Games are meant to be played as the saying goes. But where does play come from? How do we know how to play? This could be an entire post on its own, but for now I’m going to make two suppositions to answer that: “common sense” (or logic if you prefer) and experience. Developers have to rely on these because players will defer to them unless given other information. Some genres rely on this more than others, but even the simplest games will often have at least an instruction page first if not a full tutorial. If you as a developer feel your game does not need such instruction then you are putting a lot of faith in the player’s knowledge and the intuitiveness of your game. This can be a leap for adventure games.
Adventure games tend to rely on a fundamental system of puzzles and logic. The player is supposed to use basic logic and common sense to understand the world around them. This is far more important for a game like Anna. Anna is a game which I think is best described as adventure horror. It isn’t really survival horror because there is nothing you are surviving per se, but it is still fundamentally a horror story using adventure mechanics. So why are logic and common sense more important to this particular genre blend? Good horror is based on the unknown and on its aesthetic. We are afraid because we don’t understand. We are afraid of the feelings created by the music and the sounds and the darkness. Puzzles and other adventure mechanics give some measure of rules and reason to an unknowable world. They give the player a breadth of experience to call on and say “Ok, I’ve done this before. I understand how this works”. This aspect is where Anna fails. Anna takes the experiential memory that you would call on and twists it into a mass of confusion.
Anna starts off with no tutorial or even basic key layout. You get no information from the designer except for a few lines to start the story. So as players, what knowledge would we draw on? Well basic controls: there is a first person camera and we can click on things. Ok cool. Do we have an inventory? Yes. It is big and empty except for a knife, a lighter, a canteen, and three useless items. This should be the first warning sign. There are items in your inventory which you can never and will never use. Why are these here? In any case, we have established that this is a pretty normal adventure game with some common tools and an inventory meaning we will probably need to combine items in that inventory. This thought process serves you pretty well until the combinations stop making sense. Why do pinecones burn and not wood? Why do they give you two different knives? Why are there no clues? Why are there unusable items? These things counter player logic. Everything should be usable. If it is not usable then, it should add flavor in some way whether as back story or context. Anna fails because it denies player logic without explaining developer logic.
Players should always be able to understand developer logic. Anna has a decent story. Anna’s aesthetic is perfect for the horror game it is trying to create. Anna fails in logic on a level that should win it the award for being the only game I have ever played that was less intuitive than watching Cirque du Soleil. The developer provides few, if any, clues as to what the components of the puzzle even are. I had a walkthrough open by the end of the first level because my only other option was to brute force my way through by using every object on every other object until I reached a solution. Then, as an experiment, I had my friend attempt to play through and he ultimately ended up brute forcing his way through the first few levels. Anna fails because the developers felt there world could be undefined and in some ways they were right. Telling us what each object does would be too easy, but telling us nothing makes the game unplayable unless you are looking at it from a design perspective.