What Adventurers Don't Want!

By Rosemary Young (April, 2001)
Many, many times we've talked about the wants of adventure game players in Quandary. We want more adventure games, we want better publicity for them, we want them to be acknowledged more often, we want them to be reviewed more widely and intelligently, and the list goes on.

Now this short discussion is a complete change from the usual. Rather than being about our wants it's about our don't wants. I'm writing it because we've been lucky enough lately to have some adventure games released by new, independent developers who are taking up the challenge and answering our pleas. Whilst we are sincerely grateful a couple of these games have fallen into the trap of serving up puzzles and problems that we don't like and don't want. Of course, adventurer game players aren't simply a mass of clones, we are all different and we like different things. But notwithstanding this there are some types of challenges that creep into adventure games that are widely disliked.

The following is short list of those things that adventure game players generally don't want included in adventure games. It was composed with the very best of intentions ... to help developers make games that are loved even more than ever. It isn't official, and nor is it complete, it's just a record of some strong vibes picked up here at Quandary over the years. Although it was tempting to make the list subjective and include all my own personal don't wants, I've tried to avoid this. Hence the first few listed don't bother me in the least, but I know that I am definitely in the minority in respect of these types of puzzles. A lot of adventure game players don't like them one bit.

Well I've confessed many times that I love twisty little passages all the same. I don't mind in the least dropping something at every intersection to leave a trail, I don't mind meticulously drawing then redrawing maps if they run off the edge of the page ... but many adventurers don't share this passion.

Not only do Mazes make many adventurers see red but they are also seen to be 'fillers' that don't really belong in adventure games. If Mazes must make an appearance then at the very least the game should include an auto map to save the sanity of the adventure gaming community. For those of us who are already insane and quite happily chase our tails, offer us the option to turn off the map.

Of course this don't want is redundant if the game is set in a real location, with a real maze, such as Hampton Court.

Sliding Tile Puzzles or Sliders
These teasers are another passion of mine that is unfortunately not shared by many others. Many players don't like Sliding Tile Puzzles, they aren't good at them and they haven't got the patience or the inclination to persist. So the only sensation these players get when they face such a puzzle is sheer frustration.

Once more these puzzles are seen only as 'fillers' and they are never a selling point for any game, trust me! J

Music Puzzles
Now I'm on familiar ground. Music puzzles are not only one of my pet 'hates' in an adventure game, but here I know I'm definitely not alone.

Although closely related to the above two in that Music Puzzles can also be identified as 'fillers', they are more annoying than this because success in solving them is dependent upon a physical attribute or a personal ability over which players have no control ... the ability to recognise tones. So not only do Music Puzzles simply frustrate lots of players but for the tone deaf they are near impossible to solve unless by a very, very slow process of elimination.

So as not to alienate a whole segment of adventure game players it is good sense for game designers to find some way to present Music Puzzles so that they are solvable by everyone including the tone deaf. By this I mean building in other clues so that the keys of a musical instrument can be matched up with the relevant notes.

Indeed, providing alternative clues is a very good idea for all aural puzzles, then deaf and hard of hearing people can also join in our hobby. And, of course, to be as fair and as inclusive as possible, subtitles are also a must. For more on this subject see What! No Text?

These first three don't wants can be grouped together as they are all abstract or stand alone puzzles and need not be in context or integrated into the gameworld. In adventure games these sorts of puzzles should be used sparingly and preferably dressed up in something different to make them more interesting and less visible, but I wouldn't want to guarantee that adventurers would be fooled.

These puzzles are identified as 'fillers' because they are seen to be an easy way out for developers who can't think of a good in-context problem or puzzle. For many players they are simply a way of extending playing time without extending the fun!

Timed Puzzles and Sequences
These puzzles are a very high up on the don't want list. Timing or timed elements can be long (a whole game must be completed within a particular time frame), medium (various sections of a game are timed), or short (single actions or a couple of actions must be completed in double quick time to avoid death). Although some players have tolerance for the latter (short) timed puzzles, many adventurers don't want timed puzzles of any sort.

Why timed sequences in adventure games? They are probably included with a view to increasing the pace of a game and injecting some adrenalin into the cool, calm and collected adventurer. This trick might work for some players but for others (like me) timed elements are simply an annoyance and signal that it is time to reach for a walkthrough to avoid endless restoring. Many adventure players vehemently dislike playing under pressure, that's why we play adventure games rather than action games!

Now I'm not necessarily angling for the complete elimination of the clock in adventure games (some poor, unfortunate souls actually like them J) but it should be compulsory for every game that includes timed elements to also include an option to stop the clock. Then everyone is happy!

Arcade Sequences
Arcade sequences rival timed sequences for top of the don't want list. Arcade sequences are based on reflexes and many adventurers don't play reflex games so they don't have needle sharp reflexes. Others just find arcade action to be repetitive and boring and don't want anything to do with it.

On one level arcade sequences can also be seen as 'fillers' because they demand that you replay them over and over, but they are also used as a means to change the pace of a game. I must repeat: adventure game players don't play adventure games to get an adrenalin rush, this kind of frenetic 'puzzle' is not appreciated. If we wanted arcade action then we would play an arcade game!

Now, along with many other adventurers, I don't support arcade action in adventure games but if it absolutely MUST be included then there should be a way for adventurers to skip or bypass the action. Now I say this with great reservation because it is essentially condoning arcade action in adventure games and I can't imagine arcade action players being so forgiving and tolerating an adventuring puzzle in the midst of their games! Anyway, why should we be short changed and miss out on a genuine puzzle? Surely an arcade sequence in an adventure game is included at the expense of a, possibly, good adventuring problem. Why put arcade elements in an adventure game ... adventures don't need them!

Thank you for listening J As I said earlier this is written with all the very best of intentions. I should also point out that the new crop of adventure game developers are not the only ones to make some of the above mistakes and serve up puzzles to adventure game players that are not appreciated. It has been a constant problem over the years and we should be constantly complaining! Surely if adventure games are more appealing to more adventure game players then they will be more successful. And that's what we all want!

Copyright © Rosemary Young 2001. All rights reserved.