Fit the First
I alighted on an ingenious idea when I first played Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge. When I got stuck, I could simply write a letter to LucasArts describing my situation and, within about two weeks, they would write back, describing a solution.
Calling a hintline, with its exorbitant fees, was obviously out of the question for me. My parents certainly wouldn’t hear of it, and it was well out of an 11 year old’s price range. So, when I couldn’t figure out how to turn off the waterfall. And then I couldn’t figure it out some more. And then finally when I really couldn’t figure it out, I would type up a nice note on the word processor, print it out, fold it up and mail it off. Two weeks later I would have a letter about a monkey wrench. And if I hadn’t already figured it out (which I hadn’t) I would say oh! I see. I would follow the solution written out, and I’d move on my merry way.
Of course, two weeks has always been a long time. Probably longer for an 11 year old. I was very cognizant of this and would use my hint method sparingly. It really only made practical sense if I was completely stuck on a puzzle. Writing away for any slight hiccup would be a waste of paper and a waste of time. It was only after repeatedly running into brick walls that I would resort to writing away. As a result adventure games were long, endlessly frustrating and indescribably satisfying. Even absurd solutions, if found by oneself, became Eureka moments. All of the frustrations would be forgiven. When you solved a puzzle, you would commune with the designer. You’d say, “Oh, I see what you did there,” and they’d wink and smile behind the façade of your screen. And you’d move on to the next torturous impossibility.
Fit the Second
That was the old paradigm.
Now I gobble up games in a weekend. If I can’t figure something out, I ask for help. Oftentimes games just offer it up without question. As a result one can move quickly through games and move on to a new one. Besides the availability of GameFAQs and online walkthroughs, games themselves have changed. Adventure games are rare. The idea of getting stuck, absolutely STUCK, because of a lapse in logic is antiquated. We can blast our way through. We can hack our way through with timed puzzles. If all else fails, we can ask for some help. And we can do all of this within the span of a few moments.
This is not a bad thing. Moving slowly and absurdly is not always enjoyable. Games that gently nudge you along when you need it can be far more immersive. Any time you stare blankly at a locked door, or run through various combinations of speeches or inventory combinations, you have to step back from the game itself. You start to consider ways that you, as a human being, would approach the situation if you could only go in there and wring your stupid avatar’s neck. But you can’t. So you go through the game and you curse your stupid game vocabulary and its inadequacy in convey ideas. Roger! You say, Just freakin’ jump over the root monster’s tentacles!
Fit the Third
But I can’t help missing those Eureka moments borne on waves and waves of frustration. So when LucasArts rereleased their adventure games last week (and some other crap) and could not wait to download the one game I had yet to fully experience: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I had played through some of it before. I got stuck in the castle. I couldn’t get past an enormous fellow. But it didn’t matter (I think), I was having too much fun with the danger and the exploration.
I didn’t get to Brunwald on my own this time. I slunk head down to a walkthrough when I couldn’t figure out how to operate a torch. Within the first twenty screens. Then I realized I had missed several key items. Then I realized I couldn’t get them anymore. Then, and this is key, I realized I wouldn’t have even bothered to get them in the first place. Ever.
This game is unfair! I declared. It’s oblique! It’s impossible! I can’t subject myself to the waves and waves of frustration inherent in the completion of this game. How could I know of these two key pieces of information hidden in small rooms that I’d need in the end? What would I do when I got to the end and realized the error of my ways?
I didn’t want to find out. Instead I played through the game windowed, with the walkthrough behind it. I finished it in little over an hour, scoffing every step of the way. How, I kept thinking, would I have ever thought of that?
Fit the Fourth
I would have. I don’t know how. But I would. I would restart the game. I would invite a friend over. I would lend it to them. They would install it on their computer. Then we’d play it at the same time. Then they would get frustrated. And I’d be left on my own. Then I’d figure it out and call them excitedly. And they probably wouldn’t care.
And it would take months.
This play through took less than a weekend. A weekend where I also played Loom, finished the third episode of Sam and Max, started Tales of Monkey Island, flirted with The Pandora Directive, and probably delved into Oblivion for awhile.
I failed. I rushed. I moved on. I didn’t dwell. I didn’t give myself enough credit. I went with the easy path. And yet… And yet…
Fit the Fifth
And yet I found illumination.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is a dinosaur. Scratch that. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade will never be made again. Like its contemporary brethren, it does not forgive. If you screw up, well you better start over then. Or better yet, go back to a save point and try something different. You may find something new. Or you may find a more elaborate path to a dead end. This is a Sierra mentality. This is before LucasArts went against that. This is a transitional game.
More than that, though, this is one of the most interesting movie-tie-in games likely to be released. If Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was released like this, the game industry would implode. It does not matter if you have seen the movie or not. It doesn’t even seem to care if you do see the movie. Seeing the movie helps you understand some jokes, some elisions, but it doesn’t matter in the long run. Seeing the movie, you presume to know how the game will go. It only touches on that. When it starts out you can parrot the dialogue you remember from the theater. But then you find X does not mark the spot and everything goes to hell. Indy starts offering fine leather jackets. He dresses up as a Nazi, or a servant. He steals pigs. He beats up drunken large men. He doesn’t give the Nazi’s the grail diary. Or he does.
And then there’s the manual. More research went into this than some entire franchises. It is a testament to the love of the programmers that they share the passion of the character they are crafting. They researched their subject… or hell they seem like they did. There are tiny in jokes involving Dante and Freud.
And there are absurd jokes: Nazi banners on a dog’s house, “Die Overture von Krieg der Sterne.” And there’s dramatic irony, Indy declares that there’s nothing Donovan can do to make him help him right before Indy’s father is shot. “Except that,” Indy responds. And Indy slumps around in an almost Byronic fashion. Part of that is due to the limitations at the time, but part, I feel is a reflection of the character in this game. It is as if he is trapped in this puppet game. He knows he’s going to fail and fail and fail.
I don’t know what changed. I can’t play these games “right” anymore. I’m too caught up in moving ineluctably on. But I can play these games “wrong,” and thankfully I can appreciate that. Maybe I have nostalgia for a bygone era of naiveté, where I could play and play for months and months. I don’t know if games will ever offer that again. Eurekas are quiet now and more frequent. Games want you to cuddle with them, occasionally tugging; they do not stand menacingly over you, hands in vest pockets.
Adventure gaming, in the 1990s sense, in the Sierra sense, the LucasArts sense, is gone. It cannot be made in the same way The Odyssey cannot be written again.At least least for me, I can appreciate these games as cultural artifacts. They represent something, something good that cannot be attained again. This is the definition of classic to me.
Apparently it took an archaeologist to reveal that to me.