99 – Massive Disap–I mean, Massive Chalice

image1I was all set to make a point about the battles in Massive Chalice taking way too long; I had set a timer and was about the six-minute mark. The battle I was in was not a particularly significant battle: It was one of the bog-standard random battles that happens periodically throughout the game. Every time I moved my heroes, another few enemies appeared–it’s one of those games that hides its enemies behind fog-of-war until you have line of sight.

This battle introduced an enemy type called Cradles. Each of Massive Chalice’s enemies has a little gimmick–some take away XP; some explode, leaving behind poisoned squares; some give themselves a defensive buff after being attacked. The Cradle’s gimmick is that it spits out other enemies, and they also happen to have high HP. Defeating one of them took several rounds, both to cross the featureless level to the area where it is, and a couple of attacks to take it down. Finally, at about the 7 minute mark of my timer, I defeated the thing, whereupon it added three enemies to the already large pile on my screen before it died.

It was at that point that I uninstalled Massive Chalice.

Double Fine is a wall that I keep hitting myself against, getting more and more disappointed every time, and I think a lot of people feel that way. Remasters of Lucasarts classics aside, I’ve never met anybody who’s loved a Double Fine game. There’s something appealing and likeable about them that’s doesn’t really carry through to the quality of their games. All of their stuff of theirs that I’ve played has a really nifty premise, a confidence of voice, an uncontestable stylishness that just tumbles into bullshit. Psychonauts was hilarious and experimental and varied–and was also a collectathon platformer with finicky jumps that became more and more unpleasant to play as it went out. (Ah, for a Psychonauts that had the balls to be a straight up adventure game.) Brutal Legend was–again–hilarious, looked amazing, was an unabashed love letter to heavy metal–that threw too many ideas at the wall and didn’t do any of them well. The Cave was an interesting experiment that begged you to replay it and then bogged you down with repetitiveness. Hack and Slash had some great ideas but was ultimately incomprehensible. Broken Age was beautiful and eerie until it ran out of funding and didn’t release its lackluster second half until everybody had forgotten about it. Spacebase DF-9 was unfinished. Every one of their games I’ve played starts off shiny, full of promise, and then just crumbles.

In my most cynical moments, I want to say that the only thing that Double Fine is really good at is getting funding for their games. They’re that kind of faux indie giant that feels sorry for itself, tramples over the bedroom developers, gets itself on itch.io, and crowds everybody out of Kickstarter. And that would be unfair. Because the employees of Double Fine fucking love games. Every piece of their copious behind-the-scenes media shows a bunch of people who genuinely believe in what they’re doing, who love what they’re doing, who are living the dream.

There’s just always some issue between the idea and the execution. It always falls flat.

Massive Chalice is a turn-based strategy game in the vein of X-Com, a game that I liked but didn’t love. Its premise is that your kingdom is under attack by something-or-other, and that in 300 years you’ll be able to launch your superweapon, so in the meantime you’ve got to manage your kingdom, build up your armies, do your research, and fight some skirmishes until the final battle. It, like X-Com, is an attempt at marrying grand strategy to squad-based tactics. By and large, the grand strategy sections are very good. I love checking research off a tech tree. You appoint people to be the regents of various keeps and you get to marry them off and have babies, and while I’m not one of those creeps who loves Fire Emblem (seriously, if you’ve ever met a Fire Emblem fan, they’ll always go on, in very disturbing terms, about marrying their characters together, and there’s always a faux-veneer of self-awareness about, ha ha, I’m breeding these people together like cattle, but one which quickly falls apart because oh my god they do not shut up about how they’re breeding these people together like cattle) there’s a depth to that. And it’s all tied to a timeline that scrolls through–the UI is really pretty (everything Double Fine does is really pretty)–in a very satisfying way.

The actual battles fucking suck.

