Moving on from this I worked directly for PlayFirst on the casual adventure title Avenue Flo, which was taking a casual license -- Diner Dash -- and turning it into an adventure game. As opposed to Emerald City Confidential, not only was this approaching development, from the very outset, from the casual side, but it was in design for many months before development began, with all the known casual principles integrated from the beginning.
Dialog was minimal, for a start, and dialog trees were not even considered; even still, the dialog ended up being cut down.
All dialog was context-specific based on the current task the player was on, and was geared to progressing the story. Part of the advantage of working with an established license was that many of the characters required little introduction.
Multiple clear ways to track progress
Avenue Flo included several ways for players to track their progress in the form of a task tracker, map screen, and collectable item list, all accessible from the task bar.
Even though there wasn't a mechanism for getting the solutions to problems, clicking on the main character would give hints, and each of the well-integrated minigames came with a set of hints that could practically solve the game. The main tasks for completing the game were clearly identified from the start, and packaged into three distinct sections, so players always had a clear goal from start to end.
Constantly rewarding actions
Moving straight from Emerald City and using the same engine, Avenue Flo included the same rewarding popup inventory mechanic. Of course every action was followed by a pleasing sound and particle effect, with major progression actions being rewarded with a short animation sequence or large sound and particle effects. The goal: making the player feel rewarded consistently throughout the game.
The sub-games of collecting bottles and butterflies were seamlessly integrated in the story, and the rewards were tangible and progressed the story. And of course the tutorial was geared perfectly to casual players with many flashes and prompts.
Avenue Flo did well with its intended casual audience, because of the design principles employed, and also because of the strength of the license. Probably its only flaw was that minigames could not be skipped and one in particular contained an action sequence that prevented some players from being able to complete the game without the physical assistance of the nearest gamer or 12 year old.
However the game contained very little for an adventure game audience to get their teeth stuck into -- possibly due to its simplicity and predictable story.
Moving forward with my own game, Jolly Rover, I wanted to make a classic point-and-click adventure, but employ the valuable lessons learned from working on casual titles to make the game accessible to a wider audience while not alienating the adventure game audience. In doing so, I hoped to at least be able to sell enough copies to continue practicing my craft. Jolly Rover was the first commercial-scale title I would be the designer on; it was also the culmination of a lifelong dream, so I wanted to do all I could to make it a success.
As I mentioned before, even a hardcore adventure gamer doesn't like walking around for hours not knowing what to do, so they're not entirely dissimilar to the casual player, even if they're operating on a different level. This means that ideas such as implementing methods to keep players on track and give them optional hints and even solutions to problems benefits both your casual and hardcore players.
The balance I felt I wanted to achieve was to make sure the game wasn't too easy and too shallow for players that wanted their brain tickled and dig a little deeper. Casual players aren't fools, but they come from a different set of experiences and knowledge; consider the person with a PhD who can't work change the settings on their new DVD player.
So without further ado, here are some things I included in Jolly Rover to attempt to make adventure games accessible to all:
One button does everything.
My belief is the fewer controls you have in a game, the better. Also, when targeting Mac, you have to be aware that its users are used to one button. Moving to iPhone/iPad is also easier. The button click is context sensitive, so one click can mean "look at", "talk to", "walk to", "open", "close", "pull", "push" etc. An exception to this is a feature I just added recently, which is right clicking to put away an inventory item. It's not necessary, but adventure gamers miss it if it's not there, and putting it in doesn't increase control complexity.
No pixel hunting
It is with some humor that I realize my next feature may contradict what I've just said. Pressing the space bar will highlight every interactive item on screen. Adventure games shouldn't be a pixel hunt; nothing should be lost by showing players all items of interest. This is a big distinction I make between adventure games and hidden object games.
Help the player reduce repetition
The game remembers what you've done, so you don't have to. A frustration I have in adventure games is returning to a scene and forgetting what I've already interacted with. To combat this I have a simple text roll-over system for interactive areas. Blue text appears on items the player has not interacted with, white text for areas they have.
Sometimes on returning to a scene, or after performing an action, an item that has already been interacted with will elicit a new response; in this case the item will have blue text once again, signaling the player can get a new response by interacting with it again. This is the same for characters that have new dialog options available.
In addition, this is implemented for using inventory items on areas, and using inventory on inventory. This simple feature will prevent players from wasting their time, and ensure future actions are productive.