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Anderson88

Puzzles: Do's and Don'ts

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Puzzles and minigames have become a staple trademark of RPGs ever since they grew out of being mainly grindfests. There are fun distractions, tricky and/or logic-involving puzzles, and those extremely-annoying-for-no-reason minigames (cough, lightning dodging in Thunder Plains). And then there are those puzzles that you really just can't figure out without a walk-through/guide or hours of experimenting. 

 

I think everyone should be able to complete a game regardless of any potential barriers (such as language). In a puzzle-like minigame, unless it was specifically stated, players shouldn't be punished for making a mistake, should they? 

How should we, as developers, create a balance between work and worth to make sure players don't throw down a game just because of that one puzzle?

I'd like to hear input.

 

 

I'll start us off. One thing to avoid in the creation of puzzles is slow action and unnecessary gimmicks. What I'm referring to is Final Fantasy X--one of my favourites--which has nice thought-involving puzzles, but has terrible execution of them. Picking up a sphere or pushing a pedestal would initiate a show of graphics, with an elegant movement of the hand to swipe a sphere out of the socket. This wasn't bad in the earlier puzzles that are fairly obvious, but later on, became a huge nuisance when you're left to experiment with the function of certain pieces of the puzzle (try Bevelle without a walkthrough and you tell me) and you end up spending 60% of the time watching your character flail his arms as he picks up items and pushes the pillar. And then you get something right, which triggers a little cutscene where a block of ice forms, or lightning surges out of some wall. After watching that for 30 seconds, you realize that you did it in the wrong order, and have to undo it, which makes you watch the scene again. *rant*

 

Anyway, my point is to make puzzles flow. Make them quick, so to avoid frustrating the player. Or allow the player to move around while the animation plays.

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That Thunder Plains achievement though....

You are completely right about the puzzles, we should not make puzzles a huge obstacle but a stepping stone for our games. I even planned on making my game (Dreams and Nightmares) less puzzles but more exploring xD

 

I extremely agree on Bevelle Cloister of Trials, it's so frustrating for your first try. But wait until you get the "Plains" in BoF4(Breath of Fire 4, took me hours just to find the camp then later on the dragon xD

 

So to sum it all up

Do's

-Make the puzzle fun yet challenging (But not too challenging xD)

-Make the puzzle clearable (Ofcourse, it should be a puzzle that the character can actually finish)

-Make the puzzle rewarding to accomplish

 

Don't s

-Don't make a puzzle that uses a different language unless that language is present in the game (Like Al Bhed in FFX)

-Don't make a puzzle that consumes so much time, don't want the player to hunt you down for this

-Don't make a puzzle without a significant reason for the game (I just want to put this annoying tedious puzzle in this room for no particukar reason)

Edited by Kotori-chan

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All you guys say seems right, and there's isn't much to add, but:

 


-Don't make a puzzle without a significant reason for the game (I just want to put this annoying tedious puzzle in this room for no particukar reason)

 

This could be easily debatable. As soon as I read that, I thought about LoZ series. How many times in the games (especially inside temples) do you come across a random puzzle that you need to accomplish? I admit, that hapenned far more often in the older games, but still: these puzzles, even if they sometimes felt out of place, were entertaining, and these puzzles made the series what it is today!

 

That said, I agree that you cannot put a puzzle where it really shouldn't be, but there shouldn't necesserly be an answer to "why the hell is that puzzle here?" If the puzzle is fun enough and rewarding enough (like you listed in your "do's"), the player shouldn't even have to ask himself this question.

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Yup, but as I said for no particular reason meaning you won't get anything from it, no rewards nor story but I agree that it doesn't hurt to make a puzzle or two just for fun ^~^

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All you guys say seems right, and there's isn't much to add, but:

 

-Don't make a puzzle without a significant reason for the game (I just want to put this annoying tedious puzzle in this room for no particukar reason)

 

This could be easily debatable. As soon as I read that, I thought about LoZ series. How many times in the games (especially inside temples) do you come across a random puzzle that you need to accomplish? I admit, that hapenned far more often in the older games, but still: these puzzles, even if they sometimes felt out of place, were entertaining, and these puzzles made the series what it is today!

 

That said, I agree that you cannot put a puzzle where it really shouldn't be, but there shouldn't necesserly be an answer to "why the hell is that puzzle here?" If the puzzle is fun enough and rewarding enough (like you listed in your "do's"), the player shouldn't even have to ask himself this question.

 

Ahh I remember those puzzles in Legend of Zelda, fun times lol. Well having random puzzles are all right in my opinion as long as they have a relevance/or they blend in with the environment and you don't overdo it so the player gets out of focus with the main task. But it really depends on the game's style and genre mostly. Since LoZ is a more adventurous-action RPG kind of game, having these random puzzles are intended to add a more exploration to the player and take their mind out of the main storyline. Whereas other genres like horrors are mostly focused on moving the storyline/area, such as locked doors and it requires a key kind of thing; so it's very limited most of the time.

