Grim Fandango - identification with main character

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Brandon Van Every

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Nov 29, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/29/98
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For those of you who have played Grim Fandango, even just the demo (all I've
played at this point) I am curious: do you identify readily with the main
character? Or do you resist him, feeling that he doesn't properly represent
your desires as a player? Identification with the principal character in a
work of IF - beit text or 3D - is problematic. If we allow players to play
"themselves," then we don't know who those selves are. And if we assign the
player a role, they may balk.

For me, character identification in Grim Fandango is successful. I think
there are probably some general mechanisms that make this so, and they are
perhaps worth discussing:

- He's 3D *and* exaggerated *and* imaginary. Thus, you are left with no
conflicts about whether his body image is acceptable to you (too fat, too
thin, too supermodel, too ugly). Whereas in text, the author will describe
the character, you'll formulate your own image of the character, it may not
be in synch with what the author was thinking, and you may balk at the
description of the character later on.

- He's comical. This tends to batter down cranky resistance when it does
arise. You laugh, and because you laughed you don't think Manny is so bad
after all.

- His minor dialogue (looking at irrelevant objects and such) is rarely flat
or out of character. Rather, it's mostly witty. I particularly enjoyed
what he had to say about the slide projector. :-)

Now on the other hand, I might be identifying readily with the character
because I already *am* The Grim Reaper in several other contexts. I was
Deadman way back in my MUSE days. And in The Game Of Immortals I am Mortus,
who appears in the Codex Mortus which defines the nature of the universe
(see my .sig for an excerpt). I even have a clap-on clap-off Grim Reaper
hanging over my head, left over from Halloween. You clap and its eyes light
up and it wails.

So I'm biased. X-)


--
Cheers, 3d graphics optimization jock
Brandon Van Every Seattle, WA
-----------------------------------------------------------------------
If we are all Gods and we have thrown our toys the mortals away
and we are Immortal What shall we do
and we cannot die to entertain ourselves?


Michael Gentry

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Nov 29, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/29/98
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Brandon Van Every wrote in message
<73scl6$69k$1...@birch.prod.itd.earthlink.net>...

>For those of you who have played Grim Fandango, even just the demo (all
I've
>played at this point) I am curious: do you identify readily with the main
>character? Or do you resist him, feeling that he doesn't properly
represent
>your desires as a player? Identification with the principal character in a
>work of IF - beit text or 3D - is problematic. If we allow players to play
>"themselves," then we don't know who those selves are. And if we assign
the
>player a role, they may balk.


I find that as long as the main character is an *interesting* character, I
don't mind stepping into that character's shoes. I spent several years in a
theater group playing some pretty disparate roles, so I learned to enjoy
getting into someone's head and trying to act "in character".

In general, in fact, I think I prefer to have a defined character than a "be
yourself" character. The problem with being myself is that usually, in a
game of IF, the PC is thrust into a situation that I myself have not the
remotest chance of ever encountering. I really couldn't say how Michael
Gentry would react to discovering a vast underground empire underneath a
little white house, and I don't have much interest in trying.

Some notable exceptions: "The City" ('98 comp) -- worked because the game
wasn't about character; it was about setting. "Trinity" (Infocom) -- worked
because the game was very allegorical and, in a sense, I *was* asked to step
into a role, the role of Everyman.

I found Manny to be very interesting and entertaining, so I was happy to
make the effort to identify.

>- He's 3D *and* exaggerated *and* imaginary. Thus, you are left with no
>conflicts about whether his body image is acceptable to you (too fat, too
>thin, too supermodel, too ugly). Whereas in text, the author will describe
>the character, you'll formulate your own image of the character, it may not
>be in synch with what the author was thinking, and you may balk at the
>description of the character later on.


I hadn't thought of that, but it makes sense. Again, though, I personally am
not likely to balk at issues of physical appearance as long as I find the
character interesting.

An interesting contrast: One of the many, many, problems I had playing
"Black Dahlia" was that I found I couldn't relate much to the main
character, Jim Pearson. One of the major contributions to that problem was
the fact that the actor they chose looked 1) out of character for a
government agent in the 40s and 2) like a big, big dork.

