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Ekaros

Worst puzzles - what to avoid

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As far as mazes go, I remember notably pages and pages of notes for king's quest with the minotaur's labyrinth and the desert. I was wondering with the abilities that game creators have now, can you improve the designs of that type of maze, to make them intriguing and something you don't mind doing "the hard way".

Like what if the maze was randomly generated for each save slot, but the game kept a map for you as you explored, marking important waypoint or objects for easy reference. Perhaps you can teleport to any room you've already visited, or for a relics in rooms that if you activate them, you can teleport to them via any other relic you discover.

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I thought it would be good to gather some bad puzzles from different games, so such things can be avoided.

One I hated in remake of MI1 was the plank, bird and the pier. You could see it in original, but I didn't catch it in remake. Such pixel puzzles which can't be seen aren't good...

Anyone else remember anything like it or pixel hunts that should be avoided.

The cat hair mustache from Gabriel Knight 3.

The combat, stealth, and terrible final chapters from Dreamfall.

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Like many people have already mentioned, a clumsy/unintuitive trigger system is horribly frustrating. When the solution of a puzzle is painfully obvious but your character refuses to do it before talking to some entirely unrelated character several locations away.

The most recent example i can think of is from Captain Morgane and the Golden Turtle. You have a pen with no ink, and an octopus that your character says "squirts ink". And you've been told that people use octopus ink in pens (by the owner of the pen you're holding, no less). But you can't use the octopus with the pen (or anything else in the inventory) until you talk to a bartender (talking to a cook and a fishmonger, people who you'd think knew something about octopi and their sacs, yields no results) that happens to know how to remove the ink sac (a line of conversation that opens only after you've found the octopus; prior to that the bartender gave no indication she knew anything about octopi. Or pens.), and have her remove it for you so you could fill the pen.

I wouldn't mind it if the character gave any indication as to why all the attempts are failing (like saying they don't want to touch the thing, or that they don't know how to extract the ink from the octopus), something to point you in the right direction (or any direction, really), but when attempts that make sense are dismissed with the same "why would you ever think this would work, you moron," there's no way of knowing if you're on the right track or just flailing blindly. I know the universal "talk to everyone about everything" tip, but in most games the conversations and interactions that have results make sense in retrospect.

Another fine example are the pieces of evidence in the Phoenix Wright / Apollo Justice games. "Here's a video recording that clearly shows my client was holding a banana and not a gun." "Why are you showing me this, you're wasting the court's time, you are warned." (Or sometimes you get the generic "I can't see how that has any bearing on this case whatsoever" reply that makes sense half of the time, but sometimes is just plain stupid). Instead you have to point out some other inconsistency, in order to progress the conversation to the point where you can actually present the tape as evidence. And the prompt is pretty much the same as the first time.

I know it's down to the game limitations and linearity and not being able / not caring enough to write custom dismissal lines for each bit of evidence in every situation, but actually punishing the player for providing a perfectly logical piece of evidence is just aggravating.

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That annoying hand puzzle in MI, at the door :( if this is 1, whats this?

That was in Monkey Island 2, not 1. Personally I liked that puzzle, but I can understand how it can be frustrating if you don't get it.

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Not a puzzle per se, but when you are in an area and need to pick up multiple of the same objects, please don't make us pick them up one by one.

Like if there is a box of nails and we need three nails, I don't want to press pick up on the box three times, but rather have the character say "These looks like they can come in handy, better take a few of these just to be safe." and pick up three nails.

Or if there is a pack of goats in a room, I would rather pick up "a pack of goats", than to pick up "goat #1", pick up "goat #2", pick up "goat #3 etc. (Unless there are some really funny monologue attached to this process.)

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You use TRACTOR TIRE on PENCIL SHARPENER. You receive FULLY GROWN ORANGUTAN.

Use Orangutan on bust_

You use FULLY GROWN ORANGUTAN on BUST OF HENRY DAVID THOREAU. Congratulations, you win!

