Hints and walkthroughs for larger puzzle games?

I’m honestly surprised to see so much goodwill toward contextual hints. I can’t remember a time that I consistently got what I wanted from them. I usually wind up looking at a walkthrough next, where I inevitably find unwanted solutions to other problems while trying to find my place in it.

I’d rather choose the topic and amount of help myself.

I guess menu systems “take you out of the game,” but an omniscient narrator with all the answers feels out-of-game most of the time, too. In either case, the player is choosing to look outside of the mainline narrative for assistance.


I’m firmly in Drew’s camp on this one - for a small, linear game contextual hinting can work okay, but for a larger, more open game my experience is that they’re strictly worse than the invisiclues/menu approach. For one thing, they often wind up giving prompts on puzzles I haven’t started working on yet in earnest, so in practice I get more unwanted spoilers from this approach. Plus as others have noted they’re more vulnerable to coding error messing things up, forcing a trip to the walkthrough.

If the dislike for menus is that the full topic list can be spoiler-y, it’s also not much work to only display options related to stuff the player’s already encountered - much less work, at any rate, than making a contextual hint system work.

On topic, I like the idea of not providing hints at least for a good while after release for a game like this - given the intended audience and goals, I think it makes sense! I do wonder how open the structure is going to be, though - like are the ten mini games linear, or can you move among them to a certain extent? When I get stuck, it’s usually nice to have another part of the game to beaver away at while my subconscious works on the problem.


My current intent is to have a small opening area and then open up all ten regions at once. Each region is self contained except for one puzzle that requires an object from another region, and there’s also a kind of “multitool” that a lot of regions require.

To prevent people from being overwhelmed I plan on having the “gating” puzzle earlier on in harder regions. So my murder mystery (which most testers completed with few hints) will be wide open, but my spell/horror region started in a dark room so can’t even be begun without a flashlight.

But yeah my intention was to have it be wide open early on. The connections are because in Grooverland the map changes as you complete more puzzles, but I had people just walk down the street completing puzzle areas one at a time and never seeing what was going on in the rest of the world. So by forcing people to find (heavily clues) objects from other areas, it should hopefully make the whole map get scouted out sooner than later.

But that does make hinting harder (are you in the wax museum to solve puzzles there or to find the token machine for the haunted house?) and it makes planning out the overall narrative harder (though I have plans for that).


I agree that this is often the case. One way to improve this is to require that the player provides a topic, e.g. HINT STONE though I have only rarely seen this approach.

I don’t mind if games count the number of hints used, just don’t subtract them from a “progress score” as I feel that usually causes confusion. In some games I sometimes wonder if I can complete a game properly now I just got a decrease in my score.


It’s almost inescapable to provide at least a few menu choices for a large nonlinear parser game. The player could have four or five unfinished obstacles at any one time, so simply typing HINT, it will be impossible for the game to tell which puzzle they want help on. My game has sub choices within HINT, but the only topics visible are those that you’ve encountered and haven’t finished…


I have every strong feelings about walkthroughs and hint systems. I have been a very strong proponent FOR these tools with a specific caveat. A player is more than welcome to use hints and walkthroughs, as long as they have an understanding of why the answers are the way they are. If you get a better understanding of the logic behind the puzzle, or the context of it’s purpose within the world, you are being enriched compared to simply brute forcing the puzzle and having no idea why it works the way it does.

There are so many instances where people go through an old adventure game, brute force it and complain about the puzzle without any understanding of it’s purpose and place. If they used a hint system, they could be nudged into a better understanding and appreciation for the game.

Everyone experiences games differently based on their perspective and there will never be a time when an entire audience approaches a game and it clicks 100% throughout the entire playthrough. Someone is not going to pick up on a clue within the game itself. Someone is not going to be able to grok the description and instead of saying, “Git Gud,” let’s offer the tools to pick up on the in-game clues through a hint system, or in the worst case scenario offer a robust walkthrough process that helps people comprehend the puzzle.

It offers insight to the developer and their design philosophies so that in future puzzles and future games, they can start to see what it is the developer values and enjoys creating so they can tackle the problems much easier.


This is true. But what I really don’t like is the separate hint page, with N and Q and H and all that. It sucks me directly out of the game. Unless the game is totally open and non-linear, it’s possible (granted, with a lot of effort) to contextualize the hint menu to only a few at a time. For me, it’s less immersion-breaking to type hint and see only a few options that don’t tell me a lot about what’s coming, and without going to a whole hint/about page.

It’s a real bummer to type HINT and see a list of 20 locations or puzzles, half of which I haven’t seen yet. I agree that you can’t do this perfectly without making it a full-time job, but it’s certainly possible to do it a little better.


Oh, I hugely agree with this. I probably haven’t bug-squashed everything yet, but my hint system is supposed to only show you topics that you’re currently working on. And yes, a lot of effort, but TADS (what I know) has a pretty good framework set up for creating a hint system that only shows immediately pertinent hints.


