Puzzles are

Design philosophy wise:

  • a personal challenge to the player which they must vanquish to proceed
  • a challenge for optional extra content not necessary to complete the game
  • a way to make the game take longer
  • a way to gate plot points that should occur later in the narrative - the player will easily solve the puzzle if they have explored and posess the requisite knowledge to continue
  • best when the player doesn’t even realize they’re solving a puzzle by exploring and things just happen

0 voters

Oh, so now you’ve added an option while I was choosing. Okay…

(This just keeps getting more difficult… Options, options… And I can choose more than one… Where are my darts?..)

1 Like

I like “an optional challenge” and “just happens as a consequence of exploring” too, but those are more dependent on the type of game.

1 Like

I mean this is a dumb response but I feel like it really depends on the game? Like just going by games I liked in last year’s Comp, the puzzles in Sage Sanctum Scramble are clearly option 1; those in Murder in Fairyland are maybe mostly 4 with a bit of 2; Dopplejobs is probably mostly 5; and Flattened London is maybe 3. More concretely, 1-type puzzles I think fit best into games where the intrinsic interest of the puzzles is a major draw; 3-type puzzles make sense where you’ve got a big world or narrative and puzzles can help with the pacing; and 4-type puzzles are good where the game experience depends on the player engaging with the worldbuilding. I think options 2 and 5 work with lots of types of games, though – putting in extra work to get bonus stuff is pretty universally enjoyable, and allowing the player to accomplish things just by poking around is hopefully firing a nice burst of dopamine into their brains and motivating them to keep going.

Anyway this is all just a long justification for voting for all the options like the world’s most indecisive person.

1 Like

I’ve just never understood the enjoyment of solving puzzles in any form (mazes, word puzzles, puzzles in IF, etc). I enjoy problem solving IRL, like at my job, programming, or around the house, but that’s solving a problem that doesn’t already have a known solution. I think it’d be just as annoying if there was the one true answer to “what is the optimal way to organize the washer/dryer in our super small pantry?” and my girlfriend just sat there going “Nope. Nope.” to every solution until I managed to mindread her and pick the “correct” one.

And that’s how I feel about game puzzles. The goal is to come up with the same answer as someone else, and it just kind of feels like a waste of my time. But obviously I’m in the minority on this board.

1 Like

I’ll suggest another couple, though related to things mentioned.

Puzzles are an opportunity to impart information and explore character and backstory. Look at how much one learns about the player and Violet and their history with each puzzle in Violet.

(If the author’s doing their job well) puzzles can be one of the best ways for IF to make the player feel things. Loss, excitement, accomplishment. It imparts importance to things in the narrative. I went through all this to get this figurine? What’s so important about it? (It’s to be hoped the story lives up to the implied promise.)


Funny enough, I’m working on a crossword puzzle as I read this


I love puzzles more than most things. Apart from hard but polite IF puzzles, escape rooms are my favourite. I also find great pleasure in organising the dishwasher in the most optimal way, ensuring maximum filling and maximum cleanliness (I won’t let my partner near it).


I’m unclear if this is supposed to be asking “Is this a plausible thing for somebody to design a puzzle for?” or “Which of these do you like?”

If it’s the first then, I mean, it could be any or all of them, depending on the game? Maybe the game’s like 99% puzzle and 1% narrative, and that’s how it’s advertised. Maybe the game is 90% narrative and 10% puzzle and the puzzle is there mostly to slow down the player. Both of those are valid but would have different sets of responses, right…?

Anyways, I hate almost all IF puzzles, so maybe I’m the wrong person to ask. Also I started typing this before reading the thread and, uh, basically what Mike said.

1 Like

If there’s more than one solution to a puzzle, then multiple solutions should be implemented. If you’re mind-reading the author to find the one solution they’ve implemented, that’s bad puzzle design. At the very least, the game should give plausible reasons why the other solutions won’t work.


A brief comment: “simple” puzzles based on the knowledge and exploration is indeed my favorite way of handling the plot sequencing; and if with right knowledge and exploration the player gain extra content, I admit I actually don’t have given much thought, and this came with a surprise, because I play also console RPG, where optional extra content linked to challenges are the norm.

Whose raise a minor, but perhaps interesting question, related to the revered CoA: extra content can be considered part of “varnish and veneer” ?

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.

True… But no matter how many solutions they provide, you’re still trying to mindread them. It’s just that now they offer more choices.

Generally IF puzzles aren’t like standard video games or physics puzzles where they set a goal and it’s up to the player to manipulate the objects around them to get it to happen. For those kind of puzzles, the puzzle creator probably has a general idea of what you could do to solve it, but they leave the solution up to you.

Like in Half-Life 2 there is a puzzle with a see-saw-like board placed over a drainage pipe that you need to put weight on one side of it so that it can support you long enough for you to jump off the high end and onto a ledge. There are bricks conveniently scattered around, so that’s the obvious solution, but you can also stack those bricks under the side you want to jump on to prop it up, or use dead enemy bodies instead of bricks as weight. Potentially you could stack the bricks near the ledge and just jump from those (I never actually tried that, so maybe not).

Meanwhile, the moves required to solve an IF puzzle are so set in stone that you can feed a walk-through to an interpreter and have it complete the game for you. It’s true that you could accomplish everything I described in HL2 with “stack bricks under ledge”, “stack bricks under board”, “put corpse on board”, etc, but the puzzle creator has to plan for those. They’re not emergent solutions, they’re pre-planned answers.

And this is my problem. Knowing that the answer is already out there and the greatest sense of achievement that a puzzle will give me is that I managed to come up with the same answer as someone else, it just doesn’t feel like a satisfying goal to me, and therefore feels like a waste of time. Especially when you consider that the puzzle maker needs to leave you clues to ensure the player comes up with the same answer as they did, so now you’re being led on like a parent trying to help their child solve a math problem.

Anyway, sorry about the long answer. I’m not trying to start some sort of anti-puzzle vs puzzle war or anything. I’m happy that other people enjoy them. I’m just doing my best (and probably failing) to explain what my personal hang-up about them is.

1 Like

You know, Emily Short has done some great stuff with this. In Metamorphoses and Savoir Faire, she made a physics-based system classifying objects by weight, size and shape, and you can solve puzzles using anything of the right material.

In Counterfeit Monkey, she just has a huge corpus of words and ways to manipulate them, with each word in different categories (like alive, inanimate, abstract, etc.) and again, any solution matching the parameters is acceptable. I think that’s one reason those games are some of the highest-rated games of all time, because they give that freedom you describe.


Yeah, see, that kind of stuff I can get behind. That’s cool.

As a side note, I do give non-puzzle puzzles a free pass. Like “gee, I wonder if the key with the heart emblem opens the door with the giant heart on it. HMMM. :thinking:” Those are clearly there just to gate off areas. I’d prefer it had a logical story reason instead (like waiting for a guard to leave on break), but a key + locked door puzzle doesn’t require any creative thought on the part of the author, so I understand the attraction.