October 21, 2008

Week 12 reading: Designing the puzzle

Filed under: ECU MInT,GDT3102 Writing for Games — steve @ 10:00 am

Week 12 readings: Bates, B. (2001). Designing the Puzzle. Game Design: The Art and Business of Creating Games (pp. 104-122). Roseville, California, USA: Prima Tech.

Bates (2001) makes some interesting points when it comes to the design of puzzles in the game narrative: essentially one should try to place one’s self in the shoes of the player and not try to out think them; “You are as much the player’s partner as his adversary. He is relying on you to give him the information he needs to play the game” (p. 115).

When designing a game it becomes all too easy to design complex puzzles that are ultimately designed to fool the Player: perhaps this is a result of some masochistic desire to torment the player; perhaps it is just the result of bad design; or perhaps it is because it is harder to design a puzzle that is challenging but fair – a puzzle where the designer has thought the puzzle through and considered it from all kinds of angles – placing one’s self in the shoes of the unknown player…

It certainly is difficult to design a puzzle and to imagine the playing out of that puzzle as if you, the designer, didn’t know the solution. Perhaps this is why the seemingly obvious is avoided when designing a puzzle as it is assumed that what is obvious for the designer is obvious for the Player. It may be obvious to some, but not all, however, and complacency that the player will understand what is required of him/her in the solving of the puzzle without clues or background to the solution should be avoided: “In a fair game, the answer to every puzzle is contained within the game” (Bates, 2001, p. 116).

What is ‘fair’? Bates (2001) states that having to die or do a restore game (p. 114) to solve a puzzle is not fair. The level designer’s of Tomb Raider – Anniversary Edition may disagree as the player character would often die in order to solve ‘physical challenge’ type puzzles. Perhaps a physical challenge should be more ‘death defying’ so to speak, but it certainly becomes a show stopper after a while and does kill the game flow.

So what has one personally learnt from this reading? Not to do the type of things Bates (2001, pp. 114-117) describes as a “bad puzzle”; those sort of things mentioned above, and to re-evaluate the puzzle designs in the Psycho-Ego concept development so that they do not become “designer puzzles” (p. 115).

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