Emerald City Confidential

By: Derek Yu

On: February 25th, 2009

Emerald City Confidential

Emerald City Confidential is a new point-and-click adventure game from Dave Gilbert, creator of The Shivah and the Blackwell series. I’m a big fan of The Shivah, which is notable for starring a conflicted rabbi, but earns my respect as a very well-written, humanistic, and entertaining game. So it’s with some disappointment that Emerald City Confidential is perceptibly marred for me by what I can only describe as “casualitis.”

Warning, I’m going to go on a serious tangent by the end of this post.

The game takes place in the world of Oz. You play Petra, a tough, no-nonsense private eye living in the Emerald City, looking to make some emeralds and right some wrongs in the process. Since the classic 1939 film, there have been quite a few other successful adaptations of L. Frank Baum’s fantasy world (which is now in the public domain): off the top of my head, I can think of Return to Oz, Disney’s dark semi-sequel, Wicked, the popular musical, and The Wizard of Oz 3: Dorothy Goes to Hell, a lowbrow animated movie by James “Angry Video Game Nerd” Rolfe and Mike Matei. I’ve seen all three, enjoyed all three immensely, and I have to say, I also really like Gilbert’s noir imagining, which includes a lot of the characters from the twisted Disney movie.

Unfortunately, being published by PlayFirst, ECC includes a lot of concessions to casual game players, like meaningless rewards, and Captain Obvious-style hints and hand-holding. The most egregious of these are the condescending “quest” pop-ups that appear at every turn of the game. By way of example, there’s one point where you receive a quest to go to the docks, receive a congratulatory message for arriving, immediately receive another quest to talk to someone who’s standing two feet away, and then receive a congratulations for successfully speaking to her. It’s literally four clicks for as many pop-ups. Zero thinking involved.

And I can’t help but think that the button-collecting minigame is an obvious nod to the “hidden object”-style games that are popular (and lucrative) in the casual gaming world. It’s a fun way of unlocking concept art made for the game. It’s also a pointless distraction from the game itself.

Which brings me tangentially to this: the idea of rewards in games is worth discussing with regards to their design. The coin, the ring, the cutscene, the minigame, the achievement… the “CONGRATURATION,” if you will. It’s become obvious to me that the way to define casual games is not by any particular genre, but by how the ratio of reward versus achievement is skewed toward the former. When it becomes skewed enough, it’s at best vaguely insulting toward the player and distracting, as it is in ECC. At worst, it conditions the player to be more of a spectator than an active participant in the playing.

In fact, I can’t help but think that the most damning argument against games as a worthwhile medium is that its creators feel like they have to add these kinds of rewards to make the experience enjoyable. When a superficial reward becomes more than a fun extra and becomes a majority shareholder in Why Are We Playing, Inc., then something is wrong. At least when monkeys press buttons for pellets they are participating in scientific research (supposedly).

This problem, however, ultimately does not just belong to casual developers, but to all developers, mainstream and indie, and myself included. If games are meant to be played, and we cannot convince someone to play without rewarding them every step of the way, then I think we have failed, and I think we are contributing to what Aldous Huxley described as the “”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brave_New_World">Brave New World," a society doomed by endless, irrelevant distractions; a society doomed by having its every need immediately fulfilled, with as little effort as possible.

To bring it back to Emerald City Confidential, I love the world Dave Gilbert has constructed, and I love the writing. The artwork and voice acting are both quite good (although hurt slightly by compression). But I really hope that his next game is not with PlayFirst, because what I see as their influence has done no service to his design except to make it more palatable to an audience that could probably enjoy it at a more “adult” level if they tried. And in my opinion, we should make them try.

TIGdb: Entry for Emerald City Confidential

  • Derek

    tl;dr :(

  • failrate

    I wonder how difficult it would be to finnagle a version of the game that let you turn off all of that auto-pilot crap?

  • Diverse

    Derek, my man. I have to just say this. I love you. I want you to be my man not just in a friend sense, I want you to be my lover. Please respond.

  • http://randomzoo.com/ Random

    Wasn’t tl,dr Derek :)

    Have not tried ECC yet, but I always hate the constant rewards/useless achievements in some games too. Wouldn’t be so bad if most of them tried to make them meaningful…

    Would be interesting to see what the casual people who buy games with those think. Useless rewards everywhere = more sales?