 

But that doesn't mean you can't do it though lol. As long as they have a significant reason as Kotori mentioned (something like a secret item to an easter egg or longer puzzles yields powerful items) then it's very much okay to have those kinds of puzzles.  :)

Edited by LadyMinerva

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My take on puzzles would be, I love the ones that make you think logically, I don't like the ones that make you think abstractly (not sure if it's a word).

 

By logically, I mean puzzles like block-pushing and lever-pulling, which requires logic and memorization. Golden Sun on the gba did this pretty well.

 

By abstractly, I mean when the game gives out a few words as a hint so that you can solve the puzzle, which makes it a word puzzle. The words are SO abstract, you spend 3 hours looking around and interacting with everything in the room, trying to desperately solve the puzzle. In the end, you give up and look for an answer. Hence, making that part of the game impassable.

For example, you obtained a note that says, "When the eye of the soaring eagle is shining, the stars will float down." What is the eye of the soaring eagle you ask? It's the lamp on the ceiling, which looks nothing like and doesn't have any connection with an eagle. Puzzles like this, although it may be fun, need to be tested first. Try making a few friends play the game and see if they can solve it.

Edited by magic2345

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@magic, would you mind riddles? Like litterally riddles. Let's say you have many sculptures representing different objects, and you read a riddle on a wall and you need to take the right sculpture, else you die (just an example), would you consider it an abstract puzzle?

 

Just want to check, really, because I understand your point, but just want to clarify it.

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I think if you're given enough hints, a somewhat abstract puzzle can still work fairly decently. If a player can't figure it out and goes for help, their reaction when they find out the answer should be "that was obvious", or something along those lines. As long as the average player could have gotten the answer. 

Though I still dislike walkthroughs. Maybe if you have a dungeon with a riddle puzzle like that, as soon as you start the puzzle in the dungeon, a switch is triggered so that an NPC in town will give you a very big hint if you're so stuck that you walk back to town.

 

Another thing that could be done with potentially difficult puzzles is that you could provide an alternate way to advance the game forward. Perhaps instead of solving the riddle to open the gate, you could find a key somewhere to get past it.

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Maybe if you have a dungeon with a riddle puzzle like that, as soon as you start the puzzle in the dungeon, a switch is triggered so that an NPC in town will give you a very big hint if you're so stuck that you walk back to town.

 

I agree totally with that! In my current project, after the player has failed 3 times the same riddle, he is given the choice to have an additionnal clue. Some players won't want that clue, that's why they're given the choice, and if the player is very stuck, the additionnal clue makes it very easy.

 

 

Another thing that could be done with potentially difficult puzzles is that you could provide an alternate way to advance the game forward. Perhaps instead of solving the riddle to open the gate, you could find a key somewhere to get past it.

 

Very interesting... Never thought of that one! That is great, because it gives more option to the players. Guard that key with a great ennemy, and the player will be given the choice to fight, or to solve a riddle. Some will prefer one, while some will enjoy the others. Thanks for sharing that idea :)

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Do's

  • Something that is challenging to the player's intelligence/wisdom and NOT their luck.
  • Pass on a playable version of your puzzle to a number of people and ask them how difficult it was for them and how they felt when they successfully solved it. The difficulty to satisfaction ratio should be in satisfaction's favour. Generally, higher difficulty equals higher satisfaction, but making it so difficult that they'd rather look it up on the internet reduces satisfaction to zero.
  • You can always "bribe" the player with money, items and equipment on the other side of the puzzle to boost their satisfaction.
  • If it's part of the main narrative/story, it shouldn't be frustratingly hard.
  • Ask yourself "Do I really need a puzzle here?" every time you decide it's puzzle time.

Don'ts

  • "Push the object" puzzles.
  • Seriously, don't do push the object puzzles.

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All of these ideas are great tips, but the playtesting tip is the best. You really can't tell as the developer whether or not a puzzle is good or not, since you know how to solve it. Having others playtest is still the only way to be absolutely sure. To really add my opinion here, I really like the puzzles in the indie game Gone Home. Especially the secret passage you had to find. It was interesting in a good way (not the interesting that just leaves you confused afterwards) that added a whole new layer to the game.

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@merdouille: Honestly, I don't really like riddles as puzzles, unless they're optional.

 

Also, since puzzles have the power to change the pace of the game, I advise you to think before inserting them in your game, especially for puzzles that will advance the story. Forcing the player to solve a puzzle when the tension is high will generally irritate the players (or at least me haha).

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I feel the same way, it is rather annoying to say the least. That is one thing I didn't like about some of the PS1 games, they seemed to do that a lot.

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