Puzzle brainstorming

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matt
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Puzzle brainstorming

Post by matt » Tue Dec 02, 2014 7:01 pm

While I was super against puzzles for Neverending Nightmares, I am beginning to think that might have been a mistake. Puzzles give objectives, which Neverending Nightmares was mostly lacking - somewhat deliberately, but with the next game, we can do whatever we want. :)

I'll probably do a developer diary talking about the challenges of good puzzle development, but I figured it'd be worth starting a thread to brainstorm puzzles because so far, I haven't come up with many things that I'm happy with.

If you are curious about good puzzle design, Thomas Grip did a great blog post about why puzzles are helpful and what good puzzles need.

This is a brainstorming thread, so I'll mostly be hands off. Fell free to talk about your favorite puzzles in games or try to come up with something that could work for our next game. If you have an original idea and we use it, we'll give you credit! :)

If you are coming up with an original puzzle, here are some pluses:
  • Works well in a horror environment. Putting a sliding block puzzle on a door isn't very scary.
  • Doesn't require special interface, controls, or help messages. We might want to do some special interfaces like placing puzzle pieces (although I'd rather not), but I don't want to do Fatal Frame style puzzles where they have a bunch of rules on screen with arbitrary restrictions (solve this in 5 moves)
  • Fetch quests are okay, but the framing is important. People seemed to like find the candle to get the axe even though it's not super exciting. Actually with the other restrictions, most of the puzzles will be fetch quests - at least that's all I can think of, but perhaps you guys have better ideas!
  • Bonus points for not using common game mechanics like finding keys for doors and sliding blocks. I suspect we'll probably at least have one locked door, but I don't want to use it all the time unless you can think of interesting things.
  • Double bonus points if you can think of puzzles that would work outside without resorting to crazy Indiana Jones style ancient ruin technology that is horribly impractical.
-Matt Gilgenbach
Lead Frightener at Infinitap Games

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evilkinggumby
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Re: Puzzle brainstorming

Post by evilkinggumby » Wed Dec 03, 2014 12:52 pm

Ok this would be an easter egg type puzzle, and one to cross the entire gameplay experience itself.

The challenge would be to navigate through the entire game without getting dirty. Could get a 'Neat Freaked' trophy or achievement if you manage it and unlocks something unique to it. Dying doesn't matter as you have to restart from a checkpoint or save, but falling into mud/blood/tar/water/puddles would spoil it. getting caught in falling water would ruin it. getting splashed with blood or vomit or entrails would ruin it. Really, it is the kind of puzzle most people wouldn't even notice their first play through, but would offer a significant challenge on subsequent ones (depending on how brutal the story/game is).

It wouldn't require much aside from a simple code tracking the 'soil state' and code to flag it is the player ends up dirty. You could render the stains on the player, or just skip that if the player never was expected to be seen getting dirty or wet due to the style of graphics.

Healing chants

Some people like to have a chant, or mantra, that they can use in a stressful or nightmarish situation. The player could also do this when faced with very extreme circumstances (imagery, darkness, whatever really would be the characters triggered fear) and so this chant becomes a sort of health bar. To start you would only have a single stanza, and would allow the player to move/run away after being attacked or hurt(or in cases of enemies, possibly dispell them for the moment), but after the stanza is chanted if you haven't gotten to safety you wake/die. As the game progresses you can find additional bits of the chant/mantra either on scraps of paper, scratched onto walls/floor or overhearing it in a creepy song coming from somewhere.

Also, If each bit of the song was just 1 time use, there would be a significant challenge to try to NEVER need to use it so by the end game you could hear the poem in full uninterupted. Finding bits of the song and not dying in itself would be tough and LOSING by death would in itself add a degree of tension/panic.

Carving yourself - a makeshift map

every time you "die" you awaken by a checkpoint with a new cut in your arm. Now , cutting is a serious disorder and why people cut themselves will vary, but the few people i knew that were or are cutters explained it as being a way to relieve stress/tension/pent up emotions they could not otherwise deal with, or as a way to make real the internal pain they felt in a more physical "real" way. Within the game, every death is now emotionally and physically scarring to the character since each death adds a slice to the character's arm. Cumulatively these cuts, seemingly random, create a makeshift map of the nightmare(and a bloody "X" at the goal), subconsciously guiding them out through this process of pain and mutilation. To navigate the nightmare uncut in itself becomes a challenge, especially if the player doesn't want to see the excruciating bloody marks on their characters body, but it also gives those frustrated and lost a method to get through the nightmare if they persevere long enough.