  • http://www.4colorrebellion.com hokku

    When you mention a game’s failure/success, it’s also important to keep in mind that such a thing is a relative concept. You make a strong argument for your belief that the gradual shift in games to make the experience about the rewards rather than the achievements detracts from the overall value of games as a viable medium, and that argument is what I naturally want to make as well, however, I ultimately believe that this growing dichotomy in game development mantras cements the medium more so then ever before as a contender among its more traditional “art” predecessors. You can’t look at a creative art including books, movies, painting, photography, music, and design, without seeing swathes of their respective markets being dominated by content created by committee. When an art form has become big enough for capitalistic entrepreneurs to look at it and say to themselves there is a market to be had in there, then I think the argument about whether or not it is a viable medium is no longer necessary. It’s just these sort of evils that seem to by default accompany growth and while I find this natural fact annoying there’s still comfort to be had in the people who make up the content of sites like this.

  • Robert

    Long rant, posted late at night. If I sound like an idiot, feel free to open fire.

    Firstly: you seem a bit too eager to go from “games that hand out rewards and achievements like candy are a bad idea” (very firmly agreed) to “casual games are damaging the industry” (technically agreed, although your specific leap is strange; I don’t think the former is entirely a symptom of casual gaming) to “casual gaming is helping turn the planet into Brave New World!” Is that *really* the best metaphor? More importantly, you haven’t gone enough into how a game *should* dole out rewards. Or said anything at all beyond “this is NOT how to do it.”

    On another topic: the hand-holding quest updates? Not a product of casual gaming. Oblivion was guilty of this. However, Betheseda didn’t congratulate every step, so if *that’s* the part that bothered you (or made it go from an acceptable flaw to something to rant about), I can see where you’re coming from.

  • http://www.adamatomic.com/ Adam Atomic

    Haha, I love this post Derek. I called out Eric Zimmerman about this same exact stuff at Austin GDC. My question to him was phrased something like “do you see any difference between artificial rewards like trophies or medals, and “genuine” awards for achieving actual success?”

    His answer was no, he didn’t see a difference.

    But he also made it exceedingly clear that both his heart and soul were broken down to charred nubs after years of cranking out Diner Dash derivatives, so maybe he sees the same disparities too.

  • http://www.adamatomic.com/ Adam Atomic

    Also I thought that I should add that this definitely is a problem all across the industry. Street Fighter IV, which is by all accounts an incredibly complex, hard-core game that features very real, skill-based, direct rewards, also awards you a TROPHY FOR COLLECTING MEDALS. This is a Trophy that you unlock after unlocking X Medals.

    Le sigh.

  • Derek

    Haha, that is ridiculous! But I can forgive SFIV for being ridiculous, because it is Street Fighter. At least they are being very X-TREME about it. It’s also a fighting tournament, so trophies make sense in that context.

    P.S. SFIV tournament at my house during GDC!

    @Robert: I tried to spread the blame around as best I could… casual games are just an easy target.

    Regarding examples of how a game developer _should_ reward a player… Adam brought up SF4, which makes skill in the game a reward in and of itself. It does this by having a complex and deep fighting system, and by making it feel absolutely incredible when you hit someone with a sweet combo (the 3d graphics have a point in this game!).

    The Super Mario games tend to reward the player by making the simple act of moving very enjoyable. On the flipside, they’ve also become increasing annoying with the hand-holding and minigames.

    Case in point: I love flying around a new planet Super Mario Galaxy. I dislike being told that I have to collect 100 coins for some meaningless thing that I’ll never care about or remember. (At least in SMB1 there is some intrinsic value to 1-ups.)

    In other words, as children we don’t play because mom will give us a cookie to play. We do chores for cookies. We play because we like playing. We play to learn, to imagine, and to explore. As a game designer, I feel like the job is not to give out cookies.

  • bateleur

    Nobody’s mentioned money yet.

    The Shivah was basically free. Maybe today Dave Gilbert has some bills to pay?

  • Krystian Majewski

    Hmm, interesting! What you may not know is that PlayFirst did a talk at the recent Casual Connect Europe. The described the problems they had when the playtested the hell out of ECC with casual gamers. It didn’t turn out so well, that’s probably why they included those features. If you are interested in this topic, check out my recent BoRT enrty:

    >They did a user test of the indie point-and-click adventure Emerald City Confidential and they described how casual gamers reacted when they first encountered a multiple choice dialogue. You might think that point-and-click adventures are a good match for “casual players”. Well, when faced with their first multiple choice dialogue, most players simply froze in panic. They assumed that one of the answer as “correct” while others would lead to failure. From the kind if information they received, they couldn’t really anticipate what would happen. Even worse, after they decided, they didn’t receive a clear feedback on what effect their choice had. They were used to the transparent feedback schemes of most casual games and weren’t able to cope with the uncertainty. They simply assumed the worst and thought they messed up everything.

