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Old 10-27-2011, 09:30 PM   #1
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Default Game-design: Define the actual PUZZLE vs. only defining the objective?

In one of Dave Gilbert's youtube-vids he briefly mentioned something interesting about designing puzzles that I would really like to have an in-depth discussion about,

To paraphrase quite heavily he said there's 2 ways to make a puzzle:
a) Specifically define the PUZZLE and let the player figure out the solution to this puzzle.
b) Only define a general OBJECTIVE but let the player figure out both what the puzzle is and ofc the solution to that puzzle.

He didn't talk much about it, other than say that the "casual audience" that he surveyed hated option-b, so for them it was very important to always have a clearly defined puzzle to put your mind into.

So to try to put these into fictional examples:
a) You must escape a locked-room, the game/hero specifically tells you that you must pull on books in the book-case for a secret door to open, but that the puzzle is to figure out which books to pull and in which order.
Edit: As Tim pointed out, this doesn't necessarily have to be a big pop-up that tells you to do this, could be a for example a character on your walkie-talkie tells you from the blueprints that there is a secret exit there, but that you have to figure out yourself which order to pull the books to activate it.
Edit #2: Also keep in mind this doesn't necessarily mean it's a linear game, for example there could be 3 simultaneous trials, but just that those actual puzzles are predefined for the player.

b) You must escape a locked-room, but the game doesn't tell you anything about HOW to do so, the player might first try a couple of obvious things he can think of (try the window, try to force open the door, look for a key) and at some point he'll probably figure out that bookcase seems to be hollow so that perhaps if you figure out a way to pull the books in correct order perhaps then a secret door will open.

Edit #34634: Obviously in both cases there would be a proper way of knowing how to solve the puzzle (not just randomly pulling books).

What's your view; which one do you prefer?
Do you have any good real-game examples of these differences?

Last edited by Mad Manny; 10-28-2011 at 07:32 AM.
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Old 10-27-2011, 10:11 PM   #2
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In short these examples/theories are seen as Linear Thought Processes or Non-Linear. Holding the players hand is option A, whereas giving them full control is option B.

Its just that simple. We rarely see any non-linear casual games, except ones where you can play on "Hardcore" with no tutorial, no sparkling items, and so on.
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Old 10-27-2011, 11:16 PM   #3
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B is superior, no argument.

In A, who is telling me that I need to pull books? Aren't I meant to be the hero in this story? The point of being stuck alone in a locked room, is being stuck alone in a locked room! Who asked the "game/hero" to tell me what to do? Sorry, but I'm not his lap-dog.

Last edited by Oscar; 10-28-2011 at 01:05 AM.
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Old 10-28-2011, 01:02 AM   #4
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It depends... these days I don't have as much time to play as I used to so I actually prefer easier puzzles for which I don't constantly just have to flip back to the walkthrough.
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Old 10-28-2011, 01:25 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Oscar View Post
B is superior, no argument.

In A, who is telling me what books I need to pull? Aren't I meant to be the hero in this story? Who asked the "game/hero" to tell me what to do? Sorry, but I'm not his lap-dog.
It doesn't necessarily have to be the game. It could be another character. The situation in A kinda reminds me of the part in Full Throttle where Maureen tells you of a secret entrance to the factory where you need to kick a certain stone at a specific time. Same thing, no? The game tells you what you need to do, but you still need to figure out *which* stone and at *which* time.

I agree that the puzzle presented in B is a lot more interesting, but there should always be at least a clue to be found somewhere that could make it easier. Like finding a piece of paper in a hidden compartment of the desk that tells you which books and/or gives you an idea of the order in which they need to be pulled...


I don't know, but the design (linear or non-linear) basically boils down to a varying degree of difficulty imo. If you need to fix a flat tire (like in Secret Files: Tunguska), you had to take the flat tire, use a pump to inflate it, put it in water to locate the hole and fix that with a rubber glove and some glue, IIRC. Easier games could let you find a "tire repair kit" instead of gloves and glue and could just solve the entire thing by letting you use the repair kit on the tire.

Few to no games offer this varying degree of difficulty, imo. Only examples I can think of are Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis where the 'dumber' fists-path let you turn on the generator at the dig site just by pressing the switch, where the wits- and team-paths had you looking for gas for the generator first.

Lost Horizon did offer a possibility to change the difficulty setting for a couple of mini-puzzles (like putting a broken record together like a jigsaw-puzzle - the easier the setting, the fewer pieces there were).

