Adventure Game Properties and Discussion
What Is an Adventure Game?
An adventure game has three primary defining elements:
The world, character, and puzzle are predetermined: you get the same game
every time you play.
An adventure game is primarily deterministic, although most will have some
minor random elements.
The puzzle is intellectual, not physical: neither reflexes nor dexterity are
The game might still include some real-time aspects, but the time limit should
be ample to perform the required action, once you determine that action.
- a world to explore
- a character to do the exploring
- a puzzle which the character must solve
Most adventure games will also have a story.
There are two aspects to story: a background story, describing and
justifying the world and the character; and a plot, which is built by the
game player as the game is played.
The world, the character(s), and the background story collectively define a
setting for the game.
Elements of an Adventure Game
You play the role of a character in the world.
The interface might give you a first person view of the world, a third
person view, or a god's-eye view.
Either way, the character is your puppet.
Some games will allow or require you to play several characters.
Distilled to its basest essence, an adventure game is a puzzle to be solved.
The big puzzle usually contains many smaller puzzles.
Many adventure games contain more than just riddles and logic and assembling
pieces of a puzzle.
They might also include arcade sequences, like shooting down invading aliens,
and synchronous combative duels, like a game of chess.
A game challenge is any such obstacle that the player must overcome to complete
Much of the creativity of an adventure game consists of inventing new types
Trivial actions, such as simply moving about, picking up readily accessible
objects, or talking to actors do not usually constitute a challenge:
a challenge requires some amount of significant deliberation and choice by the
player, and leads to a significant change of state of the game.
A trigger is a non-trivial change of state in the game that is caused by a
trivial player action, one that lacks the effort needed to constitute a
Like a challenge, a trigger is a device used to control the flow of a game.
For example, simply examining an object can set off a trigger causing a new
dialogue entry with some actor.
For another example, entering a room can cause time to pass, resulting in many
state changes throughout the game world.
Your character is usually not the only active being in the world.
Actors are other characters that are controlled by the computer.
They are also known as non-player characters (NPCs).
In adventure games, actors tend to have a very limited scope of activity.
They are usually there either to provide some information or object, or as a
The world is a collection of discrete locations.
You character moves from one location to another, exploring and mapping the
Access to some locations is restricted: overcoming a restriction is often
one of the challenges.
The world is filled with objects which your character can manipulate.
An object might be: a treasure to be collected; an abstract entity, like a
code word or a fact; a tool to accomplish some act; a device, such as a switch;
or an actor, whom you must influence.
Correctly gathering and utilising objects is the primary way to overcome the
Many adventure games are played in the context of a story.
The story might have a strong plot, guiding the actions of your character and
determining the challenges.
At the other extreme, the story might be no more than a background
justification for the world and character.
Qualities of an Adventure Game
There are two aspects to linearity: geography and path (sequence of play).
A geographically linear game would have only one location to advance to from
the current location, although you might also be able to retreat to the
previous location. A geographically open game has all game locations available
from the current location: i.e., you can get to any other location without
having to pass some challenge. Few if any adventure games are strictly linear.
Almost all have an initial set of available locations, and solving a challenge
opens up new locations for exploration, and may also close off older ones.
Since there is relatively little variation in the geographical linearity of
games, I will henceforth equate linearity with path linearity.
The path of an adventure game is linear when there is only one choice for the
next trigger or challenge to be faced. This excludes simple things like
straightforward exploration, picking up available objects, and talking to
simplistic, benign actors. At the other extreme is a completely open,
non-linear path: all the game challenges are immediately presented and soluble
with immediately accessible objects. Note that the latter condition is
necessary: if you must solve challenge 1 before you will be able to solve
challenge 2, and so on, then that is still a linear game.
Most games lie between these extremes. Some subset of all the challenges is
presented and some subset of that is soluble. The degree of linearity of the
game is related to this breadth of possible advancements through the course of
the game. A highly non-linear game has many different sequences of challenges
that the player can take to get from the beginning to the end.
Multiple solutions to a challenge is similar to the non-linearity described
above. These too create multiple paths through the game.
An adventure game is strongly connected when the solution of one challenge
requires objects from many other locations, and yields objects for (or access
to) other challenges. A disconnected game is a set of unrelated challenges:
all the objects and information needed to solve a challenge are present at
the challenge's location. E.g., having to beat Death at a game of chess is
disconnected, since winning a game of chess is a challenge whose solution is
independent of any aspect of the adventure.
The story of the adventure should be relevant to the challenges. As an example
of irrelevance, consider a stock murder mystery where the clues are a bunch
of cut-out puzzle pieces that go together to form the image of the murderer:
knowledge of the story (e.g., the occupations of the suspects) has no bearing
on the solution of the mystery.
Another way of describing a relevant challenge is to say that the challenge
is contextual with the setting and story.
A puzzle is reasonable if it can be solved logically, or via allusion or some
other obtainable clue. I.e., the puzzle can be solved via deduction using
presented facts and objects and/or common knowledge.
Some Common Failings
The only sure way to gather some required information is to die and restore
the game. This also includes situations where you might get away with a lucky
For example, you come to a fork in a path. If you go to the left you
immediately and inescapably die. There should be something that guides you to
the right fork. Otherwise, the sense of immersion -- of role-playing -- is
lost, not because of the particular situation, but because you were resurrected
with knowledge of your previous life.
A dead-end is a situation in which you can continue playing but you
are unable to complete the game. A long dead-end is one where you can
continue playing -- solving challenges, advancing the story -- for a
significant portion of the game before discovering that you cannot complete it.
