Hints and walkthroughs for larger puzzle games?

I’ve always really felt like walkthroughs and hints are important for a game because I want people to be able to get through the game. Almost all game I’ve released have been in competition like IFComp or Spring Thing where there is a deadline for players to finish the games and a time crunch, so I’ve made a bunch of walkthroughs of various levels of detail as well as contextualized hints.

But now I’m working on a bigger game (goal is for it take at least 10 hours for even a really good player to beat), and it mostly puzzle-focused. It wouldn’t be too hard to write hints for it and I have walkthroughs (in the form of the testing commands I use). But I almost wonder if for something like this it would be better not to have hints or walkthroughs?

In my ideal world, I’d release the game in late 2024/early 2025 without hints or walkthroughs, most people who play it would be people connected to this forum/ifdb, and a couple of people would try it and post hints for each other, and maybe after a few months a walkthrough would get developed and published; that’s kind of what happened in the ‘old school’ times and I’m trying to make a game like Mulldoon Legacy or Jigsaw that echoes that time period by giving people a long game to chew on. I just imagine the target audience would enjoy the collaboration.

Does this sound reasonable? Or do you think that I should throw in a walkthrough and hints from the beginning?

Edit: And I plan on releasing it outside of comps, just a chill game for people to pick up whenever.


No walkthrough imho. And hints should come from players. If not in a Comp I mean. You would spoil the game and especially all your work on it.


That’s good feedback; you personally are one of the people in my target audience (I think 'what kind of game might Marco like?) so I will definitely take that in my mind!


I dislike walkthroughs. Always more info than I want.

I like in-game hints personally. I did invisiclues in my game and had fun writing them.


I really think interactive fiction games should have a more standardized approach to hinting systems. If every game offered the following commands, it would increase the appeal and playability of parser games.

HINTS BRIEF - giving a general hint of what to do next.
HINTS VERBOSE - hinting in more specific detail.
HINTS FULL - basically a built-in game walkthrough.

Hints should be contextual based on location and unsolved puzzles and what’s the next ‘story gate’. You shouldn’t need to divert a player into a complex menu-driven infodump help system.


I agree with this. It’s what I did with Erstwhile, where hints only showed up (if you wanted) when you had the actual items in your Clues pile. I think that having a full walkthrough available encourages people (read: me and my poor impulse control) to look ahead every time they’re minorly stuck.

Some brief contextual hints might be good, but you writing a full walkthrough for this game would likely be detrimental to your idea of a collaborative community walkthrough.


An interesting idea, Clint !

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.


Well, I can’t wait to play it then!

Honestly: a walkthrough, or even hints, push the player to speed. It’s better a wall where to beat a head. And, ofc, the availability of this splendid community that will - eventually, and with some fortunate delay - help the player out.

Also: the Maker is there. So you can choose to move people forward in case one of your puzzles is too hard. But I guess an experienced author/player like you would never release a game which is unwinnable in 2024 :slight_smile:


I’m all for both in-game hints and walkthroughs. People play games for different reasons and want to engage with games in different ways. If an author has the capacity, then cheers to them for making the effort to provide both.


Yeah, I don’t see a big benefit to trying to control what players do.

I will say that I often feel dissatisfied by contextual hints, especially in wide games where it may be hard for the author to guess what I need. That’s usually frustrating to me as a player. In my own game, I had a hard time maintaining a relevant message stating the player’s current goal in a way that was specific enough to be useful. & that text wasn’t solution-oriented.


You could see it as an experiment: Not a single hint or walkthrough for at least a year. It might ruin your chance of a XYZZY Award if you wait too long but you have already got some of those :slight_smile:

It is never too late for someone to pick up the game again if they were waiting for hints or a walkthrough.

I think it adds an additional challenge to some players knowing that no hints or walkthroughs exist. It certainly sounds like a game I want to play, though it is hopefully more forgiving than Jigsaw :laughing:


The answers on this thread have varied wildly so I think I will go for my inclination which currently matches yours. I think I won’t release a walkthrough or hints and see if anyone likes the game enough to make a walkthrough or swap hints but if not then give up and write some (after a year like you said).

I generally prefer hints for sure but I’m specifically making this game for people who want something that is long, polished, and fairly challenging (although some half of what I currently have is easy and half is medium).


I love including hints, but I always try to do it in a thematic in-game way that lets the player decide if they want to use it or not.

I’m currently writing a Jumanji-parody comedy adventure in an old English manor house, and put the Encyclopaedia Brittanica in the Library. If players choose to read it, it will give them increasingly specific hints on how to defeat the jungle animals in the house. It plays out like the English governess player character reading the books and thinking about them, rather than specifically spelling out that it’s a hint system.

I feel like it gives the player optional help if they need it, in a fun, “Ah ha! I get what this is!” kind of way.


