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March 24, 2004



I'll bear that in mind in my next design. :)

Mike Hommel

The problem with Meretzky's theory is pretty simple: the kind of people who can or would look up game puzzles on the internet are the same kind of people who can solve hard ones, or care to. The more casual public can't and won't, so all you're doing by making it possible to look up on the internet really is enabling the type who could solve a hard puzzle, but just wants to buzz through and see the cutscenes. Basically saying that making a puzzle harder does just what it should, internet or no internet: excludes the less 'serious' gamer. I'm all for tricky puzzles with Invisiclues (tm) though!

PS - 48-hour gamedev contest coming up in mid-april: http://www.ludumdare.com !


I agree, Mike. In Broken Sword - The Sleeping Dragon I worried about the level of difficulty. Many people thought the puuzles too easy and others got stuck getting out of the first location, so I think on balance we probably pitched it about right.


This is why I'm VERY surprised that more games don't follow in System Shock's footsteps. System Shock had separate difficulty sliders for the different parts of the game - combat, puzzles, even the plot. A setting of zero on an aspect would remove it from the game completely, so the player could really customize their own experience.


How do you remove the plot from a story-based game?

Markus Friedl

I always had a little problem with Steve's theory as well... mainly because I think you cannot should not rely on media cross-references in your design... the game should "work" (be it easy or hard puzzles) on its own and shouldn't rely on another media... (I also cannot rely on people looking up stuff in game guide books)...

One thing I always find to work pretty well is "simple"/standard difficulty ramping (in puzzle design, this is often overlooked in my opinion)... presenting even the casual gamer with tougher puzzles towards the 2nd third of a game is OK I think... of course, I still mean *tougher* not *hard core*...


Easy. Setting "plot" to 0 in System Shock unlocked all doors and removed all voice logs and cutscenes, leaving you to simply shoot all the zombies and cyborgs. Setting "puzzles" to 0 made all puzzles come pre-solved - you still had to access the puzzles, but then the puzzle would solve themselves and the (whatever) would (whatever). Setting "combat" to 0 made enemies totally non-aggressive - you still needed to kill certain enemies to progress through the game, but now it was trivially easy to do so. And setting "cyber" to 0 presolved all the cyberspace sequences.




Badman: So if you set everything to 0, do you get to play Dungeon Siege?


Hey now, don't be hatin'. I though Dungeon Siege had some fantastic technology, and I really liked their RPG system. In the real world, if you want to get better at something, you do that thing. Paper-and-pencil RPGs abstracted that using levels or skill points because it would be too tedious to keep track of every time you did something. But nothing's too tedious for a computer, and I think sticking with the older, rougher systems just for the sake of tradition is unnecessary.

Everyone complained about DS' automatic combat but I recall Diablo II being exactly the same way and Baldur's Gate II not being much better. Besides, you know, you could turn it OFF.

I think the REAL problem with DS was that its story and characters just weren't compelling enough. Very cookie-cutter. Hopefully GPG will fix this with the sequel.

Oh, and you're right - turning EVERYTHING down to 0 in System Shock left the player with very little to do, but it was still the player's choice.

Mike Hommel

I WISH Diablo II was exactly the same! In terms of auto-combat that is. It's a vastly superior game in every conceivable way (in fact, my favorite game ever I would have to guess, since I'm still as interested in playing it as I was 3... 4? years ago). But it would be even better if your guy would hack away at nearby critters automatically. I only like to play characters with area-effect or auto-targeting or multi-targeting attacks, for that very reason. I don't want to have to click on every single monster.

On the other hand, Dungeon Siege was unbearable and unfun. I got a couple hours in (okay, maybe 8), and it's gotten so incredibly hard, in addition to its classic tedium (no interesting skills to choose from, no interesting items of any kind), that I quit. There's no way to backtrack and level-up since everything stays dead. That's probably my biggest complaint. My party can be slaughtered entirely by a single enemy (the golem guys that spew a stream of rocks, in the mines), but I have nowhere else I can go to improve them.