As I said: They all take too long. The grand strategy is where my heart is; every time a battle pops up, it feels like an interruption. They all take place in generic, procgen areas that are too large and have too many enemies hidden in the corners. And they are all exactly the same. Oh, sure, there’s different enemy types–as I said, they all have their gimmicks–but every single one i encountered is a simple, defeat all of the enemies. X-Com had the decency to sprinkle some bespoke setpieces at particular moments, ones which represented major parts of the storyline. Which felt like accomplishments. I know it’s one of my personal bugbears, being down on procgen, but I can see the use of it, when it keeps a game being surprising, it can add to some nice tension. In Massive Chalice, the effect is a flatness–there’s no major strategic difference from battle to battle. There’s some different wallpaper to the environments, but otherwise, you’re just going to be fighting a smattering of too-many enemies in a featureless, boring set of corridors forever. Were the battlefields half the size, were there a third as many enemies, it might be a pretty good game–the battles being quick things you duck into for a minute or two. But every one seems to go on long past the point of being interesting. It all feels like padding.

Massive Chalice has made me aware of the passage of time. As the years go on in the game, people are born, and people die–both in battle and of old age. The baby born in your keep grows up and becomes a fighter so quickly. The scholars you have researching will die of old age. And what it has impressed upon me is this lesson: Life is way too fucking short to waste on the same fucking battles over and over again.


31 – Preparations For A Trip To Kyrandia

I probably still have the original CDs–frankly, I hope I do, given that my appetite to play Hand of Fate has been awakened–somewhere at my parents’ house back in Jersey. I know for a fact that I’ve got my copy of the third game, because I happened to find it the last time I visited; it’s still there, but the back of the case blurb: “Remember that you’re one small trickster in a very large world.” Book Three: Malcolm’s Revenge, in which the primary antagonist, the mad jester, becomes the playable character in a chance to prove his innocence–

I am getting ahead of myself. But it feels unfair, to me, that Good Old Games–I am about to speak ill of Good Old Games and it kills me, fucking kills me to–should only be releasing the first Kyrandia game, because when I bought them, oh, let’s say I was thirteen, I bought them in the trilogy rerelease, that is, all three games on CD-rom. And there was no way, no way I’d play the games in order, from start to finish. And so I ended up experiencing the Legend of Kyrandia as three time periods, three distinct voices, three distinct characters, all at once. The first, where you play as the unwitting heir to the throne and the most traditional of the three, a good and heroic, if slightly bland and clumsy, character who goes on a quest. The second, where you play Zanthia, one of the greatest adventure game heroines of all time (no mean feat considering the sheer number of excellent female leads that adventure gaming, as a whole, featured in the 80s and 90s), in a comic epic. And the third, where you’re Malcolm, and where you’re now suddenly the only sane man in a world which is demented and hypocritical, and in retrospect a fairly bitter social satire.

Well, the rumor is that releases of the next games will be impending, and so either way, I think it’s time I take a trip back to Kyrandia.

Because I fucking loved these games. Hand of Fate, Book 2, that was by far my favorite. Malcolm’s Revenge had some finicky bits, some pixel hunting bits, but I remember the game allegedly had its share of alternate paths and endings.

Book one had death.

Death in adventure games–ooh, it was totally a controversial subject by the time I grew old enough to appear on the scene in ’94-ish. Sierra, in particular, was so famous for its many, many deaths and unwinnable situations that it’s still a byword for overly-unfair games. My favorite example, because it is one of the cruelest jokes ever played on a player by a developer, occurs in Space Quest II. Making your way through a series of mazes–oh, yeah, mazes, there used to be a shitload of mazes, mappable mazes, blind mazes, gimmick mazes, oh boy were there mazes!–you could come across a Xenomorph-looking thing. Oh ho, you say, because this is a Sierra game and you know what’s up, if I touch it it’s gonna kill me. So you save, and you walk right up to the Xenomorph–one of the reasons players not only tolerated but sought out Sierra’s many, many deaths was because they were often somehow ironic or funny or dark or in any case perversely rewarding–and, instead of killing you, a text box pops up describing how the creature simply gives you a big, sloppy wet kiss. Ha ha–and here you thought it was gonna kill you. And you go on your merry way, solving puzzles and getting through mazes and finally, a bit later, the egg that the creature implanted in you when it kissed you hatches and burst through your chest and you die. Hope you still have a save file from before you met the creature.

