Adventures and Adventuring

Posted on 11th Jun 2011 at 10:06 by David Hing with 35 comments

David Hing
Three of my five weapons were offline and leaving small ion trails in space, my cargo hold was full of rare and expensive artefacts and a band of pirates was chasing me down a frantically plotted and improvised course. With a route that picked its way in and out of asteroid fields through systems that were well and truly off the charts, it is fair to say I was panicking. I was also pretty sure that my eyes had stopped blinking.

I loved Freelancer; Microsoft's space trading open world game. It resembled an extremely stripped down Eve Online, but with gameplay replacing the spreadsheets. I'm aware that it was a
condensed version of games that did the same thing better and with more depth many years before, but I found it to be a deep and beautifully realised sandbox. In fact, I'm convinced that most players only ever scratched its surface.

I wouldn't be able to tell you the plot of the game, or name any of the systems, although I could tell you that they had flavours of America, England, Germany and Japan. I couldn't name any of the characters without a short trip to Google either. The game didn't leave that sort of impression on me. What I do very strongly remember, though, was having an adventure.

Adventures and AdventuringFreelancer

I've played a lot of games that bill themselves as adventure games. Some of them are point and click adventure games, some of them are 3D action adventure games and almost every triple A release involves an adventure of some description. However, I can only think of one time where I have actually had an adventure for myself.

An adventure is only ever an adventure in retrospect. At the time, it's just an ordeal that the adventurers would rather not be tolerating. It was an adventure climbing Mount Snowdon in the cold and the rain in my jeans, but at the time I just couldn't believe I was so stupid to think it was just a hill. It was an adventure getting a chest of drawers home sticking out of the back of my Ford Ka last week, but at the time it was a living nightmare going up hills, as I was worried that it would slide into the car behind that I couldn't see.

An adventure game is a comfortable experience, no matter how well it immerses you in its world. You're still playing an interactive story, and it's only once you start getting towards the open world games that the capacity to have an adventure starts to kick in. However, even then there's a danger that it will just feel like a great big toy box, rather than sparking any significant connection with the player.

For example, for all the sandbox fun to be had in GTA, I couldn't care less when one of the thugs got shot, arrested or squashed by his own stolen ambulance. In those cases, what I was doing felt like an exercise in karma, as opposed to anything that could provide sufficient tension to facilitate adventure.

With Freelancer, I had become invested in the game, and my main memory of it is a single encounter of being chased. Most of my ship had been destroyed, and I was limping from wormhole to wormhole, desperately trying to get back to civilisation so that I could hide and repair my craft after my ill- advised drift from the beaten track.

There probably wasn't even that much of a consequence if I failed, got killed or ditched my cargo, but still I felt as if failure would result in me being hunted down in the future by bounty hunters, and that I would maybe end up frozen in Carbonite and propped up in Jabba's palace.

I've never seen or experienced this sort of gameplay before or since. I've felt engaged by games, and I've even been threatened with high-stakes failure, but never has it felt quite the same as this single encounter in which I was trying to get away from space pirates.

That said, I nearly felt something similar quite recently while I was playing Mount and Blade: Warband. My medium sized army was chasing down a small band of looters while being chased by a much larger army from an enemy faction. I was the latter that provided the fear of failure. There was a feeling that this was of my own doing, and I felt outside of my comfort zone.

Adventures and AdventuringMount and Blade: Warband

However, this thrill subsided shortly after the second day of chasing, when it became clear that all three armies were running at exactly the same speed and not gaining or pulling away from each other. After that, the only excitement was the realisation that sooner or later my army was going to run out of food and become highly irritable.

There was also a brief foray into genuine adventure during my time with Morrowind, as you can easily get lost in the game's huge world. After missing a crucial direction, I once ended up on the other side of the game world several hours later, being chased by a crocodile-like demon walking on two legs. Again, however, this was less of an adventure and more of an exercise in making me feel like an idiot.