-----------

That kind of puzzle, while funny, may cause some problems.

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I'd echo avoiding invisible conversation trigger puzzles. Those are never pleasant. I think the problem is that if you think of the solution and try it before you've hit the conversation trigger, you're going to keep thinking that it wasn't the right solution after you hit the trigger. Which means lots of faffing about.

I also hate sliding tile puzzles with a passion. It's nice to know I'm not alone in this. Put it this way: at University I had to write a program to solve a sliding tile / 15 puzzle. Writing that program was more fun and easier to work out than solving an actual 15 puzzle by hand.

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I wanted to make a statement about "action puzzles". Some people have stated how much they dislike them.

I do like them. Adding an "action scene" to the story can be very appropriate to produce a bit of excitement, especially at the end of the game. However, as a proviso, effort should be made that action puzzles are exciting and fast-paced. this is the one time puzzles should be relatively easy, even if the rest of the game is hard. Often in these scenarios you have a limited time to act, and if you're stuck you don't have the release valve of exploring the game world, so hard puzzles in combat can be very frustrating.

Bad action puzzles that come to mind: the end of MI2 and MI3. Good: End of MI1.

MI2 and 3 had essentially full, complex, puzzles at the end. Normally, good puzzles. However, instead of letting you wander around at your own pace, you had this annoying Lechuck constantly knocking you into other rooms. Although the final solution was good and satisfying, solving it was annoying. Especially in MI3.

MI1 was okay. You still were bounced around, but the puzzle was SIMPLE. This meant there was a bit of thinking, a sudden, fun, realization of the solution, and the payoff. It wasn't dragged out.

I recall enjoying the end of Full Throttle, but I don't recall the details.

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If I ever again have to scare a cat with a spray bottle so that he runs through a small opening to which I have attached a piece of double-sided tape in order to use this as a mustache to impersonate a man that does not have a mustache...

Heads will roll.

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has anyone mentioned: in MI2, that thing where you put a banana on the metronome (or whatever it was) to hypnotize the monkey, put him in your jacket and then use him as a wrench to turn off that waterfall...was stuck there for ages (I think at least 6 months). not a native speaker so didnt make the connection of "monkey wrench".

maybe english speakers got it straight away, I dont know.

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That reminded me of a puzzle in Zak McKracken that stomped us for weeks. In London, there was a soldier, guarding a fence. The puzzle was trying to make this guy go away or let you pass. On the Amiga or PC, we had no clue. But on the Commodore 64, since a little quirk every time a room loads, you could actually glimpse one frame of background *before* all the sprites appeared, so we definitely knew there was a switch behind the guard.. We were to the point of trying to give every object in the game to this guy and still we didn't find it.

The solution was.. you needed to give him the wine bottle. But with ANNIE. Not Zak!

How could we know! We were so naive and young..

Still Zak remains in my heart the best adventure game I ever played.

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has anyone mentioned: in MI2, that thing where you put a banana on the metronome (or whatever it was) to hypnotize the monkey, put him in your jacket and then use him as a wrench to turn off that waterfall...was stuck there for ages (I think at least 6 months). not a native speaker so didnt make the connection of "monkey wrench".

maybe english speakers got it straight away, I dont know.

My native language is english and I still got stuck on this for a long time! I ended up using everything with everything until I got to the top of the waterfall and used every item with that stupid valve but the payoff made me laugh so perhaps it was worth it.

The worst types in my opinion are minigame style puzzles, which are usually awful rip offs of classic puzzles like the often mentioned Tower of Hanoi and slider puzzles which is just lazy design. It make them even worse when they add timers.

I also have noticed with the newer adventure games they have added minigames which are just an old style super easy side scrollers with no purpose other than to waste the players time. Basically if a puzzle ruins your immersion in the game world then it really shouldn't be in there, Machinarium seems to be full of these kind of puzzles but had enough good puzzles to make it a pretty awesome game anyway. All pixel hunting and closed minded item mixing puzzles are also terrible as well.

