Non-Exploration Games

Galatea did once call me out for changing subjects abruptly. I think the risk with coming down on the player like a ton of bricks for this is that you have to be very, very sure that you’re really interpreting the player’s style correctly. Otherwise you’ll just create a particularly brutal read-the-author’s mind problem (and your players, if they don’t ragequit, will probably lawnmower anyway except they’ll use undo and save files to do it). And that’s hard; people can have all kinds of complex motivations for/feelings about what they do (see Emily on Fable 2), and it’ll be very hard for the game to distinguish those from adventure-game protagonist thrashing.

Great points. You have to provide an alternate model for your player to guess what to do. You can’t just take away the system they’ve relied upon for gaining knowledge about the game (lawnmowering, as you say), and not replace it with anything concrete. Trying to hide the replacement model or make it difficult to observe would make it doomed to fail, as the pre-existing conventions in the players’ minds would certainly overrride any subtle clues that you can do it differently. The replacement dynamic would have to be quite overt — in which case it would be fair to assess penalties for those who don’t take it seriously and revert to standard operating procedure.


I think that traditionally, games focus on puzzles to give the player a feeling of achievement. Conventionally puzzles are cryptic - that means something is hidden. And so exploration is necessary.

Puzzles don’t have to be cryptic - e.g. if the player has a complete map for a maze. A more interesting example is a visible letter grid say 4x4 where the puzzle is to find 10 words.

I don’t mean abstract exploration of the puzzle space. This is not what I’ve been talking about but I guess I can see why people keep lumping that in, since it’s a pretty fine distinction. I’m going to give up on making this correction now. If people really find it that hard to see what I mean by ‘exploratory’ then maybe I am just using the wrong buzzword. I feel like it’s now just squarely in the way, blocking what I’m trying to communicate, because people are mainly reacting to just the word. So forget ‘non-exploratory’. I take it back. I’m talking about games where the player is not expected to try to exhaust all the text in order to solve the puzzles. Simple as that, really.

tove, 9:05 is a good candidate when it comes to the main character. It’s been a very long time since I last played it but as I recall I just ‘solved’ it by trying everything anyway, but YMMV. If some people played it in lawnmower mode whereas others just went with the flow not caring about reading everything possible to be read, I’d be very interested in what made that difference but I don’t know the answer. With me as the player it was still an exhaust-the-text game.

I think you’re riled up against what is already a firmly established anti-pattern. “Not to need to do unlikely things.” and “Not to need to do boring things for the sake of it.” are in Graham Nelson’s Bill of Player’s Rights.

“Riled up”, eh? No.

Well, if you run it yourself you won’t have to submit! Or maybe I’ll do it – the Ultra-Mellow Non-Exploratory Jam with No Deadlines, Pressure, or Judging. Make a game in whatever time period you feel like but don’t stress out about it and you won’t be expected to rewrite all the default messages or anything unless you really want to. To begin whenever I get around to putting up a forum post, to end never.

(It sounds like I’m joking about this, but I’m not.)

I can run it without entering? Hmm… well I’m still afraid of throwing a party and nobody shows. Maybe after my WIP is released I’ll feel like maybe more people might take me seriously. I’d have no problem for you to do it, please feel free, and I would play everything submitted and comment, but I wouldn’t work on an entry, myself, until I have made it to my next round of playtesting on my WIP! So in the near-term there is no need to tailor it so specifically to my messed-up personality, though I appreciate the thought. 8)

If you ask irrelevant questions to witnesses on the stand in Perry Mason and the Mandarin Murder you will suffer an objection and be penalized.

If you try to analyze the wrong things from the crime scene, you will waste time.

Interesting. So what is the most likely method for the player to determine what are the right things to analyse? By wasting too much time at first and then restoring to do it faster? By general logic? Tipped by a specific clue? Anyway I will try this one to find out — thanks!

FYI for this thread. I played through Gun Mute this morning and yep I think it definitely qualifies as ‘non-exploratory’ IF, if not a very deeply layered example of it (calls itself a ‘shoot-em-up’ and feels about that empty), but it did the basic thing. I definitely had some issues with the puzzle design – Rogue of the Multiverse was much better on that score, but it on the other hand did not seem ‘non-exploratory’, I believe I had to exhaust the text to solve most things in Rogue, where we solved a fair number of puzzles in Gun Mute just by thinking through the logic of the situation. There was a room or two where I had to examine too many things to get the info for the puzzle, and it kind of felt like the game lost its rhythm, when that happened. And I no longer felt like I was very ‘in character’ since I was supposed to be a shooter not a fine examiner of many things.