>- He's comical. This tends to batter down cranky resistance when it does
>arise. You laugh, and because you laughed you don't think Manny is so bad
>after all.


Yes, this is a big, big help.

>- His minor dialogue (looking at irrelevant objects and such) is rarely
flat
>or out of character. Rather, it's mostly witty. I particularly enjoyed
>what he had to say about the slide projector. :-)


Did you try waving the Robert Frost balloon at the pigeons? That's my
all-time favorite.

>Now on the other hand, I might be identifying readily with the character
>because I already *am* The Grim Reaper in several other contexts.

What helped me was that he is a working stiff trying to make a buck in a
dead-end job...

-M.
================================================
"If you don't eat your meat, you can't have any pudding.
How can you have any pudding if you don't eat your meat?"

Geoff Howland

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Nov 29, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/29/98
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On Sun, 29 Nov 1998 12:56:32 -0800, "Brandon Van Every"
>For those of you who have played Grim Fandango, even just the demo (all I've
>played at this point) I am curious: do you identify readily with the main
>character? Or do you resist him, feeling that he doesn't properly represent
>your desires as a player? Identification with the principal character in a
>work of IF - beit text or 3D - is problematic. If we allow players to play
>"themselves," then we don't know who those selves are. And if we assign the
>player a role, they may balk.

Personally, I dont need to identify with the character at
all. If the character is intersting then I will be
interested in seeing what happens. Sometimes if the
environment is interesting then that will keep me reading.


-Geoff Howland
Lupine Games http://www.lupinegames.com/

Brandon Van Every

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Nov 29, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/29/98
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Russ Williams wrote in message <912385883.5885.0.nnrp-
>
>How about this for a postualate: People dislike characters that
>they feel embody their own negative characteristics. For example,
>someone who's overweight and self-conscious about it probably
>wouldn't enjoy playing a fat character in a game.


I think there's a broader tenet: society has a negative discourse about the
image of the body. No matter what someone looks like, someone thinks
they're too fat, too thin, too ugly, or even too handsome. People are just
really annoyed about having to deal with body imagery. Grim Fandango ducks
the entire issue by delivering a body imagery that nobody has.

This is pretty much what you said, but it's broader than a fat person
thinking they're too fat. It's also a fat person looking at the cover of
Cosmopolitan and thinking that the supermodel on the cover is too skinny.
It's not just about what people don't like about themselves, it's what
people don't like in others.

In other words, it might be a good idea to make your main characters as
toasters, vacuum cleaners, aliens that don't obviously obey human body
aesthetics, etc. That way, you completely avoid society's hangups about the
body.

>By throwing reality out of the window, there's almost no chance
>of anyone taking umbridge with the character. He's an abstract
>skeleton, so there's not a lot of physical resemblence to anyone.


Yep agreed.

>He's a 'good guy' so there's not likely to be anyone with a deep
>hatred of his personality.

Only if he's too Good. You want the middle sort of person, not too good,
not too evil. You spoke truly earlier about why Manny works: "He's a flawed
character trying to make the best of what comes along. I mean, who *doesn't*
that describe?"

People love DungeonKeeper because it completely mocks all the one-sided
stereotypes of do-goodery that have been shoved down our throats. Who needs
preachy good guys and parental warning labels? KILL KILL KILL! Dance on
their tombstones. >-)

>The accent is could be off-putting, but
>I think it just serves to differentiate him from the bland voices that
>many games have (plus, of course, it fits perfectly with the
>Mexican styling).


Unless you're a racist. Or, if you think that Manny is a racist stereotype
and not sufficiently Politically Correct. Personally, I think Manny's
treatment of race is just fine.

While we're inventorying the land mines, gender is a big one. Make a game
that's about a male reacting as a heterosexual male to various
circumstances, and you risk the wrath of every female player.

>Each group solves the problem in a different way:
>* The abstract characters can't resemble the player, so they can't
> cause offense. They act as a distraction, allowing the player
> to forget about reality.


