Usually, puzzles are used in IF to control game-flow: they are gates from one moment to the next, and moments are sequenced to move the player steadily toward the end of the game.

Puzzles are dangerous game design. They lock the game from moving forward, freezing the player in one moment (which, however interesting, will eventually become boring) and they do not, by their nature, explain to the player what he must do to unlock the game.

Look at this rationally: Any puzzle has a probability of being noticed, and of being understood, and of being solved. Normally, all three of those must happen for the player to pass through the gate to the next moment and solve the game.

Now, let’s say a normal puzzle has high ratings for all of these: 95%. The probability that the player will solve this puzzle in what you consider a reasonable time is then 95% * 95% * 95% = 86%. That means 14% of your players won’t solve it on time, or won’t solve it at all.

But, it gets worse: A normal game might comprise five of these puzzles. Now the math tells us that 46% of your players will go through all the puzzles without getting stuck and needing to go to the hints. More than half won’t be able to play the game through in a timely way without help.

Now, every time the player goes to the hint file, that decreases the value of your game a little. In contrast, players can still quite enjoy games that they consider easy.

If you still want to put puzzles in your game, there are several ways to overcome this problem:

MAKE PUZZLES EASY. In general, difficult puzzles do not raise game value for players more than easy puzzles do; and no puzzle that sends the player to the walkthrough raises game value.

MAKE FAILURE INSTRUCTIVE. Programming a puzzle that can be solved is one thing; but for a puzzle to be well-specified, it should do interesting things even when the user tries out a wrong solution. And those interesting things should be instructive, nudging the player toward the correct solution.

MAKE PUZZLES REDUNDANT. If you have a locked room the player must get into, give the player two ways to open the door and a window he can jimmy open. Thus, the player has three ways of getting into the room and is less likely to get stuck.

MAKE PUZZLES OPTIONAL. If the player can escape the puzzle and still solve the game, forgoing the benefit of solving the puzzle, then even if the player gets stuck on the puzzle, it won’t seriously damage the game’s value in his eyes.

USE TIMERS. If the player doesn’t succeed in moving the plot forward after a certain amount of time, the game moves itself forward — by whatever means you can think of writing in.

MAKE AUTOHINTS. Link object descriptions to timers, so that the game gives the player more and more direction the longer he is stuck in a moment.

And, of course…

CREATE A HELP SYSTEM. Include a walkthrough, a hint (or think) command, and a help section.

Published on March 20, 2010 at 11:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

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