What happens when an adventure gamer plays a first-person shooter?

I like to think I’m open-minded about different genres, but really I’m an adventure gamer at heart. I enjoy following stories, collecting things and solving puzzles. Anything that involves firing bullets just doesn’t appeal to me – I’m not talking about the odd kill, but where the main strategy is to blast everyone to bits.

However when it comes to food, I’ll try pretty much anything – and that mostly ends well. So I’m going to apply this same logic to gaming – the classic shooter is a category that’s eluded me for a while, and it’s about time I addressed that.

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I didn’t need long to decide which game would be best suited to pop my FPS cherry. Doom (1993) is the absolute natural choice – a trailblazer in the world of first-person shooters with its 3D graphics, multiplayer network and endless opportunity for mods. It has such a reputation among my peers – and it’s deliciously old-school.

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id Software was also responsible for Commander Keen, one of my favourite DOS games as a child. And, you know, since Doomguy is Billy Blaze’s son and all. So I hopped onto Steam and parted with the teensy sum of £3.99 (€4-ish) and only 28MB of storage (another reason why old games are great).

I’ve got my beer. I’ve got my volume up.

Here we go.

Image of Doom title screen

This looks delightfully classic. There’s my ammo, health, arms, armour (sorry, I can’t not put a ‘U’ in that), and various ammo counters.

And there’s a tiny, enraged Doomguy head, ready to FIGHT!

Image of Doom episode selection screen

Episode selection time. I’m opting for the first, in the hope that if it all goes tits-up I can hide among the bodies.

Image of Doom skill level selection screen

Choose your skill level. Well obviously I’m going for the easiest. Don’t raise your eyebrow at me Doomguy! This ain’t no Keen!

Image of first level of Doom
‘The pool is currently closed.’

It seems that some of my enemies have been killed for me already, which is nice. At first I thought that was a concession because I’m playing on the lowest difficulty, but apparently it’s the same regardless. On that note I’m loving the graphics – from my observations of modern FPS games I can totally see how Doom laid down the concept. I really like the music too. It’s spurring me on. Grr!

What I would’ve liked is a bit of story at the beginning. Sure, I don’t have the boxed version which probably had some lore in it. But on-screen would be nice, too. I don’t really know why I’m here – just that I’m in a nightmarish maze world, fighting zombie soldiers and pink monsters. I like to have a clear objective (I guess that comes from adventure gaming too).

But it’s nice how everything is contained – unlike the more modern fighting games which just seem endless and open-ended. This is quite arcade-like, which suits me.

Image of collecting health in Doom
On reflection, I should’ve screengrabbed the actual health

I’ve picked up some health. I guess that’s mostly intended for the harder levels when you’d need it after killing the guys that are pre-killed for me here. I’m a bit OCD about collecting everything, even if unnecessary. That might be my downfall.

Oh hey, my health status went up though, so maybe not so unnecessary. Perhaps this is hyper strength, like steroids (don’t look down, Doomguy). I suppose that means I’ll have more health to spare when I get a battering. I got some armour, too. The little helmets remind me of the TV show, Knightmare.

I’m using the classic controls, by the way. So the arrow cursors to move around, Ctrl to fire, Spacebar to open doors. It’s how I would’ve played it in the day. I could opt to override that with an XBox controller, but I won’t just yet. It’s nice and simple – not many keys to remember, and no double joints required. It’s running through DOSBox (via Steam).

Image of armour suit in Doom
ArmoUr

That looks useful! A neon green military vest. This puts my armour up to 100%, nice. A big boost like that is usually indicative of an imminent challenge, and I’m right.

Heeeeere’s Johnny!

Image of first enemy on easy level of Doom

The enemies are quite difficult to spot in some parts of the game, even when they’re ahead as opposed to behind you or to the side. There’s a bit of warning before they get too close though, and yes, okay, to get to the point that first kill was very satisfying. Is it too late to backtrack on my abhorrence of weapon-based games?

