Delightful Wallpaper - puzzle design

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:

  1. Discovering the hidden logic; finding out the rules of the game, so to speak.
  2. 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. :slight_smile: 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?

I found it impossible to solve on my own.

I wasn’t distracted by the notebook – found it helpful, in fact. The bigger problem for me was that I couldn’t really figure out what was changing. I may be remembering wrong, but it seems that after the first couple of triggers, the game stopped giving directional hints (i.e., “something rattles in the distance” instead of “something rattles somewhere to the northeast”). So, I wasn’t really sure where to concentrate my search. On top of this, I was never quite sure that I’d find this “change” in the same condition, because it seemed to me that going through certain doors or in certain directions changed things on my way to check something else. Worse case scenario, I would trigger two things in nearby rooms, without being able to figure out which thing accounted for which change (assuming I found the change).

That’s not to say I solved none of it. I did make pretty good progress, but after a while, the fun turned to frustration. I think some people really liked this part of the game – even moreso than the second part – but it was over my head.

I really liked the second part, though. The paths were open, and I found the “intentions” much more interesting. I loved the second part, and might have been happy with a full game like that.

I have to admit that I didn’t play the second part yet. It got me utterly confused quite quickly, and being pretty tired from solving the first part, I decided to save it for another time. :slight_smile:

Neither the first part of the game nor the second part of the game worked for me, for two very different reasons. The first part of the game was a puzzle which is exactly the sort of puzzle I often greatly enjoy. I subscribe to ‘Games’ magazine and it reminded me of something straight out of there. But the IF interface killed it for me. I couldn’t keep the layout of everything in my head (let alone the rules), and I felt resentful at having to write down a puzzle that should have started off written down. I probably would have played and solved it if there had been a provided graphical map, even one as basic as the one in ‘Lock and Key’.

The second part of the game lost me because I was being asked to kill people, and in exchange I was offered couplets. This would have possibly been OK with me if the people had been worth killing, or maybe if I was a huge Gorey fan, but I’m not. And then the game asked me to kill a little girl, and I told the game, “Damn you and your couplets, I’m not killing off a young girl,” and quit. I’ve played ‘Shade’, I know what the deal is. If the only winning move is not to play, I can do that. I won’t enjoy it, but I know I’ll enjoy it more than playing through to the end, so hey.

This felt quite ideosyncratic even at the time, and I would not recommend or disrecommend the game based on my reaction.

But I do wish the first half of the game had had a GUI.

I don’t think I even got as far as the second part, or at least didn’t progress very far into it if I did. The puzzle design? Well… I was vaguely aware as I was moving about that certain things were being changed by my actions but I was never sure just what they were or if I should be trying to manipulate my surroundings in this way or it was simply something that was happening. Maybe if I wasn’t trying to stick to the two hour limit on IFComp games I’d have been more willing to spend some more time on the game and I’d have realised what was going on, but the time limit meant I was pretty much rushing from one place to another with barely any opportunity to digest what was going on. So I spent half the game without a clue what was happening and the other half following the walkthrough, neither of which left me with very fond memories of the game.