Size Five Games



SIZE FIVE is a BAFTA-winning indie video game developer.

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My email address is dan@sizefivegames.com

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HELLO TIM SCHAFER!

Mar 142012


Hello Tim Schafer! Hi! You don’t know me, we’ve never met. I saw you once at the Develop Conference in Brighton, but you wouldn’t have recognised me because I immediately ran in the opposite direction, giggling.

Hello! So, now the Kickstarter’s over, I just thought it’d be nice to chip in my two cents about point and clicks. I really hope this doesn’t come across as anything other than idle meandering advice; obviously I’d never deign to lecture you of all people on making adventures, but, as you’re presumably aware: it’s the future now.

Hark! at all the flying cars and robots. Things sure have changed since Day of the Tentacle and Full Throttle and whatever that one with the pirates was.

As someone who has made two well-received, top-selling, award-winning old-school, LucasArts-esque point and clicks in the last 5 years or so, I thought it might be nice to impart what I learned from the experience, and what I garnered from the feedback I’ve received. HERE’S FACTS:

People these days have a very low tolerance for tough puzzles. When I was stuck in Day of the Tentacle, you know what I did? I fucking well sat there and damn well worked it out. What was the alternative? Calling George Lucas’ hints line in America for twenty minutes? No chance. Click everything until something different happens, or pixel hunt every screen by sweeping the mouse back-and-forth. That’s what we had to do, and it put hair on my chest. Nerd hair, admittedly, but it still totally counts.

Now, obviously the core of point-and-click adventures is the puzzles, and a good hard puzzle is satisfying. Personally, I wouldn’t change a thing. But I’ve learned that signposting is extremely helpful – back in the day, “memory requirements” meant you had to fall back on “I can’t do that!” or “That’s not going to work” as the stock response for the majority of duff clicks. These days, you’re pretty much free of that limitation. So nudges in the right direction when the player’s practically right are much appreciated.

It boils down to this: just be aware that the joys of The Internet meant lots of people play point and clicks in one window, with a walkthrough open in another, because the ease of it has turned them into big cheaty cheats.

I reckon if anyone was using [clever technology] to track when people stop playing point-and-clicks, it’d turn out they all save and switch off with the introduction of a huge, sweeping area to explore. Suddenly loads of new people to talk to, new puzzles to identify… eugh. It’s probably also where people never bother coming back to the game. It’s daunting! Smaller, tighter, densely-packed areas with minimal to-ing and fro-ing are where it’s at. People loved the quick travel map in Time Gentlemen, Please! Walking around is for idiots.

Finally, and possibly most-importantly: the role of the auteur in adventures is key. When I was playing Full Throttle, there was a personal relationship between you and I. You, at the time, were presumably not aware of this. I knew that solving puzzles wasn’t necessarily about logic, or doing the right thing, it was about what walls you as a designer had chosen to put up. Your brain, your rules.

That’s what makes those games so special, and I’m aware it’s what people like about the Dan and Ben games – they’re clearly about us, and written by us. Whatever stupid logic exists is our stupid logic, and people who play the games often email me like we’re old friends, because they know who I am though the game. It’s what made DoTT so great, and it’s why you’ve found such support through Kickstarter, and I reckon it’s vitally important Double Fine Adventure is largely your game, with your big lovely mucky fingerprints all over it.

Can’t wait.

Love,

Dan

13 Comments

  1. Mar 142012
    gnome,

    Well said, well said. Now seal it with a kiss!

  2. Mar 142012
    SurplusGamer,

    Deep breath.

    Okay, a few things!

    1) I actually did use those hint lines a couple of times. Strange to think of it now, but true. I had a walkthrough book for Secret of Monkey Island. Monkey Island 2’s solution was serialised in some magazine. DOTT came with a hint book. In fact, come to think of it, it was only later, when I could have found the answer on the Internet easily, that I had grown enough to at least want to try to figure things out for myself. I think a lot of people are how you say, but a lot of people are like me, too! And I think the people that funded the project are more likely than average to be like me.

    2) I agree with you about open spaces as far as it goes. I think you’re right, I myself stop playing games when presented with a big new space. I’m daunted, too. But I don’t stop playing because I’m put off. I stop playing because I know it’ll take me a while to delve into the next bit, and I want to resume at a point where I can go in fresh and fully engaged. I actually love exploring those big spaces, the ones like Rubacava in Grim Fandango or the 3 islands of Monkey Island 2 that really give a sense of scale to things, even if my first reaction is ‘I’ll come back to this, later.’

    No arguments with your last point, though!

  3. Mar 142012
    dan,

    @surplusgamer – oh, yeah. I meant to stick a caveat in, somewhere. I’m not saying ALL people, obviously. Different people do things different ways, and there’ll be huge variety even among the kickstarter backers and eventual customers.

    This is all just general trends I picked up from the two Dan and Ben games. I got a TON of feedback, this is that distilled.

    I left some of the lesser, more-obvious points off.

  4. Mar 142012
    SurplusGamer,

    Oh, I didn’t mean to imply you were making a blanket statement. My main point (which I didn’t put very well, re-reading it) is that the audience of backers that he’s catering for here are probably an audience that would respond better than average towards being stuck on tricky puzzles. And, in general, are probably more tolerant of things that gamers in the big wide world like to grumble about.

    But anyway, I think that as long as he keeps his promise, that is to say the balance between not being apologetic about being an adventure game, and trying new things like they always used to want to do in the ‘old days,’ we’ll be good.

  5. Mar 142012
    SurplusGamer,

    In fact, I’m doing horribly, here. That last one made it sound like Tim could ‘get away’ with some poor design because of his backer audience. Let’s try again.