A couple of hours later…

I’m loving this game. The levels after that really open up, and I found myself really getting into it. I mean, really immersed in a way that I perhaps wouldn’t be with an adventure game. In a classic point-and-click where you’re exploring, meeting characters and scouring for inventory items it’s a much more laid-back experience. In a FPS you’re required to be focussed and alert the whole time, in case an imp or demon comes bumbling out of nowhere. There’s no time to admire some Caribbean scenery or amusing dialogue – it’s thrash or be thrashed.

Image from Doom showing Hangar level finish

And I can completely see how games like Doom are so addictive. I now understand my husband’s reluctance to be nourished and watered when in the midst of a killing spree. It’s much harder to find a stopping point than in a story-based adventure. There are few moments where it feels right to abandon a mission, apart from at the end of a level.

The progression feels really nice, too. It’s pretty easy at the start, but gradually increases in complexity with more weapon options, varying enemies and more labyrinthine environments (I’m too embarrassed to say how long I was floundering about in the Computer Station).

Image of the Computer Station map in Doom
The Computer Station level map

Everyone loves a good Help menu

I had a slight panic when I realised I didn’t know how to switch weapons then, hey, here’s a handy screen! In the days of yore we didn’t need any of your fancy tutorials, but a Help screen like this is actually pretty useful. It also showed me that there’s a map (not that it helped me in my Computer Station stumbling – some people just can’t navigate for crap).

Image of Doom Help screen

In terms of fun factor, my favourite weapon has to be the chainsaw. It’s not that practical since you can’t use it from afar, but it’s so delightfully gory. Speaking in 2018 at the WAD conference (Doom’s Development: A Year of Madness), Romero remembers that they had a chainsaw in the studio, borrowed from Tom Hall’s girlfriend, to use as a reference for the art.

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I love that. They simply made a chainsaw look like a chainsaw. It’s that simplicity that I love, and what I think is so appealing about the game. There are no complex side missions or things to piece together – just stages to progress through.

I guess the complexity at the time – for both the creators and players – was in the 3D format. Along with Wolfenstein 3D it cemented the 3D shooter genre for decades to come, and it’s still thriving. It’s so easy to overlook given how far game design has come since, but at the time it was pioneering.

It’s almost ironic that my preconceptions about not liking games like Doom probably came from what I’ve seen of modern FPS games like Far Cry – open-world, lifelike, heavy duty gaming that is far too epic for my tastes. It seems all I had to do was look to the past, to the origins of the FPS to find one that I’d enjoy. And who knows, maybe I’ll end up playing through the whole evolution until I become a fan of the modern varieties.

The gosh-darn-it verdict

So, I’m pleasantly surprised. In playing Doom I’ve made an unlikely addition to my list of treasured DOS games. I’m still playing while I write this up. Afterwards I might try my hand at Wolfenstein and Half-Life. I’d also like to sample some of the many Doom mods that are out there.

Adventure games will always be top of my list, but it’s fun exploring genres that are outside of my comfort zone – especially when they contain an important piece of gaming history.

And hell, it’s nice to find a chainsaw that can actually be used.

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Achievement Unlocked Award

About a week ago I got a nice surprise when a notification popped up telling me Megan from A Geeky Gal has nominated me for this award. Thanks Megan!

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The Achievement Unlocked Award is for anyone who would fit into geeky blogging that goes above and beyond in our niche. Whether you are all about video games, DIY across all fandoms, sharing your cosplay journey, or anywhere in between, it all fits and is worth celebrating. – Michelle @ A Geek Girl’s Guide

Megan’s name crops up a lot in my blogging circles so I’m pretty honoured she thought of me! I urge you to go visit her great blog, covering a huge range of geeky endeavours from anime and gaming to cosplay, YouTubing and poetic musings.

What does the nomination mean?

The rules are simple: if you are nominated, you’ll answer the five below standard questions for every award and the five custom questions by the nominator. You’ll then change their custom five to five of your own questions and nominate other bloggers you think deserve this award. Make sure to thank whoever nominated you and include the award description as well!

