Jane Jensen – an odd approach to completing a game

I was just reading the Jane Jensen interview over at Gameboomers when I spotted the following:

“I think it’s possible for everyone to finish with a couple of caveats – first, that you have access to the internet and know how to search for walkthroughs!”

I think this is a dreadful way to approach the design of a game.  I’m not against walkthroughs, which serve a very useful function, but I’m against a designer relying on them as a means for the player to be able to get through the game.  It suggests that the game has puzzles that are too difficult or the logic is unclear. 

Again, this isn’t a problem in itself, but if you suspect that players are going to become stumped then you should either re-design the puzzle, make it clearer or provide additional clues and/or pointers or employ a hint system which enables the player to keep going, rather than have them leave the game to find a walkthrough.

10 thoughts on “Jane Jensen – an odd approach to completing a game

  1. Igor Hardy says:

    I think Jane meant this as a joke. Mostly.

    Well, it’ s true that adventure game puzzles are not pure logic puzzles – the same puzzle will work with some people and their way of thinking, others will be totally stumped. But of course this sounds like there isn’t a difference between a badly designed, poorly-hinted adventure game puzzle and a brilliant one – there obviously is, it just isn’t sharply defined.

  2. Richard says:

    “It suggests that the game has puzzles that are too difficult or the logic is unclear.”

    Maybe, although many players will reach for a walkthrough even if the puzzles are great and there’s full hints in the game (whether they’re a complete walkthrough like, say, Emerald City Confidential, or the occasionally frustrating nudges of Telltale’s games). Getting stuck has never been much fun, even in the best games.

    In this case though, I took her response to be ‘anyone is technically able to finish it’ – as in, you won’t be happily powering through, when suddenly you have to do a shooter section or something that requires action-game skills the player may not have. Which seems fair, really. Although I haven’t seen any more of GM than anyone else, so it may or may not be true.

    (On a wider level, I think one of the problems here – in the sense of challenge as opposed to something wrong – is that Gray Matter is primarily being sold as a story, not on its actual mechanics. No problem if you buy it as An Adventure Game, but there’s no guarantee that someone who thinks the premise sounds cool will be up for traditional puzzles in the first place. I love a good puzzle, but really what always drew me to adventures were things like settings and dialogue, humour, drama and characters I couldn’t get anywhere else. The satisfaction of solving a good puzzle was the cherry on the top, never the point of the exercise.)

  3. Steve says:

    Hmm… Didn’t come over as a joke to me, Igor.

    I appreciate that not everyone can get all puzzles in the same way, which is why walkthroughs can be useful. However, if a designer starts to rely on a walkthrough they may get into the mentality of “if they get stuck they can always use a walkthrough” which is a weakness on the part of the designer.

    Jane Jensen may not be guilty of this, of course, but the comment in the interview has allowed me to make a point about how a designer perhaps ought to approach the design process.

  4. Steve says:

    I seem to have got out of sync with comments/approval.

    Richard, I wasn’t trying to suggest that people shouldn’t use walkthroughs, just a question of whether a designer should rely on that.

    Your last paragraph is an interesting one. Because it’s being sold on the story, it suggests that it’s only being marketed towards the hardcore fans because they’ll automatically know what the mechanics will be. Perhaps adventure publishers need to look at the way Professor Layton and Hotel Dusk were marketed.

  5. Richard says:

    Oh, sure, the player should never need something from outside the game to be able to solve it. Relying on some guy in Maine explaining the moon-logic to the rest of the world is about as bad as it gets. No argument there.

    I do think we’ve got a really interesting situation though, where getting stuck is largely a question of player choice rather than anything else. At the same time, there’s some fun psychology behind it. Looking for a walkthrough = cheating. Reading the exact same thing via in-game hints = game is ‘dumbed down’.

    It’s not unlike FPS games with quicksaves, really. Everyone complains that they’re too short. Nobody wants spaced out checkpoints or other ‘fixes’. Dilemma.

    As for the Layton/Dusk thing, I definitely agree, but I think the problem goes beyond basic marketing. One of the biggest problems is that traditional adventure games feel compelled to hide what they are from the non-initiated – and usually for pretty good reasons. A box promises an exciting swashbuckling adventure that looks like Uncharted. The reality turns out to be walking around a static town having very long, slightly sarcastic conversations. A new game’s sell promises a thrilling murder mystery… the game has you baking cookies.

    Obviously, there are exceptions to the rule, but in general, it’s no wonder that the marketing people have difficulty finding a decent hook for the very traditional games outside of throwing a wink to existing fans. Story alone doesn’t cut it. Adventures are rarely shocking in terms of content, and the ones that are rarely get a good reception. As for the minute-by-minute stuff, the actual puzzle solving is only part of the attraction for most people, but the dominant part of the actual game, and the one most likely to cause frustration and annoyance.

    Marketing nightmare, really.

    This doesn’t tend to be the case with games like Layton or Phoenix Wright, where the interactive elements generally mesh better with the story instead of chafe against it, and form a massive part of the actual sell. If the game’s heavy on narrative, the mechanics are built to support that, not a twenty-year old nostalgia trip. If they’re puzzle games, you can tell very easily if you’re going to like the style, and at the very least it won’t come as a nasty surprise. Much better all round, really.

    (There’s no big reason that this couldn’t work for traditional adventures, although I think the strides made in other genres make it increasingly tricky to convince people not brought up on those rules that no, you can’t just, say, chuck a brick through a window instead of wasting time opening the door with the newspaper trick. “That Won’t Work” doesn’t cut it if you’re not pre-disposed to say “Okay, if that’s not what I’m supposed to do…”)

  6. Steve says:

    Plenty to think about here. Your comment on the cheating vs dumbed-down is interesting and one that I’ve never considered in that context before. I guess that it can’t be cheating if it’s part of the game, right? 🙂

    On a similar note, I’ve never enjoyed video games that force you to take notes or draw maps.

    The biggest thing that I’m pulling from your comment is that adventure marketing really needs to be completely re-invented. It does feel very apologist at times – “Excuse me, I don’t mean to impose, but would it be possible for you to consider our little game? Only if you don’t mind and if you have the time. Sorry to have bothered you. I’ll go away now…”

  7. Richard says:

    Yeah, I hate drawing maps too. Brr.

    As far as marketing goes, Telltale is probably the best of the adventure companies that I’ve dealt with over the last couple of years, both in terms of press relations and general community stuff. It doesn’t hurt that they’ve had some great licenses, but that’s definitely not the only reason for their success.

  8. Steve says:

    You could argue that part of their marketing strategy is the choosing of such licenses. I agree, though, they are definitely the best in delivering the whole package in a very attractive way.

    I met Dan Connors at last year’s GamesCom in Cologne and he was a real pleasure to talk to.

  9. Richard says:

    True, but not without its risks. Nobody knew who they were when they did CSI, and being the company that killed Sam and Max wouldn’t have done wonders for later games…

    I do like them though. Met with Dan when he was over in the UK after the first series of S&M – nice guy – and I’ve chatted with a few of the others via internet magic. Really looking forward to Devil’s Playhouse landing in April.

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