284: Give Me An Axe, I've Had Enough Of This Puzzle

BehattedWanderer

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Jun 24, 2009
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Fascinating. Although, a door covered in mystic runes and sigils is one I would have hesitance to wallop with an axe. For the quite specific reason of if the runes align to open the door, what else can they do, say, if struck by a large axe?
 

DocM

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Apr 4, 2010
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Can anyone say "Water Temple?"
with that noteworthy exception, i think that the legend of zelda series is the perfect example of striding that fine line between puzzle and obstacle. I never felt completely lost in a puzzle, to the point where my immersion was broken. But the puzzles were still very challenging and entertaining. Everything there was a practical use of applying knowledge. (portal is also a great example of this, with only the simple instructions of go from one portal to the next, you are asked to apply that knowledge in puzzles =)
 

burningdragoon

Warrior without Weapons
Jul 27, 2009
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I would love to play a game with door-lock-puzzle that is solved by using an axe. Especially if you are supposed to think it's supposed to be a "real" puzzle.
 

The Random One

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May 29, 2008
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Ironmaus said:
I agree in principle, though I feel the linguistic distinction is arbitrary and limiting. There are in-game puzzles that are wholly a part of the world, and it seems wrong to me to refer to them simply as "obstacles." Take the God of War puzzles, for example. Using Medusa's head to freeze a minotaur when it steps on a switch is a puzzle. The rules of the puzzle are built into the world, and the solution is a simple one, but it's definitely a puzzle. The Rings of Pandora are a puzzle, and a wonderfully devious one at that. It seems to deny a part of their nature if you lump them in with boss encounters and big rocks as "obstacles."
Yeah, that's what I was thinking as well. While I do get what the article means, the distinction is largely semantic. What if the strange symbols on the kitchen door were actually hidden in several places throughout the entire game, and you missed it (probably because you were slumped in your chair and your LCD screen was darker)? And maybe if you had wrote down the Ancient Mystical Language That's Actually Just a Replacement Cypher for English and decoded it you'd see that the symbols are actually powerful runes, causing anything they are inscribed into to become indestructible, but you didn't bother. And the correct answer to the puzzle is in a bass relief in the Living Room of the Damned which you didn't see because there is no way you're spending hours killing 50 munchkins to access it. If only you had collected at least 95 MacGuffins of Forever you'd have heard the prophecy of the Kitchen Door of Doomsday that gives you a smaller hint, at least.

My point is, what's the difference between a puzzle that's dislodged from the game and a puzzle that makes sense in the metagame but only to a gamer that has been paying attention to the whole thing. To one that hasn't, what has been labeled as a 'puzzle' vs. a 'obstacle' are indistinguishable. Someone has mentioned the AC2 puzzles - they take you outside of the game world if you define the game world as 'Ezio in Renaissance Italy', but not if you define it as 'Assassins looking at the past through a weird machine'. Which is it? (I'd argue the question is moot because of the excellent job the AC series did using the metagame to its advantadge. One day I'll get off my ass and write an article on it. Well, it'll be hard to write an article standing.)

Although the ability to take different paths to solve a 'puzzle' is an exit every genre except for the strict, dance-like adventure game should strive for.
 

xengk

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Sep 23, 2010
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This article really touch a nerve with me, especially when it comes to survival horror like Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Siren and Clock Tower.
I understand the need to find key cards and password to open doors, but why the hell do I need to search for a gem to socket on to a statue while being chase by zombies?!

The one puzzle that make be drop a game was from Clock Tower, can't remember which one, where you encounter a heavy wooden door with a pair for iron hooks/hangers which you need to place something on it.
After hours of exploring and trial and error, I found out that I NEED TO PLACE A STRING PUPPET ON THE HOOK/HANGERS TO ACTIVATE IT. By logic, any piece of heavy wood log should suffice. It filled me with so much hatred and rage that I eject the disc and shove it in a dark corner of my game cabinet and never lay eye on it ever again.