In the 80s, this kind of shit went unquestioned. Again, remember that Back In The Day, the simple economics surrounding a computer meant that if you had one in your home, you were probably Into Computers–which meant that you probably programmed. The frustrations of programming–spending time and effort to produce something which, as it turns out, contains some sort of flaw which causes the entire thing to break–are reflected in the unwinnable videogame state. Neglecting to pick up a key in the first room and needing that at the end of the game–is that any different from forgetting a semicolon in line 50 and seeing ramifications in line 500?

And so while early gamers got immense pleasure from untangling the particular sequence needed to beat King’s Quest and all of that, when the 90s started to hit, computers became more widespread. This is when we got Lucasarts Style–that is, games which had no death and which had no unwinnable situations. Look: All I’m saying is, if we had had Twitter back at this time, entire covens of friendships would have been fucking ended over Sierra Style vs. Lucasarts Style. Is including unwinnable situations too cruel to the player? Isn’t taking out death the equivalent of rounding off the corners and taking the stakes out of gaming?

These questions have been pretty much resolved–even the most hardcore adventure game nowadays is not nearly as cruel as Sierra enjoyed being, and in fact it will most likely use its extreme difficulty as a selling point. When I think back on Kyrandia, however, I think of its three games as detailing three very specific snapshots of evolving design. Book One has death, Book One has a maze, Book One has a death maze. Book Two broadens its world and, recognizing that its audience is also broader, takes out death. Book Three involves an obsession with morality. In fact, the series–I hope I am not reading too much into my memories–is extraordinarily socially aware. It may begin with a traditional foundling narrative–a normal boy finding out he’s Special and eventually growing to claim his birthright from its usurper–but it’s also savvy enough to give the distaff a much more interesting and much more fun game, and to abruptly shatter the games’ moral compass entirely for the finale.

But that’s where the series goes, and how it can be read as a whole. Right now, we’ve just got access to the first game. I’m going to be very interested to see how my memories dovetail with what the game actually is.

25 – I Miss “Interactive Movies”

For a dude who’s been playing videogames since he was a toddler, and who’s been writing about them since he was, oh, 19 or so, I have only the vaguest idea of what NeoGAF is, exactly. It’s some sort of forum, as far as I can tell, related to videogames. I have my share of friends who hang out there and post there; all of them have told me, “Yeah, it’s kinda really hardcore in there,” and since the only game-related groups I’ve ever spent much time are 1) the forums related to AllRPG.com, where I was a staffer when I was in college and 2) the Electron Dance comments threads, where you can see me posting longwinded rants in an effort to make Joel Goodwin slowly go insane (it’s working), it hasn’t bothered me that I haven’t been posting there.

I saw this particular post on Twitter, and I find its premise extremely flawed. Essentially, “videotape” is complains that “modern games try so hard to funnel a player down the single ‘win’ condition rather than providing multiple options for success”. Of the games he lists, I’ve only played Bioshock Infinite and Tomb Raider; while I can speak more accurately for Infinite since I only made it a few hours into Tomb Raider before returning it, insulted, we all know the exact style of game he’s talking about. You go through a corridor, you shoot dudes, you see a cutscene, you click on a Thing to solve a “puzzle”–videogames as mindless autotuned pop.

‘tape mentions games like the original Deus Ex, games which “encouraged finding one of multiple solutions to solve the problem”; another member posts a flowchart of a single level in the game, one which shows an intricate web of possible routes through the level and which admits that it’s not even taking into account lethal vs nonlethal kills, turret hacks, and a lot of other options. Or, to put it more comparatively, this image which has been floating around on the internet for a while:


