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Categorizing Puzzles In Adventure Games

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the tetris-needs-more-swords dept.

Classic Games (Games) 44

MarkN writes "There's hardly a video game made nowadays that doesn't involve puzzles in some sense. In some games they serve as occasional roadblocks to break up the action, and in the genre of adventure games the whole focus of the game is solving a set of related puzzles. I've written a piece for AdventureClassicGaming describing and categorizing puzzles in adventure games. Adventure games make use of explicitly designed abstract puzzles — they're explicitly designed rather than being randomly or procedurally generated, and abstract in the sense that all you need to do is figure out the right actions to perform, rather than making the performing of those actions be a challenge in and of itself. My classification makes distinctions at two levels: you have self-contained puzzles, which can depend upon using your basic verbs of interaction, solving some minigame based around achieving a particular configuration, or providing an answer to a riddle. On the other side, you have puzzles that require some external key: this could be an item, a piece of information, or an internal change to the game's state triggered somewhere else. From there, I talk about some of the possibilities and pitfalls these puzzles carry, as well as their use in other genres. I'd be interested to hear the community's thoughts on the use and application of puzzles in adventure games, and games in general."

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44 comments

fr0st p1ss (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26254139)

Post number 1.

Missing Option (5, Funny)

Deltaspectre (796409) | more than 5 years ago | (#26254159)

Fscking jumping puzzles

Re:Missing Option (2, Funny)

Fluffeh (1273756) | more than 5 years ago | (#26254389)

Fscking jumping puzzles -- My UID is prime... is yours?

And those fscking puzzles that require you to find a prime number or some sort. Those ones give me the willies!

Re:Missing Option (1)

BigCow (1130533) | more than 5 years ago | (#26254633)

Luckily jumping puzzles aren't the types of puzzles adventure games typically employ... they aren't abstract puzzles at all really, you know what you have to do, but the game mechanics make it frustrating to try to accomplish it.

Although you could also make the case that trying not to fall off of the beanstalk in King's Quest I by slowly pressing arrow keys isn't a fair adventure game puzzle either.

Re:Missing Option (2, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 5 years ago | (#26254777)

Luckily, adventure games make up for their (typical) lack of jumping puzzles by means of giant heaps of "move your cursor in a search pattern over the entire screen, waiting for the cursor to change, indicating that that particular blade of grass, although identical to all 5,000 others of its kind, is the one that triggers the action that you'll need to have triggered 5 screens later" puzzles.

To be fair, not all adventure games do this; but second rate adventure games are even worse (and this takes real skill) than second rate platformers in terms of "the requirements are obvious, the interface will drive you to suicide" type challenges. The best examples of the genre do this even better by making the requirements completely counterintuitive and brutally illogical.

Hunt the pixel... (1)

DrYak (748999) | more than 5 years ago | (#26262985)

I hate "hunt-the-pixel" type of interfaces too.

I liked old Sierra games (most with the text-input interface, and a couple with the point'n'click) that had a "describe the environment" tpye of command [ > look around ].

I was happy that some games feature a "show the mouse hot spot" type of command (Simon the Sorcerer as an old example, Moments of Silence for a more recent one).

And I think that DreamFall is one of the first adventure-oriented game that managed to avoid hunt-the-pixel moment in a non-obtrusive way (characters automatically look toward the nearest outstanding object - in addition to a "look around" type of command which helps to reveal hot spots). Now only if the adventure/puzzles part wasn't that much dumbed down...

Re:Missing Option (1)

retchdog (1319261) | more than 5 years ago | (#26255059)

Or the path to your "home" in KQ3. It was a statistical certainty that your character would have fallen and died already in the process of walking it daily during his apprenticeship.

Re:Missing Option (1)

tedgyz (515156) | more than 5 years ago | (#26262123)

You mean like Half Life 1 where you jump around the alien planet platforms? It made an otherwise epic game annoying.

