Monday, November 4, 2013

Puzzles in horror games. Part 2.

Ahead of continuing to dig deeper into the planet of puzzles, I would like to clarify a point from the last puzzle post: When I stated that I thought puzzles were the very best way to have as core gameplay in a horror game, I did not mean that it excluded all other kinds of gameplay. I rather meant that the fundamental style was primarily based on puzzles and that other mechanisms are there as extras. Penumbra: Black Plague is a game that utilizes that approach even though Resident Evil has a clear concentrate on action with puzzles as extras. Now on with the post.

In this second portion I am going to go over some problems with puzzles. The widespread thread of these troubles is that whilst other mechanics normally have a really fixed set of available actions, "puzzle games" are not usually clear on what is possible in the game globe. In a shooter the globe generally reacts as one desires when firing a weapon and when encountering an enemy the player does not really feel restricted or unable to do sensible actions. When it comes to puzzles although, it is typically not obvious what can be carried out and a lot of puzzles ends up as an workout in reading the designer's thoughts.

Now for a brief list discussing some widespread difficulty:

The hidden action
When facing some puzzles, the player may be unaware that some kind of action is valid. At times this is due to the fact the game has not allowed the same action in a related predicament and often it is not clear that the object can be interacted with. An example for this is the "rock catapult"-puzzle in Monkey Island. Here it is not really clear (at least was not for me...) that the player can rotate the see-saw-like catapult contraption by making use of the "push" and "pull" actions, primarily due to the fact no other objects had had a equivalent action available.

The missing item
At times an encountered obstacle will demand anything not however discovered. At its worse it calls for just some details for the player character in order to execute the action, meaning that the player has all the means to complete the puzzle but the game is not enabling it. Here the instance (to our shame..) comes from Penumbra: Overture which has a puzzle exactly where the player requirements to choose up a cotton string from a box but can not do so unless a book (explaining why the thread is required) has been identified. This is not really good design and we promise to (at least attempt to) never ever repeat such an abomination once again!

Non sequitur
This is mainly a issue of not generating the outcome of an action clear adequate. The player may possibly realize that a puzzle is encountered but not the use of the solving it. An example of this comes once more from Monkey Island. Here the player encounters an ape in a jungle and by feeding it bananas it will follow the player and can be used to hold down a lever. In this puzzle, it is not even clear that feeding it bananas will accomplish anything and using the monkey to hold down a lever calls for much more trial and error than actual puzzle solving. Hotel Dusk also has something similar where solving a Rubik's cube lets the player escape an elevator.

Guess the action
At times it is apparent to the player what requirements to be accomplished in order to solve a puzzle but can not make the game carry out the wanted action. This is most clear in text adventure games where the player wants to create an action in English, but can also be present when there are extremely couple of feasible approaches of interaction. An instance from Penumbra: Overture is when putting an explosive barrel in front of a cave in. Specific mechanics required the barrel to be a in a particular spot and some players, understanding exactly what to do, were unable to find it and thereby solving the puzzle.

Apparent answer is not correct
This has got to be the most annoying and frequent issue in all games that have puzzles. The player is faced with a puzzle that has an obvious solution (at least to the player), but then some a lot more difficult answer is needed. The most common variation would be a thin wooden door needing a key to be opened when the player has a rocketlauncher at hand. Sometimes this sort of issue can be challenging to spot for designers though, mainly because when a remedy is identified other individuals are blocked out. It may well also be that the obvious answer is not supported by the game mechanics, like splashing nearby water on fire, but then the puzzled must probably be replaced or the atmosphere redesigned.

Most of the time, it just requires some further pondering to get rid of these problems, but they can also be challenging to predict at occasions. An alternative is to make the way the game planet much more clear by letting all puzzles come straight from the game mechanics. A way to do this is by making use of physics, but undertaking so gives a lot of other issues! These troubles is what will be discussed subsequent week.

Do you know any other varieties of problems standard for adventure games? What puzzles in the Penumbra games have been worst? Ultimately, I am truly interested to hear about the worst puzzles you have encountered in a game!

PS: Sorry for all of the Monkey Island examples, but it was just a lately played game. I still like it for all its flaws even though :) There positive are far worse puzzles in other adventure games.

EDIT: Thanks to
biomechanical923 for reminding me about the ""Apparent solution is not correct" puzzle in the comments! I think this sort of puzzle problem is the most major issue when not getting coherant game mechanics for the puzzles.

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