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LotSN and Ron Gilbert's "Rules" (many spoilers)

posted by Bas on - last edited - Viewed by 2.3K users
A few years ago, Ron Gilbert posted his old article "Why Adventure Games Suck" on his blog. He states that he doesn't necessarily agree with all the rules anymore nowadays, but I've always found it to be very truthful, and when I dislike an adventure game I can almost always use the "Rules" to point out why it failed, in my opinion. Also, I think one of the reasons that the classic LucasArts adventures are the very best the genre has to offer is because they manage to pass every one of these rules of thumb.

So, having just finished Launch, I figured I'd see how it fares against Ron Gilbert's adventure game design rules from 1989. By the way, I won't be using spoiler tags, because that'd be incredibly tedious, so if you haven't finished the game yet, turn back.
End objective needs to be clear
It?s OK if the objective changes in mid-game, but at the beginning the player should have a clear vision as to what he or she is trying to accomplish. Nothing is more frustrating than wandering around wondering what you should be doing and if what you have been doing is going to get you anywhere. Situations where not knowing what?s going on can be fun and an integral part of the game, but this is rare and difficult to pull off.
This worked well. You instantly knew you had to get off the island.
Sub-goals need to be obvious
Most good adventure games are broken up into many sub-goals. Letting the player know at least the first sub-goal is essential in hooking them. If the main goal is to rescue the prince, and the player is trapped on an island at the beginning of the game, have another character in the story tell them the first step: get off the island. This is just good storytelling.
This also worked. Davey instantly told you that you couldn't get off the island because of the winds, and then provided you with the lead you needed to figure out how to do something about them.
Live and learn
As a rule, adventure games should be able to be played from beginning to end without ?dying? or saving the game if the player is very careful and very observant. It is bad design to put puzzles and situations into a game that require a player to die in order to learn what not to do next time
This has never been the case in LucasArts or Telltale adventures that I can recall.
Backwards Puzzles
The backwards puzzle is probably the one thing that bugs me more than anything else about adventure games. I have created my share of them; and as with most design flaws, it?s easier to leave them in than to redesign them. The backwards puzzle occurs when the solution is found before the problem. Ideally, the crevice should be found before the rope that allows the player to descend. What this does in the player?s mind is set up a challenge. He knows he need to get down the crevice, but there is no route. Now the player has a task in mind as he continues to search. When a rope is spotted, a light goes on in his head and the puzzle falls into place. For a player, when the design works, there is nothing like that experience.
The only time I can recall this happening in LotSN was with the pyrite parrot and the nasal cavity. I put him in there before having lured de Singe to the door, and I was kind of miffed that not only did nothing happen, but I had lost the parrot for no good reason too. The "see if you can open the door from the inside" thing was a bit of a cop out, really. The only thing the parrot ever did was lie around, so there was no reason to assume that it'd suddenly be able to work ancient doors. I think it would have been better if Guybrush had refused to put the parrot in there because he didn't want to lose it, until you had lured de Sing and it became clear that de Singe would open the door if he had reason to suspect Guybrush already being in there.
I forgot to pick it up
This is really part of the backwards puzzle rule, but in the worst way. Never require a player to pick up an item that is used later in the game if she can?t go back and get it when it is needed. It is very frustrating to learn that a seemingly insignificant object is needed, and the only way to get it is to start over or go back to a saved game.
Fortunately, I have never seen this happen anymore in the last 20 years or so of adventure games.
Puzzles should advance the story
There is nothing more frustrating than solving pointless puzzle after pointless puzzle. Each puzzle solved should bring the player closer to understanding the story and game. It should be somewhat clear how solving this puzzle brings the player closer to the immediate goal.
I think this all worked nicely as well. You knew you had to make a Dark Ninja Dave because you needed D'oro to find treasure because you needed Davey to divulge the whereabouts of Deep Gut, etcetera.
Real time is bad drama
One of the most important keys to drama is timing. Anyone who has designed a story game knows that the player rarely does anything at the right time or in the right order. If we let the game run on a clock that is independent from the player?s actions, we are going to be guaranteed that few things will happen with dramatic timing. When Indiana Jones rolled under the closing stone door and grabbed his hat just in time, it sent a chill and a cheer through everyone in the audience. If that scene had been done in a standard adventure game, the player would have been killed the first four times he tried to make it under the door. The next six times the player would have been too late to grab the hat. Is this good drama? Not likely. The key is to use Hollywood time, not real time. Give the player some slack when doing time-based puzzles. Try to watch for intent.
I think they pulled this off too, for instance in the scene with de Singe and the gun at the fourth idol. Something I particularly appreciated was that it only knocked you back to the previous screen, so you could walk right back in there when you failed, rather than towards a random point on the map like in Monkey Island 1.
Incremental reward
The player needs to know that she is achieving. The fastest way to turn a player off is to let the game drag on with no advancement. This is especially true for people who are playing adventure games for the first time. In graphics adventures the reward often comes in the form of seeing new areas of the game.
This worked too, if you ask me. The jungle divulged new locations at a steady rate of puzzle solving.