Re:Missing Option (1)

tlhIngan (30335) | more than 5 years ago | (#26265387)

You mean like Half Life 1 where you jump around the alien planet platforms? It made an otherwise epic game annoying.

Actually, that wasn't that hard a jumping puzzle. It was annoying, but it wasn't hard. The distances looked a bit far, but the gravity made it doable.

No, the hard jumping puzzles were on Earth, in Black Mesa. Like the one where you jumped from box to box. If you wanted a harder challenge, do the Source version - the boxes actually dangle from moving ropes. The original version didn't. Nothing like having to deal with a jumping puzzle by jumping from moving box to moving box...

Vague goals (4, Interesting)

Gruff1002 (717818) | more than 5 years ago | (#26254175)

Many games don't have a clearly enough defined goal.

Re:Vague goals (4, Funny)

Haoie (1277294) | more than 5 years ago | (#26254401)

You mean like being trapped in a burning house, tied to a chair, with a deadly spider about to pounce on you, when you only have a pair of panties to help?

Note: This is an actual opening scenario. I won't spoil which game it is.

Re:Vague goals (2, Informative)

BigCow (1130533) | more than 5 years ago | (#26254603)

Leisure Suit Larry 7? I think I remember briefly panicking from the horrifying urgency of it all before realizing that they weren't about to let you die, just giving you a simple puzzle they could talk you through at the start.

Re:Vague goals (1)

tedgyz (515156) | more than 5 years ago | (#26262147)

My god! They continued that series to #7? I gave up at LSL3.

Re:Vague goals (3, Funny)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 5 years ago | (#26254771)

What do you mean game? Hey, do I judge your sex life? Now get offa my case!

Re:Vague goals (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26255657)

Broken Sword II :)

Re:Vague goals (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26255929)

Loved those games.

Re:Vague goals (1)

varkatope (308450) | more than 5 years ago | (#26260103)

Yeah, number 2 was kind of a letdown since Broken Sword 1 is one of my all-time favorite adventure games...not as much of a letdown as Broken Sword 3, though. I'm currently playing Broken Sword 4 and so far, there are no fscking crate puzzles (who puts crates everywhere, what the hell?), so that's a plus. We'll see how it goes.

Re:Vague goals (1)

MrMista_B (891430) | more than 5 years ago | (#26255683)

I dunno, I think "kill all aliens/nazi's/zombies, reload, kill 'em all again" is pretty damn clear. And boring as hell.

Yeah, I got bored with FPS ten years ago. You could tell?

Dupe (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26254273)

Dupe. [slashdot.org]

Professor Layton (4, Interesting)

cootuk (847498) | more than 5 years ago | (#26254417)

Here in the UK, the Nintendo DS game "Professor Layton and the Curious Village" appears to be a big hit.
This is really a small storyline to hold together over a hundred small puzzles.
Perhaps the appeal of this is that people can dip in and out, leave what they can't do, and progress without one puzzle or action blocking progress along the whole.

Re:Professor Layton (2, Interesting)

pushing-robot (1037830) | more than 5 years ago | (#26254731)

I've heard of the game, and I've been meaning to try it, though I'm not sure it's quite as big a hit [penny-arcade.com] on this side of the pond.

Re:Professor Layton (3, Informative)

sorrowsjudge (1181865) | more than 5 years ago | (#26254929)

If you actually read any of the newsposts related to that game, you would have realized that the comic was supposed to be FUNNY, and the Penny Arcade guys (Tycho, at the very least) love the game. It gets my thumbs-up, by the by.

not very specific... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26254627)

well...it was a decent try.

you went over all your major points...broke up all subtopics into three parts (why is it always 3?)...but this seems like a generic overview of something obvious and the title is rather disappointing - rather than discuss how these puzzles are developed or how they need to be "designed" for the common fool to get moderately far in the game, you explain the main differences between a few puzzles. I'm sure anyone could name a few different types of puzzles, what makes them unique to adventure games? ...i hope you have better luck with future articles.

