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The Charm of Old School Adventures

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The Charm of Old School Adventures

Postby Tyson » Thu Jan 19, 2012 3:29 pm

Lately, I've been playing old school adventure games, both graphic- and text-based. These old school adventures share a certain charm that modern interactive fiction tries to distance itself from.

Without getting too theoretical, I think it's clear that the simplistic, gamey aspects of classic text adventures have given way to the complex, story-based medium of modern interactive fiction. At the former extreme, you have Scott Adams games, where you are given no direction and have to figure out unfair, off-the-wall puzzles. At the latter extreme, you have games like Photopia, where the story is completely on rails and there are no real puzzles to solve.

My position is that modern IF should build on old game design rather than completely do away with it. That said, it's important to distinguish between the good and bad aspects of classic adventures.

The Good

Length - Old games had length, so when you completed an old game, you truly felt accomplished. You also had an opportunity to become immersed in the world. Not too much immersion can happen in a two hour IFComp game.

Freedom - You had a lot of freedom in old adventures. Perhaps too much freedom. In any case, interacting in the world felt less script-driven, despite the strategically placed puzzles and inevitable locked doors.

Straightforward Puzzles - Old school puzzles are usually variations on the lock and key puzzle. Sometimes the key items could get really crazy; sometimes you had to "use cat to open door" or something equally absurd, but many of them were sensible and intuitive.

The Bad

Mazes - I don't think there are any redeeming features of mazes. They are artificially inserted into games (how many times do you find a maze in real life?) and serve mostly to frustrate the player. Unless you rethink the maze in some amazing new way, I think games are best without them.

MacGyver Puzzles - These puzzles assume that the player is infinitely resourceful, able to make a loaded gun out of tree branches and bubble gum. This is lazy game design prompted by the ease of creating lock and key puzzles.

Zero Story - The stories weren't there, and when they were there, they were rather weak. I don't expect War and Peace, but I need a bit more than the plot of Tetris.

I'd like to hear what other people think. What is worth preserving from the early days of IF? And what is worth leaving behind?
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Re: The Charm of Old School Adventures

Postby David Whyld » Thu Jan 19, 2012 7:13 pm

I definitely agree with the point that old style IF games have a charm that the current ones don't. But I think it’s worth mentioning that the majority of IF games these days aren't really games as such, they're works of art dressed up as games. A game implies solving puzzles and exploration and the like, not the story simply progressing to a conclusion irrespective of what you, the player, do. But then modern IF seems to be written more for adults - who might be more interested in works of art as opposed to games - whereas the majority of the older IF was written purely for teenagers. By which I don't mean “adult” IF as such, but modern IF seems to be aimed at an older audience than the quests-for-gold/treasure-map/killing-goblins type of games I played back in the 80’s.

I remember the then-editor of SPAG commenting a few years back how disappointing it was that Lost Pig – a game about a semi-literate orc trying to find a pig – won the IFComp instead of a more meaningful work, which had me rolling my eyes and wondering just when the IF community became so damn stuffy and boring. What's wrong with a fun game winning something? Shouldn't games be judged on which one is best, and not on which covers the most meaningful subject matter?

Would Photopia have fared well in the commercial age? I doubt it. Some might have appreciated its message, but most people would finish it in an hour and head to the shops to demand their money back. For me personally, I dislike the idea that all IF games should be finishable in a very short period of time (unless they're written for a speed comp or something similar) and find it disappointing that the biggest IF comp around is one aimed at short games. Admittedly, playing through 30+ short games during the judging period is a struggle; playing through 30+ long games would be impossible, but it doesn't stop me wishing longer games were the norm. Longer games overall get far less coverage, which is a shame because it’s longer games that I think people should be encouraged to write instead of shorter ones. If commercial IF ever makes a comeback, which do you think people would sooner pay (for example) £10 for: a game which lasts them an hour or a game which lasts them a month?

If I start a game and I've finished it 15 minutes later, that seems like a whole lot of effort on the part of the author for something that lasted me such a short period of time. I might go back to the game and replay it if there's an alternative path through it, but most likely I won’t. Even if I do, I'm still only going to spend a small amount of time with it. 15 minutes? Not a whole lot of time to spend on a game the author probably spent months writing. But then maybe I'm still nostalgic for the games I played as a teenager when the very idea of finishing a game in less than a week was unheard of. Back then, you paid money for a game and you wanted your money’s worth. Finishing a game the same day you bought it was a very poor investment.

