The Play's the Thing

TelltaleGamesTelltaleGames Telltale Staff
Quickly! Without thinking too hard, answer the following questions :

1. What is your favorite thing about the Sam and Max game?

2. What is your favorite thing about Grim Fandango?

Unless I'm completely off my rocker (which may well be, since I don't have a rocker) I'd guess most of you answered the first question with something like "the loveable and wacky characters"� or "the clever and witty sense of humor"�. Similarly I would guess that most of you answered question 2 with something like "the awe-inspiring story"� or "the fun and deep characters"� or even "the fact that everything's dead."�

Now just as quickly answer the following :

1. What was your LEAST favorite thing about the Sam and Max game?

2. What was your LEAST favorite thing about Grim Fandango?

Again, I consult my mystical crystal ball of game design. This time I suspect the answer to both questions to be something like "such and such freakingishly annoying puzzle that I was stuck on until I wanted to throw my computer down on the ground and jump up and down on it like an enraged orangutan (but I just barely restrained myself, which is good because it saved me a good deal of money)"�.

This then, begs the question: What is most important in adventure games? The story? The characters? Or the game play? I mean, these are GAMES we are talking about aren't they?


Sometimes I will come across a review for an adventure game on an adventure gaming site that in essence reads something like this: "The graphics are beautiful, the story is deep and compelling, the characters are engaging....and oh, yeah, the puzzles don't suck."� Is "don't suck"� really the best we can do? Or is "not sucking"� really all that is needed? Perhaps it is the story that is important, and the puzzles are just the interactive glue that holds everything together? Are adventure games then really just interactive stories with puzzles thrown in to offer the occasional challenge? What if I simply read a novel that occasionally interrupted the deep and compelling narrative with a logic problem which I had to solve before I could continue? Would the experience be similar?

It is my belief, dear reader, that story without game play does not a game make. Likewise, a good story without good game play does not a good game make.

I know this is a slippery concept to grasp for those of you without >ahem< Master's Degrees. So I will explain in easily digested terminology what it is I am getting at here.

Many adventure games are remembered fondly for their charming characters and intriguing storylines. But I know that I have spent a great deal of time with many games frustrated out of my mind by puzzles that didn't quite make sense. If I wanted to combine a great story with agonizing frustration, I would read my favorite novel while sitting in front of the office hockey goal during Telltale carpet hockey practice.

When a review happily proclaims that the puzzles in a given game "didn't suck"� they are basically saying that the puzzles do not distract from the overall story. They don't break the player's sense of immersion by suddenly demanding you figure out that (obviously!) you need to hit fish with a golf club into a gator-infested golf hole in order to progress. Instead, you are able to figure them out through application of common logic and get back to the story.

It follows then that in order to transcend "not sucking"� the game play must not only keep you from feeling distracted, but would actually enhance your feeling of immersion. Puzzles and activities would blend seamlessly into the plot and world of the game. Interactive moments would feel like a natural extension of the game world. Better yet, you would actually feel as if your actions had consequences that affected the story...

How far is this from reality? Oh it will come, dear readers, it will come. Probably not tomorrow. How long will we have to wait? Such is at this time unknown. But make no mistake...some day "not sucking"� will not be enough.
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