A Bus And An Elevator Walk Into A Bar...

by David Fox
Jun 15, 2015

Every graphic adventure I've worked on has at least one puzzle or interaction that seemed really simple when we designed it, but ended up becoming enormously complex and the source of countless bugs. This inevitably resulted in countless fixes, patches, and smiling sadistic playtesters eager to report yet another issue.

We call these Whack-a-Mole bugs. Fix one and another pops up right next to it. They usually happen when you don't think through all the possible side effects of your design choice, and from needlessly complicating what could be a simple interaction.

In Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, the "WaM" puzzle involved getting on the bus in San Francisco. Sounds simple, right? You just give the bus driver your CashCard™ and he lets you on. But I wanted to make this interaction flexible... more like real life. What if there were two characters (Zak and Annie) waiting for the bus? What if one didn't have enough money on their CashCard™? Could one pay for the other? What if one was at the bus stop but didn't board the bus before it left? What if the bus driver went back to sleep after you already boarded the bus and paid? What if the bus just left with Zak and Annie walks up—should another bus be there, or should we wait a suitable period? Because of countless weird permutations, the image of our lead playtester evilly smiling at my office door is burned into my memory.

After I'd spent days, nah, weeks, fixing these WaM bugs, I wondered about the overall coding and debugging time investment vs. gameplay payoff ratio. Was I really making the game more fun or would my time have been better spent on a game interaction with a higher Funitivity Quotient™?  For example, if the boarding-the-bus bit had been a cut-scene, it wouldn't have made much difference to the overall playability of the game. (So what if the driver was rude and left Annie standing at the bus stop?!) You could have just walked up to the bus and automatically ended up at the airport, CashCard™ appropriately debited.

It's been over 25 years since Zak, but the bus puzzle still keeps me up at night. No, not really... it's the stewardess-bathroom-egg-in-microwave puzzle! Anyway, because I've got all these extra waking hours I am always on the lookout for similar interaction problems where we could put in way too much time for the payoff. In Thimbleweed Park, one potential candidate is... The Elevator.

There's a single elevator in Thimbleweed Park's Edmond Hotel. You can board it, select your floor, and ride up or down, just like in a real elevator. What I haven't addressed yet are all the complexities. What if Agent Ray is riding the elevator and you switch to Agent Reyes who pushes the call button from a different floor? Must we make the elevator behave like a real one and stop at the floor to let the other character on? What if two characters both press the elevator button at about the same time? What happens if both characters board and press buttons for different floors? (That's what we expect on a real elevator, but do we need to implement this on our virtual one?)

See how things can get real complicated real fast? But on the other extreme, if the implementation is too simple, it could frustrate the player who expects Thimbleweed Park Hotel's elevator to interact like real ones. "Hey! What's wrong with this game? Why can't I press every button and stop at each floor?! And where's the emergency STOP button?"

For a first pass, I programmed the elevator so we can move around the hotel. I'm still looking for that balance between time invested in modeling reality and fun for the player.

Similar potential craziness involves what to do when you can see from one room into the next. For example, if Ray walks down the street and stands at the doorway to the bank, and then you switch to Reyes inside the bank. If Reyes opens the door to leave, should we see Ray standing there (on the other side of the door,) even though that's really a different room? Should we design all our rooms so you can never see through to another room? In our old adventure games we never worried about this. Probably won't now. Sometimes reality is just not worth programming.

- David

Mattias Cedervall - Jun 15, 2015 at 11:31
I was thinking of giving you a complicated comment, but I'm too tired for it. :P I understand the issues your are facing and I wish you good luck solving them!

Stefano - Jun 15, 2015 at 11:52
You could solve this by doing an approximation of the reality and adding meta jokes on the approximation...

Stefano E. - Jun 15, 2015 at 11:53
Would it be feasible to disable character switching during certain game transition and re-enable when those are completed?
Click on the elevator panel
(Character switching off)
Zoom in on buttons
Press any button
Elevator gets to floor
(Character switching on)

Also if actor doesn't select any floor the visual zooms out from the buttons and (Character switching on)

Maybe that trick could be applied anywhere that you want a non interruptable sequence of actions.

David Fox - Jun 15, 2015 at 14:11
@Stefano, yes, that's definitely one of the solutions I considered for the close-up of the elevator button panel. Since it's a close-up screen, there is no verbs or inventory UI (the buttons fill the screen) so it would make sense to not have switching enabled then. But that would only partially resolve the issue, since we might still have switching turned on while you were in the elevator.

LogicDeLuxe - Jun 15, 2015 at 14:46
Does the puzzle require you to do anything in the elevator other then pressing the button of the target floor? If not, I would simply make pressing the call button, the doors, entering and leaving the elevator a cutscene, which makes it impossible that more than one person can ever use it at the same time.
I guess, most adventures do it that way, since it let you use it with two mouse clicks, and making it more realistic wouldn't do anything to the story anyway. I played Cognition recently. There are several elevators in that game, which work just like that. On some occasions, there isn't even a floor selector when there is only one option anyway.

Of course, if the puzzle requires the elevator to be completely interactive, like the one in Monkey Island 2, it shouldn't be too complicated to do realistic behavior, I guess. Elevators did it 100 years ago, and they didn't even have a micro controller back then.

longuist - Jun 15, 2015 at 12:12
I think excessive details and a certain complexity is what makes a good adventure game. At first you probably dont see it, but in retrospect a game can have a long half-life :)
If you think a certain feature would be great - even if eccentric - feel free to waste your time!
But as you stated, you cant put details everywhere if you want to ship in time.
As for the elevator, i think its only worth to put much effort in it if
a) it is a central location where you stop by often
b) a puzzle is planned which requires the extra functionality
c) every floor can be chosen and may have a purpose (you may block some with a funny explanation eg pidgeon feces problem)
Please add an odd floor which is totally different to the rest of the TP-world (Floor 13 :)

David Fox - Jun 15, 2015 at 14:19
@longuist, yes, the top floor is the Penthouse. There is no floor 13 in this hotel (shh, don't tell anyone).

longuist - Jun 15, 2015 at 14:33
My mouth is shut!
So maybe add a cellar floor (why? For the SECRET (of Thimbleweed Park™!))