Standard Questions

Why did you start your blog?

Musings of a Nitpicking Girl began as a blog about the English language. As well as being a grammar/spelling nitpicker I’ve always been interested in language and how we use it day to day, so I decided to write about it. Since then it’s morphed into a blog about my other passion: gaming (though sometimes I combine the two!)

What are your favourite topics to write about?

I love writing about meaty gaming theory (such as puzzle constructs; the role of hints; why we like mindless games) – usually of the retro kind. Recently I’ve really enjoyed getting back to some fiction writing by taking part in the Ultimate Video Game challenge.

What have you learned since you started your blog?

I’ve learned that there is a big blogging community out there – particularly in the world of gaming – and that it’s fun and rewarding to interact with other bloggers. I’ve always been a bit of a loner so I didn’t see that coming!

I’ve also learned to be myself – a blog is the perfect retreat to ramble on about what interests me, without judgement. I can write more professionally (ha!) elsewhere, but my blog is for me.

What do you love about being a geeky blog?

‘Geeky’ is a term that gets flung around a lot these days; ironically, it’s almost fashionable to be a geek now, despite its negative associations. But if I take it in the sense of being a bit niche I love connecting with people who have the same interests, and I enjoy exchanging ideas and thoughts about adventure games and cult TV/film, since not all of my ‘real life’ friends are into that.

Where would you like to see your blog go in the future?

I feel like it’s still growing, as I’ve not written that many posts (nowhere near Megan’s 300-odd!) I’m slowly accruing more followers, so I guess I’d like it to carry on as it is. I’ve got loads more to write about, and a burgeoning backlog of ideas still to explore. I don’t like to plan too much, so I’ll see where it ends up!

Custom Questions

What are you currently binge watching?

I’m currently working my way through ER with my husband. We’ve had lots of fun playing ‘spot the then-unknown actor’. I’ve been rewatching a lot of 3rd Rock from the Sun too (for an article, but now I’m hooked again). I’m also really enjoying the current series of Game of Thrones, but at one a week that’s not really binging. I’ve just started The Umbrella Academy, which is amazing, so that will most likely become a binge watch soon.

What was the last game you played that had an emotional impact on you?

Probably Inside. It’s so disturbing and atmospheric – even more so than Limbo – and I felt really quite affected by the time I reached the end. That’s rare for me, as I tend to be a bit desensitised to grim things what with me loving that sort of stuff… I don’t want to spoil it for others but there were just some parts of it that made me uneasy (in a good way), and really took my breath away.

Have you ever been to a convention?

Yes! But not of the gaming kind. I went to a couple of X-Files conventions as a teen (I’m a massive fan), with my friend who was equally obsessive about it. I came back with all sorts – comics, postcards, trading cards, the official map…

Oh, I’ve also been to Comic Con a few times, which was great (Christopher Lloyd gave a great talk and I’m pretty sure Corey Feldman is a robot).

What three apps do you use the most?

Twitter, WhatsApp and Google Keep!

When did you first realise you were a geek?

I still struggle a bit with what that term implies, but I suppose I’ve always been interested in things that would be classed as ‘geeky’ – retro stuff, tech, puzzles, video games, and generally being a bit socially awkward, haha. I spent a lot of time in front of my computer as a kid, while everyone else was out playing.

I guess it’s mixed in with a bit of nerd, too. As I’ve got older I’ve met lots of similar-minded people – in my colleagues, friends and husband (we like to compare Excel functions over a glass of vino) – and that’s been awesome.

That was fun!

My nominations…

(Caveat: if this isn’t your beef, please don’t feel obliged to do it!)

Standard questions

  • Why did you start your blog?
  • What are your favourite topics to write about?
  • What have you learned since you started your blog?
  • What do you love about being a geeky blog?
  • Where would you like to see your blog go in the future?

