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Puzzle design in gaming

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Total Posts: 69

Joined 2018-01-11

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Hello!  I’m pretty new here, so I hope this is the right place to put this post, as I don’t want to limit our discussion to only adventure games. 

Anyways I just wanted to talk about notable puzzles that are well designed, or in general what makes a good versus bad puzzle design, and what kind of impact that has on a game (be it video game or even tabletop game).  I’ve done a little research into people that are puzzle designers, (I’m jealous of that job, like the people that work in professor layton games.  Wow!) their process etc. 
(I searched the forum but only found threads on puzzle difficulty.)

My final goal is to use what I learn about puzzles in a tabletop RPG, which presents it’s own challenges as the Player and the character are kind of separate people, but that’s a classy problem for later.

I tend to prefer a nice mix of inventory object puzzles, dialog puzzles, and logic puzzles.

I’ve actually not played a ton of adventure games, and beaten even fewer, so I’m hoping that you all can point me in the direction of well-executed puzzles that have that satisfying feeling oh “oh look how clever I am.”

So I divide puzzles up into these categories:

Logic puzzles; where the player has to use their brain, some guess-work, good ol logic, etc.  The Character in the game doesn’t really have to do anything.  A good example of that would be the direct cipher letters in broken sword.  The player does all the work substituting letters in trial by error until it starts to come together.  Ideally, these provide a starting point, a goal, and a clear way to tease out a solution to arrive at your goal through whatever means a parameters the puzzle provides.

Inventory-object puzzles:  You’re required to have picked up the thing, and bring to the (probably incongruous) place to use it in a probably novel fashion.  In Adventure games this isn’t that bad because the majority of inventories are like puzzle objects, and then junk usually.  The problem becomes when a game has a mix of these items, and utility items, and does a poor job of separating them.  I can’t tell you how many RPG’s I’ve played where you receive a seemingly useless object, only for it be used once in a very specific place.  In RPGS that wouldn’t be so bad except potions, elixir etc all have utility.  Have you ever played Earthbound?  It stores all key items and utility items in the same inventory (it’s maddening really), where as in a game like final fantasy, they are usually put in a “key items” inventory (and never really require you to pick the item and “use” it anyways).  Some inventory puzzles are pretty coherent, and some are cute quirky, or creative, and that’s all good.  See it falls apart for me when I start playing something like The Longest Journey.  The way the inventory is expected to be used together to solve puzzles make NO sense! I was a big fan of Funcom games, so my heart was broken when I just could not figure out how to pick this thing up off of the train rail, in which you have to get like an inflatable duck, a ring, clamps, and something else and combine them to retrieve something else
which after trying everything with everything else, I just gave up, and looked up a walkthrough which really ruins adventure games for me.  The problem is that this logic is never consistent.  In the same game (before stark or arcadia, or whatever the fantasy world is called) they recycle one of those reflect the laser beam with a mirror puzzle.  The logic there is very straightforward and a little cliche. I’ve never included this type of puzzle in a table top game, but I expect what I will do is allow characters to have a personal inventory for utility written on character sheets, and then a party inventory where puzzle items are kept distinct.  (I haven’t decided yet, there might not be any utility items.)

The last one I would call skill check puzzles, and maybe they don’t count at all, but it’s when you can learn information or proceed because of the character’s skill, not the player’s.  Your character has a hacking skill, so he gets a hint on the password to open the door, or he can just open it.  Other character’s lore skill reminds them of a 2nd entrance long abandoned (and so on).  It’s kind of the polar opposite of the first puzzle type where it is completely dependent on the player and not the character. (think QFG series)


I think as mentioned on Josh Brycer’s blog, it’s very important to have a clearly defined goal with a clear understanding of whats preventing my advancement in the game.  And then the means to which that is resolved can be presented in varying levels of clarity depending on the puzzle.  Ideally, the puzzle pieces you have to work with and the logic of how to arrive at the goal is clear as well, but I’ve solved a lot of puzzles in my day just by playing with numbers, or sliding tiles or whatever.

Have you ever noticed some games have included hint systems?  In games like broken sword it’s really helpful, but I get stressed out about getting a bad score, and won’t use it.  In games like Theresia, Dear Emile, or even 9 hours 9 persons 9 doors, there are built in hint systems that I love because in those games they are usually context sensitive.  In Theresia the protagonist I think flat out says “There’s nothing else in this room”  If you’ve activated the hint system in a completed room or will mention the thing they picked up from the room, and how it could be used.  This is really useful for when you come back to a game after a long time.  999 does a thing a like with it’s hint system (mix of inventory object and logic puzzles) where the first hint is a gentle nudge in the right direction, the second hint gives you a start on the puzzle, and the third hint goes on to say more explicitly what you should do or how the pieces fit together.  I like this hint system because I often need a nudge to follow the developer’s design language, but I don’t want a ton of help.

     

Can we be friends please?

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