The problems with Multiple Solutions

There has been quite a few discussions on various adventure game forums about multiple solves to puzzles. Now while I can see the appeal from a gamers point of view, from a design standpoint they are almost impossible to effectively implement.
Now, these are really only issues I have discovered when designing my own game. Some of the things you may disagree with, and even find some ways around. If you have solutions to these issues, please let me know!
The big issue with having multiple puzzle options for inventory puzzles is that you end up with useless inventory items.
Lets say that the obstacle to pass is a door. One solution involves picking the lock using a metal toothpick. Another solve is finding an axe and simply bashing through the door. the final solve is to use a blowtorch to cut off the hinges. Now each of these puzzles, on their own, are pretty simple to impliment from a design point of view. HOWEVER, each one requires a different item. A toothpick, an axe, and a blowtorch. Lets say that in the game, I pick up the blowtorch, and the axe, but skip over the toothpick. Now that is cool-but what happens later on in the game when I have a seemingly important inventory item-but no place to use it. Now having a few ‘red herring’ items in the game is fine-but having more than half your inventory being full of items that were actually used for other puzzles can become a logistical nightmare for the player to navigate through!
Now thats assuming that the 3 objects to bypass the door are relatively easy to come by. Lets assume tho, that each item needs some form of interaction to aquire it.
1. The toothpick requires you to sprinkle bits of wood shavings in an old mans food, so he requests a toothpick. You then have to distract him with a woopie cusion made from a latex glove stolen from a doctor.
2. The axe is actually a broken piece of s STOP SIGN, fastened to a baseball bat, which was used to break the stop sign in the first place.
3. The blowtorch is created by stealing money from the old man, to go and buy a can of deodorant. the deodorant is then strapped to a lighter, which was found by stealing a packet of cigarettes from a waitress.
So now, in these multiple solves to get past a door, we have a really wide variety of ways to get there. Now the problem, design wise, is how do you let the player know his/her critical path? Lets say you can sprinkle wood shavings on the old dudes food, but you already have the baseball bat and stop sign. How does the player know that the wood shavings in the guys food dont do any good. Or even worse, you go through all the trouble to get the toothpick, axe, and blowtorch-yet only one is usefull. So all of those other items, and all the effort needed to get them has gone to waste.
The solution to get past these issues seems to be, create less involved puzzles. But adventure gamers dont WANT less involved puzzles. My favorite puzzles are ones that require an entire string of events to get through-with each event being its own puzzle, unfolding eventually into something grander. Puzzles that build up on themselves. So the choice really comes down to this…having complex, linear puzzles, or having puzzles are are simplified down to avoid conflicting issues down the road.
Another big issue with multiple solves is that, if you want to have awesome and interesting puzzles in a game, you suddenly have to have 3 or 4 times the amount. Lets say that I come up with this really clever way to get hack into a computer system. The puzzle is involved, requiring the use of inventory items, different dialog trees, and ‘myst’ style interaction of the actual computer. Now the result of hacking into the computer is that a safe is open.
In order to have multiple solves, I need to have another 1 or 2 equally incredible puzzle ‘paths’ for the player to choose from-else I am forcing the player to play through a less interesting part of the game because they did not choose the correct path. Now its really difficult to come up with 1 puzzle that is engaging, logical, and will keep the player completely involved in the game world-let alone having to create, do the graphics for, and code 3 of them.
Now of course, replayablility is always an option-but that almost feels like cheating the player out of that initial experience.
Now, this post isnt about just letting people know WHY I dont think that multiple solves do not work, but is also to offer a solution of some kind. Kind of.
See, I dont think that players actually want multiple solutions to puzzles in adventure games…what they want is the feeling of freedom that multiple solves would give them. Adventure gamers want the freedom of an RPG, with the SPECIFIC interactivity of an Adventure Game. The best way to provide a player with that, without resorting to a spider web of issues is to give the ILLUSION of freedom.
Having the player skip certain sections, or get ‘stuck’ in an area of the game because of a choice they made is one such way. If I look at the world of STASIS, there really are a multitiude of ways to do this. Having the player bypass a security check point, by instead crawling though a roof conduit is a way. The result is the same…to get to the other side. Having the multiple solutions be ACTION BASED instead of INVENTORY BASED takes out the issues that arrive from having multiple inventory puzzles. Now does this cheat the gamer out of a part of the game? Yes. However, if this is done sporadically, and the parts of the game that are skipped are not ‘essential’ to the game, having these little moments can add to the ILLUSION OF FREEDOM. Is this the IDEAL solution? Definitely not…but its the best one I have!
If you guys have any other ideas on how to get past these issues, please give me a shout. Ive realised that creating a game really is an organic process-so if I get any really cool suggestions, they WILL be stolen, and put in STASIS. 😉


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