Custom questions

  • What does the term ‘geek’ mean to you?
  • If there was a regular blog about your life, who would you want to write it?
  • If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?
  • Would you rather have Sonic the Hedgehogs for feet, or Tetris pieces for hands?

The Ultimate Video Game: plot

INXS-Kick-border

I’m thinking this might be the hardest element to write, and as such I’ve been putting it off. I mean cripes, I’ve been dusting.

Recap: this post is part of The Ultimate Video Game, an ongoing challenge set by LaterLevels and OverthinkerY. I’ve already covered the setting, protagonist and antagonist in earlier posts.

April’s element is the plot. This bit feels really strange for two reasons. Firstly, when I write fiction it tends to be a more organic process as I go along (read: I’m too indecisive to make plans and stick to them); and secondly, it goes against my instinct to reveal big spoilers! (Seriously.)

Am I just procrastinating further? Probably. So without further ado…

The plot

The game opens on a family of four eating at a table. The little girl reaches for a bowl while her father tells a joke that makes everybody fall about laughing. They are happy.

The view pans back and now we are looking at them through a window. Back further, and we can see the whole building. The facade is that of an old English stately home, nestled in the picturesque countryside.

The people in the window suddenly freeze, and as we pan back further a gold frame comes into view around the scene; it’s actually a painting. There’s an audible sigh. We realise we’ve been looking through the eyes of Pete, who is slumped at his desk and wishing he was part of the happy family he imagined living there all those years ago.

A phone rings, and the story begins here.

Pete, an architect, is sent by his boss to take photos of an old office floor that has been buried underground for years, recently excavated by archaeologists. His company plans to gut it and build on top.

When Pete arrives, he’s transfixed by the perfectly preserved concoction of 80s computer systems and pop culture memorabilia. He starts taking photos, and begins piecing together the lives of the people that worked down here under the dim glow of the computer monitors. The lowly IT department at Frankfurter Bank.

But the more he finds, the more he realises something isn’t right. He finds cryptic notes, suspicious floppy disks and strange photos left by Earl, the IT head. It’s as if he was leaving a trail of important clues for someone in the future.

In 1989, Earl is gazing at an INXS poster wishing he was Michael Hutchence. In between, he completes some minor bug fixes and starts work on a misbehaving PC sent down from the fifth floor. His lead systems engineer strolls over to the coffee pot. Earl throws a grunt his way and rummages in a drawer for his screwdriver. He closes it, and notices a stream of coffee making its way to his feet. He looks up at the engineer, who is standing motionless while pouring coffee into a definitely-already-full mug.

His team have been acting strangely, lately.

After a few more incidents like this, Earl identifies that the level of insanity in his team is directly correlated to the amount of time spent at their workstations, and begins to suspect something much worse than an over-indulgence in marijuana. My team are acting peculiar, and it ain’t the doobies. He notes with interest that there have also been an unusual amount of issues reported to the helpdesk, ranging from small glitches to spontaneously combusting printers.

We learn that the bank is being hacked by a shady government organisation known as the Suits. The purpose of the hack, it turns out, is to covertly test a new mind control program, by uploading thoughts to the network and infecting its users [don’t ask me how, I’m just the narrator]. Unfortunately for Earl, his IT team are the perfect test subjects – low-profile, hidden away underground and the least bit of interest to their peers. Earl must find a way to stop the infiltration and avoid having his own brain turned to mush.

Back in the present, Pete has barricaded himself in the underground office – much to the fury of his management – while he digs deeper into the mystery. He becomes emotionally invested. From what he can deduce, the Suits are now long gone, eliminated one by one by Earl or by something else. He finds himself desperate to know what happened to Earl… then the clues run dry. They just stop. Exhausted and disheartened, he decides to take a break. He hauls the copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy text adventure from Earl’s backpack.

