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Old 04-09-2012, 11:56 PM   #1
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Default Good puzzles and bad puzzles

What makes a puzzle good for you? And what makes it bad?

For me, whether a puzzle is good or not depends on whether the game makes me want to solve it. If a story makes me really care about the characters and their predicament, I'll want to see what happens to them, I'll want to help them and will go through trials to make sure that happens. Even if the puzzles are not very well done, I'll overlook that because I want to rescue my lover, or find the secret of the tomb, or solve the murder.

That's what made games like Quest for Glory good for me, even though the puzzles were often too easy and generally not very good. But it also explains why Quest for Glory 3 was the worst of the series (let's just forget Dragon Fire ever happened). That game had very few characters that had any connection with the hero, except towards the end which included the option to have a very cursive "romance". And the 7th Guest was full of bad puzzles, but I endured them because the story was gripping.
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Old 04-10-2012, 12:40 AM   #2
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Integration of a puzzle with the story is key, but I also think that good puzzles have a quality of elegance that's difficult to put into words.

It's easier to say what a good puzzle generally isn't.

* It's not needlessly convoluted. Anybody can make a puzzle harder by adding a step. It takes cleverness to make a puzzle harder by simplifying it. There are rare exceptions to this rule - see the Babel Fish puzzle in Hitchhiker's Guide - but it's still a solid rule.

* It doesn't jar with the tone of the game-world. A goofy puzzle in a grim game stands out very badly. In some games, there's no problem with a recipe-baking puzzle. In others...

* It isn't arbitrary. If there's more than one way a reasonable person could solve the problem, alternative solutions are either accepted or believably explained away.

* It isn't badly-clued. Progress towards the solution is supported; steps taken away from the solution are discouraged. No mind-reading is needed to see the answer, only careful thought and a little insight.

* It doesn't lean on tired, overused methods of solution. A great puzzle requires the player to make a creative leap - something they've honestly never thought of in a computer game before. It could be realistic, but implementing a part of reality that nobody's thought to put into a computer game before. It could be fantastical, but based on a really novel use of an unusual magic system.

* It doesn't demand more time than it is worth. Once the method of solution is seen, finishing the puzzle shouldn't require plodding across too many screens, repeating the same moves over and over, or "mowing the conversational lawn" by clicking on every possible option.

* It doesn't involve a big keyhole, a door with a crack under it, a long, thin object, and a newspaper.
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Old 04-10-2012, 02:19 AM   #3
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ok i will put the story aside and just talk about a good puzzle, for me it is this one with a sort of chains of reactions .. i need open a door and the key is in a drawer, the drawer is surely locked but to open it i need to make a favor to someone, he is hungry , so i go to the woods collect mushrooms he doesn't like them raw so i need fire ...and so on and maybe when he gives me the key for the drawer, and when i use it gets broken i need to fix , ..... kindda like the King's Quest's and Whispered World Puzzles

but on the other hand to open a door and all i need is some pixel hunting and here i go!!...

i just love complicated things when every thing you have in your inventory it not what it seems to be,.. a key doesn't mean i will use to open a door, naah maybe its gold and i have to melt it and transform it to something else, a shovel doesnt mean i will dig a grave but maybe i can use it hold or keep and window from closing.

at the end i like puzzles that is not that straight forward
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Old 04-10-2012, 09:08 AM   #4
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I like to adventure in my games, not overuse my brain capacity. Therefore I will answer that any puzzle, where is skip-option is great.
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Old 04-10-2012, 10:26 AM   #5
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A good puzzle has a logical solution that does not depend on happenstance (i.e. try everything on everyone), timing, or dexterity.
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Old 04-10-2012, 12:09 PM   #6
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A good puzzle should fit within the story, and once the solution is apparent, it shouldn't be tedious to solve.
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Old 04-10-2012, 12:46 PM   #7
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A good puzzle is the one where you enjoy to be stuck.

Like, now i'm doing the "clock puzzle" in Awakened. I know i have all the necessary info, and i'm not thinking of looking the solution even though i'm "stuck" at it for 2 days.
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Old 04-10-2012, 01:25 PM   #8
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Quote:
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A good puzzle is the one where you enjoy to be stuck.
man that is that ... just perfect said... (enjoying being stuck), and when you figure it out , you feel damn rewarded !!!!!!!!!!!!
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Old 04-10-2012, 10:17 PM   #9
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Quote:
ok i will but the story aside and just talk about a good puzzle, for me it is this with one with a sort of chains of reactions .. i need open a door and the key is in a drawer, the drawer is surely locked but to open it i need to make a favor to someone, he is hungry , so i go to the woods collect mushrooms he doesn't like them raw so i need fire ...and so on and maybe when he gives me the key for the drawer, and when i use it gets broken i need to fix , ..... kindda like the King's Quest's and Whispered World Puzzles
This can go both ways for me. If I feel like the game is letting me make a plan, and that plan makes sense for my character, I like it. But other times, it feels to me as if the designers just tacked on another puzzle to the chain to lengthen it.

