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Best and worst *final* puzzles?

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Hi guys!

I just wanted to ask if anyone can think of any notoriously great or awful last/final puzzles in adventure games (old and new)?

Developers tend to fall into the trap of trying to ramp up the tension during the climax, and I know this can lead to puzzles that fall out of step with the rest of the game. But I’m keen to hear your highlights and lowlights in this area!

(Context: I’m making a game myself and want to know what to avoid).

     
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I played The Antidote recently. Overall the game was a pleasant surprise for me, but the final puzzle which was a maze really was a bad design choice.

I think having a maze near the end of the game is always a bad design choice (Jane Jensen, are you reading this?), but in The Antidote there was absolutely nothing at all after the maze except for a small outro cutscene, so it really didn’t work for me.

I suppose true maze lovers, all three of you out there, might feel differently about it.

But to answer your question: don’t use mazes after the midpoint of the game.


Also, Trüberbrook ending was bad.

     

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GateKeeper - 10 September 2020 07:25 AM

(Jane Jensen, are you reading this?)

Haha. Jane Jensen came to mind immediately. Particularly talented at making terrible final puzzles. From memory Gray Matter (no pun) and GK2 were especially bad, inorganic and badly executed.

     
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let it flow let flow, the adventurere gamer said.

it was always a theme to make the last puzzle dreadful, look MI3, 5 amazing chapters and a dreadful ending last chapter puzzle.

LSL2, as much as all complaint about how absurd the puzzles all along the game were (which is true) but the last single one what is needed exactly to be typed at the parser to finish the game is too dreadful, even in LSL2 standards.

Even Riven ending as much as it is too simple and not difficult at all as with all the standard of the puzzles at the game, makes the whole experience just below expectation, takes half a star at least of the game’s rating, which should have been 5/5, IMO.

MI2, should i remind you… many many games devs pre 2000, had to give the last part something different which makes the experience a bit strange after finishing it all.

     
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The incredibly hard Hanoi Tower puzzle at the end of REAH.

     

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There’s an incredibly difficult puzzle at the end of The Moment of Silence, a Mystian (or rather, a Schizmian) nightmare, totally out of sync with the rest of the game, which is mostly easy/classic inventory puzzles.
I spent hours on this puzzle alone, and hated every moment of it.

     
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Vehelon - 10 September 2020 07:45 AM

Haha. Jane Jensen came to mind immediately. Particularly talented at making terrible final puzzles. From memory Gray Matter (no pun) and GK2 were especially bad, inorganic and badly executed.

I think GK 2:s end puzzles are pretty ok. Action/timed segments that actually need logic thinking to get through. GK 3:s end puzzles on the other hand… The puzzle elements in the end segments are seriously underclued.

rtrooney - 10 September 2020 10:35 AM

The incredibly hard Hanoi Tower puzzle at the end of REAH.

Agree. Should be illegal to throw a puzzle like that at the player at the end of any game.

Seems like many developers think it’s “good game design” to throw a very hard, borderline unsolvable, puzzle/action segment at the player near the end of their games. Maybe the rationale behind such thinking is that the player may not want the game to end or may feel that it was to short without spending hours on solving a difficult puzzle or managing a timed action sequence. Talk about counterproductive thinking. I HATE that kind of game design. There are many examples, but the only game (apart from REAH) that comes to mind is Baron Wittard. It throws a really difficult slider puzzle at the player just before the end movie. Good thing noone was recording me cursing the developer at that point.

I think a game’s difficulty curve, at least in story driven games, should peak somewhere around the middle or 3/4 into the game. That far into a game I usually want to focus more on the story etc. instead of dealing with ever more difficult puzzles.

     
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Veovis - 10 September 2020 12:02 PM

GK 3:s end puzzles on the other hand… The puzzle elements in the end segments are seriously underclued.

Definitely the worst moment in the entire game (despite people tend to claim it’s the cat mustache puzzle). Several weird out-of-place puzzles in a row that easily kill you after hours of traditional first-class adventure gameplay, like Jane ran out of ideas by the end (or, more likely, out of time/budget). Oh yes, and Return to Zork is famous for one of the most atrocious ending puzzles, but I don’t think anyone tried to replicate it ever after.

And I generally don’t like timed puzzles at the end. I know developers want to make the final more exсiting, but I often leave the game more frustrated than exсited. As for my favourites… I can’t actually recall a really good ending puzzle which I would like to recommend Smile I think Legend Entertainment usually finished their games with some super unusual puzzles that challenged everything you saw before, but I don’t remember how Death Gate or Gateway or Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon ended.

     

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Obsidian had a very difficult puzzle at the end.  You had 16 buttons, 8 functional ones and 8 that were fake.  If you pushed one of the fake ones, all 8 fake buttons would slide to new random positions.  It was very difficult spotting where each button ended up in order to avoid them.  I loved the game and did manage to solve the puzzle through sheer persistence, but when I decide to play it again, I will be taking a screenshot of the moving buttons.  The 2 endings, by the way, were well worth the struggle.

     

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The very first thing I thought of was KQV.
I’ve never found the logic - even twisted logic in it. It’s a brute-force / use-everything-with-everything finale.

