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Old 01-15-2012, 05:49 PM   #1
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Default Puzzles - a puzzle "creativity"?

Playing Discworld Noir reminded me of this puzzle topic i've been having on for some time - how do we define a "creative" puzzle? Do we need more "creative thinking" in puzzles?

Text adventure

Well, it's already been done. I completely missed the "text parser" era, but obviously puzzle solving "creativity" in it is generally on a much higher level than full graphics counterpart, simply because of the nature of the interface and a manual input from player. I'm NOT saying typing "OPEN DOOR" is drastically more creative (or fun) than clicking the door with your mouse, but deducing important objects instead of given hot-spots, or even better - typing the vague solution by yourself, rather than selecting it from a fixed number of choices, might be.

Graphic adventure

It's hard to expect developers will suddenly start producing IFs all over again, but what would be the best way to grab a piece of that concept and plant it into the modern game?

Again, it's been done. Legend titles with text input, Sierra games like Conquest of the Longbow and Gabriel Knight series, Tex Murphy, Spycraft, In Memoriam, Frogwares' Sherlock games with its "quizzes" and even otherwise somewhat crappy Still Life 2 with few puzzles... all are perfect examples that involve some degree of "open-endedness" when searching for clues and solutions. Not to mention some usage of "real-time" like in The Last Express or couple of timed puzzles in Monkey Island. Not saying i'm not a fan of inventory puzzles or a typical 1st-person logic puzzle or that they can't be "creative", but it's more the question of puzzle variety, or even "boosting" the "creativity" within even the most traditional type of puzzles:

Deducing-detective type of puzzles, multiple choices, passwords, quizzes, riddles...

These type of puzzles are somehow "by default" considered "creative". I wanted to include terms like "lateral" or thinking outside the box, but realized there's more to it, so i'll stick with the "creativity". It wouldn't sound nice if i started explaining it, so let me give an example.

Puzzle - let's say we need to hack into the computer, but we need the password. In terms of "creativity", we can grade the levels:

1. You just click on a computer, and your character automatically enters the right password - "Aristotle", because there's a book on Greek philosophers nearby with a coffee stain on page with article on Aristotle, which you examined previously.

2. You click on a computer, and the menu with various Greek philosophers shows up where one of them is the right password, based on the book you've read and the page with the clue. Most definitely, if you select the wrong one, you can try again until you get the right answer so the puzzle can be brute-forced.

3. You need to use some kind of "clue" on a computer in order for password to become an evident. This could be an inventory item, like the book you've read and picked, or a torn page.

4. You must manually input the password, based on what you've learned by examining the book.


This is just a rough sketch, because other factors can affect the difficulty, like other books as a distraction. Manual input can also be made much easier if you see number of letters straight away.

Logic puzzles

Many Myst-like puzzles, mini-games, sliders... Lock picking in Still Life or disarming the bomb in A New Beginning is unusual and a nice change of pace, even though not everyone will welcome and like it. These sort of puzzles often evoke "love or hate" feeling, like sliders, no matter how "creative" they might be, but at least "creativity" here is also how it succeeds to feel like an integral part of the story. Apart from many typical 1st person puzzles, Spycraft mini-games really felt like it was me solving CSI stuff, compared to some similar titles where your actions are quite limited, thus feeling less creative.

Inventory puzzles

It's hard to give an answer here, since even opening door with a key has its function, and it's certainly not very "creative". So, what would be a creative inventory puzzle? I'm not a game designer, but it probably comes again to - good and logical (within the game world logic) puzzle, which won't frustrate players but won't be too obvious either, bringing the sensation of accomplishment. It could be the best of "Macgyver-like" puzzles, like those in Lost in Time. The hamster puzzle in DOTT is certainly "creative" and original, as is the inventory in Kheops games like Return to Mysterious Island that really feels like you're able to do anything no matter how tiresome it may seem at moments. I still remember the joy of solving the tape recording puzzle in GK2, just like doing the performance with Spot near the end of TWW. So it's more of - a series of "actions" or player's acknowledgment that led to solution, rather than execution itself.

Well, i wanted to ask a few questions, but this is way over the top already. So, any thoughts? What are to you most creative puzzles?

Last edited by diego; 01-15-2012 at 07:04 PM.
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Old 01-15-2012, 08:31 PM   #2
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The most creative puzzles i have seen in a long time was in Sam&Max s3, where you had to use max's psychic abilities, like seeing into the future, reading someones mind or changing into some object etc.

What made them fun was that it never quite gave you the result you was hoping for, like when you had to bet on which special move Skunkabe would use in a fight, using the ability to look into the future wouldn't directly tell which ability he used, but you would get enough information to deduce it.

