154 - Good Puzzle Design

Developer diaries about creating Neverending Nightmares.
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matt
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154 - Good Puzzle Design

Post by matt »

In this dev diary, I talk about some problems with puzzles in games I've played recently and propose two rules to follow when making puzzles.



If you are pressed for time and don't want to listen to me ramble, the rules are:
  • Make sure that if the player knows the puzzle solution it is easy to execute on. (Otherwise people like me will assume that it isn't the right solution and try something else)
  • Don't change state of world without drawing players attention to it. Giving actions consequences without the player understanding what they are make it challenging for the player to know what to do next.
If you just read the rules and don't watch the video, then you'll miss out on all the examples of how I am terrible at video games. hahaha
-Matt Gilgenbach
Lead Frightener at Infinitap Games

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RightClickSaveAs
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Re: 154 - Good Puzzle Design

Post by RightClickSaveAs »

That's one thing I found out of place in Silent Hill, more specifically Silent Hill 3, was some of the puzzles that pop up in the middle of all these horrific things going on and make the character sit there in the dark with monsters lurking all around scratching their head and trying to remember the order of Shakespeare works (to be fair though that particular puzzle is mostly just when the puzzle hard mode was turned on, so it may not be the best example :) ) .There are plenty of similar situations in the Silent Hill games where puzzles bring you to a halt though. And I do like the idea of having different puzzle difficulty modes, although I can't imagine that's very feasible to design in most games.

And it's what's made me have a love-hate relationship with adventure games. In some adventure games, especially the old-school ones, puzzles are basically just giant roadblocks thrown up in the player's way they have to stop and solve so they can get back to the story.

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matt
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Re: 154 - Good Puzzle Design

Post by matt »

I completely agree!

I always play Silent Hill games with puzzles on easy, and I don't hesitate to use walkthroughs. Personally, I feel like the Silent Hill games would be better if they didn't have such esoteric puzzles. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories was cool because it didn't have that many puzzles, although I don't think I ever could have figured out the shadow phone number thing on my own.

A lot of old school adventure games were sold with the hint guide (essentially a walkthrough), and they all had 1-900 hint lines, so I don't think they expected you to really figure everything out. I think modernizing the adventure game genre is a real challenge, and I applaud Broken Age for doing such a good job with it. Some of the Telltale adventure games were easier and a lot less esoteric than the classic LucasArts games, but I still turned to walkthroughs. hahah In Broken Age, I only looked like 3 or 4 times, which is probably a world record for me. hahah
-Matt Gilgenbach
Lead Frightener at Infinitap Games

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Re: 154 - Good Puzzle Design

Post by RightClickSaveAs »

Broken Age did a great job with the puzzle design, they're not too difficult and are mostly intuitive, but make you feel like you've solved something. I'm totally for adventure games moving in that direction as opposed to the really obnoxious leaps of logic and pixel hunting that used to be the norm.

Then again, there were plenty of complaints that the puzzles in Broken Age were too easy, so the lesson is you can't please everyone. There is a reason why the old school of puzzle design is dying out though, the days of people buying one game like Myst and just chipping away at the puzzles for weeks or months are gone, now that we have video walkthroughs on the internet. There's still a dedicated fanbase who seeks out difficult games I'm sure, but they've gotta be pretty small at this point.

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matt
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Re: 154 - Good Puzzle Design

Post by matt »

I'm sure there are all different types of gamers. Some gamers probably like to bang their heads against the keyboards until they somehow figure out the obscure combination of items and locations to progress through the games.

Some gamers even like the difficulty of Dark Souls, but I can't imagine why. :-P
-Matt Gilgenbach
Lead Frightener at Infinitap Games

ranger_lennier
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Re: 154 - Good Puzzle Design

Post by ranger_lennier »

I like puzzles to be challenging, but I do want them to make sense, so that once you understand the systems of the game, you can logically determine the solution. And they need to build up in complexity rather than throwing everything at you at once.

I think it would be helpful to give examples of games that do puzzle design well. I'd say Portal and Portal 2 are definite classics. They introduced a really unique idea with the portal gun, then made the player think about the 3D space of the levels in ways we don't normally have to. I also recently enjoyed the puzzles in A Link Between Worlds. Really, most of the Zelda games since A Link To The Past have had great puzzles. Right now I've been playing through Escape Goat 2, which is a really clever puzzle platformer. Some of the hidden levels have maybe went overboard with the difficulty in executing the platforming, but they're certainly not required to finish the game. So, I'd definitely recommend that one.

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matt
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Re: 154 - Good Puzzle Design

Post by matt »

Portal 1 and 2 are some of the best puzzle games, but sometimes (especially in 2) I would know how to do the solution, but there would be technical difficulties (perhaps aiming at the little white target in the environment). I think Portal 2 was actually a bit worse in terms of puzzle design because it was much harder to determine where you could put a portal and where you couldn't once you got out of the puzzle chamber. I didn't think the paint mechanics (which they basically got from a Digipen game Tag: The Power of Paint, and then they hired the team) were that interesting, and sometimes they conflicted in a weird way.

It's funny because I thought Portal 1 was a bit dull in the beginning, but the it really built up to an amazing ending once they started increasing the puzzle complexity once you finished the "tests".

Personally, I'm getting a little tired of Zelda puzzles because they all are pretty similar. Between Worlds did add some interesting things and was an enjoyable game (although for some reason I never beat the final dungeon).
-Matt Gilgenbach
Lead Frightener at Infinitap Games

Harry Sunderland
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Re: 154 - Good Puzzle Design

Post by Harry Sunderland »

One of my big problems with puzzle games is I end up finding some weird complicated "twitch-based" solution, and then I fixate on achieving that solution and get frustrated. It's hard to describe, but maybe in portal there's a way to fall from the ceiling and hit a platform if you time something JUST right, when in reality the solution is much simpler.

Sometimes I need to step back and tell myself, "This is not a twitch game. No one would actually design a puzzle with such a ridiculous solution. There's an easier way."

But on the other end, it's fun sometimes to go against the designers intent.

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matt
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Re: 154 - Good Puzzle Design

Post by matt »

I suffer from a similar problem. Once I feel like I've figured out the solution, I keep trying to make it work even if it isn't the solution. I'm not sure if there is a way to design a game around that. Perhaps the best solution is to design puzzles with multiple solutions, but that is really challenging.

While it is rather tricky, you can actually lure the inmates away by running and standing still (kind of like the glass trigger), so they sort of have another solution, although it's tough to pull off. I'm not sure what other solution I could do for them. For those enemies, I came up with the rules by which they'd work first, and then tried to think up interesting situations to exploit those rules. I'm pretty happy with how they turned out, and it's the most puzzle-y thing in Neverending Nightmares.
-Matt Gilgenbach
Lead Frightener at Infinitap Games

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Re: 154 - Good Puzzle Design

Post by RightClickSaveAs »

I had that issue in Dreadout with the big pig demon thing that has keys around its neck. I was convinced that I needed to trap the thing in a narrow space or slam a door on its head so I could get the keys, and I spent at least 20 minutes trying all those things. Turns out, I had to go someplace else and trigger another event first.

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