In this, the 2nd instalment of my little blog series on adventure game interfaces, we take a look at two of my least favorite interfaces. The kind that’s either cumbersome or simply treats you like an idiot.
That’s right, synchronize your Swatches, ‘cos it’s bitching time.
When you think “verb coin,” you probably think of the LucasArts games that so famously employed them, like Curse of Monkey Island and Full Throttle.
Although the tried-and-true verb bar of Day of the Tentacle and Fate of Atlantis was functional, it obscured the bottom third of the game screen. Sierra games had full-screen graphics, with the aforementioned icon bar only appearing when you moved the mouse to the top of the screen, which helped immersion.
Simply put, having the UI constantly in view was a constant reminder to players that they were playing a game. Not good for immersion.
The verb coin, like the icon bar, is also a “hidden” UI that only appears when you need it, and stays hidden when you’re just walking around in the game world. To interact with something, you hold down the left mouse button and move the cursor over the verb you want to use.
LucasArts weren’t the only company to use this approach, nor the first. They were, however, the most economical with the screen real estate. Their verb coins were small and unobtrusive, as opposed to … well …
Behold! The “voodoo doll” interface from Normality, which takes up the whole goddamn screen. In terms of available verbs, it only has two more than the standard “look/use/talk” of LucasArts (namely “open” and “pick up”). Why it had to completely block your view of the game is a question you’d have to ask Gremlin Graphics, preferably along with a follow-up question about what the fuck they were smoking when they designed that game.
My main problem with the verb coin is that it’s still as constrictive as Sierra’s icon bar in terms of how much freedom you have over what actions you want to perform, but it’s even more cumbersome to use in practice. With Sierra’s icon bar, you didn’t have to move your mouse to the top of the screen to select an action; you could right-click to cycle through them.
Even LucasArts’ verb bar implemented shortcuts to the most-often-used verbs — hovering over an object highlighted a verb on the verb bar that would activate with a click of the right mouse button (usually “look at”), saving you the hassle of having to select the verb first.
What I don’t like about the verb coin is that it necessitates that there are no shortcuts. There’s no fast way of playing. You have to hold down the mouse button (or right-click, in the case of Normality), then select your verb. Every single time you want to do something. It’s time consuming and imprecise.
What’s not time consuming, but somehow more infuriating, is the single-click interface, as seen in games like Phantasmagoria and The Dig.
Here, you literally have no real, significant impact on what the game wants from you. Rather, you just click on objects, and the game decides for you what it is it wants to do.
The single-click interface is, in my opinion, the worst adventure game interface of all time. It reduces you to just clicking randomly at objects with the hope that the protagonist will do something worthwhile. You have literally no control over what the character does, with the exception of trying various inventory items on these objects.
Sure, you can call it user-friendly, but it’s the most dumb kind of user-friendliness, and it makes the player feel dumb. Worse yet, it also makes the player feel trapped by the protagonist’s (or, rather, the game designer’s) whim, and it completely breaks immersion by not letting you be in control.
You’re simply watching something unfold, rather than taking an active part in it. Instead of directing your character, it’s more akin to flipping through slides in a PowerPoint presentation.
Single-click interface works for hidden object games. It doesn’t work when you’re trying to tell a complex story and trying to put the player into the character’s shoes. It becomes voyeuristic rather than interactive.
So that’s two of my least favorite interfaces. I will concede, my problem with the verb coin is minute compared to the objectively awful single-click interface, but if I had to lump two interfaces together that I really don’t like, these would be the ones. Next time, we’re going for a more positive round of approaches!