Obstacle that gel with the theme of game are great, I still remember fondly of the boss fights in Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver. Where you cannot use brute force to overpower a boss but have to use the environment to tackle those mutant blood suckers. The fight with Rahab is still my favorite.
 

savageoblivi0n

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Aug 7, 2008
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loved the reference to Rama :D have a lot of fond memories of teaching myself base-8 and base-16 math to finish it
 

newdarkcloud

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Aug 2, 2010
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Falseprophet said:
DannibalG36 said:
Intersting read. You are probably right. But how about the puzzles in AC 2? Would they fall under obstacles, or puzzles?
If you mean the Assassins' Tombs (and Romulus Lairs in Brotherhood), I'd argue those are not as annoying, because:

i) They're optional. You can finish the main plotline without doing them,
ii) They use the same parkour/free-running skills you use throughout the whole game (and they're good practice besides), and don't bring in a completely different set of gameplay mechanics, and
iii) They fit the narrative. It's well-established by the story these ancient conspiracies have hidden their secrets behind puzzles.
I think he was referring to the gylph puzzles. I for one liked those and though they added to the game. They helped flesh out the conspiracy aspect. Even when I need help on some of them, I felt like I was looking for some Templar secret instead of the answer to some random puzzle.
 

Casimir_Effect

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Aug 26, 2010
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I can't enjoy Half-Life games because they're rooted in the old days of FPS games requiring puzzles.
What's that Game? You want me to stack things under one end of a plank so Mr Freeman can run along it and jump to a neck-high ledge? Why doesn't the ************ pull himself up?
Wire fence in the way? You have a shotgun, fucktard!

I never enjoy puzzles in any game except those in the Adventure genre. And that's besically because that's the allowance you have to make before playing those games. Currently replaying The Longest Journey and the guy who thought up rubber ducky + clamp + clothes line needs to die.

Thank god Bioware typically go with the old Towers of Hanoi puzzle. Anyone who can't solve that needs to play more old games or watch The Crystal Maze. I wish they still did the riddles they used to use in Baldurs Gate games. They were fun, even if pulled from The Big Book Of Riddles.
 

runnernda

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Feb 8, 2010
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Can you please make a game where just hacking through everything can be a solution to the puzzle? I like puzzles, but I mainly like the type of logic puzzles that we get in Resident Evil or Professor Layton. Sliding puzzles make me want to punch a baby seal...and I LIKE baby seals. If we can just hack through puzzles that we hate, people who like puzzles can work them out, and people who don't can unleash violence on them! Stress relief for all!
 

bakonslayer

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Apr 15, 2009
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What a fun article! It's definitely something to think about when designing a game, whether or not a point needs a puzzle or an obstacle, and defining what makes one or the other. Obviously, this doesn't necessarily regard puzzle-heavy games (Professor Layton, Puzzle Agent), but definitely applies to many other games and genres.

Recently, I picked up and enjoyed Braid via the Humble Indie Bundle, and where its has ridiculously well designed puzzle, they definitely get in the way of the story. I've talked to many different people around who have played Braid, and I found not many of them actually BEAT the game. They really enjoyed twisting time and playing with the different mechanics, but once the novelty wore off and they found that they couldn't actually 'complete' the game without beating every single puzzle, they just left it by the wayside, which is a real shame, because if they just picked up a walkthrough and finished those puzzles, they'd be rewarded with an amazing and creative ending to an otherwise confusing and baseless story.

Alternatively, a game like Portal (easily considered a Puzzle/Platformer), puts you into a place where you are supposed to be constantly solving "puzzles" for GlaDOS. But once the narrative leaves the "puzzle"-sort of testing areas, there aren't any more 'puzzles', but they are now 'obstacles' just based on context. People have widely lauded the narrative's change at this point, and it is because the contextual change of the puzzles FOLLOW the change in the story.

Making a difference between 'puzzles' and 'obstacles' might seem arbitrary to many people, but in game design both ideas have their time and place and affective employment of these ideas can make the difference between someone experiencing your game, and someone fully consuming your artistic intent as the designer.
 

Kronopticon

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Nov 7, 2007
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Latinidiot said:
Intersting read. You are probably right. But how about the puzzles in AC 2? Would they fall under obstacles, or puzzles?


I like puzzles. Most of the time I like the reason why they are there. But I've never really encountered a puzzle that pulled me out of the experience.
The "puzzles" in assassins creed 2, are there because it IS part of the narrative, they are obstacles, in the form of a puzzle. you dont have to solve them, but its a nice side-track if you want to, and they are there in the context of the animus, to unlock various bits of information about the storyline, which, untouched, may leave you questioning some gaps which arent always noticed by the doolally gibbering idiots who play games like "Madden NFL" continually for "fun"

Congrats on one of the most profound articles i've read recently on gaming. With the whole axe to puzzle idea in general, i think more games could do with a bypass to severely difficult puzzles which make no sense, though some deliberation to use this is in order.