It is hard to deny that Bioshock Infinite was neither fun nor challenging because that was my extremely correct opinion on the game–and yet, to say this is a modern trend vs. old-school games which were free and open–that’s fallacious as shit, or one which at least ignores a lot of issues surrounding Gaming Today. Tomb Raider is a Rihanna song–it’s Extruded Videogame Product. It’s not intended to be interesting–it’s intended to be Pretty and Exciting. Just like, you know, Uncharted, which won many GOTYs and whose level design was decidedly NOT 1993. To suggest that Deus Ex was played by the same types of people who played Tomb Raider is to have some very silly ideas. To say that modern games are one-note is to ignore games like Dark Souls or all of those weird light Roguelikes that I’ve been playing a lot of lately (Rogue Legacy, Cargo Commander, Diehard Dungeon). Look, I know exactly why all of my friends have been suggesting I leave the console world behind for the PC world, and I love that I have. But those kinds of games are still out there.

But let’s take this from a different angle–in a comment that’s more or less ignored, “Syril” says the following: “You think that’s bad, try playing some old adventure games.”

There’s a recognized term for “funneling the player so that he/she picks the only right solution which is the only way to proceed in the game”: Guess the Verb. The term goes back to the 1980s, to the days of interactive fiction and graphical adventure games with parsers. In a parser-based game, you’re typing in your commands in. Nouns are usually a lot easier, particularly in a text adventure: Nouns are anything you can see, anything you can interact with, and as such are concretely listed in the room description (“You can see a Rope here.”) [In early graphical games, due to low resolutions and colors, guessing nouns is more common: Who knows *what* that blob of pixels was? Roberta Williams was many, many things; a great visual artist was not one of them.] Verbs are what you do to them–the possible actions you can take in a game.

Due to their well-deserved prominence, Infocom’s parser is considered the standard for text adventure/interactive fiction games; Inform, one of the most common, easiest-to-use, and most flexible Interactive Fiction languages, is a direct descendant. A standardized syntax is important: Unless you’re making some kind of artistic point, you don’t want your players wasting their time figuring out the basics of communicating with your game. You want them wrestling with your puzzles. And so there’s a general list of “accepted” verbs in IF games; type “about” upon starting nearly any one and you’ll get them listed out, or you can let Andrew Plotkin explain it. Note the note at the bottom: “Every game has slightly different commands, but they all look pretty much like these.” (bold original).

These are standard commands; there are many, many games which expand this list. Many times it’s logical: You’re in a car, you’re going to type DRIVE. Some games have special verbs as part of their general design–magic spells are common. Sometimes, a particular verb is the solution to a puzzle or riddle–here’s Jonas Kyratzes talking about this kind of puzzle in Adam Cadre’s Photopia.

It’s the last case where the term Guess the Verb is used pejoratively. I did not have a problem with the puzzle in Photopia when I first played the game because Cadre gradually sprinkles in clues, nudges, and ultimately outright suggestions about what to do. In another scene in the game, you’re tasked with giving someone CPR–with another character coaching you on exactly what to type. (And if you mess it up, that character will run in and do it for you.) But Photopia is one of the masterpieces of the form; far more common is for a lesser designer to hide a puzzle solution behind an obscure verb and ONLY that verb. You have a rope and a hook. TIE ROPE doesn’t work. USE ROPE doesn’t work. PUT ROPE ON HOOK doesn’t work. At that point you’ve exhausted your thoughts and gone to a walkthrough, if it’s available; what you were supposed to type was ATTACH ROPE. A good designer would code the game so it would accept all of those and more; and yet, designers aren’t psychic and they’re not all good. Guess the Verb is a problem–it is usually a source of unpleasant frustration for players.

The 80s came and went and everyone began to have a mouse attached to their computer. Games at the beginning of this period–King’s Quest IV is a perfect example–often used the mouse as a supplementary tool, but by the time KQ5 rolled around, point-and-click adventures featured a set of verbs–either icons, as in Sierra’s games, or words, as in many of Lucasarts’–that you would select one from and then choose an area of the world to perform that action on. The effect was to eliminate or downplay Guess the Verb. Now, players certainly had their share of ways to get stuck. In many cases, there was only one specific item or action which needed to be used or performed on one specific object; the larger the gameworld, the more likely the player will miss what to do. The efforts to alleviate player frustration were certainly successful…but not completely. Further refinements to the formula included the “do anything” cursor. I first saw this in King’s Quest 7, and I remember how furious my friend and I were at it because of the implied simplicity: In effect, this makes the game pick the default action *for* you.

