ADVENTURE AND MYSTERY GAMES. WHAT WE LIKE AND DON'T LIKE.

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I've been working on a few side projects and began crafting a short horror game just for fun. It won't be anything too big. However, once I started working on the game, I realized that what I've begun creating is more of an adventure or mystery game, and not necessarily a horror game. Thing is, it's not a very good one, as that was not my original intent. So I went back to the drawing board with a fresh notebook and began re-creating the game.

But this got me thinking. What are aspects that define an adventure game? When I say adventure game, no doubt several staple titles come to mind, such as King's Quest. There's a few things in play in an adventure game. Exploration, collecting items, using items in unique ways, and trying to progress through the narrative by a combined knowledge of your inventory and environment.

Now when we look at mystery games, usually there's a crime to solve. That crime may be a person, it may be a plot, perhaps that crime is that history regarding a person, place or idea has been fragmented and we "solve" the crime by putting the pieces back in the right order. Furthermore, some Horror games seem to have a lot in common with Mystery games, though with a far more sinister environment to navigate.

So the discussion is this: what are considered good and bad examples of Adventure and Mystery games? What makes a good one, and what makes a poor one? When does a Mystery came cross the threshold into a Horror game? What are some examples of these things?

When you sit down to play an Adventure game, what are you looking forward to doing? Likewise when you play a Mystery game, what are your expectations? What are some mechanics that are necessary or common to the genres?

And then some more unusual questions: at what line does an Adventure game turn into a Visual Novel? Does the inclusion of a battle system hurt or harm the experience of an Adventure or Mystery game? Would a simple battle system be more complimentary to an Adventure game, or should it be scrapped all together?

Just curious what everyone thinks about these things, as I see a few Adventure games on this site, a few Mystery games, and even less discussion about the genres themselves.
Why not make an adventure/mystery game with more RPG-ish content? You could have items to help out in certain situations or have staple functions (gathering evidence, using devices etc.) to make the player think about where to use them. Also, some skills like Detect Lies, Hide, Disguise etc. that can be used for overworld navigation/interaction would be pretty cool as well.

Battles would work if they have a similar deductive and puzzle-like approach, which means that fixed battles would be favourable over random ones.
LockeZ
I'd really like to get rid of LockeZ. His play style is way too unpredictable. He's always like this too. If he ran a country, he'd just kill and imprison people at random until crime stopped.
6003
A lot of the adventure games on this site, and even a lot of professional ones, have a problem in common: no gameplay. They're just visual novels where you wander around in between talking to people. But you don't do anything while wandering around.

There's obviously a market for visual novels but personally I vastly prefer games like Phoenix Wright, L.A. Noire, Princess Maker, Carmen Sandiego, and Professor Layton with their highly structured gameplay. What's really perfect about these games is that the gameplay is so woven and integrated into the narrative.

These games are still outnumbered five hundred to one by games that aren't great but are at least passable. For example, your basic dating sims where you have to manage your money to spend it on gifts and dates and level up your relationship values. And mobile phone adventure games which stop the adventure to make you do hidden picture puzzles and other disconnected-feeling puzzles every few minutes. These games earn a few marks for actually having some gameplay, but either they don't integrate it into the narrative and it feels like it's interrupting the game, or it's so simple that it's almost indistiguishable from a dialogue box asking "Choose which ending you want." They get a C- on their report card.

If you aren't including much gameplay, and are instead trying to make someting like a Sierra or Lucasarts adventure game, then your writing needs to be absolutely fucking top tier. It also really helps if what few puzzles you have make me actually feel clever. Most of them, even in the old Sierra and Lucasarts games, either made me feel annoyed at having to blindly check a hundred options, or bored at the solutions being so immediately obviously that there was really no puzzle.
author=LightningLord2
Why not make an adventure/mystery game with more RPG-ish content? You could have items to help out in certain situations or have staple functions (gathering evidence, using devices etc.) to make the player think about where to use them. Also, some skills like Detect Lies, Hide, Disguise etc. that can be used for overworld navigation/interaction would be pretty cool as well.

Battles would work if they have a similar deductive and puzzle-like approach, which means that fixed battles would be favorable over random ones.


These are really good ideas. I always like fiddling with battle systems, and I can see someone taking a very unique approach on the traditional battle system. Kinda' reminds me of that game where you play as exorcists (haven't played the game, but seen a video of it) where you have to pacify ghosts.


author=LockeZ
If you aren't including much gameplay, and are instead trying to make someting like a Sierra or Lucasarts adventure game, then your writing needs to be absolutely fucking top tier. It also really helps if what few puzzles you have make me actually feel clever. Most of them, even in the old Sierra and Lucasarts games, either made me feel annoyed at having to blindly check a hundred options, or bored at the solutions being so immediately obviously that there was really no puzzle.


