Decisions on Immersiveness

No game genre is more inherently problematic than adventure games.

I’m making an adventure game. It’s story-driven. It pretends to be about characters and dialogue, but you progress through the story by trying to figure out how to steal your wrench back from the robotic monkey that’s loose in your room. (That’s not a real puzzle in my game — though maybe it should be.)

I’ve yet to encounter a game that meaningfully resolves the tension between contrived puzzles and real story. Everyone remembers Grim Fandango as having a great story. But did you know the design doc for that game lists eighty puzzles?

Are puzzles in adventure games actually fun? Not for me, not really. I remember stories, lines, characters, scenes, etc. For me the momentary pleasure of getting through a puzzle is actually a feeling of relief.

So I ask myself, how do I make my game immersive, so that the puzzles are a way to explore the game world? I’ve grappled with a few specific decisions so far.

Text input, or point and click? This is probably the toughest one. I mean, it’s 2015. What am I doing making a game where you type in commands like “look at monkey”? But something in my gut, possibly something very stupid, says it feels more like organic exploration to be making up the commands yourself, even if they’re equivalent to clicking on things.

Should puzzles even be difficult? None of the puzzles I’ve sketched out so far are even difficult. Talk to this person, and then you have permission to take that item. Sudoku it isn’t. But I don’t care about brain teasers. I think I’m resigned to the sheer pretense of my adventure game and saying “Here’s your story, just enjoy it for what it is.”

How do you tell a story through the puzzles? I want the puzzles to be a little bit more than distractions or interludes between doled-out bits of story. So I’m trying to integrate the “puzzles” with the lives of the characters. For example, a time travel puzzle in the demo is tied intimately to a secret tryst among crew members. If you’re going to do a puzzle, I figure, let it at least tell a story.

In my effort to make my game’s puzzles a little more meaningful, I’m probably bound to fail. But oh well. I’m just trying to see if I can pull off something a little different.

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