Friday, 26 March 2010

Puzzles (Tell Me Your Favourite Type!)

At the beginning of the week, I spent time going over a number of small problems that had crept into the code since I had introduced some new ideas and systems. In particular, I found myself fixing conversation triggers in the event of absent PCs; ensuring certain classes could not exploit the alignment system and fixing the spell system in the event of a cleric or wizard missing their holy or spell book. I also found myself looking over the rest system after reading Chaos Wielder's blog on the subject. For those interested in my own resting system (which must be one of the most comprehensive systems that will hit the gaming arena when I finally get it released), they can check past blog entries as follows:
After finally sorting out that handful of problems, I was able to start looking at writing more towards a quest. In this case, it was a step forward on the main quest, and I thought I would start on a puzzle I had in mind. So, my topic this week is puzzles!

PUZZLES: Player v PC

One of the difficulties I find when designing a puzzle is the potential objection from players that their PC would know how better to solve it than they might themselves. In PnP D&D, this kind of play was easily managed by the DM who could offer clues to the player if need be, either directly or after a successful intelligence roll (or whatever attribute was being tested). In NWN, however, the same kind of opportunity to offer a clue is not so readily available, unless the game is being DM'd at the same time.

When I finally get to play my own module with my group I will be present as a guiding DM at the time of play, but I am interested in how others include puzzles where a DM may not be present? Do you even include puzzles? If you do, what considerations do you include when designing them? I would be interested in comments from both players and builders.

Agility of the Mind

The puzzle I am currently building, I have entitled an "agility of the mind" type puzzle. This is to avoid any direct connection with attributes a player may try to associate with their PC. Some may argue that this sounds like an intelligence based puzzle, but I beg to differ. After all, we can probably all recall the scatter-brained wizard. Such a wizard is extremely intelligent, but can often have moments of "slowness" over what may be considered simple things. In this way, I can design the puzzle to be reasonably simple to understand, but may require an agile mind to work out, especially if there is a given time limit.

In the process of designing this puzzle, I recognised another potential issue: If a timer was to be involved, what was there to stop the player from clicking on the pause button and taking as long as they liked to solve it? This left me stumped for some time, and I did not come up with a solution until later in the day. The answer: By using a GUI to offer a puzzle, I could force the SetPause function to keep the game un-paused all the while the GUI was open! For all other builders out there who like to use timers for puzzles, this is like a breakthrough. I felt like I had solved my own puzzle. ;)

So now, I can offer the puzzle I had in mind (using a GUI) and the player must solve the problem in a given time. Furthermore, I have considered giving bonus time based on some attributes (so maybe I will let the intelligent PC have more time). Lastly, it allows me to even have items available that will also offer bonus time to the PC/player to allow the a better chance at solving the puzzle.

Name Your Favourite Puzzle

I have a couple of puzzles now that make use of this facility. However, I would also like to know what have been your favourite puzzles in games? They can be one-off types, or regular types (like my combination chest puzzles). Whatever they be, give me some details of a puzzle that you enjoyed playing/solving and maybe I can use its style in my own module.

POLL: What Turns You Off A Module?

And once again ... if you haven't voted in the poll yet (on the left hand side), then please do and feel free to comment.


Anonymous said...

My favorite types of puzzles are those that make me think. That might seem like a stupid response, but it's a serious one. I *hate* going into a room and seeing a series of switches/mirrors/etc and realizing that this is a simple yet time consuming puzzle. If there is going to be a "break" for puzzles, then they ought to be genuinely interesting rather than an afterthought.

(Off topic: I realized another problem I had with the UI: the game requires that all characters/placeables with the new UI must have portraits, either on them--like a creature--or passed through via the conversation properties tab. Just a shout out to make sure you realize this, but I'm sure you've already seen it).

Lance Botelle (Bard of Althéa) said...

Hi Chaos Wielder,

Do you recall any particular puzzle you played in a game that stands out in memory?

I know what you mean about switches, although I don't mind the odd one now and then if it fits in with the context of the story. :)

At the moment, my own puzzles have involved numbers and letters (or answers to questions). And requires the player to either work out the answer (by logic) or be quick at observation (e.g. noticing the number of vowels is one I have in mind). I do find it difficult,, however, including puzzles that are both fun and do not appear to be added for their own sake.

CONV UI: I have not noticed a problem with portraits. I did not know any creatures or placeables did not come with any anyway? They all appear to be present and corrent - and isn't there a "default" portrait they use anyway?



Anonymous said...

Many games I play don't have puzzles in the traditional sense--it's more like "how do I get through this section" or stuff like that.

However, I generally enjoy sliding puzzles(those with one empty space and you have to reform a picture--with good xml code, it could happen). And wordplay, if done right, is just lovely.

You touch on a major difficulty, though, when you mention believability. I'd like to keep criminals out of my house as much as the next guy(or gal), but I'm probably not going to install a series of magically sealed doors to stop them. Point being, one must be careful about 'overdoing' it. I trust your judgement, however. :)

There can be a default portrait defined in the properties tab of the conversation but, in general, placeables/creatures do not have portraits(properly speaking). I might be mistaken, but I'm pretty sure there needs to be a portrait for the UI to work(hey, I hope I'm wrong).

Amraphael said...

