Feature Article

Is Shadowgate's Approach to Adventure Game Design Still Relevant in 2014?

Thou Art Dead!

The return of Shadowgate is almost here. Originally released on the Macintosh in 1987, Shadowgate, like many point-and-click adventures of the time, was brutally difficult. There was no way around the fact that you were going to die and die and die again, as you ventured through the perilous Castle Shadowgate on your quest to defeat the evil warlock lord. The game didn't just kill you. It delighted in killing you. Picking up an innocent-looking candle, for instance, could result in a trap door opening beneath your feet. "As you fall into darkness," the game's text read, "you tell yourself that there must be a bottom to this pit. Your suspicions are confirmed as your head smashes into stone!"

You could almost hear the game itself laughing at you. At the time, this only made me grit my teeth, pick myself up, and come at the game again, more determined than ever to succeed. There were so many ways for the game to kill you, most accompanied by their own humorous and insulting bit of text, that finding them became an accomplishment in itself, a morbid reward for my explorations and experimentations, all just part of the game.

But point-and-click adventure game design has shifted so much in the decades since Shadowgate first debuted. Interfaces have been streamlined. You often can only try to use things in ways that make sense, but Shadowgate is a game in which you can spend plenty of time attempting to use any item in your inventory in any way that is available to you. Want to see what the game says if you click the "eat" command and then click that key in your inventory? Go ahead! Nobody's watching your noble hero as he sticks that big metal key into his mouth.

My first experience with Shadowgate looked like this.

More significant to the genre than the evolution of interfaces is that adventure game design has moved away from the kill-the-player-constantly approach that typified games of the Shadowgate era. But it was clear from the look I got at the updated Shadowgate recently that it is staying true to this aspect of the original. The game even encourages you, through achievements, to poke and prod everything and find all the hidden ways to die in the game. There are difficulty levels that change the puzzle structure to make the game more accommodating to new players, but death and failure appear to still be a core part of the Shadowgate experience.

But the screen I spent the most time looking at looked like this.

I grew up with adventure games like this, and I can see the appeal in them, but I wonder if this design philosophy can still be relevant today, when audiences are so used to more streamlined adventure games in which fail states are rare or nonexistent. On the other hand, we do see players flocking to games in other genres that don't shy away from killing players constantly, including Dark Souls, Spelunky, and Super Meat Boy. So perhaps there is a place in today's world for this kind of point-and-click adventure game.

Do you think there's a place for a game like Shadowgate today? Will it make for a refreshingly difficult departure from the current norm, or will it seem frustrating and outdated? I'll find out how I feel about it when Shadowgate is released in August, but in the meantime, let me know what you think in the comments below.

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43 comments
ambition_def
ambition_def

I adored this game!


FYI The Souls franchise proves that difficult games are more memorable than easy ones.

elessarGObonzo
elessarGObonzo

loved it on my Apple II. would never forget Shadowgate or Law Of The West

lindallison
lindallison

Just learned about this the other day and I'm pretty excited, I did play the NES port when I was 6 and if I could handle constantly dying back then I can certainly handle it now. 


I may have my history wrong, but I remember the old LucasArts adventures being the earliest examples of adventure games without character death or fail states.  At the time it seemed innovative and refreshing that you knew you couldn't screw up - but that 'innovation' spread to cover the entire genre which was a little disconcerting.

I think there is room in the adventure category for both, games with player death and fail states as part of the deal and lighter fare without.

Jedilink109
Jedilink109

I'm sure people will kill me for this...but I loved the N64 Shadowgate game.  I loved exploring an environment filled with puzzles that was all about the story and figuring things out.  I'm sure this game will be cool too, but no one EVER seems to remember Shadowgate 64...unless they hated it.

queenanthai
queenanthai

I've been in the beta for a couple of weeks now and, as a HUGE fan of the NES port, THIS IS AMAZING. Puzzles have changed, so don't think that having the original or NES games memorized will help you. There are tutorials for beginners, new rooms, more challenges in harder modes. Some puzzles in Master mode are already solved for you in Apprentice mode. I've found myself utterly stuck in some places, and in other places it's just "man, use everything on everything else and see what sticks."


