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Arch-Stanton

Adventure Puzzles in the Age of the Internet

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I started gaming back in that late 80s era when adventure games could really drive you nuts. Growing up in a very small town, there wasn't a community of peers to trade hints. When I got stuck, I had two options, either convince my parents to let me call the pay per minute 900 number hintline... or buy a hintbook (Remember the ones with those ridiculous special markers, that always dried up the first time you used it and you had to buy another one?).

Both the 900 line and the hintbooks were structured to try to prevent spoiling anything other than the immediate puzzle in front of you. Rough outline format, and you dig down to your question, hopefully without picking up any other info along the way that would tip you off on puzzles you haven't gotten to yet. Universal Hint System does something similar now.

Playing games in the era of the internet is quite a bit different. There's no barrier to information, when you get stuck, you KNOW the answer is a search engine away, and its free. The problem is the internet isn't a spoiler free place, so bouncing around forums or walkthroughs you can pick up way too much info, video playthroughs are difficult to scan through without picking up TMI, especially for nonlinear stories.

Like many other gamers, I have a threshold for "breaking the seal". You always want to complete every game on your own, but after the first time you go externally for info... well, you've already cheated once, right, so why not go back for more info? In the worst case you end up just following the walkthrough to see the end of the game.

Going outside the game for info has been a problem since the early days, because it rips you right out of the story. With the modern focus on dramatic narrative, its an even bigger problem, when the game loses its gamer to go look for forum hints, it loses that hard earned momentum for emotional impact.

The solution so far has been to simply make the puzzles easy so you can hold the gamer all the way through. Looking at Telltale's modern offerings from the last 2 years, they're basically interactive movies, puzzles never really come into it. A lot of the BA feedback has been the puzzles were too simple, but I think that hard choice was made: make it tough and lose some of the dramatic narrative, or make it easier and lose some of the length and difficulty.

Everyone has an opinion, but we all know the old days aren't coming back. Some of the late nights spent banging my head on "Bat Vomit" from Manhunter or how to turn on the water in Monkey II... unless you're a masochist or have a Zen mastery of self control, you're not going to sit in frustration for hours. You're going to google. Which is what a lot of people think kind of pushed adventure games off the top of the hill back in the late 90s, and killed the "hard" adventure games altogether.

What do you all think? How do you reconcile modern gamers' requirements for increased dramatic engagement with plain old school head scratching puzzles?

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Agreed. The internet definitely provided a way out of having to force yourself to think outside of the box enough to come up with the answer. That is forever gone, unless you have no internet or a have mastered self-control. I wonder if this is a subset case of immaturity to some degree? I've always felt that impatience of any kind was indication of immaturity. But we are talking about games here, it's not like it's a big deal. Even so, society is so much faster paced nowadays and we want everything now now now, yesterday, last month! I think we've come down a couple of notches. But then every grandpa from every era will say that about the next generations. Hard to say. One thing is for sure, things have definitely changed. You're probably right. That is exactly one of the biggest factors in knocking off adventures from the top and the reason why adventures might never reach that level of fame or difficulty again.

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Of course there are the type of 'puzzles' that can't be easily answered in a walkthroug, say logical puzzles where the logic can change, inventory puzzles where the inventory is randomly placed in the environment, a more AI based way of making the game harder as the player 'gets' solutions quicker.

However that would require a lot of work on game mechanics and would have been far beyond the scope of broken age, and also might get in the way of the story, which is I guess always a hard balance.

For me broken age feels really balanced the puzzles are there for the sake of the story instead of the other way around (thathappend a lot in the 7 guest type games in the 90s). The story is interesting and compelling, and it feels like we are now on the boundary of the game where the atmosphere changed (a thing that happens in a lot of double fine games). Im sure Tim will throw some more curve balls at us in Act II, and Im already looking forward to the ride.

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I think the largest frustration back then was that you were never sure what you didnt get - had you missed an item at some point? was it an illogical solution to this particular puzzle because the designer had to connect it all together and had to make some compromises right here? was it a bug? were you supposed to apply strict logic? think outside the box and do something very much out there? you werent stuck on a puzzle per se, just wondering what you were _supposed_ to do. internet or no internet, youre not having fun at that point.

a puzzle that the player knows he has all the pieces to can be as hard as you like and still be it in a good way - and at that point it is also fine to go look it up (or preferably get a hint in-game) if you give up after giving it your best. items that you need should be obvious in the scene - OR if you can be sent back to an area which is likely to contain it it can be more hidden. and the use of objects should just be logical, and alternative uses carefully considered and given a reason why you cant do it that way (that obviously also goes for everything in the so-called "background" art) - and I think its fine.

