Author Topic: Arrrghhhh... Puzzles again!  (Read 373 times)

Babar

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Arrrghhhh... Puzzles again!
« on: 10 Aug 2020, 02:09 »
Puzzles really seem to be the least investigated element of ags game development here, with the fewest resources!

I had decided yet again to attempt this month's MAGS, and yet again I was stumped at the very first(ish) step.

In my mind, the process of developing a game is:
  • Come up with an idea
  • Flesh out a series of objectives blocked by obstacles that when solved give certain results/rewards (access to new areas, plot progression, some sort of meaningful change in the game world)
- these could be kind of recursive, with major objectives/obstacles having a series of smaller objectives/obstacles
  • Start doing the art/coding/dev for that sequence, adjusting stuff as you go as required

I always get stuck at the 2nd step. With MAGS it is especially frustrating, because I realise "I need to limit my scope, so as to be able to actually finish the game, and limited scope/size seems very often in my head to run contrary to having meaningful objectives/obstacles and results.

So for this month, the theme was "White Elephant". Not to give all the details, but I decided to make a game about a rogue-esque character who got a blessing (that turned out to be a kind of a curse) due to a gift/reward for acquiring some treasure for a sorcerer type person. Her solution is to break into the sorcerer's castle and steal it from him and thus hopefully "nullify" the conditions for the reward and get rid of it.
I came up with the premise, I came up with overall objective, I came up with the eventual ending. I even came up with (what I thought was) a limited scope adventure with obvious progression: breaking into a castle, getting the treasure/maybe confronting the sorcerer, getting out.

Except I'm stuck now. I can't figure out puzzles. I mean, I could do what in my mind would be a BAD adventure game with BAD puzzle design, i.e. just make a series of figurative locks and keys (maybe even randomly pulling from one of the many lists of puzzle types that people have been compiling here), culminating in "Yay, you won the game, here is the end scene!", but...I don't want to do that. That seems like a recipe for an uninteresting adventure game.


I can't remember having played any AGS game with particularly spectacular puzzle design, but I would be curious as to the process you fine people employ to come up with puzzles, and maybe help me out. I'm not looking for help on this specific MAGS (or I would've probably posted in CL), but more asking for process advice.
« Last Edit: 10 Aug 2020, 02:22 by Babar »
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Jack

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Re: Arrrghhhh... Puzzles again!
« Reply #1 on: 10 Aug 2020, 02:52 »
My application for MAGS so far has been to misjudge the difficulty of the project so that the puzzles have to be left out to meet the deadline.

Don't know if this is the solution you are looking for, but I haven't got stuck on puzzle design for a long time.

Re: Arrrghhhh... Puzzles again!
« Reply #2 on: 10 Aug 2020, 03:11 »
I apologize in advance for not steering totally clear of some puzzle types mentioned in the lists you refer to.  ;)

Okay, if I understand you correctly, you want the puzzles to be original. Or rather, the solutions. There's nothing wrong with a locked door, but if the key is guarded by a hungry tiger, then the obvious solution has become a McGuffin, and the next puzzle could be how to eliminate the tiger. I've always liked the kind of puzzles where you have to do A to do B to then do C. This often leads to a kind of errand running for npcs, which may or may not be your cup of tea. Combined with humour, this could work out well. If the local tiger whisperer has a bad itch, he ought to try to scratch himself with everything the player tries to give to him.

Another way is the code. To get past the door you have to solve a riddle/mechanical puzzle/code phrase. Some people like this, many do not. You usually can't solve this by trying everything in your inventory, and it's where people get stuck. I guess there's a reason so few are participating in the Crime Investigation Game thread...

I particularly like it if the player is allowed to try several ways of solving the problem. What if the key breaks, leaving you with a sharp object (a weapon?), hammering the lock breaks away a small metal piece but doesn't open the door...you see where I'm going. Failed attempts could pay off with items that could be used elsewhere or combined somehow.

Another fun approach could be that there could be several ways to solve a problem, but they would lead to different consequences later on. Say that if you open the door with a key, you accidentally hurt yourself somehow and need to be healed. But if you choose to hammer the lock, the sound alerts some guards who will now try to catch you. And wouldn't it be great if those same guards are helpful with bandages in the first scenario?

The last one in my ramble is combinable objects. Tried and tested. Not so much used are the items that could be combined in different ways. Given that there is magic in your example, perhaps adding A to B makes an opener, but adding B to A makes it a closing device. (Or B to C if that is easier to code. When dungeon mastering you don't have to worry about that.) A fairly devious puzzle would be that you have to combine A+B to make AB, combine C+D to make CD, and then use AB on CD.

Probably not what you were looking for...in a MAGS these things probably would take too much time.

Re: Arrrghhhh... Puzzles again!
« Reply #3 on: 10 Aug 2020, 03:36 »
If you can’t think of a puzzle that works, maybe you don’t need one. Perhaps it would be more exciting as an arcadey or dexterity event, such trying to swim to an opening in the castle wall while being chased by a crocodile, or carefully chiseling away at a piece of wall without making too much noise and waking up the guards.

Re: Arrrghhhh... Puzzles again!
« Reply #4 on: 10 Aug 2020, 16:27 »
I don't know if that will help you, but what I do when I attempt a puzzle design is I make a list of all possible objects and background elements that might belong with the location my character is in, along with that character's starting items.

And I mean literally everything that comes to mind, so for an outer wall of a sorcerer's castle it might be a pile of stones, a loose brick, pieces of old mortar, a tree trunk, a body of an adventurer, a barred castle window, a bent rusty climbing hook, odd looking mushrooms, a rodent's nest, foliage, a small sentinel beholder, a human turned into stone, berries, a lost pouch, wall, distant castle tower, the sorcerer's watchful familiar, growing herbs of all kind, etc...

