XYZZY Category Revisit

If anything, I feel like “Best Aha! Moment” refers to a subset, not a superset, of puzzles. A deserving Best Individual Puzzle could (to my mind) be a standout because of any of the following:

– the solution process is extended but satisfying. The puzzle gives good feedback while you work on it. Even while you don’t yet know the solution of the puzzle, you enjoy engaging with it and working on it until you’re done. (I felt this way about Suveh Nux’s puzzles.)

– the solution process is instant and startling. Solving this puzzle requires a paradigm-shift resulting in a new understanding of your situation, the “aha” moment referenced above. (I felt this way about The Famous Puzzle in Spider & Web.)

– the reward for solving this puzzle is satisfying. There’s a terrific payoff for getting there. (I felt this way about the Meat Monster.)

– the narrative/mechanical interface of this puzzle is satisfying. Solving the puzzle is tightly connected to the story or the intended experience of the game. (I felt this way about pretty much the whole of Make It Good.)

Sidebar: lately I feel like we’ve sort of trended towards focusing on reward more than we used to, and that puzzles that require sustained but well-rewarded attention are rarer. This makes me a tiny bit sad in one way, because I think that the rewarding-to-solve puzzle is nifty in its own right, but on the other hand, maybe that’s because we’re also more story- and experience-oriented than we used to be, and that’s not such a bad thing.

FWIW, these kinds of puzzles are almost always the most satisfying to me. I haven’t played (much of) Make It Good yet, but Hunter, In Darkness is what tends to come in mind when I think about puzzles like that.

OK, I’ll use my IF top 50 nominees as a list that isn’t directly influenced by this question. Total spoilers, obviously.


Well, it’s the maze, which actually probably counts as a puzzle.


I think it might be the time Aphrodite came in and killed her? Not a puzzle. Of course the game is largely puzzleless.

Spider and Web:

You think I’m going to say That Puzzle, but it’s actually a tie between That Puzzle and the introduction.

Best of Three:

Grant’s tea order, definitely. Not only is this not a puzzle – it’s a puzzleless game – it’s not even interactive, really. It’s basically part of a cutscene.


Ah, hell, I don’t even know. The first time you restart, maybe? Anyway, not a puzzle, and the game is pretty much puzzleless.

The Firebird:

Hm. I think maybe it’s part of the assault on the mountain when everyone else shows up? I’d call this not a puzzle.

Blue Chairs:

It might be the various people frozen in the labyrinth, or maybe the very ending – not the puzzle at the very end, which I didn’t like and had to use the walkthrough, but the end. Anyway, it’s not a puzzle. There are a couple puzzles I remember, but they’re not it.

The Act of Misdirection:

End of Act I for moment; maybe all of Act I for scene. The end of Act I isn’t a puzzle, and I’m going to score the whole thing not a puzzle, because that’s not what I like about it.

Rover’s Day Out:

For moment, it’s probably the commentary about why they didn’t implement the plate. That wouldn’t count as a scene, though. For the scene, it’s probably going through the routine the third time, which I guess counts as a puzzle – I think it’s roughly what got nominated for the XYZZY. Half a point.

The Baron:

A conversation with the gargoyle about free will. Not a puzzle, but the game probably counts as puzzleless.

A New Life:

Hm. I might say figuring out a way to get objects across the forcefield; that’s definitely what I’d say if asked what thing I liked best about it, that and figuring out where a certain hole went not that I could ever do anything with the hole. But I think I’d only say that if prompted that moment means puzzle, and it’s definitely not a scene. It’s what I’d say if asked what the single best thing I like was. If I’m talking scenes, and maybe moments, it’s the bit where one move takes you halfway across the map with a few pauses for space. Half a point, partly because I’m cheaping out by not awarding half a point to Act of Misidirection.

Pick Up The Phone Booth And Aisle:

Northeast. Not a puzzle but… no, the hell with it, I’m going to be a hardass and count this is not puzzleless. If Photopia has puzzles so does this, specifically how do you win?

OK, I count that as one and three-halves out of twelve; but four of the games were puzzleless, so it might be one and three-halves about of eight possibilities. On the other hand that list didn’t run to games I like for their puzzles; if I were drawing up a list of best individual puzzles only three of them would make the list.

So perhaps what differentiates a “puzzle” from other types of interaction (apart from it being something non-trivial – “>GO NORTH” might be an awesome moment of interactivity, but is probably not a puzzle) is that there is satisfaction in resolving it?

“Most satisfying interaction” would allow scenes/sequences that aren’t necessarily puzzles of the classic kind, and isn’t as broad as “best moment of interaction.”

There’s some overlap between your list and my off-the-cuff top 10 (actually a top 11, it turns out). For comparison, if you’re interested:


I figured the maze is almost everyone’s favourite moment, but mine is actually the moment you realize the girl (it’s been so long since I played this I can’t even remember her name off the top of my head) is dead. Which might be the very end? Or close to it? Anyway, not a puzzle.