David Fox - Jun 15, 2015 at 14:46
B = Basement...

longuist - Jun 15, 2015 at 18:03
Ok, but im talking about the mystical (and secret) sub-basement not found on the plate. Have i ever mentioned i like secrets? I really do like them! :)

longuist - Jun 15, 2015 at 18:04
seckrits too

Jammet - Jun 17, 2015 at 11:03
Oooh, I love elevators that have a secret mechanism to go to some place otherwise unreachable.
Maybe the obvious lock and key.

Maybe something else.

God how I'd love to see our head poke out of that damn tree stump in Monkey Island once again! ;D

Iron Curtain - Jun 15, 2015 at 12:14
I noticed that the convention center doesn't have a thirteenth floor. I see what you did there. ;-)

Christopher Griffin - Jun 15, 2015 at 12:24
This is a great post.  You could solve the problem by adding the same number of elevators as the number of characters playable at the same time.  If 3 characters can be played at the same time (by switching), have 3 elevators.  Then, when one enters the elevator, as soon as they board the door closes until they select a floor.  Of course, now that means that 3 elevators have been added, but at least it results in a one-at-a-time result, which is only bad if you planned to have 2 people on it simultaneously.

Lots to think about!

Lennart - Jun 15, 2015 at 12:40
As for seeing the other characters behind doors. No. Games in the 80ies didn't have it.
As for the elevator. Make it behave realistic. It may be fun in it's own right. You can toy around with it while thinking about puzzles. It makes you believe in the world.
When Monty Python did the Holy Grail doing the smoke was a real burden on the production crew. It was put into question, "How many loughs does the smoke get?". They did it anyway, and it really helped the whole atmosphere.

Ciantic - Jun 15, 2015 at 13:07
I think you should show the full floor dial as soon as one "Uses the elevator", this way it works like a door:

1. "Use" elevator
2. Screen: Shows a floor dial
3. "Click" on a floor
4. Animation: the actor presses down or up button
5. Next scene: Elevator door opens and actor walks to chosen floor.

Only if the elevator stops functioning in a puzzle it would be necessary to show innards of the elevator, and make the floor dial unusable.

Dan - Jun 15, 2015 at 13:26
I don't think that everything has to seem as realistic as possible, provided that the game is funny and stylish. The numerous simplifications due to the limited technical prospects back in the scumm era made those games even more funny and likeable! It has been part of their charm.

It wouldn't bother me for example if character switching is disabled whilst the elevator is working.
Though an obvious bug would bother me of course.

Dan - Jun 15, 2015 at 13:29
For what it's worth, I remember being super impressed by the bus / cash card payments for multiple people in Zak McKracken back when I first played the game in 5th grade.  I had no programming experience, but I remember being surprised that it worked exactly how you would expect paying for multiple people to work on a bus.  I don't know if that makes all the effort worth it, but I appreciated it enough that I remember it more than 20 years later, much more than I do a lot of the other things in that game.

David Fox - Jun 15, 2015 at 14:08
@Dan, thanks! If there are at least two more people who noticed (and were impressed that it actually worked in these situations), then all those weeks of debugging and evilly smiling playtesters may just be worth it!

For the Elevator, since we don't yet know exactly how players are going to want to use it, and haven't coded puzzles that make use of the elevator, I didn't want to put in time over-engineering it before we needed to... especially because of my Zak experience. Stay tooned!

longuist - Jun 15, 2015 at 14:27
Count me in! (1+ more to go)

Suggestion: Do an elevator-race (either 2 elevators or 1 and stairs) with a npc. And/Or combination puzzle/key/.. to reach a hidden floor. Dont know why, im in desperate need for a secret. (of Thimbleweed Park™!)

David Fox - Jun 15, 2015 at 14:47
Great! That makes 3! Any more and I'll be even happier!

Zarbulonian - Jun 15, 2015 at 15:21
Count me in too.

You could also wake up the driver in different ways, which was a nice touch.

David Fox - Jun 15, 2015 at 17:06
That was the easiest part. I gave a flag to a bunch of objects on whether they could wake up the bus driver. Then just had to check whether the object had the flag set.

Mattias Cedervall - Jun 15, 2015 at 15:28
David, I haven't played Zak McKracken so I want to buy it via Steam, but it's not available. :-( Do you know why it isn't? What do you think of the fan made sequel Zak McKracken Between time and space?

Nor Treblig - Jun 15, 2015 at 17:03
You can get it on GOG: http://www.gog.com/game/zak_mckracken_and_the_alien_mindbenders

I too have fond memories of those scenes and I appreciate the work which was put into the quite complex behavior with the bus driver! And the puzzle(s) with the stewardess are actually my favorite!

David Fox - Jun 15, 2015 at 17:08
Downside of talking about this is that now you'll all go and playtest the bus interactions to death and find yet another bug that I didn't know about!

Tobi_M - Jun 18, 2015 at 02:19
Now that you mention it: I CAN remember there was such a situation when I played the gam back in the days.
One character somehow got stuck in the bus (can't remember if it was Zak or Annie) with the bus driver asleep, and could not pay or drive to the airport or wake the driver (which was kind of weird because he/she was standing right next to him).
If I remember correctly it involved a cut-scene to the aliens somehow.