If you liked the feel of the original, there's so much more. New things just everywhere. New places to explore. New ways to solve old puzzles, some that still harken back to their original solutions while managing to be different. (You'll see what I mean when you have to freeze the lake.) For those interested in the lore, MAN has that EVER been expanded. You will interact with Lakmir. You will learn about the Circle Of Twelve. There is so much more depth and richness to this reimagining.


If you don't like point-and-click, exploration-type games, well, this isn't for you. For those of us with fond memories of the original and want more depth to it, then it's a grand thing that your adventures have begun here. ;)

chrisb2313
chrisb2313

I would buy this game. I had this game for Nintendo, and played it a few years ago again on an emulator. I was surprised at how many of the puzzles I still remembered after all those years.

jharring
jharring

I think it's okay to have a game that kills you a lot.  Considering the fact that you can save at any time, and it's always a good idea to save before trying something, it just means you reload and try something else without losing much in the way of progress.


What I don't like is games from the old days where you would do something to make the game impossible to beat, but you wouldn't find out for about 6 hours.  Sometimes the game wouldn't kill you either, so you just end up wandering around forever, and it isn't clear whether or not you just hadn't figured out one of the puzzles yet, or actually had no way to progress at all.  THAT kind of stuff is incredibly frustrating.

PHOENIXZERO
PHOENIXZERO

I had the NES version as a kid, I think I finished after I got a little older but it certainly was a pain in the ass even though I imagine that version was possibly easier than the original. Point and click games certainly still have a place and that place is much wider than it was 25+ years ago, they're pretty much perfect for mobile platforms. Though I guess they should be just uhh "tap" games then? But whatever, they still have a place even if that type of game has evolved it doesn't hurt going back to the graphic novel/adventure/"interactive fiction" genre's roots.

deliciouspoints
deliciouspoints

Wait, so is this a re-make? In other words, if I know the solutions from the old 80s version, can I just go through this new one in a breeze? Looks good!!

subrawk
subrawk

the original shadowgate is game based around trial and error. the ideas would work today, but they would have to update a lot of things so that its more than just one of those "try everything until something works" type of game...

externalpower43
externalpower43

Back in the day I was a big fan of the arcade game Gauntlet and this looked like a first person version of Gauntlet. I had the NES version and when I put it in I was trapped at the front door of the castle and thought the game was broken. But when I figured out where that key was and that skull dropped out of the way I cried out in joy and happiness and off I went into the castle. If you are the type of gamer who doesn't like to think and needs the game to show you what to do and where to go and you cant die or lose this game may not be for you.

bicepsul
bicepsul

i remember playing shadowgate trials of the four towers on n64, not sure if that was the name, i liked the game anyway

gullgullgull
gullgullgull

Sad how a game where you can fail or die is referred to as "outdated".

Wicked869
Wicked869

I remember celebrating when I finally beat that game. Ahhh those were the times.

Suaron_x
Suaron_x

I don't ever recall playing a point and click adventure, and frankly upon Carolyn's description I don't think I'd ever bother with one such as Shadowgate.  Seriously, picking up a candle leads to instant death?  Wow, that's just so....stupid.  I'd bet this game is rife with needles in haystacks that almost nobody would ever find without reverting to an internet guide of some sort.  


I don't understand the popularity of instadeath games.  They aren't really challenging...it's just annoying constantly reloading the last save file.  You aren't very "hardcore" playing games that way either  (I loaded 5,000 save files playing this game boyz).  Further, I also don't like games that require precise timing on choreographed sequences to solve puzzles/beat bosses.  That isn't "hardcore" either.  Basically, it's saying the developer is too lazy to program a competent AI so he/she makes something artificially difficult through timed button mashing.


