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Classic Games (Games) Puzzle Games (Games) Entertainment Games

Categorizing Puzzles In Adventure Games 44

Posted by Soulskill
from the tetris-needs-more-swords dept.
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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Categorizing Puzzles In Adventure Games

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  • by Deltaspectre (796409) on Sunday December 28, 2008 @10:40PM (#26254159)

    Fscking jumping puzzles

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Fluffeh (1273756)

      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!

    • by BigCow (1130533)

      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: (Score:3, Insightful)

        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 s
        • 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-obtrus

      • by retchdog (1319261)

        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.

    • by tedgyz (515156) *

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

      • by tlhIngan (30335)

        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

  • Vague goals (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Gruff1002 (717818) on Sunday December 28, 2008 @10:43PM (#26254175)

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

    • by Haoie (1277294) on Sunday December 28, 2008 @11:25PM (#26254401) Homepage

      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: (Score:2, Informative)

        by BigCow (1130533)
        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.
      • by Opportunist (166417) on Monday December 29, 2008 @12:41AM (#26254771)

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

      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Broken Sword II :)

        • by varkatope (308450)

          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.

    • by MrMista_B (891430)

      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?

  • Professor Layton (Score:4, Interesting)

    by cootuk (847498) on Sunday December 28, 2008 @11:28PM (#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: (Score:3, Interesting)

      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: (Score:3, Informative)

        by sorrowsjudge (1181865)
        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.
  • 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

    • by Dutch Gun (899105)

      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 designe

      • 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.

      • 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

    • 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.

    • by Haeleth (414428)

      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.)

      • 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.

  • Linear puzzles (Score:3, Interesting)

    by arth1 (260657) on Monday December 29, 2008 @12:51AM (#26254833) Homepage Journal

    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.

    • by Dutch Gun (899105)

      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 necessa

  • Objection!!! (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    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

  • 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 increas

    • by jonadab (583620)
      > 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 t
    • by Petrushka (815171)

      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 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.
  • 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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