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Old 01-13-2012, 07:24 PM   #1
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Default Puzzle/story ratio

There are many games with a lot of story content with few puzzles, and others with lots of puzzles and not much story to go along with them. Of course these are extremes and most games have a balance of both, and while I think most people would prefer a good balance (as I do), I'd like to discuss those extremes and the games which are in those styles.

Take the Rhem series. You arrive at the start of the game with almost no information why you are there. You complete these puzzles with the only reward to get to take on new puzzles. At the end of the game there is not much reward except a brief thank-you and a "see you next time". I enjoy the challenge and mystery of Rhem but sometimes it's too much and I find I would appreciate some progression in what little plot there is (like Myst does).

Gobliiins might be another example of the puzzle-heavy variety, putting you in an environment full of puzzles with a line or two of dialogue and the instruction "solve this". Because of this, some might think of it as a puzzle game rather than an adventure. I don't think this is true, I think there is a concrete line between adventure and a puzzle games and not a sliding scale. Unlike Rhem, in Gobliiins and Myst the story is embedded in the environment and puzzles - the puzzles are not "stand-alone".

On the other side of the ring there are games with lots of story - Dreamfall, Jurassic Park, A Mind Forever Voyaging. I can enjoy this type of game as long as I'm not watching cutscenes non-stop. I REALLY hate cutscenes, and will get tired of a game which overuses them. In a game where I'm guiding the player I don't mind the lack of puzzles. If I want to watch a movie, I will go to the cinema

So. How much story do you like in your games compared with how much puzzling there is? Do you have a preference - lots of puzzles or lots of story? Is there a "right" and "wrong" way to do each style? Which games do it well and which ones do it badly?

Last edited by Oscar; 01-13-2012 at 07:31 PM.
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Old 01-13-2012, 07:43 PM   #2
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In a game where I'm guiding the player I don't mind the lack of puzzles. If I want to watch a movie, I will go to the cinema
good point Oscar, i have also noticed that independent developers tend more to get back to the core of adventures too; great story/worth playing puzzles, but you still need the elements of good graphics/animation and good voice over as well ,its 2012.
the point is i think i can forgive a game with some flaws in its story but i can not play a game that does not have the up to date elements or has flaws in its puzzles.

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Old 01-13-2012, 08:30 PM   #3
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Best example of Puzzles working with Story was in my opinion the Myst Series. They didn't feel like generic in your face puzzles but subtle 'living' puzzles. By living, I mean puzzles that feel natural to the world as if everything has purpose but also feel like they exist for the story and its environment. You know what I mean?
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Old 01-14-2012, 05:12 AM   #4
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I'd like to see more games where puzzles are completely in service of the story not the other way around. Games can offer something that movies never can: complete immersion into the character, if done right games can make you feel like you ARE the character. This does NOT mean that you get a lot of cutscenes and little puzzles. On the contrary if you want to make a game really immersive you have to make EVERYTHING interactive. From mundane actions like drinking coffee to actions that link straight back to the main storyline such as searching for clues to catch the bad guy. However this does narrow the variety of the puzzles cause to make something like that one has to design puzzles that feel realistic and to be quite honest Myst like puzzles just don't. So I'd like to see more games like the one described before but it's an aquired taste, I admit.
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Old 01-14-2012, 06:12 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Oscar View Post
How much story do you like in your games compared with how much puzzling there is?
It is scientifically proved that the best story:puzzle ratio is 73.48:26.52, so I like it that way.
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Old 01-14-2012, 06:25 AM   #6
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For me, the story enhances the puzzles (which I equate to the gaming experience). Games like Myst and Riven are the perfect balance, however I'll play a Rhem game anyday over most story driven games.
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Old 01-15-2012, 04:43 AM   #7
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Having a good story has always been the most important aspect of a game for me. As long as the story is there then I don't mind getting slapped around the head with a puzzle every five seconds, and I also don't mind a near-complete lack of puzzles.
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Old 01-15-2012, 04:18 PM   #8
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Having a good story has always been the most important aspect of a game for me. As long as the story is there then I don't mind getting slapped around the head with a puzzle every five seconds, and I also don't mind a near-complete lack of puzzles.
Interesting, I'm the exact opposite. As I said, if I want a good story, I'll read a book or go to a movie. But mostly I play games for the challenge. That's why I enjoy Rhem but get bored with something like Darkstar.

Discworld comes close to being a novel with the endless dialogues. I loved the game and the story in it, but there's no way I would read it as a novel if the puzzles weren't there or I didn't control Rincewind.