  • http://ptoing.blogspot.com ptoing

    This is indeed sad. Too much handholding (or handholding beyond a tutorial level in general) is crap.

    I think Achievements and Trophies in general can be good, as long as they hold some kind of value and actually take some skill to get (see Thrustburst :B), but getting stuff for walking 5 pixels and pressing a button or something similar is ridiculous.

  • Admiral Frosty

    Don’t forget, the puzzles seemed to lack the same spark that Shiva and the Blackwell games had. Yay for inventory puzzles….

  • Ilya Chentsov

    I think Micha?l Samyn’s opinion on achievements is justified – they can turn everything into a game and perhaps help to gather interest from the people who otherwise wouldn’t care. Of course, in ECC they are too much “in your face”. Still, I think this hardcore-casual hybrid is funny, not aggravating. Maybe it doesn’t have “clues as items” as other Dave’s games, but it has some nice spell combos. And those rewards sure wasn’t the reason I played the game.

    And, speaking of hints – you haven’t to use them. Want to use your head – use it. But is it better to search for a solution all through the Internet when you’re stuck? Again, I ask you – why should games be something you have to *beat* to appreciate?

  • Jason Dyer

    “And in my opinion, we should make them try.”

    How? (The mere existence of such games isn’t doing it.)

  • Lurk

    The main problem is in trying to reach the ‘everybody’ demographic. A farmer used to sell his crops at a local market, competing with other farmers for a limited public’s patronage. He could live well with a small circle of constant customers (his fans). Now, with globalization, you compete on the global market; the local economy is affected by global sellers, so you cannot live(?) on a few sales, you need to widden your customer base. So you make compromises (GMOs=casual, easy-reward gameplay). I think a solution for hardcore game makers is to start selling their games for a bit more, since it’s going to be niche fans buying the game anyway; they would probably not mind paying extra to support the effort to produce more. Buying organic/bio can now cost almost twice as much, forcing you to make a choice. Maybe this is also the way the game industry will go…or maybe I just want to become a farmer :)…

  • Arseus

    That’s one fine tangent.

    Thrustburst mentioned already. Everything’s been said. Sorry for redundancy.

  • Xander


    This is why I’m in love with Noby Noby Boy at the moment. After being bombarded with ‘Sandbox environments’ in games since GTA III, this is the first time I’ve felt like I was actually in a sandbox about aged 3. Where nothing needs to make sense, and your own reward from playing comes from what you decide to do when you play. If you like trying to drag a sky-full of clouds to the earth you can do that, or you can try to sweep as much off the world as possible in a single push. Alternatively you can join in the world’s attempts to grow the game environments by lengthening to another planet.

    My problem with achievements is the same as my problem with grades in school. Perpetually earning B’s I had so many teachers trying to encourage me to get A’s, but the problem was that you can’t simply tell me an ‘A’ is a reward if I don’t think it is. An ‘A’ in my mind is not a worthwhile ‘achievement’, and so if a game tells me I scored ’50 GAMERSCOAR!’ for getting 100 headshots I don’t feel like its an achievement even if the game tells me it is. If that makes sense.

    Bonus: Just remembered about the hand-holding in GTA IV. Good GOD. Couldn’t they have just given me an objective an let me try to complete it rather than telling me what to do every damn step of the way? I miss the hitman games. In my eyes they were fantastic examples of objective based gameplay.

  • scrubking

    So I see that PC gaming is not exempt from the stupid hardcore vs casual debate and the ridiculous generalizations that go with them.

    Frankly, I’m surpised as I thought PC gamers would be smarter than that. I mean “casual” gaming has only been on the PC since… forever. (Point & click games aren’t casual now?)

  • http://chaoseed.com/garden John Evans

    scrubking: No, point and click games have been the domain of hardcore faithful ever since they fell out of the mainstream. How DARE you call them casual! (I’m joking. Probably.)

    I’m a little puzzled by this discussion. If a game gives you a “Congratulations” pop-up for something you believe is silly, then why do you care? Can’t you just ignore it? It seems to me that anything you can do to make a game more accessible to your audience is a good thing. The “casual” players will like having their hands held, and the “hardcore” players will ignore that stuff and do whatever they want.