If I have to trade the saw for a hammer, what did that really do for the story? Why not just give me the hammer first? It's not as if it's hard to figure out.

Quote:
i just love complicated things when every thing you have in your inventory it not what it seems to be,.. a key doesn't mean i will use to open a door, naah maybe its gold and i have to melt it and transform it to something else, a shovel doesnt mean i will dig a grave but maybe i can use it hold or keep and window from closing.
Totally.

It's really great when a game makes you use an item more than once in clever ways! For example, maybe you use the shovel to dig, then you use it to hold open a window, and finally you dress it in a wig and googly-eyes to make a bride for the Shovel King.

Best example of using a standard inventory item/spell in wonderful ways: the Draft of Opening in Loom. How many ways does Bobbin find to use that spell, and its reverse, through the game? It'd be a spoiler to say any details, but it is amazing.
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Old 04-10-2012, 11:18 PM   #10
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man that is that ... just perfect said... (enjoying being stuck), and when you figure it out , you feel damn rewarded !!!!!!!!!!!!
There is no way in the universe where i would enjoy being stuck. Simply. No. Way.
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Old 04-10-2012, 11:23 PM   #11
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Quote:
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There is no way in the universe where i would enjoy being stuck. Simply. No. Way.
What about when you're stuck and then solve it on your own? No pleasure there?
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Old 04-11-2012, 02:00 AM   #12
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Quote:
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What about when you're stuck and then solve it on your own? No pleasure there?
Absolutely no. It brings only "oh my god, how stupid I was! I should have understood this sooner" -reaction.
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Old 04-11-2012, 02:05 AM   #13
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You're tough on yourself. It would never occur to me that I should have understood some of the mind-numbing puzzles in Riven or RHEM or even Discworld before many hours of note-taking, brainstorming and trial-and-erroring.
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Old 04-11-2012, 02:37 AM   #14
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You're tough on yourself. It would never occur to me that I should have understood some of the mind-numbing puzzles in Riven or RHEM or even Discworld before many hours of note-taking, brainstorming and trial-and-erroring.
If I want to test my brain capacity, I play puzzle games. If I feel adventurous, I play adventure games. Simple as that.

That is to say that difficult, unskippable puzzles can kill the game for me. When I want to adventure, it's all about solving the mystery and focusing to the story. From time to time I hear complaining about too easy puzzles in adventures or whining about mundane tasks. That doesn't bother me one bit. But when I have to crack some freaking slider puzzle or arrange the order of some stupid balls in the stone disc, it really irritates me, not to mention anything involving chess!!! Mathematics aren't my strongest point and when I feel adventurous, I want to explore, solve the case and talk with people. It does not include a will to understand alien objects and frustrating number- or calculating-infested business.
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Old 04-11-2012, 02:43 AM   #15
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Quote:
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If I want to test my brain capacity, I play puzzle games. If I feel adventurous, I play adventure games. Simple as that.
Yes, but is an adventure without any challenge really an adventure?
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Old 04-11-2012, 04:40 AM   #16
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Anything mechanical and logical with switches valve wheels and levers, probably because I am an engineer.

Playing J.U.L.I.A at present and just love the schematic puzzles
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Old 04-11-2012, 07:53 AM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MoonBird
Absolutely no. It brings only "oh my god, how stupid I was! I should have understood this sooner" -reaction.
I'd sooner get that from using a walkthrough than from finding the solution on my own...
Finding it without help makes me happy, even if I should have found it sooner.

Good puzzles actually reward you for solving them, and I don't necessarily mean by giving you a cutscene or by advancing the plot or anything. If you get a sense of satisfaction out of solving a certain puzzle all by yourself, then that was a good puzzle, imo.

For some reason, this reminds me of the back alley password puzzle in Monkey Island 2 (where the doorguard holds up a number of fingers on one hand - "if this is X then Y is...?"). I spent nearly fifteen minutes with trial-and-error on that before I started taking notes. The second I started taking notes, the pattern became obvious. And if I'm not mistaken, that's also how I solved it fifteen years ago - I eventually started taking notes.
Good thing I'd forgotten the solution this time around...