I'm fed up with pre-baked sequences and scripted events in my first person shooters. I get tired of plodding through what amounts to an overly long film with hand-eye-co-ordination exercises to progress the plot. Although I love playing through some of these titles, and it would be difficult to argue that Half-Life 2, the absolute king of disguised linear gameplay, was anything other than a masterpiece, but I want to have adventures as opposed to sitting through those of someone else.

I can't help feeling that the medium would be greatly helped if more games were just a little bit more of an ordeal to play. That's not to say that they need to be frustrating, overly difficult or painful to
play, just that they should provide a bit more than 'press X not to die' and raise the stakes for failure a little higher.

Basically, I want to play more games that facilitate the experience of an adventure, as opposed to adventure games. If you know of any games ripe for adventure-mining, let us know in the forums.


Discuss in the forums Reply
GravitySmacked 11th June 2011, 10:13 Quote
Such a good game, need more like it.
Almightyrastus 11th June 2011, 10:15 Quote
Good call with Freelancer, I love that game for the feeling it gives you that not everything is about you. The rest of the universe is too busy living their own lives (and having their own adventures) to care about what one lone pilot is up to. You get the feeling that not many people would know about your heroics in the main quest line and probably only a few that knew would care.
Aracos 11th June 2011, 10:18 Quote
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guvnar 11th June 2011, 10:22 Quote
That's it, I'm digging out my old copy of Freelancer!

Where's today's Elite though?????
Tulatin 11th June 2011, 10:46 Quote
Though in retrospect the game had it's flaws, and it's limitations, Freelancer really was a wonderful piece of "Here's the story, here's space, now who are you?"

I really did appreciate coming across all that which was hidden in the skies, wreckage of long dead ships boasting unique curios, the sensation of flying blindly into untamed space, and as always, the flexibility.

I suppose my only real gripe with the title was that we were presented these mastodons of ships floating around, but never really given the chance to fly them. Battleships, freighters, and carriers would have all radically broken the spirit of this beast, though. Yet years later, I still remember it fondly.

It was charming.
CDomville 11th June 2011, 10:54 Quote
Still play it using the Discovery mod, though have been considering doing a Let's Play for it. Just need to buy FRAPS, and I SHOULD be all set.
wuyanxu 11th June 2011, 11:02 Quote
It was awesome, I remember getting the best ship, Titan if I remember correctly, and acting like the law informers, roaming around in uncharted pirate land and looking for fights.

Why is there a distinct lack of space game in recent years? Nothing can beat Freenlancer and Homeworld games.
barrkel 11th June 2011, 11:22 Quote
I dislike Half-Life 2 and the two Episodes precisely because of their linearity, and I've avoided almost the entire CoD franchise owing to the poor experience I had with its linearity early on (I believe it was the first CoD).

At this point, the closer games are to Thief / Deus Ex / Far Cry, the better. Not a big fan of Crysis though, the suit makes the game too easy, and the encouraged style of play seems too "Rambo 2+" rather than the slightly more realistic way I like to play (I prefer to kill the enemy before they know I'm there, and only if it's necessary; risk minimization is my style). Far Cry 2 has been the best, most recent, game for that IMO, and has supplied quite a few "adventures", as you put it, sneaking past guard outposts without alerting people, with some tense moments when they think they hear something. I'm still playing it.
billysielu 11th June 2011, 11:37 Quote
Black Prophecy tried to be the next Freelander - but it failed.
IanW 11th June 2011, 11:41 Quote
Originally Posted by guvnar
That's it, I'm digging out my old copy of Freelancer!

Where's today's Elite though?????

Here. ;)
IronDoc 11th June 2011, 12:57 Quote
Originally Posted by wuyanxu
Why is there a distinct lack of space game in recent years? Nothing can beat Freenlancer and Homeworld games.
Not played freelancer but it's sounding pretty similar to X3; been meaning to get back into X3TC actually.
Phil Rhodes 11th June 2011, 13:20 Quote
"Here's the story, here's space, now who are you?"