Yay - the fun of programming ;-)

Will have to test that again :-)


Mattias Cedervall - Jun 15, 2015 at 17:46
I know that, but I want it on Steam! It's easier to gather the games in a single place.

David Fox - Jun 16, 2015 at 02:43
I'm not sure why Disney/LucasArts chose GoG to release all their old games, but that's what they did. I not only had no idea they were going to release Zak there (happy surprise) but don't know if they ever plan on a Steam release... guessing not.

Darkstorm - Jun 16, 2015 at 04:42
I think it's a case of workload.  I don't think steam lift a finger to get a game working and expect the dev/pub to do so, while GOG actively knock on publishers doors to get the right to release classic games and then will work themselves to get the game working on modern platforms if necessary.  Choosing GOG means a lot less work for Disney.

Although in this specific instance GOG just put the FM Towns version into ScummVM (with the EGA version also available, which was a nice touch), so it was a lot simpler then the extents to which they often have to go.  I can only imagine Disney haven't had the time to put together such a package for Steam, and Steam won't do it themselves.

Big Red Button - Jun 16, 2015 at 11:25
I think that's it, since GOG comes along with DRM-free versions, unlike Steam for all I know.

Zarbulonian - Jun 16, 2015 at 18:53
How things come around.

Initially, LEC tried to get ScummVM to stop development.

They wouldn't have used it on their dead bodies. Some SCUMM game(DotT and maybe others) were ported to Windows, and, IIRC they hired back Aaron Giles to port the original engine rather than using ScummVM, which was technically superior to what they released (scalers, sound options...).

The Disney management has more discernment on that point :-)

Mattias Cedervall - Jun 16, 2015 at 19:36
Thank you for your reply, David! What do you think of the fan made sequel Zak McKracken Between time and space?

David Fox - Jun 17, 2015 at 01:53
I actually haven't played it. Probably won't, partially due to time, and also just in case I end up creating something in a future game that turns out similar to what was in Zak2. Totally support their effort though!

Zak Phoenix McKracken - Jun 17, 2015 at 07:27
Mattias, I started the game, but after an initial enthusiasm and excitement, now I am not so enthusiastic anymore.
My congratulations go  to all the team, of course, they did it a great job for fun and that is praiseworthy... but there are some points quite boring, and not so clear.
Maybe it's me, I'll try to replay it during summer vacations.

Mattias Cedervall - Jun 17, 2015 at 08:50
Thank you so much for your replies, David! :-)

I couldn't click reply on your comments. I think
there's a reply limit.

Jammet - Jun 17, 2015 at 11:10
Interestingly, the versions they sell on GOG.COM are not at all the packages you used to buy off the shelf. They've packaged them all into either SCUMMVM or DOSBOX, and - specifially Zak McKracken  -  the version they have for sale is the FM Towns version. That wasn't even for sale in Europe and the US! I think it was a japanese computer. Because it has superior graphics, they took that version.

So if you wanted to play the game the way it looked, if you'd have bought it in Europe or the US, you'd have to look elsewhere, still.

Don't get me wrong, the games is great in all versions, and this one looks the same, but I'm a purist. I don't really particularly fancy how they mashed it and packaged something that was never sold like that before.

Darkstorm - Jun 17, 2015 at 13:16

- Actually, that's not true.  As I said above, GOG give you both the FM TOWNS and DOSV2 EGA versions.  It even loads two shortcut icons.

LogicDeLuxe - Jun 17, 2015 at 18:52
Since Steam allows you to add any non Steam software to the Steam Library as well, you could do just that, and you have it in the place you want.

Mattias Cedervall - Jun 18, 2015 at 19:58
I didn't know that. I'm gonna check it out. Thank you for the information!

Nor Treblig - Jun 19, 2015 at 02:39
Good idea! You could probably also use GOG Galaxy in parallel with Steam to keep the game automatically updated and still run it from Steam.

Jammet - Jun 17, 2015 at 11:06
I was also as impressed with at! When I talked to a friend about the game, who had never seen it (or Maniac Mansion) before, I boasted how you can do pretty much *anything* in that game! I was so impressed with how you could ride the bus, it just like Maniac Mansion became pretty much a Matrix, a simulation of real life within the computer! Maniac Mansion already was "Little Computer People" on steroids and with a story, to me.

Dominik - Jun 15, 2015 at 13:43
Thanks for you post David! I have been waiting for this :-)

It's an interesting problem. For me, good gamepley mechanis do matter and make a game feel more immersive. BUT: Since you are obviously on a budget and have lots of other stuff to wire up why not just start with the easiest functional approach first and should you have time at the end of the project revisit these sections to see if you can make them feeld more realistic and elaborated?

That being said, as a code-wh*re I have to demand screenshots of script code! Without that, how can I be sure these aren't just pretty pictures to make me THINK you would wire up these gameplay mechanics, but instead you scheme your next moves on you way to world domination?!

Max - Jun 15, 2015 at 13:53
Turns out event-driven programming works better even for adventure games. If the elevator has its own independently-running handler that simply reacts to button presses (and stops wherever one was activated since it last stopped there) it's really rather trivial to implement one (okay, we're not talking about multiple synchronized prioritising elevators here). On the other hand, if the "elevator" is a just hard-coded sequence of events in just the right spot, it obviously becomes a major pain to code a different one for every different perspective and keep them all consistent...

smartypants - Jun 15, 2015 at 13:54
Simply implement the elevator algorithm (a.k.a. SCAN): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elevator_algorithm

"This algorithm is named after the behavior of a building elevator, where the elevator continues to travel in its current direction (up or down) until empty, stopping only to let individuals off or to pick up new individuals heading in the same direction."