Now, in practice, the “do anything” cursor has turned out to be one of the greatest innovations to the adventure game formula. Once developers got used to designing games for the innovation, we as a society found out that most of the alternate cursors were completely irrelevant. Space Quest IV features “smell” and “taste” icons, which do little more than provide jokes or flavor text–fine and funny, but also unnecessary clutter. In its current form, the standard is something like a left click to control movement and actions and a right click to examine objects.

Well, verbs and puzzles have an intimate relationship, and advances in one affect advances in the other. But adventure games have always been about story as much as they have been about puzzles. As the genre went on, developers began to want to create games which at least attempted to have deeper stories–and, in a logical conclusion, which downplayed the puzzles.

It’s the very early 90s; we’re still a sprite-based society. Computers and consoles can’t really handle polygons, or if they can it’s extremely simple and basic. But CD-ROM drives are beginning to be a Thing. Computers could handle full motion video adequately if not well, and the storage space that CDs allowed meant that grainy, oft-interlaced footage of actual actors was simply what PC games looked like. Thus, the Interactive Movie was born. But, as I’ve said, not all designers are good, and for every Gabriel Knight II we got five Double Switches. Budgets weren’t huge–and again, the tech was only adequate. The term is used almost exclusively pejoratively today–usually to imply that the game is low on interactivity and that the movie portion is poorly acted and poorly written.

I would submit that if we were to reclaim the term, the scene might make a little more sense.

“Videogame” is not a signifier of quality, much as the Twine crowd would have you believe.  It is a categorization, and I would submit that many of the games mentioned in the NeoGAF post might not *actually* be videogames. Bioshock Infinite and Tomb Raider are much more interested in presenting their stories and their worlds than they are with giving the players interesting things to do. All of the “Press X to comfort Elizabeth” moments in Infinite are less player actions than they are cutscene triggers. The game portions are ways of pacing the storyline and opportunities to flesh out the physical world of Columbia. Bioshock Infinite is perhaps the worst videogame I have played all year.

But…if we consider it as an interactive movie? If we consider it as a storyline that we get to wander around in and participate in?

Considered as a world to explore, a set of challenges, a bunch of opportunities for action and decision–considered as a videogame–Bioshock Infinite is a horrible, arrogant mess. We are grabbed by the head as Levine shouts his brilliant plot points to us. When I play a videogame, I want that videogame to shut the fuck up and let me play. Considered as an interactive movie–a story with limited, delineated player agency–it might actually be a much stronger work.

I’m in danger of Formalism here, but I don’t think it’s wrong to categorize the entertainment that we consume if it helps us understand that entertainment better. The trick is to figure out what the most common verbs that the game gives you. In the case of Bioshock Infinite, the most common verbs in the game were “shoot” and “sit back, light a joint, and watch Elizabeth talk and do things.” For a videogame, Bioshock infinite has a lot of time where you don’t actually get to *play*.

I miss the term “Interactive Movie”. I’ve been gearing up to reclaim it for a while, and I think it’s time. We’ve got polygons and we can make these things look *actually* good. Let’s just admit that that’s what we’re making, that what we think of as “videogames” is maybe not this all-encompassing entity that we desperately want it to be, but that we’re dealing with a lot of disparate media that just happen to share the same DNA.


For its initial stages, there’s a lot that’s very datedly wretched about Dragonsphere–it has a SCUMM-esque verb list at the bottom, a slightly clunky interface, glacial movement speeds, and what appears to be an extremely, extremely cliche plot: You’re the King, and you’ve got to kill the evil Sorcerer. Go to. You spend the first few screens in a very generic-looking castle, and only nostalgia and patience kept me past them.