People can, however, get annoyed at things that are too "cute."
Particularly if they feel like the cuteness is inane, a mere marketing ploy
by some megacorporation. At least, this is an intellectual's objection.
Demonstrably, the cuteness itself moves product. Look at Hello Kitty.

What's likeable about Manny is he's not inane, he's sharp as a tack. And he
has charisma. Look at the way he talks to the clown in the demo. The clown
is hostile as hell and Manny just takes it in stride.

>* The realistic characters are intended to be perfect - fitter, better
> looking, smarter, happier than the player avoiding negative
> traits entirely. They provide a better reality that the player can
> aspire to.


I have a love/hate relationship with the body archetypes I see in chop suey
combat games. I'd seriously like to "do" a number of the female characters
in these games, but I don't think it's societally correct to hold these
women up as necessary archetypes. It's like insisting that everyone play
Barbie. I sympathize with every little girl that ever cut off Barbie's head
and put an icky iguana on it instead. And the male characters are ALWAYS
more physically powerful and more pretty than myself. I resent it.
Especially because I'm a martial artist! These games don't even move like
real combat and what are these boys doing, striking a pose....

So, it's a tension and a risk. Sex sells. But does lust overcome revulsion
for what one finds inadequate about oneself?

Russ Williams

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Nov 30, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/30/98
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Brandon Van Every <vane...@earthlink.net> wrote:
>For those of you who have played Grim Fandango,

Yup.

>even just the demo (all I've played at this point)

Go and buy the full version. It rocks. One of the best adventures
Lucasarts have done, IMHO.

>I am curious: do you identify readily with the main character?

He's a flawed character trying to make the best of what comes


along. I mean, who *doesn't* that describe?

>Or do you resist him, feeling that he doesn't properly represent


>your desires as a player? Identification with the principal
>character in a work of IF - beit text or 3D - is problematic. If we
>allow players to play "themselves," then we don't know who those
>selves are. And if we assign the player a role, they may balk.

Grim Fandango handles this well. The personas that Manny takes
on are varied, so in essence there's something for everyone: Grim
reaper, Chandleresque detective, Bogart-in-Casablanca, freedom
fighter. Most people, I think, would consider at least some of those
to be 'cool'.

The intro cinematic, IMO, does a lot to endear you to Manny.

>For me, character identification in Grim Fandango is successful.
>I think there are probably some general mechanisms that make
>this so, and they are perhaps worth discussing:
>

>- He's 3D *and* exaggerated *and* imaginary. Thus, you are
>left with no conflicts about whether his body image is acceptable
>to you (too fat, too thin, too supermodel, too ugly). Whereas in text,
>the author will describe the character, you'll formulate your own
>image of the character, it may not be in synch with what the author
>was thinking, and you may balk at the description of the character
>later on.

How about this for a postualate: People dislike characters that


they feel embody their own negative characteristics. For example,
someone who's overweight and self-conscious about it probably
wouldn't enjoy playing a fat character in a game.

By throwing reality out of the window, there's almost no chance


of anyone taking umbridge with the character. He's an abstract
skeleton, so there's not a lot of physical resemblence to anyone.

He's a 'good guy' so there's not likely to be anyone with a deep

hatred of his personality. The accent is could be off-putting, but


I think it just serves to differentiate him from the bland voices that
many games have (plus, of course, it fits perfectly with the
Mexican styling).

Consider some other popular game characters (list ripped from
Edge):
Pac-Man, Cloud Strife (FF7), Crash Bandicoot, Mario,
Sarah Bryant (Virtua Fighter), Lara Croft (Tomb Raider),
Ryu (Street Fighter), Sonic the Hedgehog, Duke Nukem.
These can be divided neatly into 2 groups: 'realistic' and
'abstract'. Pac-man, Crash and Sonic bear no resemblance
to anything. Mario is a charicature, so doesn't really resemble
anyone. Cloud, Sarah, Lara, Ryu and Duke are more realistic
but are all fantasy characters.