What these games need to be appealing to me, is a flexible mechanics and story.  So if you decide to use a particular object to achieve and end, you'd likely change the story than if you used another object.  I'm not going to search a house for days looking for the only key that will open a door when this axe will take out the door pronto.  Death to your character is fine and all, but it should be believable and realistic...not over the top like picking up a candle/fall/die.  If a trap door opens under your feet...not everyone will fall into it...some people have reflexes fast enough to dodge instadeath in reality.  


We have better computers than back in 1987...therefore we can have more reality in these types of games.

analyser
analyser

Looks really interesting!

blackothh
blackothh

Game genres dont get old, as long as developers are willing to take modern game technology and apply it to the genre.


Legend of Grimrock is an amazing example of a old style game (Dungeon Master, Lands of Lore) done extremely well in a new age environment.

Mojira7
Mojira7

Great article! My first experience with games of adventure and discovery were the old Sierra quest games, which still had a bit more animation and movement than this sort of game. Thus i suspect even if I played this way back i would probably not have enjoyed it compared to the Sierra games. But yeah I do wonder how many young gamers would enjoy this sort of thing if exposed to it now for the first time. Ultima Underworld, and the first Baldur's gate blew my mind back in the day, and I knew I could never go back with the text heavy fantasy genre to earlier types of games...

DarkSaber2k
DarkSaber2k

I hope the flavourful deaths are voiced by a sarcastic british narrator!

007nikster5
007nikster5

I dont like how the game is just cheesy concept art. Either make it full 3d or do prerendered scenes.

HiroArka
HiroArka

There will always be a place for Shadowgate for me :D It would be nice to get Uninvited and Deja Vu back out there to the People!

Semo1
Semo1

Yes there is a place for a game like this today... right here on my PC.

Stiler
Stiler

I backed this on kickstarter and I'm glad it still gave you the feeling of the original one, that was what many of us hoped for. 



If the recent release of Divinity: Original Sin, the success of the Dark Souls series, and others has taught modern companies anything I hope it's that there's a place for all type sof game styles, old, new, hard, easy. everything in between in this day and age. 



DeadPlanet
DeadPlanet

If there is no room for this type of game approach in the modern era of game design, then the modern era of game design is for the dogs.

wicked_friend
wicked_friend

Thanks for the article Carolyn.  Seeing Shadowgate back on the billboards, so to speak, is a welcome sight.  I'm a bit obsessed with this game, but what the hell, that's something I just have to deal with now.  I mean, when I was a kid, there were no other castles to explore for well over four-hundred miles in any direction.  Every kid needs a castle to explore, and Shadowgate became mine.  I'm looking forward to Zojoi's re-imagining.

Anyway, I do think this type of game is relevant to a great many gamers, but I fear the retail/distribution side of the industry keeps the adventure genre out of the limelight in most cases.  I never see a lot of posters for adventure games in the video games shops, and even ad space on popular sites is a bit threadbare.  

I suppose I understand, after all, adventure gaming is an acquired taste for most.  A level of patience is often asked of the player that your FPS flavor of the week would never trouble you for.  Why bother with an elaborate puzzle to open a door when a rocket blast will open it AND make you look bad-ass?  

Because I respect the puzzle, then.  Because the puzzle exists to be solved.  If it can't be solved, then yeah, it's just a lock and you should shoot the damn thing.  But it's a puzzle!  If you don't get that it's okay, like I said adventure gaming is an acquired taste.


exedeath
exedeath

Finally we might have a game that makes the new generation of "gamers" actually use their brains.

spacecadet25
spacecadet25

Point and click sucks.  I got a couple of those type games for free on the PS3 over the last year, and I get bored with them in like 20 minutes.  Puppeteer has some point and click elements, but also includes some real gameplay and excellent ambiance, and is an awesome game.  Just depends on how far they go with the point and click element.

And I don't like dying all the time in games b/c that means you have to re-do stuff over and over from going back a ways after death (unless it is done like in the Trials series, where there are usually nearby checkpoints and loading time is instantaneous).

