284: Give Me An Axe, I've Had Enough Of This Puzzle

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Give Me An Axe, I've Had Enough Of This Puzzle

Puzzles pull us out of the gaming experience, but obstacles pull us in.

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AMEND! I can't possibly agree more!

Cant stand Pipe dream in Bioshock

Cant get enough Lockpicking in Oblivion/Fallout

obstacle >>>> puzzle

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

This reminds me of the Incorporeal Bridge in Dragon Age: Origins (the second to last section in the Gauntlet, for those of you who remember). I spent at least an hour trying to figure everything out before giving up and turning to the Gamespot forums for assistance.

If only my mage could have cast a glyph of levitation (or something).

This is exactly the reason why I like destructible environments in my game- no excuse if you block my path with a wooden door.

Intersting read. You are probably right. But how about the puzzles in AC 2? Would they fall under obstacles, or puzzles?

I like puzzles. Most of the time I like the reason why they are there. But I've never really encountered a puzzle that pulled me out of the experience.

*Note to self: Dont us puzzles, use obstacles*

But seriously, I agree wholeheartedly. Some puzzles are okay, but sometimes they can break the already weak immersion im in. I also like the "cant solve the puzzle? Break the f**king door down!" bit. I think that should be allowed in a number of games.

hehehe, might i ask you to check out "M.O.T.A.S" (Mystery Of Time And Space) its a puzzle game that has being active for over 10 years, its still in devellopment and people all over the world have played it, there is just no end to that damn game, but i love it to bits, all the puzzles are easily identifiable and still they manage to have some level of dificulty (it deppends more on the time you are willing to spend checking the enviroment than the actuall "college" you went to)

HERE!!! a link for you!!! http://www.albartus.com/motas/

Very good read. I loved MYST and URU...because of the complexity of the obstacles, the universe and the atmosphere. If someone just put similar puzzles right in front of my face without any context, it would be a bit boring. Therefore, after soem consideration, I agree with you.

YAY FOR SOLVING EVERYTHING BY DESTROYING IT!

seriously, that's what i want, it reminds me of that one part in Knights of the Old republic where you had to move all the rings from one pole to the next and some rings couldnt go where other rings were because those rings would cause the stuff to explode and you would die and there was a--- AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

i just wanted to plant explosives on the door and not worry about it! fuck inserting complex puzzles into my games! I just want to PROGRESS and STAY IMMERSED!

I see you favor the Alexander the Great approach when it comes to puzzles.

I admire that.

Yes I too wish I have the option of smashing when it comes to especially devious puzzles.

Jonas Kyratzes:
Give Me An Axe, I've Had Enough Of This Puzzle

Puzzles pull us out of the gaming experience, but obstacles pull us in.

Read Full Article

I like puzzles in games. The pipe dream in bioshock and the ghost bridge in dragon age being two of my favorites. Another favorite, from my short time playing the game, is the floor puzzle games from DDO.
On the whole, i think that an argument could be made that puzzles do pull you out of the gaming experience, because you cease being your character and become yourself, but I think that aids in immersion which enriches the gaming experience, not detracts from it, eveb if it alters the flow somewhat.

Edit: after reading the article again, I don't think i "get" the authors distinction between a puzzle and an obstacle. Intellectualy, i see the difference, but I haven't really ever seen a puzzle that I would say isn't integrated well into the world. Taking the puzzles I liste above, the water puzzle makes sense to me if you simply assume that the water, either literally or metephorically, represents the intent of what you are hacking, which you then artificially force to go where you want it to. The ghost birdge in dragon age makes perfect sense becuase it's a gauntlet made to test mental fortitude as well as strength, perfectly justifying a puzzle, just like it justifies riddles and fighting ghost forms of yourselves. Just like it justifies having to unequip my armor. The puzzle games also make sense in DDO because they are put in place in order to protect powerful artifacts from unwanted influence, which justifies puzzles.

I'm fine with it, I'm not big on immersion, so a puzzle and an obstacle are the same thing to me.

But I am against puzzles in games that don't need them.

God of War has way more puzzles than it needs, and they are all way too simple.

I think this an interesting view, and one I agree with. I remember playing Hexen and thinking, these puzzles aren't about being smart, they are about aligning your thoughts in concordance with the ideas of the designer. I am not sure in the end, that it was ultimately helpful to have the puzzles in the game.