Maybe adventure games should offer multiple difficulty settings? Almost all other genres have them...
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Old 10-28-2011, 02:16 AM   #6
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Basically one option gives you a clear objective. The other is a hidden objective.
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Old 10-28-2011, 02:29 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TimovieMan View Post
Maybe adventure games should offer multiple difficulty settings? Almost all other genres have them...
The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 actually has 2 difficulty settings kind of like Monkey Island 3 did. I played through the first chapter on both settings to compare and from what I played it seemed a lot like your example with the tire repair kit. I ended up going with the hard setting just because I didn't wanna miss anything... even if I did end up having to use the walkthrough a lot
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Old 10-28-2011, 03:09 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TimovieMan View Post
It doesn't necessarily have to be the game. It could be another character. The situation in A kinda reminds me of the part in Full Throttle where Maureen tells you of a secret entrance to the factory where you need to kick a certain stone at a specific time. Same thing, no? The game tells you what you need to do, but you still need to figure out *which* stone and at *which* time.
To me this fits into puzzle B, because there is no narration. Maureen telling me about the stone still leaves me immersed in the game - it's part of the story. An A style puzzle would be if Maureen told me that the entrance was there, and the narrator or Ben told me "Hm, maybe one of these stones is the key to opening the entrance". That would totally remove me from the game, because I'm supposed to be playing and thinking as Ben.
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Old 10-28-2011, 04:21 AM   #9
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(Updated the original post to clarify TimovieMan's excellent point)
Couple of hours later and the thread is already filled with lots of great answers! Cheers, guys.

So far I think Oscar has made the best point; that option-a can sometimes make you feel like a lap-dog rather than feel creative,

However I would also argue that on the other hand option-b can sometimes make you feel confused as to what to what to solve despite knowing what the character's problem/objective is.
For example, slight Grim Fandango spoiler:
Spoiler:
There was a puzzle that could only be solved if you carefully looked and analyzed the cat-race photo, had I known this was where the puzzle lied I might have had a chance to solve it, but instead I was just walking through Rubacava clueless of what to try next.



@TimovieMan:
Thanks for that real-game example, that's exactly what I'm talking about for option-A.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Schneckchen ^.^ View Post
It depends... these days I don't have as much time to play as I used to so I actually prefer easier puzzles for which I don't constantly just have to flip back to the walkthrough.
Ok sure one option might be easier than the other, but what I'm really interested in isn't so much a "easy vs. difficult"-discussion but rather just about which presentation you prefer,
for example since option-a would probably be the easier one we could say that on that one we make the puzzle itself (which books to pull) extra difficult to balance them out.

Last edited by Mad Manny; 10-28-2011 at 04:40 AM.
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Old 10-28-2011, 04:50 AM   #10
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I much prefer 'B'. It's all about the exploration.
Some examples - Myst games, Rhem, Darkfall.
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Old 10-28-2011, 05:16 AM   #11
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Well, for starters, the objective should ALWAYS be defined in a game - you're playing it, so you have to know what you're supposed to be doing. Best of all is when the game has a button that displays your current objective (even if it's rather vague like "Get on the next boat out of Rubacava"). Gray Matter did just that, and I find that to be a plus. That way you'll definitely remember where you were in the game and what you had to do, even if you hadn't played it in a while.

I think the objective should be defined in such a way that you at least know in which direction you should be going. "Board the next boat out of town" is good enough, even if you can access 10 different locations in the city. You'll instinctively go to the harbour in that case.

The objective should then get refined as you discover things for yourself. If for instance you go to the harbour but the harbour master informs you no boats are coming in because the lighthouse is broken (or whatever), and he can't leave his post to fix it, then the objective should change to "fix the lighthouse so you can board the next boat".
It's pointing you in the right direction (in this case the lighthouse), but it's not plainly giving you the solution you need (because there will still be things to do in the lighthouse that haven't been defined yet).


I'm mainly trying to say that option B is far superior, but that the game should at least give some general pointers so you're not wandering the game world without a clue of what needs to be done in order to progress...
If you're stuck in a game, you should at least be able to specify what puzzle you're stuck on, rather than being stuck on the general story.

I don't know, am I even making sense here?
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Old 10-28-2011, 05:43 AM   #12
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Just noticed you edited your thread-starting post.

So to go back to your "locked room"-puzzle: I think you can have a secondary character tell you there's a secret exit somewhere, but I don't feel they should say it's the bookcase that's the key. Personally, I don't even feel you should be aware of the secret exit beforehand. You should basically be stuck in that room because "the door is locked and you don't have a key so you'll have to find another way out" and then it's up to the player to find the alternative exit or the alternative way to get the door open.

