» What is “Adventure Guy”?

In the summer of 2010 I decided I wanted to learn how to draw, bought a tablet, and started drawing the first panels of Adventure Guy the same day. The goal was to update as fast and as furiously as possible to force myself to draw very frequently and improve over time. Eventually I decided I didn’t want to just throw away the adventure as a series of puzzles and got a bit more serious about it, introducing more story elements.

By the time it ended, seven months later, my art had gone from ‘very bad’ to ‘still bad, but with hints of actual art in it.’ It had also become much more of a writing project for me than I’d originally expected.

The story was run in a forum thread and all ‘commands’ and player actions were suggestions from other users on the forum. I’ve done some light rephrasing and less-light grammar tune-ups, but otherwise left them wholly intact.

For those who haven’t ready the story in full, I very strongly recommend reading further until you do, as it spoils most of the story. You can jump back to the archive here.

Below are some questions I was asked by players after the game concluded, as well as one or two extra clarifications.

» So when you started this thing, where did you think it would go? What elements were pre-decided and what developed naturally?

I started with a human explorer in a cave. I knew I wanted to subvert a lot of the initial expectations, but I didn’t know which elements were going to be the ones getting subverted. The closest thing I had to a plan was the notion of throwing as many different elements as I could into the first week or two of story, then building something out of that. I had a lot of potential ideas for each plot subversion that I ended up going with; for example, AG being a robot was a possibility from as early as the light/mirror room, but I didn’t decide to absolutely go with it until his arm started to lose power and turned off.

Most things were like that, where I had a few ideas but I didn’t nail any one down until I got to the point where I needed to. Other stuff, like the second researcher being alive, I had decided was the case well before, and always knew that that was where Gentleman would be whenever you couldn’t find him, and that him and the doctor were monitoring your progress and planning on manipulating you. One hell of a lot did get subverted, though: You were most certainly not a human explorer alone in an ancient natural cave system on Earth in the present day, in any sense.

Other stuff, like the music box controlling the weather, I just made up on the fly. That’s a better example of ‘throwing random stuff in and figuring out how they fit together later.’ I put a music box into the second room because I think there is something very magical and mystical about music boxes and I wanted it to do something supernatural or be a key element somehow, but I had no idea what. Then someone suggested playing it at the top of the mountain, and I was like “sounds good to me” and then that’s what it did. I built the entire base of the planet’s backstory around why particular notes and sounds were able to change the weather.

I also tried to keep my ‘plans’ very loose and vague, and open to being changed if the players want to push in a different direction. Very few things were ‘fixed,’ and everything was supposed to be able to be subverted if so desired, with the exception of Feringus’ commands. Those were intended to be fully dominating and frustrating; hence her often sending you off before you were done asking questions.

I did have a loose story concept after the first three-four days, but nothing really got refined or solidified until around when I introduced the relevant elements. As far as I can tell that’s the only real way to run a suggestion-based narrative where the story is a secret to the players. Otherwise you have to have everything planned out to a tee and then the players are hardly playing anything.

» Was there any reason for including so many puzzles?

Several reasons for this.

First, I grew up playing MYST and its sequels. I loved the way the games, particularly Riven, were able to integrate backstory with puzzles – and while I wasn’t able to emulate the seamlessness of this so well, I tried to make the puzzles in each room grow out of what the room was originally meant for, what happened there prior to the game beginning, and what the researchers were like. As I said, I didn’t know what the story was (or that there was one) when I started, but ‘puzzles’ always played a factor.

Second, something has to slow down the players from progressing. Unlocking a new room should be something special and earned, not just a matter of walking through a doorway! This is an adventure, not an open house! It’s not a game unless you work for your success.

And third, I just like puzzles! This did come back to bite me once the story had become a more prominent focus than the exploration. The players had more or less completely transferred their interest into the narrative elements, whereas I was still trying to get them to solve the infamous chess puzzle (which, okay, yeah, it was a little convoluted). Eventually it got to the point where they had ignored all of my nudges to check out an agenda AG had picked up with a password hidden in it for so long that I had another character do it and made them watch him solve it through the memory card viewer.

» Were there any commands the players gave that throw you off and were not expecting?

