Tue 16 Mar 2010
Making games. Sometimes a hard task. Sometimes it is made to look like it’s not. What about trying to make again what’s already been made? Yes, this is an article about remakes. And it’s based on my HHGTG experiences.
But what is HHGTG (aka H2G2)? These are acronyms for ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’. A book (and radio play) written in the early 80’s that became and still is a cult phenomenon for Science Fiction fans, very much like its author Douglas Adams. Shortly after the book, Douglas alongside Steve Meretzky, a programmer from Infocom, created a text adventure based on the book’s universe. One of the most successful and clearly one of the most remarkable games ever.
But note that the game was released back in 1984. Most of us weren’t even born, nor were video game graphics (at least good enough). The game was relatively hard back then, and is almost impossible to beat or even uninteresting for today’s adventurers. Some suggestions were offered, but they only had to do with static images. And so the problem remained.
The goal of a remake is to offer nothing less than the true gaming experience of the original. Most remakes keep the story exactly the same, a perfect replica and just modify things in terms of presentation and controls. But some just like to have it rough. Like AGDI decided for their remake of King’s Quest 2 – adding new plot points and puzzles.
I don’t really have that much to say and suggest here, because, well, I’ve taken the easy way. Douglas Adams initially wrote HHGTG exactly as the book and it sucked. At least that’s what Infocom and himself thought, so they decided to follow the events of the book closely, but not directly and verbatim. Additionally, the original game had all kinds of responses built specifically for a text-adventure. Short and straight to the point. That might have been excellent back then, but about 30 years after it feels rather empty, and it would be really a drawback if we hadn’t taken a shot at upgrading and developing that part a bit. While I thought it is wise to keep the whole structure of the story intact for the remake, I also wanted to enhance it by re-rendering a few famous scenes from the books into the game without overdoing it.
Usually remakes just go from text-parser interfaces to Sierra-styled ones. But that’s not what I did. Trying to keep the interactivity levels equally high as the original’s text interface was the designs most difficult challenge.
Important aspects when designing interfaces are: flexibility and friendliness. The interface should on no account become a puzzle itself – it should be obvious, consistent and have a purpose. Nobody likes a function that’s hardly used. You’d have it hit so many times wondering “Is this going to be used now?” that when it does, it won’t be you solving a puzzle. For the sake of anything sacred, do not keep an overcomplicated interface, just so you can have additional funny answers.
If you have a complex interface, don’t have it unfold all at once. Adjust the gameplay that player gets the chance to get the hang of each function. Avoid putting tutorials in-game. They will break the atmosphere, and the player will be reminded it is a game. Therefore no immersion! If you have a game scene that while funny could very much become frustrating in terms of controls, at least add a possibility to skip it or an alternative solution. In the Infocom original there are these really cool scenes named ‘Dark’, where you’re supposed to “find” your senses. Those scenes work perfectly with a text parser, and perhaps not too bad with a sierra style interface. But still I’m allowing them to be skipped.
It’s wise to either have the interface based around the mouse or on the keyboard and not both. That’s needed for the consistency of your interface. It’s also wise to have similar actions assigned to the same key. Also, games sometimes feature talk/mouth icons (Verbcoins!) for objects but they hardly use it for anything other than characters. In H2G2 I’m having the talk button available only for characters. This means I probably did sacrifice a couple of good responses, but doing this the wrong way could prove fatal.
The interface should need one hit per activation. Verbcoin-like interfaces (again!) have the bad habit to make players hold a mouse-button for a period of time, making things more difficult for those that operate a laptop. Respect those that want to play the game in a laptop, or expect pain! I’ve for instance, always been bothered by Curse of Monkey Island’s verbcoin. Despite the game is really good, having to wait for 0.5 second is really annoying, and sometime ends up in accidentally walking towards the mouse position.
Time is very important in adventure games. Or at least to those that have time events. In HHGTG, time is very important, because there’s always some time-event bout to happen. It would be wise to read opinions on the time-based sequences of the original, to get an idea whether you have to increase/decrease time limits. For some games, like Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, and all the Infocom games, time is very essential to the gameplay. But when the player has opened some GUI, it’s wrong to let the game progress – there’s no need to be harsh to the player and make even the simplest of puzzles into a challenge.
The wisest thing to do here, is to add other ways for by-passing and/or solving each puzzle of the original. That will enhance the gaming experience to a great extent, and if done properly, it won’t break the quality of the original. It’s known that not every problem has the same solution. The player can get more points for solving a puzzle in the most complex way, or he can be awarded with an item that will help him solve/escape a more difficult puzzle. Comparing the IF game with the graphical remake I’m attempting, I’m very satisfied that the babel fish puzzle, very infamous for the problems it caused back then, is now more “obvious”.
One cool feature of the interface is the ability to drop items. What is it good for? Well, for example I never looked at my inventory list in the original HHGTG IF game (because I didn’t know how). To learn what I was carrying I was doing the following stupid routine: drop all; look; pick up what I need.
