Dying in adventure games?

Home Forums Previous Months 64 – December 2021: Space Quest Dying in adventure games?

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  • Titanduck

    I could never get into the sierra adventure games (space quest, police quest, quest for glory etc) for the main reason that i can die in those games.
    When it comes to adventure games I like to try out everything. talk to everyone, use everything with everything.
    and having the thoughts in the back of my head “if i do this, then there is a risk of me dying”

    constantly saving the game before trying something was never fun to me.

    This thought got easier to live with once i got access to the internet and walkthroughs, but this was direct cheating was really not something i ended up enjoying.

    How did you guys get through these types of games where you could die. Did you enjoy it from the get go, or did you have to change your way to play the game?


    I’ve always loved adventure games, but I’ve never been good at them.
    Back when I was a kid I would happily sit on a game for hours, restarting again and again or bashing my head against a wall until I made progress or gave up entirely. I didn’t mind dying, and save scumming was not only acceptable, it was mandatory.
    In principle I actually like this approach – it’s got an almost zenlike quality, and feels incredibly satisfying when you make progress.
    In practice though I have very little willpower and even less time, so the temptation of walkthroughs are just too great…


    Save often, increase speed (in later games), learn keyboard shortcuts or clicks to get through repeated plays faster, then if sleeping on a puzzle doesn’t help try a hint system like UMS.

    I’m not a fan of the “save scum” term since it seems so negative for a perfectly reasonable technique. Some people watch movies only at home so they can pause, rewind, and jump to wherever they want. So no shame in doing similar things with the games we play.

    EDIT: Forgot to mention save states like with DOSBox-X that can allow quick save and load for DOS games that limit saving and loading or lack it entirely.


    I don’t mind deaths or endgames in adventure games. I find non-death games more relaxing to play, but that’s because I know I can’t mess things up. Deaths without warnings or second chances are annoying (and on some Sierra games can be extremely irritating), but at least you know you can’t proceed further.

    What I really hate with passion are adventure games on where you can have an endgame situation without knowing it, because you destroyed or missed an object early on and the game decided not to notify you.
    To let the player proceed beyond return without a key object is the worst, and on big games I’m pretty sure it is a tactic designed to sell guides and clues.


    Growing up I had a lot of these Sierra games laying around, so I just got used to the idea that you would constantly die in these games. Saving often is the only real way around it, I think.

    Although it’s also worth noting that these games are very much not intended to be completed on your first try. They kind of expect you to start over and over, learning as you go and eventually work your way through it.

    Ron Gilbert of Lucas wrote a famous article on this in 1989 called “Why Adventure Games Suck”: https://grumpygamer.com/why_adventure_games_suck

    In this article he layed out some fundamental design principles that would make adventure games better in his opinion, of which the most important ones (imho) are no deaths and no softlocks. Lucas adopted this new philosophy starting with Loom and The Secret of Monkey Island, and all of their next games incorporated it as well.

    Sierra never really made this shift, although there is a lot of variance within their catalogue. Even within one series, like Space Quest, some games are way more harsh than others. Space Quest 4 kills you in almost every screen, while Space Quest 3 is a lot more relaxed.

    I’d say nowadays it’s seen as “bad design” when a game allows you to get stuck or outright kills you without giving the player a chance to prevent it or try again. Most modern adventure games I’ve played don’t really follow the “Sierra formula” anymore and I think ultimately that’s a good thing.

    But even though these old Sierra games can be quite gruelling in terms of gameplay, I feel there’s still a lot of amazing content in them. So checking that out, even if it’s with a walkthrough or some hints provided by UHS, is still very much worth it I’d say.


    King’s Quest and Space Quest were pretty tough on the player, death comes instantly and often surprising. Once you realize this it curbs your drive for exploration a litte, that’s true.

    King’s Quest especially. I found Space Quest to be a bit “milder” about it. Although there is a really funny memory. When Roger crashlands in the desert, there’s this underground cave. As a kid I couldn’t figure out how to disable the laser barrier. So eventually I just clicked on the other side and Roger actually walked through it! But then, after a brief moment, he falls apart into pieces. At least in the VGA version.

    So I would say these games are best played with that humor in mind. Your points are valid though, like I said.

    Mr Creosote

    Maybe of relevance here: https://ifwiki.org/index.php/Cruelty_scale

    The Zarfian Cruelty Scale has been coined for text adventures, but the levels can be easily applied to point & click. It’s quite a smart way of categorizing games in my view.


    I don’t really like the idea of needing to actively save as it pulls me out of the game. If the game has a well made auto-save feature I think dying can add to the experience as it shows the consequences of actions.

    Braid-like time rewind would also go a long way.

    I think the main problem with adventures in this regard is that replaying the same section is not really fun, as it is quite mechanical.

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Home Forums Previous Months 64 – December 2021: Space Quest Dying in adventure games?