Its the puzzles and obstacles that make or break a game, make it truly outstanding or a boring waste of grind-time, the Half-Life series and portal being premium examples of this, portal, being a game which features nothing BUT puzzles in the context of a puzzling environment works on SO many levels, and half-life is littered with obstacles which simply make sense, giving pacing, and a good flow to it.
 

TheMadDoctorsCat

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Apr 2, 2008
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DTWolfwood said:
AMEND! I can't possibly agree more!

Cant stand Pipe dream in Bioshock

Cant get enough Lockpicking in Oblivion/Fallout

obstacle >>>> puzzle
I'm sort of the exact opposite. I missed the "connect the wires" puzzles from the original "System Shock", replaced in SS2 by randomized panels where your success is driven by random chance (ok, you can increase that chance by putting more modules into "cybernetic affinity", but there's still a random element) and I liked the "pipe dream", as you put it, from Bioshock.

The only problem with it is that time stands still, which takes away from the immersion factor. Whereas when you were messing about with the panels in "System Shock" and its sequel, there was always the possibility that something very angry would come up behind you and attack you with a soldering iron. It's a great deal more tense when you have to focus on other stuff apart from the puzzle as you're solving it.

EDIT: and I HATE the lockpicking puzzles. In Fallout 3, I even preferred the "password" puzzles, which at least took a little working out, although I would've preferred them to be less frequent as well. They had to do SOMETHING to justify a high "science" skill I suppose...
 

ensouls

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Feb 1, 2010
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xengk said:
This article really touch a nerve with me, especially when it comes to survival horror like Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Siren and Clock Tower.
I understand the need to find key cards and password to open doors, but why the hell do I need to search for a gem to socket on to a statue while being chase by zombies?!
QFT. Some "puzzles" are just obvious, hamfisted ploys to extend the length of the game or give a change of pace between bits of action. Not that these aren't necessary mechanics, but when they're nonsensical, needlessly time-consuming, or break the mood of the game - they're better left out. On the other hand, some are just right in context. It's all about what the character would actually do in that situation. Would a puzzle make the player feel clever, or just glad it's over? Would that character stop beating on orcs to solve a series of inane fetch quests to get some information, or would they hunt for it another way? Is the difficulty satisfying, or drudging?

Really liked the article. All very true. Some people love sudoku and stand-alone math and logic puzzles of that nature. That's probably not what someone who just picked up a horror, fantasy, scifi (and so on) game thought they were getting into.
 

Vohn_exel

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Oct 24, 2008
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I definitely agree. I hate puzzles too, and I love obstacles. I mean, it's like the difference between Resident Evil and Shadow of the Colossus in my opinion. I think it was Yahtzee that said "it gives me that smug I-didn't-have-to-look-it-up-on-gamefaqs feeling." While it's true that most survival horror puzzles are in keeping with their narrative, even then they're usually really wierd. I used to joke about what it'd be like to live in Racoon city BEFORE the outbreak. I swear Milton Bradley made that town.
 

anyGould

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Sep 17, 2007
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The one thing that makes the Myst series puzzles work is that (especially for the Cyan-made games), the puzzle isn't "figure out the blocks", it's "figure out why things work the way they do".

The Riven number puzzle is perfect for this. You see the weird symbols everywhere, and then you find the classroom, and there are the symbols, arranged in the classic "number line". Ta-da!

(Of course, it also has the [email protected]#$% marble puzzle, but nobody's perfect.)

The other thing Myst does is that since you don't have an inventory, you don't have an axe in hand to chop the door down with. (Which skews a little too far in the later games IMO - by the later games, the assumption is that you knew you were coming. So why don't you have a rope, or a compass, or a flashlight?)
 

Ericb

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Sep 26, 2006
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Machinarium's sudden tic-tac-toe genre shift made me stop playing it, exactly because I felt violently pulled out of the game.

Browsing through eh official forum at the time, I noticed a lot of other people had the same complaint.