David Fox - Jun 15, 2015 at 14:25
Oh, nice! Will take a look if we decide to add more complexity/functionality/flexibility to the elevator's behavior.

Mr.Pinsky - Jun 15, 2015 at 14:03
I said this already in the comments on the recent podcast post, but here it is again:

It's best to implement the elevator mechanics as a finite state machine. It basically comes down to modelling the states in which the elevator can be, and the transitions between them. In fact, the elevator control is a standard text-book example used to introduce finite state machines. It's quite easy that way; every other way of implementing it is far more complicated.

Zak Phoenix McKracken - Jun 15, 2015 at 14:18
Hi David,
Zak McKracken And The Alien Mindbenders™ is my favourite game of all time because of these kind of situations.
The "bus to the airport"m for example, made me happy because I wanted to wake up the driver with anything I could (even with the stale bread!!).
The important thing, here, is the logic.
If Zak goes on the bus to the Airport, then Annie leaves her home, it's logic that the bus could not be in the 13th Avenue.
If Zak goes on the bus and Annie is near here, the logic depends on the driver feelings (rude? OK, who cares of Annie. Maniac? Annie, go abroad!)

Less situations leads to monotony.
I imagine the use of the elevator very similar to the bus in Zak McKracken.
For example:
- Characters "A" and "B" are in the elevator.
- "A" presses a floor button
- the elevator doors are closing [time needed to shut: 4 seconds]
- during those 4 seconds, "B" presses another floor button

I expect that the elevator will open at the floor of "A", the doors remain open for a few seconds, then they shut and the elevator goes to the floor of "B".
The behaviour is more like Weird Ed in Maniac Mansion: when someone pushed the doorbell, he walks from a floor to another. Every ding-dong causes Weird Ed to show where he is at that moment.

David Fox - Jun 15, 2015 at 14:45
Hi @Zak! (Ok that's 2 people who liked the Zak bus complexity -- need just one more to make it all worth it!)

Right now, if two characters board the elevator, and one selects a floor, I've made the button panel "untouchable" so that no one else can make a selection until the elevator arrives at its destiantion. I've also programmed the elevator panel button selection as kind of a toggle so when you select one floor, and then immediately select a different one, then the light for the first floor turns off (so only one floor can be selected at a time). Both of these removed a lot of possible complexity by not allowing the character to change floors, and not having multiple floor destinations.

If this seems too restrictive while we're actually testing the game, I may have to "bite the bullet" and add more functionality. But right now, it doesn't seem like an issue. This is a very fast elevator, so having to ride up to a floor you actually don't want to go to isn't really a big drawback.

Zak Phoenix McKracken - Jun 15, 2015 at 15:23
In any case, it's perfectly logic, so it sounds good!

LogicDeLuxe - Jun 15, 2015 at 15:05
I also noticed and liked how the bus works. It is completely justified as it involves puzzles with waking up the driver and having a cashcard with enough money at hand. If the elevator involves such puzzles, make it equally complex. If it doesn't involve a puzzle, well, make it involve some nice puzzles.
It could also have a secret floor like in the movie "Being John Malkovich", which can only be entered with a crowbar.

Mindiell - Jun 15, 2015 at 15:28
Hmmm, in 80's, only one person was allowed in elevator while using it, for security reasons... ;o)

medeotl - Jun 15, 2015 at 16:07
In my opinion back in the time what have made adventure games so nice to play was the illusion of actually having control of a real world. So for example one thing that I really like in adventure games is... to turn lights on and off. Even if there's no reasons for doing it. Or close and open stuffs.
With that I'm not saying you to make a smart elevator. You only know how much works need to implement it and how many times we'll use it.
My point is just that I can accept a "down-to-date" graphics and look if you give me back interactions. And possibly loads of animations too. That's what I'm missing more from the modern game: better graphics needs more time to be made and less budgets leave to poor/restricted interactions and hardly few animations.
My 2 cents

Jammet - Jun 17, 2015 at 11:19
Seconded. I just *adore* when you can turn off and on the lights in a room. Or use a flashlight! With todays color pallette, you could have every brightness from pitch black to having the sun stare ontop of your head. You could dim the light as people open and close doors. You could adapt the light to when people pull windows open, or closed, or even leave them ajar.

Light is important! Let us play with light, and have the light play with us! :)

Mister T - Jun 15, 2015 at 16:52
Not sure about the funtionality, but it makes the world a lot more real if it feels like things are actually happening. Like the elevate-o-meter over the doors showing where the cabin is. Perhaps even the ability to press a button and then leave the elevator, letting him to his run on his own, and then calling him again. But inventing something with two choices seems overkill and too much complexity just makes one wonder if it is part of a riddle and therefore could create an unfortunate red herring. A limitation is also a hint that there is nothing to be done.

While I did not pay much attention to all the possibilites, the bus being gone created a sense of a real world in Zak McKracken (just like the changing headlines at the airport, when you kill the squirrel). And in MM it is probably Ed looking for his package, walking through rooms who gave me that sense of the collection of rooms being an actual mansion with inhabitants. It would have been forgivable to let him just pop up in the kitchen or at the post box,, but the idea that he can get you when you were somewhere in his way just let him appear so much more real and made that world so much richer.

David Fox - Jun 15, 2015 at 17:12
I'm pretty sure I wrote that code that had Ed walk through the house, room-by-room, and if a character were there, he'd nab you. That was another tough script to write because of all the possible side-effects!