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has anyone mentioned: in MI2, that thing where you put a banana on the metronome (or whatever it was) to hypnotize the monkey, put him in your jacket and then use him as a wrench to turn off that waterfall...was stuck there for ages (I think at least 6 months). not a native speaker so didnt make the connection of "monkey wrench".

maybe english speakers got it straight away, I dont know.

I love the use of puns and/or idioms in (certain types of) adventure games but always wonder how they affect people who aren't native speakers of the original language of the game.

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A subset of maze puzzles: aimlessly wandering puzzles. Not so much puzzles as time/space fillers.

Quest for Glory II's anti-piracy alley maze was awful, and I had the paper map because I bought the game! It's stupid because you have to really follow this twisty turny map to get to the money changer before you can do anything in the game. It actually killed the replay value for me because I knew when I started up one of those games, I'd have to find that stupid money changer all over again. I still love that game, though. Probably my favorite QFG.

Conquests of the Longbow has a similar mechanic where you start off with an in-game map that allows you to jump to pertinent places, but there are "undiscovered" spots on the map that must be discovered by wandering aimlessly through Sherwood Forest. This would be all well and good and in the spirit of capital-A Adventure! except for the fact that the game will literally not progress past the first day unless you stumble upon these locations.

Boo hiss.

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I love the use of puns and/or idioms in (certain types of) adventure games but always wonder how they affect people who aren't native speakers of the original language of the game.

Badly.

Like the "red herring" puzzle in the Secret of Monkey Island. I "solved" it by throwing every item from the inventory at the troll, but it took me years to figure out what that was about.

It can be really weird and frustrating if you aren't familiar with a certain idiom.

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I don't mind most types of puzzles but the one that sticks out in my mind as terrible was in Space Quest VI.

This one:

sq6-argh.png

That's because that puzzle was the copy protection. :D The answer was in the printed booklet. There is a later use that is spelled out in the game, but yeah, if you thought that was a hard puzzle it was because you pirated the game or didn't read "the manual". If you bought it on Steam, they didn't include the "Janitorial Hot Spots" magazine in which the clues for it were placed.

But as far as worst puzzles, the ones I hate are all timing related. They don't age well, and in PC games, they sometimes don't work as the PC gets faster (see the Telltale Jurassic Park game for a great example of completely broken timing puzzles.) Yes you can pass them by failing them a few times, but some of them are impossible because you fail them before the indicators show up.

Anyway, these kinds of puzzles (and the kind found in console games) where you have to "press button sequence to continue" are terrible time wasters. This is where the game goes from Adventure game to "level grinding" RPG, as you have to retry the sequences over and over. I don't even want to call these puzzles.

I don't mind where the slider/pegs+holes/tile/maze game shows up, as these are clever if they fit cleanly into the context of the game (like in QFG4 to open the mad scientist's house) but when they don't have the right context, it seems more like a road cone being thrown at the player just to make them waste time.

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Any puzzle that I think I can solve, but I don't have the correct items and don't know it. The example that springs to mind is Curse of Monkey Island, getting that pirate out of the chair in the barbershop. I had plenty of items and things to twiddle with and people to talk to, and spent a long time twiddling and talking before finding out I needed some lice, little white dots on the top of a coat I had already searched!

Now, when I play an adventure game the first hint I ask for is, "Do I have everything I need to solve this?"

Jagg0

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What kind of puzzles I dislike is not actually puzzles in my mind.

The situation is that you figure out that you have to go to the boat to get the money to buy a bottle to get water to the merchants daughter.

And the merchant is 15 rooms away so you have to go all the way to the boat to get money and all the way back to buy a bottle to go all the way back and fetch water in the bottle and then all the way back again to water the daughter. I get really annoyed when you have to go back and forth over and over to accomplice something.

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Maze puzzles drive me crazy where you're using a stick or something to find your way. Gawd they drive me insane. Slider puzzles I don't mind.