As I read it, your original post’s question was asking when to release hints/walkthrough. Where the answers range from:

  1. At launch
  2. A while after launch
  3. Never, and hopefully the players will cobble something together

If you’re mostly deciding whether to release hints at launch or a while after launch, I think it could be fun if you announced that the game releases on the Xth of YY, and the hints will be released N days later, and anyone who completes the game before the hints are released could be added to a hall of fame.

You may recall that Hadean Lands did something vaguely like this, with its “Leaderboard.” The HL Leaderboard has since been removed from the site, but it’s still visible on the wayback machine here: https://web.archive.org/web/20141223064719/http://hadeanlands.com/leader/

I don’t think #3 is preferable at all. You suggested that the target audience would “enjoy the collaboration,” but, in my experience, there’s very little “collaboration” that goes on in the development of invisiclues or walkthroughs. Occasionally folks pipe up with bug reports, clarifications, or, occasionally, stuff you might have missed. But it’s not like anybody’s out there co-authoring walkthroughs or invisiclues, or working as a team to develop a wiki for a game in order to solve it.

I have played Big Games like that, especially including ARGs, and they’re fun, but even the largest works of IF don’t really benefit from group collaboration in that way.

Even for Hadean Lands, I wrote all the invisiclues pretty much from scratch, and only used the existing Hint Q&A threads to make sure I’d covered all of the questions that anybody might ask. (Except, of course, until my invisiclues were written, I had to use the hint threads myself, just to finish the game.)

I think it might be interesting to design IF where the intended way to play was for the players to develop a wiki to help each other solve it collaboratively. I do have some thoughts/suggestions for how you might approach a game like that, but if you’re building a game like Jigsaw, you’re already way off that mark, IMO.


There are three levels of user assistance:

  • Hints
  • Walkthrough
  • Solution

First off, when testing a game, I don’t think you should provide anything to the testers, as you want them to work through the game unassisted and get their feedback on where they got stuck.

Hints are cryptic clues. When provided in game, I think they should be context-sensitive hints. These can usually be worked out based on location and progress. Anything that is not location-based is hard to work out, but can be done if you keep something like a state diagram of game progress, where they’ve been and what they’ve discovered. You can fall back to this when there is no location-specific hint.

Please don’t provide menu-based hint systems that provide far too much information, including information on parts of the game that the player may not even have discovered.

If you want to dissuade players from using hints, then you can subtract a point every time they use a hint (if it’s a scored game) or limit the number of hints (like they sometimes do in an escape room). In this way, you know that you will be penalised for using hints and try to avoid them unless you get really desperate.

I think it’s also a good idea to provide offline hints, such as a coded hint sheet. I like the old Scott Adams style coded hint sheets. These require a bit of effort to use, but the hints are there if you really need them. You could even charge for the hint sheets, like they used to do in the old days.

A walkthrough is a commented description of how to play the game, including playing strategy, alternative methods of solving a puzzle, descriptions of where the game branches, rationale for why you should take a particular branch, full breakdown of the scoring system and so on.

A solution is a minimal-move solution that lists all the commands needed to solve the game without any elaboration.

There are also blends of the above. For example, my solutions for CASA tend to be commented solutions, which are a blend of walkthrough and solution.

In summary, my recommendation for your situation would be:

  • context-sensitive in-game hints
  • coded hint sheet
  • commented walkthrough issued on request or released at a later date

You might also like to create a game-specific Discord server like they do for puzzle hunts.


Pictures @mathbrush rubbing his hands and laughing maniacally in the light of the evil contraption he is planning to unleash upon this earth


On a second thought about this…

My games have a far different feedback from players. The ones WITH walkthroughs or hints have generated more clout (check also the reviews on IFDB), while the others a lot less. I could not testify in a tribunal it’s not due to the fact that a missing walkthrough stops people from playing them.

OTOH, the games with massive feedback have been published in IFComp, the others outside of comps or in minor game jams. So, I don’t know. But keep it in mind that games that one can’t solve in a single session are probably not compatible at all with modern audiences. YMMV.

(Third session of thought, just outta my a**: If you have a niche target, you may as well go for it anyway and ignore the “modern audience”. A large puzzlefest is for people my age).

PS: when I said “people will provide hints” I didn’t mean building invisibles, but just answering the average help request here in the forums.


You forgot the maps… IMVHO are another level of user assistance.

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.


That’s true, but @mathbrush wasn’t asking about maps. Anyone that knows me will know that I have probably published more maps than anyone else on the planet and I have just as many that are not published. Needless to see, I love maps, but I will always draw my own, even if one is provided with the game.


I am torn. I like having walkthroughs available, but I do tend to overuse them, especially if a game really sucks me in and I play it until I’m overtired.

Very good in-game clues is the better way to go so that no one needs a walkthrough, but writing a very good hint system is hard. The only real way to test it is to play through typing HINT before every single move, which is horrible grunt work. A common experience of mine is to go to the hints and realize that they tell me everything I already know, but don’t really help.

I also hate those hint menus that take you out of the game and list topics for you. Bleagh.