    If you go too far in the “hardcore” direction, you end up with games that are unplayable by anyone except hardcore players that will spend hours learning how to play them. Maybe your game is wonderful, but really, I still think making games accessible to a wide range of people can only be a good thing.

    Reading the original post, it almost seems like you’re afraid that developers who focus on “casual rewards” will neglect to put in more interesting gameplay that’s rewarding in itself. Perhaps that’s a valid criticism…I believe, ideally, the simple rewards should lead into the more complex gameplay. Similarly, I believe that the great strength of “achievements” is getting players to play the game in ways they hadn’t previously considered. If there’s an achievement for “Survival Mode”, then maybe some players who hadn’t considered Survival Mode will try playing it–and maybe they’ll realize they enjoy it. That, to me, is the best use of achievements.

  • The Ivy

    Derek, while I don’t disagree with your points about reward, I have to look at the game from the perspective of someone who is trying to make a living as an indie adventure developer. And without signing up with a major publisher like Playfirst, it would be very difficult to support yourself just through the sale of games.

    I got through ECC fairly easily, but I (and probably most of the people reading this) have almost two decades of experience playing games. A large percentage of the people who play casual games, however, do not have the same background. In fact, a lot of them are new to “games,” period.

    I think that the reward system in ECC does its job. It makes a game with a good story and strong writing accessible to people who would get stuck in a traditional adventure game.

    I think it’s interesting how several of these comments have suggested a “casual-free” version of the game. And you’re right, a lot of the time the game does hold your hand when you’re presented with a puzzle. So maybe, in order to please more people, the game just needs a good old-fashioned “select difficulty” screen at the beginning. Thoughts?

    P.S. This is an especially relevant problem for me, since Dave is my publisher. :)

  • http://www.b-mcc.com/ BMcC

    > P.S. SFIV tournament at my house during GDC!

    Oh no…

  • http://trabitboy.dev-fr.org trabitboy

    I’d like to say that I always liked point and click but always hated being stuck really hard.
    so at first glance , it’s interesting to think of a point and click adventure just as a more involving narrative process!
    it’s something I’ve attempted on the DS in a silly french competition.
    I just wanted to do an adventure game, but SIMPLE.

  • ThatGuy


    I really like Dave’s games, and I haven’t tried ECC yet, but I can see where you’re coming from regarding the little reward systems/mini-games. This obviously isn’t a problem involving a single game though (and I know you already know that), but instead I’d like to continue on to the discussion regarding the reward/achievement systems/trophies that are plaguing all games now and (in a small way) threaten the future of good gaming. What seemed like a neat idea (and it was) in the beginning, has gotten carried away.

    Your points are absolutely right on spot. You’ve pointed out the flaws with almost the entire Xbox 360 library when it comes to rewards and achievements and the flaws that mar the PS3’s upcoming games. Rewards should be a part of the gaming experience itself, I should not be rewarded just for playing the game and not really being into it. I should feel as though the game has be engrossed in it’s story or experience (whether there’s much of a story or not). Otherwise we’re living in a state of denial of sorts… “Well I spent my money, so I guess I should just go after these acheivements… even though the game totally sucks balls (or perhaps it just sucks mildly)”

    This frame of mind doesn’t help gaming (with regards to the reward / achievement system). The rewards should always be relevant and perhaps enhance the gameplay making a person want to play the game again, not just including a bunch of random achievements so that developers can string the life out of a mediocre game… that just promotes… mediocrity. (Yes, I had to state the obvious).

    I think good examples of the kind of rewards I’m talking about can be found in games (a sort of recent one) such as Resident Evil 4. Everything you earn in a game like that feels like you’ve earned it through playing the game and experiencing it. If the game frustrates the hell out of you then you probably won’t play for very long, but if you enjoy that type of game you’ll probably come back for more and try unlock and gather the extras and enhancements that weren’t available on a single play-thru and but if you do or did enjoy the game then the extras were just a bonus that actually added to the gameplay. Having said that, not doing any of the extras or finding any secrets or unlocking the best weapons didn’t cripple the experience or the entertainment you got from playing through it. I think it’s because a game like RE4 followed the classic rules of the risk/reward “criteria” bonuses and extras. It’s not that having achievements is a bad thing, it’s that Developers are using these rewards, achievements, and trophies to try and prolong the life of oh-so-many mediocre games when they damn well know that’s all they’re doing.

