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 required. 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.

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 the game. Much of the creativity of an adventure game consists of inventing new types of challenges. 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 challenge. 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 challenge.

The world is a collection of discrete locations. You character moves from one location to another, exploring and mapping the world. 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 challenges.

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 guess.

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.

Long dead-ends

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.

Arbitrary actions

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 familiar allusion.

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.

Silly actions

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.