Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Adventure games are back ... are they ?

Adventure games ... remember them ? We used to play them a lot: Myst, The Curse Of Monkey Island, Syberia, Gabriel Knight, the Seventh Guest, Broken Sword, ... I am sure it brings fond memories to some of you.

Adventures games used to represent a large share of the market but over the years, they have slowly but surely faded away from our scopes. There are a few studios who make good point-and-click adventures but they are struggling to make them as cheap as possible to produce. No publisher today is ready to support ambitious adventure

The reason is simple: Publishers don't make money with them anymore. There are just not enough buyers. Interest for adventure games seems to be gone ... but is it really the case ?

An adventure game delivers two promises to a player, two benefits: 1) It takes him or her along a compelling and mysterious story and 2) it challenges his brain. To summarize, a good adventure game must bring a story and puzzles.

Recent successful development has shown that there is a strong interest from the public for at least one of those two components: Puzzles. Machinarium ( is a successful well-crafted flash games that relies on very smart puzzles. The first few levels are free and once you have completed them, the urge ot buy the full game is strong. The game costs $20 or 14€. It is not cheap but it good value for your money. Another well-known example is Professor Layton on DS. More expensive to develop, this game has been hugely successful. An older example on DS is Phoenix Wright - Ace Attorney.

Now, what about the other component of successful adventure games, the story ? Can we build a successful game with just that ? I see one example: The Hysteria Project on the iPhone. Developped by the french studio Bulky Pix, this game offers little puzzles but is quite immersive. It has been quite successful and follow-up episodes are in the making.

Who could say there is no money to make in adventure games ?

Hence my conclusion; The traditional format of adventure game is probably dead but there are still players out there who are looking for their specific thrills. We have to offer them in new formats and we have to brush up design concepts in order to renew their appeal.

What are your thoughts on this topic ? Do you believe, as myself, in the future of adventure games ?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Difficulty curve - Is there such a thing as the ideal curve?

The construction of a difficulty curve is one of the key tasks in level design.

If the difficulty is poorly tuned, the game can become either impossible or boring. We all have memories of difficulty peaks in game that led to the distant throw of a pad or a mouse. on the contrary, how many games have we stopped playing because there was no more challenge ?

Does that mean a difficulty curve should always be smoothly upward ? Of course not. There is no ideal difficulty curve. Recent triple-A titles have shown that totally different approaches are quite valid.

For its shooting sequences Uncharted - Drake's Fortune follows a classical approach to difficulty curve construction . It is built like a staircase. Difficulty is flat, then it increased significantly and remains flat for a while until the next step. The introduction of a new category of enemies or the total number of them in a given firefight often trigger such steps.

Gears of War 2 or FEAR 2 follow a different approach. Their difficulty curve is basically flat. There are a few difficulty peaks from time to time but those are exceptionnal. Of course, if you change the difficulty setting, the game's experience will change but the level design does not.

The designers of FEAR 2 and GoW 2 are not using the difficulty curve to "glue" the player to their game machine. Epic designers constantly renew the player's experience while Monolith's designers use storytelling to achieve the same result: Getting the player hooked to the end of the game.

I draw two lessons from my analysis:
  1. There is no single approach to the construction of the difficulty curve
  2. The profile of the difficulty curve in the game should be planned as one of the components that build a player's experience and should not be an afterthough.