But what hooked me was the absolute lushness of the game. Adventure games have always been praised for their advances in the quality of game narratives, but they also deserve a little more credit for their graphics. Given the genre’s slow pace and its tradition of hidden-picture pixel hunting, it’s only natural that adventure games tend towards pretty backgrounds. The game isn’t very good at mundane areas like the castle, but that might be intentional: When you get to the magical areas of the kingdom, and there are a lot, they’re explosions of color and surrealism. Shapeshifters are rampant in the kingdom–and not at all trusted for their abilities to impersonate anyone–and their land is particularly eerie–the rocks and trees have eyes and ears: They’re people partially shifted.

And so an appreciation of the background led me to press on; a nifty little game began to reveal itself. Let’s talk about death for a minute. There was a while where playing adventure games was an extremely punishing, gory experience. Sierra was infamous for being cruel about it: Not only are there many, many ways to die in the average classic Sierra game, there were just as many ways to get irrevocably stuck. Often these two are intertwined: Forget to pick up a sword in the first room and you won’t be able to kill the monster two hours later.

We must remember that while pointing out the unfairness of classic adventure games IS a legitimate criticism…it’s also a selling point. The audience for the early days of interactive fiction and adventure games were frequent computer users–the average person didn’t own a computer in the 80s and early 90s. These games were being played by science-minded people, academics, programmers–people who *enjoy* an intricate, cerebral challenge. The entire process of playing an adventure game is scientific–it largely boils down to trying objects on other objects until the desired result is achieved. Playing a game for hours only to realize that an early, crucial step was missing and needing to start completely over–that may be failure as I see it, but take it from the perspective that it’s simply an unsuccessful experiment.

Lucasarts didn’t invent the deathless adventure game, but it’s the watchword for the forgiving one: Early works like Maniac Mansion aside, Lucasarts very deliberately avoided unwinnable situations and death. The intent was to make games more accessible, and while their games were no less difficult, their worlds feel so much less hostile than Sierra’s. And so, when confronted with a threat, your character will either run away, or the bad guy will just wave some teeth around and make growly noises, but either way Lucasarts obstacles turn out to be more paper tigers than anything else.

Again, not a problem–actual violence doesn’t fit with the aesthetic of Day of the Tentacle or Sam and Max–but games like Dragonsphere manage to split the difference. Sierra’s own King’s Quest VII was released the same year, and both games tie death to a “try again” button. A monster is blocking the path; if you go through, it eats you, a small hint is displayed, and you reappear as if nothing had happened. It’s not uncommon, and a lot of games continue to do that to good effect–Resonance’s staticky rewinds were a particularly striking example–but it’s not the kind of thing you think of a game doing in 1994. Dragonsphere even goes one step further: You begin the game with a ring which immediately transports you to the castle. At first, the game’s stages seem self-contained, but there is an order you’re intended to go through them. The game does not penalize you for trying out different areas before you’re ready. In one notable moment–one of the few one-time areas in the game–if you leave before picking everything up, the game will let you know you notice “something”, and refuse to let you leave until you’ve gotten everything. It’s nice. It’s forgiving.

There’s a twist; the game fucks with player character identity, and somehow manages to do so without the assistance of the Grand Poobah of Twists, Ken Levine! You’re not actually the King; you’re a shapeshifter who’s been enchanted with the King’s form and memories. You’ve been sent to fight the sorcerer as part of a plot by the real King’s brother–using the sorcerer as a way to kill the fake king and take the throne himself. It’s a well-justified twist: There’s enough odd things found here and there that the twist puts in context, and it’s unusual enough that I’m good with it.

What I’m not good with is–well, ultimately, the slow pace and the backtracking just GOT to me. There’s too much in other regions, and it’s too tedious to go from one to the other. There are a few mazes and solving them is too annoying. Ultimately, I got too tired of figuring things out on my own and grabbed a walkthrough; my general rule is if I’m playing from a walkthrough before the halfway mark, and I’m not loving the experience, then it’s time to give up. The art might be gorgeous, but I’d rather look through an art book than play some obscure puzzles.

