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cwm9

On pixel hunting, item highlighting, getting stuck, and multiple solutions to puzzles

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I was thinking about the meeting Tim held where he asked people what they liked and didn't like about gaming, and a common theme that pops up is that of pixel hunting. (edit: Ok, well, I guess different people have different definitions of this. I don't really mean the kind of pixel hunting where the item you need to click is litterally one or two pixels large, I just mean, there's a non-obvious object on the screen and you are hunting for it.)

I actually don't like it when objects are highlighted or named in a game. I think it breaks the immersive quality I want from an adventure. If you are trying to solve a puzzle and you come across a screwdriver that highlights when you touch it, the thought process in my mind shifts from, "how do I solve this puzzle," to, "what puzzle needs this screwdriver, and what's going to happen when I use it?"

Then there are the guys who did Sword & Sworcery saying you shouldn't have puzzles at all!

I began to think about what it is about pixel hunting that people hate so much, and I came to the conclusion that it isn't actually pixel hunting that people hate.

It's getting stuck.

There's a wonderful satisfaction you get from solving a puzzle that requires a little thinking, and the more "effort" you put into solving that puzzle, the greater the satisfaction you get. That is, up to a point. Beyond that point, you just start to get angry and frustrated, especially if the solution to the puzzle involves wandering around the game for hours on end.

Highlighting objects is a sort of visual cheat that lets us move from, "how do I solve this puzzle," to, "which of these objects can be combined with the other objects to make something happen." It feels like solving a puzzle, but often it just ends up being trial and error.

Especially because often I find myself wanting to solve the problem in a way that is different from the way the puzzle designer wants you to solve the problem. "But I don't WANT to push the key out of the lock and catch it on the mat, I want to take out the door pins I can clearly see."

So then it hit me that a possible solution to the whole "getting stuck" problem (as well as creating immense replay value), is to solve all of these problems at once by creating multiple solutions to each puzzle.

Why not let the player solve the problem either by pushing the key out of the keyhole or by taking the door off its hinges? Maybe the player didn't see the mat, or doesn't realize it can be picked up, but maybe he sees the hammer and the punch.

I would love to play an adventure game where there are at least 3 different non-obvious solutions to every puzzle in the game -- perhaps with different funny visual short consequences or dialog attached to each one. Want to get inside the a house? Throwing a rock through the window works. Look under the mat and find the key. Or you could just pretend to be the plumber. Throwing the rock through the window or using the key means if you are discovered by the butler he kicks you out, so you have to be stealthy. Pretending to be the plumber means the butler lets you in, but it also means he's watching you while you're trying to take the birdcage.

Creating a game with several solutions means the chance of getting stuck anywhere in the game goes way down. Also, it preserves the victorious feeling reward that comes from pixel hunting. Finally, it creates huge replay value. "Ok, I know I can distract the guard by setting of the stink bomb in the bathroom, but how ELSE can I get him to move?"

If I could play though a game fluidly without stopping, not only would I find that game more fun, but I'd be far more inclined to play the game again to find the other paths.

Sometimes what is obvious to one player isn't obvious to another. If each team member came up with a different solution to each puzzle, the players would almost certain to make it though without getting stuck, and without feeling like they're playing a game for kindergardeners.

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There’s Pixel Hunting and then there’s ‘Pixel Hunting’.

Looking for useable stuff in the background that does not scream “pick me!” is adventure 101. Having everything you can interact with glowing or highlighted takes away a lot of the challenge of an adventure game.

However, sometimes developers mess up and place some hotspot either in a position that’s very hard to tell apart from the background, or with a miniscule hotspot area, thus causing you to miss something no matter how observant you are as a player. That causes frustration and thus ‘Pixel Hunting’ as you randomly click across the screen hoping to land on a hotspot.

In recent years, a lot of adventure games added a hotspot highlight mechanic as assistance to players, usually optionally activated with a certain key, some casual games even have it on by default.

I personally remember when I played Secret Files: Tunguska that had such a mechanic, I only used it after I had combed every area to see if I had missed something, and I only missed two objects in the entire game that the highlight pointed out.