A Light Tango

I really liked the puzzle in NeN where you had to retrieve the candle and in doing so got to see the bloody writing on the wall in one room that was pitch black. It reminded me of the one building/store in SH2 that had a massive bloody message you could only read using the flashlight. Having puzzles where you navigate a fairly dark area with limited lighting coming from windows or cracks in the structure, and then working to fire up a generator or powerbox (or retrieve a lantern) only to backtrack through that same space and realize it was hiding a myriad of horrors could be quite disturbing and fun. you could also have an enemy now visible and no longer hiding that you have to run from or avoid by dousing the lantern. Using that in itself as a puzzle, opening the lantern to see where it is ok to step, but dousing it before the monster sees, could be tense fun.
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RightClickSaveAs
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Re: Puzzle brainstorming

Post by RightClickSaveAs » Sun Dec 07, 2014 2:10 pm

Man, puzzle design is hard. Here are a few of my dumb ideas.

Time Going Backwards
In this one, you'd find a clock running backwards, and in order to progress you need to get it running the right way again. If you try to leave through the door while the clock is still running backwards, you'd just start at the very beginning of the room again, because you're caught in a time loop. You could make this obvious by having the clock visible as soon as you enter the room, and clearly showing that it's running backwards, maybe faster than normal to really draw attention to it.

To fix it, you'd need to wind it up with a crank. The crank you'd find attached to something it's not supposed to be, like it'd be attached to a meat grinder as the handle, and to loosen it you'd need to turn the meat grinder, knocking loose whatever was ground up in there. Or maybe the handle would fall off of something and you'd have to reach down into a dark drain to get it.

I think this would fit in with a nightmare setting. The problem is making it obvious what you need to do. I didn't know how or if you even needed to wind a grandfather clock until I looked it up, but most of them have a crank that attaches to the face of the clock. Maybe have instructions at some point earlier in the game you can examine, in the form of a written note or a manual, and make it really obvious that there's a spot on the clock for the handle to fit into.

Once the clock has been wound, it runs the right direction and you can move on to the next area.


Reflection
You come across a mirror, and when you look into it, you see a room that is different than the one you're in. To progress, you need to make the room you're in look like the one in the mirror, then the mirror turns into a portal and you move through to the next area.

A few ideas for how it could be different:
-A painting is hung where currently there is an empty spot, and you need to find that painting then return it to the place. Ideally it'd be a disturbing painting.
-A painting is defaced with blood and scratches, and you have to find an object to deface it the same way. The blood might have to come from yourself, and could be a message that also serves as a hint about what you need to do.
-You look in the mirror and see yourself hanging from a noose, and you have to find a rope and stool and hang yourself in order to go on. Maybe this would cause you to "wake up" in the next area, assuming you're still using that mechanic. This may be a little harder to convey what you need to do though. This also ties into the next puzzle idea a little bit:


Blood Offering
You come to an altar or a small ceremonial bowl that has dried blood crusted in it. To pass through, you have to sacrifice part of yourself, by finding a knife or other sharp object and dripping blood into the bowl, or going even further and chopping off the end of a finger. This could be tied in with the idea of guilt and the requirement you have to punish yourself to progress. Maybe have a phrase carved above it, in Latin for bonus points, about how a sacrifice is required to pass on. I'm rusty on my Bible reading, but are there any phrases in the Bible that would relate to this? Maybe something from the Old Testament.

Grabthehoopka
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Re: Puzzle brainstorming

Post by Grabthehoopka » Sun Dec 07, 2014 5:01 pm

I think Siren had a fairly good approach to puzzle design. Although the solutions to some of them are a little adventure-gamey, they're primarily about logic and using seemingly useless items in creative ways. They highlight important features of the environment on the map, so you usually know the lay of the land, and so they want you to stop and think "Okay, I have ___. What can I do with it?" Now, they also had big, open environments, an inventory, and an adventure game-style drop-down menu to interact with objects, but I think they have the right idea.

Also, I thought The Walking Dead had a fairly loose approach to puzzle design, to the extent that I'm a little hesitant to call them "puzzles", but I think that's it's a little closer to what you're going for. A good example is in season 1 episode 2 - there's a door you want to look behind, but it's locked and you don't have a key. So you go to the toolbox outside, pick up a multitool, and then unscrew the hinges off. Simple. Later in the episode (no spoilers), someone is holding someone else hostage and you need to free them. But, while approaching them, an immobilized zombie starts grabbing for them, and they obliviously take a step towards it. From then, it becomes fairly obvious that you need to stall them and keep making them back up until the zombie grabs them by the hair, freeing the hostage.

So, what I'm saying is, start off really straightforward, and then you can start making them a little more complex, giving them something to work with and presenting them with a seemingly obvious solution, and then pulling the rug out from under them, like giving them a tool and then having it break when they try to use it, and have to keep exploring and find an improvised replacement. Or, you could do something as cruel as giving them a screwdriver, give them something to unscrew, and then a close-up reveals that it's the wrong head type and they have to find something else.