Zak Phoenix McKracken - Jun 16, 2015 at 03:15
My congratulations again, that was a really amusing part! And I remember that also the timing was accurate!
I remember while playing it on C64, I was always looking at the cursor' shape: if it changed to a snail, then Weird Ed was in his room again!

Mister T - Jun 19, 2015 at 18:56
It totally sold the reality of the game. Never has the line "Gee, I'm hungry" caused so much horror since Odysseus met the cyclops!

Estranged2 - Jun 15, 2015 at 17:32
This bus was one of the things I admired in the game. I loved it. The fact that the bus driver noticed your friend and asked if she's coming with you made him aware, alive and real. The fact that you could wake him up with any object that's hard enough to knock on the glass showed me that the game world is not lying to me. Maybe most players don't care, but I thought that the reactions and the routine of the prison guard, the stewardess, and all characters in Zak made them alive.

In Monkey Island and the subsequent adventure games, all of this was lost and players didn't really care. Characters standing in one spot, never moving or acting on their own, and not really reacting to your actions, obviously are enough for most people, and are much easier to develop (just like linear corridor 3D games are easier to make than a 3D game with a more intricate, complex interconnected levels, that give you some choice and options to explore).

I understand the need to make things simple and scope them down, but your way of doing things, mr. Fox, is very beautiful. Please don't hold back too much. I wish more designers approached things like this.

LogicDeLuxe - Jun 15, 2015 at 17:46
Actually, there are quite a few characters walking around and/or acting on their own in Monkey Island: The sword fight pirates, citizens in the town coming out of doors and enter other doors, and even lights go on and off. The chef is tending tables and nags you, if he spots you entering the kitchen. And on Monkey Island, Herman appears almost everywhere.

Estranged2 - Jun 15, 2015 at 18:23
It doesn't have the same gravity. It's not about NPCs just moving randomly on a map or making comments that have no real consequence. I'm talking about things like Weird Ed noticing that you turned on a faucet in the kitchen and going out of his way to turn it off - it feels like he's using the same verbs that you're using... and he's doing this not because he has to block your progress in a puzzle, but just because it's the natural thing to do. NPCs being aware of little things changing in the environment because of you and actually doing something real and impactful when they notice - not because a puzzle requires it, but because they are aware, living people. This applies to the main character as well. Zak putting his room in order before he leaves - turning off the TV and the water. The fact that the fish can live or die because of your actions - many players may say that this "choice" belongs in an RPG, but I think it has its place in an adventure game.

Mattias Cedervall - Jun 15, 2015 at 19:30
I agree with you.

Niels - Jun 15, 2015 at 19:38
I don't normally do this kind of comments but here i go: Full Ack. I could not have worded it any better. This is exactly what differentiated MM and Zak (and to some extent, Indiana Jones atlC) from the rest of the lot. And while MI had its fair share of qualities on it's own, it was lacking that very depth and so i didn't replay it even a quarter as often as Zak or MM.

Matthew Fearnley - Jun 17, 2015 at 11:21
I've not played Zak very far, but while the variety of methods to wake up the bus driver is definitely laudable, I have to ask: was it actually possible to wake the bus driver by simply knocking on the window?  That's what I'd do in real life.
A hindrance of some Lucas games was that sometimes they felt restrictive - not because two objects couldn't be used together, but because a particular verb was missing, leaving you unable to do things like look at items or talk to people.  Or to hit things.

That said, I don't think there is any Lucas adventure that would have let you actually knock on the bus door - "Use" and similar verb items feel a bit too vague, and would be more intuitively used to try to open the door.  (Full Throttle had a "kick" verb icon though..)

David Fox - Jun 17, 2015 at 19:35
Not unless you could pick up a hand as an inventory item. Use severed hand on bus... Yes, in real life I'd probably knock. But this driver is especially hard of hearing (or deeply asleep), and a simple hand knock wouldn't have woken him!

Randy - Jun 15, 2015 at 18:31
+1 for enjoying the reality of the bus in Zak.  I recall Zak being able to pay for Annie as very cool.

If this is the only WaM (or the big one) in Thimbleweed then I say go for something pretty realistic.  I would love to see (and play around with) Agent Reyes getting on at one floor and being in the elevator when Agent Ray is waiting on the exit floor - whether or not the call button was pushed.  You could even design a puzzle around this perhaps (maybe both needing to get to the same place at the same time or one leaving an object in the elevator for the other one to use).  

If you want to get crazy, let us open the control panel and hack the controls to make the elevator go to the penthouse when you press the Basement button.

Felix - Jun 15, 2015 at 19:16
Elevator? This hotel needs a paternoster.
It's the 80s, after all!

David Fox - Jun 15, 2015 at 19:24
Love it! Never heard of one of these before.

Alois - Jun 16, 2015 at 07:35
German government just recently sorta banned them by requiring they can only be used by trained persons.

OregonGhost - Jun 18, 2015 at 04:27
Actually, in my home city Kiel, the Pater Noster in the Landtag building has just been reopened by the parliament's president, because he thinks the ban is totally stupid. It's not actually 80's though, the Pater Noster in the townhall is over 100 years old. The statistics say that escalators are actually more dangerous ;)

https://www.ndr.de/nachrichten/schleswig-holstein/Machtwort-in-Posse-um-Paternoster-in-Kiel,paternoster132.html (German only, sorry).

Mattias Cedervall - Jun 16, 2015 at 19:40
It looks scary! :-( I wouldn't use it in real life!

RCM - Jun 15, 2015 at 19:22
How about instead of an elevator, the hotel has an escalator? :D

...OK, maybe that's not such a great idea!