Though I think hotspot highlight is useful for less experienced players, is almost useless if the game design is good enough to reward the observant player, and doesn’t falter by literally making you look for a needle in a haystack.

As for multiple solutions to a puzzle, it can be really confusing in an inventory based adventure, since you’d end up with objects that can be used for the same puzzle but on different solutions and it may create confusion as to their use, not to mention that if the unused solution objects don’t magically disappear after you solve the puzzle it may confuse you concerning their future use.

On top of that I think multiple puzzle solution may make a traditional adventure game very easy, unless we are talking a Fate of Atlantis like multiple puzzles, where in some cases the are several ways to get through the same situation, though even that game falls to some of the pitfalls I’ve mentioned before. For example I was personally confused on what use the chewed gum you pick up early in the game had and kept trying for ways to use it, while I already had the Cat Statue from elsewhere.

The bottom-line is that multiple puzzle solutions are usually too much work for what is worth, since in a sense you create three or more puzzles in the place of one, when you could be creating completely new puzzles instead. There’s a reason we haven’t seen this done much since Fate of Atlantis.

I’d personally find it more fitting in a Penumbra style adventure game, in a fully 3D realized world, than a traditional point and click adventure.

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Creating a game with several solutions means the chance of getting stuck anywhere in the game goes way down. Also, it preserves the victorious feeling reward that comes from pixel hunting. Finally, it creates huge replay value. "Ok, I know I can distract the guard by setting of the stink bomb in the bathroom, but how ELSE can I get him to move?"

[...]

Sometimes what is obvious to one player isn't obvious to another.

And what if the solution you thought of was not one of these several available ones? Couldn't that end up being even more frustrating?

By the way Stacking had such a multiple solutions approach, I found that I ended up solving the puzzles without even trying - though that was also partly a result of the game being too easy, which in turn might have been in order to reduce frustration caused by not being able to figure out any of the several solutions? I thought it was one of the most inspired games I ever played... and I got so bored with it that I haven't even finished it. Getting stuck, at least even for a little, might be preferable to having a world full of solutions.

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Also you can't include every solution because somebody will always think of something that would work but the game designers didnt think of. I think its a very hard job to balance the puzzles, I for one get stuck in almost every adventure in the end (except for some telltale adventures that basically show you the answer before you knew there was a puzzle to begin with). So the solutions have to be rewarding and always a bit outragous (theres no fun in opening the door by calling a locksmith and asking him to open the door for you). I do beleive multiple solutions do add a replay value... but somehow the game should convince you there was another option.

As for 'reds' the idea of the double world lends itself perfectly for multiple options, each world its own solution to the same problem..... also a massive replay value gain there since it would spark you're interest 'how would the other world character have solved this'

Man, I havent been anticipating a game as much as this one since... ever. It already has more immersion than one could have in games marketed traditionally....

(I have to say I am also anticipating overgrowth a lot! )

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Looking for useable stuff in the background that does not scream “pick me!” is adventure 101. Having everything you can interact with glowing or highlighted takes away a lot of the challenge of an adventure game.

having things highlighted is not a bad thing if a lot more stuff is able to be interacted with than necessary, if i had a choice, I'd say everything in a "room" that you'd be able to interact with in real life should be able to be interacted with, most of which would be useless, even if able to be picked up, but then those things could easily be used as a joke, or if picked up, used in a joke when interacted with later.

sure if only important things are able to be interacted with, or would be highlighted, that would be lame, but the more interactions, the better, and when there are so many interactions, having some way to spot them all, is a must, whether it is a slight change in the cursor, or the name of the item pops up when you hover over it, something.

