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21 Adventure game design tips
Written by Bill Tiller, Larry Ahern

Over the past nine years Larry Ahern and I have worked with many different adventure game designers and on many adventure games. We both contributed heavily to the game designs for all those projects. Larry even got to co designed The Curse of Monkey Island with Jonathan Ackly. During those projects we have learned a lot about the genre including these basic adventure game design ‘rules’, or you could just consider them ‘strong suggestions’. The word ‘rules’ seem a bit strong for such a flexible genre as adventure games. Also many of these ‘rules’ can be applied successfully to other game genres as well.

- Bill Tiller


1) Show the barrier before you show the way to overcome it.

Clearly define the problem before you send the player looking for solutions. If the goal of the level is to save the princess, use a cinematic at the beginning showing the villain carrying her off to his castle. When the section becomes playable, it’s very clear that the player needs to get into the castle and save her. The “how” part is the game.

2) Don’t wear out the player character’s shoes.

Keep locations close or make shortcuts to get to those locations. Edit out the tedium. When films portray characters doing legwork, they edit it down to key points that convey the necessary information. Make that interactive via portals or shortcuts that bypass the uneventful 20-minute walk across town to the crucial clue. Also, if a player solves a puzzle for one item in a sequence, don’t make him repeat the same solution for the remaining items unless there’s some potential for variation (just cut away to the conclusion).

3) Keep the player entertained even when they are not solving puzzles.

Make sure there are other things for the player to do and see when the puzzles have them stumped. This can range from mini-games, to interactive toys, to interactive dialogues with NPC's, to exploration, to viewing active elements of your living, breathing game world.

4) Reward the player with animated sequences, new areas, or new powers for solving major puzzles.

Players want to feel a sense of accomplishment, so don't just show them the same overused reach animation when the character finds an object that changes the course of the game. If it's a big deal, there should be a resulting dramatic animation payoff and then possibly some new territory, both physically and interactively, to explore. Other reward ideas include a point system with bonuses, new playable characters to unlock, bonus levels, new physical appearances for player characters, or access to behind-the-scenes or 'making of' materials for viewing after the game.

5) Show the consequences of the Player Character's actions.

If he foils a villain's plans, show how it affects the villain. If a player cuts off the power to a building, show how that affects the people inside. If the player releases a hideous voodoo curse, leaving a swath of death and destruction in its wake, by all means let the player visit that swath and suffer at the hands of the curse's survivors!

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