Matt Chat 152: Grim Fandango--the killer adventure game that killed off adventure games

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Well, it had to happen sooner or later! This week, it's back the late 90s for the game many people consider the Greatest Game that ever killed a genre. That's exaggeration, of course, but it does make for a good headline. The story goes that although the game did reasonably well--it was NOT a commercial failure, despite the pundits--it wasn't exactly the cash bonanza that LucasArts was expecting. End result--they pulled the plug on their adventure game development. Now you had a situation where the two greats--LucasArts and Sierra--were not making adventure games anymore. Of course, Cyan was still around, but nobody but me seems to count them.

Or, download the mp4.

Is this story fair? Nope. For one thing, it's well known that LucasArts was losing interest in EVERYTHING but Star Wars games at this point. Secondly, if anything really did compromise Grim Fandango, it was the fact that it was optimized for gamepads--yet only saw release on Windows! It's tragic (IMO) that it was not released on PlayStation and/or Dreamcast (released a year later).

There are also plenty of great adventure games that have come out since Fandango! Syberia, The Longest Journey, Scratches, Nancy Drew...And that's not even getting into many great imports from The Adventure Company, nor the endless supply of great indies! But anyway, enjoy the video.

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ruthan
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Gamedesign

Im not fan this game, i dont like this cheap(i mean from artistic point of view), but to credit authors gamedesign document is for free on internet. Very interesing for me, is that is very short, what mean that design si realy simply, what is probably root cause of missing complexity, which im missing in adventure games.

Who: Brujah Zealot, the pimp of babylons bitch. / Location: Scorched heart of Europe. // Sorry for my moldavian sort of english, i have 2 possibilities, to be silent or try to say something +look like idiot..

Paul H
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Here's a link to the design

Here's a link to the design doc, I haven't read it yet.
http://kotaku.com/5077780/tim-schafer-publishes-original-grim-fandango-d...
http://cache.kotaku.com/assets/resources/2008/GrimPuzzleDoc_small.pdf.zip

It really sucks that I would likely have to steal this in order to play it. I presume Lucas Arts has serious archival problems because some of the games I bought on steam are actually fan-cracked versions and not recompiled from the original source.

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Matt Barton
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I don't want to advocate it

I don't want to advocate it because I'm not sure of the legality of it, but if you do a search for "grim fandango torrent" you'll probably find a file with all the data and the new installer. It all installs without a hitch, with no need for burning your own CDs or anything.

That said, I feel TERRIBLE about this, because there really ought to be a STEAM or GOG version of this available. It's my understanding that the owners would happily offer a legit version, but LucasArts won't budge on the copyrights...So they're stuck with no legal way to offer their game.

Classic case of copyright hell.

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clok1966
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I was only a fan of this type

I was only a fan of this type of game for a short period of my life (the lucas arts ones being the exception). I have said it before many times, the strange way's to solve some puzzles really put me off. the very early games had few enough items trial and error was the only way to figure many of them out. Where I really lost it was some used TIME also. Drop cake in certain spot and wait.. As they aged they got better at makeing the puzzles make sence. I believe the last one I played was Full Throttle (not counting the new Sam And Max games) I can remeber being stuck a few days on the final of FUll throttle as the scrreen scrolled, something i didnt notice... so i was looking for a solution tht was off screen with no visual clues that there was more to the (was it a truck?) cab. I can put this down to my own stupidity (very easily :) ) but also poor design. I played the entire game and never had a hitch, then a screen that scrolls that i cant figure out?

the Indy Jones ones where great and lend to that type of gameplay well. Sam and Max.. well as a fan of the comic books they are based on (much cruder and ruder) anything they are in is worth my time, i still think the orginal Sam and Max from Lucas is the best of them all.

I dont think grim killed the game style.. much like pinball or board games.. fancier entertainment ( fancier games) came along.

Bill Loguidice
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clok1966 wrote:

I was only a fan of this type of game for a short period of my life (the lucas arts ones being the exception). I have said it before many times, the strange way's to solve some puzzles really put me off. the very early games had few enough items trial and error was the only way to figure many of them out.

I dont think grim killed the game style.. much like pinball or board games.. fancier entertainment ( fancier games) came along.

Yeah, I'm pretty much with you on this. I think the adventure game genre was very similar to the text adventure genre, which I guess it more or less sprung from--puzzle solving often involved a very specific and sometimes non-intuitive series of events to proceed. At other times it could be a pixel (or in the case of text adventure games, word) hunt, while at other times if you missed an object, dropped an object, or did something you weren't supposed to earlier in the game with an object, you could reach a point later on in the game where it was unwinnable, forcing you to go back to the beginning, or, if you were really lucky, an earlier save, taking you completely out of the narrative flow.

