**NOTE: There will be spoilers**
Point-and-click adventures have always been on of my favourite things to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon on. Although not as graphically impressive as recent RPGs, their simple often comic-book style has always been something that I’ve found aesthetically pleasing, and not having to master an overly complex control system appeals to me no end. But the main reason I enjoy these games is that I like to think.
I enjoy being challenged to think about what the possibilities of using one item on another might generate and whether they would be helpful to me, and I enjoy having to work out which particular series of events will create the right outcome to progress within the game.
In The Curse of Monkey Island, knowing that you need to show the cabana boy the membership card you found by the dead restaurant patron to get three towels which you then use in the ice bucket in order to walk across the hot sand to talk to Palido and take his mug, in order to swap mugs at the lemonade stand and buy lemonade (putting a budding entrepreneur out of business) to get the pitcher to use in the dye vats so that you can return to the cabana to pick up another towel and use it in the ice bucket and then whip the cabana boy with it to get the oil to then use the bottomless mug and the pitcher of dye on palido’s stomach (making him roll over) to use oil on his back to get the map *breathes* is actually amazing, and ridiculously rewarding when you’ve spent ages trying to work it all out, and everything finally slots into place.
Freezing the hamster, and shrinking the jumper in the dryer using a mahoosive stack of quarters found by breaking the vending machine with the car-jacker’s crowbar in order to warm him up again (obviously as well as putting him in the mircrowave – don’t try this at home kids!) is hilarious in Day of the Tentacle.
This is why it upsets me that hardly anyone makes them any more, and it got me wondering why.
It seems that, in the 80s, point-and-click’s were the logical progression from text-based adventure games, with the release of the Mac in 1984 with its point-and-click interface. They allowed games to progress graphically in a quickly expanding area of interest, whilst maintaining a common, relatively new but simple, interface. It seems that the graphical advancements made towards first-person viewpoint then led to first person adventure games (such as Myst in the early 90s, and later, Riven). Whilst a step away from point-and-clicks these still shared most of the same game-play mechanics – ie. they were still basically puzzle games where you needed to click to interact with objects or people in order to further the story.
Somewhere between then and now, however, these games seems to have all but disappeared. It seems that the next logical progression for game developers is console-based adventure games. Things like Heavy Rain, Fable, Dragon Age and telltale games’ The Walking Dead. Games which alter the story depending on the decisions the player makes. These games require user input into conversations, and offer quests or tasks to complete, some of which require a level of puzzle-solving, but, ultimately, you can’t really get the wrong answer, and the hint systems included kind of remove the challenge.
It’s almost as if game developers have decided that gamers have all suddenly become unable to work things out for themselves, and gamers have decided they’re too lazy to argue. Perhaps this is why point-and-click’s have declined as FPS’s and these ‘adventure’ games have become so popular. These games tell players exactly what to do and when to do it, whilst maintaining the illusion that they are still in control of what is going on, as their decisions will influence the game’s outcome to achieve one of several pre-programmed endings. But even then, the achievements that have become so crucial as bragging rights dictate that you need to play through the game multiple times in order to achieve every possible ending anyway – so do you really have a choice over how you play? Or is it just another way to justify charging £50 for an 8-hour long play-through?
Maybe it’s the lure of being able to play on-line with your friends (admittedly something that would be relatively impossible to achieve with any point-and-click). Lording the amount of n00bs pwned over your mates gives FPSs the edge for competitive types. But I’ve always found the lure of games to be beating the game, not killing more enemies than my best mate.
OK, there are still a fair amount of indie developers producing point-and-click’s, Amanita Design probably currently the most notable with the recent humble bundle release (containing Machinarium, Samarost 2 and Botanicula), but even these seem unnecessarily easy – like they couldn’t make things too difficult as people might turn them off. One play-through of Samarost 2 took me under 1 hour to complete. Where has the challenge gone? Where are the hours of trying absolutely everything on and with everything else just to find out that there’s a rock you didn’t pick up right next to where you’re standing that will magically fix everything?! That’s what I want from a point-and-click. I don’t care if it’s graphically the ugliest game in the world – I want a challenge that game developers seem too scared to present.
Telltale games are still churning out point-and-clicks in amongst other things with the 2009 Tales of Monkey Island, and 2010’s Back to the Future: The Game games. They did well with Monkey Island – keeping the original level of puzzling and humour which is expected of the franchise (and Stan’s jacket still doesn’t move!) There’s also some innovation out there which, to me, seems to be striving for a level of complexity which used to be in-built to point-and-click’s with ‘platform puzzlers’ such as Fez. But these seem to be all-too-rare with the seemingly weekly releases of yet another zombie-killing blood-bath.
The Nintendo DS seemed to be my only hope for something similar, and I got extremely hooked on all the Professor Layton games. But now everything’s gone 3D, all hope seems to be lost.
There is one light at the end of the tunnel though, with Tim Schafer’s new offering, promising to “create a brand-new, downloadable “Point-and-Click” graphic adventure game for the modern age” – generating an unprecedented amount of support on-line and, to me, proving that people still want the challenge of a point-and-click adventure. So why are companies refusing to deliver when there’s so much potential to create something different and amazing, that will challenge a player instead of undermining their intelligence? If they’re worried about making money, take the $3,336,371 raised by Schafer to fund an idea.
It seems that games studios have become too bogged down in turning a profit to take a risk meaning that imagination becomes taboo in an industry that requires so much of it to progress and succeed.