# Puzzle feedback

I’m trying to design some puzzles for a game with a new (I think) magic system, but am not sure exactly how hard to make them, so I’m going to post one of my ideas and see what you guys think.

The premise of the game is this: the player can “link” items together, which causes both objects to take on some aspect of the other one. Object can be “unlinked” later. For example, if you link a piece of cheese to a pen, you end up with an edible pen and cheese that can be used to write with. (This example will probably never be in the game.) It is also worth noting that the player has some miscellaneous magic abilities, like talking to animals and the ability to sense the presence of magic.

One puzzle I was thinking of is this: You have a parrot, a playing card, and a bowling ball. There is a high-up shelf (that you can’t reach) with something on it that you need. Can you guys try to solve this puzzle, and tell me if you think it was too hard/too easy/too stupid/etc? Here’s the solution: Link the parrot to the playing card. This makes the card able to fly (and the parrot extremely thin). Tell the card to fly onto the shelf. Link the card to the bowling ball. This makes the card very heavy (and the bowling ball extremely thin), breaking the shelf, and causing the thing on it to fall down.

Hi Tassadar. The system you’re describing is not totally new. In at least the broad outlines, it is similar to Savoir-Faire, by Emily Short. Savoir-Faire also has a magic system whereby items can be linked, but there are limitations and logical congruencies that need to be taken into account in order to link things, and to deal with them once they are linked. If you haven’t played it yet, you definitely should, not only because of the magic system, but because it’s a really good game

Re your example: I would like to see you look a bit harder at the way you implement the linking, and specifically narrowing somehow the ways in which objects can take on one anothers’ properties. Opinions may vary on this subject, but it seems as though there’s a lot of potential here for behavior that looks arbitrary to the player. My feeling is that this is probably not a good thing, though one might argue that it also provides comedy and/or an element of surprise (and, hopefully, delight). YMMV. But here’s how I responded to the example, which may help explain what I mean.

First, I don’t understand why we would want to link the parrot to the card. Presumably if a card-parrot can fly and carry out commands, the parrot-parrot could do this to. So why would I bother linking the two? Wouldn’t it make more sense to order the parrot to grab the card and carry it up to the shelf?

More importantly: you mention that the parrot will become thin like the card when the two are linked. That’s a perfectly understandable physical manifestation of the linkage. Yet there doesn’t seem to be any physical explanation for the new abilities of the card. That is, without wings, the card can’t fly like the parrot; without a brain, it can’t cogitate like the parrot; without ears, it can’t hear like the parrot. How is the player to predict what will happen when objects are linked? Also, how would communicate the new abilities of the card to the player? Unless the card actually turns into a thin parrot, how is the player going to know that it can now fly (or, even more extreme, understand commands)? And if the card becomes a thin parrot, the question is the same as the one I raised in the previous paragraph: why do we need to link the parrot and the card at all?

(In the same line: If any two objects can be linked, why bother with the card at all? Couldn’t I just order the parrot to sit on the shelf and then link it to the bowling ball?)

The card (or the parrot) taking on the weight property of the bowling ball is a bit easier to get. But, in terms of my critique of the card-parrot link, is it also possible that the card can now “roll” like a bowling ball? Knock down things much bigger than itself? Physically, of course not. But if we apply the same non-physical transformations that apply in the parrot-card linkage, then yes…

To sum up: This is a cool idea with a lot of potential, but I think that your example would benefit from a bit more attention to the mechanics of the system, and your game (and the difficulty of implementing it!) will probably also be improved by placing limitations on the ability, as well as making it more “readable” to the player. What kinds of things can be linked together? Can anything be linked to anything else without bounds? Can only portable objects be linked? Does the player need to be able to touch both objects to link them, or only to see them? (Could linking be done through a mirror?) How will the player know what properties will transfer in advance of linking them? And so on…

Hope this helps!

–Erik

I think this could work, as long as it really is a matter of simulated properties. The solution you listed should not be the only solution - for a start, any heavy object on the shelf should break it.

Because my thought is, why use the card at all? Why not tell the parrot to fly onto the shelf and link the parrot to the bowling ball? And if we can command things, why not just tell the parrot to fly onto the shelf, and to pick up the object? On that note, players might worry that breaking the shelf might break the object they want as well.

I actually have played S-F, though I got frustrated/stuck very quickly (as usually happens when I play interactive fiction). I guess it could be considered an S-F ripoff, but I’m pretty sure that the systems are different enough for it to not be a problem. As far as I know (which isn’t that far), in S-F you can’t fundamentally change an object, but in my idea, you can. (Example: In S-F, a telescope and a torch couldn’t be linked, but in my game, you can link them to produce what amounts to a laser.) Maybe I’m just arguing details, though…

Hm, interesting feedback. Some of that I realized for myself (like the card not being needed), but not all of it. I’m intrigued by the final paragraph of that quote. I’ll try to take that into consideration.

Hm… I was debating having any two arbitrary objects linked together, and eventually decided to keep it. However, linkages that will make the game unwinable (like linking a crucial object to a table, making it non-portable) will give the error message “Something tells you that that would be a bad idea.” or similar. You only need to be able to see objects to link them. (However, in at least one case, an object is protected by an “antimagic field” that prevents it from being linked, and the player needs to find a way to break it. The result is probably the hardest puzzle in the game.)

@above: I’m a big believer in multiple solutions, so I’ll make multiple solutions where possible.

Oh, I actually didn’t mean to suggest that it was the same system, just that it’s somewhat similar to Savoir-Faire in conception. Yours is fairly different: Linking in S-F makes one object act on another, whereas linking in your system changes the objects so that they take on each other’s characteristics (though I’m still not sure how that would work–does one always become the “child” of the other; i.e. if I link the card to the bowling ball, the card gets heavy, but if I link the bowling ball to the card, the bowling ball gets thin and lightweight? And nothing whatsoever happens to the “parent” in each interaction?)

I would still recommend playing S-F, even if you just do it using a walkthrough. Comparing the details of the behavior there may help you flesh out your design…

Also, there is a short prequel of sorts to S-F that includes I7 source code. It might or might not be useful to look at:

inform7.com/learn/eg/dm/index.html

Have fun!

–Erik

On a related topic, I’m trying to code a special link (a mirror to the ceiling). The point is to make the ceiling reflective. I can’t figure out what to make this do to the mirror, though - the only thing I can think of is making it non-reflective, which won’t be acceptable.

Do you want all of the changes to objects to be useful? If not, you could have the mirror’s surface take on a texture appropriate to the ceiling, e.g. swirls of raised ridges like a plaster ceiling might have. It wouldn’t really change the capabilities of the mirror (it could still reflect, though with distortion).

–Erik

Ah, good idea. No, I don’t need the mirror to gain any additional use from the link, so that works. Thanks.

Why can’t you just have the parrot go up, then link the parrot to the bowling ball?
Or throw the bowling ball onto the shelf?
Or have the parrot go up and push the item off the shelf?
Or link yourself to the parrot and fly up?
Or link the shelf to the card, making the shelf thin enough to either break, or thinner than the item so it falls off?
Or link the shelf to the bowling ball so it’s heavy and breaks itself?

I worry that a system like this forces the puzzle solutions to be arbitrary because there are WAY too many possibilities and chances are they won’t all work.