(I'll continue this in a second post, because for some reason I can't post any long posts. Posts.)
45 Comments - Linear Discussion: Classic Style
  • Bas;159022 said:
    Because the only other way of solving those puzzles is clicking stuff randomly?
    EMM Yeah. It's an adventure what did you expect???
  • In addition to what other people have said, if it so happens that you haven't clicked on the sock by the time the bomb goes off, then the sock is left on the crate anyway, drawing your attention to it, so it's not even as if there's no reason at all to click on the sock.
  • The only thing that was kind of irritating for me was the flowers. I had already used them on the fountain, so naturally I thought that I was done with this item. I would have never expected that I'd have to inspect them and reuse tham as a nose-substitute. Would have driven me crazy if I hadn't looked it up on these forums.. I had checked every other place for nose-like items multiple times before..

    Neither the socks nor the cannon were major problems tho. You knew the socks were supposed to be somewhere near the ships and since there weren't many possible places for them to be I got that right away. Also, I can't understand how anyone could resist clicking on the cannon the first time they were on the ship! ;)

    Anyway, there need to be some things that you just can't figure out instantly. If everything had been completely logical and obvious we would have been done with the game after 30 minutes or so..
  • First off, thank you Bas for writing a sensible, well written critique. I am personally a Total Telltale Fangirltm, and I don't necessarily agree with you that the puzzles really needed improvement, but that is just my opinion. It in no way invalidates your opinion, and if you didn't like something it is good to let Telltale know so they can improve the game and make it possible for even more people to enjoy it. The only thing is there have been quite a few people complaining, without really explaining why they didn't like something. "It sucked" or "it wasn't funny" isn't really that helpful a critique, whereas your examination of the pyrite parrot and door puzzle actually explains what you thought was odd about it, so Telltale could actually use that information to help them make future puzzles better. I hope this doesn't sound saracastic or anything, because I really am glad that you critiqued the game well, and (so far) the other posters in this thread have too. It's important for any artist/creative person/average guy to get feedback, it just sucks that so many people have been just flaming instead, especially since a few of them seemed like they had a valid point or two buried underneath all the vitriol.
  • Bas;158969 said:
    Fortunately, I have never seen this happen anymore in the last 20 years or so of adventure games.
    It's rare, but there is.
    In Grim Fandango, you can leave year 2 without the scythe in your inventory which lets you stuck early in year 3.
    A similar situation was discovered in Sam & Max "Night of the Raving Dead", not talking to the COPS about the game while you still can, makes you unable to get the prize when you need it.
    The worst games of this kind I tried were Larry 2 and 3 by far, though.
    I think they pulled this off too, for instance in the scene with de Singe and the gun at the fourth idol. Something I particularly appreciated was that it only knocked you back to the previous screen, so you could walk right back in there when you failed, rather than towards a random point on the map like in Monkey Island 1.
    Indeed. Although, real time is perfectly okay, if it is implemented in a fair way, imho. In the Monkey Island series, there are quite a few instances of this (probably a very incomplete list): MI1: the grog puzzle, chasing the shop keeper, the fish and the seagull, MI2: the spit contest (blowing the horn as well as spitting at the right moment), the drinking contest, luring the chef out of the mansion, CMI: falling down from skull island, the ride inside the giant monkey head, EMI: the boulder machine on Monkey Island, the ride at the church on Monkey Island, and now in TMI: smashing the unicorns with the cannon, carrying the ignited bomb.
    There are a few bad examples as well, though: MI1: LeChuck punching you over Melee Island and you can't do anything until you picked up the root beer at Stan's. MI2: LeChuck appearing randomly with the voodoo doll annoyingly interrupting whatever you're doing, and when you're actually waiting for him, it feels like forever sometimes. Good thing: there was no such annoyance in TMI.
    Bas;158971 said:
    I think this is the one major failure of LotSN. There was no reason for the Club 41 card to be in the sock, and no way for the player to know.
    It didn't felt for me that way at all. The captain told me that he lost his card when he became a captain, and since there were only a few items around the ship, it seemed logical to look for it, and I wasn't too surprised to find it in the socks.
  • Rather Dashing;159220 said:

