Puzzle Skipping For Dumber Players

So I’ve been playing around with Star Trek Online. If you like MMOs with tons of fiddly-bits to keep you clicking then you might like it.

Anyhoo, in that game, if you attempt a mission once or twice without succeeding, more often than not, a new option shows up for that mission: Skip. Obviously, it lets you move on to the next mission without actually solving the previous mission. It’s great for players like me who aren’t great at puzzles or who just want to button-mash our way through.

So I’m just wondering, are there any IF text games out there that let you skip puzzles that prove to be too hard after one or more failed attempts?

I’ve always felt that puzzles are great, but what’s better is keeping your player playing and exploring your story; not running into a puzzle that brings the game (and session) to a full-stop if it proves too difficult.

Just wondering.

Blue Lacuna has an ‘easy puzzles’ mode that takes away almost all of the suffering. I don’t know if you can switch it mid-game, though.

Coloratura does this in a sneaky way, by giving you more and more explicit in-game hints when you mess up. I really like that!

Yeah, I’m thinking of lifting that Skip mechanic for one of my current WIPs.

Isn’t this what any game with a built-in hint system effectively does, or am I missing a distinction?

It’s a different flavor of that. One distinction is that with the Skip method, you aren’t spoiled with the answer (not necessarily, that is, it depends on the sitch). You could, theoretically, go back another traversal and try it again.

With a hint system, you get the answer. With the Skip system, you skip it altogether (and again, the story might dictate this).

I was asking if this specific mechanic has been used.

I think it’s a good option for games that include pure self-contained puzzles that require sheer gaming knowhow that isn’t clued by the game plot - such as a lock that’s just a slider puzzle or Towers of Hanoi. If it’s just a fiddly trial-and-error or a “solve the chess puzzle to continue” I’m all for there being a skip button.

Even better if it justifies the skip diegetically, “Just shoot the lock off the door already” and maybe gives an achievement or a reason of some kind for not doing that.

I think the wishes in Infocom’s Wishbringer were essentially a well-written puzzle-skipping mechanism around non-wish solutions.

Sounds kind of difficult to apply to IF. Unless there’s sections where you can die. But even then, hints would be way better than skipping them. In action games where there’s physical control involved, it makes sense. In IF, perhaps not so much.

Providing a game step by step walk-though is strongly suggested in the IFCOMP. All IF games should do this as a courtesy for its players. Honestly I think it’s one of the biggest knocks on the whole IF genre. Players get stuck and abandon a game because it is easier to quit and move on to another game than it is to open up a separate walk-through document and scan it or traverse a long menu of detailed hints that take the player away from the story momentum. Sorry, but that’s the reality of today’s world.

If a game has a step by step walk-through, then why can’t more games feature an in-game help system that works like this. Player types in something like… I’m stuck. Game responds cause it knows where the player is and knows what puzzle they haven’t completed. Then the game pulls the actual commands from the walk-through and automatically guides the player through the solution to the puzzle at hand.

I know it’s a little more complicated than that, but we live in a world of AI with Alexa, Cortana, Siri. If all we do is produce old-school style IF, then we are helping to nail the coffin shut on the IF world to outside gamers.

This sort of mechanism isn’t unheard of in graphical adventure games… I have a memory of one of the Sierra remakes (perhaps Space Quest 1) inviting players to skip ahead after failing one of its arcade sequences too many times. In some of their games Dynamix allowed players to fast-forward past difficult sequences, and then in a few Lucasarts adventures (drifting from the specific OP subject I know) there were varying difficulty levels, with alternate puzzle solutions and sometimes puzzles omitted entirely.

It was my understanding that a lot of modern IF has gone in the direction of adaptive hints systems like this. Certainly it’s been possible to do it in Inform 7 since the beginning; Bronze has it, and iirc that was adapted from an example in the Inform documentation itself.

All this is a bit off-topic though, as MTW has made it clear he’s not talking about hint systems, exactly.

If switching to a separate document is distracting enough that readers abandon your story, then one possible conclusion is that you’ve failed to write a sufficiently compelling story.

Also, as an author, at some point you have to ask yourself what your goals are. Do you value quantity over quality in readership? If you are writing to pay the bills, then, of course, quantity has its appeal. Amateur writers can afford to prioritize the integrity of their work, which is why the best (and worst) works of art are made by amateurs. Personally, I would rather have ten intelligent, literate, patient readers who are willing to interact with fiction in an emotionally and intellectually meaningful way, than tens of thousands of stimulation-seeking mayflies who click their way through as fast as possible, so they can “like” it, be done, and move on to the next shiny thing.

I exaggerate, but it’s in the spirit of the thread subject.

Hmmm…I think there are ‘categories’ that maybe play a part here. IMO, there are 3 core categories of ‘puzzle’ in a parser IF Game :

  1. A Gateway Puzzle. That is, a mechanism that is there simply to block progress until the puzzle is completed. I think Hanon gave an example - a towers of hanoi/fill the bucket to a certain level/fox,seed,chicken.
  2. A Narrative Puzzle. That is, a puzzle that is both integral to, and serves to progress the narrative. NPC 1 will reveal more of the plot if you give her Object x, which is held by NPC 2 who will advance the plot if you do task y…and so on…
  3. A Puzzle System. I’m thinking like this years Junior Arithmancer, or Arthur DiBianca’s games or my own Fifteen Minutes. Whereby the puzzle is the game.

It feels like there are a mix and match of ‘help’ mechanisms that are appropriate for each of these. MTW suggested a ‘skip’ - that feels pretty appropriate for puzzle type 1, but not so much for 2 or 3 as that would directly impact the narrative and/or the actual system.

For 2, hinting in some form is more appropriate - but I always feel there are narrative ways of hinting that can be given to the player. in this case We don’t know where something is? Potentially the NPC should help us - rather than go out of world and type the explicit ‘hint’.

For 3. The solution to a ‘system’ puzzle needs to clue the player on the mechanics of the system itself. This is tougher, I think. Better, it feels like to me, is what Junior Arithmancer and Temple of Shorgil did this year, which was to gradually introduce the player to the system. To enable the player to build up the set of rules it operates under. Skipping an aspect of this logical step-by-step education in the system would be problematic, I think.


Another example of the difference between a hint solution and a Skip would be like the crazy maze in Zork I. A hint solution would be, basically, a map of the maze whereas the Skip would let the player get to where he/she wants to go, bypassing the maze, but never learning the actual solution.

Yeah, I understand the distinction now but unfortunately can’t think of any games that do it. A related, but not identical, technique seems to be the implementation of different difficulty levels or modes where the harder puzzles just aren’t in the “easier” mode, which I know a few games have done (ETA: my bad, mathbrush already mentioned this).

It’s an interesting idea, and I’d be curious to see how well it works if you were to try such a thing.