The day Adrian opened his mouth and bullshit fell out
Okay, I’ll be the first to admit, that’s a bit unfair. He actually does make some good points. But it was such a strong opening, I couldn’t resist. Call me the Clickbaiter. (Just don’t check my trunk. I use that duct tape and rope for, uh, medicinal purposes.)
Anyway, who’s Adrian? Well, it’s Adrian Chmielarz (good luck with that last name — said the dork named “Pleimert”). He’s a respected developer of games like Painkiller and Bulletstorm, both of which I have never played and have no intention of playing. For reasons I will get into in a moment. He also did some adventure games, back when that was the hot thing to do, arguably the most famous of which is Teen Agent.
The protagonist of this game really is a major douche. Which makes what I’m about to say a bit ironic.
Adrian recently ripped into Jane Jensen’s Moebius: Dark Something Rising, Or At Least Somewhat Unlit and Hard to Make Out; I Think It’s An Empire; Where Are My Binoculars? (full title) in a blog post he titled “Seven Deadly Sins of Adventure Games.”
The aforementioned irony comes in the form of a man whose most famous adventure game features an obnoxious, unlikeable protagonist, going to town on another game with an obnoxious, unlikeable protagonist. To be fair, though, that’s not what he’s ragging on Moebius for.
In what basically amounts to nitpicking, Adrian berates Jane for having an opening sequence with credits, for having a points system in the game, for having quote-unquote “superfluous” descriptions of objects in the game world, for having “bad writing” (pot to kettle, anyone?), and for having a dialogue option that says “no” that does not, in fact, lead anywhere.
He also, however, makes some strong points about how the player should be immersed in the story, not having to try to put him/herself in the designer’s head space (Discworld games, I’m looking at you!), and how you should never have to walk around aimlessly second guessing yourself because you don’t know what the game expects you to do next.
But then he brings up his main point: Adventure games — at least the ones we know and love — are really just shoddy game mechanics hiding behind fantastic stories. The reason we love Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis (his preferred example) or the original Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers was because they had great stories, but on the whole terrible gameplay.
He lists off pixel hunting, inventory management (I’m assuming he means inventory puzzles, because one game mechanic that does piss me off is when I don’t have limitless inventory space), backtracking, dialogue repetition, and “what have I not tried yet?” option exhausting as “things that make adventure games bad.” He actually has the balls to ask the question, “Which of these mechanics scream ‘fun’ to you?”
With the exception of pixel hunting, umm … all of them?
Inventory management is the bread and butter of adventure games. You pick up an object and you use that object to further the story; either by applying it to the game world in an ingenious fashion, or by giving it to an NPC in exchange for information that will progress the story. Backtracking is what you do when the game world opens up to you — going back to a place you’ve already been and seeing how something has changed is what keeps game worlds alive. Dialogue repetition is important for uncovering clues you may have missed; thank fuck I have the option to make NPC’s repeat what they said, because maybe I blinked and missed it — or maybe it was just so fucking funny I had to hear it twice.
The “what have I not tried yet” criticism baffles me the most. This sounds like the dude just doesn’t like playing adventure games anymore. He prefers to have the objective and its solution spoonfed to him. In Adrian’s view, games are not grey matter exercises anymore; they’re disposable activities that you don’t have to put any effort into. They’re basically storytelling mechanics where you occasionally push a button.
This view is cemented when Adrian brings up what he feels are “modern adventure games”; i.e. adventure games that have evolved beyond the simple, leisurely mechanics of character manipulation and petty larceny (arguably the two most important aspects of adventure gaming).
Hold on, because this is tough to read.
Heavy Rain. Phoenix Wright. The motherfucking Walking Dead.
Not pictured: an adventure game.
You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me. All the games you just rattled off are miserable stress-fests where the calm and leisurely pace of letting your mind solve an intricate puzzle have been replaced by randomly clicking around rooms (Phoenix Wright) or just button-mashing the correct sequence while a timer runs down (Heavy Rain).
Fuck, The Walking Dead is nothing more than an endless string of QTE-sequences interspersed with a few calm sequences of walking around a location with only one or two people to talk to and no “extraneous” scenery to interact with.
And that’s fine. It’s gotten a lot of praise, and for good reason. It does what it does well, and it does tell a fucking story. But it’s not a goddamn adventure game.
Next you’ll be telling me Doom has “adventure game elements” because you have to use the correct keycards on doors? In the immortal words of Gob:
I know there are old-school adventure games out there that break the rules. Hey, Space Quest was arguably the first game to have an arcade sequence in it! I’m not against genre-melding; I’m not against getting my blood pumping a little faster occasionally.
But I am against someone berating adventure games for their strengths. You may see it as a weakness that you’re expected to talk to every character, exhaust every dialogue option, and try to think laterally about how to apply that seemingly useless everyday item you picked up to advance the story. So may indeed the vast zombie-like army of what passes for today’s “gamer” public.
But I like taking my time when playing a game. I like not being stressed at every turn. I like picking what my character’s gonna say and figuring out ways to distract or manipulate NPC’s into giving me what I need.
And you’re right that a lot of adventure games don’t do that right. But there are some that do. And maybe Moebius isn’t one of them — fuck if I know; I’ve only played it for 15 minutes so far. But the adventure game mechanics didn’t need to evolve to make them more palatable to the trigger-happy, jittery drones that thought Tomb Raider was “an adventure game with action elements.” They just need to be applied judiciously.
Why don’t you write about how to do that instead?