Editor’s note: The following blog was written by a NordicGameBits.com Opinion-blogger. The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the individual writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of NordicGameBits or the other writers and authors of the community.
Last time, we had a look at verbal level design through a video game analysis of Hector: Badge of Carnage, and we left Hector in a bit of a predicatment (all screenshots were taken by the author from the ipad version of the game):
So, which formal elements are used by the designers to indicate what our further progress through this level should be? Well, last time we had Hector look at the prominently displayed poster, and it produced the following statement:
Once again, the formal element of the dry joke that dominates the genre of the point and click adventure game is deployed to not only entertain, but also indicate a direction through the level. Since Hector indicates a preference for the nudie poster, the instinct for the player is to try and use it, leading to one of the lewder visual jokes in the game:
Trying to get through the hole, though, is not an option given Hector’s impressive girth, but since this is a new object, that was revealed through player interaction, the player will naturally try and interact with the newly revealed object. This is true even if there are plenty of other options for the player, and it is worth bearing in mind: if you have multiple paths the player can go through, she or he will usually continue down the first path that affords a development in exchange for interaction.
Let’s use the hole (and let’s pretend I found a less gross way to say that):
There’s a spoon in there! How does this help us, though? Well, let’s pretend we didn’t go running straight to the nudie poster and instead looked at something else in the room first. Last time, we stated that the door was a clear first look, but what is the second look? Why, in the middle of the composition, of course! There we find a small grate that Hector can’t open, despite a very craftsman-like ass crack:
As the second screenshot above shows, though, Hector does have an idea, and in the joke that accompanies the idea – because, adventure game – he mentions a nail. This word subtly associates with the poster that’s also nailed up, leading us to look in there. And that is what the spoon is for.
After prying up the grate with the spoon, we obviously find a severed human foot. What the heck do we do now?
Well, in tried and through fashion of the point and click adventure genre, we’ll first try to click everywhere, which leads us to eventually try and use the mattress in the room, revealing a condom:
We’ll soon have exhausted all the possibilities for interaction in the room, though, all ending in dead ends where no new interaction is possible. Here is a formal element that is common to adventure games, and used to be fairly common in game design in general: if you want to tell the player what she or he should be doing, you should tell her or him all the things that can’t be done. The formal element of interaction deprivation is what is deployed so successfully in many early games – especially console games – where input variations were few. In point and click adventures this is the standard form of communication between developer and player, and the only reason it is tolerable is because it is garnished with the humour and wit that is another central formal element of the genre.
So once you’ve pressed everything in the room, you turn to pressing things in your inventory, and you reveal that the most interesting part of a severed human foot are the shoelaces:
Again, through trial and error, the player will eventually combine the shoelace with the condom, resulting in an object graphic that indicates a fishing net, leading you to go fishing in the toilet:
But won’t the player simply give up when she or he has to try everything to get at something, especially when there are so many everythings to try, even in this little level?
One final formal element is worth highlighting here, namely the use of a driving, scripted event:
The phone will keep ringing, spurring you on to solve the puzzles and get out before it is too late. The use of the formal element of a cutscene set elsewhere which begins the game also provides an incentive to keep at it.
So, now we can arrive at a final analysis for this the first level of Hector: Badge of Carnage:
In the mind of the developer, a message is conceived. This message is: use the spoon from the hole, to open the grate, to get the shoelace and use that on the condom found under the mattress to fish out a paperclip from the dirty toilet and use that paperclip to pick the lock of the door. The formal elements used to convey this depend heavily on the genre discourse of point and click adventure games that surrounds the design. The elements themselves are: witty remarks with very subtle hints to the next action of the player; interaction deprivation to stop players going too far in the wrong direction; visual composition of the scene; lewd graphical humour.
Is the message then received by the player? Well, we can’t say for sure for every player, but we can list certain things that must be true for the player to get what’s going on: the player must have at least a passing knowledge of the genre; the player must enjoy lewd humour; the player must have time to explore the blind paths of interaction necessary to get the message.
As we can see, this analysis gives us a framework to hang a further detailing of our audience on. As such, while analysis of gameplay elements are obviously able to help us in pure design decisions, it should also be able to help us do that most difficult of tasks in game development: bridging the gap between creative and commercial parts of the process.