DannibalG36:
This reminds me of the Incorporeal Bridge in Dragon Age: Origins (the second to last section in the Gauntlet, for those of you who remember). I spent at least an hour trying to figure everything out before giving up and turning to the Gamespot forums for assistance.

If only my mage could have cast a glyph of levitation (or something).

The salt in the wound was one of your party members (probably Alastair) lampshading after the fact: "so we're supposed to demonstrate our worth to the Maker by solving logic puzzles?" Even the NPCs feel immersion whiplash!

Onyx Oblivion:
I'm fine with it, I'm not big on immersion, so a puzzle and an obstacle are the same thing to me.

But I am against puzzles in games that don't need them.

God of War has way more puzzles than it needs, and they are all way too simple.

So many people whose opinions I respect hold up God of War as a great example of characterization, and how the fighting embodies the rage Kratos feels and so on, and while that may be true, that's maybe 25% of gameplay. The rest is these irritating puzzles and it really strains my suspension of disbelief to accept the same enraged mass-murderer you control in fights or cutscenes would be patiently crawling all over ancient booby-trapped temples like Indiana Jones.

Latinidiot:
Intersting read. You are probably right. But how about the puzzles in AC 2? Would they fall under obstacles, or puzzles?

If you mean the Assassins' Tombs (and Romulus Lairs in Brotherhood), I'd argue those are not as annoying, because:

i) They're optional. You can finish the main plotline without doing them,
ii) They use the same parkour/free-running skills you use throughout the whole game (and they're good practice besides), and don't bring in a completely different set of gameplay mechanics, and
iii) They fit the narrative. It's well-established by the story these ancient conspiracies have hidden their secrets behind puzzles.

I've been lurking the forums and reading the articles for a long time, and I just have to say in response to this article:

The Longest Journey (the first one)

Totally agree with the review, although I enjoy puzzles just for the sake of the puzzles as well ^^

Jonas Kyratzes:
Give Me An Axe, I've Had Enough Of This Puzzle

Puzzles pull us out of the gaming experience, but obstacles pull us in.

Read Full Article

Agreed fully.

A good game teaches you how to engage its world--the rules, regulations, patterns, and so on--and then it tests you on how well you've learned. It teaches what will be tested, and it only tests what it taught.

These obstacles should demand that you think inside the game world, rather than think outside in abstraction. As you described, context is the key. In education, we've got names for the difference between the two: authentic and inauthentic assessment.

Inauthentic assessment is when a student is asked to describe knowledge. I give you a formula, and you repeat the formula to me and maybe answer some numerical problems. It tells me whether or not you're familiar with the knowledge. Authentic assessment is when a student is asked to apply knowledge. I give you a formula, and then I give you a problem that requires you to use that formula to find a useful answer. It tells me whether or not you're fluent in the use of this knowledge.

Games should rely as much as possible on authentic assessment. Teach players the rules of the game and then make them apply those rules in novel situations. Provide context to the puzzle, and you've got good content.

I have to agree - whenever I find a puzzle in a game, I just go to the game's wiki and look for the fastest solution, so I can get back to the actual game. I did it with the slider puzzles in Resident Evil 4 and Dragon Age and I did it with the damn Tower of Hanoi in Mass Effect.

An example of an obstacle that I enjoyed was the sunlight-mirrors section in Resident Evil 5. I was playing co-op, so I could park Sheva on top of the plinth (away from the rays and direct my roommate, using my vantage to predict where the beam would go once he rotated all the mirrors, AND being safe from the deadly laser myself.

Falseprophet:

Latinidiot:
Intersting read. You are probably right. But how about the puzzles in AC 2? Would they fall under obstacles, or puzzles?

If you mean the Assassins' Tombs (and Romulus Lairs in Brotherhood), I'd argue those are not as annoying, because:

i) They're optional. You can finish the main plotline without doing them,
ii) They use the same parkour/free-running skills you use throughout the whole game (and they're good practice besides), and don't bring in a completely different set of gameplay mechanics, and
iii) They fit the narrative. It's well-established by the story these ancient conspiracies have hidden their secrets behind puzzles.

EDIT: woops, something went wrong there.