And then something strange happens. As he plays, the game starts returning commands as if speaking specifically to him. It’s spewing harsh warnings, threatening to fondle Pete’s brain if he continues to probe. At first Pete is amused (especially at the careless innuendo), thinking it’s part of the game (this is Douglas Adams, after all). But then it gets personal. Pete finds he was wrong about the Suits; one remaining evil genius still exists in the form of an AI – one that communicates (poorly) through a text adventure. It continues to rage, informing Pete that Earl is dead and his efforts are futile. Yeah, right.

With the help of Earl from the past, Pete takes down the AI and makes sure the mind control plan can never go ahead. He seals the gateway, and finally allows the building to be destroyed. At the end of the game Pete has one last task: to find Earl. Despite what the AI said, he knows he’s still alive. He eventually tracks him down, and makes his way to the isolated trailer park where he believes Earl has been hiding out.

When he gets there, he finds a grave. Another decoy, obviously. But then, in the church obituaries, he learns that Earl succumbed to a long illness shortly after he left the department. The AI was telling the truth; his death was nothing to do with the Suits. Just a cruel, bitter coincidence. That must be why he was in a hurry to leave clues – because he knew he wouldn’t be around to see it through.

Pete is crushed.

This last blow, and everything that has happened before it, throws Pete further into crippling loneliness. He can’t face going back to his meaningless, empty life – no job, an ex-wife who would now likely rinse him for everything he’s got, and a daughter who he’ll never get to see again. The pain would be immeasurable.

Then he remembers. Among other things, the AI had complained that its virtual environment was stuck in the 80s. It had absorbed the world Pete felt he always belonged in, instead of the bleak, vacuous present. He goes home to his computer and re-opens the gateway. Swallowing back tears, he uploads his consciousness, taking the place of the AI he destroyed.

Unforeseen Incidents: a punchy vindaloo

That’s right, I’m now rating video games on a curry scale.

On reflection, using ‘unforeseen incidents’ and ‘vindaloo’ in the same heading might give the wrong impression.

Anyway, now that I’ve put you off your lunch…

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Unforeseen Incidents (Backwoods Entertainment) is a modern point-and-click adventure following handyman Harper Pendrell as he uncovers a mysterious epidemic sweeping the nation.

I finished playing it last month and it left a huge smile on my face. Here’s why.

1. The lovingly hand-drawn artwork

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From the first screenshots, the artwork really grabbed me. I’m a big fan of Quentin Blake and this style reminds me of his work. The sketchy line-drawn art is really captivating – despite the similarities with Blake I didn’t find it at all childish or gimmicky, but raw and edgy. The use of colour and shading dramatises it so well, as do the gorgeous wild, outstretching Canadian-style backdrops. With every scene change I took a moment to take in the detail. Clearly a lot of thought has been put into these elements.

2. The self-referencing, tongue-in-cheek humour

Much of the dialogue and characterisation is amusing and slightly satirical, letting you know that despite all the drama the game doesn’t take itself too seriously. But what really hit my funny bone is Harper’s commentary as he struggles with the absurdity of what’s going on. His frequent asides also did a lot to draw me into the story and make me feel like we were discovering things together.

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The voice acting from Matthew Curtis (Harper) is spot on – his cynical remarks are delivered perfectly deep and deadpan, but with the right amount of agitation when it’s called for in moments of sheer panic towards the end. Harper is a totally relatable dude, not a caricatured superhero – and like most of the characters in the game he’s believable without being dull.

While some of the story is slightly predictable, it tries not to pander to the usual stereotypes and the humour really helps that. One of the best moments for me was right at the end.

**MILD SPOILER ALERT**

Harper and Helliwell’s relationship seems to be following that well-trodden path of dopey guy meets smart girl; girl teases guy; guy tries too hard; girl relents; they live happily ever after. Sure enough, in the final shot Harper leans in for a kiss – oh, here we go. But then Helliwell cuts him off, dryly informing him that ‘it’s not one of those moments’. The way that scene slices through the heavy drama and crashes us back down to Earth is just perfect.

