The Sad Plight of the Adventure Game Bum

TelltaleGamesTelltaleGames Telltale Staff
Hello there, friends. I'm here today to tell you about a problem that affects us all: getting stuck. I'm not talking about getting stuck to a flagpole or a toilet seat; I'm talking about getting stuck in an adventure game. When some puzzle proves too devious, or it's simply unclear how to proceed, even the best games devolve into major snooze fests. It's not uncommon for an adventure gamer to fall asleep on his keyboard and awaken to find that he'll be paying exorbitant amounts of money to have his drool extracted from said keyboard. The Telltale crew is sick and tired of paying for drool extractions, and we're prepared to take action.

I bet you'll recognize this scenario if you've ever played an adventure game. You're playing the game and you realize at some point that you're not quite sure what to do next. You've exhausted every dialog option with every character. You've clicked on everything you can think of. You've consulted your Magic 8 Ball and it's being strangely laconic. So what do you do? You exhaust every dialog with every character again. You click on every object on every screen again. If you're like me, at this point you finally begin to suspect the true solution: you must drop your computer from the top of the Empire State Building.

You want to know the shameful truth? I often never figure out what to do next. I just keep wandering around the game world for the rest of my days like some sort of hobo. It's sad really. I paid all that money for my education and now I'm an adventure game bum. That's no fate for the hero of an adventure game. Unless the hero of the game is a bum, I guess. But in all other cases, heroes ought to be more, well, heroic.

Imagine, if you will, an adventure game adaptation of Raiders of the Lost Ark...

Indiana Jones holds up the staff of Ra and a beam of light shines through the head piece. That's strange... It's not illuminating a building on the map; it's illuminating a baloney sandwich that somebody left on the floor of the map room. That can't be right. Surely the Lost Ark isn't buried in a giant baloney sandwich somewhere in Egypt? Thinking that his staff may not be the right length, Indy climbs out of the map room and asks his friend Sallah about it. Sallah laughs heartily but says only, "Hurry, Indy!" Indy proceeds to ask every guard, every townsperson, and yes, even villain Rene Belloq, about the staff, but to no avail. He flies back to the States to check his house for anything he might have forgotten. Did he check the bathroom before he left? He flushes the toilet a few times just in case. Stumped, Indy decides to take a long bath and let Marcus Brody sort it out.

This won't do. Indiana Jones can't fly back to the U.S. to search his bathroom in the middle of the adventure. Indy needs to stay focused. What can be done to keep the player on track?

The brilliant minds at Telltale have been working night and day to answer that question; everyone else at Telltale has been working an hour a week to answer it. We think the game ought to recognize when the player is bumbling around, and do something about it. We feel that some element of the game world (usually another character) should assist the player in figuring out what to do next when he gets stuck.

For example, in the Telltale version of the Raiders of the Lost Ark game, Sallah would probably nudge Indy if he wasn't making progress. I don't mean nudge him physically; I mean give him a hint. If you had never read the inscription on the head of the staff, then perhaps Sallah could ask you if you noticed anything unusual about it, which would prompt you to look at it. If you were still stuck, he could suggest that the inscription probably refers to the staff length, cluing you in to the fact that you need to translate the inscription. If you were still stuck even then, he could just take you to the fellow who can translate the inscription on the staff.

And if you were still stuck after all that, he could tell you how to get to the Empire State Building so that you could drop your computer from the top of it.

This solution actually serves two of Telltale's game design goals. One goal is to make games where the characters feel alive. They should be responsive to you, and proactively help move the narrative along when you get stuck. I mean, sure, the characters are technically just 3D models with unbelievably simplistic AI, but you shouldn't be thinking about that when you're playing the game! I don't even know why I mentioned it.

The other game design goal it serves is to keep the narrative moving forward. Pacing is as important to games as it is to non-interactive media. We want to keep the story from stalling out, and one way to do that is to have characters in the game help the player along when he's not making any progress. Furthermore, having characters assist you is preferable to having an in-game hint menu, since it maintains your immersion in the game world.

If we're successful in our game designs, then getting stuck will be a thing of the past. Indiana Jones won't ever stop for an ill-timed bath, and you will never again have to be an adventure game bum.

Unless we decide to make that Bum Simulator that everyone's been requesting.

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