No, I'm talking about the bits ofsubject 16 memories, and the various 'Information unlocking' puzzles that they bring with them. I like them, but according to this article, they would be.....bad design.

I don't mind puzzles in games myself, because I like them and I'm good at solving puzzles, but I agree that games in other genres should be upfront about what kind of experience they try to deliver.
Throwing one or two puzzles in an action game isn't really catering to puzzle lovers and it may actually spoil it for the action players.

Good article.

I agree in principle, though I feel the linguistic distinction is arbitrary and limiting. There are in-game puzzles that are wholly a part of the world, and it seems wrong to me to refer to them simply as "obstacles." Take the God of War puzzles, for example. Using Medusa's head to freeze a minotaur when it steps on a switch is a puzzle. The rules of the puzzle are built into the world, and the solution is a simple one, but it's definitely a puzzle. The Rings of Pandora are a puzzle, and a wonderfully devious one at that. It seems to deny a part of their nature if you lump them in with boss encounters and big rocks as "obstacles."

Also, since the article all but proposes a game design philosophy, then I need to take issue with one part of that proposal:

"A slider puzzle on the kitchen door is just a puzzle; needing to get the key from the cook is an obstacle."

Please, dear god, don't let us replace puzzles with fetch quests.

Fascinating. Although, a door covered in mystic runes and sigils is one I would have hesitance to wallop with an axe. For the quite specific reason of if the runes align to open the door, what else can they do, say, if struck by a large axe?

Can anyone say "Water Temple?"
with that noteworthy exception, i think that the legend of zelda series is the perfect example of striding that fine line between puzzle and obstacle. I never felt completely lost in a puzzle, to the point where my immersion was broken. But the puzzles were still very challenging and entertaining. Everything there was a practical use of applying knowledge. (portal is also a great example of this, with only the simple instructions of go from one portal to the next, you are asked to apply that knowledge in puzzles =)

I would love to play a game with door-lock-puzzle that is solved by using an axe. Especially if you are supposed to think it's supposed to be a "real" puzzle.

Ironmaus:
I agree in principle, though I feel the linguistic distinction is arbitrary and limiting. There are in-game puzzles that are wholly a part of the world, and it seems wrong to me to refer to them simply as "obstacles." Take the God of War puzzles, for example. Using Medusa's head to freeze a minotaur when it steps on a switch is a puzzle. The rules of the puzzle are built into the world, and the solution is a simple one, but it's definitely a puzzle. The Rings of Pandora are a puzzle, and a wonderfully devious one at that. It seems to deny a part of their nature if you lump them in with boss encounters and big rocks as "obstacles."

Yeah, that's what I was thinking as well. While I do get what the article means, the distinction is largely semantic. What if the strange symbols on the kitchen door were actually hidden in several places throughout the entire game, and you missed it (probably because you were slumped in your chair and your LCD screen was darker)? And maybe if you had wrote down the Ancient Mystical Language That's Actually Just a Replacement Cypher for English and decoded it you'd see that the symbols are actually powerful runes, causing anything they are inscribed into to become indestructible, but you didn't bother. And the correct answer to the puzzle is in a bass relief in the Living Room of the Damned which you didn't see because there is no way you're spending hours killing 50 munchkins to access it. If only you had collected at least 95 MacGuffins of Forever you'd have heard the prophecy of the Kitchen Door of Doomsday that gives you a smaller hint, at least.

My point is, what's the difference between a puzzle that's dislodged from the game and a puzzle that makes sense in the metagame but only to a gamer that has been paying attention to the whole thing. To one that hasn't, what has been labeled as a 'puzzle' vs. a 'obstacle' are indistinguishable. Someone has mentioned the AC2 puzzles - they take you outside of the game world if you define the game world as 'Ezio in Renaissance Italy', but not if you define it as 'Assassins looking at the past through a weird machine'. Which is it? (I'd argue the question is moot because of the excellent job the AC series did using the metagame to its advantadge. One day I'll get off my ass and write an article on it. Well, it'll be hard to write an article standing.)

Although the ability to take different paths to solve a 'puzzle' is an exit every genre except for the strict, dance-like adventure game should strive for.

This article really touch a nerve with me, especially when it comes to survival horror like Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Siren and Clock Tower.
I understand the need to find key cards and password to open doors, but why the hell do I need to search for a gem to socket on to a statue while being chase by zombies?!

