Category Archives: Epic Procrastination Adventure Game Research Project

Posts about my research project into classic adventure games.


Contradiciton is a full motion video game which of course immediately sounds horrible because of all the FMV failures which have preceded it but they have really overcome my expectations. The video is fluid and well produced. They used actual actors so it’s not painful to watch. They used actual film production techniques so it doesn’t sound and look like shit. Overall I am impressed by the gameplay and user interface. Much better than I expected.

The game is essentially a lot of walking around and talking to people. Once you’ve interviewed everyone around you can start looking for contradictions in the answers that they have given you.

The story is a murder mystery centered around a bizarre business school with links to the occult. The writing was quite good and the acting was excellent. I had a number of issues with the Contradictions which sometimes seemed pretty forced (see below). Overall however I felt it was a high quality and well designed game which I enjoyed playing a lot.

Design Elements

They clearly took a lot of effort to make the geographic layout of the locations logical and connected. When Jenks walks into a scene you often see him position himself very clearly looking in the direction that you see when the transition video cuts to the navigation view. This always keeps the directions relative to Jenks’ position. Also the map view quickly comes up between all location transitions and an arrow clearly shows the direction of view of the following scene. This helps to keep the viewer from becoming confused – although navigating in and out of the lake area still got me turned around on occasion.

The interview segments are all filmed in the same locations for each character. This was probably required to reduce the number of shooting locations but it starts to feel a little boring as the game progresses, always going back to the same interview setups. They did do a cute thing with Simon where he answered the door in his chef’s apron around 8 o’clock.

The game progresses in stages where you must solve all the contradictions in a given ‘hour’ before the clock winds forward. I like this type of setup in adventure games because it protects against the situation where you get to the end of the game and can’t win because you didn’t do something way back when (or did do something you shouldn’t have done) and therefore the game becomes unwinnable.

They obviously made an effort to keep the transition segments very short and it’s not cumbersome to walk around between scenes.

Things that worked

Like I said the production quality is top notch. The writing is good as well.

I like the hint/cheat system. The guilt trip where it tracks how many phone-calls and cheats you’ve used is a nice touch.


Sometimes the interface fucks up and you can’t click Exit from an interview.

After 8pm I’m not sure where Ryan is. I guess he’s back in the room with the students but the chief is suggesting I go talk to him and I can’t.

Some of these contradictions are kind of a stretch. I had to do a cheat to figure out I was supposed to ask Paul about why Lisa had been affected by the auto-hypnosis. But it wasn’t clear that auto-hypnosis was actually used that much and there was nothing specifically linking it to Lisa.

Jenks finds a 500 pound note for Kate in Ryan’s car but he won’t ask Rebecca (Ryan’s wife) or Emma (Ryan’s mistress) about it. Come on. Especially when Emma already said Kate was trying to blackmail Ryan. This should at least trigger some kind of information.

Kyle is running around the woods doing crazy shit and he drops Ryan’s car key. I’d love to know why he has Ryan’s car key but “It isn’t worth asking Ryan about the key fob.” OK.

Ryan said originally that “Kate seemed to be enjoying the course and had no detectable problems”. Later he says “He’d heard Kate was thinking of Leaving Atlas” but those statements don’t trigger a contradiction.

It does turn into a lot of just watching video.

After a while when there are like 6 people to interview it starts to feel pretty confusing. Also every new piece of evidence I’m just wandering back to all the people and asking them about it one by one which takes a while.

The final contradiction I could never figure out and had to use a cheat. It turned out to be quite a stretch.


AR-K: The Great Escape

This is a short episode of the AR-K game. I’ve never played the previous ones so it was a little confusing jumping into the story but not too bad.

On the plus side:

The graphics are good for 3D rendered content. The story is decent. It’s a nice convenience to be able to move around via the map. The plant sabotage puzzle was OK. The murder puzzle was challenging.