Each group solves the problem in a different way:
* The abstract characters can't resemble the player, so they can't
cause offense. They act as a distraction, allowing the player
to forget about reality.

* The realistic characters are intended to be perfect - fitter, better
looking, smarter, happier than the player avoiding negative
traits entirely. They provide a better reality that the player can
aspire to.

Opinions?

>- He's comical. This tends to batter down cranky resistance when
>it does arise. You laugh, and because you laughed you don't think
>Manny is so bad after all.

Witty dialogue does tend to help in making likable characters.
Not just in games, either - snappy one-liners are a staple of
action movies and many popular TV shows.

I suppose it helps in games because everyone would like to be able
to come up with the sort of witticisms that Oscar Wilde or Winston
Churchill did. It's not just some actor reading a line, it's the 'player'
that's witty.

>- His minor dialogue (looking at irrelevant objects and such) is
>rarely flat or out of character.

Consistency is essential.

>Rather, it's mostly witty. I particularly enjoyed what he had to say
>about the slide projector. :-)

I can't for the life of me remember what he said. Damn.

---
Russ

PS - If you reply can you send me a CC. I'm starting to read the
group, but there are a lot of posts to sort through...

Fred M. Sloniker

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Nov 30, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/30/98
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On Mon, 30 Nov 1998 00:30:07 -0000, "Russ Williams"
<ru...@algorithm.demon.co.uk> wrote:

>Consider some other popular game characters (list ripped from
>Edge):

(snip)

ac-Man, Cloud Strife (FF7), Crash Bandicoot, Mario,
Sarah Bryant (Virtua Fighter), Lara Croft (Tomb Raider),
Ryu (Street Fighter), Sonic the Hedgehog, Duke Nukem.

>Cloud, Sarah, Lara, Ryu and Duke are more realistic but are all
>fantasy characters.

(snip)

>* The realistic characters are intended to be perfect - fitter, better
> looking, smarter, happier than the player avoiding negative
> traits entirely. They provide a better reality that the player can
> aspire to.
>
>Opinions?

Just a minor beef: your list of 'realistic' characters are hardly
perfect. Cloud suffers from a mental disorder that leads him to
betray all his friends, not because of outside control (though that
occurs in a few places), but because his self-image has so completely
disintegrated that he'd do anything for someone willing to replace it.
Sarah Bryant is, according to the backstory for VF, brainwashed into a
ruthless killing machine by some mysterious organization; even taking
just what the game shows into account, she's a pretty ruthless maiming
machine (granted, most of the characters are; it's not a fault in her
suitability as a character in the game, just in her general
character). And Ryu always rubbed me the wrong way *because* he was
so wholesome as to be practically generic (and because legions of
Shokotan scrubs can't seem to play any character that isn't
AkumaRyuKen, but that's another story). Haven't played Tomb Raider or
Duke Nukem, but I suspect, from what I've read, that neither is
without personality defect.

What's my point? These characters may be 'fitter, better looking,
smarter, happier than the player' (and I would debate at least the
last two points in each case), but they're hardly perfect. And we
identify with them anyway, or indeed because they're flawed. Cloud,
for instance, goes through some *major* soul-searching that turns him
into a cold mercenary into someone striving to do the right thing, no
matter what the personal cost. And I've always been rather partial to
maiming machines in fighting games, which is why I enjoy playing
characters like Sarah and Ken (Ryu, only with personality).

I think that the key to having players identify with characters is to
make them good characters, or more precisely well-developed
characters, with the mixture of virtues and vices that makes them
interesting. It isn't necessary to give the player an opportunity to
shape that character (FF7 allows only minimal input into the
characters', um, characters, and in a fighting game your focus is
understandably elsewhere, and I still manage to celebrate the
victories and cringe at the setbacks, even the preprogrammed ones,
without breaking mimesis).

