With Andrew Plotkin’s Delightful Wallpaper winning both the Best Puzzles and the Best Individual Puzzle XYZZY, it becomes an especially interesting game to analyse in terms of its puzzle design. I would especially like to discuss it because I personally thought the first puzzle (navigating the mansion) was a good idea implemented rather badly. Let’s discuss it.
What we have is a protagonist whose immateriality prevents him from doing anything but moving. Luckily for him, the puzzle requires only movements to be made: there is a hidden logic to the mansion, where stepping through certain doors and entering certain rooms changes the physical aspects of the house. By making the correct moves, we can open doors, lower platforms, rotate bridges, and so on.
This means that the puzzle has two layers:
- Discovering the hidden logic; finding out the rules of the game, so to speak.
- Solving the actual puzzle once the rules are known.
In order to be successful, the puzzle should be satisfying on at least one of these levels. But when I played Delightful Wallpaper, I felt it missed the mark on both.
Discovering the hidden logic of the puzzle could have been really fun: you do some moves, then notice that something has changed. What was it that made the change? You carefully retrace your steps, do first this, then that, and see what effect is had. Slowly but surely you are discovering the rules of the game.
But that was not how Delightful Wallpaper played out. You have a set of notes, which describe the rules of the game as soon as you have encountered them - but long, long before you could have actually known them as player. Take something simple: walking east in the corridor lowers the platform; walking west in the corridor raises it. (Or the other way around, I can’t remember.) This would have been fun to find out, because knowing it allows you to get into the tower. But before I had actually found it out as a player, the protagonist had already written it down is his notebook. Goodbey, sense of achievement. I just read the rule instead of discovering it.
This happened to me all the time. I just wandered around, then looked at the notes to see what I had ‘discovered’ in the process. Not much fun, actually; and certainly not a good puzzle.
Unfortunately, discovering the rules was the hard part of the puzzle. Once you knew the rules, navigating the maze was very easy and required little thought. So the second layer of the puzzle wasn’t very substantial either.
Obviously, I am painting the game a bit bleaker here than it deserves, but points often come across better if there aren’t to many "although"s and other caveats in them. To frame the same thoughts in a more constructive way: I felt that the puzzle could have been a much better puzzle with some minor adjustments (especially a reworking or abolishing of the notebook, although that might mean reevaluating and adjusting the difficulty of the puzzle as well). What do you think?