284: Puzzling Worlds

Puzzling Worlds

When cleverly used and contextually appropriate, a puzzle can be integral to strengthening a game's story and the player's experience of it.

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Katie Williams:
Puzzling Worlds

When cleverly used and contextually appropriate, a puzzle can be integral to strengthening a game's story and the player's experience of it.

Read Full Article

Let me be the first to say "OHMYGOD MYST MYST MYST," because these games are the friggin' textbook for puzzles that are integrated organically into the gameplay: engaging and contextual.

I definitely agree that too many games toss in arbitrary puzzles to stall for time, artificially boost the "difficulty" of the game, or just provide cheap, easy-to-make content. Selling a game as having 30 hours of gameplay doesn't mean anything if 20 of those hours involve alphabetizing your weapons or sitting in the final boss's waiting room doing that ridiculous Cracker Barrel golf tee puzzle.

In a well-designed game, puzzles should serve as "quizzes" that determine how well you've been paying attention to the rules and formulas of the game world as you've experienced it so far. Like any good quiz or test in any good class, you should only ever be tested on what you've been taught by that class. (Similarly, the class shouldn't be filled with tons of information that "isn't on the test.")

In Zelda games, for instance, the puzzles in each dungeon are designed to simultaneously teach and test you on the new equipment that dungeon gives you. First, you encounter a familiar task (like hitting a trigger to open a door). Second, you encounter limitations for which you have no solution (like a trigger you can't reach without the hookshot). Third, you find the new equipment. Fourth, you're given a quick task that teaches you how to use that equipment and what clues to look for when you should use it. Finally, you go back to that previous obstacle ready to deal with it. Zelda games tend to be a bit hand-holdy with this in the early dungeons, but later on you're expected to quickly choose from your "bag of tricks" to fit the given situation.

Puzzles engage you and immerse you in the setting, or at least they should. You're forced to learn the "rules" of this world--How fast do you fall? How far can you jump? How many uses does this tool have? How much time do you have before this explodes? What do these symbols mean? Do any real-world rules transfer over?--and then you're put in situations that require this knowledge of you in the context of the game. In this regard, puzzles are a form of "authentic assessment."

An example of "inauthentic assessment" would be teaching you a set of math formulas and then providing you a worksheet of numerical problems in which you use these formulas to generate an answer. An example of "authentic assessment" would be giving you a word- or story-problem in which you have to decide which formula(s) you'll need and apply them in coming up with an answer that is useful rather than abstract. It's not "Do you know this?" it's "Can you use this?" Game puzzles that are constructed (an instructed) with this in mind can elevate a game from "cute distraction" to "thrilling mental workout" without accidentally introducing plain ol' tedium.

I'm kind of surprised Portal wasn't mentioned in the article. Its certainly my favourite puzzle game, and an excellent example of teaching the player the mechanics and rules of the world and then allowing them to apply what they've learned in increasingly complex situations. The brilliance of Portal for me is the concept (you know, the one the game is named after) itself. The implementation of the portals is IMO a work of genius and gives the player a million different things to do, which in turn allows them to make more and more complicated puzzles. Hopefully Portal 2 will continue to up the ante

I'm currently creating a puzzle game with my roommate, and I found it pretty useful to see a lot of the general concepts I had floating around my head put down explicitly in writing. Great first contribution Katie.

Hm. This article and Jonas Kyratzes' seem to mine very similar territory.

I'm not sure I completely accept the author's conclusion that "We enjoy solving puzzles that are representative of the three-dimensional worlds we inhabit," but I do recognize the larger point here; that videogames have a world of their own and puzzles placed inside those games need to fit into that world both environmentally and according to the internal logic of the game.

I must say, this article reminded me of the true ending to 999 (Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors). I really loved the game until I got to the final puzzle

Smokescreen:
Hm. This article and Jonas Kyratzes' seem to mine very similar territory.

Yeah, but I'd say this one gets the point across with a lot less words and a lot more certainty. Although it may be just because I read it latter.

I challenged the idea in the other article's comments because I like to be contrary but I agree with it. But SH Homecoming is just bad. The cool thing about Silent Hill is that it has a weird magical underworld in which weird puzzles like that don't look so out of place.

