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The Designer's Notebook: The Genre That Would Not Die!
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The Designer's Notebook: The Genre That Would Not Die!

April 14, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

Bad acting and audio production. Bad writing can very occasionally be saved by good acting, but bad acting can make even good writing sound terrible. Again, adventure games are often about people, so human interactions have to sound real.

Hire decent actors and record them acting together. Too many scenes in adventure games have clearly been recorded one line at a time, with only one actor in the voice booth. The result doesn't sound like acting, it sounds like a narrator reading lines.

The BBC, one of the last broadcasters in the world that still produces English radio plays, always records all the actors together around one microphone -- and if they're supposed to be in a kitchen, they'll be in a kitchen set, so the ambient room sound will be correct.

I realize that you can't record the contents of a dialog tree exactly the same way you can record a linear script, and we're unlikely to ever get perfectly natural-sounding conversations.

Still, when I was doing the voiceovers for Madden NFL Football, I learned the benefit writing the content that we actually needed into the middle of a longer sentence or paragraph.

We'd have the talent record the whole thing, then cut away the material we didn't need. The resulting audio sounded as if were part of a continuous flow of speech, rather than a single word or line recorded by itself.

Music. Maybe it's just the examples I've played recently, but the music in today's adventure games seems a bit tinny and repetitive compared to that in the Good Old Days. It sounds as if some corners are being cut here to save money.

The breast fixation. I have the feeling that the artists (predominantly male, alas) who created the games I have been playing fantasize about women a lot, but they don't actually look at women very much.

Culpa Innata includes a scene in which someone is giving a speech to a roomful of people. All the women in the audience, without exception, have enormous -- and perfectly identical -- breasts.

This is another Twinkie Denial Condition, and I'm disappointed to see it still being perpetuated, especially in a genre where a large proportion of the target audience is female. Grow up, guys -- and learn a little about the variation in human anatomy, while you're at it.


In 1989 -- so even farther back than my "It's Time to Bring Back Adventure Games" article -- Ron Gilbert wrote an excellent collection of rules of thumb for designers called "Why Adventure Games Suck and What to Do About It." In fact, his list is valuable for anyone working on a game with a story in it, and I strongly recommend it.

In the next few years, thanks to digital distribution, free game development tools, and the indie game movement, we'll start seeing all sorts of funky games that won't ever show up at Wal-Mart. Architecture games. Train simulations. Archaeology games. And classic, puzzle-based adventure games.

We can't all make Mario or Halo, and not all of us want to. Anybody who wants to compete directly with Mario or Halo had better have tens of millions in the bank just for marketing alone. If you develop for a niche market, you'll never get filthy rich, but you won't have to struggle against a giant corporation's PR machine, either.

Adventure games have found their niche. Drop by, the Adventure Shop, and JustAdventure+ and take a look. You might be surprised at how many there are. Her Interactive keeps cranking out the Nancy Drew games at a steady pace, and there are now close to 20 of them. As long as there are people who want to play adventure games, there will be people who want to make them.  And we'll still find ways to improve them.

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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