I think broken age does pretty well on these points - without pretty much all the tucked on hints, some very minor tweaks (not having mog open his mouth in the end, or even better - have the death ray be a little slow so it had time to close its mouth. skip the red herring with the glowing eye, keep reload time consistent etc etc) and some have-all-the-pieces brainteaser (like could be done with the starchart) per character and for me it would be near perfect honestly.

anyways being stuck shouldnt be a measure of difficulty. the games just need to be perfect ;)

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That "in-game hint" part is key. Sometimes in-game hints kind of bang you over the head, basically click on the question mark in the corner and it tells you what to do.

I remember some of the infocom text adventures had built-in hint systems that were actually a full walkthrough guide you could reference at any point. I kind of liked it, because when you got stuck, you didn't have to leave the game. Also, the hint guide had some great tongue-in-cheek 4th wall humor, along the lines of the "Turn off your computer and go to sleep!" at the end of Monkey Island.

Some folks talked about having multiple difficultly levels for the hardcore vs. casual gamers. I think there's some creative ways to keep the same game for everyone, but integrate in some type of guide or hint system that isn't blatantly clicking on "get hint".

LA Noire tried some fresh ideas. For example, when you're interrogating someone, you could choose a "hint" option where the game would aggregate what all the other players around the world picked for the correct answer. Not terribly useful, but definitely a fresh take.

The way hints are normally set up in games with difficult puzzles, if you use them you blaze through. Hints reduce playtime. What if you flipped that around a bit? So if you're completely stuck, you could flip over to a parallel game/character at a differnet area with much simpler puzzles, their resolution would give you a hint back to the main quest. This way you're not reducing the playtime, you're kind of rewarding the character and letting them "work" at the solution from a different angle. The hardcore players don't have to use the side quest, but if they want to on a second playthrough, well that increases replayability.

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yeah...but I dont know. that last take on it, with sidequests, sounds very difficult and expensive to implement - I mean what would that sidequest be for most situations? thats even more puzzles to come up with.

I think something that hasnt been tried that much is to have hints in-game, in-character, but at completely different locations from the puzzle (but perhaps triggered by finding it or starting on it or something.) so that youre most likely to find it when youre at a loss and just looking for something you missed. this could also be placed at strategic points where people are prone to try another solution that should work logically. if you know what I mean.

personally I think though if its just pure difficulty (not the frustration type) it doesnt really matter if you google it or if the hint is in-game. in-game is more elegant of course, but... for instance the (in)famous turtle bone puzzle in the dig. you have all the pieces, the logic is solid, theres no failstate, little else you can try there as you have no other weapons, its creative, the result is satisfying and visual. (admittedly the placement was a bit finicky.) some people needed help with that, and thats fine. but its pretty solid in the game...without any more hints.

of course theres always that thing of "I dont really get this, maybe Im supposed to go get something first - is there a piece missing?", and you go off even though you could have done it. but that could be tweaked by perhaps adding a dialogue or label pointing out that its a "complete skeleton" even if that really doesnt make sense from the characters perspective.

for BA I think though it doesnt need more than "hint mode on/off" freely toggable in the UI and a largish chunk of the more experienced fans will be happy.

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The way hints are normally set up in games with difficult puzzles, if you use them you blaze through. Hints reduce playtime. What if you flipped that around a bit? So if you're completely stuck, you could flip over to a parallel game/character at a differnet area with much simpler puzzles, their resolution would give you a hint back to the main quest. This way you're not reducing the playtime, you're kind of rewarding the character and letting them "work" at the solution from a different angle. The hardcore players don't have to use the side quest, but if they want to on a second playthrough, well that increases replayability.

I made a similar point in another thread. I got stuck once on a mega-monkey puzzle in CMI. So I played through the easier mode to get a clue about what was different about the mega-monkey version of the puzzle.

Machinarium had a decent hint system, in my opinion. First, you had to play a mini-game to access the hint. Then it displayed a sort of cryptic visual depiction of the puzzle, which didn't tell you how to solve it, but did guide you well enough that it was highly unlikely that you wouldn't grasp what needed to happen.

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Machinarium had a decent hint system, in my opinion. First, you had to play a mini-game to access the hint. Then it displayed a sort of cryptic visual depiction of the puzzle, which didn't tell you how to solve it, but did guide you well enough that it was highly unlikely that you wouldn't grasp what needed to happen.

yeah that was an interesting system and worked in that game. for most games that kind of hint in-game would be too breaking-the-4th-wall. but for an actual separate hint-button type hint system that certainly is a nice way of giving it without spoiling it.

also the game really needed it cause it was kind of frustrating.