Most off-beat commands were still in the ballpark of ‘somewhat predictable,’ but there were definitely a couple. Some were awesome and some I was very reluctant to use.

Example of the former: Giving Skree the Junior Adventurer hat completely surprised me, but it’s easily my favourite command. It didn’t really affect the story at all, just the characterization, so I threw it in.

On the other hand, and this was the most daunting unexpected command, opting to circumvent Feringus’ last order and save her against her will totally threw me for a loop. I hadn’t honestly intended for that to even be possible – for the most part, even key story stuff, I did my best to keep things open to some degree, but you were never supposed to be able to hypothetically save her life, only her conscience. I just phrased her command as a simple ‘run’ for dramatic effect and wasn’t even expecting any suggestions between then and the finale segment. I was surprised and caught off-guard when I came back to see that that was the desired course of action anyhow. After I thought about it a bit, I realized how much better it fit the story and some of the themes, and I’m really glad it got suggested. Great example of the players bettering the story.

A lot of the early, random-action commands like kicking things or throwing rocks at things or generally being aggressive were eventually tied into some characterization later. I hardly would have advocated taking any of those actions in the first place, but they allowed AG to begin his adventure as a very reckless character who didn’t have much concern for anything living or otherwise, and end it as someone who found any form of life, no matter how warped and distorted, special and precious.

Other commands made hastily (such as telling Gentleman that there was another robot around) led to AG’s only ally getting brutally ripped apart. Since I wanted all player actions to have consequences, Patch ended up being written out of the story due to that, though I had planned on his role continuing further.

Also the make-a-sword thing, which basically came totally out of nowhere. It’s hard to say no to swords.

» Why did you choose to add music, and did you write it?

I wrote both of the pieces used myself, as I have a casual composition background.

“FACADE,” the lighter melody, was written to basically add some atmosphere and give a sense of mystery and majesty to the immense power of the changing, controllable weather. I didn’t want the function to be treated like a casual course of action, so I added it to force the reader to slow down a bit during that moment. The original track can be downloaded here, and a full-length version that I didn’t use can be downloaded here.

“FADE” was the inverse; a more intense variant that I wanted to play in the final stretch from the start. I took out two notes to make it feel faster and went for a sense of impressive dread, rather than impressive awe. It can be downloaded here.

Side note, regarding continuity: FACADE is the calming tune that is played on the electric keyboard to calm the weather. FADE is the instigating melody played on the music box to cause storms. They’re similar tunes, so the players got them mixed up once or twice by the end – particularly at the worst of moments in a late fight scene, much to their immediate regret.

» What was up with Gentleman? Why did he get crazy on us?

Gentleman started off as a rather apathetic-to-the-player neutral character, who wasn’t really concerned with what you were up to unless he had a way of benefitting from it. Around the point where he got knocked into the sewage vat and acid splattered over his robotic ‘brain,’ he started to seriously lose it, which turned him into an emotionally stunted aggressor with a murderous streak who wanted the Doctor’s attention all for himself.

His mild sense of social superiority stemming from his ‘upper-class-gentleman’ persona mutated into a serious inferiority complex in which he had to destroy all possible rivals to his Doctor-favoured position to prove his worth. AG, the robot who had both knocked him into the acid and was the Doctor’s main focus, became an obsession of Gentleman’s. He couldn’t prove his superiority as he was not allowed to kill AG, yet also could not sit idly by and let AG have the Doctor’s attention and interest.

By the end, he was just a psychotic hate machine who didn’t really know what he wanted and didn’t know how to express or resolve his feelings of sadness or inadequacy. He had no intention of seeking redemption, nor was he probably really capable of it, so in the end he was the only deceased character that AG didn’t build a grave marker for.

Still, grave marker or not, it’s safe to say AG is still affected by some of the things Gentleman said, especially during the Skree standoff. He insisted on keeping his wounds, after all.

» Have you done any other stories like this?

I ran Border Guard for a little while after Adventure Guy ended, but due to forum drama, decided to leave where I was posting the games. Since the player-base stayed behind, it just stopped short. The game’s brief run was going to be archived here, but there were some technical issues, so I’m afraid that didn’t happen.

I may be looking to write something else in the illustrated-suggestion vein in the future. We’ll see.