I also won't play a game with too few puzzles or too little challenge, which is why I dislike casual or "lite" games and those Japanese visual novels. For the same reason I did not even make it through the demo of To The Moon.

I'm not even sure the story is important at all in computer games. The medium is one where you have *by necessity* a character to control and an environment to explore - those are prerequisites for a game and almost qualify alone as a "story" or narrative.

If you look at all the early PC and especially console games that seemed to be a much more popular philosophy in game development than it is today.
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Old 01-16-2012, 01:02 AM   #9
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Interesting, I'm the exact opposite. As I said, if I want a good story, I'll read a book or go to a movie. But mostly I play games for the challenge.
Then this is the clearest proof that the story-to-puzzle ratio is extremely subjective. If a game doesn't have a decent story to tell, but is just a series of puzzles, then I'd go fill in some crossword puzzles instead...

Two valid opinions on entire opposites of the spectrum regarding this topic.
This also means that when it comes to games, we'll rarely see eye to eye.
To each his own. De gustibus non disputandum est. Let's agree to disagree. And other standard phrases that apply here...
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Old 01-16-2012, 04:34 AM   #10
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Then this is the clearest proof that the story-to-puzzle ratio is extremely subjective. If a game doesn't have a decent story to tell, but is just a series of puzzles, then I'd go fill in some crossword puzzles instead...

Two valid opinions on entire opposites of the spectrum regarding this topic.
This also means that when it comes to games, we'll rarely see eye to eye.
To each his own. De gustibus non disputandum est. Let's agree to disagree. And other standard phrases that apply here...
Well of course: I never expected to reach some objective truth on the matter, I'm just interested in peoples' tastes

All adventure games have a story - wouldn't you rather play a game with the lightest of story than do a crossword? The reason I brought up Rhem is that it's possibly the most minimal story an adventure game can have. But even if the thinnest of story is the only thing that separates it from a crossword or tetris, that makes it all the more odd that I enjoy it much, much more than those puzzles. So looking it at it that way, your taste is much more rational.
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Old 01-16-2012, 05:11 AM   #11
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But even if the thinnest of story is the only thing that separates it from a crossword or tetris, that makes it all the more odd that I enjoy it much, much more than those puzzles. So looking it at it that way, your taste is much more rational.
Not really. We're simply looking for different things in games. You're in it for the challenge, so you'll be looking for puzzle-heavy games. I'm looking for a good story (or at the very least a fun story), so I'll be searching for the story-driven adventures (where the amount of puzzles is irrelevant).
One isn't more rational than the other. They're just two completely different preferences.
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Old 01-16-2012, 04:45 PM   #12
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For me Adventure games have always been a form of interactive story telling, that can do things that neither a movie nor a book can do, simply because you are controlling the character, and not just passivly watching or reading something.

I can forgive a game that has a great story like Dreamfall, but hasn't got much to offer in the form of puzzles, but i quickly loose interest it there isn't any real story. (The ideal is of course a balance of both)

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Then this is the clearest proof that the story-to-puzzle ratio is extremely subjective. If a game doesn't have a decent story to tell, but is just a series of puzzles, then I'd go fill in some crossword puzzles instead...
I couldn't agree more.

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On the other side of the ring there are games with lots of story - Dreamfall, Jurassic Park, A Mind Forever Voyaging. I can enjoy this type of game as long as I'm not watching cutscenes non-stop. I REALLY hate cutscenes, and will get tired of a game which overuses them. In a game where I'm guiding the player I don't mind the lack of puzzles. If I want to watch a movie, I will go to the cinema
Once again i couldn't agree more, the idea of AG is that you are controling the character, not just watching endless cutscenes.
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Old 01-17-2012, 07:49 AM   #13
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I dont mind either more story or more puzzles, as long as the game overall is immersive. I dont mind puzzle games with minimal adventuring if I know & expect that beforehand.
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Old 01-17-2012, 09:10 AM   #14
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If every adventure game had the similar puzzle/story ratio there would no diversity at all. So, the extremes happen naturally, like "all puzzles no story" or an "interactive movie" and they have their audience.

But as Siddhi said - that still isn't telling us whether the game is actually GOOD. I personally prefer classic examples with puzzles serving the good story, but i can't say for sure i won't like some game which is "all story" or a puzzle-fest.


