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On the Subject of Puzzles

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I just watched Episode 2, and after the puzzle discussion, I felt the need to come post some input.

Puzzles are not only a challenge / reward mechanic, but they serve as a tool for pacing. They break up the flow of the game and give the player a little bit of time to sit and stew in the world they're in. A good puzzle with help pace the game in a positive way, and a bad puzzle will either cause expletives to be used, or insult the player's intelligence.

Look to Valve for examples of how to maintain this balance, and how it affects the narrative. Err on the side of complexity, because players are probably smarter than you realize, but don't lock down the whole experience if a player can't figure things out. This was one of the best things about the Portal series. Glados and Wheatley served as a continual source of enjoyment, even as you were trying to figure out how to get "up there" or "over there."

Their quips and jabs were perfect because they didn't distract you too much, but they also weren't easy to ignore. They made you feel like you were still part of the flow of the game and the story, even though you were stuck in a test chamber. You could still experience some good game content without having to solve the puzzle right out of the gate, which has a bit of a relaxing effect and doesn't make each puzzle feel like a chore.

Oh, and while we're on the subject of complexity: Hints are horrible.

There isn't much that makes a player feel worse than solving a puzzle with a hint. It's not even bittersweet. It's like an F+. It's your annoying brother coming in and pointing at the screen saying, "Click that, genius."

That's not to say that you shouldn't use other tools that serve as hints, though. The art is in the cleverness and the subtlety of the push. For example, the grass in a Zelda game in the shape of an arrow is probably overkill, but a character casually saying something about another character liking bananas in passing a few chapters back is probably okay.

I could discuss this stuff ad nauseum, but here's the gist of what I'm trying to say:

In the end, a point and click adventure game with no puzzles is just an interactive story. Go left, go right, poke this guy, insult this thing. Sure, there's an element of discovery here, but no sense of accomplishment or reward. It's important to have both in order to make your game a memorable experience. Personal struggle is part of what separates the "pretty good" games from the, "I wish I could wipe my memory and play it again for the first time..." games.

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I agree with you, but I think it would be good to point out in your example of Portal they developed the puzzles not to just pace the narrative, but to be part of the narrative. It's a very important difference, because it helped the player feel like puzzles weren't roadblocks to the next part of the story, but part of the story itself. I took my time checking out every puzzle room because it told me a little more about how much trouble I was in and how psychotic that lovely AI really was. It was a really good way to build up to the point that you found out the cake really was a lie.

You mention that the quips and jabs were perfect because they didn't distract. I counter and say that they're excellent because they were little rewards and a subtle signal showing that you are on the right track to solving the puzzle.

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I don't mind a good puzzle, well stitched into the story. However, I am looking for a point and click adventure, not a puzzle game. Portal is a puzzle game with a story, not a story with a few puzzles.

The word "puzzle" is so broad, it can mean almost anything. Adventure games have always had puzzles, I'm just saying I prefer figuring out the solutions to dramatic situations such as how to escape a sinking escape pod, rather than finding my way through a hedge maze, or encountering rooms with walls full of levers, lights, numbers, and knobs.

That's my 2c

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I don't mind a good puzzle, well stitched into the story. However, I am looking for a point and click adventure, not a puzzle game. Portal is a puzzle game with a story, not a story with a few puzzles.

The word "puzzle" is so broad, it can mean almost anything. Adventure games have always had puzzles, I'm just saying I prefer figuring out the solutions to dramatic situations such as how to escape a sinking escape pod, rather than finding my way through a hedge maze, or encountering rooms with walls full of levers, lights, numbers, and knobs.

That's my 2c

I don't think Portal should count as an adventure game either, but interestingly, Adventure Gamers does.

http://www.adventuregamers.com/article/id,882

They're not the be all and end all of adventure game classification... but they kind of are. I'm joking. They're not. But they are very influential and well versed in adventure games. So like I said: it's interesting.

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Oh, and while we're on the subject of complexity: Hints are horrible.

There isn't much that makes a player feel worse than solving a puzzle with a hint.

Solving a puzzle with a walkthrough.

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On the topic of hints, I think Pendulo's hinting system in Yesterday is pretty good. We have the option to click a button for a small hint, but we can't keep using it. It's not an elegant solution to the problem of getting stuck, but it's a lot better than looking up a walkthrough. It's inevitable for some players to miss really obvious things in the game, in which case a hint system is needed.