    What I meant to say was that the things that a lot of gamers in general don’t like (being stuck for a while, having dauntingly big spaces to explore) are the same things a lot of gamers who backed the project LOVE. So there’s a bit of a tension there.

    I think I make sense now. *slinks off into the night.*

  6. Mar 142012
    Ryan Williams,

    Yeah, I’m all for big, open spaces myself. I think the key is to manage unveiling it smartly and not just say “Here’s a gigantic area, have fun”. Direct the player so they have something specific to do there rather than just meander around until something makes sense.

    Some of my best adventure game memories are walking into the Rubacava nightlife, browsing Puerto Pollo for the first time, and coming to the shores of Blood Island. These would have been so less cool if, say, I was limited to the Calavera Cafe for a long while before being linearly moved on from scene to scene.

    While I might turn off my game at that moment, as Surplus said it’s because I want to fully immerse myself in this awesome new environment the next time I play. There’s a real sense of exploration to these kind of environments that I feel is lost in what I’m going to perhaps insultingly dub ‘corridor adventures’.

  7. Mar 152012
    brkl,

    I contributed to the kickstarter and I definitely agree with point #1, except I think the reason is not difficulty as such.

    It’s that the old adventures, often even the best ones, suffered from bad design in this regard. There’s often minimal feedback on player action unless you find the solution. That’s why the practical solution to many puzzles ended up being try every item on everything on the screen. Expecting anyone to solve problems with nearly zero feedback is not really respectful of the time and effort people contribute to playing these games.

    With adequate feedback mechanisms, you can actually make the puzzles harder, but solving them possible!

    (See Myst and its ilk. I mean the good ones. Although I’m a dummy and so I still need walkthroughs, but I feel like it’s my failure and not the game’s if the puzzle is well designed.)

  8. Mar 152012
    Danaroth,

    I personally partially disagree with the first 2 points; the puzzles shouldn’t be dumbed down by giving random hints, they simply shouldn’t allow any combination that the player would deem as a reasonable alternate solution.

    The best feature about games like DOTT and MI2 is that your target was always crystal clear and no solution that requires doing something that is completely irrelevant with what you need to do. EG, if I need the car’s keys in DOTT there is only one place where they can reasonably be.

    In indie games, the situation is different, since you don’t have a huge team of testers that can pinpoint to you that a particular wrong combination is still reasonable, so giving nudges works ok. Eg, I really hated the lampost puzzle in TGP from a pure puzzle-design side, yet I never got frustrated at it since it kept mocking you. But from a bigger scope project I do expect more work in avoiding similar situations and I don’t want any unrequested hint.

    I may agree in introducing areas in small batches, but I do like my world to be big and vibrant once you put every piece together; once again you’ll need a big session of testing to assure that your targets are clear and the solution is logical and unique.

    Modernity in a project like this one should be in other features, like an user friendly interface, fast teleports and artistic vibe.

    Completely agree on the third point anyway, it’s extremely enjoyable when you try to hack in the developers’ mind in those games.

  9. Mar 152012
    dan,

    Again, just to reiterate: though everyone’s personal opinion is perfectly valid, and you’re welcome to agree/ disagree, the point of this post was more that this is what I’ve gathered and distilled from countless emails, forum posts, conversations etc in the years since BTDT/ TGP came out. It’s not “what I think” per se.

    They’re a mass ‘sense’, more than anything, distilled from the oozing brains of adventure game fans.

  10. Mar 152012
    Danaroth,

    That’s because who plays an adventure game is usually way more likely to remember an hard puzzle instead of an easy one, so it’s just natural that any discussion as a feedback is centered on it.

    When I have replayed the first Monkey Island much years later I thought I remembered all the puzzles pretty nicely and weirdily enough I got stuck on a couple of extremely straightforward. No one actually notices those in such a way to request them to be harder, apart some strictly particular cases of stuff like paper under the door+poking in the keyhole.

    If you make the experience linear and immediate, the game will end up to be particularly forgettable and in that case you’ll get much less feedback, but you haven’t necessarily done a better job.

  11. Mar 172012
    Musicalgibbon,

    The interesting thing about point 1 is not just that responses can be a nudge towards the actual solution, but content in and of themselves.

    Point and clicks aren’t just all about the puzzles, though it is easy to think of them as such. They’re as much about the tone, humour, characters and dialogue. I felt as much satisfaction from making a wrong attempt to solve a puzzle if I was rewarded with a humourous burst of dialogue, than I did when acutally getting it right. In short (and this point applies to more types of games too) make failure rewarding content in and of itself.

  12. Mar 182012
    Daffyd,

    Heh, it’s funny because I replayed both Ben and Dan games (Ben and Dan? Dan and Ben? Den and Ban?) mainly “because” I was getting myself into the screwy logic mindset in preparation for the upcoming Double-fine game (which I backed.)

    Screwy logic is fine. Screwy logic makes a game fun and increases the chance of a replay. But sometimes you need a hard puzzle or two to give the player a sense of achievement (and not a false “achievement” you get in modern warfare games by dicking around in a harrier jet.)

    I’d have to agree with you though, the rapid travel map was a stroke of inspiration. Walking is for idiots, indeed.

  13. Mar 192012
    SurplusGamer,

    Dan’s comments noted, I wonder whether an alternate hypothesis for why people stop playing when they reach a new area is not always because it’s big and daunting. It might simply be that if they arrive at a big new area that must mean they just finished with an old area. So it’s a natural break point in the narrative, or ‘a good place to stop for the night.’

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