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Ideas for REAL Gameplay, anyone?

I am currently looking for ideas to integrate some proper gameplay into an adventure game. Let me explain: in p+c adventure games, the player follows one specific path from the beginning to the end. He does not have the freedom of choice, except for non-linear storys, but this is not the level of decision-making I am on about. There are no decisions to make, no self-set goals or problems to solve apart from the puzzles we developers put in there.
Other genres, like shooters, rpg or strategy, contain so many and sophisticated gameplay mechanics that they would even work without any story or pre-written content. Drop a player into a survival game, just with some enemies and a world to explore and harvest from - all right. A strategy game with just two bases and resources spread across the map - all right.
Almost any other genre requires the player to make dozens of decisions a minute. Where do I go? What do I spend my money on? Do I want to fight that enemy? How will I fight it? Which weapon to choose? How do I get that weapon? Should I build building A or building B?
My problem is that these gameplay mechanics generate lots of fun and playtime - and we do not have them. Sure, a game focussed on narration is nothing bad. But in the end, what do you do with an adventure game, is watch it like a TV-show (dialogue and cutscenes), walk a couple of paths over and over again (boring) and think about how to proceed (which you do not actually need the game running for).
For every minute of playtime we have to put hours of work into the game. A game that will most likely end up without any replay value as well as without the fun of real playing, because you never really play. It is a visit in a museum vs a game of paintball. A museum can be fine, but there is never that much fun and excitement and tension, even in a good one.

So, here comes the question: How can we get at least a glimpse of fun and playtime generating gameplay mechanics into an adventure game? Mechanics that give the player some freedom and force him to solve problems dynamically, over and over again (instead of pre-written problems)? I am not looking for anything too complicated, because I still want the game to remain an adventure game - just with some additional oomph!

Things I thought about are based on collecting optional items (to create some kind of loot spiral) or to give the ability to build/decorate something. That could be fun, but what it is good for? How can I connect these kind of things with the rest fo the game's static puzzles?


  • edited April 2018
    Ummm, I'll speak both as a Indie dev and as a Player.

    First, you are thinking very "classic" adventure games. They do tend to drag if not done well. If the story and dialogues are mediocre or the puzzles are ridiculously easy or hard it's a fail. For a standard adventure game to be good you have to be good at plotting story and dialogues, or have a good writer to do it for you. If you do it correctly your scenes will have tension and emotion, if you don't, then the story'll be boring and inconsequential. The other route is to have fun and interesting item interactions, but that's often not enough to make an adventure game less lame (I know a lot of people will hate me for saying this, but old games like Monkey Island are just plain boring... unless you go back in time, when most other game genres had terrible or no story at all).

    Personally, I prefer story driven styles like the "Ace Attorney" series or "The wolf among us", which can be incredibly fun, or hybrids which mix other genres. Hybrids mix easier with some genres like survival, platforming or simulation. I guess in hindsight you can probably mix adventure games with any kind of genre. But at least the story element should remain strong (else it's not an adventure anymore). It's just a matter of separating the gameplay stages. You can have "modes" or "phases" in your game, like your home base could work like a regular adventure game, but once out in the wild you could switch gameplay to survival or strategy, etc.

    The only thing is, if you are committed to do "more than the norm", then you WILL have to work harder for it. When it comes to gameplay, you can't make a truly original game if you just rely on an asset, You need to be ready to get your hands dirty to make your ideas a reality. In such cases you should use Assets like AC as a foundation for your gameplay, but you shouldn't expect AC, or any other asset for that matter, to do everything for you...
  • edited April 2018
    @Alverik That's blasphemy 'round these here parts! 

    @Klabautermann Have you ever tried the game In Cold Blood? It was made by the developers of Broken Sword, and serves as a sort of hybrid, as Alverik described, it is an adventure game, with dialogue and puzzles etc, but also stealth / action game - Metal Gear style. It can be considered very clunky now and it's age shows, but give it time and hopefully you'll appreciate what they tried to do with it. In fact, it could do with a remake. Do you here me Revolution? 
  • Hey, thanks for your responds!

    @Alverik I do like story-based games. I do think it is the (only) thing that makes adventure games interesting. I do not care for puzzles, I want story and atmosphere.
    Problem is, these games tend to get boring (yes, like Monkey Island :-P). The Wolf Among us managed not being boring very well, I loved that game. But that is because they created a cinematic experience, like a movie, just with decisions. They had great animations and cutscenes and voice actors and stuff. On a low budget (I used all of mine to buy AC) that is very difficult to recreate. So I am looking for something to spice up the gameplay a little.
    But you are right, there never is a simple solution. I should have known better ;)

    No, I have not played In Cold Blood (or Broken Sword). In fact, I do not play many Adventure Games at all, because they tend to be ... boring and never come without some really stupid puzzles. But I will take a look on Youtube, thanks for the hint.