I forget exactly how you bring it about, but there’s an ending where, following up an extended conversation about Dionysus, you say a prayer to Dionysus. The conversation hints that doing this might be an option, but Galatea never explicitly tells you to, so the fact that this ended up being both possible and something which leads to quite a moving ending to the game really blew my mind. Technically this might not count as a single moment, since I feel like the whole process to getting there is part of. Might count as a “scene”, maybe, though you could also argue that the entire game is a single scene.


I wrote these up in a text file when I was doing it, and I think for Shrapnel I literally just wrote “Something”. I think I have a number of favourite moments or scenes. Whatever it is, it’s not a puzzle.

Blue Chairs

I think mine is probably pretty idiosyncratic - it’s the dance scene in the living room near the beginning of the game. This might kind of qualify as a puzzle, I’m not sure.

And I guess I might as well throw in the others:

Little Blue Men

The ending. Maaaaybe killing the guy with the Coke machine, which I think was a BIP nominee.

Endless, Nameless

The first time you die. This is a pretty puzzle-heavy game, obviously, but I wonder if this, despite not really being a puzzle, wouldn’t be the favourite moment for most players.


When you open the cupboard and sand pours out. Not a puzzle, just a really evocative, creepy, unexpected moment.

Hunter, In Darkness

The BIP-winning puzzle.

Worlds Apart

Saving the… raccoon or whatever it was. This one is weird because it’s entirely optional, and was consciously not included in the Hints. When I finally figured it out, it was incredibly satisfying, and the fact that when you’d go past that area later the thing chittered happily at you gave me a feeling of… I don’t know, warmth, I guess… that I don’t often get from playing games.

howling dogs

The scene at the ball with all the links. It’s a puzzle, arguably.


Either the part where you think you’ve killed the AI but suddenly realize you haven’t, or the, uh, invasive surgery scene, which made me physically uncomfortable in a way that I don’t think a game (and rarely any other kind of art) has ever managed to do. Not a puzzle.

So yeah, I think it’s fair to say I’m: a) biased toward puzzless or puzzle-lite games; b) biased towards scenes or moments that are narrative and atmosphere-based rather than puzzle-based.

I’m not sure what kind of practical conclusions are to be drawn from this, but I guess it’s useful to get an idea of what people would consider to fall under the purview of “Best Moment” or “Best Scene”.

Maybe we should have a PuzzleComp where the judging is solely based on what you just said up there.

More relevant to the topic at hand, I don’t think expanding the category would necessarily help because picking one particular scene out is so specific. Other than Really Special moments (say, the big moment in Spider and Web, or the one in Resonance) I don’t think people necessarily pick out particular scenes. And what if one person votes for a scene and another person votes for the scene right after that one, but the scenes are semi-connected? Do they count as 2 votes for the same thing or 1 vote and 1 vote? I’m worried rather than a handful of people doing nominations causing every nomination to be eligible, having 20 people each pick an entirely different thing.

I’m not so sure that’s a problem; if it were, it would already be a problem with Best Individual Puzzle, and as far as what maga’s said so far it isn’t.

EDIT: By which I mean, he hasn’t explicitly said it’s not a problem, but it’s not the problem cited as cause for modifying the category, so I assume it either isn’t a problem or is relatively easily dealt with.

Yes, I think that’s a pretty good new name.

Also, having written about Supp Materials this year, I like Dannii’s idea of having to explain the nomination in a line. I had mountains of problems writing the category up. Not that I’m saying I personally will be doing this category again next year, but whoever does should not have to speculate extensively about what people were nominating from a particular game or why, which this category has been especially vulnerable to. These factors should also improve some with a change to a better category name.


To be fair, your IF top 50 nominees also notes:

“Varicella? The whole concept frightens me, because I’m terrible at puzzles.”

But this does fairly demonstrate that

  • if you don’t like/aren’t drawn to puzzles
  • then your best moments in games, won’t necessarily be puzzles.

Well, it was your thought experiment! And it was the only list I had to hand that wasn’t biased by the question.

I can come up with something of a list of my favorite individual puzzles (spoilery again):

Spider and Web

Oh, you know. A scene, sure.

The Dreamhold

The shadow spire. No, wait, now that I look at it, the telescope and the painting. Either of these might be considered a scene.

Ad Verbum

The letter-only rooms. If I had to pick one, maybe N, for the way you leave. I think it would be stretching the term to call this a scene.

Nord and Bert

The chain of actions involving the lead house in “Shake a Tower.” Too bad this seems to be an optional sidequest! Too stretched out to be a scene.


The maze, again. It’s definitely a scene.

Byzantine Perspective

Figuring out what’s going on. Not a scene.

Yon Astounding Castle! of Some Sort

The pixel, just because it’s hilarious. Scene, sure.

Lost Pig

Figuring out how to use… uh the thing… Grunk pick up thing with thing but it hard to figure out how to use thing Grunk pick thing up with. Figuring out how to pick up thing with thing make Grunk feel smart. Grunk think scene is thing that happen but thing Grunk pick thing up with not thing that happen. It think Grunk pick thing up with.

A New Life

Getting things across the zone. Did I say this was a scene before? I don’t think it is, really, it’s a technique.

