Games – The SCUMM of the Universe

Recently, I discovered Steam had both “The Curse of Monkey Island” and “The Dig”, two games I’d forgotten I wanted to play so badly back in the ’90s, when my mom got me a LucasArts multipack featuring three of their adventure games. Now, thanks to Valve, I got to download them, play them…and realize why point-and-click adventure games died off in the first place.

To be fair, “Monkey Island” remains pretty wackily funny, and “The Dig” is a genuinely compelling science fiction story, with dialogue written by a pre-crazy-and-egotistical Orson Scott Card. The story is really what drives these games…

…Which is really, as much as it kills me to admit this, kind of the problem. Part of the reason adventure gaming died off in the first place was the problem of running around with a massive inventory, and when you got stuck, using everything in the inventory against whatever hot spot was highlighted. It was puzzle solving not by using your brain, but rather by brute force, and the “wacky” games were by far the worst offenders. People kept playing because they wanted to laugh or find out what happens next (I beat “The Dig” in a day because of a massive marathon session).

“Monkey Island”, as funny as it is, is a great example. Very, very often in the game you’ll find yourself completely stuck, usually because you have to run back and forth between various locations to do ONE task and then return. It’s boring and the only reason you don’t quit the game is you want to know what happens next. But it’s irritating, and often you’ll find yourself checking the guide only to find you’ve essentially solved the puzzle, you’re just not clicking on the right hotspot. Or even worse, that the puzzle either is completely illogical for the sake of a bad pun, or it’s totally logical and there’s no way, outside the hint system, that you’re ever going to know there’s even a puzzle for you to solve in the first place. I like puns, but I also like brain-teasers I have a chance of solving.

In other words, the game story is a blast, but the gameplay itself is terrible. “The Dig” is less frustrating for any number of reasons, the most obvious being six years of experience building these games taught the designers a few lessons about how to design these games to keep the flow going, but it’s still got its share of “Wait, what the hell?” moments. It’s also got a certain charm; like many adventure games, you’re lost in an alien world with no aliens around to help you, so you have to figure out their technology for yourself. Anybody who’s played “Myst” remembers how fun/frustrating THAT can be.

This isn’t to say I don’t think the point-and-click adventure game is a dead genre, or deserves to be. I’ll probably download “Loom” and the early Indy adventure games in the near future simply because I love games that ask you to explore. My point is simply that a lot less work went into the puzzle design than into the story. Solving a puzzle really shouldn’t be trial and error.

I want more point-and-click adventure games. I just want them to be a LOT more intuitive.


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4 Responses to “Games – The SCUMM of the Universe”

  1. Joke Smasher Says:

    I really loved this amazing article. Please continue this great work. Best Regards!!!!

  2. Dylan Martin Says:

    Interesting thoughts on both games. I just finished Secret of Monkey Island, and I’m now going through The Dig, both of them for the first time.

    I was equally annoyed at the difficult of Monkey Island. There were many times when I had to resort to a walkthrough, only to find out that it was something I would have never figured out. The game throws a few red herrings at you (quite literally once, HA!), and it really confused me, one of them being the stapler remover. I tried using it logically on many things throughout the game, but nothing ever worked! There were just too many times where I really had no idea what to do. It made me feel inept. When I completed the game, it felt more bitter than sweet.

    So far, I’ve had a better time playing through The Dig. One thing the Dig does better than Secret of Monkey Island is consolidate all actions into one key or mouseclick (instead of having to hit ‘o’ and click on a door to open it or ‘p’ to pick up an item). One of my major problems with Monkey Island was that I forgot about some important action keys at key moments (I was playing the Special Edition version, so there was no interface except when you pull up the Verbs bar with ‘v’). I like being able to use one button to do multiple actions; it feels a lot more intuitive than having to constantly remember certain keys for certain actions.

    I still have some frustrations with The Dig. There are some points in the game when I know the solution to the puzzle, but the game won’t let me solve it using ‘my way.’ The turtle alien skeleton puzzle frustrated me because I saw the close-up of the other fossil, but couldn’t tell exactly which bones went where. If the resolution was better, I might have finished it sooner.

    Right now I’m trying to trap one of those critters, but I don’t know how or where to get bait. I just keep clicking different items together with different spots and NOTHING IS HAPPENING!!! ARGHHHH!!!

    I don’t know why I continue to torture myself with these games, but I plan on attacking more point and click adventures after this one.


    • seitzeeing Says:

      If you haven’t already, check out “Loom”. You’ll want to keep a notepad handy to remember the spells, and be sure to double-click EVERYTHING. But it’ll be much less frustrating: by limiting your actions it makes the game pretty easy, and the puzzles are intuitive.

      • Dylan Martin Says:

        Oh I will. I have the LucasArts Adventure Pack, so it’s in my queue of games to play.

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