In The Tomb of Sammun-Mak they had divided the game into 4 film reels (chapters), and whenever you got stuck on one reel you had to switch to another to find the information you needed to solve the puzzle you got stuck on.
Strictly speaking this is not really a single puzzle, but more of a change in the flow of the game, i however still think it put a nice spin to the puzzle solving.

I could also mention the time travels in the first Diskworld game, which is not so different from the film reels in Sam&Max.

And I was also quite fond of the way you had to use Spot's ability to change form in The Wispered World.

To answer your first question, then i would define a creative puzzles as something that has to be solved in an entirely new way, rather then just be a variation on some old theme, and would force the players to actually think about it how to solve it.

If we take your example with hacking into a computer, then neither of the options you give is really anything i would thing of as creative, as long as the password is in a book I have found, then i don't really care how I have to enter it. (I'm trying really hard to come up with a creative example of how to hack the computer, but aperantly i lack the imaginitation).

One more thing, which is perhaps slightly off topic:
I would really like to see more dialog based puzzles, like in Culpa Innata or L.A. Noire, though not necessarily in the exact same way as in these two games.

And finaly to answer the second question you started with:
Yes we definitly need more "creative thinking" in puzzles, there are simply too much of the same old puzzles.
The good thing is that there seems to be a lot of never games, where the developers at least have tried to be creative when designing the puzzles.
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Old 01-15-2012, 10:43 PM   #3
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I think we should define "creative" a bit better.
Seems like diego is also referring to creativity that's asked of the player.
I'd say that's really hard to reach in an adventure game as opposed to e.g. an open world game or something like scribblenauts.
If you have a really complex logic or mechanical puzzle where you can find your very only formula and way to figure it out I'd say you could call that creative in a way.
But basically in an adventure game you are following a given path or choose between given paths. In almost any modern shooter or rpg you can be more creative than in an adventure game meaning you can follow paths that weren't intended or planned by the developers, find exploits etc. AI (artificial intelligence) is something one can have a lot of fun with.
Adventures generally lack AI. And thus fun. (Just kidding.)

But come to think of it, you can be more creative in Doom 1 of the early 90ies with its very crude and downright stupid AI than in any game in the top 10 of the Adenture Gamers Top100. Probably except Portal2.
The goal is set and the method, but the ways are unlimited.

Perhaps what diego means is for the part of the player better described as the opposite of spoonfed. (Help me out here, I really couldn't come up with a better term right now. It's not autonomy. It comes down to "work", even if it's fun. Perhaps knowledge in some instances.)

For the part of the designer I think we are in the same boat when talking about creativity or as diego also called it: "originality"

I have many gripes with Telltale's games but I'll have to agree with Iznogood on that: They have by far the most creative puzzles today from what I've seen. Tales of Monkey Island had some very dull and horribly repetitive ones, but some were excellent. (I know I was especially delighted with 3 or 4, even if I can't remember them exactly. Every game has a high replay value for me nowadays. )
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Old 01-15-2012, 11:58 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by diego View Post
So, any thoughts?
I have a thought: why don't you write a couple of tables you owe to a certain community instead of writing these (a hundred pages or so ) tractates?
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Old 01-16-2012, 12:27 AM   #5
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I consider inventory puzzles to be logic puzzles because they depend on understanding the logic of the game's world and using some lateral thinking. It is these types of puzzles i prefer in an adventure game as it feels more organic to the story.

I feel if a puzzle advances the story and depends on understanding the world of the game rather than an isolated mental challenge, it increases the enjoyment and replay value of the game.

There's a documentary on text adventures called GET LAMP that interviews a lot of people who developed the Infocom text adventures and during the documentary one of the developers says "How many times do you want to solve the same crossword?"

That's the question that runs through my mind when I play some of these adventure games and run into a well known puzzle that's been used to death like a maze or a slider puzzle that serves no real purpose to the story but is merely an obstacle to pad game length. To me, games like Professor Layton are like this and I feel they're basically filler you play in between real adventures. However, Layton can be forgiven somewhat because they have a ton of style.

So, if you ask me what the most creative type of puzzle is I will respond by saying: the type of puzzle that fits organically in the game world and complements the story rather than feeling like a needless obstacle.

Last edited by thejobloshow; 01-16-2012 at 05:37 AM.
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Old 01-16-2012, 12:52 AM   #6
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I'm very interested in creative puzzles, I've studied in details some of the puzzles that I believe it was you Diego who suggested long time ago, puzzles like:
*GK1 writing on tomb.
*GK2 tape-recorder splicing.
*Sherlock Holmes (forgot which one) typing the next location.


And those were really useful examples to open my mind with, however if I had to rate them practically I would say they are all awful, the GK ones requires such exact grammar that it's not creative it's more "let's guess a million times which sentence structure the developer chose" and as for the SH one I can't really comment as no matter how many walkthroughs I looked through I couldn't find the explanation for how you were supposed to realize what the next location was (other than reading it from walkthrough).