    I could probably give a hundred examples of titles that use this superfluous system to goad players into playing and thinking there’s extra play value (and in some cases, when a game is so damn shitty I can’t really blame them!), but come on… a lot of it this is created more mediocrity and bad habits in gaming because some gamers have become addicted to gathering these stupid rewards even if the game is absolute crap, and even if they don’t enjoy the damn thing.

    I guess what I’m saying is (yes it took quite a long winded post) that gamers and developers need to get back on track a little. Casual gamers have their place and probably do benefit and feel satisfied with these little “achievements” but I think that most of us gamers (the ones who breath games as a part of everyday life) could do without the whole childish trophy / achievement system (that is being adopted by PC games as well). It just doesn’t add to the game experience.

    Examples of ridiculousness:

    10,000 Kills in Gears of War Online = What are you stupid?? Anyone can get this sort of crap after playing non-stop like a drone – there’s no indication of skill!

    100 Valkyrie Resurrections in Too Human = This is just dumb! People can complete this game without dying once (if they really want to) and yet people may not die enough to earn it (it’s not a difficult – nor is it a very good game) but people will actually play this shit and die on purpose just to earn something like this… Again, stupidity!

    How dumb do we have to be to appreciate this shit???

  • Kobel

    Something I overheard at the office yesterday:
    “So, that new DS GTA game looks pretty nice. Too bad it doesn’t have achievements, or I’d probably play it.”

    What the fuck is going on?

  • Jay

    Whoa. Chill out, Derek. Y’know, just because lots of people make shitty games that treat adults like preschoolers, doesn’t mean that the entire video game medium is dead. There are more shitty movies made annually than good ones, yet the Academy Awards still manages to recognize ones that are at least decent. Believe you me, more shitty books are written and published on a regular basis than good ones, especially in the fiction category. I mean, modern literature is a joke. Fan-fiction quality writing is being published at an astounding rate. Yet it would be foolish to think that all of literature is doomed. When Shakespeare wrote, there were plenty of shitty playwrights. When Hemingway wrote, there were still plenty of shitty writers. Statistics seem to dictate that for any successful contribution, there will be many more failures. So, don’t abandon or damn the medium just because it’s obeying statistics. Literally hundreds of games are commercially published yearly. Yet the video game publications and websites generally only award ten or so to be the best of the year. That means less than ten percent of games made are noteworthy. That’s just the way life is. But it doesn’t mean that games aren’t worth playing or making or anything dire like you’ve seemed to imply.

  • Dave Gilbert

    Howdy do, all! Dave here. Lovely post, Derek.

    I admit, the stuff you talk about was my core concern when making this game. The balance between making it casual friendly without getting rid of the challenge was very tough. There was a lot of back and forth between me and them, and in the end this is what we got.

    In the end, I was willing to make “casual concessions” as long as it did not effect the story, characters, or puzzles. The game is a bit hand-holdy in the beginning, but it becomes significantly less so as the game goes on.

    It actually was a fascinating process. As ivy said, these were gamers who *never* played an adventure game before, and had to be taught all the basic mechanics and rules that we’ve known for 20 years or more. If you want a good idea of what we went through, check out this link (
    http://gamedesignscrapbook.blogspot.com/2009/02/reinventing-dialogue.html) and do a search for Emerald City Confidential. Some of the things we discovered during testing blew my mind!

    Anyway, I’m glad you liked the game regardless. Thanks for writing about it.


    P.s. Oh and Derek, you might not remember but we met briefly at the IGF booth in 2007. I finally bought Aquaria last week and I’m loving the crap out of it. :)

  • salade

    an interestting post, but I disagree with your point about casual games and how they reward you to much. if it were true that causually games are constantly rewarding you, than how does that explain the sucess of something like bejeweled. a survey actually showed that most people who play bejeweled actually play the relaxed mode, where you are not scored or under a time limit, but just go matching shapes together. or how about solitare, mindsweeper, and the other games that come with your computer? arguably, they are the most popular games of all time.
    on your critiques with the actuall game, the one point you made that is kind of bunk is about the button system. I haven’t played ECC yet, but it sounds like the collection systems in the pajama sam gaems, which were a clever way to add yet another thing you could do. call it distraction, but you can ignore if you want, and at least in the pajama sam games it didn’t really do much if you did choose to partake in it. they only become a problem when the entire game is built on things like that, or when they are placed with too much importance in a game. that’s why people, including me, believe achievments are having a negative affect on the industry. they’re at their best when you don’t even know that there could possibly be an achievement for what you did, but what’s starting to happen is that designers are able to implement these shitty game systems and convince people that would otherwise ignore it to paly it for achievements. I guess the same can be said for people who would REALLY like to see the concept art tho.
    other than that your review is in accordance with what other people are saying about the game. David Gilbert actually admitted that the game took on a bit more of a casuall turn than he wanted it to, but thats just a consequence of having your game published. He also said that his next game is the next one in the blackwell series and he is making sure that it is what the people want, and what he wants. it looks awesome to so hooray.