Another example is Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. They stuck a puzzle everywhere, even right after a boss one time. I'm glad I watched a LP of it, because I sure as hell would not enjoy playing it.
 

Alahmnat

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Nov 20, 2010
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anyGould said:
The Riven number puzzle is perfect for this. You see the weird symbols everywhere, and then you find the classroom, and there are the symbols, arranged in the classic "number line". Ta-da!

(Of course, it also has the [email protected]#$% marble puzzle, but nobody's perfect.)
For me, if there's one puzzle that feels out of place in Riven, it's figuring out how to get into Gehn's lab on Book Assembly Island. The whole "climb through the duct work" solution just seemed... stupid. And the pipe you're climbing through in no way seems large enough to accommodate you, especially with the fan supports welded to either end (the water pipe immediately prior to this puzzle is only slightly better).

To be honest, I really love both of the huge overarching puzzles in Riven: the marble one and the one that block access to the Moiety Age. I may be a bit biased toward the marble one though... I played the game for the first time as a kid with my dad and my uncle (the circumstances of how I managed to play through and finally beat Riven are amusing, but lengthy enough for their own post), and I hit upon the puzzle's methodology before either of them. We were only hindered in actually solving it by our combined ineptitude with regards to spatial relations ;). It's quite impressive to step back from both puzzles and realize that almost without fail, every other element of the game is building up to those two solutions, which are as complex as they are because of what effectively amounts to a very passive-aggressive arms race between Gehn and the Moiety in terms of securing their strongholds from one another.

Riven to this day remains my very favorite game of the series ? and one of my favorite games ever ? because Cyan did such an exceptional job integrating the story, characters, environment, and puzzles into a cohesive whole, while providing enough of a balance between trial-and-error and clue-giving in the puzzle designs to avoid frustration (this is where Myst 4 in particular falls flat on its face).

The other thing Myst does is that since you don't have an inventory, you don't have an axe in hand to chop the door down with. (Which skews a little too far in the later games IMO - by the later games, the assumption is that you knew you were coming. So why don't you have a rope, or a compass, or a flashlight?)
I totally agree with you on this, especially when it comes to Uru.

"Go figure out somehow that you need to bring these fireflies with you to light your way through a cave in another Age. But be careful, they don't like it when you run or jump, and if you so much as dip your toe into the water, they'll leave you forever."
"Um, no. Give me a freaking flashlight!"

I mean really. C'mon.
 

Saltyk

Sane among the insane.
Sep 12, 2010
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runnernda said:
Can you please make a game where just hacking through everything can be a solution to the puzzle? I like puzzles, but I mainly like the type of logic puzzles that we get in Resident Evil or Professor Layton. Sliding puzzles make me want to punch a baby seal...and I LIKE baby seals. If we can just hack through puzzles that we hate, people who like puzzles can work them out, and people who don't can unleash violence on them! Stress relief for all!
I approve.
I would really like to play a RPG where I can solve a puzzle or just smash the puzzle and continue on. There would have to be some kind of penalty for this, such as you miss some loot or a boss becomes much stronger, but I think that would be an awesome concept. Plus, it would make the world much more real.
 
Oct 20, 2010
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runnernda said:
Can you please make a game where just hacking through everything can be a solution to the puzzle? I like puzzles, but I mainly like the type of logic puzzles that we get in Resident Evil or Professor Layton. Sliding puzzles make me want to punch a baby seal...and I LIKE baby seals. If we can just hack through puzzles that we hate, people who like puzzles can work them out, and people who don't can unleash violence on them! Stress relief for all!
This is why the ultimate fantasy or adventuring games will always be table-top like DnD.
Once my DM concocted the greates most mind-stumpingly difficult door lock on an indestructible door.

I asked for a description, and he mentioned the hinges. "Are they on THIS SIDE of the door?"
I asked. "Yes" Ï remove the pins, kick down the door, and steal said pins cuz they could be handy as Pitons." Problem solved, no axe necessary.

I Used to use Magic as an adventuring tool, buth 4th edition reduced magic to I shoot glowey light A at it. grumble
 

Disthron

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Aug 19, 2009
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I'm wondering if you'd ever consider actually doing something like that in a game. Maybe have 2 achevements, one for solving the puzzle and one for smashing the door. ^_^