Add that one (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26254641)

find the frickin' pixel type of puzzles in most of the available adventures out there

megaten games practically are one giant puzzle (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26254783)

the combat system for those games are so based around elements and buffs that it is practically impossible to beat even basic enemies without hitting it with the exact right spell with the exact right buffs with out accidentally hitting its strong element and getting your megaspellodeath reflected right in your face. That and they are the only rpg puzzles that wanted me to through my controller at the wall (stupid prison in DDS2)

Funny that the creator of Monkey Island said it (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 5 years ago | (#26254805)

From the article:
"A point that Ron Gilbert, co-creator of Monkey Island, has made about adventure game design is that for most puzzles the player should be presented with a problem before the solution is apparent."

Now, I know my memory may be fleeting, but I do distinctly remember running around in MI with a ton of items in my inventory that had no sensible use until pretty late in the game (rubber chicken, anyone?). And yes, they were a source of ultimate frustration because they were the first few things in the inventory, they were so incredibly useless for pretty much any problem I encountered and they were sitting there until I almost forgot about them, so I didn't really think of using them when they were actually in order.

I agree, gimme the lock before the key, but it seems they did exactly the opposite in MI.

Re:Funny that the creator of Monkey Island said it (1)

Dutch Gun (899105) | more than 5 years ago | (#26255199)

I was thinking that too. Maybe he's talking in hindsight. ;-)

Of course, MI was pretty much all about throwing the player off for laughs. So, they apparently thought if funny to give you a rubber chicken you couldn't do anything with for a while. I also vaguely recall at one point one of the games (apparently) gave you some incredibly useful items, something like a rope, pistol, torch, and a universal skeleton key, and then, as a joke, immediately took them all away from you again.

Evil, those game designers. Just... evil.

Re:Funny that the creator of Monkey Island said it (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 5 years ago | (#26255417)

I remember something different, where you were able to see all those useful items, neatly stored somewhere. Rope, toolbox, matches and so on, and each and every single of them able to solve pretty much every problem you know about at this point, but you just can't get them. You ponder how to reach them, but in the end, you cannot and will never get those things. Instead you jury rig other crap together to produce the desired effect.

Yes, red herrings are a staple in those games, too.

Re:Funny that the creator of Monkey Island said it (1)

VGPowerlord (621254) | more than 5 years ago | (#26257197)

I think both Curse of Monkey Island and Escape From Monkey Island did things like this.

The latter of which even forced you to remember which order you got the items in. :P

Re:Funny that the creator of Monkey Island said it (1)

Omniscientist (806841) | more than 5 years ago | (#26255855)

Regarding the "item is useless until way later" situation: that's a common theme in that genre, and can be observed in other games as well.

An example that comes to mind is the honeycomb and wand items in King's Quest V.

Although the immediate effect of this device is one of confusion, I always felt that it was intended to be humorous.

Re:Funny that the creator of Monkey Island said it (1)

Haeleth (414428) | more than 5 years ago | (#26256301)

I do distinctly remember running around in MI with a ton of items in my inventory that had no sensible use until pretty late in the game (rubber chicken, anyone?)

IIRC you could use the rubber chicken as soon as you made it out of the first town. I wouldn't call that "late in the game".

(Or did the game prevent you from using it until you'd started gathering your crew? I forget. Either way, it was still used in Part 1.)

Re:Funny that the creator of Monkey Island said it (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 5 years ago | (#26256715)

It was in part 1, but that part 1 was also the largest one, if you think back.

Also, that rubber chicken was an option in almost every dialog until you could finally use it, so it tends to stick.

Re:Funny that the creator of Monkey Island said it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26256539)

The rubber chicken did have a use early in the game: you needed it to get to Hook Island. And while you could pick it up before actually going there, there's no reason anyone who's not familiar enough already with adventure games to grab EVERYTHING they can lay their grubby little paws on would.

