Developing Thoughts 24

Interaction Density

I came up with the term “Interaction Density” when I was part of a long forum discussion on the way there are no adventures targeted at 8-13 year old boys. Why did the likes of “Day of the Tentacle” and “Monkey Island” appeal to this age group when they came out, yet today’s adventure games fail to do so?

Some of the answer lies in the fact that adventure games no longer have that element of fun about them that they once did. Where are the talking skulls, the spitting contests, the tentacles trying to take over the world? Where is the grandiose sense of adventure written big, with jokes and dialogue to match? Some people are of the opinion that the answer lies in recreating the style of the old games and everyone will be happy, but that fails to take into account the changing nature of the game market.

There is another aspect to the problem that has only come about in recent years since the CD became commonplace, the lack of high Interaction Density.

Back when games for the PC and the Amiga came on floppy discs, space was short, so every location was made to earn its keep. On each colourful screen existed a veritable plethora of fun characters to interact with, objects to pick up and hotspots to examine, along with the regular puzzle-solving gameplay. In other words, there was always lots for the player to do in each location – the high Interaction Density ensure that the player shouldn’t become bored.

This thread over at the Adventure Gamers Forums caused me to think about why today’s adventure games might not be attractive to 8-13 year olds (boys, mainly). Aside from the fact that very few of them have the pure fun element that older games like Monkey Island or Day of the Tentacle, most of today’s adventures have a low Interaction Density.

Because older games had to make the most of limited floppy disc space, particularly on the Amiga, each location in an adventure was made to work hard for its keep. Each screen was filled with wonderful characters, objects to collect or interact with and hotspots to examine. Now, with the ability to cram ten times (or more) the number of locations onto a CD or DVD, even at very high resolution, the number of interactable items on each screen/location has reduced for the same amount of gameplay. The Interaction Density has decreased drastically, to the point in some places where there are strings of locations through which all the player character does is walk.

Game players of all ages don’t simply want to wander around, particularly young kids with notoriously short attention spans, so when there is little to interact with, the natural conclusion to draw is that adventures are boring and not worth bothering with. Action games, in comparison, offer an almost constantly high Interaction Density and are always going to be a better draw to gamers who want to be always “doing stuff” in the games they play.

Clearly, the time has come to address this balance by thinking more creatively about the layout of adventures so that they offer the same level of Interaction Density they used to.

© Steve Ince, 2005