Posts Tagged ‘SCUMM’

Games – The SCUMM of the Universe

October 27, 2009

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.