A quick look at Puzzle Design

When approaching puzzle design, I first look at what the result of the puzzle needs to be. What is the obstacle, and what is logically needed to overcome that obstacle. For example, if the obstacle is a locked door, what is the more logical way to get past it? To lubricate the  hinges of the lock with an old banana peel, and then use a coin to unscrew the bolts in the hinges? Or to try and get through the lock using a screw driver? Sure, the one may be more ‘challenging’, but honestly there is NOTHING more frustrating than a puzzle that completely defies logic.

I want the puzzles to have an almost MacGyver feel to them. MacGyver never picked up a paper clip and a rag, for ‘just in case’. No, when he needed them, he would find something like a paper clip, and a torn off shirt strip. When obstacles need to be passed, I want the player to look for inventive ways to pass that obstacle…not look for things that could be used to pass something in the future.
I think that this is in keeping with Maracheck. He is there on a job. He isn’t going to stop, dig through the trash, and take a bottle for later. He is going to need a container, and dig in the trash for something.

Once I’ve decided on the obstacle, and a logical way to overcome it, I go to the drawingboard. Literally. I plan out every aspect of the puzzle on paper first.  This puzzle involves setting off switches in the correct order on the manual override for a door. This will be a combination of an inventory puzzle, which is needed to actually open up the manual override box, and a ‘Myst style’ interactive puzzle. The following sketches show the development of the puzzle-where the switches are, what they would be labled, and more importantly, how a system like this would work IN THE REAL WORLD. What switches would be connected to which controls?

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Now this puzzle gets a little more complex. I really wanted the player to have SOME of the information, and have to try and decifer what to do next, to avoid ‘trial and error’. Initially I was going to simply have a sticker on the manual override box that had been torn in half, or faded, so that the player could figure out for themselves how to use it-but honestly, in dealing with a sci-fi game, that seems a little…easy. So I’ve added in a piece of technology to Marachecks arsenal that will not only help him with this puzzle, but will also create some rather interesting opportunities later on in the game…XRay Goggles!

The XRay Goggles are a piece of tech which will allow scanning of certain objects, to see how they work on the inside. This way, the captain can easily check how certain objects work, without damaging them. He can see which wires are connected to which switches/devices. This little piece of technology opens up the world of puzzles massively.

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Because of the careful planning of the puzzles on paper, getting them working IN the game is quite simple. When designing on paper, I often also will write out how the game logic will work.

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While this seems to be a little convoluted, it allows for the implimentation to go VERY quickly. After the puzzle was concieved on paper, it only took a few hours to get it, graphics and all, into the game.

Once its in the engine, I will play that part of the game from a few scenes back to make sure that the puzzle doesn’t break the ‘flow’ of the game. This is usually where I will add in sound effects, and ambient noise. Does this puzzle work best when there is just the sound of breathing? Should there be computer noises in the background? Music playing from an old radio? When the buttons are pushed, what sounds should come out? These finishing touches are almost as important as the puzzle itself-as its what will keep the player in the moment.