Of course, many people seemed to advance to that stage pretty fast, but I also fail to see how you, as a game designer, could ensure that somebody could pick up the rubber chicken only after seeing the cable line to Hook Island. The International House of Mojo was accessible beforehand, after all (and why wouldn't it be?), and while it would be possible to make the rubber chicken a non-pickup item before, that'd just confuse players: after all, why would a rubber chicken in a voodoo place suddenly be able to be picked up just because you saw a cable line at a beach on the other side of the island?

Put another way, no adventure game is perfect, but the rubber chicken wasn't a great example of how to do things the wrong way.

Linear puzzles (2, Interesting)

arth1 (260657) | more than 5 years ago | (#26254833)

Nothing irks me as much as linear puzzles, where you have to solve A to get to B to get to C to get to D... Granted, some gates may be useful when they make sense -- i.e. you must figure out how to get on the space plane before you are given access to the puzzle of how to do an space walk.
Even then, many of the puzzles would benefit from a way to go back to the puzzles. Like if you didn't go EVA and retrieve the broken antenna needed later in the game, you should be able to go back and do a second space trip, not being stalled on the first space trip until you have done that puzzle.

The most successful Infocom games (apart from those that played on sex) were those that had a minimum of linearity, and where you could go back and get a missing piece later. Similar with games like Baldur's Gate -- where BG and BG II succeeded due to having non-linear puzzles within each chapter, the higher amount of linearity of Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale was probably their downfall.
Oh, and let's not forget the Ultima series. Not only did bugs and bad copy protection ruin the later games, but the greatly increased linearity of the puzzles made the games tedious.

Worst of all was an adventure game (no name, no shame) that I bought based on blazing reviews. It turned out that I got to play it for about an hour, stuck on one of the very first puzzles, which (I later found out) required knowledge of American sitcoms to get past. Being European, and never having had a chance to see the sitcom in question, there was no way to solve that puzzle. Since this was also before the advent of Internet, there was also no easy way to find a walkthrough to get past it. So it went in the garbage. If the puzzles hadn't been linear, I might have enjoyed the rest of the game, and could have come back to that one puzzle later, once I had obtained the needed information.

Re:Linear puzzles (1)

Dutch Gun (899105) | more than 5 years ago | (#26255275)

Nothing irks me as much as linear puzzles, where you have to solve A to get to B to get to C to get to D... Granted, some gates may be useful when they make sense -- i.e. you must figure out how to get on the space plane before you are given access to the puzzle of how to do an space walk.
Even then, many of the puzzles would benefit from a way to go back to the puzzles. Like if you didn't go EVA and retrieve the broken antenna needed later in the game, you should be able to go back and do a second space trip, not being stalled on the first space trip until you have done that puzzle.

I'd agree. Too much linearity, especially in terms of adventure games, ends up feeling rather stifling. One of the big problems is when you're faced with a particular puzzle that you're having trouble with. Non-linearity allows the opportunity to go somewhere else, mull things over for a while, and come back later. The advantage of linearity (or, specifically, isolating the puzzle's scope) is that it tells the player "you have everything you need to figure this puzzle out.", which is sometimes a necessary ingredient to having the fortitude to trying all those weird combinations in your inventory. Otherwise, it's easy to give up, thinking "I must be missing some piece to the puzzle". I think the best games probably managed to balance this out.

And, naturally, the other reason for locking doors is a prerequisite amount of linearity for story advancement.

The most successful Infocom games (apart from those that played on sex) were those that had a minimum of linearity, and where you could go back and get a missing piece later. Similar with games like Baldur's Gate -- where BG and BG II succeeded due to having non-linear puzzles within each chapter, the higher amount of linearity of Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale was probably their downfall.
Oh, and let's not forget the Ultima series. Not only did bugs and bad copy protection ruin the later games, but the greatly increased linearity of the puzzles made the games tedious.

I'm a big fan of non-linear gameplay, but I've also enjoyed highly linear games as well. They just have something of a different flavor to me, and each can be enjoyable in their own way.