I noticed this as well. I like your suggestions. I also wish I could get into the mind of certain mystery game developers because there seems to be a discrepancy between the challenge of adventure/mystery games and the ease of use. Some people enjoy the challenge, like you mentioned, while others would see the challenge and give up. The developer then, wanting to appeal to the largest number of players available, would simplify a complex system just to draw more people. I'm not sure if this is the case on this site (I haven't played them all), but it certainly feels like it may be a factor.

And then that draws into another aspect of design: hints. How much or little should be used? Should interact-able objects in the environment be highlighted, or should there be no highlights, and the player has to move about checking everything?

And then, the puzzle hints themselves. How much or how little? It's an interesting discussion.
Speaking as someone who made a mystery-ish type game on this site, here's what I did.

I made combat dangerous and very fast. Basically, everything was one on one duels with an ATB system. As such, it was usually best to avoid bumping into enemies and triggering combat unless you really needed to.

Then, I made the rest of the game about finding clues scattered around the game area (with each clue boosting your max HP, giving the player a gameplay reason to find them), and then made find-able items limited in number, prompting more exploration to find them while also making the player want to manage their resources carefully. The player is likely to always consider their options carefully and feel really bad about using one of those limited "Seal enemy magic" or "light the enemy on fire" or even healing items, but there are definitely enough that the player can go through a few battles without needing to panic.

And of course you need to make your writing and characters succinct and memorable. Mystery games live or die on whether the player is invested in solving the mystery and finding out what happens to the characters.
I like visual novels, so little gameplay is okay to me. What I don't like is so much of arbitrary wasted time interacting with random things trying to maybe figure out how to procceed, and eventually needing a guide somewhere sometimes (or many times) to procceed.
Also .. choices affect endings, ultimately, but they still gate which characters you interact with, and offer different perspectives to the same story. Used well, that can be a GREAT asset even so.

There are visual novels with short battle segments, or sometimes just narrated ones without actual input - I think the main difference is the means of procceeding. Visual novels are to read at your leisure, your own pace, and slowly unravel what is going on. They are a laid-back kind of thing. If you have little to no input or no challenge, it feels much more like it.
Say, procceeding cutscenes and interactions by press of button, rather than walking up to them. A lot more automated stuff.
I like down-time, I like different visual and sound-inclusions while reading, I love the atmosphere created, and I love reading itself. It's just win for me to chill out a little bit and makes it easy to pick up and finish in one go, if I so desire (and it's not a big one .. in which case I'll still play a while)

I've been playing Broken Age a while back, and while I like the overall atmosphere, there is just sooo much fluff in there not adding anything.
(the reptition of the safety zone made a point at least, but other things .. not so much) As a sidenote .. I won't be able to play that for longer periods of time, really.

I am more there for the dialogue, atmosphere and story. However, good gameplay can add to all of the above.
I really enjoy inspecting or interacting with things, because it can offer so much flavour text. Reminds me of Edna Escapes - you could talk to every single object and get silly lines. Love it.
I remember Opera Fatal, such a great atmospheric game. It revolved a lot around music and music theory, and that made the puzzles really cool, and tied together. Lots of going room by room stuff.

.. I kinda just wanted to make a short comment, welp, might as well do more.

ANYWAY. A mystery game is much more focused and needs to be coherent - there are uncertainties in what you perceive, what you are trying to figure out until you eventually get there. You gather clues among evidence.
Mystery means excitment for what is coming, but - as said above - live and die with the interest in the one big mystery of the game and the characters. It is meant to be intriguing first and foremost - sometimes you watch things unfold, sometimes you actively put them together. It usually builds on tension - tension between the characters, suspects, what is going on, and of course tension to keep you at it wanting to find out more. Succint is better than lengthy.

I think it can cross into horror when you are in a disatvantaged position and add danger to the mix. Wrong moves to trust or listen to the wrong person kills you - in such an environment it can cross the border.
Danger (or perceived danger) and powerlessness (to some degree), is vital. However, the whole idea and mindset of "analyzing" what is going on, remaining calm and figuring it all out is contrary to the helplessness horror builds on. It is a strong standpoint to work from, not a weak one. So I find it difficult to pull off while keeping the "mystery" of finding out more and more about the same thing alive.
I think something horror first that does this well is Ao Oni. It is really a constant chase making you feel unsafe and horrible each time that music pops up .. eventually. But at the same time it incorporates how these Onis come into being very well. It is more an element, but it could add up to its own story, if so desired.

An adventure is about the whole setting - the whole environments you are exploring and getting into. You get to know the characters and the world they inhabit, and usually the end-goal isn't really that important and more of a means to keep moving you forward. The journey is the destination kinda-deal.
Emphasis on environmental story-telling does wonders for it. It is part of why elaborate environments, layers of different inspecting and conversing do so well in the genre.