    Atm I am trying to create some kind of fighting system, maybe add some stealth passages later on.
  • edited April 2018
    @Klabautermann you could try Firewatch and Oxenfree, they're both adventure games done a little different.

    Firewatch, specially, shows a hybrid done well. You have all these gameplay features to hike that help the player do stuff even when just traveling through the park (climbing, jumping down from a ledge, tying a rope, climbing down a slope using a rope, checking out the compass or the map, etc). Like game designer Scott Rogers used to say "WALKING IS NOT GAMEPLAY", by simply modifying the terrain/level and giving the player different skills to traverse the map you are already keeping them busy. Often, Firewatch keeps players engaged by simply giving the players a place to go to (as a goal), and it doesn't get boring since usually there're several paths to take and "skills" to use to move around and keep your bearing (and you'll likely end up exploring the area you are in out of your own curiosity). Also, the way they used the radio to do "Examine" interactions was pretty neat and the dialogues are good (though the story is more like a Slice of Life, so don't expect an epic finale).

    Oxenfree also has some trekking, you can climb walls and tall rocks, etc (in a 2D perspective), but, specially, it does conversations in a slightly different way. You are allowed to move while hearing the others talking (more often than not, they're following you), so the devs trigger a lot of conversations while you are just traveling from place to place throughout the island (a feature I had been imagining for a while, even before I played this game), this removes the monotony from just moving around, and keeps you on your toes since you are constantly made to choose answers with a timer (you get some speech bubbles to choose from). They also used the radio as a gameplay element and use it in many places to get past obstacles or find collectibles. Oxenfree is another good example of an adventure game that keeps the player busy.

    I think both are good experiences that might give you some inspiration.
  • edited April 2018
    @Klabautermann Well, you could use beeping scrolling sounds for dialogues too. I've played so many games that use them that I'm used to them. I find them better than silence. Sometimes they even feel creative, like when they use a different tone register for different characters (girls get higher pitched beeping sounds, etc). There's also the option of simulating speech with randomized syllables, which could even be worked as far as making it sound as a foreign language, like in Okami, which was a really neat effect. But you'll probably need to add some rules regarding the repetition of syllables in your code to prevent excessive repetition of the same syllable (I think there's a simple example of randomized syllables for AC in the wiki).
  • @Alverik
    Thanks for the recommendations! Firewatch has been on my list for a long time now. When I startet creating games last year, my first project was something very similiar to Firewatch (I assume) in UE4. In the end I threw the concept away because it needed a much bigger open world than I was able to create on my own. So I switched to Unity+AC.

    I know there a several ways to handle the lack of budget, but in story-focussed, cinematic experiences I do not think they really work. I know from my modding times how much of a difference good voice actors alone make. You can still create a pretty good game without all the expensive stuff, but it just is not the same. Take a great game, strip away voice over, CGI cutscenes, MoCap-animations and stuff and it just is not the same anymore. Not the highest quality writing can compensate the lack of atmosphere.

    I like your hint concerning the movement and climbing. I have already replaced the stupid Point and Click with direct character control, but giving the player more options and challenges

  • edited April 2018
    @Klabautermann Don't depend on a feature you don't think you can implement... If you can't get voice acting, then design the game in a way you don't need it. Your modding experience might actually be getting in your way right now, since when you mod you have no option but to depend on the features the game already has.

    Plus, I disagree, a story based game can be really griping and emotional even without voice acting (no different than a good book). Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice comes immediately into mind. Granted, the game is not "Cinematic", as in watching an "action movie", but good writing outshines the lack of voice acting (and bad/boring dialogues are still bad/boring, even if you actually have good voice actors). It's outstanding how much a game like that can achieve with just a few reusable animations per character and some simple camera work. Properly choreographed they make the story work.

    I think, besides good writing, one of the keys in Ace Attorney games is good animation. They tend to use exaggerated but expressive animations, then they reuse the few animations per character through out the whole game. Character design is obviously also a focus for them (not only back story but unique visuals). But, I digress... my point is that it it all comes down to your game design. You have to decide what to give focus to. If you can't do something then you find a work around, else you just drop it or find an alternative.
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