The Mouse that Roared!

By Rosemary Young (October, 2000)
I don't have to tell any ardent graphic adventurer that pointing and clicking is a lot of fun. It's seen us through many, many great adventure games, far too many for me to mention. However, for practically as long as I can remember there's been an element of the game playing community that has demeaned pointing and clicking and angled for the silent execution of the mouse.

'A standard point and click adventure'. Do these words sound familiar? Like me you've probably read them hundreds of times in reviews and received the underlying message loud and clear that the particular game they are describing is essentially inferior. It's a phrase that's been endlessly used to summarily insult and dismiss adventure games. Of course, if pointing and clicking is inferior, it has to be inferior to something! Well its two or three 'rivals' in this particular 'contest' are button pressing, key tapping and joystick wiggling! How anyone can possibly put a value judgement on these actions in themselves is beyond me but it happens purely because the term pointing and clicking has gathered so much negativity in the comparison. So I'd like to speak some words in defence of pointing and clicking (or in defence of the mouse) on behalf of adventure game players everywhere.

Destined for the chopping block?
To my mind it seems that our mildly mannered mouse has forever been in the firing line. Sadly, there's a never-ending queue of wannabe executioners crowding around the latest mouse driven game, licking their lips with glee whilst honing their hatchets and snarling: 'Another standard point and click adventure'. I've always conveniently ignored these tormentors but my fear now is that they might be going some way towards getting their heart's desire. Their present ally is the emergence of 3D graphics that apparently demand the elimination of the mouse.

Now I wouldn't be too worried except for two reasons. The first is because 3D is beginning to be heralded as the single way forward for all games, including adventures. At least a couple of well known adventure game companies that have produced much loved point and click, third-person 2D adventures in the past are now moving into 3D and sidestepping the mouse. Of course I'm referring to LucasArts with Grim Fandango and the soon to be released Escape from Monkey Island; and to AdventureSoft/Headfirst Productions with the next Simon the Sorcerer release. The second reason I'm stirred into action (oops ... me? ... action!) is because adventure game players who are expressing their concern are once more being chastised for simply looking backwards and resisting change. It's as if we don't have a single good reason for our caution! We do, and we deserve to be heard rather than ridiculed and accused of cowering away from the brave new world of 3D.

3D glee!
It's the latest ... so, of course, it has to be the best! It has to be the way to go for adventure games. Funny, I remember not so long ago when full motion video was the latest and, consequently, the greatest. With regard to this innovation I also remember the adventure game community not being consulted. Yes, even though we were shouting our warnings to anyone who would listen, full motion video was the mistake that had to be made to further jeopardise the future of adventure gaming.

But that's beside the point ... we have a new contender now that's being touted by some as destined to revolutionise adventure game playing, and once more many adventure game players are alarmed. Why? Well it's nothing to do with our weak constitutions or our 3D phobia, but has everything to do with the missing mouse, so here are a few of our reservations ...

No mouse means no cursor in a 3D world ... that's much better, much more immersive and realistic, we are assured! Or is it? As Gordon said in his Grim Fandango review, when control shifts from the mouse to the keyboard or whatever the cursor doesn't disappear it simply changes shape. It changes into the character. So what happens is that we are forced to concentrate on moving the cursor/character about by pressing keys or jiggling a joystick which requires more intricate manipulation compared with simply pointing and clicking and having a character go where you want under their own steam.

This is a problem ... for many adventure game players it is intrusive rather than being more realistic and immersive ... why make things more difficult? And there is more to it than this, it also changes the emphasis in playing adventure games from being exploration oriented to navigation oriented. It dictates that much more effort must be spent simply on movement rather than on actual exploration ... much the same as in action games. But action games are about movement (dodging punches, waving swords, jumping lava pools, etc.) adventure games aren't. Hmmm quite an interesting point has just occurred to me... with the mouse eliminated it might be all the more seductive just to slip a little real time action into new adventure games to show off their 3D capabilities!