DuoMaxwell007
DuoMaxwell007

I didnt  know this was originally on Apple.. I had it back on NES

Sefrix
Sefrix moderator moderator

This looks really cool! 

pewlagon
pewlagon

I was a huge fan of Shadowgate back in the day. I feel there is definitely a place in the genre, but the experience should be expanded upon. It is a type of game that can be boring if some way to innovate it cannot be placed within. My inclination toward the classic JRPG format can be traced back to point-and-clicks because that is the premise of menu-based-combat. But how could you shake up the mechanics without pulling from other genres. Maybe take a look at the latest Tex Murphy. Now I'm not saying make this type of game and fill it with motion capture, but maybe go forward with (taking Shadowgate as an example and something mentioned above) expand upon the jeering commentary of the Reaper. Make each death something that the player may actually seek out in order to be a completionist. Some sort of flavor needs to be added to drive the player forward. Nostalgia buffs alone will clamor for these games, but even they will need something to get others to take notice.

carolynmichelle
carolynmichelle moderator staff

@deliciouspoints No, the sense I got is that this is a significantly expanded version of Shadowgate, so there are enough new rooms and puzzles that you won't be able to do that.

iMpLuX
iMpLuX

@tolard91  Ppl don't go to GameStop to buy PC games. They go to GS for console games and accessories. Why do you think most GameStop's got rid of their PC sections except for a lone Blizzard standee for WoW/Diablo 3?

savagerodent
savagerodent

@Suaron_x  People want more punishing deaths. And tbh, a lot of games these days lack that. When I'm hardly punished for a mistake, I just stop playing it. Gets boring and I feel like there is no challenge. 


Also, being punished for dieing or making a mistake is challenging. Some games just do it wrong. Take Dark Souls for instance. You will lose all of your souls, which are used for leveling up and as currency, on hand if you die twice in a row. That is punishing. 


Story isn't, and shouldn't, be very important in games imo. These are video GAMES, not interactive movies. They should present a challenge and punish mistakes without making the player feel cheated. Gameplay is the most important thing in games, next to replayability. 


And I don't want to start on hand holding in games. 

savagerodent
savagerodent

@Suaron_x  People want more punishing deaths. And tbh, a lot of games these days lack that. When I'm hardly punished for a mistake, I just stop playing it. Gets boring and I feel like there is no challenge. 


Being punished for dieing or making a mistake is challenging. Some games just do it wrong. Take Dark Souls for instance. You will lose all of you souls, which are used for leveling up and as currency, on hand if you die twice in a row. That is punishing. 


Story isn't, and shouldn't, be very important in games imo. These are video GAMES, not interactive movies. They should present a challenge and punish mistakes without making the player feel cheated. Gameplay is the most important thing in games, next to replayability. 

savagerodent
savagerodent

@Suaron_x People want more punishing deaths. And tbh, a lot of games these days lack that. When I'm hardly punished for a mistake, I just stop playing it. Gets boring and I feel like there is no challenge. 


Also, being punished for dieing or making a mistake is challenging. Some games just do it wrong. Take Dark Souls for instance. You will lose all of you souls, which are used for leveling up and as currency, on hand if you die twice in a row. That is punishing. 


Story isn't, and shouldn't, be very important in games imo. These are video GAMES, not interactive movies. They should present a challenge and punish mistakes without making the player feel cheated. Gameplay is the most important thing in games, next to replayability. 

lindallison
lindallison

@007nikster5 

Yeah the artwork is iffy, - I don't have a problem with it being digital paintings, but better ones with more animation would be nice.

However, looks more than adequate for an update of such an old property, the team probably isn't overflowing with cash.

carolynmichelle
carolynmichelle moderator staff

@HiroArka If Shadowgate is successful, they would like to do those games, as well as the original design for the never-released Beyond Shadowgate (the TurboGrafx-16 game was different from the original design).

blackothh
blackothh

@gameroutlawzz @blackothh Its such a good feeling when you finally figure out a riddle or puzzle in that game without outside help. I wish more games were as well thought out as that.