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Andrew Williams From an article by Mark Newheiser ( http://www.adventureclassicgaming.com/index.php/site/features/423/ - accessed on 5 th January 2009) ‏ Adventure Game Puzzles Newheiser's conjecture In an interesting article, Newheiser has this to say about adventure games:

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Adventure game puzzles l.jpg

Andrew Williams

From an article by Mark Newheiser

(http://www.adventureclassicgaming.com/index.php/site/features/423/ - accessed on 5th January 2009)‏

Adventure Game Puzzles


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Newheiser's conjecture

  • In an interesting article, Newheiser has this to say about adventure games:

    “[...] the core features of gameplay cannot be effectively evaluated without actually playing it or giving so many details away as to detract from the experience of playing the game. In many respects, the quality of an adventure game depends upon the quality of its puzzles, whether they are ingenious and rewarding or just frustratingly illogical. Having been told an explanation to how a puzzle works means you will never be able to play it as intended, since a big part of the experience is the enjoyment of figuring it out for yourself. You can evaluate the art, voice acting, and even the story or humor present in an adventure game to a certain extent without diving too deep into it, but an adventure game with terrible puzzles can make all those other elements irrelevant, since you likely will never have the patience to finish the game in the first place.”

Would you agree with this?


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A solution looking for a problem

“A point that Ron Gilbert, co-creator of Monkey Island, has made about adventure game design is that for most puzzles the player should be presented with a problem before the solution is apparent [...]. Rather than wandering around with a bucket of water in your pocket and waiting for a puzzle to present itself that could conceivably allow for its use, you should see the raging fire first and then start looking for possible solutions, rather than idly looking for possible problems. In other words, you should see the lock before the key.”

Newheiser (partly) bases his taxonomy on this observation


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Newheiser's taxonomy

  • Newheiser proposes two types of puzzle:

    • Self-contained puzzles

      • the player does not need anything else to solve it

    • Key puzzles

      • the player has to find something to solve it


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1. Self-contained puzzles

  • These are further sub-divided:

    • Interaction puzzles

    • Mini-game puzzles

    • Riddle puzzles


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1(a) Interaction puzzles

  • Picking up an item, rolling away a rock, saying the right phrase etc

    • Sometimes reduce to “find the right verb”

  • Any puzzle that is solvable with the game's basic command set

  • This might be very simple in a graphical game and surprisingly complex in a text game


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1(b) Mini-game puzzles

  • Like an interaction puzzle but more complex:

    • Rearranging items into alphabetical order

    • Sliding tile puzzles

    • Creating a “circuit” to achieve some end

  • Arguably this is a coherent series of interactions, all in one puzzle

  • The critical thing is that no external clues or items are needed to solve the puzzle


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1(c) Riddle puzzles

  • Have a look at “Twisty little passages: an approach to interactive fiction” (Montfort 2005) for a very interesting discussions of riddles

    “What starts out on 4 legs, then goes around on 2, and then travels on 3 legs?”

    • Answer: Man

  • More common in text-based adventure games


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    Newheiser's conclusion

    • Newheiser's section on self-contained puzzles concludes thus:

      “All these types of puzzles produce a certain satisfaction since players are able to take their time and solve them on their own. This is a very different experience than being initially stumped by a puzzle and returning later triumphantly with the “key” in hand. For example, the Professor Layton series [on the DS] features puzzles entirely of the latter types of self-contained puzzles. All the puzzles in the series are isolated challenges, usually requiring the player to solve a riddle by giving a definite answer and occasionally requiring the player to complete a mini-game. Since each puzzle is solved independently of the others, this avoids the classic adventure game dilemma of never being quite sure if you have everything you need to tackle a puzzle and worrying about what you may have missed. The only drawback is that it does not allow for some of the more complicated interrelated puzzle solving sequences which other styles permit.”


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    2. Key puzzles

    • Newheiser's second category, “key puzzles”, can also be subdivided into three categories:

      • Inventory puzzles

      • Pattern puzzles

      • Implicit information puzzles


    2 a inventory puzzles l.jpg
    2 (a) Inventory puzzles

    • A staple of adventure (and other genres) game design

    • Player collects every item possible in the hope that one may eventually turn out to be useful

      • Matches for candles

      • Saws for trees

      • Keys for locks

    • Good for guiding the player

      • The solution for the current puzzle was a reward for solving an earlier puzzle etc


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    2(b) Pattern puzzles

    “Pattern puzzles are puzzles that depend upon the player obtaining a key piece of information which makes the puzzle solvable. This does not mean that the game simply provides clues to make inventory puzzles easier to figure out—most often for pattern puzzles, the solution is literally a piece of information. An example is figuring out the password to a safe by finding it written in a desk drawer, or learning the correct configuration to a circuit by finding a blueprint. In terms of literal game mechanics, the player’s character may always have been capable of solving these puzzles, but the player has no chance of guessing or arriving at a solution without learning the necessary piece of information. These puzzles can also be more complex and require correlating multiple pieces of information, such as finding a series of colors printed on a floor, learning how colors correspond to letters, and then using the translated version of those colors as a password.”


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    2(c) Implicit information puzzles

    “Implicit information puzzles can be seen as an alternative to pattern puzzles, where the information received is communicated by the player’s character rather than the player. With pattern puzzles, if a player happens to have played the game before and knows the combination to a safe, the player may be able to crack it immediately without doing the necessary work to track down the combination. However, if the game chooses to represent the safecracking as an example of implicit information puzzles, then solving the puzzle depends upon the player taking the necessary steps to make the player’s character aware of the answer. [...] Taken in its most general sense, this type of puzzle can simply represent any time the game’s internal state changes as a result of a player’s actions and makes further progress possible, which can lead to all sorts of unusual behaviors such as new areas becoming accessible because the player has finally got around to talking to an innkeeper. ”


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    Combinations of types

    • Bear in mind that puzzles may fall into more than one category:

      “Some pattern puzzles may require collecting a number of inventory objects and then arranging them in the right order. Some inventory puzzles may require using a number of objects to perform a series of actions in sequence, wherein failing to do them in the right order will force a restart, and an inventory puzzle may require using a number of objects in parallel to complete a recipe, such that the puzzle is not considered solved until all the ingredients are present.”


    Using puzzles for gameply variety l.jpg
    Using puzzles for gameply variety

    • Newheiser's advice about puzzle types:

      “An interesting point to note is that whereas mini-game puzzles and pattern puzzles often have to be completely logical so that they can have an unambiguous solution or arrangement, riddle puzzles, inventory puzzles, and implicit information puzzles can all be prone to leaps of illogic or tortured reasoning. When done well, however, they can be a welcome creative break by involving some lateral rather than linear thinking. The potential pitfall to these puzzles is that while the correct arrangement of a pattern puzzle may be the only solution that makes sense, the player may be able to come up with all sorts of item usage scenarios that make more sense than those the designers have envisioned; in such cases, the player may be left feeling like the action they are expected to perform is not reasonable. Implicit information puzzles can make the mistake of leaving no clue that the player is now able to perform a task which the player was not able to do before and obligate the player to exhaustively try out their available options every time progress is made. Any fan of riddles is probably aware how such puzzles can sometimes be obscure or ambiguous in their solutions, and many varieties of puzzles are guilty of relying on some specialized knowledge not all players may possess, such as a knowledge of history or mythology or a familiarity with mathematical numbering systems for some types of pattern puzzles.”


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