     

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I thought the final “puzzle” in Star Trek: 25th Anniversary was pretty bad since it’s just another spaceship battle. As I remember it, there are a couple of those throughout the game, and as arcade sequences in point-and-click adventures go I think these are actually among the better ones I’ve seen. They fit with the theme of the game, and the controls aren’t terrible. But the final battle is just so much harder than the ones before it (and perhaps I’m just not very good at it) that I found it very frustrating.

In the sequel, Judgment Rites, the the first thing the game asked me to do was to select the combat difficulty level, which immediately made it the far superior game in my mind.

Come to think of it, Future Wars and Space Quest III were also games that I thought had unnecessarily lengthy arcade sequences at or near the end.

     
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Ninth - 10 September 2020 10:49 AM

There’s an incredibly difficult puzzle at the end of The Moment of Silence, a Mystian (or rather, a Schizmian) nightmare, totally out of sync with the rest of the game, which is mostly easy/classic inventory puzzles.
I spent hours on this puzzle alone, and hated every moment of it.

Yeah, I had forgotten about that.
Although the puzzle itself isn’t that bad, even though there aren’t enough hints for it, the problem is that the player has to run through those underground corridors which is very annoying even if you did it with a walkthrough in hand.

The final puzzle does make some sense though, the events in the prison totally don’t, and that was the turning point for me in the game. It really didn’t help that I somehow encountered a glitch which apparently turned the game in an unwinnable state - I could move around the prison, but I couldn’t activate anything that would get me out of there.

eriktorbjorn - 11 September 2020 02:10 AM

I thought the final “puzzle” in Star Trek: 25th Anniversary was pretty bad since it’s just another spaceship battle.

I think you have played the floppy version, play the CD-ROM version, it’s much better. Although they both end up with the battle, on the CD-ROM there’s much else to do in the last mission before the last battle. But yes, they both end with that, so you are correct in every case.

     

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eriktorbjorn - 11 September 2020 02:10 AM

I thought the final “puzzle” in Star Trek: 25th Anniversary was pretty bad since it’s just another spaceship battle.

I think you have played the floppy version, play the CD-ROM version, it’s much better. Although they both end up with the battle, on the CD-ROM there’s much else to do in the last mission before the last battle. But yes, they both end with that, so you are correct in every case.

I played the talkie version [*], but I don’t remember much of the individual missions so I was only referring to the very end of the game. I do remember liking the game as a whole, but being disappointed by the final battle. (And then Judgment Rites rubbed it in by having Kirk refer to it as easy, I believe?)

[*] I think I do have a non-talkie version on my “Interplay’s 10 Year Anthology” CD, but I bought that after playing the CD version so I never played through that one.

 

     
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adambunker - 10 September 2020 06:09 AM

...Developers tend to fall into the trap of trying to ramp up the tension during the climax…

I don’t know I’d call that a trap, surely a game should do exactly that? It’s just when it’s done badly that it’s a problem.

As others have said, the famous action sequences after pure p’n'c is a bit of a GK thing and it does feel a bit incongruous, a bit in GK2 but a lot in GK3.

I suppose it’s like the ‘final boss battle’ type ending in other genres. In AG’s the story has reached it’s peak, the bad guy (or whatever the enemy/problem is) is finally confronted and presumably defeated, likely with the player’s last action(s) in the game - it wants to feel significant and like a herculean effort on the part of the player doesn’t it as the tension ramps up and is finally released?

     

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The problem with puzzles is that it’s pretty hard to make them feel climatic. They aren’t, by nature similar to end boss fights you can ramp up in order to make them feel more epic. That’s why most adventures just kind of fizzle out instead of end with an epic puzzle. Or go with an epic cinematic instead of a puzzle.

That said, one of the worst endgame sequences I’ve played is in an old adventure game Future Wars. It ends with a timed maze you have to first run to the end and then again to the middle point in order to escape. The kicker is, you’ll only find out through trial and error if you have enough time to go back to the middle point after you’ve completed the first part, as the timer doesn’t reset at any point.

     
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tomimt - 11 September 2020 04:58 AM

The problem with puzzles is that it’s pretty hard to make them feel climatic. They aren’t, by nature similar to end boss fights you can ramp up in order to make them feel more epic. That’s why most adventures just kind of fizzle out instead of end with an epic puzzle. Or go with an epic cinematic instead of a puzzle.

I’m not sure that is true. What exactly is stopping, say, a mystery/detective game from ending with an epic deduction puzzle, where you have to put together all the pieces to find the culprit, similar to what we see in Obra Dinn?

It need not even be complex - Maupiti Island simply has you answer a series of questions and you don’t finish the game until you answer them all correctly. So you need to have done your detective work and if you haven’t your’re screwed.

I’m sure there are other examples out there, of tying together everything in an epic puzzle, but the closest I can think of for now is XING where the final puzzle brings together everything you have learned in each of the worlds you have visited. And while it’s not quite “epic” it is a whole lot better than having an entirely new and frustrating gameplay system that has nothing to do with the rest of the game.

     

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