I think that answers the question.

If the answer to that question is "I'm a seven year old console owner with twitching thumbs and a well-chewed tongue whose depth of personality, even as an adult, wouldn't drown an ant", you aren't going to get much of a game out of it.

DeadMan 11th June 2011, 16:04 Quote
Good call on Freelancer it was a good game, it joins my list of great space games, Privateer, Privateer 2, Elite 1 and 2, Homeworld 1 & 2 Freelancer, I-war, Wing commander (series), Conflict Freespace, Freespace 2, xwing vs tie fighter.
bawjaws 11th June 2011, 16:38 Quote
Freelancer will always lose marks for not being able to skip cutscenes. Always.
Bauul 11th June 2011, 17:51 Quote
I had the briefest of sensations of this at the very end game of Spore - after the six other crappy minigames you're eventually just left to your own devices and to have your own adventures.

Unfortunately I had had enough of learning new control schemes for a single game and gave up on it.

Occasionally though I think some RTS games can have this. I have fond memories of the original Dungeon Keeper having loads of opportunity. Possess a powerful creature, get together a band in the Guard Room and head off into the unknown to see what you could find. I always had a real sense of tredpidation/excitement when I set off as I had no idea what I might find up ahead.
Lazy_Amp 11th June 2011, 18:16 Quote
Despite my incredible dislike of Oblivion, it did bring one moment of role-playing 'adventure' that stuck with me.

I had inadvertently become a Vampire, and was actually rather happy with the change: improved strength, being able to see in the dark, and the downsides weren't really that bad, I just had to find a sleeping body every now and then and take some blood. Nothing bad even happened to the victims.

Come a time later, I was hauling loot back to town to sell. I had been gone for several days, and my vampire attributes had almost come fully out (drinking blood restored your abilities back to a normal person, and your vampire abilities would slowly come back as you abstained from it). It was night when I arrived at town, as traveling in daylight was death for me. Of course this meant that the stores weren't open, so I stopped by my local Mage's Guild and spent the rest of the night comfortably. In the morning I would just cross the street to the blacksmith and unload the heavy magical weapons I had collected.

I almost died crossing that street, and I would have if it hadn't been for a quick healing spell. The Sun was more deadly than I could imagine, my screen was covered in ash from my burning skin as I made that dash. But I was safe, and now could collect the money...

"We don't serve your kind here, Mutant!"

I was stunned. The blacksmith wouldn't talk to me, I was too far gone. All this power I had revived was now worthless: I was truly an anathema. The blacksmith walked around the store, intermittently telling me to get out, but I had to wait for my heath and magic to regenerate before making the terrible return trip. I had never felt so vulnerable and so alone as I had in a game, right there, stuck in a room with a man who despised me.

Back at the Mage's Guild, I waited until nightfall before leaving in search of a body to feast upon, the abhorred act the only way to return to normal. I was no longer worried about the treasure I would have to drop when I lost my Vampire strength. Not finding any vagrants asleep on the city streets, I broke into someone's house and made my way to their bedroom to preform the deed. It was a disgusting experience.

In the end, my personal definition is that Adventures are the moments in games where you are playing against the mechanics of the game are truly invested in the outcome, not for material gain but because you personally desire something to happen. In the previous tale, I had given up any thought from the profit of my loot, all I cared about was getting out of my uncomfortable circumstance. So no, you don't have to have a sandbox to create adventure, though a limited one can help foster a personal goal, or create an unexpected challenge.

Anyway, there's my 3 cents.
Evildead666 11th June 2011, 18:32 Quote
Freelancer is a great game, and some of the Mods are brilliant.
Elton 11th June 2011, 19:37 Quote
Of course some of the going against mechanics part would lie in the wonderfully underrated game series: Hitman.

When a plan doesn't go awry it's a great feeling, but it's those times when everything goes wrong that makes the game so memorable. From accidentally killing half a house full of people because you messed up a trap to running and hiding because you botched up that "accident" hitman always has had some of those hilariously botched assassination attempts.

