Saturday, April 4, 2009

Nostalgia Game Design: Point and Click Adventures

I went to a conference this past weekend for Michigan Women in Computing (MICWIC). And while I was the only sort of game related person there, I had great fun discussing games with some peers and many older women. (And I gave a presentation on gender and gaming).
One of the games that came up in our discussion was "Zork" which I have only read about. (If you think about that it's kind of a pun.) It was a text-based adventure game where you would type "Go North" and a new description of a dungeon room showed up. It was kind of like navigating a maze through text. Kind of like a choose your own adventure. So I'm going to reflect a bit about what these text-based adventures evolved into and what has become of them today.

Literacy Required to Play
Last blog I spoke a bit about MUDs which were online text-based worlds similar to the game Zork. Except there was no game...just socializing and roleplaying. A text-base game is good at a few things.
1) A sort of introduction to coding. Creating your own text based adventure is pretty simple! My father claims they used to do that on computers...which in his day were made of rocks.
2) A rich ground for narrative that the reader felt a part of.
3) The limitless power of the greatest "graphic engine" human imagination.

Really, I think it's good practice to think about a text based game. And if you are willing to learn a simple coding language, to make one! (After all, a good game is a good game regardless.) Consider it one of the simplest forms of digital gaming and a great art form for a writer.
Some times I feel that gamers get too wrapped up in graphics (or game creators). Which is sad coming from someone who considers themself an artist.

Much like my comparison of MUDs to MMOGs, text-based games have the same benefits and pitfalls. The game will require lots of reading and if you don't read you lose the full experience.

Remember that text-base games were not just about navigation or fighting monsters, but solving unseen puzzles and riddles. Definitely a game that engages the mind!

Text-Base...in Technicolor?
What came next? When text and coding were put into the background or in Word Bubbles we got, The Point and Click Adventure Games. Again these were games with a story to tell but had more visual appeal. Sort of like reading a comic as opposed to a book.
Usually done on a static 2D background with maybe some character animations, these were games where you move your charcter within a scene by clicking on "hotspots" on the screen.
Lots of times you would solve puzzles by collecting items or playing a mini-game (similar to the text based game).

I've only played a few of these. They were very popular in the early 90s. One that I recently downloaded was based on Terry Pratchett's Discworld. Being a fan of the books the game was...incredibly hard even for a fan who might get the "inside logic" of the Discworld. Anyway, there were 2 Discworld games. The first one used pixelized graphics which is what most of the adventure games I remember had. The second one (which apparently was on the PS1) use CEL ANIMATION and VOICE ACTING! :O I haven't heard the voice acting because I played the MS-DOS version. Yeah, so Point and Click adventures could get very artistic.

Most Point and Clicks that I remember were "edutainment" games, such as Eagle Eye Mysteries (that taught logic). And some "fluff" games like Scooter's Magic castle where all you did was interact with the castle's rooms and match colors. (For preschool it was probably educational).

There were some graphical translations of text-base games in the early Ultima Series. You would have all the same commands like "Go North" that you would have to type but you got some graphics along with it. Nice!

Point and Click Today?
You might think that consoles like the Nintendo DS with the "touch screen" or iPhone that there would still be some point and click adventures. And you know what...there ARE a few on THAT system. Just like before you point and "tap" to move to different rooms and interact with hotspots, collect items, solve puzzles and talk to people. "Hotel Dusk" is a good example. They call this genre "interactive novels" and they're not as popular in the U.S.A. Which is a shame because I really think that the "literary games" are a very rich experience. It's like playing a book. There's a predetermined ending, just like a book, but you play despite the ending. Because you're not going through the same challenging frustrations as a 3D shooter game or platformer. Where your skill in hand-eye coordination needs some sort of reward. The reward in an adventure game is getting to the end of the story. And if the story was good, you can replay it! It's like a book! Or rather it's like a COMIC and that's awesome.

Some final thoughts, if you're stuck in a rut and trying to figure out "how can I make a game if I don't have art?" or "I'm not very good at programming". A text-based game may be a way to get some game making/designing experience! If you're not good at writing than well...that's a very important skill and you will do well to learn it.

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