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Looking for useable stuff in the background that does not scream “pick me!” is adventure 101. Having everything you can interact with glowing or highlighted takes away a lot of the challenge of an adventure game.

having things highlighted is not a bad thing if a lot more stuff is able to be interacted with than necessary, if i had a choice, I'd say everything in a "room" that you'd be able to interact with in real life should be able to be interacted with, most of which would be useless, even if able to be picked up, but then those things could easily be used as a joke, or if picked up, used in a joke when interacted with later.

sure if only important things are able to be interacted with, or would be highlighted, that would be lame, but the more interactions, the better, and when there are so many interactions, having some way to spot them all, is a must, whether it is a slight change in the cursor, or the name of the item pops up when you hover over it, something.

hover hover.. ahhh here's something... what's this "completly useless background item probably not useable in the next puzzle" hmmm will pick that up might come in handy :)

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obviously you won't know it's useless until you try interacting with it, and getting a funny response.

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There are some adventure games that have done the ‘red herring’ thing of having items which you can pick up that don’t have a single use in a puzzle.

I specifically remember Chronicles of the Sword (crappy adventure if you haven’t played it you’re lucky) having several objects that you can pick up, including the main antagonists hairbrush, yet they have no use in any puzzle in the game.

Giving you the ability to ‘interact’ with everything that’s not nailed down creates a multitude of problems, even if the items that have a puzzle use among the ones you can pick up have a glow to tell them apart or whatever.

For one thing, it ‘clutters’ the screen and inventory for the player and creates a ton of new pick up animations and other technical considerations, plus there’s already a stretch of ‘ladder in your pants’ on going adventure game joke, where adventure games protagonists have endless pockets.

Besides doesn’t that already happen by limiting interactivity to looking at an object that can’t be used or occasionally touching? Usually in adventure games, I look at stuff before I try to pick them up for the extra line of dialogue, sometimes carried with a joke, in few occasions the character actually tries to pick something up but either can’t or changes his/her mind.

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i didn't mean lot of red herrings, just a few, but at least be able to interact with, if not pick up, most things.

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If you can pick up most things, that would be a whole lot of red herrings ;)

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I didn't say most things should be able to be picked up, I said most things that can be interacted with should be useless, and some of those things should be able to be picked up.

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I didn't say most things should be able to be picked up, I said most things that can be interacted with should be useless, and some of those things should be able to be picked up.

I like this idea. One of my favourite things in any game ever is the alleyway at the beginning of Broken Sword where, while looking for clues, you can attempt to climb a drainpipe and break it and can take the lid off a bin only to be spooked by a stray cat. I think useless interactions can make a game world feel a lot richer.

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I would say that a puzzle needs only one solution, if it's designed well enough so you can agree that it's actually the best solution the designer could have chosen.

Good one solution puzzles are good because the designer is kind of telling you that he/she thinks that that is the best solution, because it says something interesting about the game's principles.

An adventure game is essentially a game between the designer and the player, where the player is challenged to outguess the designer's wacky story telling mind, based on underlying principles that you have to grasp as a player.

The weirder while the more solid the underlying principles behind the adventuregame are, the better it is. This is what all the classics have in common.

In these games, the satisfaction of solving puzzles lies in that you apparently get the basic thinking well enough to guess the designer's intentions and make sense of all the things that seemed absurd at first.

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I would say that a puzzle needs only one solution, if it's designed well enough so you can agree that it's actually the best solution the designer could have chosen.

Good one solution puzzles are good because the designer is kind of telling you that he/she thinks that that is the best solution, because it says something interesting about the game's principles.

An adventure game is essentially a game between the designer and the player, where the player is challenged to outguess the designer's wacky story telling mind, based on underlying principles that you have to grasp as a player.

The weirder while the more solid the underlying principles behind the adventuregame are, the better it is. This is what all the classics have in common.

In these games, the satisfaction of solving puzzles lies in that you apparently get the basic thinking well enough to guess the designer's intentions and make sense of all the things that seemed absurd at first.

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Regarding pixel hunting, one alternative to glowies that I recently saw in a casual adventure game was to mark each location as complete once all game relevant interactions have been done. I think that's a decent way to let a a player know whether there's still something there without pointing out where everything is.

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Regarding pixel hunting, one alternative to glowies that I recently saw in a casual adventure game was to mark each location as complete once all game relevant interactions have been done. I think that's a decent way to let a a player know whether there's still something there without pointing out where everything is.