  • Derek

    You guys are right – the reality is that you have to make a buck in the end, and publishers have heaps of money and marketing muscle. There’s nothing inherently wrong with compromise… as much as developers bitch and moan about it, we enjoy being able to make a living in the game industry.

    And sometimes publishers do know their market and have great advice for you. It depends on who you work with.

    That said, this is one of those cases where the publisher should have put a little more faith in the strength of Dave’s writing, and not felt it necessary to lubricate it with pop-ups and minigames!

  • Derek

    P.S. Dave was kind enough to respond, and his comment got caught in the spam trap. It’s #27. :)

  • http://rmvx.gameclover.com RMVX

    #25 – Yikes! Who the hell do you work with? :)

  • Stargoat

    Achievement systems, in my mind, seem to be the “easy” way out in terms of extra content. Remember Time Splitters 2 where the unlockable stuff was actually really cool and useful. Compare that to, say, every Xbox 360 game, where with the convenience of XBL’s Achievements, you get, more or less, a “well done, you”.

  • The Monster King Ren

    I’m vaguely angry at people comparing games to movies in this context. A movie with this much hand-holding would be like
    A movie where there’s this deep and complex story about people having emotions and stuff and like political things

    Then suddenly cut to some guy dressed obnoxiously who explains to you what just happened in detail and then congratulates you on understanding the complex plot of the story all by yourself. Congrats! You know how to think for yourself! AREN’T YOU A SMART BOY? WHO’S A SMART BOY? WHO’S A SMART BOY? YOU ARE! YOOOOU ARE!


    Yeah apparently I’m against this hand holding thing. Learn to play the game, learn to experiment.

    And like everybody said slap a checkbox to remove those annoying popup tips. Possibly labeled “retard mode”. Possibly.

  • ThatGuy

    Well I’d just like to say two more things.

    1.) I really enjoy Dave Gilbert’s games! (So from here on, I’ll try not to go too far off topic, but my second point does have something to do with what Derek mentioned… read on).


    2.) I’m glad to see I’m not the only person who is a little wary of the whole “achievement/trophy” movement that has consumed the average console gamer and has crept onto the PC gaming scene rather quickly… making the quality of a title less relevant than the cheap “rewards” system. Somehow, it’s become another way to enhance the bean-counting on the software publishers end.

    In the end, I understand why Dave made this Adventure game (Emerald City Confidential) a far more casual/user friendly/hand-held title – obviously for the publisher, but ultimately for the sake of “newbies” to the adventure genre. Although there’s really nothing to forgive, I think it’s a kind of forgivable offense to us more hardcore gamers – “hardcore” meaning games are life to some of us… a fairly big part of our lives… and I’ll admit, probably an unhealthy amount of it is being consumed by us hardcore gamers. The only real issue I have is how widespread these “CONGRATURATIONS” (as Derek put it) have actually come and gone…

    I’m almost sad that somebody will play (let alone pay for) an utterly crappy game simply to unlock these “achievements/trophies”. It’s a huge part of gaming now so I don’t think it’ll stop any time soon, but I think the whole fad / fascination / addiction to the utterly useless “Achievements” and we need to somehow find a cure for the problem, if only to bring back focus better gaming experiences, NOT –

    “Oh wow, that’s cool, I’ve unlocked the

    – even as funny as that might sound, I realize that only a truly depraved and utterly stupid side of our human nature could actually appreciate that sorta shit. It’s a fleeting joke and really of no worth and in the end, after the minute of laughter that some might get from it’s really not funny anymore. That’s the sorta crap that is being added to the content of a game

    e.g. Objective: Corpse Hump 100 enemies online…

    The sad part, people will do it just for the achievement.