The one puzzle that make be drop a game was from Clock Tower, can't remember which one, where you encounter a heavy wooden door with a pair for iron hooks/hangers which you need to place something on it.
After hours of exploring and trial and error, I found out that I NEED TO PLACE A STRING PUPPET ON THE HOOK/HANGERS TO ACTIVATE IT. By logic, any piece of heavy wood log should suffice. It filled me with so much hatred and rage that I eject the disc and shove it in a dark corner of my game cabinet and never lay eye on it ever again.

Obstacle that gel with the theme of game are great, I still remember fondly of the boss fights in Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver. Where you cannot use brute force to overpower a boss but have to use the environment to tackle those mutant blood suckers. The fight with Rahab is still my favorite.

loved the reference to Rama :D have a lot of fond memories of teaching myself base-8 and base-16 math to finish it

Falseprophet:

DannibalG36:

Intersting read. You are probably right. But how about the puzzles in AC 2? Would they fall under obstacles, or puzzles?

If you mean the Assassins' Tombs (and Romulus Lairs in Brotherhood), I'd argue those are not as annoying, because:

i) They're optional. You can finish the main plotline without doing them,
ii) They use the same parkour/free-running skills you use throughout the whole game (and they're good practice besides), and don't bring in a completely different set of gameplay mechanics, and
iii) They fit the narrative. It's well-established by the story these ancient conspiracies have hidden their secrets behind puzzles.

I think he was referring to the gylph puzzles. I for one liked those and though they added to the game. They helped flesh out the conspiracy aspect. Even when I need help on some of them, I felt like I was looking for some Templar secret instead of the answer to some random puzzle.

I can't enjoy Half-Life games because they're rooted in the old days of FPS games requiring puzzles.
What's that Game? You want me to stack things under one end of a plank so Mr Freeman can run along it and jump to a neck-high ledge? Why doesn't the motherfucker pull himself up?
Wire fence in the way? You have a shotgun, fucktard!

I never enjoy puzzles in any game except those in the Adventure genre. And that's besically because that's the allowance you have to make before playing those games. Currently replaying The Longest Journey and the guy who thought up rubber ducky + clamp + clothes line needs to die.

Thank god Bioware typically go with the old Towers of Hanoi puzzle. Anyone who can't solve that needs to play more old games or watch The Crystal Maze. I wish they still did the riddles they used to use in Baldurs Gate games. They were fun, even if pulled from The Big Book Of Riddles.

Can you please make a game where just hacking through everything can be a solution to the puzzle? I like puzzles, but I mainly like the type of logic puzzles that we get in Resident Evil or Professor Layton. Sliding puzzles make me want to punch a baby seal...and I LIKE baby seals. If we can just hack through puzzles that we hate, people who like puzzles can work them out, and people who don't can unleash violence on them! Stress relief for all!

What a fun article! It's definitely something to think about when designing a game, whether or not a point needs a puzzle or an obstacle, and defining what makes one or the other. Obviously, this doesn't necessarily regard puzzle-heavy games (Professor Layton, Puzzle Agent), but definitely applies to many other games and genres.

Recently, I picked up and enjoyed Braid via the Humble Indie Bundle, and where its has ridiculously well designed puzzle, they definitely get in the way of the story. I've talked to many different people around who have played Braid, and I found not many of them actually BEAT the game. They really enjoyed twisting time and playing with the different mechanics, but once the novelty wore off and they found that they couldn't actually 'complete' the game without beating every single puzzle, they just left it by the wayside, which is a real shame, because if they just picked up a walkthrough and finished those puzzles, they'd be rewarded with an amazing and creative ending to an otherwise confusing and baseless story.

Alternatively, a game like Portal (easily considered a Puzzle/Platformer), puts you into a place where you are supposed to be constantly solving "puzzles" for GlaDOS. But once the narrative leaves the "puzzle"-sort of testing areas, there aren't any more 'puzzles', but they are now 'obstacles' just based on context. People have widely lauded the narrative's change at this point, and it is because the contextual change of the puzzles FOLLOW the change in the story.

Making a difference between 'puzzles' and 'obstacles' might seem arbitrary to many people, but in game design both ideas have their time and place and affective employment of these ideas can make the difference between someone experiencing your game, and someone fully consuming your artistic intent as the designer.