It's not like a single room will have so many hotspots that you won't be able to pinpoint your exit to the bookcase anyway.

The thing is that when you eventually find out that "the books are hollow and there's a mechanism behind them", then there should at least be some clues to be found in the room to help you solve the bookcase-puzzle. Having the player randomly pull books because you have no idea what else to do should definitely be avoided.
But this brings us back to a "difficulty"-matter, doesn't it?
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Old 10-28-2011, 07:54 AM   #13
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There should always be enough clues within the game itself that imply or suggest how to progress. With the secret passage/book case example, if there are no pointers whatsoever, the 'puzzle' is completed through mere chance/trial and error which doesn't make for a very satisfying challenge - I want to feel like I've solved something, not just happened across the correct combination by luck/sheer perseverance.
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Old 10-28-2011, 08:42 AM   #14
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Some people are talking about this as a difficulty issue, which it isn't neccesarily.

For the A scenario, I think of Riven. The large part of the puzzle solving in that game is simply working out what everything is / does and how it all connects to each other. There are very few straight 'door lock' type puzzles.

On the other hand you have more recent games of the B type with standalone puzzles that 'pop out' and are only relevant to themselves and usually have a very clear objective. But that doesn't mean that these puzzles are 'easier'; the challenge is simply of a different type. If you hate sudoku for example and you're presented with a massive sudoku board, that isn't having your hand held just because the objective is clear. Same with a sliding tile puzzle or a maze or any other puzzle in that mould. It's very obvious when you're in a maze: it doesn't make it 'easy' to solve (by the way, I love mazes and I wish developers hadn't been whinged into not using them anymore).

It's a taste / preference thing. Some people enjoy the lateral thinking required in Riven style games (my personal favourite), whereas other people prefer problem solving. It's not about some people being stupid or impatient, it's about different personality types. Some people in life are architechts and enjoy long range planning, some are social workers and enjoy problem solving.

I wish there was more of the A style games being made for sure, I will always consider Riven the ultimate adventure game (at least in the 1st person category), but we should be careful of totally dismissing other styles.
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Old 10-28-2011, 08:49 AM   #15
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When you are playing an adventure game you "became" the main charcter that have to solve, figure out everything(case b). And I would like to do all that by myself .

But somethimes, even in good old games, you are hinted by the sideckick for example on what to do. That is ok if the hint isn't too obvious , and still leaves you to think it through( or, for example, you ask the sidekick first time and doesn't tell you anything, and you can figure out by yourself, but if you are desperate and WANT and eventually ask the third time your sidekick about the same thing, then you MAY get a hint on what to do)Does that make sense?!:

There is also the worst case scenario, you get soo stuck that you pull your hair out...(If the puzzle isn't very logical, or it doesn't make any sense at all (yes those are very annoying), then yes, I would like to have a solid hint (case a) because if not, it will drive me crazy eventually...
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mad Manny View Post
b) You must escape a locked-room, but the game doesn't tell you anything about HOW to do so, the player might first try a couple of obvious things he can think of (try the window, try to force open the door, look for a key) and at some point he'll probably figure out that bookcase seems to be hollow so that perhaps if you figure out a way to pull the books in correct order perhaps then a secret door will open.B]
Usually when I play a game I always try the door, windows, search drawers, even if the game "tells me" how to get out
I normally click on everything available, right click all stuff (or even try to use , eat, open...um...you get the point.) because I don't wanna miss anything...
And even if the game "tells me" how to get out, I still have to search everything because, for example if I'm hinted how to get out of the house, and I do get out, then I realize about 5 screens ago, I have to go back (if I can in modern games/can't in some old games and get stuck) and take some key from a drawer/hook on a door to open an I-do-not-know-what from a future certain scene.
The point is, even if you are given the hint on the way out , you still have to search everything...doors, windows, drawer..bla,bla,bla...

Sorry if I'm confuzing...

Last edited by kate me; 10-28-2011 at 09:58 AM.
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Old 10-28-2011, 09:25 AM   #16
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Oh dear, I think I'm losing you guys, maybe things will clear up in my head tomorrow after a good nights sleep but at least for now I could swear that both Cbman and Kate has swapped case-a and case-b the wrong way around.

