“I think a lot of adventure games in the nineties, the puzzles just got to be arbitrary. Players knew there were no rules, so they were just trying random stuff because there were no rules to follow,” says Gilbert.
Poor puzzle design didn’t go away when seven verbs were taken out back behind the LucasArts headquarters and summarily shot. Poor design is still a hallmark of the point-and-click genre. “Adventure Game Logic” or “Moon Logic.” You know: Combine the wood block with the razor to get paper, take that paper and combine it with the squid to get a receipt for a silk scarf to dry the tears you’ve begun to cry because these puzzles are stupid.
In a verb-based system, trying to “Give Man The Toothbrush” is very different from trying to “Use Toothbrush On Man,” and there are different responses for both. A Use/Look system strips out complexity, inferring what you probably meant to do based on the needs of the story. Which isn’t necessarily bad. The designer simply doesn’t have as much room for flavor-text and hidden gags.
Follow that line of thinking through twenty or so years of design evolution and you end up with modern point-and-clicks, where wrong answers rarely lead to anything interesting.
Not that Thimbleweed Park doesn’t have to make concessions to 2016. “I think one of the things you need to do, especially with more modern gamers, is you need to be clear about what you expect them to do. You need to give them good focus and direction on things. You can’t just push them in the pool and expect them to swim like we could back then,” says Gilbert.
Thus Thimbleweed Park features a system whereby each time you talk to characters they’ll give you more information about what you’re supposed to do next. An in-universe hint system, of sorts, built into the fantasy.
Still, it’s one of the most decidedly-retro games to come out of the Kickstarter scene. With Double Fine steadily pumping out HD updates of the old LucasArts games (Day of the Tentacle hits Steam today by the way), Thimbleweed Park looks like it could’ve arisen from the same initiative—like someone at Disney pulled a floppy disk off a shelf and oh, there’s a new Ron Gilbert game. Dust it off and put it on Steam.
Better brush up on your verbs. Thimbleweed Park is scheduled to release sometime this summer.
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