That sliding block puzzle will be in my personal hell, i'm still stuck on the bastard thing! FUCK YOU HOMECOMING! It was a decent game before that monstrosity of a puzzle walked in.

Katie Williams:
Puzzling Worlds

When cleverly used and contextually appropriate, a puzzle can be integral to strengthening a game's story and the player's experience of it.

Read Full Article

This whole article is a reason of why I rarely play survival horror games, even though I like them. I hated, when playing Resident Evil, having to travel from point A to point B, in order to unlock the door to point C, which held a key for point A, that led to switch that opened the way to point D.

A sliding block puzzle almost brought Onimusha to a halt for me, because it was irritating and totally felt strange in the world. I eventually looked up how to defeat it on Gamefaqs, and refound my love for the rest of the game.

I actually liked that puzzle, and solved it without the need for a walk-through. That game was lacking in puzzles in my opinion; the only one that stumped me was one that didn't even turn out to be a puzzle (spent over an hour trying to solve it...turned out the answer was written right next to the input, I just had to carry it over for some reason). Hell, the best parts of the first Silent Hill were the puzzles to me. But then again, I know more people that hate them than I do that love them =/

The sliding puzzles in SH:H were cake. There were at least two, and I solved them both in under a minute each.

Which brings me to why sliding puzzles suck in general: they are too easy and almost never actually have anything to do with the plot or story. In that sense, they did take me out of the game for a sec, but not because they were hard. Because they seemed unrealistic. All in all, though, not at all the worst thing about, or the biggest distraction, in that game.

(Damn my having such a common name! I'm the author of this article - it's been mistakenly attributed to another Katie Williams, and her account is the reason I can't sign up with the name I wrote under. If a forum mod or someone could fix/correct the attribution issue, it'd be much appreciated!)

Thanks for the feedback, all!

LawlessSquirrel:
That game was lacking in puzzles in my opinion

I actually felt the game was lacking in anything BUT the puzzles. Remove those, and you don't really have much of a game left. Of course, a different dev team took on Homecoming, so they were probably just doing things "the Silent Hill way", making the puzzles even more contextually incongruent than they already had been throughout the series.

There seems to be a bit of talk about whether this puzzle in particular was "difficult" or not, but I don't really think that's the issue. It's great that some people can solve their sliding puzzles quickly; the same people might be the ones headdesking at, say, SH3's Shakespeare puzzle. Personally I feel puzzles should be solvable by anyone, using knowledge they've gleaned through the course of the game (a la Portal). No puzzle should need to rely on a specific skill or talent, and no one should have to complete a degree in Literature to solve a puzzle - especially one that's had extra difficulty added for hell of it. (Link: "the fourth verse is just meant to confuse you and has no relevance to Shakespeare..." Ouch.)

Katie Lloyd Williams:

There seems to be a bit of talk about whether this puzzle in particular was "difficult" or not, but I don't really think that's the issue.
...
Personally I feel puzzles should be solvable by anyone, using knowledge they've gleaned through the course of the game (a la Portal). No puzzle should need to rely on a specific skill or talent, and no one should have to complete a degree in Literature to solve a puzzle - especially one that's had extra difficulty added for hell of it. (Link: "the fourth verse is just meant to confuse you and has no relevance to Shakespeare..." Ouch.)

Every puzzle should be solvable by anyone? By retards? Then they pose no challenge and no attraction to an intelligent person.

Hard action games are not "solvable" by someone who lacks the reflexes and other abilities to deal with them. Puzzles and strategy requiring intelligence is no different.

Katie Lloyd Williams:
(really, who locks their doors with a sliding puzzle instead of a key?)

People who don't want fleeing victims to escape their hellish minions?

I know if I was going around killing people and infesting, say, small Spanish towns with zombies, I would have a remote-locking button for myself and every. single. door. would be puzzle-locked.

Behold: True evil!!

I think the idea of an inventory puzzle was an interesting concept. Up until now ive never really considered all the medley of items i may hold in an adventure a puzzle to use. But behold, how many times did i come across enemies in bethesda games where it wasnt that i didnt have the specific items i needed but that my armor was too weak or my magical items too tame to take on the next challenge. Cool article.

 

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