Difficulty Level for Point and Click Style Adventure Game

Discussion in 'Game Mechanics Design' started by turbobumblepuppy, Aug 25, 2019.

  1. turbobumblepuppy

    turbobumblepuppy Villager Member

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    Hi folks,

    This is my first general post, so hope it's in the right section and isn't too sprawling or ridiculous. Here goes!

    I've got a few games in development at the moment, but one that's causing a bit of a dilemma is a point and click style adventure game where you have various objects that you have to use to solve puzzles and interact with particular areas in the game to move the story onwards (like most point and click adventures, really). The point (no pun intended) that I'm getting to is, in my experience I find that some of the lateral-thinking puzzles in the classic point and click adventures such as Monkey Island, the Discworld games, Beneath a Steel Sky and so on are a bit too taxing on the old grey matter (for me, anyway) and I would prefer to make things a bit easier in my game. I wondered if anyone else thought that this would be a good idea. I don't know if it's just because I'm a lazy gamer, a bit dim, or that it isn't always completely logical to 'use lamp with orange badger to ignite firework', and so slows down the gaming to the point that I just end up trawling through walkthroughs to get through most of the game, sucking away some of the enjoyment, but it seems to be a sticking point for some, so I thought it was worth discussing to thrash out the dynamic and help to make the game as it should be.

    In my game, should I have it where if you try to action an object or part of the map, the choice appears for you to take the action that is required if you happen to have the relevant object in your inventory (a simple conditional eventing process), or does this potentially make the gameplay too easy? For me, this is a better way if you are a casual gamer and just want to see the story progress, but may be too simple for more hardcore gamers, and incur too much criticism from the 'serious' gaming community and its many detractors who know exactly what constitutes a 'real' game.

    In addition to this, it would also be far easier to event the first way, which would save me a lot of time and headaches... but I don't want to detract from the general enjoyment of the game for most potential players if I put it out on commercial release, so would go the extra mile of including specific item selection (and headache or two) if others thought that it would be worth it.

    I've played through the first 3 Space Pilgrims games which use an item selection system that works well, so would be something that I could try to implement, but I'm not sure that it's completely necessary, really. What are your thoughts?
     
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  2. alice_gristle

    alice_gristle Veteran Veteran

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    As for me, I don't really give a hoot as to what constitutes a "real" game. If it's fun, and I get to manoeuvre a little pixel creature around, it's game enough for me! Also, in my view, story > hardness of puzzles. If you write a great story, and described your game as having easy puzzles, I'd buy it. So as far as I'm concerned, you're good to go. :biggrin:

    Additionally, I know I'm not well-versed in adventure games, but isn't there more to a puzzle than just difficulty? I mean, you can write an easy puzzle which is still a blast to solve, because it might be fun, quirky, unexpected, touching, insane, or, uh, I don't know. Anything, really! How it interacts with the game world, and what the characters do, and all that. Soo... that'd be my two cents!
     
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  3. Wavelength

    Wavelength Pre-Merge Boot Moderator

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    I have read through your post four times, and I'm still not confident I understand what two options you are weighing. One option is that when you click a part of the map, a context-sensitive menu shows you what action(s) you can take with that part of the map, including using specific items from your inventory on that action element, and you can click one of those actions to take the action.

    The other option is... what? Having an inventory system that you need to go into in order to use/manipulate them in any way, and then... you still have to drag that item to the relevant spot on the map, or something?

    Having an example of each method you're weighing - especially from your game, but from an existing PC game would be fine too - would make it much easier for us to give you good advice.

    Offhand, my instinct is that you could go either way, and the "better" option depends not only on your target audience (which you can steer using the aesthetics and themes of your game), but also on the way that most puzzles are solved. If most puzzles in the game are based on finding and using items, you could go either way but the Inventory-based approach would probably be the stronger one. If most puzzles in your game are based on non-item actions and/or abstract (logical/mathematical/visual) puzzles, then the context-sensitive menus would make the experience a lot smoother for the occasional time when the puzzle is item-based and the player might not be expecting that.

    I also want to say something about difficulty and "hardcore" gamers. Difficulty is welcomed (amongst most classic or "hardcore" gamers) when there are skills that the player must strengthen, and ways of becoming better in those skills. It tends to be less welcome when it means are arbitrary and bizarre, and the player spends a lot of time running around like a chicken without a head trying to figure out what they're supposed to do next. Scott Rogers' famous example is the "cat mustache" where to get past a guard, the player needs to impersonate a character, and to do so they must get a disguise - including figuring out they are supposed to obtain a mustache by putting scotch tape on a hole in a fence as a cat walks by. To top things off, the character they're impersonating doesn't even have a mustache! I agree with Rogers when he says "NO CAT MUSTACHES!" A hardcore gamer might tolerate the cat mustache; it doesn't mean they enjoy it. Most players will just look up the answer in an online guide, and that's neither fun nor immersive.

