Expanding on the thought process behind chat / text based adventure gaming

The journey home from the office is about 20 minutes and plenty enough time for me to wander with my thoughts. I just can’t shake the idea of organic text-based adventuring just now. Here’s some more thoughts.

I researched a fair bit on amateur adventure game creation this afternoon. There are a glut of forums out there for this kind of thing and I have to say I’m not a member of any of them. Nor shall I be. I’ve done the forum thing in the past and find them to be pretty awful “smart-arsed” howitzer affairs between semi-clued up idiots. But there were some interesting points worth picking out.

Firstly, it seems that amateur adventure game creators appear obsessed with their “systems”.

In my system there shall be this method of trading and that method of combat and some other such method for moving around.
There shall be this elaborate system of talking between characters where certain phrases are allowed and certain actions are allowed depending on the phrases… etc etc

This is common and to me somewhat surprising.
Investing so much time and effort in to a clearly restrictive system for a game that ought to allow for tremendous freedom seems to me like trying to solve an unnecessary set of puzzles.

Second, players are shown everything with fancy icons, graphics and maps.
At first you might think ‘fair enough’. The player wants to see himself, his location and his attributes. But what surprises me is that this appears to be one of the first considerations for the designer – how the game will look. Before any thought is given for the experience it seems that amateur game designers are telling us that their game will look like SNES Zelda and play with a system borrowed from Elder Scrolls. Or some such.

To me both of these things miss the mark by a long way.
Anybody willing to play an adventure game, even a casual one, is probably willing to invest a little of their imagination. At least enough to flesh out the scenario in their mind. The inclusion of rich graphics in an RPG is surely more of a marketing gimick than a true aide to the gamer. Some is good but too much makes the entire process of adventuring a banal affair. Give the player pointers and let him “create” the rest.

I tried to figure out a process where I could prove an adventure game “on paper” by allowing for the most natural decision making process known to man – conversation.

Consider this text transcription.

Although it looks horribly basic try and look in to what I’m trying to achieve. Look at how the decisions are made.
There is no game here. No underlying “system”. It’s purely natural and uses simple, available technology.
You can also see that the game continues to tick in my absence and all I am ever doing is offering myself a window in to the game.

Note: square brackets denote a user action e.g. [ SLEEP ]

Decisions are not tied to a game system. In fact the only system is the means to view information that then allows you to make a decision.

This method of communication is accessible to everybody since it is a form of communication we all know. There would be no instruction booklet to describe your “chat” system.

World of Warcraft appears to dominate the online gaming community. (I still don’t see the relevance of the word Massively in MMO, surely it’s implied by virtue of the world wide web)
I would suggest that a large part of the reason for its dominance is its simple and highly effective communication system. Not only that it actively encourages the formation of guilds.
Talking with a colleague and avid WoW player I understand that simply belonging to a guild is considered an achievement. Indeed of the 200+ members of his own guild he is convinced that a significant portion are there simply because “it’s a guild”.

Gravitating towards like-minded people through conversation and basic human interaction is the most natural process we know.
In many respects this kind of thing doesn’t require restriction.

Just some thoughts. I expect they will evolve.

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  • Cody  On July 6, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    There was a recent post over at David Sirlin’s site about subtractive design…


    …and I think that it’s the perfect argument against long feature lists in games. I recently worked on a website and to be completely honest, most of my planning time was spent amalgamating and cutting out features to have the most concise and effective options available. Figuring out a list of what a game or website should do is the easy part. Editing the plan is the hardest.

    Either way, it’s a great read. ;-)

    • markw1970  On July 8, 2009 at 4:23 pm

      Interesting article.

      I am a huge fan of the game Ico. A wonderful achievement and proof that individual vision can still be very strong and commercially accessible.
      I wonder if Ico is classed as commercially successful, though ?

      Good article and food for some serious thought.
      Thanks for posting.

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