And yet it was a nice contrast. I’ve been playing a lot of indie adventures later–Wadjet Eye stuff mostly, and while the backgrounds are no less pretty, their games tend to be much more compact, much fewer locations. There used to be a trend towards advertising your game based on how many rooms it had. Painting and scanning backgrounds, Sierra-style, might not be the most expensive thing in the world, but you DO need to pay people to do it, and if you’re doing small teams on a short deadline, well, it’s understandable–and it does avoid Traipsing Syndrome. Still, I miss epic adventure games. There haven’t been that many of those.


It’s not that I want to pick on Eric Wolpaw–I don’t want to give the impression that I don’t genuinely enjoy the man’s work–but he’s at least partially responsible for some of the most obnoxious memes to hit gaming culture. I’m a little afraid to talk about cake in front of gamers because, just as how I had a friend who would chirp Monty Python references at me, I know there is a very, very good chance that said gamer will scream THE CAKE IS A LIE, at which point–

No, let’s not go for violence.

The problem with Eric Wolpaw, really, is that he was a part of Old Man Murray, and the problem with Old Man Murray is that it was responsible for “The Death of Adventure Games“, which has legitimately gone down as a fine and funny piece of game-related writing. The article, responding to a claim that the adventure game is “dead”, frames itself almost as a Hercule Poirot-esque summation of the evidence. It is, at its core, an atomistic examination of a puzzle from Gabriel Knight 3, in such a way as to highlight how illogical and absurd the puzzle is. The article ends with the conclusion that the genre has committed suicide.

If I can tell you how many times people have quoted and summarized that article to me–or, worse, how many people have described that particular puzzle to me, as if they’d made the observation themselves!

It’s hard to blame Wolpaw for this, though; after all, the article is hilarious and astute, just as Portal’s script is very sharp, and it’s not your fault if you make some thing so iconic that fans quote you so much you abandon your career and run away to Africa. The GK3 puzzle–the cat mustache puzzle, as it’s often called–and The Longest Journey’s, uh, rubber ducky subway key puzzle are often seen as two of the nails in the coffin of adventure gaming.

Middle school was Sierra and Lucasarts, college was a lot of indie shit–Reality on the Norm, Ben Jordan, Chzo Mythos stuff–and then, I don’t know, I just…overdosed on it. The puzzles were *part* of it–but although adventure games almost always feature SOMETHING incomprehensibly illogical in them, we were now getting second- and third-generation adventure games from people who’d played the genre for their whole lives and had some ideas about how to avoid some of the more cmmon pitfalls, and puzzles in general were getting better. (Certainly avoiding death and unwinnable situations were two trends which helped matters.)

A lot of it might simply be it’s just a case of too much. After a while, even good adventure game stories–stories are, after all, one of the main reasons to play an adventure–get repetitive, as do good adventure game puzzles. I find I want a more direct control of characters–rather than directing a character, as you do when pointing-and-clicking, I’d rather have the character as an avatar as you do in a platformer.

But one of my concerns recently has been the level of violence in games–after all, it’s really hard to justify Bioshock Infinite, a game in you play a violent man whose presence has placed a city on lockdown, after we all watched news reports about a violent man whose presence placed Boston on lockdown. I think it’s ludicrous when people suggest that to kill a man in a videogame may be as bad as killing in real life, or comes from the same impulses–and yet, that said, I just want to do some other shit for a while.

The relationship that adventure games have had with violence is a strange one–after all, many games–particularly Sierra’s–are loaded with dozens of ways for your character to die. And certainly there are enough horror and mystery games whose plots revolve around murder. And yet for all of that, you’re usually not able to solve your problems with a gun–King’s Quest usually even rewarded you with more points or a better story if you went out of your way to find a nonviolent option. Moral implications aside, the point of an adventure game is more to figure out, using esoteric combinations of items, how to progress–shooting is an inappropriate verb.

I also wonder if Lucasarts’s focus on no protagonist death has something to do with it–it preserves a symmetrical relationship. There’s something extremely fair about a world where you can neither die nor be killed but you’ve just got to clever your way out of things.