Friday, 25 May 2018

Discussion point: What kind of game deserves a high score in Interface and Inventory?

By The TAG Team


Interface and Inventory

We have seen many different kinds of interface in adventure games, starting from parsers and ending with various mouse driven setups. We are accustomed to complaining about interface problems, like incomprehensible controls and outright bugs, but criteria for good interfaces are not as easy to find. So far, the best score has been given to the Lucasarts style “select the verb” -interface, but is it the objectively best interface? Or are there other possible forms of a good interface?


Is this the ultimate adventure game interface?

Other questions you might consider:
  • At least one reviewer has suggested that a parser game should not get a high interface score. Is it truly so or could there be a really excellent parser?
  • Is ease of use always positive or can an interface be too simple?
  • Should we consider how universally usable an interface is? Would that mean that a Sierra style system of icons trumps Lucasarts interface with verbs, because the meaning of icons can be understood even if one does not understand the language used in the game?
  • Come to think of it, should a perfect interface come with a tutorial teaching how to play the game? Or is this something that we shouldn’t expect from adventure games?
  • Instead of or in addition to ease, should we consider it positive that an interface allows various, complex actions? Or is such complexity a negative point?
  • Considering the second element of the category, is inventory an equally important factor or should we give more weight to the interface? Taken to its extreme, could an adventure game with a good interface, but no traditional inventory get a high or even perfect score?
  • What makes a good adventure game inventory? Does it need to have graphical images of the items? Are descriptions of the items a necessity?
  • Is the number of inventory items to be considered or could a game with only a few items get a high score?
  • CRPG Addict considers it negative if a CRPG has only adventure style inventory items. Should we similarly consider it negative if an adventure game has only a CRPG style inventory?
Let the discussion begin!

22 comments:

  1. Relevant article:

    http://strangehorizons.com/non-fiction/articles/searching-under-the-rug-interfaces-puzzles-and-the-evolution-of-adventure-games/

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  2. One aspect I find underappreciated is not having to move your character around. While I do respect the original King's Quest for its groundbreaking third-person presentation, I think it has ultimately brought more harm than good - now we have to deal with slow walking speeds (or having walking take more than 0 time at all), pathfinding and other potential issues. (Pandora Directive has particularly abysmal walking controls and it was a massive relief to play YU-NO with its lack of walking.) Out of P&C interfaces, IMO the 2D first person UI in Legend Entertainment games is close to ideal (out of their non-parser games, I've only played Death Gate so far but can't see their others being a downgrade) and possibly deserves a better score than the standard LucasArts interface.

    I also think that a parser interface, when programmed well enough, is much better than a point-and-click interface. Countless times, when playing a P&C game, I've wished I could simply type "LOOK" and get a list of all relevant objects - and that's just one example. Writing enough specified responses to invalid interactions is only a matter of playtesting (I once coded a parser in AGS that would write all unrecognised commands into a text file). A P&C UI with a limited amount of verbs also limits possible interactions and thus puzzles, and encourages brute-forcing. In the Puzzles & Solvability discussion point I linked Yahtzee's article Use Key on Door, which explained how simpler interfaces affected puzzle design. But I do understand the convenience of P&C for more basic commands. There's the hybrid UI of Leisure Suit Larry 7, which operates mostly as a verb-coin, but you could also type in your own verbs. I think that was a brilliant compromise.

    A variable verb list (found in e.g. Death Gate and Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes 2) is also better than a fixed one. For example, when manipulating the lockpick in Death Gate, in addition to the default verbs ("take" to "look"), verbs specific to handling the lockpick appear ("remove" to "pull"). "Talk to" appears with people, and so on.

    One feature I wish was more common is the dialogue backlog found in Japanese adventure games and visual novels. If you ever miss a line of dialogue, you can simply scroll your mouse wheel up and bring up a running transcript of all recent text. Zero Escape has this. A kind of variant exists in Gabriel Knight 1, where the protagonist keeps tapes of every interrogation, and one closer to a true backlog is in Torin's Passage.

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    1. Some very good points there.

      I find one advantage of moving your character around is that it makes it easier to identify with my avatar.

      I have a vague recollection of playing a game where you can't see your character (no idea which one) and at the end, seeing a cutscene/screen of my character and being taken aback at how different it looked from what I'd imagined.

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    2. One positive for on-screen character movement is that it allows for certain kind of puzzles, where you need to stand in a certain place. But the game could be in first-person 2D for the majority and switch only when a puzzle requires it.

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    3. TBD, generally I hate 1st person adventures, but one of my favorites of those was Faust (I think it was renamed to "7 Games of the Soul", but I had an early press copy). But since they did show your character in the cutscenes, it wasn't a shock when I saw him.

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  3. Some thoughts on your thoughts--

    - Generally, the rule has been grading all games on an equal playing field, and not taking too much of their age into consideration. That said, a parser game SHOULD score lower than a non-parser one, assuming the non-parser one was done well. For example, LOOM has a much better interface, in some ways, than, say, the Spellcasting games. (Let's forget about puzzles for this statement...)

    - Too simple: only if the puzzles don't match. LOOM was a decent game with a simple interface. Grim Fandango was a very good game, with a rather simple interface. LSL5 is a "meh" game, with a full-featured interface.

    - Icons vs. Verbs: Tough call. While LucasArts' system might be less "dumbed down" in some ways, I think Sierra had a great system. I think later games that reduced the icons down to 2 or 3 or less should feel the wrath. (Monkey Island 3, for example....)

    - Grading games in the past, users were expected to... RTFM. So, tutorials were not common and shouldn't be expected or reduced for the lack of. While a game like Fate of Atlantis has an intro sequence that bridged the gap, it shouldn't be expected.