Saying that, it wasn't all wonderful back then. Even though the rosy glow of nostalgia, I can remember thinking mazes were a terrible idea. Once I figured out how to make my way through them via dropping an item in every location or just randomly bashing the keys for ten minutes or so, they were a doddle. A frustrating doddle, but still a doddle. More frustrating perhaps because of game designers being obsessed with the idea of making a better and more intricate maze, instead of simply scrapping them as a bad idea the way they should have done. So mazes are one thing from old IF games that I'm glad have (mainly) died out.

Story? Well, some old games had plenty of it. Admittedly when you were limited by the constraints of the operating system, you couldn't have screen after screen of background information about every location, or detailed descriptions of every item and NPC in the game, but I remember being impressed with how much story was crammed into games like The Hobbit, Axe of Kolt, The Big Sleaze and the like. Plenty of games back then came with packaging that contained extra details about the game world which you certainly don't get with modern games.

What I most miss about old games, though, was the sense of fun you had playing them. There was a feeling that pretty much anything could happen. You seldom seem to get that these days. I also remember playing IF games with friends from school and debating puzzles and the best way to solve them. These days, I have none of that. None of my friends or work colleagues had even heard of IF before I mentioned it to them and no one has ever shown the slightest interest in playing or writing a game. Here on the ADRIFT forum, we have multiple threads about game design, and questions about how to use ADRIFT and get the best results from it, but there's precious little discussion about the one thing we're all here for: the games.
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Re: The Charm of Old School Adventures

Postby Dejaduo » Sun Jan 22, 2012 5:40 am

Charm, eh? Like, the "charm" of getting a flaky game to run on an interpreter or emulator then discovering a crucial feature like "save" doesn't work? Or the "charm" of the two-word parser? Or perhaps you speak of the "charm" of tracking down a hard-to-find game, only to find it in some weird Apple II disk image and trying to figure out how to mount it on your PC? Or maybe you mean real old-school, when magazines would print out the source code to a game, expecting the readers to manually type it in because there was no such thing as the internet? Charming.
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Re: The Charm of Old School Adventures

Postby David Whyld » Sun Jan 22, 2012 9:00 am

Way to totally derail an otherwise interesting topic with pointless complaints. Charming.

Moaning about old IF games having a two word parser is akin to moaning that all black and white films are dire because they're not in colour.
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Re: The Charm of Old School Adventures

Postby KFAdrift » Sun Jan 22, 2012 9:13 am

Personally I did like the much simpler game play and find the expectation that a whole world is there to explore ridiculous. Old school tended to mean the player knew that the parser would be limited and could therefore solve the puzzles without too much guess work. Now people tend to expect that they will "Put the thingy in the wotsit and stir it with the hujamaflip" if the parser breaks its a disaster, which is why the actually gameplay isn't actually fun.
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Re: The Charm of Old School Adventures

Postby P/o Prune » Sun Jan 22, 2012 9:49 am

That's so true KF. :bravo:
Back then we didn't expect all the trimmings on the games. Another thing is that I think that people today are more impatient than we were back then. Maybe because, as pointed out somewhere else, that today the games are free. If you get stuck, you give up and move along to the next game.
It's a Catch 22.
People are not playing games through because they are free, but you can't sell your games because there are so many free games out there.
David is right. You paid good money for a game back then, and you wanted your moneys worth.

Maybe the whole concept of IF has been degraded now that everybody and their brother can spit out a game in no-time.
I remember fondly the old days when you sat with your friends and solved the puzzles. Yes sometimes the two word parser could make you pull your hair, and although you could write one of the computer mags. and ask for help it still meant that you had to wait until the next issue for the answer.
I remember that I was on my way to work one day when I suddenly came up with a solution to the game "Mountains of Ket" It was the longest day at work, ever! All I could think about was getting back home and try out if my solution was correct (It was, by the way)
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Re: The Charm of Old School Adventures

Postby David Whyld » Sun Jan 22, 2012 5:22 pm

I think it's also worth mentioning that bashing old IF games for the traditional two word parser is wrong anyway. Some old games had very advanced parsers. Play The Hobbit sometime and amuse yourself by ordering around NPCs, having them carry items for you, fight battles for you, even interact with other NPCs for you. Half the game can be played without taking any direct action yourself but simply ordering other people to do it for you. Now play a modern game and find one where a complex command like "say to thorin 'take the sword off gandalf then go west then go north and drop the sword'" are understood.
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Re: The Charm of Old School Adventures

Postby DazaKiwi » Mon Jan 23, 2012 6:44 am

David Whyld wrote:I definitely agree with the point that old style IF games have a charm that the current ones don't. But I think it’s worth mentioning that the majority of IF games these days aren't really games as such, they're works of art dressed up as games. A game implies solving puzzles and exploration and the like, not the story simply progressing to a conclusion irrespective of what you, the player, do. But then modern IF seems to be written more for adults - who might be more interested in works of art as opposed to games - whereas the majority of the older IF was written purely for teenagers. By which I don't mean “adult” IF as such, but modern IF seems to be aimed at an older audience than the quests-for-gold/treasure-map/killing-goblins type of games I played back in the 80’s.