It is especially bad if it is not obvious that you are incapable of finishing
the game, as opposed to just not being clever or observant enough to continue.
You may also find yourself in a situation where you know you can't win, but
you don't know when or where or what your error was.
For example, suppose you find a cookie in the opening location. You pick it
up and eat it. You play almost the entire game until the ultimate showdown
with the wizard, who can only be defeated by giving him the cookie.
You should always have good reason for your actions. You should never be
forced into broad trial and error testing. Even though the required action
might be reasonable, if it is not one of a small set of reasonable actions
then the game should either provide you with some guidance or rely upon a
For an abstract example, an object may accept many reasonable actions. You
should not be forced to try them all until one triggers and advancement in
the game. There should be some guidance that favours one action. This could
simply be a well defined goal for the location.
For a concrete example, you come across a combination lock. You must
set the correct combination to open it and continue. There should be a clue
somewhere that states the combination: you should not have to guess it.
You should not have to do something ridiculous or out of character to continue.
Note that silly is a relative judgment: some things are silly if you
lack certain information, but are otherwise reasonable.
For example, you must kick a cat to cause it to cough up a fur-ball that
contains a diamond. If you know the diamond is inside the cat (i.e., the game
will reveal this), it's not too silly, but otherwise it's completely silly.
Note that silliness is also relative to the tone of the game. In the previous
example, kicking the cat etc. would always be a silly action in a serious
game. Only in a humourous, cartoon game would it be an acceptable way to
dislodge an ingested diamond.
Describing Games in the Reviews
Each game review will include a form section that describes some qualities
and properties of the game.
- rating: On a scale from -5 to +5.
- -5 a regretful experience
- -3 a regretful purchase
- +0 enjoyable, but I didn't hurry home after work to play it
- +3 lots of fun
- +5 a great game: who needs sleep?
Cursor control includes using the mouse with clicks, a joystick with
buttons, and even using arrow keys to move a cursor, with enter or space
as action buttons.
- text: The world is described in words.
- 1st paned: The world is graphically presented from the first
person persepective. It is a set of discrete locations with fixed
- 1st 360: The world is graphically presented from the first
person perspective. It is a set of discrete locations, but you are
free to look in any direction (or at least most) from your standing
- 1st 3D: The world is grphically presented from the first
person perspective. It is a 3D simulation through which your character
is free to move to arbitrary positions and view from various angles.
- 3rd paned: The world is graphically presented from the third
person perspective, such that your character is usually visible. The
viewpoint is from a fixed perspective of each scene. You character is
free to move within each scene.
- 3rd 3D: The world is graphically presented from the third
person perspective, such that your character is usually visible. It is
a 3D simulation through which your character is free to move to
arbitrary positions. Your viewpoint follows your character and may
take various angles under your control, although it might be tied to
the character's position and facing.
- parser: You control your character via typed commands. This
can include using the arrow keys. It also includes a mouse based
command constructor, so long as the full set of possible commands is
not revealed to the player.
- menu: You direct your character mostly via a cursor with
clicks. There is a selection of actions, possibly context sensitive,
for you to choose from. E.g., "examine", "take", "push", "open".
- simple: You direct your character mostly via a cursor with
clicks. There is only a small selection of actions, no more than
"examine", "use" and "get". The cursor may change to indicate what
type of action will be performed by the "use" click.
- none: There is no real-time aspect to the game.
You can pop off for dinner at any time.
- minor: There are spots with time constraints, but the
time window is large enough, relative to the task you must
accomplish, that it does not constitute a dexterity test.
- occasional: There are a few arcade sequences. Nimble fingers
- significant: There are many arcade sequences.
- easy: You're just in it for the story.
- pedestrian: You have to stop and think, but not too hard
and not too often.
- challenging: The clues are obvious, but how they fit together
isn't. You might want to take notes.
- difficult: It would give Sherlock Holmes a run for his money.
You have to pay attention to every little detail, and make some
brilliant deductions (or resort to exhaustive trial and error).
An open challenge is one for which you have all the prerequisies
(knowledge, objects, and access) to solve it.
- straight: There is seldom more than one open challenge.
- narrow: There are seldom more than two open challenges.
- wide: There are usually several open challenges, and there
are several occasions with three or more open challenges.
- open: There are usually many open challenges, more than
three on some occasions.
- segmented: The game is a linear sequence of segments.
There are several common checkpoints for all possible solutions.
Each segment may have its own linearity.
- branching: The game splits into mostly-independent branches.
The branches can be completed in any order, and you may even be able
to switch back and forth between incomplete branches, working them
- disconnected: Each challenge stands on its own.
- minimal: There are many stand-alone challenges, but there
are also a few connected challenges.
- moderate: Nearly all challenges are connected, but commonly
on a one-to-one basis. E.g., the gold key opens the red door, and
there's no other use for the gold key.
- high: The world is filled with tools and information that may
be used in many ways. Several objects can be used multiple times.
- weak: The story is just an excuse to frame the challenges.
- moderate: The story provides a framework and justification
for the challenges, but is not often directly involved with them.
- strong: The story is an integral part of the challenges.
- silly: Game play largely consists of trial and error.
- sporadic: There are a few wild challenges, but most
have either some justifiable solution or some justifiable action that
happens to lead to a solution.
- reasonable: There might be a few questionable solutions, but
even they should follow from a reasonable use of objects.
- deductive: All puzzles are solvable via logic, provided
clues, and familiar allusions.