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I understand that by "Pixel hunting" what people mean is actually trying to find interactive, necessary items that have the screen presence of literally one or two pixels, thus requiring the player to sloooooowly mouse over the entire screen to find it. That, I believe we can all agree, is extremely annoying and obvious fake difficulty, added only because the actual puzzle wasn't ingenious enough. As long as the item/interactive surface/what have you is actually visible in the screen and not hidden in one-two pixel surfaces, there shouldn't be the need to highlight everything.

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I understand that by "Pixel hunting" what people mean is actually trying to find interactive, necessary items that have the screen presence of literally one or two pixels, thus requiring the player to sloooooowly mouse over the entire screen to find it. That, I believe we can all agree, is extremely annoying and obvious fake difficulty, added only because the actual puzzle wasn't ingenious enough. As long as the item/interactive surface/what have you is actually visible in the screen and not hidden in one-two pixel surfaces, there shouldn't be the need to highlight everything.

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I understand that by "Pixel hunting" what people mean is actually trying to find interactive, necessary items that have the screen presence of literally one or two pixels, thus requiring the player to sloooooowly mouse over the entire screen to find it. That, I believe we can all agree, is extremely annoying and obvious fake difficulty, added only because the actual puzzle wasn't ingenious enough. As long as the item/interactive surface/what have you is actually visible in the screen and not hidden in one-two pixel surfaces, there shouldn't be the need to highlight everything.

I agree with this - that's what I've always understood the term pixel hunting to mean, and it is definitely boring, bad design.

Highlighting, as an optional mechanic might be okay... but I would get tempted to use it when I got stuck, and then I'd use it, and then I'd feel lame for not figuring it out on my own.

Better would just be making sure that things you needed to interact with had the appropriate amount of attention in the screen. Not too much and not too little. I believe that good game design in general eliminates the necessity of lots of "help" mechanics, and also, conversely, harder difficulties. This is why, until recently, Nintendo didn't offer multiple difficulties in any of their games - it was a statement of confidence in their design. Just like, in a fancy restaurant, they don't have salt or pepper on the table because the food is supposed to be seasoned correctly coming out of the kitchen.

As for multiple solutions, that's a tough one. On the one hand, if there really are multiple ways to solve a problem that seem equally obvious and legitimate, then to disallow one of them arbitrarily can only draw attention to the artifice of the experience. On the other hand - clearly not every possible solution can be explored. It would be impossible, and undesirable besides, since the game would lose a lot of it's challenge and structure. So I'm not sure what the best balance is - maybe a few multiple solution puzzles? Like a couple of larger puzzles that can be solved in several different ways, but each solution requiring the player to solve several other puzzles that only have one solution?

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I understand that by "Pixel hunting" what people mean is actually trying to find interactive, necessary items that have the screen presence of literally one or two pixels, thus requiring the player to sloooooowly mouse over the entire screen to find it. That, I believe we can all agree, is extremely annoying and obvious fake difficulty, added only because the actual puzzle wasn't ingenious enough. As long as the item/interactive surface/what have you is actually visible in the screen and not hidden in one-two pixel surfaces, there shouldn't be the need to highlight everything.

I agree with this - that's what I've always understood the term pixel hunting to mean, and it is definitely boring, bad design.

Highlighting, as an optional mechanic might be okay... but I would get tempted to use it when I got stuck, and then I'd use it, and then I'd feel lame for not figuring it out on my own.

Better would just be making sure that things you needed to interact with had the appropriate amount of attention in the screen. Not too much and not too little. I believe that good game design in general eliminates the necessity of lots of "help" mechanics, and also, conversely, harder difficulties. This is why, until recently, Nintendo didn't offer multiple difficulties in any of their games - it was a statement of confidence in their design. Just like, in a fancy restaurant, they don't have salt or pepper on the table because the food is supposed to be seasoned correctly coming out of the kitchen.