But getting back to the point ... it is the above change of emphasis that is unsettling many adventure game players. Moving characters around or watching them move around has never been a crucial component of adventure games. We were glad to be rid of keyboard navigation in the early days of graphic adventures and ever since we've been happy to sacrifice this kind of 'realism' for maps which magically transport our characters; or shortcuts that jump them around the gameworld or from one screen to the next. We haven't ever been fussed about our characters meticulously taking every step. Without a cursor to make these timesaving, time-travelling miracles happen the new breed of mouse-less adventures will surely mean that there is a lot more trudging to be done ... but will it? Consider that it might ultimately mean more sacrifice. As complaints are legitimately expressed by adventure gamers about the endless trudging, designers may well 'acknowledge' our complaints by simplifying adventure games to the point that there is no complicated searching required and no problems that might require returning to a screen already visited. Whatever we need, that key for the door or a bridle for the horse, it will be cunningly hiding right beside us under the mat or on the hook ... no trudging necessary to find them ... no challenge at all!

This is closely linked to the point above. Because adventure games are about exploration rather than navigation the loss of a mouse also impacts on this aspect because the new revolutionary cursor (the character) now has to be meticulously manoeuvred with keyboard or joystick to search or look around properly. Not only does this mean a lot more trudging for the character but it's a lot more fiddly and tends to make the essential exploration and discovery component of an adventure game more of a chore than the pure fun that it should be. In an adventure game opening a cupboard should be a simple decision as it is in real life, it shouldn't be a part of the gameplay and require navigation or manipulative skills in order to move and perform the action. But this is the case when we actually have to consciously navigate or manoeuvre a cursor/character to the cupboard in order to inspect or open it.

In a 3D world the character has to walk right up and put their nose against something before they can see it. This feels odd and it happens because there is no conventional cursor to provide a focus point on screen for searching. It is something quite alien to pure adventure games and sits much better with action games where intricate exploration and object manipulation is incidental rather than central, and objects are sometimes even 'picked up' in movement mode simply by tripping over them. This sort of interaction isn't so 'natural' to adventuring in fact it is alienating to the extent that the almost tactile sensation of reaching out and moving a mouse whilst watching the cursor react on screen simply disappears.

Inventory manipulation
Here is another annoyance caused by a mouse-less interface. As was demonstrated in Grim Fandango* the absence of a mouse and cursor dictated that we laboriously extract items from our inventory one at a time to examine them ... not an improvement that we should embrace, surely? When confronted with a problem requiring an inventory object most adventurers are quite content with the 'old fashioned' (and much more realistic) way of mulling over multiple inventory items to select the probable candidate for the job. This tried and true method even allows for one item to be used on another, which is a sophistication that 3D doesn't seem to allow. Quite simply the wonders of 3D (or the loss of the mouse) don't compensate for this kind of friendliness that invites players in and says 'try things ... experiment', see what happens' ... join in this game!

Well I hope I have helped to support adventure game players who are daring to voice their opinions and concerns about 3D. And I hope I've also gone some way to vindicating the mouse, as it isn't just a 'wee timorous beastie', it does real work on our behalf. In fact the mouse has been such a faithful friend it is a shame to even contemplate bidding it goodbye as the 3D train roars into town. We may need to roar loudly on behalf of the mouse if we are to protect it. Of course we haven't lost it yet as there are a number of mouse friendly adventure games waiting on the horizon. And it is useful to make comparison with the roleplaying genre before I go. After spending years in the shadows this genre is now basking in a happy revival with titles such as the first Baldurs Gate, Icewind Dale, Might and Magic, and at this very moment yet another Baldur's Gate ... and Wizards and Warriors ... with more to come! Adventure gamers should take heart because all these games support the mouse and RPG fans are not crying out for its sacrifice at the altar of 3D!

End Note
Finally I must acknowledge that Escape from Monkey Island is reported to have a new inventory management system that is an improvement on the one used in Grim Fandango. As a long time fan of Guybrush Threepwood I want it to be great so I'm more than willing to be pleasantly surprised. Simon, too, is apparently going to be just as irresistible as ever and face just as many brain teasing challenges. As Simon is also a big favourite of mine I'm living in hope that I'll have to eat some of my words. But can I, or should I, give the mouse-less interface in these games my unconditional support simply because they both belong to adventure game series that rate in my personal top 10 games?

Copyright © Rosemary Young 2000. All rights reserved.