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Machinarium had a decent hint system, in my opinion. First, you had to play a mini-game to access the hint. Then it displayed a sort of cryptic visual depiction of the puzzle, which didn't tell you how to solve it, but did guide you well enough that it was highly unlikely that you wouldn't grasp what needed to happen.

yeah that was an interesting system and worked in that game. for most games that kind of hint in-game would be too breaking-the-4th-wall. but for an actual separate hint-button type hint system that certainly is a nice way of giving it without spoiling it.

also the game really needed it cause it was kind of frustrating.

That mini-monkey/mega-monkey idea above is something I'd never thought of, but a great idea.

Machinarium's hint mini-games sounds like the concept. I just wonder if there's a way to do it that isn't so blantantly "I'm going to go get a hint now", that was more seamless for the 4th wall problem above.

Like Day of Tentacle or BA, you switch characters, but one of them is the "hint mode" character. Switch over to them and depending on where you are in the main game, they have a simpler task that may involve them using some of the items or situations from the main quest, or somehow spinning what you may need to do. When I think about Hostmaster games, those can't have been that expensive, and something like that would make a great alt-mode.

It would take more writing and work, both because you'd have to implement the second mode, and also because its probably more work to write the more difficult puzzles in the main game to justify it. Anyway, its just a sidechannel. Somebody's going to think of a really creative way to do it soon, I just know there's got to be some way to include those old skool hardcore puzzles... Really, figuring one of those out gives you an insane video game high, and I remember them so fondly because of the true sense of accomplishment when you got done.

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Everyone has an opinion, but we all know the old days aren’t coming back.

I wouldn't throw out predictions like that so haphazardly. Two years ago, a lot of gamers were absolutely sure that we would "NEVER, EVER, see an RPG like Fallout or Planescape: Torment again".

The reality is that you don't have the faintest idea what people will enjoy in 5, 10 or 25 years from now.

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Some of the late nights spent banging my head on "Bat Vomit" from Manhunter

That puzzle was SO vicious (and yet so logical, if you think about it!). That puzzle would never work nowadays, because we have much better graphics and you would instantly know what to do. :-)

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Personally, my enjoyment of games with difficult puzzles has increased compared to the 90's. I'm smarter now, have much better language skills, and most importantly, with access to Google, since I can decide for myself what my "threshold" is. Previously I would abandon many games permanently until I got a magazine with a walk through.

And I don't think access to walkthroughs "ruins" hard puzzles. In fact, I had access to walkthroughs for several of the 90's games I played (owing to a subscription magazine), and I don't remember thinking those games were ruined for me. I just glanced at them whenever I felt that I was truly and utterly stuck, and usually that was simply due to missing some obvious detail. So the games were all the better for having that option.

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Beyond its hint system,

Machinarium had a perfect balance of puzzles and story.

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Machinarium had a decent hint system, in my opinion. First, you had to play a mini-game to access the hint. Then it displayed a sort of cryptic visual depiction of the puzzle, which didn't tell you how to solve it, but did guide you well enough that it was highly unlikely that you wouldn't grasp what needed to happen.

That's pretty neat. I did not know that myself because I never used the hint system because I labored through that game without hints of any kind and I'm glad I did because it was more rewarding that way when I figured out the puzzle.

Great game, that was.

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I wouldn't throw out predictions like that so haphazardly. Two years ago, a lot of gamers were absolutely sure that we would "NEVER, EVER, see an RPG like Fallout or Planescape: Torment again".

The reality is that you don't have the faintest idea what people will enjoy in 5, 10 or 25 years from now.

If your Fallout comment is referencing Wasteland 2, then that is incorrect. We're getting a new Wasteland, not a new Fallout. Just to clarify.

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If your Fallout comment is referencing Wasteland 2, then that is incorrect. We're getting a new Wasteland, not a new Fallout. Just to clarify.

I think you missed my point. I wasn't referring to specific games, just that a lot of gamers were dead-certain that there would never be a market again for a traditional PC RPG.

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If your Fallout comment is referencing Wasteland 2, then that is incorrect. We're getting a new Wasteland, not a new Fallout. Just to clarify.

I think you missed my point. I wasn't referring to specific games, just that a lot of gamers were dead-certain that there would never be a market again for a traditional PC RPG.