Anyway, well, some of these are scenes and some aren’t. But there are only two – the ones from Photopia and Spider and Web – that would have a shot at my Best Scenes list, at least if I weren’t primed with the idea that “Scene” means puzzle. And that’s not because I like the scenes better – I expressed skepticism about puzzles before, but that’s because I can’t do them; when I can do them I like the. They just strike me as often different things.

Aside from what Emily said about emphasis on reward, I think another thing that can lead us to the scene-puzzle identification is the linear design where you’re presented with a series of puzzles in order – like, well, Beet the Devil – as opposed to having a lot of puzzles that are spread out and that you can work on over time, like A New Life. Which may also lend itself to more of an emphasis on story. Not that that’s a bad thing, but I think that making the change really is going to rule out a certain kind of puzzle.

I also don’t think it’s going to solve the voting problem, because I think the problem there is that it’s amorphous as to what we’re voting for, and if we move to Scene or Moment it’ll be even more amorphous. (Btw I think a new category for Best Scene would be great.) I think a better idea would be to fix the poll, by making it more participatory. But that’s for another post…

I hope I didn’t sound like I was criticizing you! (The Internet is hard sometimes.) I actually meant it as an observation - you’re not inclined toward puzzles, so it makes sense that your most memorable moments aren’t puzzles.

But you’ve aptly demonstrated that people will pick different things for “best moment/scene” and “best puzzle”, even when it’s the same person.

Cut for a brief commentary on my own games - not actually spoilery, but I don’t want to derail the conversation.

[spoiler]Touche on Beet the Devil! I’ve been avoiding it as an example, but it’s been very high in my head as a case where the best moment in a game is a puzzle solution.

Flip side: One Eye Open and Ollie Ollie Oxen Free are also puzzle-heavy games… but OEO’s XYZZY-nominated puzzle doesn’t have one defining moment, and OOxF doesn’t have any single puzzle that stands head and shoulders above the others. And my favorite moments in both of them aren’t puzzles.

Which is a good argument that category would be too broad. Hrm.[/spoiler]

So… I think I have been successfully convinced that “Best Moment” is too broad a category, if what we really want is “Best Puzzle, and then some”. But I’m not sold on any of the alternatives we’ve seen.

If this were a different category, I’d suggest handling low turnout with a public nomination list and amplify use of the list by allowing authors to suggest their own puzzles. But Best Puzzle is so frequently spoilery that it’s hard to do that without damaging the experience.

Well, I suggested collapsing BIP into Best Puzzles and having one category to cover both, but I’m not sure how that would actually work as far as nominating went. I guess an alternative is just to axe BIP? I understand it’s traditional, but if it’s not getting the first round votes then maybe that’s a sign it won’t be particularly missed?

Carolyn – Sorry if I came across as huffy there! And I should say that when I said Beet the Devil was an example of a game where puzzle = scene, that wasn’t a criticism – I love Beet the Devil.

About the poll: public nomination list was basically what I was thinking. And I was specifically thinking about the IFDb poll; I can’t see when the votes came right now, but I got the impression that all the polls were pretty moribund. A few nominations went up at the beginning and then inactivity. And I think encouraging additional votes and discussion on the polls might help liven things up. We could have people say what they like about the puzzle when they mention it, which would at the least help with the “What exactly do you mean by this description of this puzzle?” problem, and if people were encouraged to chime in maybe there’d be more discussion and more participation. It’d be spoilery, but hopefully everyone would know that the discussion was a spoiler zone, and at least on IFDB polls a lot of what you say is hidden behind clickwalls anyway. I guess there isn’t a way to comment on votes but maybe there could be another way to set up the discussion that was slightly better suited. Or we could encourage people to post comments by voting for the game, with the understanding that votes aren’t actually votes.

Yeah, those two plans are the same plan, for all practical purposes.

I’m not saying it’s the right plan, but if we go that way, we should just drop the BIP category – it’s easier to explain.

I’m probably just being daft, but wouldn’t it be easier to explain a category which is both for puzzles generally and for individual puzzles than a category which is for individual puzzles and things which are moments or scenes of interactivity which may or may not be puzzles?

The fact that 95% of this thread has been about BIP suggests to me that there is interest in it, or in something close to it, at least in the abstract.

I’m planning some text-based supplemental materials in my next game (may not pan out… we’ll see), but I’d be disappointed if something like what I’m planning was excluded from Supplemental Materials just because it wasn’t audio / visual.

‘Multimedia’, in this context, would be ‘media that is not IF’. Static text outside the game proper straightforwardly fits that description.

I think that would need to be made clear; with the name “multimedia” I’d have voted for in-game graphics and sound before I voted for text supplements.

“Best Supplemental Materials or Multimedia”

“What interactive fiction includes the most creative or enjoyable use of additional media (text separate from the game file, sound, graphics, or physical media), which are separate from the game file, but supplement play with additional information, ambience, or understanding of the story during or outside of play?”

This would encompass the flashy elements of 18 CADENCE and FIRST DRAFT OF THE REVOLUTION, as well as SORCERY, text histories and pamphlets, game logos, as well as the rare physical feelie.