Hi Lance, hope everything is fine with you!
I tried to recall any specific puzzle I enjoyed but couldn't find any. But I love puzzles if they (in a classic PnP setting) is related to the adventure or situation. It should feel like it fits. To have a anagram quiz just to open a chest isn't so fun. But a chemical lock where the player has to find clues to, preferable by using one or several skills, which fluid to mix and then pour in a slot in the lock is more interesting.
Riddles can be fun but can be hard to implement so they feel natural. Everyone are tired of the riddle door or sphinx :)

I also like when I as a player can chose to solve the puzzle. Get XP or item reward for it OR just find a shortcut around it if I find it too hard or boring and sacrifice the reward but keep the pace in the game.

But as a GUI grand master wizard you could probable do a "put several small pieces of a map or letter together"-puzzle. Just like a jigsaw puzzle. The PC collects pieces and the put them together and solves something or find a location.
Just my thought. Have a great day!

Lance Botelle (Bard of Althéa) said...

Hi Chaos Wielder,

Puzzles ... Yes, I am finding it hard to implement these without it feeling too contrived. :(

Conversation ... I will keep an eye on that then. Thanks for the heads up!

Hi Amraphael,

Things are hard going, but moving along gradually thanks. :)

Riddle door or sphinx ... gulp .. I like those. :( Guess I'll be redoing some of those then. ;)

Good idea about the player not gaining XP if they want to bypass the puzzle. At least by trying to solve the puzzle, there is an incentive to not bypass it.

My GUI "expertise" is mostly smoke and mirrors I'm afraid. I admit I can do some very basic stuff, but when it comes to pane manipulation, I'm a bit out of my depth. Maybe I could learn it in time, but the reward for doing so would probably mean my module never seeing the light of day.

Maybe I can work with what I do know and combine the knowledge with a little normal play. Like find a picture (with a letter on the back) and there is a clue to the orde the letters have to be put into a decoder.

Oh well, I guess I cannot avoid a few clichés, and a few orchestrated puzzles, and even the odd riddle door ... I hope people won't mind too much. ;)

Maybe more ideas will come to me as I continue ... :)


Eguintir Eligard said...

I just like the word or math pattern riddles. It's a single answer, and for people who arent too bright they can just guess out of 8 answers until they get it right (by reloading etc).

Lance Botelle (Bard of Althéa) said...

Hi Eguintir,

I like these types of puzzles too. However, finding a way to use them in a believeable way is testing.

As for reloading, I try to write the code in such a way that this exploit cannot be used. The player can either solve the puzzle or they cannot. However, I will include ways to bypass it if that is not their sort of thing.


Anonymous said...

Personally, I wouldn’t mind riddle doors or any other cliché puzzle as puzzles are one of the most interesting parts of a module. They not only are fun, but also a nice break from battle/conversation/other gameplay. I can’t think of any particular puzzle but generally I love riddles.

And I second what Amraphael said. Some people don’t like puzzles and being unable to proceed because you’re stuck to one of them is extremely frustrating. An option to find and destroy the puzzle mechanism or something like that would be enough.

Lance Botelle (Bard of Althéa) said...

Hi Anon,

Glad to hear you like the clichéd puzzles. :) (I was running out of ideas. ;) )

I am currently trying to devlop a system that allows some randomness and a way to avoid reload exploitation.

I am also trying to give an option to bypass a puzzle, even if it means something as simple as acquiring an item (costing gold) to do so.


Anonymous said...

Making the puzzles unexploitable while offering a way to go around them anyway seems redundant. Try to find ways to avoid extra work for yourself rather than add to it.

I would be particularly leery of situations where you are going above and beyond what commercial games do, as that is definitely a good yard stick of doing too much.

Lance Botelle (Bard of Althéa) said...

Hi Anon,

I hear you ... :)

However, I only just read this post after I have just made them exploitable proof. :(

I probably won't go any more down that route, although most of the hard work is now done.

It does now mean a player can either spend time working the puzzle out, or sacrifice something else to do so ... and cannot reload to regain the sacrifice.

The point is, in this particular "extra work", the "easy" way around still costs something to the player. ;)

BUT, I think you are right about me doing too much ... I always tend to edge towards the nth degree in detail. I wil try to back off a bit and concentrate more on getting some of the more straight forward bits done now. :)


Kamal said...

I'm not a big fan of puzzles in my gameplay. Those few I put in I made solvable by the pc via skill checks so no player knowledge was required.

...cough Umberlee temple in SoZ cough.... That kind of puzzle I wind up just solving via trial and error, but realistically a bard pc or companion would find that puzzle embarrasingly simple, the pc/companion has knowledge that the player more than likely doesn't.

Lance Botelle (Bard of Althéa) said...

Hi Kamal,

I always found the "trial and error" type puzzles a little frustrating. Maybe I just did not see the logic, especially in colour related ones because I am colour-blind.

Hopefully, now that I have a few logic type puzzles in mind, and a few ways to solve them, any I introduce should be "fun" rather than frustrating. In every case that matters, the player can now either spend the time solving the puzzle, or sacrifice some special item (Life Essence) or gold in some cases, or acquire an item to help solve it (make it easier).

Because some of the puzzles are randomly generated, it makes the puzzle solving fun for me (the builder) when testing as well. ;)


Kamal said...

I realized after my previous comment that I'm not a big fan of puzzles, but I'd put one in the critical path of my campaign..... :-)

Lance Botelle (Bard of Althéa) said...

Hi Kamal,

I think puzzles can add an element of fun ... but I believe the main thing is to allow another means to get past the obstacle, just in case someone definitely does not like them at all, or simply cannot solve it.

Hopefully, any puzzles I do add may excite a player enough to at least give them a go, even if they end up bypassing them another way. ;)