**SPOILER-FREE ZONE**

3. The inspiration – The X-Files, Twin Peaks and Canada

Fans of cult TV shows are in for a treat. The Pacific Northwest landscape and eerie goings-on are heavily inspired by the likes of The X-Files, Twin Peaks and Fargo, and there are some nice little references (but not enough to get annoying).

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There’s also a strong Canadian inspiration. Many of the characters are named after streets in British Columbia – such as Harper, Pendrell (where Scully’s apartment was!), Rupert, Denman, Jervis and Cardero. Helliwell Bluffs is a set of cliffs in Helliwell provincial park. Yaletown – like the game’s Yelltown – is a hip neighbourhood in downtown Vancouver.

Canada is my favourite country outside of my own, and its best elements – stunning scenery, rich culture and dry wit – are well represented here.

4. The harmonious soundtrack

I’ve talked about this in an earlier post, but the music in this game is so beautiful. It’s integrated in a way that’s complementary without being imposing, to the point where you barely notice it.

I particularly love the hotel track, which is so very Twin Peaks. That whole segment is put together perfectly – the gentle, creeping music; the glow of the TV and aquarium; and the humble reception manned by a downbeat bellhop. It’s one thing to nail the atmosphere, artwork, characterisation and music in a game – but harmonising those things together takes skill.

5. The eclectic mix of puzzles

The style of puzzle varies throughout the game, keeping it fresh and challenging. Some are your standard point-and-click fare – combine item A with object B to make item C. Others ask you to follow instructions such as a recipe book in your inventory or notes from a friend. There are also recurring visual puzzles in the form of hacking computers (Pipemania style), or triangulating radio signals to find a new location.

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A lot of the bigger puzzles rely on memory (sometimes notetaking), and it’s important to listen carefully to the dialogue. Don’t let that put you off – the puzzles are pretty logical if you pay attention.

Having said that, there are a few that left me absolutely stumped and begrudgingly resorting to online help (there’s no in-game hint system). I won’t spoil them here, but if you know what I’m talking about – the reservoir puzzle, and the pads on the island.

Add to that anything that involves working out a password. I just didn’t see the logic or clear pathway that would lead to those solutions – they were a bit of a stretch. In the case of the pads puzzle, I think the main problem is that more than one answer seems to fit, so there’s a lot of trial and error.

6. Reactive gameplay

One thing I really noticed playing through the puzzles and interactions is that the game responded dynamically. That is, I got different responses or outcomes depending on where I’d got to in the puzzle chains or story. If Harper didn’t know why he needed a sandwich, he wasn’t interested. This is one of the few games I’ve played where that’s achieved almost perfectly. It’s logical, and the characters are behaving like real humans instead of churning out dialogue that doesn’t make sense or giving hints to something out of sequence. In my experience of adventure games, that’s not easy to accomplish.

Not without its niggles

While the game itself was great, I did experience some of the technical issues that others have talked about.

The transitions between scenes hang quite a bit, and I was often left in darkness wondering if it had crashed. Unfortunately the game actually did crash at quite a crucial moment towards the end (when Harper is in the ‘chair’), meaning I had to redo a lengthy sequence to get back to it. From what I’ve read this doesn’t seem to be hardware related. But not enough to put me off playing, or recommending.

So… buy it!

Unforeseen Incidents is available from Steam, GOG the Humble Store and directly from Application Systems Heidelberg (Unforeseen’s German distributor).

At the time of writing, Backwoods have just announced a Switch release – so even those people don’t have an excuse now. Settle down, engage your brain and let the mystery pull you in. Maybe even seal the deal with a curry.

9/10

The Ultimate Video Game: antagonist

antagonist

I’m trying my darnedest to keep up with the challenges posed by the Ultimate Video Game, because it’s fun and gives me an outlet for creative ramblings.

March’s element is the antagonist. I’m continuing with the ideas that came out of my setting and protagonists, because I want to finish what I’ve started – but who knows, I might jump in on the main competition at some point!

The game so far

The story is set in an abandoned IT room, excavated in 2019. Our heroes are Earl, head of the IT department in 1989; and Pete, an architect sent to renovate it in 2019.

