Multiplayer Point ‘n Click Adventure Games: Long Overdue

“What are adventure games?”, you might ask. When confronted with this question I usually reply they are interactive movies, where you need to solve puzzles in order for the plot to progress. As you interact with objects and characters within the game, the backstory is revealed. The first few minutes of Resonance provide a good first impression of what a point ‘n click adventure game has to offer: captivating cutscenes, followed by seemingly trivial interactions with the game environment, which regardless reveal a rich underlying story.

Example of a point ‘n click game (Resonance), where the player needs to interact with objects in the game environment in order to progress the plot.

Adventure games have gone somewhat out of fashion over the years, making way for more fast-paced action-packed video games, like first-person shooters. However, a few—mainly independent—developers have kept the genre alive, and true gems (like Resonance) are still released sporadically. They generally adhere to the core game mechanics (as well as witty dialogues) introduced by the classics, and often still prefer old school pixel artwork over modern graphics.

One overlooked feature of adventure games is they are inherently suitable to be played by multiple players; not true multiplayer, but for the lack of a better word, lets call them potential ‘audience games’. At countless occasions I have invited friends over to kick back in the couch, open a beer, and gaze at a projection or screen as somebody point ‘n clicks his way through the game’s narrative. Similar to watching a movie, but different in that shouting throughout (to point out what to click next) is not only appreciated, but in fact encouraged. 1394641-200px_rubberchickenThere is something suspiciously entertaining about listening to people’s concoctions on what item to combine with the “rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle” in order to finally put it to good use; usually followed by a short silence and a subsequent “Why on earth would you want to do that?”. I dubbed such evenings (and late nights) ‘Adventure Game Nights’, and wanted to report on what works and what does not. In addition, I see opportunities for making adventure games true multiplayer experiences.

After years of hosting such events for uninitiated and seasoned players alike (I once even played a game over Skype), some things became apparent:

  • It is best to pick games with a strong narrative, rather than a shallow story line. In other words, games like Resonance, The Inner World, Still Life, and The Blackwell Legacy appeal to a wider audience than true classics like Monkey Island. Games on the far end of this spectrum, interactive dramas like The Walking Dead, are the perfect gateway drug for people to get hooked on the genre, but unfortunately lack the complexity which make adventure games stand out.
  • Spoken dialogues are essential! It is near impossible to stay focused as a group when everyone needs to read on-screen text at their own leisure and pace.
  • If you cherish your night rest, start early, and pick a game which doesn’t last too long (aim for a maximum of seven hours). Short episodic adventure games offer a solution, although they generally aren’t as captivating (the Blackwell series being the exception). Ideally, in case you have a core group of point ‘n click addicts, you can decide on a longer game and play it over several evenings.
  • Pixel hunting (scrutinous scanning of the screen to find anything clickable) is exacerbated when playing in group; you’ll hear people shouting “Can you click on the red thingy in the bottom corner?”, at times followed by “We already clicked that!”. A quick primer on how to tell whether something is clickable or not in advance is recommended.

The takeaway message for game designers and developers is there might be a broader audience for point ‘n click adventure games than they traditionally anticipate. Rather than solely tailoring adventure games to single player experiences, there is an opportunity to design adventure games with group experiences in mind. Besides changing the overall format so it can be consumed in one sitting (similar to movies), it would be worthwhile experimenting with features which account for multiple players wanting to interact with the game environment simultaneously. To this end designers could leverage the fact that players each carry a powerful computer in their pockets (smartphones) allowing for rich interactions. Some obvious candidates: maintain a history of interactions and dialogues, ‘vote to skip’, suggested puzzle resolutions including a point system, …

The possibilities are endless … A multiplayer point ‘n click game is long overdue!

Author: Steven Jeuris

I have a PhD in Human-Computer Interaction and am currently working both as a software engineer at iMotions and as a postdoc at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU). This blend of research and development is the type of work which motivates and excites me the most. Currently, I am working on a distributed platform which enables researchers to conduct biometric research 'in the wild' (outside of the lab environment). I have almost 10 years of professional software development experience. Prior to academia, I worked for several years as a professional full-stack software developer at a game development company in Belgium: AIM Productions. I liked the work and colleagues at the company too much to give up entirely for further studies, so I decided to combine the two. In 2009 I started studying for my master in Game and Media Technology at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, from which I graduated in 2012.

5 thoughts on “Multiplayer Point ‘n Click Adventure Games: Long Overdue”

  1. You’re on to something here. For a long time now I’ve thought that a massively multiplayer online point and click adventure would be a great idea. Players could explore a world with endless questing. After one adventure is over they could simply move on to another NPC or perhaps another player for another quest or mission to embark on. These could be like the jobs in an MMO.

    It would be an MMO without all of the level grinding. Perhaps some elements of fantasy from dungeons and monsters MMORPG could be added in without turning it into an MMORPG. This might be the answer as to a game where the player never gets bored from feeling like they’re always leveling a skill or their character and seemingly doing nothing more. The original The Legend of Zelda, Legend of the Mystical Ninja, River City Ransom etc were all games that combined elements of questing, finding and using items, solving puzzles and riddles, and fighting. They all relied on all of these things rather than constant grinding. So why couldn’t the elements of point and click adventures and games like the ones I mentioned be expanded upon and combined and made into an MMO that doesn’t eventually start to feel like work rather than a game?

    If a player has even a small sense of dread when logging into a game then that’s not good. If there’s the familiar ho hum feeling like when one’s about to do something insipid and uninteresting then what’s the point? I believe that just because a game is endless doesn’t mean it has to get boring. And it doesn’t always have to be about the next fancy item or level.

    It’s about time to start thinking out of the box on this issue. I’m not a programmer or developer of any kind lol. But if you want to talk further about this I’m here. ^_^

  2. Yes please.

    I wish there were a few point and click style apps that you could play with a friend online – maybe with a chat feature for discussing what you’ve tried or could possibly try.

    I’m a fan of your projector idea also – I have some friends who might be into trying this, but I need more of them. P&C is an underrated, sadly neglected genre that’s so unique and interactive. I hope it comes back around!

  3. Hi folks,

    your wish has come true: TEAM&click is the first and only platform for multi-player point-and-click adventures. Each player controls one avatar which can interact with the objects in the game world and with other avatars. You can examine or take objects, use them or even combine them to build something new. Often you have to collaborate with your team mates to solve a riddle: Maybe you have an item which they need to make progress, or several avatars need to act in a coordinated fashion to accomplish a certain task.

    Sounds like fun? Visit and try the free one-player demo. It takes literally only one click to start the game.

    If you want to try out the multiplayer experience, create a free account and invite a few friends to join you in the free demo room ‘The Factory’. It will be 60 min packed with riddles and fun for you and your friends.

    1. I just played the free room with my colleagues and enjoyed it thoroughly! The puzzles were creative and really made use of the multiplayer aspect. We will try to set up an event with more people in our company to try the second room. Keep up the amazing work!

      Some pointers:

      – The UX to use items (“combine with”) is a bit unintuitive and requires too many clicks (compared to traditional point-and-click games).
      – It seems unnecessary to see the text other people are seeing. Part of the fun is communicating this verbally either way. But, most importantly, the text is too big and so many simultaneous text boxes showing up occludes all the action which is going on underneath.
      – The total lack of sound is a bit weird at first, but once you start talking to solve clues you forget about that. Just some minor aesthetics which can be improved. 🙂

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