Latinidiot:
Intersting read. You are probably right. But how about the puzzles in AC 2? Would they fall under obstacles, or puzzles?

I like puzzles. Most of the time I like the reason why they are there. But I've never really encountered a puzzle that pulled me out of the experience.

The "puzzles" in assassins creed 2, are there because it IS part of the narrative, they are obstacles, in the form of a puzzle. you dont have to solve them, but its a nice side-track if you want to, and they are there in the context of the animus, to unlock various bits of information about the storyline, which, untouched, may leave you questioning some gaps which arent always noticed by the doolally gibbering idiots who play games like "Madden NFL" continually for "fun"

Congrats on one of the most profound articles i've read recently on gaming. With the whole axe to puzzle idea in general, i think more games could do with a bypass to severely difficult puzzles which make no sense, though some deliberation to use this is in order.

Its the puzzles and obstacles that make or break a game, make it truly outstanding or a boring waste of grind-time, the Half-Life series and portal being premium examples of this, portal, being a game which features nothing BUT puzzles in the context of a puzzling environment works on SO many levels, and half-life is littered with obstacles which simply make sense, giving pacing, and a good flow to it.

DTWolfwood:
AMEND! I can't possibly agree more!

Cant stand Pipe dream in Bioshock

Cant get enough Lockpicking in Oblivion/Fallout

obstacle >>>> puzzle

I'm sort of the exact opposite. I missed the "connect the wires" puzzles from the original "System Shock", replaced in SS2 by randomized panels where your success is driven by random chance (ok, you can increase that chance by putting more modules into "cybernetic affinity", but there's still a random element) and I liked the "pipe dream", as you put it, from Bioshock.

The only problem with it is that time stands still, which takes away from the immersion factor. Whereas when you were messing about with the panels in "System Shock" and its sequel, there was always the possibility that something very angry would come up behind you and attack you with a soldering iron. It's a great deal more tense when you have to focus on other stuff apart from the puzzle as you're solving it.

EDIT: and I HATE the lockpicking puzzles. In Fallout 3, I even preferred the "password" puzzles, which at least took a little working out, although I would've preferred them to be less frequent as well. They had to do SOMETHING to justify a high "science" skill I suppose...

xengk:
This article really touch a nerve with me, especially when it comes to survival horror like Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Siren and Clock Tower.
I understand the need to find key cards and password to open doors, but why the hell do I need to search for a gem to socket on to a statue while being chase by zombies?!

QFT. Some "puzzles" are just obvious, hamfisted ploys to extend the length of the game or give a change of pace between bits of action. Not that these aren't necessary mechanics, but when they're nonsensical, needlessly time-consuming, or break the mood of the game - they're better left out. On the other hand, some are just right in context. It's all about what the character would actually do in that situation. Would a puzzle make the player feel clever, or just glad it's over? Would that character stop beating on orcs to solve a series of inane fetch quests to get some information, or would they hunt for it another way? Is the difficulty satisfying, or drudging?

Really liked the article. All very true. Some people love sudoku and stand-alone math and logic puzzles of that nature. That's probably not what someone who just picked up a horror, fantasy, scifi (and so on) game thought they were getting into.

I definitely agree. I hate puzzles too, and I love obstacles. I mean, it's like the difference between Resident Evil and Shadow of the Colossus in my opinion. I think it was Yahtzee that said "it gives me that smug I-didn't-have-to-look-it-up-on-gamefaqs feeling." While it's true that most survival horror puzzles are in keeping with their narrative, even then they're usually really wierd. I used to joke about what it'd be like to live in Racoon city BEFORE the outbreak. I swear Milton Bradley made that town.

The one thing that makes the Myst series puzzles work is that (especially for the Cyan-made games), the puzzle isn't "figure out the blocks", it's "figure out why things work the way they do".

The Riven number puzzle is perfect for this. You see the weird symbols everywhere, and then you find the classroom, and there are the symbols, arranged in the classic "number line". Ta-da!

(Of course, it also has the !@#$% marble puzzle, but nobody's perfect.)

The other thing Myst does is that since you don't have an inventory, you don't have an axe in hand to chop the door down with. (Which skews a little too far in the later games IMO - by the later games, the assumption is that you knew you were coming. So why don't you have a rope, or a compass, or a flashlight?)

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