You hit on a really important point here, which is contextualization of hints and when it is important to do so. It definitely requires thought in the design process in how to incorporate the hint system and to do so in tandem with the development process instead of after the fact.

What I love is when a game’s setting and design allows for the hint system to be incorporated in a way that makes sense within the world itself. A fixer in your earpiece on a spy mission that can offer clues and outright solve the puzzle for you if you just can’t get it or a magic spell that provides insight into the task at hand. We can make hints be more enjoyable and actually fun to utilize in a way that makes the player feel smart without shaming them.

On the reverse side, some games don’t have the opportunity to contextualize hints within the world, but a lot of times, the style of the game isn’t really trying for immersion.

In the end, making games is hard. Making games that help players without it being at the expense of pace is even harder. This is why communities like Intfiction here are so valuable because it is a pooling of knowledge that can help developers design better. So I guess the most important step to figuring out these problems is asking the questions and I am glad folks are!


The Wizard Sniffer is one of the most popular games of the last few years, and its hint system has two fleas, one of which always gives a true hint, and one of which always lies. It turns the hint into a puzzle, which is nice!


Oh man, what a great idea. That’s hilarious!

There’s a meme that cracks me up like this:

“There are two guards blocking the doors. One of them likes big butts and cannot lie. The other likes small butts and cannot tell the truth. One door leads to certain death, the other to an anaconda that’s sprung.”


This is a key point for me. I really want to push back against the idea that immersion is always a design goal, and that immersion is always better. I hardly every forget that I’m playing an interactive fiction game on my laptop. I don’t think that the games I’m playing have failed artistically if I drink a glass of water or respond to a text in the midst of play.

This is probably fit for another thread (or perhaps an essay for Victor’s new criticism project), but I think we overvalue mimesis in criticism. Or else it’s a critical blank check that requires no argument or justification.

I also think this is true, and as a player I want to try to meet games where they are rather than fit them into my critical “box.” The truth is that a hint system (menu, context, whatever) could be the best choice for a specific game, but knowing that requires a player’s openness to varied approaches rather than a prescriptive one.


They are menu-based, invisiclues-style hints, but they happen to appear only (or largely) in context. Check the Andromeda Apocalypse code I published a few days ago for how I did it, @mathbrush

Have fun!


Your game is a case in point-- it’s actively trying to remind you that you’re playing a game, that authors do inexplicable things, etc. It’s actually a design element there.

I want to clarify my earlier comments-- my dislike of separate hint menus is not really about it being mimesis-breaking. It’s that it’s a lot of work to traverse a complex menu (type H, then scan a list, then type 3, then type N, then type Q) and my occasionally gnat-like attention span can just float away when you make me do all that. I resent it, especially when the hint menu contains spoilers.

IMO, this is the gold standard in hint systems.


I am hoping my unsubtle hints are encouraging you to write this!


Instead of out-of world hint system with, or without menu, what about in-world hint system (for example, THINK, or even a consultable (note)book); I’m toying/fooling around/experimenting with both…) ?

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.


I thought I was alone in this. I’ve always felt, without really trying to think to the bottom of it, that the immersion factor was pounded just a little harder than necessary… it makes more sense for some games than others.


One of the design principles behind my new project considers a player that is not particularly familiar with interactive fiction and also wants to make progress in the game as a novice. However, I also don’t want to make it too easy for a more experienced player. I have a number of helper options:

  1. The ‘VERBS’ command lists the verbs the parser recognises in the game. Not a complete list (there are lots of synonyms I’ve not bothered to return).
  2. A ‘HELP NUMBER’ command that adds the location number to the location title, which can help with mapping.
  3. A ‘HELP MODE’ command that highlights nouns in the location descriptions with which the player can interact (as separate from items, which can be moved around, these nouns are fixed to a location but can still be examined or otherwise interacted with).
  4. A ‘CLUE’ command that can give gentle pointers regarding any useful activity that can be performed at the current location, or a ‘CLUE <noun>’ command that will give help about an item (but only an item you’re carrying or is in the current location).

Experienced players don’t have to use any of these commands/modes, of course, but this makes the game self-contained - no need to resort to searching forums or leaving the game to make progress in the game. It has added a lot of work, tho!


This sounds like it would increase confusion, rather than decrease it! Unless you have a maze of twisty passages all alike.


I’m not a huge fan of mazes, per se, as they just feel a little lazy, as puzzles go (unless they’re coherent with the narrative), so I tend to avoid them in my games. And maybe this option won’t help people much. But it might help someone a little - there is one particular puzzle in my current game where they could help (and no, it’s not a maze, but there are similar locations that a player might not immediately appreciate are different locations). In a future game I’m planning there’s magic, including teleportation, following which this option might help a novice player re-orientate themselves. And any player confused by seeing the location numbers could just turn off this option.