    That’s the side of games that has kinda makes me sick to my stomach… it was amusing for a short while but things have become carried away and become disgusting.

    I guess the worst part is, when we fall for this sort of stuff we show that we really don’t have any sort of respect for one another – and the people who created this sort of shit have no respect for us either.

  • ThatGuy


    I realized I screwed up my last post but
    here’s what I posted after

    NOT –

    “Oh wow, that’s cool, I’ve unlocked the: T-bagged 1000 enemies online achievement”

  • ThatGuy


    even as funny as that might sound, I realize that only a truly depraved and utterly stupid side of our human nature could actually appreciate that sorta shit. It’s a fleeting joke and really of no worth and in the end, after the minute of laughter that some might get from it’s really not funny anymore. That’s the sorta crap that is being added to the content of a game

  • torncanvas

    This was a very eloquently written and well-reasoned post, Derek. I am really impressed.

    I don’t really think you went on a tangent at all, and I think you make a good point. At times, your tone seemed like that of a kung fu master or something. Keep up the good work. :)

  • lattice

    I played through part of the demo, and while the art, writing, and general execution were quite tasty, what bothered me more was the level of the hand-holding. I think hand-holding is surely necessary early on, but when I think of adventure games, usually the more minimal the better. Just throw the player in there, give them a range of 5-10 screens that they can walk into and fumble with objects , puzzles, characters, situations, etc. Some of these situations kill the player, so they avoid that screen til’ later, some of the areas have items, you don’t know what they are for yet, but you pick them up anyways, and gradually, you piece the whole thing together.

    For me, in ECC, the quests were too micromanaged and came too often, and the possibility of exploration too limited. I felt like I couldn’t go anywhere, but was virtually forced to do the next thing in the lineup. In that regard, it was mindless, like a chimp pushing a button. But instead, if when the main character walked out her front door and you were on a street and could go in 2 or more directions, not knowing what each would offer, and no tips popping up to tell you what to do, that’s sheer pleasure, because then the world presents itself to you, the artwork becomes more vivid because you must study it for clues.

  • ThatGuy

    Okay perhaps this is a lesson for developers who want to develop a game to everyone’s liking keeping the experience true to the genre while making the game approachable by a casual audience.

    Here’s a solution that’s feasible (and one that has actually been used before the time of mass distribution of casual games):

    When developing a game be sure to include an optional tutorial. One way this can be achieved in an adventure game (since that’s how this discussion started) – Create a small mini game (a mini quest of sorts) that can be played before actually diving into the game. This way there’s no need for extra artwork or animation really. Perhaps a little extra scripting but nothing painful. Create a small one level, one room quest that gives all of the fundamentals without actually contributing to the games story. Incorporate some of the other in-game characters or even objects perhaps, but make this level a tutorial level only (not an actual prologue or something as wasteful as an episode – just make it a “How To” side quest for absolute beginners and newcomers to the genre, and most importantly, make it optional.

    I think that’s a relatively simple solution that shouldn’t be extremely hard for the larger software publishers of this type to swallow.

    It just makes sense to me… but who am I.

  • Ilia Chentsov

    >That said, this is one of those cases where the publisher should have put a little more faith in the strength of Dave’s writing, and not felt it necessary to lubricate it with pop-ups and minigames!

    There are no minigames in Emerald City Confidential. Or did you mean button-collecting?

  • ThatGuy

    @Ilia Chentsov,

    I think it’s pretty clear what Derek meant. I think he expressed his “frustration” pretty clearly.

    Faith in the developer (the strengths of Dave Gilbert’s writing) is what I think he wanted to stand out most of all.

    Just read the entire original post and you’ll get what he means. It’s a fair discussion but, like all discussions, one needs to listen (in this case read) the argument in it’s entirety.

    This didn’t come off as a knock against Dave Gilber, in fact it’s a compliment to his skills, but it also shows disappointment in a development that wasn’t left to the developers “discretion”. That’s not Dave’s fault either. It’s like taking a job in construction and getting paid for it (kind of like being a contractor), unfortunately, in this case, it diminishes some of the value (in this case, gameplay value) behind the creative process when a developer is somewhat forced to skew his creativity and his form of art (in this case, Writing and “engineering” a game) for a larger “market”. It’s not a tragedy at all, I think it just shows how much is lost when the balance between money, profit, and marketing research come before the creative and developmental process.