Part of the problem with having players identify with the central
character in interactive fiction, IMHO (like this whole *article*
isn't my opinion), is a certain level of expectation: some players
want to be able to rip up the carpeting, scrape the parrot, and type
'kiss/screw/hit/kill/stab/fondle all', and get annoyed when informed
that the character wouldn't take that particular action. I'm not sure
there's a solution for that, any more than there's a 'solution' for me
not enjoying sports games; granted, there are things we can do to make
a rigidly-defined character more effective while still allowing enough
freedom of action for comfort, and there are things we can do to allow
player input into the character of the character, but some people are
just going to *prefer* the puzzle romp.

Of course, all this will mean a lot more the day I finish my IF work
featuring a character struggling for personal redemption even as he
races to stop a madman from destroying what's left of the world with
an ancient doomsday device. Expect to see it... um, in the year 2094.
Or so. (:3


Plant Kingdom

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Nov 30, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/30/98
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On Mon, 30 Nov 1998 00:30:07 -0000, "Russ Williams"
<ru...@algorithm.demon.co.uk> wrote:

>Brandon Van Every <vane...@earthlink.net> wrote:
>>For those of you who have played Grim Fandango,

[...]


>>- He's 3D *and* exaggerated *and* imaginary. Thus, you are
>>left with no conflicts about whether his body image is acceptable
>>to you (too fat, too thin, too supermodel, too ugly). Whereas in text,
>>the author will describe the character, you'll formulate your own
>>image of the character, it may not be in synch with what the author
>>was thinking, and you may balk at the description of the character
>>later on.

(Aside: How much worse would a 3d-ization of a favorite text adventure
be? I shudder at the thought of a rendered Christabel tugging at
pixelated wistaria....)

>How about this for a postualate: People dislike characters that
>they feel embody their own negative characteristics. For example,
>someone who's overweight and self-conscious about it probably
>wouldn't enjoy playing a fat character in a game.

Hm, I'm not sure I agree with this. Escapism has many facets. I
would probably identify more strongly with a character who has flaws
similar to my own, who nonetheless triumphs over the situation at
hand. I would be much less keen were this character were to fail
miserably, of course - but a well-crafted story can make even that
satisfying, after a fashion. And suspension of disbelief can
accomodate nearly any role, as long is the effort is deemed
worthwhile....

Horror fiction is quite popular with some, though the characters are
rarely admirable. Tragedy lite, their flaws dictate their demise, or
a struggle through to a Pyrrhic victory. (Then again, this is nearly
any arcade game in a nutshell - certain death facing overwhelming odds
- another quarter, please. $5.75 later, I have conquered, the
pocketbook laid waste.)


>
>By throwing reality out of the window, there's almost no chance
>of anyone taking umbridge with the character.

[...]


>Each group solves the problem in a different way:
>* The abstract characters can't resemble the player, so they can't
> cause offense. They act as a distraction, allowing the player
> to forget about reality.

>* The realistic characters are intended to be perfect - fitter, better
> looking, smarter, happier than the player avoiding negative
> traits entirely. They provide a better reality that the player can
> aspire to.

Re: the "realistic" fantasy characters (I cavil at calling Duke Nukem
"realistic") -

The Disneyland effect: everything better, happier, shinier, after this
my life is lusterless....

Art takes risks. If you mollycoddle your audience, you will attract
the sort of audience that likes to be mollycoddled. This can be a
formula for success, of a sort - it depends on your aim.

2 groatsworth.
Plant Kingdom

Weird Beard

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Dec 1, 1998, 3:00:00 AM12/1/98
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I like Manny and all the rest of what I've seen (just started year 3).

I must warn you, however, that if you feel about puzzles the way you used
to, you will not like this, as the solutions don't always jump out and say
"Boo!"

Yours truly,
Regular Puke (figure *that* one out)

Weird Beard

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Dec 1, 1998, 3:00:00 AM12/1/98
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Wrong. Guess again (ps. It would help for outsiders to read our messages in
the "You're All Dead" thread).

Geoff Howland

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Dec 2, 1998, 3:00:00 AM12/2/98
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On Tue, 1 Dec 1998 17:52:50 -0600, "Weird Beard"

>Regular Puke (figure *that* one out)

Regular = the opposite of wierd
Puke = Something that comes out of your mouth, as opposed to a beard
which is attached to your mouth.