The antagonist

It turns out the antagonist is a fundamental part of the game. This element brings Earl and Pete together, uniting them across time in a bid to uncover a conspiracy and set the past right.

1989

The antagonist takes the form of a shady organisation, known as The Suits, who are hacking into Earl’s IT network, though he doesn’t know it yet. Nor do we know their master plan – that will come later for the story element (I hope there’s a story element otherwise I’ll have to come back and edit this, which will be awkward).

The Suits consist of six members, ranging in age and background. Two are father and daughter; two are acquainted from their time in the police force; one is an ex-Army sergeant; and the other is the silent one in charge, a powerful presence with an entirely erased history. None of them question him – they simply follow.

2019

The more Pete delves, the more he gets sucked into Earl’s world. At first, he relishes the simple times of the 1980s, indulging in its music, tech and video games. But as the layers peel away he stumbles upon clues left by Earl revealing something much more sinister. The IT department was not as isolated as it seemed. They were watching, and waiting.

Earl thought it was over when the last of the Suits was found dead, but in 2019, in the flicker of the monitor, Pete discovers there are ways for our consciousness to live on.

Adventure gaming: can you take a hint?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about hints and walkthroughs, and their role in adventure gaming.

I’m someone who hates being told the answer to anything. If someone throws a riddle at me and I can’t get it, I’ll happily mull over it for weeks. The same with quiz questions – if I don’t know the answer straight away I still like to think on it, and I don’t want any hints. I’m not talking about obscure sports questions where I flat-out won’t know the answer, but those that just take a bit of thought.

And I guess that’s why I’m a pretty stubborn adventure gamer. I can be stuck on a puzzle for ages (cottage, Monkey Island 2) but it just feels like cheating to ask for a hint or look up a walkthrough. I feel like I’ve invalidated my game if I get too much help along the way.

Luckily, most adventure games worth their salt encourage puzzle-solving without brute force or reading a step-by-step guide. Some have hotspots that highlight important objects; others give textual clues at the press of a key; and most utilise dialogue with other characters to nudge the player in the right direction. This is important, and I feel like few games get it right. Reveal too much, and you’ve ruined the experience and the satisfaction. Reveal too little or give clues out of order with the gameplay, and your player’s left frustrated or confused.

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Monkey Island 2’s in-game hintline

I guess that fine balance of challenging puzzles vs keeping the player interested comes down to the golden rule of adventure games: puzzle chains must be logical. If there’s absolutely no reason why I would think to use that monkey on the water pump, I’m not likely to get there. Even if I could justify a small hint from a friend, they’d be hard pushed to give me one.

(This isn’t a monkey-wrench-bashing post by the way. I’m really not that upset about it.)

Back when I was scuffing my knees and typing commands into Space Quest II, there were none of these options if I got stuck. No internet for walkthroughs or tips, and none of my friends were even into adventure games (I know, right?!) Sure, Sierra had an extortionate overseas hintline, if I wanted to get myself grounded for a month.

They also had hint books you could order, but I had no idea at the time. Which is a shame because they were pretty good, and discreet – to read the text clearly you did so through an ‘adventure window’ card. Though there are some ‘fake’ hints – this is Sierra after all.

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Pages from the Space Quest II hint book, published by Sierra On-Line, 1989

Perhaps if I’d started with significantly more forgiving Lucasfilm games I’d have fared better. They were also much more creative in their hint-giving – see Zak McKracken, which came with a newspaper containing subtle hints and tips in the articles. That way it feels like you’re just enjoying another element of the game, not cheating.

So anyway, the lack (or ignorance) of resources explains why I didn’t complete Space Quest II until much later, and also perhaps why I’m so resistant to help. Uh oh, here comes grandma again. Back in the day there was no help, sonny! You let that alien kiss you, you pay the price!