For me, I like those puzzles more on the easy side. But figuring them out - if done right - can be very satisfying. That's the main goal of a puzzler. Not every adventure game needs to be a puzzler or have the same main goal.
Rather than just looking at the range of difficulty, consider the flavour you will get as well.
You need to realize it is an option, yes, so you can think of doing it as a player, but it should also have an expected or unexpected effect. Play with that moment.

Making balloons in the shape of a mechanical tool and using it in Edna's Escape(?) was absolutely ridiculous, but it was absolutely fun to see and use.
There was also that Larry game where you needed to replace the books the library worker read to drastic effect. You may not automatically think of it, but realizing it's there is fun, and seeing this pseudo-logic in effect to turn the strict, prude lady into an open alluring succubus was much more satisfying than the puzzle by itself which was "replace books lying around".

My recommendation for a great mystery would be Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective at the top of my head. It has little of the piecing clues together kind of things. It's all about watching things unfold first, and saving what you can.
It has great characters, that one awesome dance pokemaniac is using for his avatar, stylish animations, and fun gameplay that's really more a means to procceed forward and have fun with, first. The timers and environments they play in, however, add a lot to how you perceive the lil minigames making the tension rise quite often.

999 and such are kinda high in course, but they are puzzler first and really not that interesting otherwise. The breaks are far too long to let any tension rise in any way for me.
Twilight Princess HD satisfies many criteria for a great epic game just like
Windwaker HD did a couple of years ago. Both games are full of vibrant colorful characters and interesting cutscenes. In Windwaker HD, sailing the great expanse of ocean allows for multiple ways to reach your destination. I'm interested in a mostly nonlinear adventure taking place on a barren or overpopulated overworld.

Very insightful comments. I'm currently working on a game that has no battles at all. You're playing as Always Trying, a former MC who lives in Herbtown, a humble little village. The goal of the game is to find the thief that stole your entire stash. The game is really basic from there on out; you simply explore Herbtown in order to find clues about who the thief is and where he/she is hiding at. You basically just talk to NPCs and find key items in order to progress the game.

That seems okay, but I think there might be a small problem. The local drunk, Pebber, knows who the thief is. Well, he did see the thief, but he has a hard time remembering the details. Most of key items need to be found and given to Pebber, so that it can somehow trigger his memory. Is this essentially a bad thing? Would it feel like padding if the player simple has to find a bunch of random items in order for Pebber to reveal the thief's identity?

This is a very short game (maybe 30 minutes long at most) and I am mostly just making it for fun. I do have a really cool idea for a mystery/adventure game though that is quite Lynchian in tone. I'd like to discuss that one as well sometime in the future.
These are all really good comments.

author=Aegix_Drakan
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This is a really neat idea. I realize that my natural GAM MAK is geared more towards combat, so I could see myself making a battle system for a mystery game like this. Maybe I can find a way to keep all of the puzzles in-battle.

author=Kylaila
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This is neat. I'll have to check out your recommendations.

author=Davenport
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Yeah, Zelda games, to me, have always been in a league of their own. I also love the secret area things they always do. Keeps giving you a reason to go back and explore the environment again. I think it falls under the "lock and key" concept, but it works like a charm.

author=luiishu535
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I'd really like to see that game. I put my mystery project on hold, as I have another game in production, and almost half way done. But I have it set aside, where you'd travel through a castle as one of four members. Each have their own abilities: the Warrior can push heavy obstacles, the Mage can read spell tones and glyphs, the Priest can pray to manipulate certain objects in the environment, and the Thief has keen eye sight and can see objects others cannot. So the plan is being drawn up but... I think I may wait until I'm a little better at designing puzzles, first. Heheh.
I've thought much about what I love about adventure games:

Exploration
The sense of being transported somewhere else. Being able to explore this other world. Finding all the little details, things that can be examined or used in ways that may not advance the game but provide entertainment.

Dialogue
It was the dialogue trees in Monkey Island 2 that initially made me a fan of adventure games. The sense that I could make my character say what I wanted and there would be an intelligent response seemed magical.

Story
Having a good story that you feel like you are participating in. This is probably what I really love most in games. The sense of immersion in a story that games can potentially provide that (to me at least) go beyond books or movies.

Notice that what many consider the core gameplay mechanic, the puzzles, doesn't really come into it. I think many developers have come to the same conclusion. Most new adventure games either tone the puzzles down and make them very easy or cut them completely. I mostly agree with that approach, although I do think it's important to make up for the cut-down puzzles with more "interactivity:" stuff you can play around with and things you can discover.
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