(of course the hair is still coming out of the skin around your mouth,
just not disconnecting)

TenthStone

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Dec 3, 1998, 3:00:00 AM12/3/98
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Weird Beard thus inscribed this day of Tue, 1 Dec 1998 23:08:24 -0600:

>Wrong. Guess again (ps. It would help for outsiders to read our messages in
>the "You're All Dead" thread).

I would think a much better pun would be Weird Beard: The Poetic Fate,
but then again...

-----------

The imperturbable TenthStone
tenth...@hotmail.com mcc...@erols.com mcc...@gsgis.k12.va.us

Den of Iniquity

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Dec 3, 1998, 3:00:00 AM12/3/98
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On Tue, 1 Dec 1998, Paul Krueger wrote:

>Wrong. Guess again.

Who needs to guess? I know the answer.

--
Mint his ends


Sean T Barrett

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Dec 4, 1998, 3:00:00 AM12/4/98
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Russ Williams <ru...@algorithm.demon.co.uk> wrote:
>Brandon Van Every <vane...@earthlink.net> wrote:
>>For those of you who have played Grim Fandango,
>
>Yup.
>
>>even just the demo (all I've played at this point)
>
>Go and buy the full version. It rocks. One of the best adventures
>Lucasarts have done, IMHO.

Sorry to cut Russ off there. Some time back, I posted
some complaints brought on from playing Curse of Monkey Island.
I just don't get the feeling that commercial adventure game
designers are trying to tackle the problems I think they need
to solve to make these games more fun, and less mired in
unfun stuckness. I remember Russ replying to it at the time,
although I don't quite remember what he said beyond a general
agreement.

I downloaded the Grim Fandango demo, and got totally stuck
when I got to the rooftop. Yes, I found the line "Run, you
pigeons, it's Robert Frost!" quite amusing, but part of that
humor was because the person who wrote the line clearly knew
that I was trying to solve this particular puzzle, and clearly
knew that I was just trying something with no clue how that would
possibly accomplish it by doing so; so that writer made the
character deliver a line which accurately reflected my intentions
(even though it accomplished nothing).

But did they give me any hint or clue on how to move forward?
Not that I could see. So, in the end, I found that humorous
line simply mocked me. (I still think it's funny, but I think
it's astonishingly revealing as well.)

Here is my prior post, for those who want context; as it
was originally posted to a different group, perhaps it will
spark some comment (or perhaps it will just be "old hat" to
the r.a.i-f crowd).

Newsgroups: rec.games.programmer
Path: world!buzzard
From: buz...@world.std.com (Sean T Barrett)
Subject: Re: Adventures waste professional time
Message-ID: <Eu7x8...@world.std.com>
Organization: The World Public Access UNIX, Brookline, MA
References: <6ldo1n$76a$1...@guysmiley.blarg.net>
Date: Mon, 8 Jun 1998 05:43:13 GMT

Brandon Van Every <vane...@blarg.net> wrote:
>This model of adventure gaming is completely broken from the standpoint of
>professionals with little free time on their hands. When I was a kid this
>was great stuff, but now I don't have time for an intellectual head-bang. I
>get plenty of that from my job. Can we develop some model of adventure
>gaming other than puzzle solving?

I don't think it's broken from *that* standpoint. I think
it's *BROKEN*.

I would like to know if anyone has ever *tried* to solve this
problem in the puzzle-solving genre. Maybe it's a totally hard
problem and there's nothing you can do about it--there's no way
to avoid people getting stuck.

But I'm currently stuck in the latest Monkey Island game, and
I'll start it up, play for a half hour, go to some location and
try clicking every object in my inventory on every object in the
scene, pick an object in my inventory and click it on every other
object in my inventory, and repeat.

