Last week, I made a vlog about walking simulators. I quite like walking simulators, and I recently played a couple of them on my stream — Dream and Caligo — which I liked, but with some major caveats.
I tried outlining what I found interesting about walking simulators, heaping tons of praise on games I thought did it spot on (Gone Home, What Remains of Edith Finch) and lamenting some elements of otherwise brilliantly-executed ones (the stealth sections in Observer can still fuck off and die for all I care).
Some interesting comments arose from this vlog which helped me understand that perhaps my definition of a walking simulator, as rambly and lengthy as it was, was not entirely clear.
To wit: A walking simulator — at least a perfect walking simulator in my mind — does not have, or has at least a significantly limited presence of:
Anything that obstructs the player from moving onwards with the story
Consider the closest physical relative to the walking simulator, the printed book. Most books won’t tell you that “I’m sorry, you’ve fucked up; please go back to page 11 and try again.” Likewise, a walking simulator should not impede the player’s progress in any significant way.
It’s okay to put a locked door or a little combination-lock puzzle in a walking sim. Especially when it’s done right, as Gone Home does with the locker in Samantha’s room, because that invites exploration of the house. It’s not much of a brain-teaser — in fact, you could argue that it’s hardly a “puzzle” at all. It just puts up a soft barrier that enables the game’s designer a degree of control over how the mystery is revealed — notably without frustrating the player immensely.
I saw someone in the comments refer to Myst as the progenitor of walking simulators, and I would entirely disagree with that — the obtuse and baffling logic of Myst‘s puzzles are severe cockblocks for people who have no patience for sitting around and working out some stupid machine’s whims and fancies through repeated trial and error.
Anyway, here’s the vlog in question will now make a bit more sense (although I doubt it).
They say, “Never work with children or animals.” And that was indeed the phrase that instantly popped into mind when my wife responded to my question, “What do you think I should do for this year’s AdventureJam?” with, “Why not make a game about our cats?”
I couldn’t help myself, though. It was such a hilarious idea. Cats and the internet are always a winning combination; talking cats even moreso. And it fit right into the mindset I’d had since the first time I participated in AdventureJam, when it was called Point & Click Jam, that I wasn’t so much in this to win approval as I just wanted to do something batshit crazy and hopefully freak the judges out.
So, without really knowing how I was going to get my two cats to actually appear in the game, I set out to create Kitty Quest — a story more or less born out of a five-minute brainstorm with my wife about how our indoor rescue cat, Pemberton Flæsk Mis Mis Brunata Odenkirk (yes, that’s his name), wanted to escape the confines of our house on a warm summer day. His companion would be our other cat, Carlin Spinoza Bøffelsovs (also real name), who is an energetic but dopey Maine Coon cat.
It wasn’t a fully fleshed out story by any means. In fact, the escape part turned out to just be the first act of a (very small) two-act game. Escaping our house would then send them on a small adventure where they faced the horrors that lurk outdoors, eventually causing them to change their minds and head back home.
The official explanation is that it’s a story-based game and Atlus doesn’t want the story spoiled for people who haven’t had a chance to play it themselves. A cynic like myself, however, might entertain the notion that it’s also an attempt to prevent people from just sitting down and watching a playthrough on YouTube or Twitch instead of going out and actually buying their own copy.
The question then becomes: do streamers or YouTubers who play games from start-to-finish — particularly games that rely heavily on an unfolding narrative, like adventure games — hurt sales of those games?
This has been a long time coming, but I was recently reminded of this topic as I have been (glacially) doing the groundwork for Space Quest Historian: The Adventure Game. When you’re making a game, one of the things you have to settle on early is what kind of user interface the game will be using.
And for the SQH game, I wanted to use my favorite type of adventure game U.I. ever. Turns out that’s not easy to do in AGS, but that’s not what this blog is about. Right now, I just want to tell you what that U.I. actually is.
Surprised? Well, don’t be. Whatever you may think of Leisure Suit Larry 7, I will fight anyone who says that isn’t the best adventure game interface ever devised. Let me briefly explain how it works.