Of course the Elder Scrolls series does this in spades as well, but there's a feeling of being utterly limited at times in Oblivion. Of course it's also down to the player; most of us just don't have the imagination to do whatever at the end.
Ficky Pucker 11th June 2011, 21:10 Quote
I loved Freelancer, might play it again (for the 5th time) :D
dire_wolf 12th June 2011, 00:51 Quote
just started playing again online using the discovery mod, such a good game
BD Hopkins 12th June 2011, 01:10 Quote
I've never played Freelancer, but I've heard it has much in common with Wing Commander: Privateer. Even though it is a DOS game that preceded Freelancer by many years, Privateer should allow for an an experience like the author described.

It's on GOG now, so it should run on modern systems.
thehippoz 12th June 2011, 01:28 Quote
the multiplayer early on in freelancer was great.. I used to be out of control- I'd shoot out trade lanes and stalk freighters using the overview (show which sector they were in xD)

shoot out a lane depending on where I predicted they were going.. they'd drop out in the middle of the trade lane xD then I'd be sitting there in my eagle telling them to give me 50k or I'd blow the nuts off the sides of the ship along with the cargo

remember extorting tons of money out people like that =] the sysops used to put a big bounty on my head in servers- so you'd have a bunch of noobies in titans looking for you in a certain sector.. I'd take them all out easy- the eagle outturned that ship everytime

you could even launch afterburner and cut the engine turn around and usually catch a guy with a couple of cannonballs while they were trying to shoot hornets up your tailpipe

was awesome game.. still no other space game as good imo as far as dogfighting goes- love to hang out in corsair space.. the carebears would get ganged (I was always friendly with corsair and outcasts in the pubs)

been banned quite a few servers cause I'd lay mines out in new york for fun.. poor guys coming off the planet would explode coming out the dock xD used to get accused of cheating too- found a way to have a fully stocked eagle in around 3 hours time.. sometimes quicker if the salvaged guns weren't taken in the stock game with no mods

think have pictures somewhere.. just to show I wasn't talking **** :) loved that game
Tulatin 12th June 2011, 06:34 Quote
Hippoz, I know you played the game a lot on the PVP side, but did servers ever patch out the fact that you could just ignore the space customs when hauling illicit materials, and dock without clicking their message?
XXAOSICXX 12th June 2011, 09:03 Quote
Last time I felt that sense of adventure, honestly, was probably in Diablo....

....and ditto to the hill climbing sentiment. I know exactly what you mean :p
wuyanxu 12th June 2011, 11:32 Quote
Originally Posted by thehippoz

you could even launch afterburner and cut the engine turn around and usually catch a guy with a couple of cannonballs while they were trying to shoot hornets up your tailpipe

that's how I play near the end of my Freelancing period. It throws off the aiming crosshairs for tour ship so much they wont be able to hit you.

X3, as suggested by people here, had a pretty steep learning curve. My housemate tried to get into it, but couldn't due to it felt like a flight simulator rather than an arcade space adventure game.
thehippoz 12th June 2011, 21:24 Quote
Originally Posted by Tulatin
Hippoz, I know you played the game a lot on the PVP side, but did servers ever patch out the fact that you could just ignore the space customs when hauling illicit materials, and dock without clicking their message?

remember there was a lot of cheating going on within maybe a month of the games release.. I didn't haul freight in multiplayer ever, I just did high paying missions to build up so fast.. I know what your talking about though

you could only dock if you were friendly with the station though.. usually a zoner station was fine.. the police was kind of an annoyance if anything