As I see it, the basic problems are as follows:

Difficulty in solving puzzles as intended:
- lack of clues or hints [repost note: i mean embedded in the
gameplay, not an independent hint system, e.g., in CofME
there is *no* reason for you to imagine that maggots will
devour a chicken when they won't devour a lemon biscuit;
why not, as Russ suggested, have a chicken consumed by
maggots to show you, or a chicken skeleton and a funny
comment, or whatever]
- lack of logic
Everything is emulated, not simulated, so there
is no predictability about whether an idea will work.
- lack of deep playtesting feedback
The early infocom games had a lot of effort invented into
providing helpful feedback on failed actions. Basically,
if you're on the right track, you should be encouraged.
If object X works in situation Y, then in similar situation
Z, make using object X give you some kind of info that might
make you connect it with Y. Monkey Island is pretty bad
about this; i can 'pan for gold' in a mud puddle, but not
in a fountain or anywhere else with flowing water, so it's
hard for me to figure out that I might be able to do so.
- some puzzles require brute force
due to the lack of logic, it's often the case that you can't
know whether two objects will combine meaningfully, or what
using one object on another will do. Thus, the odds are high
that many players will only solve the problem by brute force

Difficulty in brute forcing puzzles:
- as the game progresses, there are more locations with things
in them, and more objects in the inventory, geometrically
increasing the number of possible things to try
- no way of remembering what things you've tried before, so you
can spend a lot of time redoing it.

Difficulties with both methods:
- semi-non-linearity means there are several active puzzles,
but not all of them are currently solvable (one may depend
on the solution to another). This means the player can't
focus on a single puzzle--in fact can waste lots of time
trying to solve a puzzle that is in truth not currently solveable.
- no way of remember what things you've tried before. For example,
you haven't been to room X since you got item Y. Maybe if you
went there, and *remembered* (or saw) that you had item Y, you
would "get" it, and go, "oh, maybe Y will help here". (I.e.,
figure it out without using brute force). The problem is that
you don't know what things have changed since you last tried
to "solve" room X. This may be related to the non-linearity
complaint above.

Now, I haven't tried to write an adventure game since the
days of Infocom, when I didn't aspire to trying to tackle
problems like the above.

But I keep trying new Lucas Arts and Sierra adventures and
*hope* that they'll have actually thought about these issues
and taken steps to make things less problematic. (I think
non-linearity is one of the worst problems, but they all interact
to make the situation even worse. Monkey Island 1 did the very
nice thing about cleaning out your inventory between acts.
Similarly, I liked the games that stripped items out of your
inventory when you didn't need them anymore--in the new Monkey
Island, I currently have 20 or so objects, and I've already used
like 17 of them, but I never know if I might reuse one.)

Unfortunately, as far as I can see, nobody has succeeded in making
things less problematic. And I'm very suspicious about whether
anyone has *tried*, or whether they even realize it's a problem.

(Why are we posting about this to rec.games.programmer?)

Sean

Russ Williams

unread,
Dec 4, 1998, 3:00:00 AM12/4/98
to
Sean T Barrett <buz...@world.std.com> wrote:
>Russ Williams <ru...@algorithm.demon.co.uk> wrote:
>>Brandon Van Every <vane...@earthlink.net> wrote:
>>>For those of you who have played Grim Fandango,
>>
>>Yup.
>>
>>>even just the demo (all I've played at this point)
>>
>>Go and buy the full version. It rocks. One of the best adventures
>>Lucasarts have done, IMHO.
>
>Sorry to cut Russ off there. Some time back, I posted some
>complaints brought on from playing Curse of Monkey Island.
>I just don't get the feeling that commercial adventure game
>designers are trying to tackle the problems I think they need
>to solve to make these games more fun, and less mired in
>unfun stuckness. I remember Russ replying to it at the time,
>although I don't quite remember what he said beyond a general
>agreement.

I'll have to dig through Dejanews later to find out. I can just
about remember the thread, but that's it...

GF does suffer from the same problems mentioned below, but
IIRC the thread was about why all adventures aren't so great.
Compared to most it's good.

