Let me show you my conspiracy corkboard for a moment:
This is not meant to be exhaustive or definitive. I’m not saying Final Fantasy is a ripoff of Dragon Quest. Nor am I saying Kings Quest is the only ancestor of Day of the Tentacle.
Rather, I’m trying to get a big picture of the flow of design of four related genres, Adventure, CRPG, JRPG, and Visual Novel, using icons or touchstones of points in that flow.
I want to make a game engine that is targeted at solving problems that every game on the bottom row has solved. I am interested in knowing how they approached them, why they made those choices (which, in turn requires me to check out what previous games influenced them), and from this divine how I would like to solve those same problems and why.
The green stars are of particular interest to me for one reason or another, though I think I’d move the one behind Torin’s Passage over to Day of the Tentacle. There are other games that hold a particular interest to me, though, that are not on this map: Pokémon, Penny Arcade 3: Rain Slick Precipice of Destiny, Action Adventures like Breath of the Wild, and Harvest Moon/Stardew Valley spring to mind. Also, The Magic Candle.
My ultimate goal is something in the red, JRPG family. But I’m 70% convinced the first thing I should make would appear to most to be a member of the Yellow, Point and Click Adventure family. And this is odd because the two aren’t closely related streams, and the things that make the yellow stream most distinct are things I specifically dislike or want to avoid.
An adventure game can be thought of as a series of locks and keys, with each lock and key cleverly disguised as normal objects that might be found in the world. You explore around, click on various items, try combining them, until the plot progresses. This lock and key structure is common not only to text adventures and point and click adventures, but also action adventures like Zelda and Metroid.
The sense of exploration and of a gradually broadening world is my favorite thing about video games. The artificial nature of the locks and keys, however, annoy me. You get to a door. Do you unlock it with a key you found in a tree? You have to. There will be no kicking it down, no burning it down, no tricking the owner to open it for you…
This is a constraint of computer games. Solutions have to be highly specific. And in the yellow stream they are often exaserbated to the point of “moon logic” — the only way to open the door is to fashion a key from the fingerbones of the skeleton guardian, which you defeat by placing a gumdrop in its path, causing it to trip. Moon Logic is the final form of the computer game’s specificity, and it is a hallmark of Point and Click adventures.
I have chosen the red stream because I want to use games as a means of story telling. The red, yellow, and pink streams are story-optimized, whereas the blue stream is more about the gameplay. But the thing is, I feel a game should focus on gameplay, and on player freedom. I want to sneak that in through the back door, so to speak. The Mario RPGs, especially Superstar Saga, succeed in sneaking gameplay in through the back door with their combat system. I think it can be taken a step further.
But if the first step is making a walking simulator, a tiny world to explore with people to talk to, the question becomes “can I sneak gameplay back in through the backdoor here as well?”
I believe the answer is “Yes”. And the answer to the next logical question — how — is hovering just beyond my fingertips. The moment I know the answer is the moment I can begin prototyping the game.
And a glimmer is starting to form in my mind…