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October 22, 2008

Week 12 tutorial activity: Designing the puzzle

Filed under: ECU MInT,GDT3102 Writing for Games — steve @ 8:15 am

The puzzles for Psycho-Ego will typically be the ‘physical challenge’ type puzzle – the kind that the Player will need to jump, crouch, climb, use a prop etc to either traverse a death trap, save a fellow NPC, avoid objects etc through the use of timing and logic.

In the level 10 treatment of the Psycho-Ego game the first puzzle will concern the Player getting past huge worms that will attempt to kill the Player if he/she either attacks or retreats from the worms. The Player will be provided with clues via a cut scene prior to coming across the worms, so he/she should be aware of the basic logic that will determine the worm’s decision to attack the Player. The question though is whether such a simplistic action type puzzle is a puzzle at all, or whether it is just there to break up the seemingly linear aspects of the gameplay narrative…

Bates (2001, p. 104) states that “After you create a hero and give him a goal, if you don’t put obstacles in his path, you won’t have a game”. But, how complex should these obstacles be? How much of a ‘physical’ or mental challenge?

Perhaps the answer lies in what the hero is trying to achieve in the game in the first place: is the hero aka the player just jumping from one puzzle to the next that builds a loose narrative such as in an arcade side scroller type game; or, is the hero’s objective in the game to solve one main over arching puzzle that makes up the game narrative?

In the level 10 worm puzzle above the Player, to escape the worms, needs to jump into a fissure that has been created in the earth as a result of the huge worms coming out of it. The player will then need to crawl through a maze of rocks, under tree roots, tunnels etc to get past the worms and back to the NPC Athena who is on the other side of the worms. The maze, or puzzle itself will not be overly long or complex. It will be the kind of puzzle that one could easily achieve the first time. There will be no danger from the worms during the puzzle [not that the player will necessarily know that]. So, the question is, is this enough of a puzzle design for the game concept when other ‘puzzles’ will take on a similar simplistic form.

The ‘worm’ puzzle mentioned here is not pivotal in the overall outcome of the game. Certainly if the player dies because he/she chooses to ignore the clue provided immediately before the puzzle is encountered and never gets past the worms then that will prevent the player from achieving the game objectives, however, the player learns nothing concerning the game objectives by performing this simple puzzle – it is just a diversion, an obstacle that gets in our hero’s way. After the player does complete the puzzle then he/she does learn more information pertaining to the game’s objectives, but the worm puzzle itself is incidental.

When developing the level 10 walk-though for Psycho-Ego I initially had concerns that the ‘puzzles’ where not complex enough; they were not self contained puzzle like sections that would stand in their own right as an intriguing puzzle game. However, once it was realised that the entire Psycho-Ego game is in fact a puzzle – one where the player must solve the riddle as to who their true identity in the game is in order to complete the game – then simple puzzles such as the worm puzzle could be seen for what they truly were: simply obstacles for the hero to overcome – interesting diversions with elements of tension to break-up the player’s journey through the mainly linear narrative.

 

References:

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

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