You could follow Siren's example and have more puzzles that involve distracting enemies, in a way that sort of combines your earlier enemy design with your later enemy design. Rather than having finding ways to avoid enemies so they roam past you and then tip-toe past them, the player could be actively hounded by a single enemy (like evil thomas or evil gabby) or a numerous, persistent enemy type (like the dolls), establish some kind of "weakness" to exploit, and then go from there. Let's say there's one big, bad thing that's out for the player's blood, but you establish that it has super-sensitive hearing, and so the first puzzle to solve would be to make a really loud noise to scare it off. From that point onward, there would be more encounters where it would keep going after the player, and so the player would have to run away or hide while trying to find things they can use to make loud noises to scare it off. It doesn't have to be noise, and it doesn't have to scare it off necessarily, but you get the idea.

I proposed an idea in the brainstorming thread to give the player a box of matches, and I think there's some rather simple puzzles to solve with matches. There's simple ones, like burning a string or rope, or needing to build a small fire to progress and needing to fetch enough sticks from the surrounding rooms/areas to use as kindling before the fire can light, or finding a way to block a draft that blows your match out when you walk past it so you can progress through the dark.

Then, there's less conventional ones, like a maze type of area where the player has to pick which opening to go through to find their way out. When they interact with the opening, you cut to a close-up of the lit match, which blows towards the opening on the correct path, but is calm on all the others. Matches are also used to remove ticks that have burrowed under your skin. It's also an old-fashioned method of removing leaches, but in real life, this is in fact a terrible idea, since the sudden exposure to heat makes the leach regurgitate all of its blood into your open wound, leading to terrible infections and potentially someone else's blood entering your system. Anyways, there could be something kind of like the brain slugs in Limbo involving a bug or parasite that you remove by holding a match to it.

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RightClickSaveAs
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Re: Puzzle brainstorming

Post by RightClickSaveAs » Sun Dec 07, 2014 5:36 pm

Grabthehoopka wrote:
Then, there's less conventional ones, like a maze type of area where the player has to pick which opening to go through to find their way out. When they interact with the opening, you cut to a close-up of the lit match, which blows towards the opening on the correct path, but is calm on all the others. Matches are also used to remove ticks that have burrowed under your skin. It's also an old-fashioned method of removing leaches, but in real life, this is in fact a terrible idea, since the sudden exposure to heat makes the leach regurgitate all of its blood into your open wound, leading to terrible infections and potentially someone else's blood entering your system. Anyways, there could be something kind of like the brain slugs in Limbo involving a bug or parasite that you remove by holding a match to it.
Oh wow, I didn't know about the leeches thing, that's nasty.

There's a part in the new Telltale Game of Thrones game where a maester dumps maggots into a guy's open wound and then seals them up to let them clean it out. Apparently it's a real thing, which I also didn't know. I don't know if those had been disinfected or not though...

Grabthehoopka
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Re: Puzzle brainstorming

Post by Grabthehoopka » Sun Dec 07, 2014 7:21 pm

In general, I think what the first game was really missing was restoring the power so you could use the elevator. And turning off the power to cross an electrified pool of water. And deducing puzzle solutions from cryptic poems. And slide puzzles (all the cool games have slide puzzles).

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matt
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Re: Puzzle brainstorming

Post by matt » Mon Dec 08, 2014 12:52 pm

In general, I think what the first game was really missing was restoring the power so you could use the elevator. And turning off the power to cross an electrified pool of water. And deducing puzzle solutions from cryptic poems. And slide puzzles (all the cool games have slide puzzles).
I hope you aren't serious! :)

These are good ideas and definitely food for thought. The challenge of course is working any sort of puzzle into the setting of the game as well as making the objective clear, but these ideas are great starting points. Keep them coming! :-D
Grabthehoopka wrote:I think Siren had a fairly good approach to puzzle design.
Which Siren game are you talking about? I actually haven't played any because I've been scared off by the difficulty, but I was thinking of checking out the PS3 remake, which I hear is way easier - although I'm not sure if it keeps the same puzzles. Thanks for the suggestion!
-Matt Gilgenbach
Lead Frightener at Infinitap Games

Grabthehoopka
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Re: Puzzle brainstorming

Post by Grabthehoopka » Mon Dec 08, 2014 4:12 pm

matt wrote:I hope you aren't serious! :)
No, of course not!
matt wrote:Which Siren game are you talking about? I actually haven't played any because I've been scared off by the difficulty, but I was thinking of checking out the PS3 remake, which I hear is way easier - although I'm not sure if it keeps the same puzzles. Thanks for the suggestion!
Yeah, I'm talking about the first one. I've only played the demo of the remake and seen parts of let's plays, but it's...quite different.

