Verbs and Adventure Games

Jan 11, 2020

I was chatting with a friend the other day and the conversation turned to modern point-and-click adventure games and there was much lamenting on how the UI (the way you interact with the game) hasn't changed that much.

I'll be the first to admit I don't play a lot of adventure games these days. It's an occupational hazard. I usually rage quit or eye-roll quit within 20 minutes. I spend too much time analyzing puzzle structure.

While I love making adventure games, I love playing RPGs (I use this term loosely). If I have free time I'll go slaughter enemies in some dungeon or log onto Wow Classic and... go slaughter enemies in some dungeon.

I do quickly look at new adventure games but as soon as I realize they aren't doing anything new or interesting I'll bounce off. Occupational hazard.

Thimbleweed Park used the maniac mansion/monkey island style verb interface mostly because of nostalgia reasons (see Kickstarter), but I'd never use that for a new game. It's a very functional interface and there is a lot I like about it, but it looks old and dated and a simple screenshot can turn off a lot of people. It's a problem we had with Thimbleweed Park. I don't regret using it, it was there for a purpose and it served that purpose brilliantly.

It seems like most new point-and-click games op for the "use verb" interface. Maybe you have "Look" and "Pick-up", but after that everything can be done with just a "Use" verb. "Push?" "Pull?" just use "Use". It's probably better called the "Poke" verb. Just poke at everything and see what it does.

Much of the puzzle solving then falls to what is in your inventory. How do I "use" this thing I'm carrying with something in the world? Now the game becomes an exercise in dragging everything in your inventory to everything on a screen to see if it does anything. The only friction is how tedious that is. The "verbs" interface didn't make this any better, so I'm not trying to defend it with regard to using everything with everything in desperate frustration.

So I turn to my esteemed readers and ask the following:

Name a point-and-click adventure game that has come out in the last few years and had a novel and interesting way to interact with the world, your inventory and solve puzzles. Something that really felt new and fresh. Something that made you say "Yeah, that's the way I wish all adventure games worked."

I have a small list of my own, but I'm curious what you've found.