    - Complexity if the puzzles make good use of it is okay. For example, later Sierra games that allowed you to manipulate inventory items in the inventory view (just like with LucasArts games).

    - Inventory interface is important for a few reasons: Can we see the item, or at least a good description of it? Can we manipulate the item? Can we use the item? LSL3 had a simple inventory system, but because you could view closeups and descriptions, it was well suited. PQ1 (and other early AGI games) had a separate inventory list, and then you had to go to a different screen to view descriptions, closeups, etc. Not well designed at all, even for the time. LucasArts games tended to not have any close-ups, only descriptions, even when their games had text inventories. I think that hindered some puzzle solutions for people who think in certain ways....

    - Limited inventories make me think of RPGs, and I don't enjoy those. A game like Kyrandia, so much time was spent with pick up this, but drop this, let me leave something here and come back to it... caused so much backtracking. And in an RPG, usually weight and strength were a reason for those limitations. In an adventure, usually it was programming laziness.

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    1. >a parser game SHOULD score lower than a non-parser one

      Why?

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    2. Ease of use. Unless the parse was designed with every possible misspelling and synonym known to man, it's going to be a frustrating experience for the gamer in general. And I'm not even going into the parser-related bugs, but an example would be the end sequence of LSL2 -- both a bug requiring the use of the word "the" and also a lack of recognition of synonyms for the items in use.

      That said, I think the parser in PQ2, for example, deserves a better score than the one in PQ1, if only because the game pauses while you type -- which helps level the playing field for gamers young and old, abled and not. I'm not disabled, but I also sometimes struggled with typing speed in those games. In PQ1, often the best solution was to put the game in ultra-slow mode during time sensitive situations. (The drug bust in the park, the traffic stop with Taselli, etc...)

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    3. But the parser allows for such creative puzzles! One of my favourite puzzles ever is at the end of Trilby's Notes, where gur fbyhgvba vf gb zbir nsgre lbh'er jbhaqrq (nppryrengvat oybbq ybff) gura yvgrenyyl glcr qvr. Impossible to implement in a point-and-click game.

      I guess I am just more forgiving of the occasional error message, and am typically able to predict what the parser understands. Then again, the quality of the parser varies hugely from game to game.

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    4. My dad loved text parsers. He always said it felt like talking to your computer. He stopped playing adventure games when Sierra started using the icon-based interface.

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    5. The later Sierra parser games (from about 1989 onward) were actually quite good and responsive, especially Quest for Glory.

      https://youtu.be/oOa39ueKYQw
      https://youtu.be/v43srT4ElXM
      https://youtu.be/QjtwSUfG1kw

      ...to say nothing of Infocom-type parsers.

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    6. Text parsers can also create a sense of depth, since you don't know the extent of available options.
      For instance, when entering the cab in "Leisure suit Larry 1" for the first time, and the driver asks you where you want to go, my initial belief was that there was this huge world here, where he could take me anywhere I wanted.

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    7. I too am quite fond of decent parser games, but I understand this is an acquired taste.

      That said, I'd really want to raise more discussion about Michael's statement that "[g]enerally, the rule has been grading all games on an equal playing field, and not taking too much of their age into consideration". I am not sure how official this rule is. Even during Trickster era, we'll find statements like "[a]lright, this is where you would expect the remake to be miles ahead of the original [...] [i]f you put them side by side, then there’s no question that it is, but if I compare the remake to other games released around the same time, it’s less impressive". Such statements clearly take it granted that historical context (games released at the same time) can be taken into account.

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    8. Oh, the question was left out: should we be aiming at timeless
      reviews or can we use the games of the same year as our primary reference point?

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    9. And getting back to the topic of parsers, here are couple interesting essays on it:

      http://cultureramp.com/the-broken-parser-is-the-best-thing-that-ever-happened-to-the-adventure-game/
      https://emshort.blog/2010/06/07/so-do-we-need-this-parser-thing-anyway/

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    10. Timeless reviews: kind of hard to do now, if you're judging the scores against the past ones. I fell we're kind of stuck with that choice, like it or not. The reviews to this point have been mostly judging (in my opinion) based over the whole ~15 year period of classic adventure gaming. If you change that now, it makes it hard to compare the scores to the old ones...

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    11. I expect that we have it easier than the cRPG Addict because our adventure games changed a bit less than his games over their lifespan... perhaps because the genre went through a dark period. I think we can be fairly evenhanded with our reviews even if we take them out of their original contexts.

      (With the possible exception of text adventures, of course. Planetfall might be one the greatest games on our list if we graded it on a curve for when it was released.)

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  5. The Sierra 90s icon-based interface is my personal favourite. It's relatively simple, easy to use and quick to learn.

    The main issue I have with the Lucasarts verb interface is that some of the verbs have limited use, or aren't used in an interesting way and therefore would be better reduced to a "use" icon instead.

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  6. KGB nailed the interface as far as I'm concerned. It has a smart pointer that can be changed into the verb of your choice by right clicking, it has an easily accessible inventory on a separate screen that displays everything at once, it has a button that highlights every hotspot on the screen... it even has a dialogue backlog system like Laukku mentioned wishing was more common. It's pretty damn flawless in my eyes.


    As far as icons VS text is concerned, text all the way. Icons feel gimmicky and it's a bit too easy to accidentally create icons the player might forget what represent. It just feels like a cumbersome "solution" to a non-exisiting problem.

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    1. >As far as icons VS text is concerned, text all the way.

      Agreed. In some sierra games there are two separate icons for use and take, but both of them look like a hand, and it's confusing and frustrating. LSL6 for example.

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    2. Agree on KGB's interface. That reviewer guy even gave it a 9

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