I realise my innate stubbornness is detrimental to my gaming sometimes – especially with puzzle-focussed games like The Witness, which is still sitting there unfinished after about two years. I did look up a few solutions, but felt I couldn’t do that with every single one. I guess I’ll resort to a walkthrough, eventually.

My obsession with ‘failure’ aside, I think it takes the enjoyment and the purpose out of puzzle-solving to have a walkthrough constantly on-hand – it’s also a symptom of poor game design (or, cough, adventure games just aren’t your forte). But it’s also a shame to abandon a game because of one relentless puzzle, and if it’s just a case of admitting defeat and moving to the next bit, who’s to judge?

So what kind of adventure gamer are you? Do you happily use hints or walkthroughs along the way, or do you torture yourself until you get it?

Sources

Space Quest II hintbook image courtesy of www.sierragamers.com/Hint-Books [accessed 03/03/19] and the painstaking efforts of SierraVault reader, Vasyl.

The Ultimate Video Game: protagonist

protagonist

I really enjoyed the challenge of devising a setting for The Ultimate Video Game as part of Later Levels’ Question of the Month in January. I thought the winning entry by Hundstrasse was amazing and I really want to visit that world.

So February’s game element is the protagonist. There are two options set by the dev team: create a protagonist to reside in the previously winning setting, or create one for the setting you came up with.

Since a) I’m not great at writing characters, b) I’m short on time, and c) I’m void of ideas for the winning setting (see a), I’m going with the second option. This option isn’t eligible to win, but I wanted to do it for fun!

The abandoned IT room

As a reminder, the setting is an excavated IT room that’s been lying dormant since 1989, dug up in 2019 by some archaeologists. Everything is perfectly in place, as if its occupants left in a hurry.

Earl, the IT guy

Earl is one half of our protagonist duo. That’s right, I’m breaking the rules and having two, ha!

Earl is head of the IT department in 1989, shortly before The Big Untimely Accident, which I’m not allowed to talk about because this is strictly about characters, not plot. (I also wasn’t going to mention that parts of the game are played in flashback, but I guess that’s obvious now.)

Earl is a rising genius in the expanding world of IT, with a mechanically astute mind and an uncanny knack for troubleshooting. Unfortunately, he is also afflicted with a debilitating sense of apathy (thanks to Thatcher) and an addiction to onion bhajis. As such he spends his days slumped in the basement fixing minor issues and drawing what little enthusiasm he has from his younger, fresh-faced team mates.

In his younger days he was a looker. Now age has puffed his features, peppered his hair and made him stout (though that may be the bhajis). He wears army regulation khaki pants because they have lots of pockets to hold tools and attachments. His T-shirt is clean but faded, and when he sits down Cheetara grimaces from the folds.

Earl has a hard time convincing upper management about the importance of good IT infrastructure and rigid processes, to the extent that he is on the brink of throwing in the towel and donning a McDonald’s hat.

Pete, the architect

Back in 2019, Pete is the architect sent to take photos of the buried IT room for restructuring purposes. His company plans to gut it and build on top of it.

Pete is ambitious, but not on a psychopath level. He’s kind, with a creative eye and a built-in bullshit detector. He carries a picture of his daughter everywhere, but his wedding finger sports nothing but a rough indent. He buries himself in his work, trying to steer his company to support and protect the city’s historic landscape, instead of replacing it with flashy eyesores.

He’s a man of admirable precision, reflected in both his work and appearance; he’s always clean shaven, dresses casually but cleanly, armed always with a notepad, measuring tools and a Brompton bike.

He rarely indulges in anything, and will persistently be off sugar or caffeine – sometimes even cutting out random foodstuffs like potato or cinnamon. If you asked his colleagues they would say he’s self-punishing for something, but what do they know.

Very little, in fact. They wouldn’t know that he goes home and plays old video games. That he devours old books and is transfixed by old films. That he’s more content in the warm hug of the past than the grim, uncertain future. If they understood that, then they might understand his obsession with protecting old buildings.

If he could find a path to the past, he would blindly take it.