I talked to Steve Meretzky and Brian Moriarty (of Infocom fame) about some of this stuff, and got two different perspectives.
I asked Steve why there was always one solution to a problem. The old question of why I’m standing outside a door, and the only way in is through some bizarre sequence of events, instead of my just finding a rock and bashing the door open or something. I had thought the answer would be combinatorial explosion or something (because now the designers have to deal with the case of the door being broken, and my not having set the various triggers that I would set if I did it the “right” way).
He said that wasn’t it–it was just a way of stretching out the game; the more ways you have to solve a problem, the faster you’ll finish the game, and you won’t feel like you got your money’s worth.
While I was working with Brian, he mentioned that Infocom at one time commissioned a survey to find out what people liked best about their games. They had thought that people liked the impossible-to-solve puzzles, and loved being stumped, but it turned out that people actually preferred finishing the game to being stumped for a long time. (I know, it seems obvious, but Brian said it was a huge surprise to them). My guess is that the KQ designers had the same idea.
HA! I was right! This completely confirms (at least in this one case…although these guys were BIG in the day) my claim in the Sims 2 thread that game designers probably don’t know half the time what the heck it is people even liked about the game!
This story doesn’t surprise me one single bit. I know that working on business type IT projects that you can get this kind of tunnel-vision where you just don’t have any idea anymore what it is that your customers like about your product.
The part about how the designers only put in one way to open the door is just what I would expect from old-school game developers. This is bullshit. And even if it’s not, it’s just a crappy excuse. There’s a reason why adventure games are basically an extinct breed and it’s because an adventure game today has to be awesome in every way to get anybody to put up with the stupid and artificial constraints. That’s probably why the Last Express is so well regarded…the constraints make some sense in the context of a moving train.
Probably in another ten years we’ll all wonder why Half-Life was so awesome and we’ll bitch about how many stupid constraints it had. Then the designers will give interviews and suggest some dumb crap and we can make fun of them.
What’s surprising about Gray Matter is how comfortable the game is not only with well-honed adventure mechanics but the uncompromising use of simple static backdrops and images for its locations and cut-scenes. This strict adherence to the pre-3D style favoured by the classic LucasArts, Sierra, Westwood and Revolution during the genre’s heyday gives Gray Matter a reassuringly ‘lived-in’ look and feel. For many, booting it up for the first time will be like putting on an old pair of slippers.
The understated, static location backdrops and non-animated cut-scenes are beautiful and admirable in their own way, with a deft attention to detail and an intricate, crafted style which promises to make exploring the game’s many atmospheric locales an absorbing experience in its own right.
The game employs a new Progress Bar system within each chapter too, revealing how far towards solving a specific problem you are and detailing how many ‘bonus actions’ you’ve managed to solve along the way. Although not necessary to advance the plot, bonus actions allow you to discover more detail about the back-story. (They also reward you with those inexplicably tempting Gamerscore morsels on Xbox 360.)
It goes without saying that puzzles will be a major focus of the gameplay, and although you do combine objects in traditional style, players can expect a heavy emphasis on magic tricks from the third chapter onwards as well.
I had no idea this has been in the works for 7 years. But Jane Jensen gets on the short list of creators whose work I will give a crack at without waiting for reviews, so I’m anxiously awaiting her newest point-n-click adventure. Though these days I anxiously await most point-n-click adventures.
Started playing Moebius. Actually quite intriguing once you give it long enough for the story to begin to emerge. I was kind of dreading playing another clunky JJ adventure after Gray Matter, but I kickstarted it and had it lying around and now I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.
Edit: 12 years for this thread to make a second page!