ICE WORLD LAVA WORLD: An infrequently-updated and utterly inconsistent waffle-house of video-game-related nonsense from the brain, spleen and other organs of Tim Furnish, a software developer and misery based in the UK who's used his clearly-not-as-precious-as-he-figured-it-was spare time to create interactive electrotainment about stupid wildfowl, science-fictiony space kidnappings and, most recently, everything spherical he could think of. And he wrote it all just for you, because you mean the world to him.

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Friday, 10 July 2009

The big OUT OF ORDER retrospective, part 2: Pointless busy work

Take a hike

So, yeah - someone's posted a bunch of videos of Out Of Order on YouTube and I've watched them all.

First of all, the videos (the play-through is split into 20 chunks each of around 10 minutes, giving a total running time of over 3 hours) have been made by someone who knows how to complete the game. Mostly. There were times, however, when the player had been in an area and had missed collecting an item or saying the right line to the right person and then had to amble back there later on to do so. And there was a lot of walking in order to achieve that. By the end of the game's development I knew the optimum order in which to visit locations, grab and examine and use items and hassle characters in order to plough through the story as quickly as possible. The play-through I watched didn't take such an optimal route and its over-3-hour duration is despite it having several edits. (One round trip to collect an item didn't actually seem to make the final cut - billed as a walkthrough - at all. The item was just suddenly there in the player's inventory. When Hurford, the player character, had been in the room in question earlier on in the video I'd been screaming "Pick up the pen! Take the pen!" at my screen but clearly my screen didn't pass the message on to the player.)

Every time I watched Hurford walk down the same corridor to get to a doorway at the far end I shuddered. During development people had suggested I made double-clicking the mouse make Hurford run or even teleport to a destination, but I hadn't done it. I didn't think it needed it. I wish I had. The play-through videos would take up a lot less room on YouTube's servers if I had.

There is one room in the game which has two exits and which, from about half-way through the story once a character has left it, no longer serves any purpose whatsoever. And, from that point onwards, when Hurford walks through a doorway which previously had led into that room, he is instead taken straight to the room on the far side, skipping the pointless room completely. I now wish I'd used the same trick elsewhere. (For those who are aware of the game, the vanishing room in question is the large, two-level magazine headquarters which links the alleyway with the doctor's basement. Dropping this room once there was nothing else to do there was a good thing. Dropping the right-hand screen of the player's floor and the interior of the lift once the player's used the lift once or twice would have been good too. Better, in fact, as moving the lift requires the player to get Hurford's ID card out of his inventory and use it in a slot in the wall of the lift each time! And after all, there's no reason why those screens, or any others like them, couldn't then come back into play if required - in the case of these rooms, towards the end of the game after the appearance of the guard on Hurford's floor.)

All in all...

However, excessive walking is about the only repeat offender in the pointless busy work category, even if I say so myself. There's a secret door which only opens when you say the right phrase to a solid brick wall. The first time you make Hurford talk to it, you have to choose the phrase from a list. Subsequent times you just have to tell Hurford to talk to the wall and he uses the correct phrase automatically and instantly. I could have gone a step further here, and made Hurford talk to the wall (once he'd opened it once already) when the player selected "Use solid brick wall" as well as "Talk to solid brick wall" and perhaps I should have done, but the additional work in picking the "Talk to" action rather than "Use" isn't that much more demanding or time-consuming.

Still, this was (a video of) someone playing the game who knew how to solve it already, and there was still sooooo much wasted time wandering to and fro that at times I'd switch to another web browser window and do something else until I heard a change of music in the video indicating that Hurford had finally reached a different room. Those kind of travel times are bad enough when you do know what you're doing (or when watching someone who does) but are worse still for someone who doesn't. If you know you've got to head to the other side of the game world and it'll be a 2 minute hike but there's something there which you need, then you'll do it. If you wonder whether you've got to head to the other side of the game world and it'll be a 2 minute hike, then you're less likely to try it on a whim (and you'll be more irritated with the game if you make a journey to somewhere a mile away and discover that there's actually nothing new to do there and nothing you missed).

Looking back

The take-home lesson, I guess, is to try and cut down, as much as possible, on making the player repeat himself. Everything which the player is made to do should be something new and (ideally) either fun, helpful, atmospheric or story-building. Wandering through the same area (or performing the same task) a second, third, fourth, fifth time is none of these things so should be allowed to happen more quickly than the first time (perhaps by letting the player character move or perform the task in question much more quickly, or perhaps by skipping chunks of it or making previously interactive parts happen automatically). That's not to say that the player shouldn't be allowed to choose to repeat certain bits of the game which are especially entertaining, but let's be honest here - watching someone walk slowly from the left hand side of a screen to the right hardly falls into, or even anywhere within a 6 mile radius of, that category.

I wonder how many people were put off Out Of Order by all the repeated (and non-acceleratable) area traversal and stopped playing because of it. If you're making or thinking of making a game with quite a large game-world then don't make the same mistake. Consider your audience. If 10 seconds go by in the game and all that's happened is something which your players will have watched or performed countless times already then you might want to rethink how that section plays. In short, I think I directed and produced the raw footage which was my game pretty successfully; I just wish, with the benefit of hindsight, that I'd been a better editor.


  1. The long and sometimes pointless walking thing is quite common in adventure games, and it certainly didn't ruin the game. Although, as you say, having to get your ID card out every time you used the lift was a bit of a pain, once you've played enough point and click games you get used to that sort of thing.

    The thing I loved about OOO most was the atmosphere which was created by the music, the graphical style (which I loved) and the immersive story. I don't want to come across as some kind of fanboy, but you definitely owe it to yourself (and us) to make more adventure games.

  2. For the lift part, having Hurford say entertaining things while waiting for the lift to stop moving would have been acceptable, too. I do think that walking across the room outside Hurford's room was a waste of time, especially for such a central spot of the game.