In addition to dropping possibilities, the game features items that can ‘hold’/store other items because there is a limit to the items you can carry. I’ve made the inventory GUI to instantly open with a right click, as for container items, I’ve added an indication and a fairly big button named contents so people can realize this function, and make use of it.
Also interesting is the object “The thing your Aunt gave you“. On the Infocom original this item is the epitome of randomness. It randomly appears and disappears from your inventory, it can hold an infinite number of items, and can lose those items at any time. Therefore can really be a thorn in your side. Despite it really works with the whole concept of the book, and I find it great, I decided to keep its randomness only for “purist” mode (aka hitchhiker), and have it just come back on you for Easy mode. But then I came to think that it would be better if this item could hold all those things that get dropped down. That way, it would make the life of players so much easier.
The best way to avoid them, since fans are divided with dead-ends (some really like them, and some don’t), is to question the player at the beginning. All dead-ends, no matter if they are disabled or not, should be adequately tipped. Disabling them will make the game easier and more user friendly.
H2G2 contains many dead-ends and deaths; I’m allowing players to choose whether they want them in the game or not. Purists can always take it the hard way. Also some puzzles can be solved in other ways (but you lose some points).
If something is about to happen/is happening/or will happen it’s always appropriate to let the player now. Even when the game demands trial and error strategy to win. I’ve hinted at them all, and even a bit more on ‘easy’ mode, but without overdoing it. It would ruin the game if the hints were too obvious and that’s not what I’m aiming for at all.
-Trial & Error situations
Well, that’s what this game is certainly about. The IF version did it with a limit of turns – we’re turning those turns into real time.
It’s best to point out that ‘translating’ a text adventure into a graphical point and click, doesn’t always end up with best results and people not always embrace the new version. It’s the exact same thing that happens when a book is turned into a movie. People will find the book superior to the movie while others will find the movie a better medium. Both opinions are understandable. And same goes for this, or any similar, remake. For those that have read the book (or listened to the radio series), the original game offered a chance to play it without restraining their ideas on how does everything work and look like in Hitchhiker’s universe. By turning it now into a graphical adventure you’ll end up restraining the viewer’s imagination whether this is your goal or not. Most people tend to like my visual style and find it unique, but I think it’s really far away from what I would like to achieve. That explains the constant updates and stalls in the game’s production.
A preview trailer of the game with music and sound effects by AnalogGuy:
To not sidetrack too much, what really bothered me, was what exactly would the titular guide be? In the film it had this ‘retro’ styled book, while in the TV series it was a sort of quite big-to-carry-around-with-you calculator. Both versions of the guide featured, had a really nice and unique style. But for now I’m not telling anything on how the guide looks in the game.
The remake did get many other visual influences from both the film and the series, with the series being dominant. I do kinda of regret not trying new things with the characters look, and I do suggest that it’s better to do some rad things and see how the fans receive it.
There’s not really much I can suggest or add about graphics, because it’s just the medium to transport people to a story/world. It’s important that they are more clear than they are good looking. Mostly because I can’t achieve the last :P.
4) Music and Sound
Music, is either a wonderful tool/asset or a terrible annoyance depending on how properly it is used. It’s the best way to give immersion and atmosphere to a game. And also to ruin it. I’m very much against anything other than classical music for sci-fi games, unless of course it’s a soundtrack done in a similar style to Vangelis. And in regard to Vangelis style, I’ve always had the vision to put that kind of music in Hitchhiker’s – I did have a hunch that it will surprisingly fit perfectly. Of course it may sound weird – how you can combine deep, atmospheric music with a comedy science-fiction computer game? Check out the trailer above to make up your own mind about if I was right.
I’ve always considered that sci-fi shows are particularly dependent on the sound effects and music, to gain some success and recognition. It’s called sound design. And that as well, needs concentration and correct steps to get it done. Think of Star Wars for example; if you’ve seen it, you can remember at least two songs and a couple of unique sound effects. The imperial march, the main star wars theme, the R2D2 bleeping sounds, the lightsaber, are all sound designed products that you connect with the Star Wars, and their success is of such great scale, that if someone rips them to use them in their games, you can tell from a mile away.
Ah, so that’s all, I’d carry on but nothing worth listening. So long and thanks for all the fish. 😀
Oh, and you can download the H2G2 remake demo, as well as follow the development’s progress on this dedicated blog.
About The Author
James Spanos (aka Dualnames) dabbles in AGS and dwells in AGS-related places, running the monthly AGS competition MAGS and writing for The AGS Blog. The list of games he created so far includes: Lone Case, Lone Case 2, Lone Case 4, Oh No Not Again!, and Lone Case 3, as well as Winner’s Don’t Do Drugs, Starship Poseidon, and Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy – Towel Day, not counting his countless contributions to other people’s titles.