It’s all a ruse. That’s all I could think when Floyd was hanging around me. Sure, he might occasionally touch you “with affection”, or sigh contentedly when you rub him fourteen times in a row, but the fact remains that, wherever you went in the completely deserted but still mechanized ruins, Floyd would follow. It became a tag-line for every journey to get the right color of liquid for the communication board, it became ineluctable: Floyd was going to follow me around. And, even if he was a bomb ready to explode at a moment’s notice, or actually just lying in wait to steal whatever treasure I might find, I was just going to have to live with him. So I ended up rubbing him a lot.
Overall, I found his presence to give an exciting air of unpredictability to the game. We don’t know his purpose, and we don’t really know much about him, other than his affinity for Lazarus and aversion to Achilles. The latter point becomes somewhat ironic as his role in the story mirrors Patrocles’ role in The Iliad, as the plucky youth whose self sacrifice allows his older protector to complete his mission. Now, a series of tubes tells me that Floyd was the first NPC that had an effective death, the first video game experience that made people cry, and, thus, the first video game that had quivers of artistry (a claim I wholly disagree with, for reasons that would take too much attention and words to address here). Although I did not get far enough to discover his death first hand, that completion of the story makes him even more likable than he already was to me: he didn’t have any ulterior purpose, he was just enraptured by his surroundings. When I left the game on my own time, I had already overwritten my save file when the shuttle had already accelerated too much to stop without crashing, and I felt a tinge of regret. Not at having failed myself, but at ending Floyd’s adventure.
Now, this game wasn’t perfect, however. Slight technical issues like a limited vocabulary and incredibly sprawling, meandering architecture made the game’s experience a little bit more rough than I would like. There were also some other aspects that seemed full of potential little explored by Infocom.
The character one spends the entire game speaking to can have some character, too! In this case, it seems to be tragically robotic (and, according to Descartes, unable to think). While this may elicit some poignant moments like the snippet up above, this sort of apathy can become hilariously sarcastic sometimes:
Having more options to this game that involve direct interaction between the video game interface and video game player could enrich the gameplay tremendously: imagine making a witty comment about your surroundings, and having the computer betray an important hint in its humor. Imagine being able to ask the video game where you should go. Maybe it’ll be a little testy (“why don’t you figure out where to go by yourself?”), but if you are aware of your own difficulties and can state them, maybe the company responds sympathetically instead (“Oh, you’ve worked so hard. Maybe you should know that you need to fill the funnel of the communication tower with a liquid chromatically resembling the control desk’s flashing lights”). This is an amendment that could add personality to the game, while also making its experience a little more distinct.
Now, another game may have already beaten this idea to the punch:
Contact is a game that has three main characters, only two of which appear on screen: Terry, the plucky kid protagonist who is destined to save the world, the Professor, a character who supplies Terry with equipment and lodging, and, lastly, an unnamed character rests at the end of every important game moment, whom the professor addresses, sometimes in mischievous tones.
“Why are you making Terry do this?”, he asks. He also lets, for lack of a better term, the player in on expository dialogue explaining the town while Terry sleeps, so in the morning the kid can run around wherever you tell him to (and motion in the game resembles an RTS much more than a normal RPG, emphasizing the disconnect between video game player and video game character much more: you point somewhere, and Terry hopefully makes it there without hitting an enemy).
I felt a similar disconnect in Planetfall, although I doubt it was as intentional as this. My character seemed mute, unable to speak actual dialogue, but I myself was bursting with questions. “What items do I have?” I would ask the screen, only to find that it couldn’t actually converse with me. An intermediary character, such as the Professor in Contact, could help enrich the game’s history without bogging down each and every play-through. After all, Terry seemed to just barrel into town without a thought as to the town’s locale just fine, despite not knowing any back-story. (A child flitting from stimuli to stimuli seems as fitting a description for a video game player in the abstract, anyway. Go here for a more expansive (5 “page”) look at another video game protagonist as a metaphor for video game player, looking at Raiden from Metal Gear Solid 2, as well as a gaze of Hideo Kojima’s Pokemon collection.).
Another feature that might entice more people to play adventure games would be emphasizing dialogue and rhetoric much more. Instead of telling a character what to say, maybe a game could have a very volatile situation that only the right words can calm. Maybe a moment of negotiating for hostages, where talking about the right moment from the desperate killer’s past could lead to success. Other directions could include dating simulations, although it’s not like there’s a lack of video games in that genre all over the world. Of more interest might be a more political text-based game. Tailoring speeches to specific populaces, getting more points for emphasizing a really important, unacknowledged local issue could be a wildly different video game experience unlike most others.
Naturally, this might lead to more politically minded adventure games, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. It could cause people to become much more mindful of the implicit goals inherent in speech, as well as make a completely new video game experience. What other ad could advertise letting the video game player become a territorial dictator in Africa as well as a promoter of peace?