Some examples (of the simpler, better ones):

You find a phone card in a small wooden shrine. On another part of the map there's a pay phone that if you investigate, it says that there's no dial tone, but it seems like it's still working. If you put the card in the pay phone, it spits the card back out and starts beeping loudly. This attracts the attention of a nearby sniper shibito, who comes over to investigate the noise. You run and hide, and when he's looking at the phone, you sneak past him.

You need to get past a shibito with a gun, who's standing next to a restaurant of some kind. You sightjack all the shibito around you, looking around until there's one that's looking at a poster with the phone number to the restaurant on it. You go into a nearby tailor shop with a working phone, dial the number, and leave the phone off the hook. The shibito investigates the ringing phone, picks it up, and stands there, mumbling to himself, letting you sneak by behind him.

There's a sniper shibito overlooking a road you need to cross. You can push a sign over to attract his attention, but then he spots you and shoots you dead. Earlier, you find a cassette tape. You use the tape on the sign, unspooling it, tying it around the sign, and throwing the cassette over the side of the bridge. You climb down to the bottom of the bridge, where the tape is hanging down, and use it like a rope to pull the sign down and then climb back up and sneak past him when he walks up to it and investigates.

There's a sniper shibito looking over somewhere you have to go, and over the course of the level you pick up a fluorescent light bulb and an EKG monitor. You just put them in your back pockets I guess; adventure game logic. On another stage in the same location at an earlier time, you opened the door to the trash chute with another character. So from the second floor, you drop the light bulb down the chute, which attracts the sniper. He sticks his head in the open chute and checks it out, so you drop the EKG monitor next and squash his head, allowing you to go past.

There's a key you need in a bathroom under a grate that you can't reach, but it's on a key chain with a wooden tag. There's another bathroom on the floor directly above it, and if you investigate the faucet, it says it's still working. So, you connect a hose you found in an earlier level to it, feed it out the window, go back down to the first floor, pull it through the window and insert it into the grate, go back up to the second floor, turn the faucet on, go back down, and grab the key which is floating on the water.

One of my favorite ones involves knocking over a donation box at a shrine, spilling the coins everywhere, and then ringing the bell on the porch and hiding. When the shibito come to investigate, they see the coins all over the ground and gleefully get down on their hands and knees and start raking all the money up, letting you sneak past them.

A lot of the puzzles involve understanding the peculiar behavior of the shibito, as that last one indicates. They're not quite zombies, but they're not quite people either. They just sort of wander around, mindlessly repeating the same actions over and over again, and there's still remnants of their past life they remember.

But anyways, these are some of the simpler and not-so-simpler ones; some of them are pretty obscure, or at least hearing about them without actually playing it makes it sound almost impossible to figure out, but almost all of them involve either distracting shibito so you can sneak by them, or clearing a path for yourself some other way.

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AironNeil
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Re: Puzzle brainstorming

Post by AironNeil » Tue Dec 09, 2014 12:32 am

I think a puzzle that makes you have to think critically about the story would work very well in a story driven game. I feel like if there's more of a focus on characters and their personalities, quarks, motivations, and appearance these facts could be used in some pretty neat puzzles that mechanically test the player's knowledge and memory about these aspects in unique ways without breaking immersion for the most part. Of course, I'm not sure what you have planned for the game so far and whether or not the story and characters will be as ambiguous as they were in Neverending Nightmares.

Although this is just one way the puzzles could be thought of, but that does sound like a game-wide idea that would probably be more suited in another game.

Personally, I wonder if discussing individual puzzles is the right way to go, because that way of thinking could easily lead the game to having puzzles like Fatal Frame. I think some context would go a long way in determining the puzzle design in the game instead of coming up with specific ideas.

I suppose from what I know about the game so far, finding keys would influence players to explore a level more. The only other mechanical way I can think of for motivating people to explore is to get them power-ups, but I'm pretty sure that's a kind of thing you wouldn't want in the game. The great thing about keys is that they come in many forms. All of the items in old point-and-click adventure games were mechanically keys, or parts of keys.

Those are some of my thoughts on the matter. Even though I'm probably not being too helpful. :(

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matt
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Re: Puzzle brainstorming

Post by matt » Tue Dec 09, 2014 7:11 pm

All of those Siren puzzles are super clever, but seem impossible for someone like me to figure out. That's one of the problems with puzzles - the more interesting and clever you get, the harder they are to figure out... :-/

AironNeil - I really like the idea of a puzzle making you think critically about the story, but I'm drawing a blank thinking of one. Can you give an example?

As much as I dislike over reliance on keys in games, I think we'll have them. They are just too useful for game design. I am trying to make them unique and interesting though.
-Matt Gilgenbach
Lead Frightener at Infinitap Games

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