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One very frustrating situation I sometimes end up in when playing adventure games is getting stuck in a situation where I can't find any more puzzles to solve. I seem to have done everything I need to. All other characters are satisfied and the obstacles are removed. But the story will not progress for some unknown reason. These situations make me lose interest in the game as I can not see any motivation for doing anything at all. Of course the game should not lead you too much, but it should always be clear what you want to achieve in the end and why you want to achieve it (except when exploring new environments of course).

I think completely stupid and random puzzles can be ok (and even funny) when the solution space is small enough (if you are locked in a small cell for example). One example of a completely random puzzle I like is when you have to wear a puppy in Simon the Sorcerer 2. It somehow intuitively makes a bit more sense than the other actions available to you a the time, and it's really funny when you do it.

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I think the motivation for the puzzle is just as important. A locked door in a game is a very powerful thing, whatever the graphics. Just wanting to see what's on the other side is what leaves you thinking on the puzzle and wanting to solve it. If the rewards are weak, the puzzle may well seem worse than it really is.

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Any non-trivial puzzle that has to be solved several times, always in the same way.

I recently played Sierra's Rama for the first time and it was pretty annoying that way, and in other ways as well. Not only did similar puzzles appear in several different places, there was also at least one puzzle that you had to solve every time you wanted to walk a certain path. It would always reset with a different solution, but it was still the same puzzle.

Now, if the same obstacle appears more than once but is solved in a completely different way each time, that's fair game.

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I think moderation is an important concept. Generally I think any type of puzzle can be done well, but if re-used over and over it won't matter if it's done well or not, as we'll get bored with it anyway. I definitely think this game should avoid hand holding, and I think it's okay to have some fairly difficult puzzles that might require somewhat fanciful logic. After all, to me at least, that kind of thing is a hallmark of adventure games.

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I just hate „puzzles“ that have no connection to the story and are just there to have a puzzle.

It has to feel right to have this puzzle at exactly that place and not some random puzzle somewhere to spend the time.

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I dislike death traps in adventure games... which is one of the main reasons I preferred Lucasfilm Games adventures over Sierra back in the day. Sierra always found ways to kill the player in the most ridiculous and random ways. Another thing I dislike would be puzzles about where you have to stand and when. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade had a small one of these at the end in the temple, but I mostly remember the finale of Gabriel Knight 1 with that mummy, because it combines several really bad things:

First off, you will absolutely have to do this sequence several times, because you have no way of knowing what to do the first, second or third time around. Secondly, every small mistake will kill you. Thirdly, you have to avoid death not just once, but for several screens repeatedly... I realize they tried to make this an intense scenario, but there's a fat line between intense and infuriatingly frustrating: A scene you have to repeat over and over again because you have no way to solve it by reaction alone is not intense, it's frustrating.

Also, the only way to solve this section is knowing where to go beforehand, something the character in the game has no way of knowing, and, IMO, it's a really bad thing to work with player knowledge instead of character knowledge in a game that's supposed to be immersive and "serious".

The best puzzles make you feel like you're smart. Mediocre puzzles make you feel like the game designer is smart. Terrible puzzles make you feel like the game designer is an idiot, and that you're also an idiot for bothering with the game in the first place.

- Ryan

QFT.

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That puzzle in DOTT where you have to shut the door after yourself to find the keys in the door >_

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Allot of people are saying puzzles should be logical. I'm currently playing the Grim Fandango for the first time and really enjoying it what I like is the way it can kind of defines it's own logic for problems you have to try and think like the developer if a possible solution is funny or crazy and in keeping with the tone of the game and your character then that will probably be the solution, it's so great. The new game should also let you get inside the heads of the writers kind of like Psychonauts.

One thing I don't like is when I guess the solution but the game interface doesn't understand my input even though it's almost identical to what I'm meant to do so multiple solutions I think are required to make the game more immersive.

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