I definitely think the skill-based system is not a good one. It enforces the tedium further - I pick up this girl who starts out 1 level higher in archery than anything else, I'd be a moron not to leave her using a bow, since there's a finite amount of leveling available. So I have no choices: she is to be firing that bow nonstop for the rest of the game. And it's required, because even with that sort of thing, I'm barely hanging on to the edge of survivability. If I had diversified, I'd be long-dead. Whereas with Diablo II, I can pick someone who uses a bow, sure (actually, she also has javelin and spear options), but within that, I have a huge variety of different options I can pursue. Many of them are equally suicidal, but there are a ton that I can do that can get me through the game alive (and if you only count Normal difficulty as "the game", any combination of skills can do it, with varying levels of success).

Anyway, I just wanted a chance to rant about DS. I'm so upset I wasted the last $20 of our Staples gift certificate on it. Now excuse me, I have to go do some Mephisto runs. Because in D2, enemies drop interesting items in wide variety, and I wanna see what he drops next!

Nathan McKenzie


I don't think puzzles have to be shelf level events. I think it's actually the larger overall structures of Zelda and PoP that make their puzzles totally unavoidable and thus potential shelf-level events (and the Water Temple in OoT is in fact exactly where the shelf hit for me - of course, for PoP, I consistently find that it's the combat, not the puzzles, that generally turned people off...)

If a designer were to rely heavily on puzzles but the structure of the game in question were more like Mario 64 (70 out of 120 solved is winning, multiple goals available at all moments), it seems like it would be no more shelf-prone than any other game structured that way.

Of course, it is the case that the vast majority of games out there aren't structured like Mario 64, but instead are highly linear and very prone to people getting stuck at key bottlesnecks. A pity.

Adam Vandenberg

Wouldn't D2 with auto-combat basically be, uh, ProgressQuest with better graphics?

In any case, I'm finding the items in D2 to also be much more interesting than the items in Champions of Norrath. I think one trick is that D2 items grant skill bonuses. Deciding between two otherwise identical swords with different skill bonuses is more interesting than deciding between weapons with slight damage differences.

In Champions it doesn't look like items ever give you skill points. Of course, you only get two spell buttons anyway, so managing spells is kind of a pain.

Mike Hommel

Not Progress Quest at all, because you get to develop your character how you choose! It'd be... NPC Quest! http://hamumu.com/gamelets.php

I think both the skill bonuses and the otherwise wide variety of mods do it. I mean, you can improve resistances, defense (bugs me that damage reduction is virtually nonexistent, but it is in there too), add special things like crushing blow or attacker takes damage, add auto-skills like "Frost Nova When Hit", replenish life, leech life, increased speed, boosts to stats... there are hundreds of possibilities! Lots of strategy in there. And that's before you even get to the strategies of how you pick skills.


Oh, man...I HATE hearing about people who shelved Ocarina of Time at the water temple. I really wish the game hadn't gotten so incredibly confusing right there - and the next temple, the Shadow Temple, is just as bad. Those two temples put a huge hole right in the middle of the game.

BUT, if you persevere, it's worth it. The last temple, the Light Temple, is really fun - lots of very clever puzzles involving bouncing light off your mirrored shield (yeah I know, sounds passe now, but the game came out in 1998 if you'll recall). The Light Temple also had a fantastic boss fight. And then you got to defeat Ganondorf and watch one of the best endings ever.

Re: Prince of Persia, I also found the combat to be the weakest part of the game. Once I got it sorted (vault over reds, wall-drill blues) it became really tedious. The other beef I had with the game was at the end, where they make you do a hard jumping section without the dagger.

Ben Cousins

A note: The reason many developers are reticent about referring to 'puzzles' could be because that in marketing focus groups, the word 'puzzle' goes down very badly.

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