    In that vein, I'd tend to prefer your 'context-sensitive menus' approach as a player and as a designer. But there are valid arguments for going the "inventory selection" route if your game's puzzles mostly require inventory usage. You can even work around the cat-mustache phenomenon by gradually giving the player hints ("No disguise is complete without a mustache, right?"... "I bet we could make it out of something furry"... and finally, "That cat walks by the fence every day; how can we grab some of its fur?") if they seem to be taking a long time and trying a lot of things without making any progress.
     
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  4. Matseb2611

    Matseb2611 Innovate, don't emulate Veteran

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    Having multiple difficulty levels would be nice, I think. You could have 'Casual' or 'Regular' difficulty, where players can use clues if they're stuck, and perhaps a 'Super Casual' mode, where in addition to the clues, some interactable areas would have markers on them too so that players can easily find them. And on the 'Hard' or 'Realistic' mode, there'd be no clues and no markers. You can easily handle this with switches. For Casual/Regular mode and 'Super Casual', you'd flip a switch to enable clues, and for 'Super Casual' you'd also flip another switch to enable markers.
     
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  5. turbobumblepuppy

    turbobumblepuppy Villager Member

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    Thanks for the replies so far. There's plenty to mull over already!

    @Wavelength - Sorry it was a bit of a rambling and semi-coherent post. The 2 possibilities are:

    1. A regular Event on the map, which when actioned causes a Conditional Branch which checks if the item (e.g., Key 3) is in the inventory and then continues to the next stage of the story without the player having to try each individual item (e.g. Key 1 and 2) if it is not clear which item should be used with the thing on the map (e.g. a door with a cryptic clue written on a sign next to it that is meant to indicate that Key 3 should be used, but if the player can't figure out the clue it doesn't matter as long as they have the right key in their inventory).
    2. Probably a Common Event that makes a window appear when the player actions the event on the map that shows all of the items in the inventory and the player must choose the correct item from those in the inventory (in this case, Key 3 from the list of Key 1, 2, 3 and so on, if they have picked them all up), so if they didn't specifically work out that it should be Key 3 from the cryptic clue on the sign next to the door, they couldn't continue with the story until they either tried every item, which is laborious and slows down the pace, or just randomly get it by luck, which is not such a rewarding experience anyway.

    In some adventure games, the fairly arbitrary nature of the puzzles makes them a little frustrating (e.g., why did you make me have to solder a beehive to a lamppost in order that I could jemmy the sealed door open when I already had a crowbar in my inventory, but it wouldn't work because... illogical game logic?!). In some cases, working out that you have to solder a beehive to a lamppost to open a door could be a largely satisfying experience for a player, as you say in your part about 'hardcore' gamers, but it would need an internal logic and intuitive enough reason in the game for doing so, or an NPC to guide the player with a few hints, as MatSeb has suggested (an idea which I like and will ponder over - maybe like the owls in Link's Awakening?). Some of the old point and click adventures were just baffling in how they got to their solutions (the Discworld octopus belt being a notorious example). I don't want to shirk away from designing a game that challenges the player in an enjoyable way, but from personal experience, in some adventure games I simply end up trying every object in my inventory with every object on the map until it works, and that's not an entirely satisfactory way of progressing. I'm playing through Technobabylon at the moment, which really gets the difficulty balance right, so I'll try to analyse how they manage it.
     
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  6. Wavelength

    Wavelength Pre-Merge Boot Moderator

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    In a situation like this, ask yourself "What is at the heart of this puzzle or activity?" What is the engaging activity in the sequence that makes the player feel like she did something meaningful?

    If that activity is getting the key, then there's no reason to make the player select from keys they have. You can allow a simple interaction with the door to open it (if the key is in her inventory). There might not even be a reason to have a cryptic clue on the door, in this case.

    If that engaging activity is choosing the right key based on the riddle, then you're robbing the player of the good part if the key is selected automatically - it pays to make the player choose the key herself.

    I definitely agree that trying every item in your inventory with every object you can find onscreen is neither engaging nor fun. It's a problem that adventure and puzzle games often run into. What I've done with puzzles in my games (though none have been strictly adventure or puzzle games) is to give a limited number of tries (sometimes just one!) before a puzzle is 'failed', allowing the player to progress but with some consequence (such as a branching plot, losing out on a rare item, or getting a lower score).
     
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  7. turbobumblepuppy

    turbobumblepuppy Villager Member

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    That's great advice, thank you! For me personally, the first way would be the most appealing approach, but I can also see how the second way could be appealing to other gamers, so I'll have to try to balance things as comfortably as possible.

    I've found a script that looks like it can do the second of the options I've described, so wouldn't be quite as much of a headache as I expected. Here's the script by Galv: https://galvs-scripts.com/category/rmvxa-scripts/event-utility/#post-532

    I think I'll try to implement the system that MatSeb has suggested, as that ought to please everyone enough, shouldn't be too tricky for me to sort out, and would also make for a pretty interesting feature in the game.

    As Alice says above, I'm trying to focus on the story and am pleased with the general set-up so far. Making the story engaging is one of my priorities and this one seems to be coming along well enough. If I can make the puzzles relevant enough and not get in the way of the story, but help to develop it, I think that'd be a cool way to do it.
     
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