Bad parts:

Missing cut-scenes or maybe they just didn’t make them. Like this thing with Blaine’s coins. When I put them in the “Small Door” it fades to black and I hear some noises but never see anything happening. Maybe a bug.

Sometime she takes f…o…r…e…v…e…r… to move around the screen. Likewise starting conversations with characters sometimes gets stuck and just sits there forever.

The three cup game – this makes no sense to me. She steals the coin when the trickster is distracted. Fine. Then she has to pick one of the cups which wouldn’t have had the coin. But why? If she picks the cup where the coin would have been it still wouldn’t be there since the trickster supposedly has used his magnet on it. The mechanics of how he is supposedly cheating are really unclear. Bad puzzle.

The ending was a little weird. What exactly is the deal with all those bottles? Why did Sascha think Grigor would get those messages? Was Grigor just too stupid to figure out what his brother did? Why didn’t his brother just come back down and get him? I guess because he was wanted. Why can’t Grigor go up the pipe with me? He’s too fat? Weird.

Anyway it wasn’t the greatest gaming experience. Not a bad story and some challenging puzzles though. It did feel very short but it’s only a single episode.


Among Thorns

Among Thorns

This is a really well made little point-and-click adventure by . Made for a game jam but it looks professional as hell. It reminded me a lot of Beneath a Steel Sky in both the futuristic cyber-punk setting and the pixel art.

The pixel art is phenomenal – really excellent quality in style and animation. Seriously – look at this hungry panda… so cute.



There is no voice-over which might have been cool but understandable not to include in a game of this size.

The game itself was pretty simple with the character locked into a scene until you figure out the puzzle. No complex branching puzzle or narrative. The writing was very good and fit the world and style of the game. It’s not big – maybe 30 minutes of gameplay but still cool and fun.

Among Thorns:

Adventures of Bertram Fiddle: Episode 1: A Dreadly Business

This game was fun. There’s not much in the way of traditional adventure game puzzles in here, mostly just an amusing story with witty dialogue. Bertram and his cyclops sidekick wander around an amusing victorian England full of bizarre characters (human and non-human). Storytelling and dialogue gets an A+. Subtle and no-so-subtle sexual innuendo abounds.

From a gameplay perspective it pretty much amounts to wandering around sets of rooms with simple puzzles to solve. There were only a few times when I got “stuck” and had to think about what might solve a puzzle. There were two “live-action” sequences which involved just moving up or down to avoid obstacles. These were not as horrible as realtime action tends to be in adventure games but I’m not sure they really added a whole lot either.

On the whole this game was entertaining and funny. Low on the puzzles but high on story.

Broken Sword 4: The Angel of Death

Washed out

Washed out

So frustrating. The 3d graphics in this game are so badly lit and the character controls are so hard to manage that I can hardly play this game. In fact I quit about an hour in. Too bad since I like this series a lot but this is torture.

What worked

Well the same characters are back. Presumably the story will be as good although I didn’t get far enough to appreciate it.

What didn’t work

3d graphics. Such a letdown after the nice hand-drawn backgrounds and animated characters of the previous games. This is really a huge step backwards. And walking this idiot around takes forever and he bumps into little 3d bits and pieces all the time. Total distraction from the gameplay. I can hardly concentrate on the puzzles.

Broken Sword 5 – The Serpent’s Curse

The first two Broken Sword games were awesome. Then came a horrible 3D graphics phase with 3&4. Now #5 has switched back to the beautiful hand-drawn backgrounds with more subtle 3D characters rendered on top of them. This works much better. As usual there are the two protagonists with a large cast of side characters. The whole thing is very well produced and looks good.

This game looks good.

This game looks good.

Notes while playing…

Once again a very linear story with little (no?) branching.

Some of these puzzles are a bit contrived.

I stopped playing this game for about three months because I got stuck in the cave in the chapel and couldn’t figure out the symbol puzzle. I finally broke down and just used the in-game hints. I guess it makes sense but this puzzle was frustrating. The user interface for the puzzle itself was cumbersome – there was no way to remove the little word strips from the symbols once you placed them so they kind of were distracting and actually covered each other up in some cases. The symbols were eventually comprehensible but it turned into a lot of trial and error and as I said I never did solve it.