So at least when it comes to my difficulty-level I don't see creative puzzles having ever worked, however I'm still very interested in them in theory, I'm sure they have a huge potential!
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Old 01-16-2012, 02:12 AM   #7
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So, if you ask me what the most creative type of puzzle is I will respond by saying: the type of puzzle that fits organically in the game world and complements the story rather than feeling like a needless obstacle.
^ This.

With the exception of Professor Layton, where the puzzles have nothing to do with the story itself, because that was the purpose for those games in the first place...

But really, this is something that's incredibly hard to define, imo.
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Old 01-16-2012, 05:38 AM   #8
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Logic puzzles can be extremely creative. I think of Rhem and Riven as one big puzzle using exploration, curiosity and observation to work your way through the environment. These games have multilayered puzzles that challenge you spacially and strategically.
Unfortunately, these type of games must be difficult to produce, and probably take a certain talent to create. For now, I anxioiusly away Knut Mueller's Rhem 5.
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Old 01-16-2012, 04:19 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Shnubble View Post
I think we should define "creative" a bit better.
Seems like diego is also referring to creativity that's asked of the player.
I'd say that's really hard to reach in an adventure game as opposed to e.g. an open world game or something like scribblenauts.
If you have a really complex logic or mechanical puzzle where you can find your very only formula and way to figure it out I'd say you could call that creative in a way.
I agree that creativity in puzzles, is not just a case of designing new types of puzzles, but also a question of letting the player be creative when solving them. The two things are however closely connected, in order to allow us players to be creative, the designers first have to make some creative new puzzle designs.

Making puzzles that have multiple solutions could be a way to make AG more creative, but it seem like puzzles with only one solution is in the very nature of AG, and i have a hard time imagining how it could work, and still be a AG.
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Old 01-18-2012, 06:13 AM   #10
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If we take your example with hacking into a computer, then neither of the options you give is really anything i would thing of as creative, as long as the password is in a book I have found, then i don't really care how I have to enter it.
The point is - you DON'T KNOW whether the password is correct or not even when you DID find the right clue. Because there're other clues, other books for example. Let's imagine a scene like this:



With good game design, there should be several clues pointing to the right direction when searching for a computer pass. Like, the owner of the computer is interested in philosophy, then there's a book on Greek philosophers at a bookcase with underlined article on Aristotle. There's also an Aristotle bust on the desk. Chances are, "Aristotle" could be the right password.

Now, in "low creativity", you will just CLICK on a computer and your character will AUTOMATICALLY type the password. "High creativity" will force YOU, the player to think about what could the password be based on clues you've found, and enter it by yourself, or choose one in menu of "Socrates, Plato and Aristotle".

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Originally Posted by Iznogood View Post
The most creative puzzles i have seen in a long time was in Sam&Max s3, where you had to use max's psychic abilities, like seeing into the future, reading someones mind or changing into some object etc.
Yes, some "underlying" puzzle concept can greatly boost the puzzle design. It's like morphing ability in Journeyman Project 3, or building the flying machine in Toonstruck.


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as for the SH one I can't really comment as no matter how many walkthroughs I looked through I couldn't find the explanation for how you were supposed to realize what the next location was (other than reading it from walkthrough).
Why did you read the walkthrough before playing the game? I can guarantee there are 2 perfect clues that point in the right direction, so you can logically deduce what location to type. I'd wish you can still play it, but if you want to spoil it, those are:

Spoiler:
fish scale and rope found at the crime scene. Back at 221B, you'll analyze those and Holmes will deduce things like that rope comes from a boat and fresh water and that fish scale is from a saltwater (river Thames is both salty and fresh). From those, you can deduce things that they come from a "port", "dock", "wharf", "Thames" whatever.


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Logic puzzles can be extremely creative.
Yes, most certainly. But it is true they demand a lot of thought put in since they're sort of "game within the game", unless it's a copy-paste material with recognizable logic puzzles. So the point is - there is more and less "creativity" with them also. Like the quite easy jigsaw



and a more complicated one

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Old 01-18-2012, 06:25 AM   #11
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Yes, most certainly. But it is true they demand a lot of thought put in since they're sort of "game within the game", unless it's a copy-paste material with recognizable logic puzzles. So the point is - there is more and less "creativity" with them also. Like the quite easy jigsaw



and a more complicated one

That's not creativity. That's just the same puzzle, but harder. I'm thinking more of let's say....

