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January 19, 2014
Puzzles and Life.
February 13, 2014
Hello friends! Text post today.
For my Game Design class this week, we have been reading about puzzles and how to incorporate puzzles into games. We read 2 articles, "What is a Puzzle?" by Scott Kim, and "Designing and Integrating Puzzles in Action-Adventure Games" by Pascal Luban, and both provided some interesting insight into puzzles. Scott Kim does a good job boiling it down to a simple definition: 1. A puzzle is fun 2. and it has a right answer. This got me thinking about why I liked puzzles.
Now I have always been a fan of puzzles and puzzle-based games. The first video game that I remember playing is Tetris, the classic puzzle video game. Even as I typed this, I had to go and play a quick round of Tetris. My love for puzzles and puzzle-based video games runs deep. I used to buy puzzle books for the long road trips my family would take from Alabama to Pennsylvania. I would sit in the back of the car between my siblings and do puzzles for hours. I loved riddles, word puzzles, number-based puzzles, physical puzzles, logic puzzles--I loved them all! The reason that I love puzzles is not only because I think they are fun, but mostly because they have a right answer. This is also why I loved math growing up. Math almost always has a right answer. All you have to do is figure out how to find it. And just like a puzzle, knowing that a problem has a solution is what keeps me motivated to keep searching for that solution. We'll come back to this.
Recently I have been playing Professor Layton and the Curious Village. The Professor Layton series are video games that are entirely based around puzzles. There is a story and a goal and whatnot, but the main focus of the game is completing puzzles and solving mysteries. At first I was worried that having a game that was totally and completely based around puzzles would be boring, but I was wrong! Despite the unrelentling onslaught of puzzle after puzzle, I kept playing. The puzzles kept me engaged! Knowing that there was a solution was enough to keep me solving the puzzles and moving forward. But puzzle-based games are not for everybody. I know plenty of people who would be utterly and outright bored to DEATH by a puzzle game like Professor Layton. These people prefer ACTION! ADVENTURE! SHOOTING THINGS! as I do too occasionally.
But Action-Adventure games are full of puzzles! Pascal Luban discusses this in his article. He says that actually Action-Adventure games need puzzles to diversify the gameplay and to keep the players engaged. In these games, puzzles come in all kinds of varieties. But the most common are the goal-based puzzles and the environment puzzles. Goal puzzles are a part of the story and help keep the character moving through the experience by creating several micro-goals. For intsance, the larger goal may be to get out of the building, but the door is locked. To get out you know you must find the key. Finding the key involves going to another part of the building, completing a task to gian access to another area of the game which challenges you in a new way, before you finally have what you need to get to the key. The goal is to escape the building, but the only way to do this is to first complete the set of micro-goals set before you. These players do not realize that much of their game is based on puzzles...
Environment puzzles are similar to goal puzzles in that they must be completed before the player can move forward. But rather than driving the action, environment puzzles usually block a player. The trick is balancing the flow of the game around these puzzles so that the game does not become stagnant and the players bored. Again, there is always a solution to these puzzles or else the game would dead end. And that's the thing about games, almost all games have a solution, an ending. Maybe I'm biased because I enjoy puzzles and tend to buy games that have puzzle elements, but I'm convinced that good games, no matter the genre, require puzzles.
This past month, I have been working on a project at the ETC to create a game that focuses on a global social issue. One of the big issues that we have had with this project is that most of the global issues that we have been researching require very careful knowledge of all the many factors involved in the problem before you can start to create a solution or have no solution at all. So as a team, we have had a difficult time trying to keep the issue based in reality and retain the fact that there is most likely not a solution but at the same time make it a game in which people expect there to be a solution, or at least a satisfying ending.
Again, the reason that I like puzzles, and ultimately why I like games, is because they are fun and they typically have a solution. Puzzles and games alike provide an escape from reality. A world where I view the challenges ahead of me simply as puzzles that must be solved in order to achieve my goal. Real life, on the other hand, is hard. The problems you encounter inreal life may not have a solution at all. And since we are not ensured that there is actually a solution, it can be difficult to stay motivated to keep trying to solve the problems that we encounter along the way...
Games and puzzles provide a simplified problem where the rules are clear. Life? not so much. But if I view the problems that I encounter in life as puzzles, then maybe I'll be more motivated to actually solve them. Or at least I'll have a bit more fun along the way. Right?