Peter Campbell - Jun 16, 2015 at 00:28
"I like an escalator, man, 'cause an escalator can never break, it can only become stairs. You would never see an "Escalator Temporarily Out Of Order" sign, just "Escalator Temporarily Stairs. Sorry for the convenience."
- Mitch Hedberg

Niels - Jun 15, 2015 at 19:26
I have to comment on this. The bus in Zak and the endless possibilites of triggering it, paying it, using it with different characters at the same time, you name it ... This was the ESSENCE of Zak. If Zak hadn't been like this, it would just have been one more adventure game, successful at it's time but long forgotten 20 years later (Kings Quest anyone?). However, you guys put in the effort to make Zak what it was, a game that was, for it's times, mindboggingly well thought out and detail-oriented. I vividly remember my schoolmate showing me Zak, showing me that you could interact with literally everything (or so he said) by this very bus scene. Knocking the bus with the butter knife, golf club, hair pin, the cashcard even. This was greatness. All i can say that if Thimbleweed Park is going to be anything like this, it will be bliss. Please, go the extra mile for that elevator.

David Fox - Jun 16, 2015 at 02:48
@Niels, so nice to hear this feedback from you and everyone else here. As I've said before, back when we created those old graphic adventures, there really wasn't a way to get direct feedback from the audience. So we all kind of worked in a vacuum, doing what we all thought was fun.

Ron, Gary, and I are talking about your feedback and will reconsider what level of detailed interactions we'll program into the game... of course, assuming we have the time. Maybe we'll take the layered route, adding more detail as we can within the time/budget constraints.

Zak Phoenix McKracken - Jun 16, 2015 at 03:24
Please, more details of this kind will make the game really a milestone for centuries! You all can take more time, and release the game beyond the June 2016.
I believe every baker here would agree with me.

Detailed and awesome game with release beyond June 2016
normal game within June 2016

Please choose one (...in strict sense!)

Mattias Cedervall - Jun 16, 2015 at 19:34
I agree with you! Baker? I like to bake empolvados.

Peter Brodersen - Jun 15, 2015 at 20:08
Is the elevator - as a room - used for anything? As in, do you need to do anything there or is it just a place to reach other places?

If there isn't anything needed in the elevator I would probably go for the suspension of disbelief and add a panel on the outside of the elevator (with the doors closed) specifying what floor to go to and simply move people to the new floor. The doors will never need to be open.

Ron Gilbert - Jun 15, 2015 at 20:35
Yes, the elevator (room) is used in a puzzle, but the puzzle works no matter how complex the elevator is, as long as it's not a cut-scene.

Stoffe - Jun 15, 2015 at 20:12
I'd just like to say that I'm the kind of player that gets kicks out of details such as seeing that other character in the correct place outside the window. Doesn't mean it's worth a huge effort, but I guess it could be done with just mapping with room "faces" which room and having the "outside" being it's own layer + mirrored position of other character. As usual, it just seems so simple... :)

Nathan - Jun 15, 2015 at 20:53
Sounds like you found some items to put on the backlog. Hopefully things like elevators and visibility from one room to the next are being built in a way that is reusable. Maybe Yhimbleweed Park wont have those things, but the next game will.

Nathan - Jun 15, 2015 at 20:58
"Yimbleweed Park" is the Yiddish translation...

Ian / Nihil Quest - Jun 15, 2015 at 21:48
I played Zak recently and was impressed by all the bus variations, so your work is justified. However the need to wake up the driver every time was annoying. I thought that it would be better if it happened just once.
Anyway... I'm curious about the stewardess puzzle, I hope you will make a post about this one in the future. Zak was one of the first adventure games I played (using walkthrough as I was a kid and barely speaking English) and this situation blew my mind. I remember this as one of the most insane, funny, creative and naughty things in a game ever. I tip my hat to you Dave.

Misel - Jun 16, 2015 at 04:30
You can check and test drive your elevator code here ;)


Shortest Circuit - Jun 16, 2015 at 05:16
Better give Maxis a call, maybe the elevator code for SimTower is for sale :)

Alois - Jun 16, 2015 at 05:48
In Austria, we would first design a minimum possible solution to make the game not block here. Then we would hand over all the nice to have intricacies to a low-paid enthusiastic intern. This frees the key persons for the more interesting tasks.

DanVzare - Jun 16, 2015 at 09:47
If it was me, I'd just make it so when you click on a button on the elevator, your control is taken away from you for a few seconds while you listen to some cheesy elevator music (perhaps even listening to the character talk to themselves) until you hear a ding, and you can get off.
Of course you'd be able to stay in the elevator, and even move around in the elevator. It's only when you use a button on the elevator, it will enter "cutscene" mode.

Unless you need it for a puzzle, I see no reason why you should be able to move around or change character while the elevator is in motion.

Then again, I try to find the simplest solution to these types of things.

Peter - Jun 16, 2015 at 12:02
Is this a reference to the Faces Boxset:


Paulup - Jun 16, 2015 at 14:22
For me personally, I don't really care that much about that kind of level of complexity/realism, it doesn't really add anything for me.

The main thing for immersing me in the game world is the combination of the art and the ability to look-at, pick-up, and generally interact-with a good number of things in each room, regardless of whether it is realistic or not. The other key thing is the characters and dialog and how fleshed out they all seem.