Then I reflect on the list and try to think what kind of challenges and item combinations might fit. When I come up with something I can use, I put it in a flowchart along with prerequisites and results, and attempt to slowly sew everything together.

This usually gives me ideas that would have likely never occurred to me if I was trying to tackle the puzzle sequence working down from the main storyline.

Ali

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Re: Arrrghhhh... Puzzles again!
« Reply #5 on: 10 Aug 2020, 17:57 »
I've come up with a few puzzles I like, but it's not the thing that attracts me to making adventure games. I certainly don't have the right kind of mind for creating proper puzzle-puzzles, like the machines in Myst.

I think this is a particularly good video on the subject, even though it's not about adventure games.



The idea of catching the player in a trap is nice. It's not just about finding 100 keys for 100 locks. It's more like: The key to chamber A is in chamber B, but when I take it, the door to chamber B slams shut. Now I'm trapped in chamber B until I return the key. What do I do?

I think it can be good when puzzles have consequences that feature in later puzzles. E.g. you alter the irrigation system to power a generator. But later there is a river to cross where there wouldn't have been had you not redirected the flow. So the next challenge doesn't seem like an arbitrary obstacle.

Cassiebsg

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Re: Arrrghhhh... Puzzles again!
« Reply #6 on: 10 Aug 2020, 21:38 »
Babar, I think you need to look at the story and then figure out what your character needs to do, so you can tell the story. And while you doing that, if you think of something puzzly that fits, fine, otherwise concentrate on the story.

Thinking "series of objectives blocked by obstacles", sounds to me like the wrong approach. Puzzles should make sense in the story sense, and not shoe horned in just for the sake of it.
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Re: Arrrghhhh... Puzzles again!
« Reply #7 on: 11 Aug 2020, 00:03 »
Actually, I'd find it funny if someone made an anti-puzzle game.

What if you're some incredibly gifted hero, like Batman or Shiva or Fedmahn Kassad or something in that vein. Then the game gives you these *impossible* problems to fix...and everything you do, works. Whatever object Batman tries to use, he can make it work to solve the situation. The wackier the solution, the better. (Batman comes to mind because this is essentially how the fighting in these modern Batman games work - you do some random movement on the control, and Batman performs masterful martial arts that fit the situation. So why not apply the same idea to adventures?)

Babar

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Re: Arrrghhhh... Puzzles again!
« Reply #8 on: 11 Aug 2020, 14:04 »
Isn't that essentially the "Click X to continue" genre, heltenjon?
And Cassie, the "series of objectives blocked by obstacles" IS supposed to be the story, not be shoehorned in. An adventure game story essentially being a challenge placed against the player character that they need to overcome.

I had seen that video before, Ali! It is very interesting, but I struggle to see how I could implement the ideas it provides to create a process to make adventure game puzzles (rather than a series of Myst-like ones).

*Babar looks at the date and sighs


I'll try to implement the ideas provided in this thread, thanks! And keep them coming if you have more
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Re: Arrrghhhh... Puzzles again!
« Reply #9 on: 11 Aug 2020, 17:20 »
Isn't that essentially the "Click X to continue" genre, heltenjon?

Not quite. But it would be a kind of joke game. Say that the game had five puzzles and six items. You then had to find six ways to solve each puzzle, one for each item. Not a challenge by any means, so I'm a bit off topic compared to what you asked for.

Re: Arrrghhhh... Puzzles again!
« Reply #10 on: 11 Aug 2020, 18:55 »
I've come up with a few puzzles I like, but it's not the thing that attracts me to making adventure games. I certainly don't have the right kind of mind for creating proper puzzle-puzzles, like the machines in Myst.

Same here, and it's made even worse by the fact that the game we're working on doesn't have an inventory or close-ups of stuff that you can manipulate, which means we really have to rack our brains to come up with puzzles and riddles that use only on-screen elements, but also thanks to this I want to believe that we are forced to develop more original or unique puzzles than stuff like "align the pipes so that the water flows again".

Something that works for us is variations on the "do certain stuff in the correct order" theme. The correct order could be written in a book, or spread across a series of books/notes/whatever, or it could be a pattern somewhere that the player needs to pick up on. A silly example: you come across something that can be manipulated right, left, up or down, and you have to find the correct 3-part sequence, which in turn could be hidden in the positions of some statues in another room (e.g., the first one is pointing upwards, the next one left, and the last one downwards). Stuff like that.

Also sound! Make the players listen for certain sounds (e.g., a series of knocks that maps to something else), or give them a message in morse code, or make them play a series of notes on a piano. So many possibilities there.

Lastly, you could also have tasks or fetch quests to break up the puzzles. Take The Norwood Suite, for example: you need to give a CD to a DJ, but in order to enter the party you need to put together an outfit. Some of the pieces of the outfit are hidden behind paintings, and others are at the end of a fetch quest: talk to this guy who needs a six-pack of beer, who will give you a key which opens a locker which contains a secret passage that lets you access a locked room where you find a piano key that you then give to somebody else who invites you to a party and then when you go to the party they're passed out and you can steal their hat for your outfit. If done right, this kind of approach feels really dynamic and really feels like it moves the story forward (but I do love The Norwood Suite to bits, so maybe I'm not being objective here :-D).

Anyway, I would definitely recommend checking out all the Rusty Lake / Cube Escape games, they have a lot of pretty standard puzzles but a few very twisted ones too. And most of them are free on mobile!

« Last Edit: 11 Aug 2020, 18:59 by Laura Hunt »