You have the pieces to a puzzle.The finished puzzle will give you information needed to continue the game. You do the jigsaw and realize that the information isn't contained in the finished puzzle. Unless you explore more or review your preconception, you do not notice that the answer is on the back of the puzzle. Perhaps you need to slide it over a glass surface to see what's underneath.
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Old 01-18-2012, 06:36 AM   #12
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That's not creativity. That's just the same puzzle, but harder.
fair enough, not a perfect example, but in the first instance - the jigsaw is not only the single one, but turned already in the right direction. In second example, you need to figure the positions of jigsaws as well, thus it will bring more "creative" side to it.
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Old 01-18-2012, 07:09 AM   #13
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fair enough, not a perfect example, but in the first instance - the jigsaw is not only the single one, but turned already in the right direction. In second example, you need to figure the positions of jigsaws as well, thus it will bring more "creative" side to it.
I would say most of the Myst/Riven type of games fall in this category. You have clues lying around which you have to interpret and solve the puzzle.
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Old 01-18-2012, 11:05 AM   #14
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That's not creativity. That's just the same puzzle, but harder. I'm thinking more of let's say....

You have the pieces to a puzzle.The finished puzzle will give you information needed to continue the game. You do the jigsaw and realize that the information isn't contained in the finished puzzle. Unless you explore more or review your preconception, you do not notice that the answer is on the back of the puzzle. Perhaps you need to slide it over a glass surface to see what's underneath.
Actually in my mind his example was the best of them all because it describes the change in 'complexity' more so than trying to describe an actual difference between puzzles.

Complexity is usual addition with creative puzzles but not always, though its rare.

best example is a mega puzzle that requires other puzzles to solve puzzles that connect other puzzles to the mega puzzle. Confusing? Well thats what happens you need an explanation. INCEPTION!
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Old 01-18-2012, 05:32 PM   #15
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The point is - you DON'T KNOW whether the password is correct or not even when you DID find the right clue. Because there're other clues, other books for example. Let's imagine a scene like this:



With good game design, there should be several clues pointing to the right direction when searching for a computer pass. Like, the owner of the computer is interested in philosophy, then there's a book on Greek philosophers at a bookcase with underlined article on Aristotle. There's also an Aristotle bust on the desk. Chances are, "Aristotle" could be the right password.

Now, in "low creativity", you will just CLICK on a computer and your character will AUTOMATICALLY type the password. "High creativity" will force YOU, the player to think about what could the password be based on clues you've found, and enter it by yourself, or choose one in menu of "Socrates, Plato and Aristotle".
Well yes i see your point - But i still think this has more to do with the difficulty of the puzzle, then how creative you as a player has to be to solve it.

A creative puzzle doesn't necessarily has to be difficult, and a difficult puzzle isn't neccesarily creative, in my book these are two different things. Part of the reason i mentioned the "Guess the Skunkabe move" from Sam&Max, is that it was actualy a quite easy puzzle, but it still gave you that "What the h... - AHA" experince.

If i play along with your idea:
Just automaticlly typing the password is simply too easy, and doesn't require any creative thinking.
Showing a list of different philosophers would give away that we are looking for a philosopher, and would take away the AHA experince from the player.
Having to type the password might be the one that force the player to actually think, but it has the problem of misspelling, players might correctly guess the password, but then be rejected because they have misspelled it, and then spend hours looking for the "correct" password.

I still have nightmares about the old text adventures where you had to type everything, and which especially for us who don't have english as first language, made it more a question of guessing the correct spelling and syntax, than actually solving the puzzles

I unfortunately can't see how you example can work as a creative puzzle, without adding some other element to it.
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Old 01-18-2012, 05:56 PM   #16
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Regarding "Logical Puzzles" in the form of mini-games, then we are indeed many that hate them. The problem is that it is extremly rare that they are well integrated into the rest of the game.

I mean how many safes in real life is actually opened by solving a sliding puzzle?
And most of the time you just end up randomly pressing buttons, while watching tv at the same time.

I however agree that if they are designed well, and are properly integrated into the game, then they do have the potential to be creative.
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Old 01-18-2012, 06:17 PM   #17
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One thing that i think has been overlooked in the thread is the potential of Dialog based puzzles, i think there is great potential for creative thinking here.

Take Culpa Innata as an example, you had only a limited amount of questions you could ask, and if you pursued the wrong line of dialog then you would either run out of questions or they would be offended and refuse to talk to you, and you would have to come back the next day, and perhaps smooth things over before they would tell you anything.

This meant that you actually have to think about what to ask or say, why you visited the character in the first place, what they might or might not know, and how you are going to get them to reveal it.

If that doesn't qualify as forcing the player to thing creative, then i don't know what does.
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Old 01-22-2012, 06:42 AM   #18
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Lock picking in Still Life or disarming the bomb in A New Beginning is unusual and a nice change of pace, even though not everyone will welcome and like it.
Ugh, that lock picking puzzle was the worst I've seen. Even after using a walkthrough I have no idea of how its logic or how we were supposed to work it out.
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