With an elevator, I'd much rather there be interesting things in the elevator like a button that does something unexpected or a loose panel to remove or a funny elevator-operator character in there or a fire extinguisher to pick up or whatever. Or at least some fun descriptions of things when you look at each thing in the elevator. If it acts like a real-life elevator, cool, but I wouldn't really notice to be honest.

mr. T - Jun 16, 2015 at 15:36
If Thimbleweed Park wouldn't have any new features compared to Zak or Maniac Mansion, it would feel only natural that you couldn't see or be seen to other rooms. But now Ron is presumably presenting vertical scrolling technology and probably other space age inventions...so perhaps it would be time to include a new quantum technology such as seeing a character from another room (eat that THX™). But truth to be told, I would classify this as a nice to have feature with not too high a priority. Same with the elevator thingy, if there isn't any forcing need to be more complex, as seems to be the case at this stage.

On the other hand I would find it quite funny if there would be a chase scene for example and you would have to do some creative trick with the elevator, perhaps requiring more complexity to elevator features (or not). Also, when I was a kid we used to do some pranks with elevators, like getting 'em stuck to the highest floor or blocking some friends inside (don't worry, it was all fun and up to the safety standards - in a way). I wouldn't mind doing some pranks again...in TP! Mwahahaa!

Ashley B - Jun 16, 2015 at 18:13
To make it even more fun, have a  "Max number of people allowed on this elevator:  1" sign on the inside.  Then another player can't join straight away.  Have RAY.Brush USE a PEN on the sign to change it to 2...  Then REYES will join him in the elevator.  For what purpose?  Well, I don't know.

Big Red Button - Jun 17, 2015 at 13:54
The purpose could be an overload of the elevator in order to make it slip down the lifting hole into the basement of the building which is unapproachable in any other way, since the elevator has no "cellar" button and the concierge is blocking the stairway downwards.

Mattias Cedervall - Jun 17, 2015 at 17:48
The "B"-button is for the basement...

Big Red Button - Jun 18, 2015 at 03:37
Okay, what if the elevator sticks if you press the "B" button in case there is only one person in the elevator so that you need a sinker just as an additional character? The only issue would be how to get back from the basement up to the first floor with an overloaded elevator.

Alternatively it would be a piece of cake to undo the "B" button.

Big Red Button - Jun 18, 2015 at 03:45
A usual hotel wouldn't let the guests get into the basement unless there is a pool/sauna/solarium/massage room.

Mattias Cedervall - Jun 18, 2015 at 12:46
I just think that we should all be inspired by Fawlty Towers! :D

Bernd Wachter - Jun 17, 2015 at 05:03
Make it a really old elevator. I've encountered them first time in Russia, they're quite common there still -- they execute exactly one command, and do so without delay (leads to funny situations if two want to ride the elevator, but the first one in presses the floor button before the other is in).

Both pressing a call button or a floor button inside the elevator won't have any effect until the elevator stops at the original destination. And I guess having people in several floors abusing the buttons so they 'win' the next round is something you don't need to worry about in the game.

Nor Treblig - Jun 17, 2015 at 17:26
I remember those! And this is really a good idea to simplify things.

Mattias Cedervall - Jun 17, 2015 at 10:46
Spoiler alert: The answer to the seckrit question is 5

Yes, I'm bored but it's not my fault! :P

Caspar - Jun 17, 2015 at 15:02
David Fox: „There's a single elevator in Thimbleweed Park's Edmond Hotel. You can board it, select your floor, and ride up or down, just like in a real elevator. What I haven't addressed yet are all the complexities. What if Agent Ray is riding the elevator and you switch to Agent Reyes who pushes the call button from a different floor? Must we make the elevator behave like a real one and stop at the floor to let the other character on?“

Caspar: „If Agent Ray is calling the elevator and Agnet Reyes is in the elevator, the elevator stops to let the other character in. „

David Fox: „What if two characters both press the elevator button at about the same time?“

Caspar: „The door is open and the elevator stops at a specific floor, without moving on. Then it depends who is first with pushing, otherwhise the elevator will stop and not going on at exactly this position.“

David Fox: „What happens if both characters board and press buttons for different floors? (That's what we expect on a real elevator, but do we need to implement this on our virtual one?)“

Caspar: „It depends: If the elevator is going from down to up it starts with 1 → 12. The smaller number has the possibility to leave the elevator first. If the elevator is going from up to down it starts with 12 → 1. The bigger number has the possibility to leave the elevator first.“

David Fox: „See how things can get real complicated real fast? But on the other extreme, if the implementation is too simple, it could frustrate the player who expects Thimbleweed Park Hotel's elevator to interact like real ones. "Hey! What's wrong with this game? Why can't I press every button and stop at each floor?! And where's the emergency STOP button?"

For a first pass, I programmed the elevator so we can move around the hotel. I'm still looking for that balance between time invested in modeling reality and fun for the player.“

Caspar: „You have also to calculate the case that the elevator is broken and somebody wants to call the elevator company with his mobile phone. Than you have to take care, that there is some kind of help button or elevator telephone inside the elevator. In some cases elevators have Music.“

David Fox: „Similar potential craziness involves what to do when you can see from one room into the next. For example, if Ray walks down the street and stands at the doorway to the bank, and then you switch to Reyes inside the bank. If Reyes opens the door to leave, should we see Ray standing there (on the other side of the door,) even though that's really a different room?“

Caspar: „It depends what kind of shop it is. If you take for example a bank, then I would guess that they are useing glass without the possibility to look in from outside to inside, but it's eventually possible to look from inside to outside. Normally, I would guess that shops are useing Shutters or curtains. If it is night, it is only possible to see the Streetlights and the city skyline. During Daytime it is possible to see people, but very tiny and sometimes only the shadows of people walking around the place. General answer: not exactly designing the people”

David Fox: „Should we design all our rooms so you can never see through to another room? In our old adventure games we never worried about this. Probably won't now. Sometimes reality is just not worth programming.“

Caspar: „I would take the beautiful landscapes from Mark Ferrari, when you look out of a window. If a building is very high it is impossible to see the streets, but a nice Skyline (like the Backdrop of a Late Night Show) is always beautiful. I would take something, that is similar to the Backdrop of the Letterman Show.”