Quote:
Originally Posted by colpet View Post
I much prefer 'B'. It's all about the exploration.
Some examples - Myst games, Rhem, Darkfall.
Thanks, finally a post I can get my head around. And yes I agree that option-B is about exploration, which is why I play adventure-games (that allows for exploration) but never do brain-teasers (which are all about the puzzle itself, not about the exploration).

Altho I can still understand Dave's view, that Casual Gamers want to be served the puzzle so that they can solve it, but don't have that confidence/experience within games to BOTH look for the puzzle and the solution,
that that dual-layer gets too confusing, like "Yeah I get it that I should escape the locked room, but I don't understand what the puzzle is! hand me the puzzle so that I may figure out how to solve it. If I don't know what the puzzle is then how can I progress? Am I supposed to look for a hidden key? If so I'll do it, but I can't start clicking around unless I know specifically what the puzzle is!". (a pretty extreme example, as a locked-room has such limited exploration anyway, but in a city with 5 locations it makes more sense).
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Old 10-28-2011, 09:32 AM   #17
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With Mad Manny's wording, I just realised the Professor Layton games are perfect examples of option A: you want to get through this door? Solve this riddle!
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Old 10-28-2011, 12:30 PM   #18
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We should also remember that sometimes it is not a clear cut division between A and B. I'm thinking of something like the Space Quest games, where you aren't always given an objective and have to figure out things on your own as Roger Wilco, but in many cases and especially when you look at/touch/smell/taste things the narrator gives you hints on what you need to do.

I'm not sure I agree with TimovieMan's "there needs to be an objective". I can think of two cases where the application of this might spoil a game for me -
Myst: The main puzzle is figuring out what you have to do, and this is an objective by itself. In Myst you wander around without any objective at all. But when you come to broken machine, is there any need for the game to tell me i need to fix it? I don't know what the machine does - it may be useless. That is part of the game, and part of being a stranger lost on a strange island. It is the intrigue that keeps you playing and exploring, not an objective that pops up when you press F1.
Gobliiins: Where you know very brief details of the plot (eg. you know you need to get a key), but to get there you need to knock the apple off the tree, to use to catapult yourself up on a ledge, to get the carrot so you can steal the mole's hat, to catch the flower falling from the bush, to make the giant sneeze so you can steal the key. All of this is figured out from trial & error - this is the fun of the game. Should the game tell me at each step what my objective is ? - "first you need to get the apple...."

I think I'm trying to say: A game divided into objectives becomes less of a game and more a series of puzzles. And to me, an adventure game is much more than a series of puzzles.
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Old 10-28-2011, 04:12 PM   #19
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Quote:
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I think I'm trying to say: A game divided into objectives becomes less of a game and more a series of puzzles. And to me, an adventure game is much more than a series of puzzles.
The objective is something that would fit into the story, of course. "Find the artifact before the bad guys find it" is also an objective, but perfectly within the storyline of the game, and the story is the most important thing, no?

Well, maybe not in Myst-style games where the exploration is the most important thing, but in third-person adventures...
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Old 10-28-2011, 07:37 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Oscar View Post
I'm not sure I agree with TimovieMan's "there needs to be an objective". I can think of two cases where the application of this might spoil a game for me.
Ah, good point!
Like Tim; I also assumed that you at the very least needs to be aware of the objective, even if it's extremely vague like "somehow save the princess", but as you pointed out Myst is not like that, which is perhaps EXACTLY why I am never able to enjoy that game myself.

So I propose that Oscar's point make for a third C-option, one where you don't even necessarily know that you are trying to escape the room.

i.e.
a) Predefined Puzzle + Objective (Escape the room, by somehow solving the riddle which books to pull).
b) Predefined Objective (Somehow escape the room to stop the villain).
c) Nothing predefined. (Perhaps you should escape the room, but perhaps the entire game is just about interacting with things in this one room, who knows).

Quote:
Originally Posted by TimovieMan View Post
The objective is something that would fit into the story, of course. "Find the artifact before the bad guys find it" is also an objective, but perfectly within the storyline of the game, and the story is the most important thing, no?
Yes, Tim has got it exactly right, I'm a bit confused over Oscar's last paragraph but I'm thinking perhaps he has a bit different definition of the word "Objective" than me (there might be a more suitible word for it),

Perhaps a better word for it is "Motivation"? i.e. I'm not necessarily talking about a quest-book that has written objectives, but it could just as well be that you've just seen a cut-scene of the villain piecing together the last parts of his atom-bomb so that it's implied story-wise that you need to stop him and a good starting point is probably to get out of this locked room.
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