I'd keep the starter ship and go strait to colorado to farm those ships in missions around the station.. there was one really good gun they dropped.. go back to new york, buy the defender and head out to hudson to take missions off the ship orbiting the planet there

you'd get some really good easy missions if you didn't die.. remember one mission paying 50k to blow up a space station (easiest mission ever), it was enough to buy that ship that looked like the eagle (think called the falcon) in new berlin and fit it with certain guns

then go out using the hidden portals through to frankfurt and start hitting the wrecks looking for the prototype guns to sell off.. end up around freeport 7 in omincron theta and take missions against the corsair until I could afford the eagle on that station

from there.. go into the unknown portal and kill aliens for the cannons- take missions in omnicron gamma until you were rich (quick they pay so well) plus you could become friendly with corsairs, enemy to bounty hunter :D you had to go into outcast space sigma 17 to get the ripper mines

from that end of space it was a good base to conduct extortion on frieghters.. I rarely went into kusari space unless I was chasing a freighter or someone who needed a good spanking
Originally Posted by wuyanxu
that's how I play near the end of my Freelancing period. It throws off the aiming crosshairs for tour ship so much they wont be able to hit you.

yeah in multiplayer things were a lot of fun.. I liked the single player too- pretty much a bug though
Rob™ 12th June 2011, 21:29 Quote
Although I also loved this game, for me the greatest adventure I ever had was on Sea Dogs. That game was immense!
Nickel 13th June 2011, 00:48 Quote
Despite it's flaws it was simply a fantastic game... we certainly need more
samcat 14th June 2011, 10:49 Quote
The only game that has given me this sense of freedom and of a random adventure recently has been Dwarf Fortress... Once you get past the learning curve and start really understanding it it offers some increbible experiences. :)
Xir 14th June 2011, 14:09 Quote
All I remember from Frrelancer was the storyline was too short, then ditched you in a Galaxy with no more missions.
Sure you could go and explore the rest of the universe, but there wasn't anything there but more of the same.
A bit stronger pirates, a bit more trade, some more pirates...
It felt like a MMO without a Multiplayer, and without Online.

I'd do a replay anytime though... :D
Tsung 14th June 2011, 15:10 Quote
Freelancer, Multiplayer... I remember it taking over an entire LAN party. Small parties were forming up and taking control of an entire systems, if you wanted to pass you paid the bounty (in realworld beer or ingame goods). Anyhows, fond memories, of exploring remote systems and finding hidden wormholes.

Sadly, Eve does nothing for me, I'm sure it's good but it's too much. I dobut there will ever be a game like Freelancer again. :(
abezors 14th June 2011, 16:13 Quote
I haven't heard of anyone else ever playing this game! Loved it so much, spent hours and hours forming an identity (I wanna be a pirate!).

The SP mods that allowed you to buy and fly the capital ships was epic, you would just cruise into a hostile system with a battleship and annihilate an entire flotilla of ships.

X3:TC is the closest game to this, but as others have said there is a huge learning curve. Very rewarding once you start building an empire, but I haven't gone back to that game once as there is just too much going on to casually drop in and play.
pimlicosound 14th June 2011, 16:39 Quote
Originally Posted by barrkel
Far Cry 2 has been the best, most recent, game for that IMO, and has supplied quite a few "adventures", as you put it, sneaking past guard outposts without alerting people, with some tense moments when they think they hear something.

Agreed. Lots of people hated the long treks to and from mission locations, and the endless hostile checkpoints along the way. But I saw it all as an adventure, where what happened at a specific mission location was the least of my problems in that forsaken land. Brilliant when my plans worked well, brilliant when my plans went bad and I had to improvise, and brilliant when I had to flee cross-country to a safehouse with only a smidgen of health and a damaged flare gun. While I immersed myself in the game for a week, I had crazy dreams about it almost every night because of its affect on me.
thehippoz 14th June 2011, 16:51 Quote
wonder what joe thinks of this

the beta is out.. might give it a try
Ergath 24th June 2011, 16:53 Quote
Totally agree with this. That's what I like so much about games like Stalker, Alpha Centauri, Xcom - in all cases you are being drawn towards a particular destination, but the way you get there is up to you, and the best moments generally come out of your own decisions and mistakes, rather than COD-style on rails "action" sequences.
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