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How can Action-Adventure games without backtracking be fun?

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larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008

OK, I know this is a Board Game forum, but considering most people play video games, and that I ask question related to the structure and design of the game, which makes some of those concepts transposable to board games, I decided to post it here to get more feedback.

TL.DR: See the last sentence for the question

In the old days, the difference between an action game and an adventure game was the ability to choose your path and backtrack in areas you already visited.

When games did not have backtracks, it's because you did not really need it. For example, in most Mega Man games, you could chose the order of the stage, but you could not redo the stage, because there was no interest to do so, unless they were hidden items like in Mega Man X series.

But there are a few adventure games without backtracking that allowed you to miss stuff without the possibility to fix this. Here are a few examples:

Kid Icarus(NES): There are 2 portions to this game, the palace part allow free movement and the linear stage parts does not allow back track. If you fail to get a power up or an item, you lose it. But you might be able to get it back later in a further stage as the same power up comes back.

Magician(NES): This is a puzzle adventure where you cannot backtrack between stages, but can move freely within a single stage. The problem with this game is that if you fail to solve certain puzzle that gives you the tool to finish the game, you will not be able to finish the game at all. So you have to start over again and find the optimal path. Reminds me of "the reader is the hero" books where certain paths are dead ends.

D&D Shadow over Mystara(CPS2): This is an arcade game where you have multiple path, and will get access to different loot. Some path might be easier than other costing you less coins, but in the end you'll be able to finish the game. So you might try different path for variety or cheaper play.

Now I had a game idea which in surface could look like Castlevania 3, multiple path to the objective, no backtracking. But with resource management, various hidden power up in each path changing how you progress in the game. I also want to make it possible to forward plan your game by determining, when you will spent food rations, your money, and which stage you are going to do during the day or the night to change the difficulty.

Now I have a few worries about this design.

Finishability and missing stuff: If I make the game not finishable if you missed something, that can be very frustrating to the players and they need to start over again. If missing stuff just makes the game harder to finish, it's half a problem, the player will have to choose if they want start over again, or try the impossible. Keeping the adventure short, would make the start over less painful. But a bad forward planning always leads to a game restart in the end.

Forward Planning requires Experience: You cannot forward plan something you don't know. So you need to play a few times, to remember the power ups location and the stages available to determine the optimal path. But once you found that optimal path, and finish the game there is no replay value anymore.

Replay value: So far, the only reason to replay, is to find a more optimal path to win. But once you win, there is no reason to explore other paths. I would need to have additional challenges like: Swordless quest in zelda, or least amount of days in CV2: Simon's quest, to give players a reason to seek new paths and combinations. Another idea could be that a starting configuration of equipment will incite players to use certain paths over other paths. Which now ask the player to do forward planning for this new configuration. Recording which paths were used to finish the game is another idea. Forcing players to seek how they could finish the game using other path combination that could be harder. But only completitionnist players would hook to that.

Rogue Games: Rogue games seems to have similar mechanics, but in this case, the only thing retained from a game to another is knowledge. You do not start more powerful the next time you play the game.

So do you think that adventuring without backtracking, with the possibility to fail your resource planning, to miss power ups, and with the necessity to start over again to perform better on the next run is actually a good idea?

let-off studios
let-off studios's picture
Joined: 02/07/2011
Some Thoughts

I am one of those NES "old heads," so I love thinking about this stuff and how game design has changed since then. I have a couple thoughts to share.

  • Backtracking is only included as a feature if certain pathways to continue the adventure are locked at the outset of the game, and are unlocked through the player's progress. I suggest that backtracking is not a feature worth implementing/simulating in board games, as it is very "grind-y" and when simulated on a tabletop it loses its fun very quickly. Secondly, there's no reason to "pad" game length when it comes to board games, and this was one way to condense the memory required in old-skool video game hardware.
  • If you have a critical piece of equipment as a bottleneck like what you find in Magician, only those who love the theme will like it - or at least accept it as a matter of course. Otherwise, it will be strongly criticized by the game-playing public as a tragic design flaw.
  • There can be "many paths up the mountain," so games like CastleVania 3 shine in this regard. The three different supporting characters represent three different skill sets the player can explore and master. Although the same end state is found at the conclusion of each path, the journey itself is different because of what's discretely required of the player in each case. This is similar to "multiple paths to victory" and "interesting choices" found in contemporary tabletop games, and so should be a point of focus for you - provided this is your inspiration for a tabletop game.
  • To draw attention to a more contemporary game example, think of the dungeon maps in Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. Note that each dungeon's "end room" where the item was retrieved or the end boss defeated, there was always a shortcut to the dungeon's entrance uncovered close to that spot. It was some sort of one-way door or other passageway accessible only from one direction. Think of this as a metaphor for all game design: once an objective is complete, allow the player to pursue their next objective as quickly as possible. This is why many old-skool games are appreciated only as relics from the infancy of game design.

I absolutely LOVE picking apart games from my younger days, and could likely chat more and more about this stuff, should you be interested.

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
Of course, CV3 it's not just

Of course, CV3 it's not just about different path but also different character. In my case, that could be translated as different power up along the path. So like you said, I think multiple path must offer new environments, but also new gameplay to be worth exploring.

Another idea I had is stage permutation. Stages could be altered randomly at game start changing the position of the powerup, the content of the shops, adding removing well placed blocks, etc.

The idea would be to add replay value by allowing player to create new strategies with the stuff they already know.

I intend to keep the game short by using multiple missions. You might play at most a line of 5 stages to finish the game (in CV terms). But there would be multiple paths, multiple missions, and stages could also be done during day or night to add variety to difficulty.

let-off studios
let-off studios's picture
Joined: 02/07/2011
Old Chestnuts

... Don't forget games like Arkham Horror and its derivatives, or Talisman and its numerous expansions. Or Dominion - though that's not really action/adventure. But the same principle applies to what you discuss here.

In the first two examples, the end goal can be altered (new Elder Gods, or timed games, or varied end game conditions), along with the introduction of new mechanics. In the third, there are a multitude of new skills to learn, and countless permutations of the ways players pursue the same end objective.

Jay103's picture
Joined: 01/23/2018
My brother was the first one

My brother was the first one to solve Kid Icarus (US version, anyway)

That's all I can contribute :)

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