Well, we still don't know if there will be a market for it. Most of the upcoming "traditional" RPGs are Kickstarted, meaning there's a demand for it from those backers, but not necessarily the gaming market in general. The same is true for Broken Age and adventure games, technically, even though we've had plenty of adventure games in the last 15 years, just no high-profile ones specifically. We've yet to see how Broken Age sells to the masses, is my point. Same with Wasteland 2 and Torment 2.

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Well, we still don't know if there will be a market for it. Most of the upcoming "traditional" RPGs are Kickstarted, meaning there's a demand for it from those backers, but not necessarily the gaming market in general. .

So? The point of crowdfunding niche genres is precisely that the backers are enough to fund the game. There is no need to reach a mass market. That's what publishers are for.

And you are mistaken if you think that mainstream developers get paid much more than the bare minimum to keep their company afloat, so there should be no expectation for a Kickstarter-funded game to make the developers rich.

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Well, we still don't know if there will be a market for it. Most of the upcoming "traditional" RPGs are Kickstarted, meaning there's a demand for it from those backers, but not necessarily the gaming market in general. .

So? The point of crowdfunding niche genres is precisely that the backers are enough to fund the game. There is no need to reach a mass market. That's what publishers are for.

Then why did you bring up the market? :P

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Then why did you bring up the market? :P

Right, well it was a combination of a new funding method and the existing market being slightly larger and/or more dedicated than people expected.

My point was that it's arrogant to make predictions about a certain style of game "never" being made again.

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Everyone has an opinion, but we all know the old days aren’t coming back.

I wouldn't throw out predictions like that so haphazardly. Two years ago, a lot of gamers were absolutely sure that we would "NEVER, EVER, see an RPG like Fallout or Planescape: Torment again".

The reality is that you don't have the faintest idea what people will enjoy in 5, 10 or 25 years from now.

I wasn't referring to the tastes or appetites of the gamers or the types of games. By "old days" I was referring to the pre-internet era of puzzle-solving aides of hintbooks, 900 numbers, magazines, or gamer word of mouth. I simply meant that information on solving games is almost instantly available now, and there will never be a time in the future where it won't be.

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I wasn't referring to the tastes or appetites of the gamers or the types of games. By "old days" I was referring to the pre-internet era of puzzle-solving aides of hintbooks, 900 numbers, magazines, or gamer word of mouth. I simply meant that information on solving games is almost instantly available now, and there will never be a time in the future where it won't be.

Sorry, I realize I misinterpreted you.

But I don't think internet is the problem. There were games with integrated or bundled hintbooks and a lot of gamers subscribed to magazines that would regularly publish complete walkthroughs for popular games. So even then, many players had instantly accessible hints and I don't recall anyone saying that those games were ruined or less fun.

I think the answer is much simpler, there was never a huge market for hard puzzles, but back then games didn't need to reach a mass market to be considered profitable, so serving that niche was still worthwhile.

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Well, we still don't know if there will be a market for it. Most of the upcoming "traditional" RPGs are Kickstarted, meaning there's a demand for it from those backers, but not necessarily the gaming market in general. The same is true for Broken Age and adventure games, technically, even though we've had plenty of adventure games in the last 15 years, just no high-profile ones specifically. We've yet to see how Broken Age sells to the masses, is my point. Same with Wasteland 2 and Torment 2.

Gaming trends and tastes have changed, but I think the biggest market sales pattern change has been the rise in casual gaming. Back in the 80s and 90s, "casual games" were minesweeper, solitaire, Hoyle's Book of Games, and some bargin bin casino titles, while most traditional PC Games catered to the hardcore crowd. Today, we've seen a huge dollar shift where casual gamers have become a dominating commerical factor, and have to be included in game design considerations. Which leads to creating easier games if you want to capture those buyers.

Just curious if there is a way to create a hardcore difficult old school adventure game, that also had some innovative mechanics in it that would allow casual gamers who aren't interested in the potential frustration to also play as well. Instead of a "one size fits all" gaming experience, and adventure game that can be tuned to cater to both ends of the spectrum.

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I think the answer is much simpler, there was never a huge market for hard puzzles, but back then games didn't need to reach a mass market to be considered profitable, so serving that niche was still worthwhile.

I think you hit the nail on the head.

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Talking about hint systems, I like how they did it in "The Room" (which I know isn't a PNC adventure game). If you went about for awhile without solving any puzzles, an icon in the corner would pop up showing a hint is available. And most times there were several levels of hints, first starting off relatively vague ("Maybe I should examine this thing some more") to getting more obvious as to what action you needed to do (or at least I assume, because I was never stuck enough where I needed use all the hints). It doesn't detract from the story because it's the character him/herself thinking it.

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