BUT - i must confess it feels recently like it's much easier for developers to come up with a story, than good puzzles, and good story + good puzzle design is more rare. Telltale is one of those examples with their movie licenses games, containing pretty straightforward puzzle design. That's reasonable though, since the audience had to be not only adventure but movies fans as well.

But, that's fine - story IS traditionally more important, and the genre isn't popular like it used to be so there is naturally less diversity but hopefully it's getting back on track.
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Old 01-17-2012, 03:19 PM   #15
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story IS traditionally more important
Is it? Why do you say this, and what do you mean by story here? I can think of a lot of puzzles that are part of the story or add to it, in fact I might argue all puzzles add to the story.

If you tried to think of a Monkey Island without the puzzles, could you do it? You'd have to remove the swordmaster trials, the insult swordfighting, cooking on the ship, opening the monkey head.
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Old 01-17-2012, 03:48 PM   #16
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For me, to some extent it depends on the type of story it is.

If it's more of a pot-boiler or the plot relies on a sense of urgency, I feel like a lot of the momentum is lost if you spend most of your gaming time stumped about puzzles rather than experiencing the flow of the plot.

On the other hand, if a story is more of an unfolding mystery that doesn't rely on rapid story movement as a plot device, slowly making discoveries through challenging puzzles is a really satisfying way to make progress.

I think it's less that there's one perfect ratio, and more that developers need to figure out what kind of story they want to tell or what they want the overall game experience to be, and make sure the puzzle structure works with rather than against that goal.

That said, if a developer is going to err one way or the other, personally I'd rather have them err on the side of story. If a plot is interesting enough to me, it makes up for a lack of puzzles, but if the plot is too thin it doesn't hold my attention enough to make me want to put in the effort to solve lots of hard puzzles.

I think that's a matter of individual taste, though, not absolute gaming goodness - and I really think a balanced and thoughtful approach is better than either extreme.
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Old 01-17-2012, 04:42 PM   #17
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Quote:
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Is it? Why do you say this, and what do you mean by story here? I can think of a lot of puzzles that are part of the story or add to it, in fact I might argue all puzzles add to the story.

If you tried to think of a Monkey Island without the puzzles, could you do it? You'd have to remove the swordmaster trials, the insult swordfighting, cooking on the ship, opening the monkey head.
we're in the same boat - i was actually lamenting on lack of good puzzles today compared to classics and how i expect things to get better

However - Monkey Island is more "traditional" than Myst. King's Quest is more "traditional" than Professor Layton. That's why i say "story is traditionally more important than puzzles" (no matter how idiotic and unnecessary that statement is) simply because of the fact that majority of classic adventures featured puzzles to push the story, rather than weak and thin plots to present puzzles.
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Old 01-17-2012, 05:39 PM   #18
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However - Monkey Island is more "traditional" than Myst. King's Quest is more "traditional" than Professor Layton. That's why i say "story is traditionally more important than puzzles" (no matter how idiotic and unnecessary that statement is) simply because of the fact that majority of classic adventures featured puzzles to push the story, rather than weak and thin plots to present puzzles.
"Weak and thin plots to present puzzles" is pretty much the design statement for the entire King's Quest series, so I'm not sure I agree with your point. Many older adventure games tended to focus more on puzzle and exploration than on plot or characterization.
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Old 01-17-2012, 05:41 PM   #19
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A very interesting topic, that really got me thinking. As TimovieMan said, we're all different and so are developers. That's why there are different games for different tastes.

For me personally, the more story the better. I've let that known here in every other post I put up probably That's not to say I don't like minimalistic approach to storytelling. Myst, Ico, Shadow of Colossus I loved as much as say Metal Gear Solid 4 which has 30 min cutscenes. If the story and atmosphere is good, I'll play it, no matter what the genre. Gameplay just needs to support the story as Annacat pointed out. You can't make an adventure game out of an up and coming race driver for example.

I do tend to lean more towards games that can be called interactive movies however. I tried to get into all-challenge-no-story games at one point, 'cause everyone raved about those and couldn't get into them. For me it was pointless chasing the next high-score, it didn't give me anything. A good story driven game fulfills me much more.

I'm polar opposite to Oscar, whenever I want to watch a movie, I'll play a game and take part of it
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Old 01-17-2012, 08:47 PM   #20
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On the topic of exploration, one of the things I DO miss is exploration. One of the best things about the old games is that you could just roam around and feel the world.

Kings Quest 1 is a good example -- there was a lot of thrill when I first discovered that there you could explore down the well and find a dragon or climb up a beanstalk and find a giant in the sky.
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