    I don't care if you're supposed to click everything. Look at Ron Gilbert's rule for items that you didn't pick up before leaving an area. Doesn't the exact same logic against the "missing item" work against your "click everything" mantra?
    Not really, the rule for items you didn't pick up before leaving the area is to prevent save traps. It's still bad design to rely on players instincts to click everything, but it's not really a big game design sin like save traps are.
  • The Doctor's lab is open because it's been a while since you injured someone! :p
  • I found a couple areas that stumped me, particularly because the logic was missing.

    One was finding a way to light the bomb, I had tried the anchor once, and then tried the plank. I knew both would be unsuccessful, but tying one event to the other didn't click in my mind. I didn't know that there was a grease puddle that could be set on fire, and I didn't remember the hot coal moment to connect the two. I feel that the whole hot coal moment was a tad brief, and therefore it didn't stick in my mind as a memorable event. This, I felt was an arbitrary puzzle, when I read the hints for the solution, it finally clicked that the anchor > hot coals + grease. Perhaps if the coals lit the grease on fire before you even interacted with it, would've been more logical. The grease fire could go out, but as long as the connection one made to the other, then sure, it makes sense.

    The unicorn issue has already been brought up, and I am in full agreement. I fired the canon out of desperation. I knew in previous monkey island games, you need certain elements to operate the canon, as in CMI, disconnect the cannon with the sword, insult the little guy etc. That made sense. But in ToMI, the canon was out of the way, and why would Guybrush go firing it randomly, without even loading it first?

    The third stumper, was the weathervain on top of the idols. If it wasn't for a tiny little hotspot on top of the idols, I would've never guessed it. It was more pixel hunting than anything else, as I found the first idol by seeing the face as Guybrush held the vein up. Perhaps either way could've lead to a solution. Also, letting the player know the vein and the statue could be used together even before that series of puzzles: ie. vein + closed statue = "I'm not sure if this works right now", would've been helpful. "Strange looking spot" doesn't cut it for me.

    The tar puzzle was mostly logical and like the hot coal puzzle, it didn't "click" in my brain that the hand would shove Guybrush back after looking at the map and the tar. The hand is constantly hitting Guybrush around while he's looking at other things, why not have him get stuck in the tar by this way? There's so many possible lead-ups to this one puzzle, but the map was the answer because it was close by. It was another one of those, I never thought that would happen, solutions. But because there was a limited amount of objects in this location, it would only make sense there would be an outcome with it.

    Anyways, great read, and all the argumentation makes it interesting to see everyone's logic leading to what worked and what didn't.
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