With that said, graphical adventure games had the advantage of audio-visuals and more approachable interfaces than text adventures, so, unlike those games which are relegated to a very hardcore and small niche, graphical adventure games were rife for an eventual comeback in the age of digital distribution, albeit still as a reasonably sized niche in comparison to some of the heavier hitting genres (and you'll note that most of today's mainstream adventure games follow more the LucasArts model of taking it easier on the player versus the Sierra model of straight up abuse). My big problem with them today - though I still play the occasional new game from Telltale Games and what-not - is that the newest games haven't really advanced the state-of-the-art in these games. Sure, they have nice audio-visuals, but the interfaces are exactly the same as we had (or could have been replicated) in the 90's (and in fact, all the love they've gotten on Kickstarter is to replicate those same exact experiences). That's not good, because I believe there's so much untapped potential in the adventure game genre, some of which was hinted at as far back as the mid-80s. However, since there are no adventure game blockbusters in terms of sales, there probably aren't the resources to truly innovate. It will probably be more of the same, which for fans, is not a bad thing, certainly, but it's going to remain relatively stagnant as a result, with all the innovation, impact, etc., coming from nifty licenses and compelling story telling.

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Matt Barton
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There are relatively few

There are relatively few recent adventure games that really pushed any envelopes. One that definitely did was The Experiment:
http://www.adventureclassicgaming.com/index.php/site/reviews/348/

I think the big problem is with "adventure game fans" themselves, who fell in love with some old game and aren't satisfied with anything but a clone of that. Some people will only be happy if it's exactly like they remember their favorite old LucasArts/Sierra/Cyan games. The only camp that seems to embrace change is the interactive fiction camp, and that's a niche of a niche, and even they would probably freak if someone dared put a graphic or sound effect in. --gasp -- not pure!

Adventure games also suffer from the nature of their design. Games nowadays are very good at spelling out to the player everything he needs to do. Push button X to get the chain, press Y to swing the chain at enemy...Now do that 5 million times. Adventure games are more like, "We're not going to tell you anything. You gotta figure it out on your own." Huh? like omg, just tell me whut to do!!!

The problem with adventure games is that they can't simulate the full range (or even a tiny partial range!!!) of the ways you could solve the problems they pose in real life. You got a light a fire. In an adventure game, that means you either find The Match or you don't progress. Compare that to real life and all the ways you could start a fire, including finding a way to solve the problem without lighting it in the first place.

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Paul H
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One criticism of the

One criticism of the adventure genre that has really stuck with me is, you're not so much trying to figure out how to solve a puzzle as you are trying to figure out how the DESIGNER wants you to solve a puzzle.

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Bill Loguidice
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Puzzling
Paul H wrote:

One criticism of the adventure genre that has really stuck with me is, you're not so much trying to figure out how to solve a puzzle as you are trying to figure out how the DESIGNER wants you to solve a puzzle.

Yeah, and there's a difference between a logic puzzle and a puzzle of deduction. Less Hoyle more Sherlock Holmes in other words... It's not really fair to pick on the adventure game genre quite so much (after all, every genre has its tropes), but yeah, there have been deep issues with them since day one. That's why it's disappointing to me that along with the resuscitation of the genre into a mainstay, we haven't seen more experimentation. It's ripe for it, but as Matt says, the core adventure gaming audience is very particular, and that's who you have to please first, at least at the budget levels we're talking about.

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Paul H
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I still like adventure games,

I still like adventure games, but almost all of them have some sort of puzzle that makes me shout "really!?!" at my monitor. In the days before I had internet access I would ask my friends for help when playing a game. Somebody almost always had the answer and it didn't feel like cheating because we'd all be trading solutions. It's difficult to replicate that kind of experience nowadays.

It would be an interesting experiment to make a adventure game that's played cooperatively and simultaneously by multiple people.

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Matt Barton
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I call that the "crack pipe

I call that the "crack pipe puzzle." Almost every adventure game has at least one. You're just like--man, this got all the way through QA? The Gabriel Knight thing with the cat mustache...OH, man, CRACK PIPE!

That's why I almost think it's better just to go with self-contained logic puzzles (or at least make it clear what order you're supposed to do stuff in). Feedback is a must..."I don't think I have the stuff to do this yet" is VERY helpful. I also like the idea of in-game hints. The Nancy Drew games let you call friends to get their advice when you're stuck. They usually give you at least a hint about what you should be focusing on. A task list also helps...The villain is a puzzler....Got to satisfy his weird fetish by solving all his crazy logic puzzles to get the clues you need to find the victim before it's too late. Cliche, but the setup works.

There's one puzzle in GF early on that I'm not sure I could have solved by myself...It's that rotating sign puzzle maze thing. You have to do it so many times, that even if you thought you had stumbled on the solution, you'd likely give up after two or three attempts and think you had it wrong. Just a little feedback would prevent that; maybe a "I think we're on the right track!" when you do it right the first time...

You know, another really interesting adventure game from 2004 was "Missing: Since January."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_Memoriam_%28video_game%29
AKA In Memoriam

What's unique about it is that you're actually going to real websites and such to get clues. Probably neater in concept than execution, but was fun. I mean, that's a good example of a developer TRYING to go outside the box...It got some awards. My wife and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

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