This game is so slow… walking around everywhere is time consuming and boring.

As with the other games this one has a lot of history, mythology, religion and philosophy wrapped up in the plot. It felt like an Indiana Jones episode. This was all good. The problem is that it just turned into a long slog towards the end and it was a relief to be finally finished with it.

Day of the Tentacle

Note: This is a mini review of the game as part of my Epic Procrastination Adventure Game Research Project. I later wrote a much more in depth analysis here.

I really liked this game. It was quite hilarious and engaging. They really improved over Maniac Mansion which I found to be fun but not nearly as polished. I played most of it without hints although I did resort to them in a few cases.


1,2,3 times the toilet humor.

What Worked

The playing three characters at once thing actually worked. This has been tried in other games with limited success. It helped that I could only access Bernard or Hoagie for most of the game until I realized how to get the cherry tree chopped down. Once Laverne was accessible I had pretty much solved all the puzzles in the other two times and I could focus on her.

The characters are bizarre but actually fairly well portrayed. They all behave in ways which are consistent with their character which makes the game much more polished and enjoyable. The story also was well told and “made sense”. It’s important for the story to make sense even when it’s totally wacko and out-there. I didn’t feel like the puzzles were out of left field – they fit into the world of the game.

I liked how certain items couldn’t be passed into the other times because they don’t fit down the Chron-o-John. That helped to reduce that problem of just trying every item in your inventory in every possible place because you’re stuck. At least those items which I knew had to stay in the past must apply to a puzzle in the past. It’s actually helpful when games limit your possible actions in this way so you know where you have to focus your efforts.

Humor – this game really had some nice funny bits. The part where you don’t have a quarter for the dryer and you finally end up with hundreds of quarters which makes the dryer run for 200 years… that was amusing.

What Didn’t Work

I definitely got stuck in a few places. One problem I had a few times was that you need to click a verb and then an object outside your inventory in order to proceed. Like moving the mattress from one bed to another. I was kind of in the habit of just using my own items and I missed that one. Getting the cherry tree chopped down also confused me although they did give some hints so I can’t complain.


This game really won me over because it was fun, polished, humorous and captivating. It felt like a feature film. I felt like I was really getting my money’s worth. The characters were solid. The story was engaging and well told. The puzzles were fair! I got real satisfaction from solving them. I rank this game up with the Monkey Islands and KQIV.


I found an interesting “map” of this game by an indie adventure game creator:

Beneath a Steel Sky

This game was a nice, entertaining, casual gaming experience. The puzzles were really not too hard but at the same time I never felt like I was just reading a story. The graphics and backgrounds were really pleasant to look at. Very simple animation of course but they really took the 256 color palette to the limit.

The story was enticing. I could not get the game to play the intro animation for me so I was a bit confused at first. Apparently you crash your helicopter and end up at the top of a scaffolding inside a building. That never did make sense to me but I’m sure it’s covered in the intro.

The “sidekick” trope was exploited to the fullest with your little friend Joey who follows you around in various guises throughout the game. His presence was never gratuitous and a number of puzzles involved some special ability that he had.

The game started off giving me the impression that it was going to be a Blade Runner type knock-off. Especially with the trench-coat and all. Actually it also reminded me a lot of Brazil (the movie). I was concerned I’d be sneaking around afraid of the cops the whole game. Luckily that’s not the way it works out and you meet all kinds of amusing characters who generally don’t give a shit that you are the fugitive that the police are looking for. It made for a nice surprise.

What Worked

The game was just very entertaining. The dialogue was funny and the characters were well developed.

What Didn’t Work

I got bogged down a few times. The cyberspace world had one time-sensitive puzzle which I feel is always a bad idea in an adventure game. Barring that one puzzle and the fingerprint puzzle I was able to complete the game without hints.