Quote:
Originally Posted by MoonBird
Mathematics aren't my strongest point and when I feel adventurous, I want to explore, solve the case and talk with people. It does not include a will to understand alien objects and frustrating number- or calculating-infested business.
Actionless RPGs and interactive novels, basically?
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Old 04-11-2012, 10:46 AM   #18
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Bad puzzle is illogical. Perfect example in Secret Files (I think the first one). You need water. You are inside a museum, you can go driving around the town, you can visit your father's home. But instead of just - you know - going for the closest faucet you need to unscrew a radiator to get the water that's inside it. Seriously. This was the kind of stuff that really let me down on Lost Horizon, that had so much potential otherwise. Among with the 1001 errand boy puzzles (which are fine when there's one or two here and there).

Another example would be just a random scenario where you need to break a window. You have a brick, a board, a helmet and a hammer. But you are not able to break that window. You need to find a rock that's basically the same weight as the brick to break that damn window.

Or just hunting a pencil anywhere with civilisation. Really, ask someone or buy one for pete's sake.

The solutions can be goofy sometimes, especially in games that are supposed to be weird, like Sam and Max.

Then there are plenty of good puzzles, that's why I like adventure games .
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Old 04-11-2012, 01:25 PM   #19
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Actionless RPGs and interactive novels, basically?
Guess why I thoroghly enjoyed "To The Moon"
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Old 04-11-2012, 03:31 PM   #20
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Here are my attitudes toward what is good and bad puzzle design.

1. A good puzzle should be solvable even if you don't have great motor reflexes. A puzzle that can't be solved with a walkthru is a bad puzzle.
Adventure games aren't action games and shouldn't be treated as such. If I want to kill or have to be an action hero, I'll play an FPS game or Tomb Raider.

2. all logic or mechanical puzzles should have a skip option. Some people just can't solve mechanical puzzles. And with some, you have to have Mensa certification to solve sometimes. If it can't be solved with a walkthru, it should be able to be skipped.
In Still Life, which otherwise was a fantastic adventure, there was a mechanical puzzle that required well over 20 precise moves to solve. It could have taken hours, but I used a walkthru. There was no skip option. Bad idea.

3. A good puzzle is challenging but not overly tedious. If you have to perform a difficult action more than twice, it's a bad puzzle. For example, the Marsh puzzle in "Return to Mysterious Island 2." You have to use a stick to probe the marsh for firm ground. It's pixel hunting at its absolute worst. And you have to do it three times. It can take hours and you can't save until the puzzle is finished. I quit the game at that point because of it.
In Agon, from Lapland to Madagascar, in the Madagascar section there is a puzzle where you have to follow a lemur into a jungle, but the only clues to the maze are his cries. There is no way to bypass it and unless you have very good hearing or are using headphones, the sounds aren't very distinctive. But you can't finish the game without solving this puzzle. To me, that is very bad puzzle design. A puzzle should not depend on the quality of the player's equipment. I'm almost deaf in one ear from too many years playing in front of Marshall stacks. I could not solve that puzzle. Another game quit in the middle.

4. A good puzzle should integrate into the story and some clue to it's solution should be provided in the game, unless it is obvious, such as a needed key.

5. One style of puzzle design I absolutely hate is being unable to pick up an object until you need it or until a character mentions the need for it, especially if it doesn't even show up as usable until it's needed. How can anyone figure out what is useable amongst hundreds of drawn items unless there is a hot spot. Runaway was notorious for this style of puzzle design.
Or you must try this or that or say this or that before you can actually use something you already have figured out how to use. Rigid, linear design has no place in an adventure game where out of the box thinking is usually required.

4. Some of the greatest adventures of all time had some of these drawbacks. But, except for those which were unfinishable because of bad puzzles, we plodded along and endured some of the bad puzzles because of all the good ones.

Some would disagree with me, but I really hated the furnace scene in GK2. Having to time the push at exactly the right second was tedious, even with a walkthru. I also wasn't crazy about the chase scene, but the greatness of the rest of the game made up for it.

Perhaps I'm just an old curmudgeon, but give me an adventure with inventory puzzles, puzzles based on written documents and clues, symbols and designs which indicate how a puzzle is configured and even a few totally bizarre McGyverish puzzles with good voice acting and a great story and I'm in adventure game heaven.
The greatest adventure I ever played was The Longest Journey, followed pretty closely by Gabriel Knight, Sins of the Fathers, and Syberia. Of course, the other Sierra games and LucasArts games are all up there in the top 20.
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