3. Save or DIE IN A FIRE
When I was a kid, I beat every King’s Quest game 1-7, except for 6. In King’s Quest 6, I got almost to the very end of the game, and then realized that I had forgotten to pick up a crucial item and had no way of returning to get it. So, for me, Prince Alexander remains forever in limbo, trapped between a locked door and a sheer cliff side, unable to save the birdwoman princess.
And yes, at the time that was insanely frustrating. I’ve still never finished that game. But, it did teach me a valuable lesson about game saves.
We all know game saves are not what they used to be: no longer do we have to grit our teeth and hope that there’s a glowing crystal or musty typewriter around the next corner that will allow us to end this increasingly involuntary gaming marathon. Now we simply save wherever and whenever we want, and in most games, the computer will just auto-save for you from time to time.
But, you could save any time in an old school PACA as well, and it wasn’t a luxury---it was a necessity. In order to not screw up royally like I did, you needed to save often. Several different saves at several different locations. That’s a lesson that sticks with you when you have to learn it the hard way.
And, it definitely still applies. In Skyrim, for example, you can fast travel between locations, but only once you’ve been there before. So you pick up a new quest that requires you to travel halfway across the world, and you’re doing fine, skipping along as you incinerate the odd wolf and harvest butterfly wings and flowers and OH NO CAVE BEAR ATTACK! Now you’re dead, and if you’ve been relying on the fancy auto-save feature, you’re going to respawn at the exit of the last town you left. That’s a good 10 minutes of real time that you’ve just lost, along with, like, 30 lavenders, man!
So, play King’s Quest 6! Learn to save responsibly! And please, let me know how it ends!
2. Think Outside the Box or DIE IN A FIRE
That heading is more literal than hyperbolic, since in many games death by immolation is all too common. But, I digress.
PACAs had an interesting approach to puzzles. Let’s say you’re playing a PACA, and you need one final ingredient to complete the potion that will remove the curse someone placed on the baker. Because that’s the only way he’ll give you his last slice of lemon meringue pie. Because that’s the mystical hermit's favorite dessert. And, the hermit is the only one who knows the secret word that will open the path to the Forest of Mild Forgetfulness. Anyway, the guy at the pawn shop won’t give you the potion ingredient, because all you have to trade is a bunch of junk. Also, he’s a jerk. But while you’re talking to him, you get the distinct impression that he is majorly afraid of ghosts. So, what do you do?
If you answered wait until dark, then sneak into his place wearing the tattered sail you found on that sunken ship, all the while shaking that old tin can you filled with the handful of marbles that fat kid gave you after you and he played hide and seek, then congratulations! You have played a PACA before, and understand that most of the puzzles in these games are solved by combining strange things until you arrive at the solution, like a demented version of Steve at the end of an episode of Blue’s Clues. Coincidentally, that was my Halloween costume two years ago. (True story.)
Modern gaming puzzles similarly test your ability to think about things in new and different ways. Seeing ghostly chains in an old tin can and some marbles is good practice for things like figuring out that it might be possible to fall out of the floor in Portal, or that you can actually use those murderous bear traps to your advantage in Limbo. Hell, the solution to a lot of problems in real life is to use the resources you already have in a different way, but that’s a whole other article.
1. Thoreau Was Right! Um, DIE IN A FIRE?
So, I may have misrepresented myself a bit earlier…remember when I said I beat all those King’s Quest games as a kid? Well, I did, but for a couple of them, I used a hint book. Especially for King’s Quest 3, because good lord is that game hard. But, as I was hinting my way through those games, it slowly dawned on me…I wasn’t having any fun. Following the hints was reducing the game into just a series of tasks: Pick up hat. Wear hat. Walk through front door of Hats Only Club. I wasn’t playing a game so much as following a series of instructions. So, I stopped. And to this day, I only look up hints if I absolutely have to.
I don’t want to sound elitist, but I feel like excessive hand-holding has become a bit of a problem in modern games. I barely have a chance to look around before the game starts flashing hints at me regarding what I should do next. “Hint” is probably not the right word, now that I think about it, since hints are meant to be nudges in the right direction. Some games just highlight a lever while the words “Pull This Lever” flash on the screen. There’s no thrill of discovery in that, and even worse, no sense of hard-won victory.
The games aren’t the only ones to blame for this, either. With the internet becoming increasingly ever-present, it is also becoming easier to just look up what you need to do next. And, it’s tempting, I know. You get genuinely stuck and look up a solution, but then the next time you hit a wall, you want to skip all the frustration of not knowing and just go right to the solution. It’s right there! You didn’t even close the browser! Just scroll down a little bit…
But, just like learning the secret behind a magic trick ruins the magic, looking up a solution cheapens the experience. That’s true of all games that rely on puzzles to progress, modern and old school alike, so don’t ruin your only chance to solve a puzzle on your own. If it’s a well-made game, you won’t be stuck for long. Take a break, make a snack, maybe go for a short walk, and then try it again. You’re smart. You’ll figure it out.
But, if you really get stuck, use Universal Hint System. Trust me. I’m a professional.
So, that’s my two cents. What do you think? Am I full of crap? Are there any other important lessons I might have skipped over? Got any adventure game recommendations? Let me know in the comments!