Broken Sword 2: The Smoking Mirror

Random Thoughts While Playing

I immediately remembered the feel of the first Broken Sword game and fell right back into the characters. I continue to love the “cell-animation” graphics and the high quality animation.

The initial scene was a bit ridiculous. Tied up in a burning house while being attacked by a poisonous spider? OK… But luckily things got a little less over the top.

They have removed the map for navigation and you just follow an essentially linear story-line. This seems to work well.

I again appreciate the ‘mini-games’ within the larger game. ie you are placed in a location and can’t leave until you have solved the puzzle. This removes those lingering suspicions that you need some piece from some other area to solve a puzzle.

I continue to dislike Nico as the love interest. She never shows a shred of interest in George. No idea why he’s so head over heels for her.

Ketch’s Landing – The worst puzzle ever

OK… the puzzle at Ketch’s Landing has me stumped and a little annoyed. It seems like I need to get this red ball from the cat so I can use it in the slingshot to hit the surveyors target so the surveyor will leave his map to come fix it so I can look at his plans. I am a grown ass man and I can’t take a ball from a cat? OK well I’ll go through the puzzle and figure out how to get a fish from the kid on the dock. Done… OK i’ll use it to lure the cat away from the ball. No actually I’ll just feed it to the cat, watch as it eats the fish and never grab the ball. So WTF. Even if this isn’t the solution to the puzzle (and it’s been hinted that it is), he should at least be able to grab the fucking ball while the cat is eating the fish, not to mention he could just grab it to begin with. This puzzle is lame.

OK I had to use the hints to solve it. The answer is to use the inner tube on one of the flag poles and put the fish on it. Here’s the problem – I already did try putting the inner tube on the flagpole before I had a fish. It just hung there and did nothing. It also gave me the option to remove it ‘I guess this wasn’t a good idea after all.’ it said when I removed it. I thought that was weird at the time because it was the first time I’d seen such an extensive red-herring. Usually the game would just stop you from doing something if it was a blind alley. OK whatever I thought and then I put the inner tube on the tree. Bingo! That must be where the inner tube is supposed to go because A) it solved the mystery of the ‘U’ shape in the tree and B) once I had attached it I couldn’t remove it. I COULDN’T REMOVE IT. Fucking idiot game. I would classify this as a bug. I wouldn’t mind this so much if the game had set the precedent early on that it would let you paint yourself into a corner and require a restore. But this game has gone to great lengths to avoid that. So the lesson is: your user is not just paying attention to the puzzles but is building expectations from the game based on the type of puzzles and the solutions already found. When you so drastically cross a boundary like this one – allowing the player to screw themselves after a full game and a half of not allowing that – they will see it as misleading and unfair.

OK I finished it. The game was good over all. The ending was a bit of a letdown but overall I did enjoy the game a lot.

Beneath a Steel Sky

Note: This is a guest post by Casey “Chip” Cochran.
Random Thoughts While Playing

The intro is very well done. Cool graphic novel effect, great sound effects and the lead in is well written. The dialog is witty and the tin can sidekick is a good idea even though he is a jerk.

This game is funny. I am only a short way into it and I am laughing out loud at some of the jokes.

Ok, so I am in a subway, look into a god-damned hole (like anyone would have in an adventure game) and I fucking got eaten by a spider. That sucks because now I have to re-do a bunch of the game. Fucking stupid.

Don’t worry, I eventually loaded the game back up, completed it and felt liberated.

What Worked

The game was humorous, had a good plot and the characters were well developed.  I liked the graphics though the reviews indicated they were “dated” for the time it was released. I guess my expectations for these old games is low. This game used real voices and I thought the voice acting was good.

What did NOT work

Don’t kill a character with absolutely no warning for doing something that makes sense! That shit is annoying.  Also, many of the puzzles were too abstract. In order to keep moving through the game at a decent pace I had to get hints a few times. Also, the world was too small. I felt like in the end I did not get enough to see while completing the game.