So, the most talked about gaming story of the past week has been Tim Schafer’s Double Fine collecting, as of this writing, nearly 2-million dollars via Kickstarter to make a new adventure game. Which is great — hopefully this proves to be a huge shot in the arm to both the adventure genre, and indie game development in general. Here’s what nobody seems to be asking though — what’s the game actually going to be like?
Don’t get me wrong, I love Tim Schafer, but none of his games have been perfect. His games stick with you because of their memorable worlds and endearing characters, but when you get past the great writing, the games themselves are often pretty flawed. Schafer’s classic 90s adventure games had their share of issues, and those issues are going to be all the more glaring if they’re still present in 2012 (or 2013, or whenever this game comes out).
If Schafer wants to truly take full advantage of the opportunity fans have given him, he should consider the following…
Fix the Interface and Controls
Schafer’s 90s adventure games all attempted, in their own ways, to streamline the point-and-click experience, with only limited success. Grim Fandango’s take on inventory management and environmental interaction was particularly flawed, forcing players to tediously scroll through their entire inventory whenever they wanted to use an item, and position their avatar in exactly the right spot on screen to interact with objects.
If Schafer wants this game to appeal to anyone beyond hardcore adventure fans, the interface and controls have to be as streamlined and easy to use as possible. Also, forcing players to carry around an overstuffed inventory full of 50 mostly useless items absolutely has to be a thing of the past.
I think a great model for Schafer to look to would be the fantastic 2009 indie adventure game Machinarium. In that game your icon indicated whether you could interact with an object, and interaction was never more complicated than a quick left click of the mouse. There was no deciding what specific function you wanted your cursor to have — you just clicked on something without having to worry about whether you wanted to look, pick-up, talk or use it. The inventory was also easily accessed by simply moving your cursor to the top of the screen, and it rarely contained more than half-a-dozen items.
Basically, if you can’t control the game easily with one finger on an iPad, its interface is probably too complicated.
At least in terms of interface and control, Machinarium easily beats out any of Schafer’s old adventure games.
Keep the Design Philosophy Behind the Puzzles Consistent
The puzzles in Schafer’s adventure games have tended to be all over the place. The puzzles will be mostly “combine this with that” types, and then suddenly he’ll throw a weird timing-based puzzle or entirely new mechanic at you.
The logic behind the puzzles and the methodology of solving them should always feel consistent, and if you want to throw some new mechanic at us, make sure you properly explain it, rather than just forcing the player to figure it out.
Keep the Action Out of It
Platforming, fighting, mini-games — all these things have to be kept far, far away from this game. Schafer just isn’t very good at action. Even his recent, more action-based games haven’t done it overly well. Psychonauts got by largely on it’s writing and great sense of style — as a platformer it was merely okay to good. Brutal Legend’s RTS gameplay was by all accounts a mess.
There’s no publisher pressuring you to action-it-up this time Tim, so please, resist the urge to make this some sort of weird adventure/racing/brawler/RPG hybrid. You sold us on the idea of a new Double Fine adventure game, so stick to that.
Give Us Whimsical Tim Schafer
There’s basically two Tim Schafers — the guy who makes incredibly original, whimsical, endearing games like Grim Fandango and Psychonauts, and the guy who makes games about bikers, demons and heavy metal and just generally seems to be trying way too hard to be cool. Sure, Full Throttle was good stuff, but I’d prefer the former Schafer writes this game.
Leave Jack Black out of this one. Thanks.
Don’t Lean Too Heavily on Nostalgia
Yes, nostalgia is one of the main reasons gamers funded this project in the first place, but the game shouldn’t just be a graphically spiffed up take on late-90s LucasArts adventure games. We already have Telltale for that.
This is a chance to really push the adventure genre forward in interesting ways without any restrictions from publishers. To inject some new blood into an ailing genre. I won’t be upset if this game just ends up being a fun nod to the past, but it could and should be something more.