The technique LucasArts used to design its classic adventure games
Game designer Noah Falstein discusses the concept of the puzzle dependency chart, a technique that he and his colleagues used at LucasArts when developing classic adventure games like Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island.
Independent game designer Noah Falstein has always had a particular interest in narrative-driven games. He was there during the golden age of story-driven adventure games, working on classic LucasArts-developed adventures like Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. One of the techniques developed during LucasArts' heyday as a graphic adventure developer is the idea of a "puzzle dependency chart." Developed by designer Ron Gilbert for his groundbreaking 1987 adventure Maniac Mansion, the technique breaks games down into a flow chart that simplifies a game's narrative into objectives and solutions. One of the tricks to the technique, Falstein said at a GDC talk Monday morning, is to avoid the temptation of putting too much narrative into the chart. Instead, focus on simple goals. "It's all keys and locks," Gilbert has been known to say about game design. This is from about ten years after the original Maniac Mansion, but here is an example from LucasArts' Grim Fandango that shows what one of its puzzle dependency charts looks like (unfortunately, Falstein says the original charts for games like Maniac Mansion and The Secret of Monkey Island are probably lost forever):
While game progression flow charts aren't a new concept to most designers, Falstein had some takeaways during his brief talk that are worth noting: