in Adventure Games

TelltaleGamesTelltaleGames Telltale Staff
Hello, my name is Brendan Q. Ferguson and I'm a game-a-holic. Adventure games especially. I love games that engross me in a story, let me explore a captivating world, and engage my mind. Just about every adventure game attempts to do just that, but usually with spotty results. In particular, most adventure games include absurd obstacles that undermine the player's immersion in the story. The folks here at Telltale are setting out to right this travesty that has most of the civilized world up in arms.

Here's how it is in most adventure games. You and only you can stop some great calamity that will soon befall the world. You're playing the game and you're starting to get pretty interested in the story, when suddenly, whammo, the entire game comes to a halt as you're faced with some bizarre conundrum that seems totally out of place. And to add injury to insult, the obvious solution never works, so you're forced to find an extremely unlikely workaround.

As an example, let's imagine a hypothetical adventure game based on The Lord of the Rings...

The Black Riders are advancing upon Frodo. He slips the Ring on his finger, and his heart leaps as he sees one of the Riders preparing to attack him. He must remove the Ring, or all is lost. As he struggles to pull the Ring from his finger, he realizes that it's stuck! He pulls and pulls, but it will not come off. Perhaps some soap and water will do the trick? He asks everyone in the room for soap, but none of the party is carrying his toiletries with him. But wait, how about butter? Oh no! Frodo left a stick of butter back in the Shire. What a great fool! Didn't Gandalf tell him that any and all bread spreads would be useful in the battle against the Dark Lord? The group will have to troop back to the shire to get the butter, unless of course they have a saved game just after Bilbo's birthday party.

With puzzles like that, I can understand why many adventure game fans are rioting in the streets of Santa Monica. What's especially ironic about all this is that The Lord of the Rings is as adventurous a story as you'll come by, and yet an adventure game adaptation would likely add all sorts of extraneous puzzles to slow you up. Why, I ask you? I'd much rather have a tight, powerful story than a long, inane one. If I'm playing the Lord of the Rings, then Frodo shouldn't be stopping to butter up his fingers; he's got bigger fish to fry (preferably with butter).

I would prefer a Lord of the Rings game that didn't force puzzles where they didn't belong, but instead allowed the puzzles to flow naturally from the situations that arise in the story. For example, imagine that one of Sauron's forces is approaching Frodo on the rocky mountainside. You need to hide, quick! What do you do? Perhaps you could hide under your cloak to camouflage yourself amongst the rocks. This puzzle doesn't interrupt the narrative, and in fact even enforces it.

Consider now a scene from the long rumored Star Wars Adventure Game (SWAG)...

Luke Skywalker climbs into his X-Wing fighter, mentally preparing for his assault on the Death Star. The fate of the rebellion rests on his shoulders. He turns the key in the ignition -- nothing. It won't start. What's this, it's out of gas? Hold on, I'm sure we can siphon some from the Millennium Falcon. Now where did Princess Leia leave that garden hose?

This is not Star Wars as we know it. This is Star Wars starring MacGyver as Luke Skywalker. Now I like MacGyver just fine, but I nevertheless do NOT support the effort to make him the main character of every single work of fiction ever published. (It would make for an interesting version of Pride and Prejudice, though. I'll have to bring this idea up at our next brainstorming meeting...)

When I play a game, I want to be given challenges that immerse me in its fictional world and puzzles that draw me deeper into its story. I don't want to go around using every piece of junk I can find with every other thing in the entire universe. That's not what the heroes of adventure stories do. When I play a game, I want a true adventure, and I want to be the hero of that adventure.

I want a Star Wars game where I get to use the heroic ingenuity that Luke showed when escaping from the Death Star. The Storm Troopers are about to break through the door behind you, but there's a huge chasm in front of you! What do you do? Why, you use your grappling hook to swing across to safety. The puzzle asks you to act as Luke Skywalker would act, to find a heroic solution to a dangerous problem.

Telltale is all about making games with puzzles and stories that make sense. You might be exploring wacky worlds and meeting strange characters, but you as the player will always be given puzzles and challenges that fit in the story.

No more buttered fingers. No more garden hoses. Just adventure, baby.

Just adventure.
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