Tobi - Jun 18, 2015 at 01:35
I just found this article and instantly spent five minutes remembering that stupid sleeping bus driver. As a kid Me and a friend of mine lost nearly a whole day of our lifetime playing just this small sequence of "that great game", as we called it. We even tried out nearly all objects we found in the game to check if some of them were able to wake up that guy and others were not.

Years later I visited the USA (I am a german guy) and paid in a bus. Even then I was astonished that it felt like I had done that a hundred times before. What was exactly true.

So was all that programming worth the time? You could also ask ME if playtesting a virtual bus was worth a whole day of my lifetime... And I would say yes! Cause details like that made me the nerd I am today. And it made "that great game" to one of the best remembered things in my childhood.

Estranged2 - Jun 18, 2015 at 02:45
I didn't really answer the elevator payoff question. I think that making NPC behaviour gives the highest payoff. An elevator... not so much. But anything that involves aware, living characters would be worth it. Also anything that shows real consequence, even negative consequence from your actions (it could be done without breaking the game and the puzzles).

LogicDeLuxe - Jun 18, 2015 at 04:48
Of course, realistically, also NPCs would use the elevator, ie. they press the call button, wait for doors, enter, press target button etc.
This elevator is in a hotel, thus there have to be people wandering around, just like in Mêlée Town.

Estranged2 - Jun 18, 2015 at 06:12
I just solved a "puzzle" with the vending machine at the office (I did nothing illegal ;)) that would make a lot of sense in an adventure game, I had the same feeling of "epiphany" when I figured it out. But it would work nice in a game only if the vending machine actually worked (returned spare change, blocked items that can't be dispensed, etc.).

So, the elevator could make a lot of sense, the way it works may actually inspire a good puzzle.

Marco Lizza - Jun 18, 2015 at 03:36
Maybe I'm a bit late, but I'd like to give my 2 cents on this David's question

> If Reyes opens the door to leave, should we see Ray standing there (on the other side of the door,) even though that's really a different room?

Yes, I think that we should be able to see the other actors thru' open/transparent doors/window/whatever. Although in different rooms, it will make the game world more realistic.

( perhaps this will be a pain in the neck to code, depending on Ron's room-actors architeture, but... )

Estranged2 - Jun 18, 2015 at 06:19
It would contribute to the feeling that the game world is not lying to you. As an escapist, I love it when I can say "OMG it's real! It's alive! It's actually happening!"

In fact, not many games do that "see characters in the next area even if it's not loaded". Half-Life did it back in 1998 because they cared enough for NPC behaviour and overall realism. That's why I liked that game even if I don't like the genre itself. Such decisions impact scope, but they also add that nice touch of developers and players really caring about that other world.

Marco Lizza - Jun 18, 2015 at 10:34
>  Half-Life did it back in 1998 because they cared enough for NPC behaviour and overall realism.

As a minor digression on the subject, I still remember the first time I played the "Half Life" campaign. The long introduction, with you (Gordon) descending into the Black Mesa facility with the train did impressed me a lot. Today it would be considered a common feature in games and such, but having the NPC around you (engineers, machines and all the rest) moving and doing their own business with such a detail was really amazing.

In the end, I didn't like the game itself (mostly not the plot) but the game mechanics were solid and the multiplayer game was really fun.

End of digression.

Thumbs up for a more realistic world. ;)

badde - Jun 18, 2015 at 15:53
I look on the zak screen. Whats that? >kazoo< I play the game several times in a other language. Is this the thing to play and the delphine is come on ?

Zombocast - Jun 18, 2015 at 23:47
This is how I imagine you and Ron talking about elevator programming.

Orcan Ogetbil - Jun 19, 2015 at 00:49
You don't really want to go realistic. No 10+ floor hotel has a single elevator, and the algorithms for a multiple elevator call system can get quite complex.

You can simplify the situation by avoiding the modern elevator. Use an old fashioned elevator from early 1900s instead, that has a door and a gate. It would even add some style to the hotel.

When the elevator is in operation, it is in a "busy" state. No one else can call it from another floor. When a person gets in the elevator and pushes a button, the elevator gets into the "busy" state. No one can change the elevator's course until it reaches the destination floor, including the person who pushed the button and is inside the elevator. There is a "busy" light on every floor near the elevator door. When it is lit, that means the call button inoperational. The person has to wait.

hihp - Jun 19, 2015 at 19:10
My two cents: Spend the time on the elevator. E.g. if a playable person stands between the doors, block the elevator. If multiple buttons are pressed, the first determines the direction of travel. etc.

People will appreciate it. I certainly will!

Oliver Bachmann - Jun 22, 2015 at 10:42
Why need an elevator when you don't have to wait for it? I already see the characters enter the elevator, and different buttons already pressed. Wasn't it a first in first out algorithm during these times? I don't think so. Its rather like storing the direction of the elevator, having to open the door when the right floor is reached, letting out the character, going on with the same or a different direction. Not so difficult, I think, except you have multiple characters waiting in front of the elevator. :)

Oliver Bachmann - Jun 22, 2015 at 10:50
Why do you not want to use steps, and why not a paternoster elevator? Could anybody explain this please? Thanks.

smartypants - Jun 27, 2015 at 05:55
Paternoster is 1880s, not 1980s.