Ten to fifteen play hours after my last post, I’m back to follow up on the indie pc adventure game, Resonance. In WIHILA Resonance, I asked what this game could add to the gameplay of a generic adventure game that I’d not seen before. What I found was a little gem called Memory. Here’s a primer.
Short Term Memory is an additional inventory space for the player to store things of note that he/she sees but doesn’t pick up (a plaque on a wall, a type of lock on a door, a computer, a specific person, to name a few examples). You simply drag any interact-able thing into the STM, and pull it out when you want to ask someone about it or bring it up as a relevant detail during the game. Long Term Memory automatically stores key events that the character has seen. The player can re-watch these whenever they like or, again, use them as a conversation topic.
That’s it. It’s simple, easy to understand in the game and almost invisible as a mechanic. Moreover, it addresses what I think of as a ‘feel-bad’ experience (any opportunity a game gives the player to be frustrated or annoyed which could have been avoided with better design) in other adventure games. In this case, the feel-bad experience is not being able to say (in game) what you want to say, when you want to say it.
Generic Adventure Game
Imagine you’re playing a game where you advance through a story and at points contribute by puzzling out what to use, who to talk to or where to go. You reach a point in the game where someone says you can’t go forward because Event X, let’s say a stage play, is going on for the next three hours, after which it will be too late to do what you want to do.
Hang on though. As the clever and diligent player, you’re one step ahead of the game. You noticed a poster in the hallway which stated that there is a half-hour intermission one hour into the play – plenty of time to do what you need to do. Unfortunately, that’s not a choice given to you in the dialogue options. You even tried going and picking up said poster to ‘show’ it when necessary, but apparently you can’t just tear it off the wall.
Is there another ‘solution’ that you didn’t notice because you had a plan? Is there some form of required arbitrary interaction that you’re missing? There’s a divide between what you want to do and think you should be able to do in the game, and what the game is letting you do. It can be frustrating and disrupt the fun of the game. If this sounds too abstract to you, go play a Phoenix Wright game and you’ll know what I mean (though I’ve seen and experienced similar feel-bad situations in most Adventure games).
Thanks to Memory in Resonance, you can drag any object, physical detail or piece of scenery that has any significance (and plenty that have no significance) into your short term memory. So if you, the player, have seen it, odds are your character can choose to recall it as a conversation topic with other characters. The game could still mess with you and have something that seems like a solution but that then fails to work (you put the poster in your short term memory, triumphantly bring it out in the appropriate conversation, and are treated to a generic ‘Now’s not the time for that’ message). However, I didn’t find that to be the case in Resonance.
The Memory system addresses a need in the game well, but it also caught my eye with the way in which it accomplishes this goal: it makes talking like everything else in the game.
A Collection of Words
Adventure games are often about perceiving points of interest in the surroundings, collecting and interacting where appropriate, and choosing where and how to use the things you have collected. There are different stories, different styles, different graphics and different tweaks or twists, but this is generally what lies at the core of the player interacting with the game.
Many adventure games (The Walking Dead, Heavy Rain, Resonance, and Phoenix Wright all come to mind) also want to involve person-to-person interaction, often in the form of conversation choices. The inclusion of conversation mechanics makes sense from a narrative perspective. Whether you’re a detective, a well-meaning bystander caught up in events, or running from zombies with the other survivors, there’s likely to be dialogue involved, and the choices you as a player would make during that dialogue says a lot about how you play the game.
However, there’s no mechanical link between making choices in dialogue and the core adventure gameplay I described above – they don’t inherently interact at all. Sure, you make ‘choices’ while investigating an environment just as you make ‘choices’ in dialogue, but dialogue choices lack the careful searching of surroundings leading to the collection and appropriate application of resources that is prevalent throughout the rest of the gameplay.
The designer can try to offset this in a few ways, all with potentially mixed results. Giving clues as to what the ‘correct’ answers are in the environment brings back some elements of the meticulous searching. Linking dialogue choices to actual collectibles (again, think Phoenix Wright here, where you ‘present evidence’) ties dialogue to investigation, but creates those feel-bad moments I described before (why can’t I present that vending machine standing right there, just because it hasn’t been added to my inventory). Alternatively, many games treat the dialogue choices like a completely separate entity (using them, for example, as a way to steer the narrative rather than problem solve, like in the popular Heavy Rain and The Walking Dead).
The Memory mechanic, on the other hand, brings the adventure staples of exploration and dialogue choices together under the common umbrella of collecting from the environment and applying where appropriate. Am I just saying that all adventure-style games should have some kind of Memory system, or that dialogue doesn’t belong in adventure games? Not necessarily; it depends on the game. It would be nice, however, to wrap up with a more generalised take-away message.
Memory in Resonance fills a need of the game (and the genre): making sense of dialogue while not making the player’s limited scope of interaction obvious and frustrating. It accomplishes this elegantly by piggybacking on core adventure gameplay. When adding or modifying any kind of mechanic in any game, these two points (addressing a need and fitting in nicely with the core of the game) lay out some solid preliminary goals.
Why is the mechanic needed? How does it modify the player’s experience for the better? Without answers to these questions, it’s hard for me to imagine consistently stumbling upon the right sort of mechanic for my game. How does the mechanic relate to or create tension with the rest of the gameplay? What is the ‘core’ of the game, and how can this mechanic fit in? All basic questions that I hope will, when attended, lead to mechanics as equally satisfying as Memory in Resonance.
As always, I’m interested to hear from you all about everything here. Have you played Resonance? If so, what stood out? What is your impression of dialogue choices in adventure games? Maybe you agree with me, or maybe you think I’ve been too harsh. What other rules do you think go into making a ‘good’ game mechanic?
That’s it for now. Thanks for sticking with it to the end! See you back here in two weeks.