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I do think an in-game hint system is too tempting sometimes. And I do feel like a total cheat when I use them.

But, alas, the internet and all it's search engines and message boards exist. I don't think you can close the lid on Pandora's box. The game's solution will be at arms-length no matter what DF decides to do.

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I do think an in-game hint system is too tempting sometimes. And I do feel like a total cheat when I use them.

But, alas, the internet and all it's search engines and message boards exist. I don't think you can close the lid on Pandora's box. The game's solution will be at arms-length no matter what DF decides to do.

Agreed... but I like them at arm's length. I certainly don't want them to pop up automatically if I'm failing for a certain amount of time, and I'd rather not have the temptation to "hold down a button" in game to assist me. Make me load up a browser and search for an answer. I'm most likely not going to do that the majority of the time because I'm lazy :P

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I do think an in-game hint system is too tempting sometimes. And I do feel like a total cheat when I use them.

But, alas, the internet and all it's search engines and message boards exist. I don't think you can close the lid on Pandora's box. The game's solution will be at arms-length no matter what DF decides to do.

Agreed... but I like them at arm's length. I certainly don't want them to pop up automatically if I'm failing for a certain amount of time, and I'd rather not have the temptation to "hold down a button" in game to assist me. Make me load up a browser and search for an answer. I'm most likely not going to do that the majority of the time because I'm lazy :P

Maybe the game can be programmed to change the gateway IP of the computer so that the internet becomes unavailable while you are playing. That'll teach me.

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Puzzles can really make or break an adventure game. The puzzles in TTG recent output have been way too simple, often little more than just finding things and taking them to people. Other recent adventure games, such as the whispered world, or dark fall, have suffered from often times nonsensical puzzles. That leads to a very disappointing experience where I struggle for too long, hit a walkthrough, see the solution is ridiculous and illogical, and then never know in the future whether or not the roadblock I've just got to has a logical solution, or an illogical one which I have no hope of solving.

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As I think I said before, IMO the main thing that made the puzzles in a lot of adventure games difficult wasn't the actual puzzles themselves, but the fact that a lot of the time, it wasn't clear what the actual puzzle was.

I've been replaying Grim Fandango just now and here are what I'd say are the biggest difficulties of the first couple of puzzles:

- no indication that Don's message could possibly be pre-recorded (i.e. the entire conversation between Manny, Eva and 'Don' is the exact same every time, not just Don's message)

- very little emphasis on the fact that Domino's message tube is different, at least when you see it in his office

- the entrance to the message room is fairly difficult to spot, and unless you already know it's there I can't really see how anyone would get into it apart from accidentally stumbling in

...None of which are actually the intended puzzle. In my opinion, making sure stuff like this is ironed out would go a long way to making the puzzles in the game seem 'hard but fair'.

I have to disagree with you here:

- Knowing that Don's message is pre-recorded is completely irrelevant for solving the puzzle.

- The game informs you about that fact in the message room if you didn't notice it in Domino's room.

- Personally I didn't have any problem with that, but I agree that it should have been more obvious. However, I'm surprised you didn't point out about the devious rope of clothes hidden at the very end of the alley that could be noticed only if you walked on the left side. I still rage about that one...

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I coudn´t agree more... I played an hours or two Machinarium, beautifull game... creativity, music, scenarious, etc but it´s all about puzzles... wires and numbers and levers, etc... I hope a really adeventure with good chalanges along with the game story.

I don't mind a good puzzle, well stitched into the story. However, I am looking for a point and click adventure, not a puzzle game. Portal is a puzzle game with a story, not a story with a few puzzles.

The word "puzzle" is so broad, it can mean almost anything. Adventure games have always had puzzles, I'm just saying I prefer figuring out the solutions to dramatic situations such as how to escape a sinking escape pod, rather than finding my way through a hedge maze, or encountering rooms with walls full of levers, lights, numbers, and knobs.

That's my 2c

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I found the Machinarium's math-like puzzles a little bit too hard - like I was doing an IQ test or something.

I did manage to finish it but it did get insanely frustrating once or twice.

The adventure must flow...

+1 to solutions to dramatic situations > number crunching and button pushing

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