As for multiple solutions, that's a tough one. On the one hand, if there really are multiple ways to solve a problem that seem equally obvious and legitimate, then to disallow one of them arbitrarily can only draw attention to the artifice of the experience. On the other hand - clearly not every possible solution can be explored. It would be impossible, and undesirable besides, since the game would lose a lot of it's challenge and structure. So I'm not sure what the best balance is - maybe a few multiple solution puzzles? Like a couple of larger puzzles that can be solved in several different ways, but each solution requiring the player to solve several other puzzles that only have one solution?

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Hotspots have helped me many times in the past. I'd really like them, actually, as there has been countless times that I've missed something that SHOULD have been completely obvious. Like most games they are completely optional. I only used them when I had tried everything I could think of and was stuck for 10+ minutes. Maybe a checkbox in options to turn them on or off for 'hardcore' gamers.

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Hotspots have helped me many times in the past. I'd really like them, actually, as there has been countless times that I've missed something that SHOULD have been completely obvious. Like most games they are completely optional. I only used them when I had tried everything I could think of and was stuck for 10+ minutes. Maybe a checkbox in options to turn them on or off for 'hardcore' gamers.

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I do hope, that the real pixel hunting, in where you try to find a button sized of one pixel from a scene, is thing of the past. I can't tell how many times I've been frustrated in those situatuins, where designers have thought it a good aproach to make a small, almost unnoticeable hotspot instead of just making in example a bigger panel useable hotspot.

Back in the time those single pixel hotspot were mainly caused by the limitation of technology and low resolution graphics. Now that we can have crisp high resolution eye candy I do hope, that we can truly move past that. Thought these days the better resources may give too much opportunities to hide the hotspot inside too much crap, so a good design method here is essential.

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I do hope, that the real pixel hunting, in where you try to find a button sized of one pixel from a scene, is thing of the past. I can't tell how many times I've been frustrated in those situatuins, where designers have thought it a good aproach to make a small, almost unnoticeable hotspot instead of just making in example a bigger panel useable hotspot.

Back in the time those single pixel hotspot were mainly caused by the limitation of technology and low resolution graphics. Now that we can have crisp high resolution eye candy I do hope, that we can truly move past that. Thought these days the better resources may give too much opportunities to hide the hotspot inside too much crap, so a good design method here is essential.

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As for multiple solutions, that's a tough one. On the one hand, if there really are multiple ways to solve a problem that seem equally obvious and legitimate, then to disallow one of them arbitrarily can only draw attention to the artifice of the experience. On the other hand - clearly not every possible solution can be explored. It would be impossible, and undesirable besides, since the game would lose a lot of it's challenge and structure. So I'm not sure what the best balance is - maybe a few multiple solution puzzles? Like a couple of larger puzzles that can be solved in several different ways, but each solution requiring the player to solve several other puzzles that only have one solution?

Multiple solutions can be confusing if they're arbitrary. Just having two ways to do something without consequence can mislead players.

What is more interesting is the idea of multiple solutions that actually affect the plot. If solving a problem one way is going to fracture your relationship with a character but another solution might not (for example), that gives players something interesting to explore. The Pandora Directive played with that a little bit, especially with the money system.

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As for multiple solutions, that's a tough one. On the one hand, if there really are multiple ways to solve a problem that seem equally obvious and legitimate, then to disallow one of them arbitrarily can only draw attention to the artifice of the experience. On the other hand - clearly not every possible solution can be explored. It would be impossible, and undesirable besides, since the game would lose a lot of it's challenge and structure. So I'm not sure what the best balance is - maybe a few multiple solution puzzles? Like a couple of larger puzzles that can be solved in several different ways, but each solution requiring the player to solve several other puzzles that only have one solution?

Multiple solutions can be confusing if they're arbitrary. Just having two ways to do something without consequence can mislead players.

What is more interesting is the idea of multiple solutions that actually affect the plot. If solving a problem one way is going to fracture your relationship with a character but another solution might not (for example), that gives players something interesting to explore. The Pandora Directive played with that a little bit, especially with the money system.

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