    It’s not that Dave hasn’t created an interesting story, but the game is catered to the novice gamer, and if you’ve played Dave’s other games it just feels like it’s geared towards either very young audiences (not the story content so much – this is supposed to be a mystery noir) but the actual gameplay feels like it was for a child or a person who has never played a game (aside from Solitaire, or match 3) in their lives.

    The problem I have, and I think where Derek was getting at, is computers are difficult enough to use for a novice; sure. But, there are a lot of people who even though they haven’t played an adventure game before they’ve probably read a book, played a board game, or had some sort of content in the form of interactive entertainment (which is not limited to Video Games). So we should assume that most people have a brain and think with said brain.

    Obviously, Dave couldn’t create something that contained a bunch of abstract puzzles in it because that would just throw a newcomer right off. However, non of Dave’s games have had abstract puzzles. They require observation and listening skills and yes some of the problem solving might stump you temporarily but there was never anything superficial about his puzzles nor were they far out there not falling under the realm of possibilities for any particular game. Through Dave’s writing and the direction he used in his games, he was able to weave gameplay into an interesting story and one didn’t have to feel like their hand was being held along the way.

    For the sake of argument (and for the sake of entertainment), I highly recommend you readers (especially those that are into adventure games) download each of Dave’s games off his Website first (The Shivah, The Blackwell Legacy, and Blackwell Unbound). Try out the demo’s, then try out the game he made for PlayFirst (Emerald City Confidential). You’ll be able to “feel” the difference.

    Again, this isn’t a knock against Dave, it’s more of an argument for his skills.

  • Ilia Chentsov

    Ahem, ThatGuy, you should also read my argument in its entirety, starting with post 14.

  • ThatGuy


    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to be a prick or anything.

    I did read your argument, but I’m one of those people who is against “Achievements/Trophies” which really has nothing to do with Dave’s game (ECC). It just turned out to be an extension of the discussion (and I think the topics and subjects have been pretty valid – even if we all don’t agree on one point or another).

    There is one thing you wrote that I can’t really agree with though, Adventure games are made to be finished. Obviously, the person playing it has to find it enjoyable, otherwise you stop playing. It’s kinda like a good book. I won’t bother with analogies about movies, but I think comparing games with good stories to books with good stories is somewhat fair. What’s the point of reading half a book that you really enjoy if you’re not going to read it through to the end – eventually??? Same goes with an adventure game. Maybe not all games need to be finished to be appreciated, but I think the ones that don’t fall into a different category. In this case, the way you’re stating it is you might as well just play the demo (even if you’re only going to play it over and over), because what does it matter if you have the rest of the game – you’re not going to bother finishing it anyway. I guess basically what I’m trying to get at with my slight sarcasm is, if you enjoy a game you “want” to finish it (again, lets keep it in context – this is an Adventure game we’re talking about).

  • Ilya Chentsov

    Again, I didn’t say “finish”, I said “beat”. There’s a subtle difference. In most cases, you don’t struggle with the book to get to its end.
    Speaking of adventure games, you may feel the need to flex your brain cracking puzzles, but remember that they are already solved by the one who made the game. Do you want to fight this guy’s wits, or do you want to go along with him? Of course, he may leave you no choice. But I appreciate when he does.

  • ThatGuy


    Okay, here’s where I won’t bother reading the entire comment, I read the first sentence and that’s enough… I’m not going to argue semantics with you… this is now just getting ridiculous.

  • BluWacky

    I’m not sure if all the pop-up rewards etc. are really there to make you feel that what you’ve done is a Good Thing CONGRATULATIONS, it’s just a way of giving direction to a completely casual player, to re-affirm that they’re doing the right thing – as Dave and others have mentioned for those unfamiliar with adventure games it seems to be difficult to tell if they’re actually accomplishing anything. I can’t imagine being confused by dialogue trees personally!

    I think ECC is a big step for Dave’s work, and I hope it does very well – it’s getting independent adventures out to a bigger audience and it’s very polished in every way. My biggest criticism stems out of what I think is a wonderful design philosophy for Dave’s games, and that’s just that all his games are very, very easy (except perhaps The Shivah) – even without the copious hints and direction of ECC. Because the puzzles make perfect sense at all times there’s very little chance of getting stuck, which makes all his games a lot shorter than most adventures with their cat hair moustaches and spitting contests, and although I admire this it does mean they’re very short games for $20 or so – I finished ECC in about three or four hours and felt a little shortchanged unfortunately, although I totally appreciate that you’ve got to make money off these things somehow!