This is an interesting comment. So do you mean games that aren't really games but a linear story that has some player interaction but pretty much has the player on rails from start to finish? So its more of a fun game if its sort of like a sandbox game or a rpg game where quests can be completed in any order and the player can go off and explore some of the game world?

I think there are different genres that would work as far as exploration and looting/treasure hunting as it were etc. But about a game where you play a detective and have to solve a murder or two? if you add exploration into that, such as expand the locations beyond the important ones, say in a city. Wouldn't that cause the player to think those extra locations holds clues to the case(s)? and add confusion when nothing of interest is found. Since the player and game is goal orientated on the case.

If you are making an Indiana Jones type of game then there would be expectations of exploration and puzzles etc.

Is a novel a work of art or is it story telling? IF can be a game and story telling at the same time. I guess some focus on one more than the other. People have different tastes in novels they read and films they watch from other people. So i guess same can be said to what type of IF games they would want to play and create.

But i have been thinking about how far to go in making a game have outer edges that the player can explore, to make the world larger in the game and giving the player a sense of freedom. In the case of a detective game how can one do that without misleading players? it would like reading chapters in a book about other characters and places in the story world that have no actual part or purpose in the main story itself.

So in a detective mystery type of game, maybe the exploration is in interacting with npc (since its character driven) and looking for clues around locations pertaining to the story.
Yet i wouldn't want a on rails feel of the story, so if the player chooses what locations they go to and its well written would players care not if they can't wonder beyond the locations or set pieces in the story?

There is another form of Interactive fiction that recently landed on the scene called "Choices" which is more in kin with CYOA, but if well written can be fun to read and make crucial decisions in the course of the story. Some of them i recommend trying is Choice of the Dragon, Choice of Broadsides and Choice of the Vampire. For those interested you can check them out here
http://www.choiceofgames.com/category/our-games/
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Re: The Charm of Old School Adventures

Postby ralphmerridew » Mon Jan 23, 2012 6:23 pm

David Whyld wrote:I think it's also worth mentioning that bashing old IF games for the traditional two word parser is wrong anyway. Some old games had very advanced parsers. Play The Hobbit sometime and amuse yourself by ordering around NPCs, having them carry items for you, fight battles for you, even interact with other NPCs for you. Half the game can be played without taking any direct action yourself but simply ordering other people to do it for you. Now play a modern game and find one where a complex command like "say to thorin 'take the sword off gandalf then go west then go north and drop the sword'" are understood.


I was curious what it would take to do this in I7:

adrift Code: Select all
The Sorting Room is a room.
 
Thorin is a man in sorting room.
Gandalf is a man in sorting room.
A sword is in sorting room.
 
Dull room is west of sorting room.
Cool Room is north of dull room.
 
[ so the player can order a character around after he leaves the room ]
last order target is a person that varies.  last order target is yourself.
 
After deciding the scope of the player:
        place last order target in scope;
       
Before asking someone (called the servant) to try doing something:
        now last order target is the servant.
       
Before reading a command:
        now last order target is yourself.
[ end code to allow ordering a character after he leaves ]
 
a persuasion rule for asking someone to try doing something: persuasion succeeds.
 
The can't take people's possessions rule is not listed in any rulebook.
The can't remove from people rule is not listed in any rulebook.
 


adrift Code: Select all
>gandalf, get the sword
Gandalf picks up the sword.
 
>thorin, take the sword off gandalf then go west then go north then drop the sword
Thorin picks up the sword.
 
Thorin goes west.
 
Thorin arrives at Cool Room from the south.
 
Thorin puts down the sword.
 
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Re: The Charm of Old School Adventures

Postby ElliotM » Mon Jan 23, 2012 7:00 pm

That's pretty cool, but is all of that npc activity completed in a single turn?
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Re: The Charm of Old School Adventures

Postby ralphmerridew » Mon Jan 23, 2012 7:21 pm

No, Thorin's actions take a total of four turns.

Moonmist had similarly obedient PCs. (Their absence in more modern IF is probably due to the increasing preference for "smaller, but better detailed" over "large and sparse", rather than difficulty in implementation.)
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