>I downloaded the Grim Fandango demo, and got totally stuck
>when I got to the rooftop. Yes, I found the line "Run, you
>pigeons, it's Robert Frost!" quite amusing, but part of that
>humor was because the person who wrote the line clearly knew
>that I was trying to solve this particular puzzle, and clearly
>knew that I was just trying something with no clue how that would
>possibly accomplish it by doing so; so that writer made the
>character deliver a line which accurately reflected my intentions
>(even though it accomplished nothing).

It's also a very linear puzzle. I mean, of all the things "use" might
do, waving a balloon isn't exactly helpful. I mean, why can't
Manny pop it? Or hit the pigeons with it?

>But did they give me any hint or clue on how to move forward?
>Not that I could see. So, in the end, I found that humorous
>line simply mocked me. (I still think it's funny, but I think
>it's astonishingly revealing as well.)

Yup.

>Here is my prior post, for those who want context; as it
>was originally posted to a different group, perhaps it will
>spark some comment (or perhaps it will just be "old hat" to
>the r.a.i-f crowd).

I'll add some GF comments...

>Newsgroups: rec.games.programmer


>From: buz...@world.std.com (Sean T Barrett)
>Subject: Re: Adventures waste professional time

>Date: Mon, 8 Jun 1998 05:43:13 GMT
>
>Brandon Van Every <vane...@blarg.net> wrote:
>>This model of adventure gaming is completely broken from
>>the standpoint of professionals with little free time on their
>>hands.

Tell me about it. I kept a walkthrough to hand when playing GF
because I didn't have enough time to get stuck.

>>When I was a kid this was great stuff, but now I don't have time
>>for an intellectual head-bang. I get plenty of that from my job.
>>Can we develop some model of adventure gaming other than
>>puzzle solving?
>
>I don't think it's broken from *that* standpoint. I think
>it's *BROKEN*.
>
>I would like to know if anyone has ever *tried* to solve this
>problem in the puzzle-solving genre. Maybe it's a totally hard
>problem and there's nothing you can do about it--there's no way
>to avoid people getting stuck.

Not without making it trivially obvious to everyone else :(

>But I'm currently stuck in the latest Monkey Island game, and
>I'll start it up, play for a half hour, go to some location and
>try clicking every object in my inventory on every object in the
>scene, pick an object in my inventory and click it on every other
>object in my inventory, and repeat.

GF actually makes this worse. At any point in the first year you
can select and use the balloon animals. Of course, using them
seems to consist of Manny waving them about a little. At least
before you got a definite response.

>As I see it, the basic problems are as follows:
>
>Difficulty in solving puzzles as intended:
> - lack of clues or hints [repost note: i mean embedded in the
> gameplay, not an independent hint system, e.g., in CofME
> there is *no* reason for you to imagine that maggots will
> devour a chicken when they won't devour a lemon biscuit;
> why not, as Russ suggested, have a chicken consumed by
> maggots to show you, or a chicken skeleton and a funny
> comment, or whatever]

In some places, GF provides good hints. Other times it makes
absolutely no attempt to do so, requiring essentially random
actions until things work. In fact, one of the hints I can think of
defuses what would be an extremely arbitrary solution (then
again, WTF is such an arbitrary solution doing in there?).

The looking-at-important objects feature is a step forward for
the 3d adventure genre, but it's no better than the wiggle-the-
mouse-until-it-hits-something of old.

Overall, pretty much the same as ever.

> - lack of logic
> Everything is emulated, not simulated, so there
> is no predictability about whether an idea will work.

Yup. Still the same problem :(

On the upside, Zelda64 is supposed to be great with regards to
this. According to some reviews I've seen, almost anything you
can think to try will work as you expect (eg: you find a lit torch,
you can use it to light a stick and use that to light other torches).
Considering how well Zelda on the SNES handled the simulated
world, it should be the best example to date. On the SNES,
progress was mostly limited by needing a particular object to
go somewhere new - a gauntlet to lift a big rock, a mallet to
pound posts into the ground, flippers to swim, grappling hook
to cross a broken bridge, a mirror (or was it a pearl?) to go
between worlds. The entire world was hidden in plain sight.

---
Russ

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