The Longest Journey Cover Shot

Walkthroughs, Puzzlers and Overall Game Enjoyment.

Did you ever play The Longest Journey? I’m going to hazard a guess that most people haven’t as it whilst it received critical praise it didn’t sell anywhere near the amount that many games do today. Personally I think this was due to the type of game it was and the time it came out in (an adventure game that came out long after the golden age of said titles) but I’d also bet that countless people who did buy it never really got around to finishing it. Part of that will be because of its length, clocking in at over 40 hours, but if my experience was anything to go by it was pretty easy to get stuck on certain puzzles which just seemed nigh on impossible to get past.

People who played the game will regale you with many tales of woe with all the titles contained within that game but none of them leave as much of an impression as the infamous rubber ducky key getterer puzzle which is nigh on impossible to figure out by yourself. Indeed I spent so much time stuck on that puzzle that I ended up tracking down a walkthrough guide for it because every hour I lost in this game was another hour I couldn’t spend on Dreamfall, the game I wanted to play in the first place. At the time the use of the guide cause something of a stir within my friendship group with many of the points being centred around how I was missing the point of these kinds of games. However as time has gone on I’ve found myself referencing these kinds of guides more and, strangely enough, I’ve started to enjoy them more as well.

This was playing at the back of my mind as I was making my way through Primordia this weekend just past (I’m lucky enough to be on Wadjet Eye’s list of game reviewers now, so I have access to pre-release copies). Since this game hasn’t been released yet there’s no walkthroughs available and that meant that any puzzle that I got stuck on at one point or another meant I was pretty much stuck there until I could figure it out. Sure I eventually got past them all, usually after taking a break and coming back to it later, but I can’t help but feel that my opinion of the game would be higher if I didn’t have to struggle through some of those puzzles. Once I got into the mindset of the developer though the last couple hours rolled off without too much trouble but I still couldn’t help that feeling that a walkthrough guide would have improved my experience dramatically.

It was something of a strange realization as most of the time I’ve used them in the past has simply been to get past a section once I’ve been stuck on it for what feels like too long. I’m not religiously following them, mostly because that gets boring rather quickly, but having that get of puzzle free card certainly went a long way to eliminate any anxiety I might have. Indeed there were many times where I thought it’d be better just to wait for the guides to come out and then slug it out after that. Thankfully the drive to do the review on the day it was released (Wednesday this week, for those of you wondering) pushed me past this and now that I’m aware of this bias towards games with available walkthroughs I can account for it properly in the review.

I’m interested to see what the wider gaming community’s opinion is on this as walkthroughs have always been a slightly taboo topic, something we all know about (and likely use) but rarely ever speak about. Whilst I love a good challenge as much as the next guy there are times when being stuck at the same place for a long time just doesn’t feel like fun and a good guide can get you past them without too much hassle. Is that missing the point of the game? That’s something for you to decide and I’d gladly welcome your opinions on this.

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  1. What’s interesting about this approach is that it brings the experience of gaming, which in the case of a lot of games – adventure especially – is already quite a linear narrative experience, closer to that of cinema. You progress along with what’s happening, engaging your mental faculties enough to maintain pace with the work, and become frustrated you have to engage your brain in a way that breaks that equilibrium. If you criticise a movie for this, you’re usually justified – at least from a personal level – and I think it’s a widely enough accepted concern of the film industry that filmmakers spend a lot of time considering how to maintain that balance. I think it’s probably just as much a concern of gamemakers, but due to the generally greater problem-solving effort required of gamers, I think they probably have a more difficult task… however, I agree that it seems almost like admitting you aren’t hardcore, and thus your argument is invalid, if you criticise difficulty levels in gaming in this way.
    That said, I remember seeing criticism of the bosses in Human Revolution that ran along these sorts of lines, so perhaps things are changing.

    For myself, I think it does depend on the kind of game you are playing, though ultimately it’s up to your own personal reasons for playing the game in the first place. I’ve always played adventure games because I like the cognitive effort involved in pushing through a good puzzle as much as I enjoy a good story, so I try to avoid walkthroughs for these games at all costs. I remember being stuck for days and days looking for the key behind the door in Day of the Tentacle, and felt as much joy as I did vindication when Tim Schafer pointed out in his “director’s commentary” recently that everyone complained about it.

    On the other hand, I’ve been playing Zelda: Ocarina of Time again lately, on and off, and have had a walkthrough on hand most of the time. I’m playing it mostly for the joy of the interface and for the nostalgia of the thing, so I haven’t wanted to miss some of the more well-hidden sidequests.

    That said, I barely even remember that puzzle from TLJ, so who knows how I got all the way through that game. I probably leaned heavily on a walkthrough and conveniently blocked it all from my memory.

  2. That’s a great comparison actually and game developers really do have a harder time of balancing the challenge a player faces and the world they’re trying to immerse them in. Indeed there’s been many games, Human Revolution being among them, which have completely broken my immersion by their level of difficultly being seemingly out of place (it can swing either way as the lack of challenge can also break immersion). It was the same feeling I got when I used to use cheats to get past certain levels, like I did in the original StarCraft all those years ago, which felt like I was somehow missing the point of it. In a way I guess I was but the alternative was simply giving up on it.

    I do enjoy the challenge, and I felt pretty good for having completed Primordia without the aid of one, but I guess that I’m focused differently as I usually play for the story first. I will admit the thrill of working out a puzzle that is really non-obvious though still gives me the same thrill it did when I first played these games all those years ago so my use of such guides is usually very sparing (I think the last time I used one only amount to twice in a single game).

    Ah Ocrania of Time. I think my brother and I spent far too many days on that doing everything we possibly could and the painful memory of the Water Temple still burns at the back of my head.

    You might have been one of the many who actually did struggle past it as Chris, who was playing it at the same time as I was, managed to figure it out. Whether he saw me doing it over my shoulder or actually figured it out is something only he can comment on.

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