Objection!!! (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26255335)

Some of the puzzles in the Phoenix Wright games were irritatingly linear and basically necessitated that you throw aside your pretentions to rational thought and simply try and figure out how the hell the designers intended you to solve the puzzle... often blindly choosing between alternatives so the narrative can later elaborate on why you were right, while obvious paths of inquiry are left unexplored.

(eg, a guy was strangled to death, but you're unable to bring this up when the prosecution is going for a guilty verdict based on fingerprints on a knife... not to mention that there are other reasons the fingerprints couldn't have been conclusively linked to the murder. It's just a game of trying to guess the one magical way that the designer wanted you to progress.)

Simple Scale (1)

ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | more than 5 years ago | (#26255431)

Many years of experience with adventure games, and games in general, have taught me that there is a simple scale for puzzles and conundrums in video games.

1: Easy
2: Normal
3: Hard
4: Rubiks Cube

Easy is for tutorials and first person shooters.
Medium is your standard fare throughout the game.
Hard is for final levels and bonus challenges.

Rubiks cube is seldom encountered, as to place it in the game would probably result in at least 2 points being knocked off the games score owing to frustration. They are increasingly rare nowadays as no professional development team would seriously contemplate including them, except in an optional "master quest" section or the like.

Re:Simple Scale (1)

jonadab (583620) | more than 5 years ago | (#26256999)

> Rubiks cube is seldom encountered, as to place it in the game would probably result
> in at least 2 points being knocked off the games score owing to frustration

Actually, I think it's kinda cool when a game includes an _optional_ really-really-hard puzzle, one that you can complete the entire game without solving, but which provides some easter egg or another if you do manage to solve it.

What I don't like is when there's a fairly difficult puzzle in the opening scene and you can't get *anywhere* in the game until you solve it. The flashlight battery in Curses, was almost like this, but it wasn't quite early enough in the game to be really bad, since you could explore a *fair* amount of territory, and several easier puzzles, before solving it.

Re:Simple Scale (1)

Petrushka (815171) | more than 5 years ago | (#26262275)

Rubiks cube is seldom encountered, as to place it in the game would probably result in at least 2 points being knocked off the games score owing to frustration. They are increasingly rare nowadays as no professional development team would seriously contemplate including them, except in an optional "master quest" section or the like.

For some reason I feel an uncontrollable urge to draw attention to the lockpicking puzzle in Still Life.

(No, it wasn't exactly Rubik's Cube hard, but it was certainly a lot harder than "hard".)

Tomb Raider (1)

Lord Lode (1290856) | more than 5 years ago | (#26256277)

Tomb Raider is one of those games where you have the "key" puzzles. You have no idea why some puzzle doesn't work, and there's a HUGE world out there, where anywhere in there the piece needed for this puzzle can be. And then the search begins.... Sometimes that can be frustrating, but on the other hand it can also be very rewarding.

Re:Tomb Raider (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26258245)

But Zelda does it so much better. Unlike most PC games, you don't just collect key objects which are only used once in the game (although you do do it) - you also get the tools which have many varied and often unexpected uses. This greatly increases the perceived freedom in the game since instead of getting the endless "I can't use these things together!" messages that plague the typical PC adventure, you are actually able to use them almost everywhere.

Soup Cans, anyone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26258763)

I came into this thread expecting some reference to Soup Cans. I was incredibly disappointed.

Re:Soup Cans, anyone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26260005)

If you *REALLY* want to read about soup cans that's apropro to the topic, you might want to read up about The 7th Guest. Old puzzle game, Myst-like though unsure which came first. The kitchen had a puzzle that, of all things, required re-arranging of soup cans to solve.

DISASSEMBLE THE ENCYCLOPEDIA (1)

tedgyz (515156) | more than 5 years ago | (#26262193)

A little anecdote for those who played Zork before it was called Zork. Dungeon anyone? I had the fortran source code back in a time before the term open source existed.

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