Different ways to solve puzzles, and what to do about it (if anything)

In Monkey 2 there is a puzzle where you have to cut the peg leg of a pirate, so that the carpenter will be called to repair it, and while he is away you can sneak into his shop and take the nails and the hammer.

Let me spell out the reasoning that Guybrush would need to do in order to solve this puzzle:

“I need to take the hammer. But the carpenter won’t let me. Idea: maybe I can send him away somehow. But how? Idea: maybe if I break something that’s made of wood , he will be called to repair it. And then I’ll sneak in. Ok, so let us look in town for something that’s made of wood and that I can break: look, there’s a peg leg here. Maybe I can saw this one”.

Now, personally I am in awe at how good this puzzle is. As you can see, this puzzle can be solved in a purely deductive way (or more precisely “abductive”), starting from the goal and reasoning backwards. You can arrive purely through logic at the conclusion that you need to cut the peg leg.

However, I suspect that almost nobody on earth solved the puzzle like this. :slight_smile: I believe who solved it did a completely different reasoning:

“I have this saw in my inventory. What can I do with it? Well, saws saw wood. Now, what is around that is made of wood? Look: there’s a peg leg here. Let’s try to combine them, and see what happens.”

What can we say about this second way to solve the puzzle?

  1. this is not “goal-driven” reasoning: you don’t start from the goal and arrive, in a purely deductive way, to understand what you need to do to reach the goal.

  2. this is “meta-reasoning”, i.e. it only works if you know you are in a videogame. SINCE I am playing a videogame AND I have a saw, THEN I probably need to use it on something. And so on. But Guybrush would never know this. Only the player knows this.

At any rate, this is still a kind of reasoning. (not brute-force) So the puzzle can be solved in two ways.

Now, personally I have a feeling that this second way to solve the puzzle is “improper”, and the first is “proper”. Probably because the second way is very similar to brute forcing. OTOH, I am sure someone will say “who are you to say what is the proper reasoning to solve a puzzle?”. So I’d like to ask everybody how they feel about this. If you were the designer of such a puzzle, would you not be worried that the player might solve the puzzle in this second way, and in practice almost everybody will? (and if so, what can you as a designer do about this?)

I have always considered that puzzle a bit contrived because solving it logically requires in my opinion a big stretch of imagination. It’s clear that you want the carpenter outside his shop, but understanding that you have to damage something made of wood is not so easy to realize.

A simple way to help players to make that deduction is to add a hint. For example, the carpenter shop could include a sign that says “Emergency repair service: 555-WOOD” or a business card with that same text. If you want to help the players even more, you can make the character mention that same emergency repair service in one of the dialogues.

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Interesting question. Although I’m sure that the designer would wish people to employ the first, I’m afraid that the second way may be most common amongst the typical adventure game player.

Adventure games, especially of that era, conditioned players to “try everything with everything else” and to “pick up everything that is not bolted down.” (In the case of Sierra, they even mention such “tips” in the instruction manual.)

The usual catalyst is the very well-trodden trope known endearingly as “The Law Of Conservation Of Detail.” There is nothing inherently wrong with this trope in fiction, since you really do not wish to bombard the reader with unnecessary detail; but taken to the extreme, it degenerates into having every single item described being an active plot device.

Some designers then feel compelled to fill the world with “red herrings” (another overused trope) for the sake of distracting the player from the actual plot devices. In the end, this results in some players figuring that it’s all a crapshoot, so let’s just bruteforce our way out of anything which is not immediately obvious.

The good news is that for a well-meaning and industrious designer, it does not really matter all that much. In the end, if you craft your puzzles well enough, you can guide the player through its reasoning – and for those who don’t make the immediate connection, they are bound to make it once they reach the solution and give it a bit of thought.

It is even less important if, as in your example, the reasoning serves not to advance the plot, but as a gag. :slight_smile:


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I agree this is absolutely needed for the puzzle to work, but I also believe there was something like that in the game. Maybe the carpenter tells you he has just returned from a call, something like that.

But you did not answer the core question :slight_smile:

What this is missing, is a cutscene showing you that he is actually called for help. If you do this and don´t check the shop, you never know he has left.

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But if you don’t check the shop, this means you did not really know why you cut the leg :slight_smile:

If the core question is the following one…

If you were the designer of such a puzzle, would you not be worried that the player might solve the puzzle in this second way, and in practice almost everybody will?

… then the answer is “yes, I would like to increase the percentage of people who saw the leg because they made a deduction and my way to achieve that is to give them a hint.”.

There will always be people who solve puzzles by pure chance or because they followed a walkthrough that did not give them the reason to do something. The game has no way to know why a player did something. Even if the game could know, I think that it wouldn’t be OK to prevent players to do something just because they didn’t make the correct deduction.




Yes, this was the core question. So basically your solution is to add hints (about calls for repair) until your playtests reveal that more people solve the puzzle in the first way than in the second way. the problem is that you risk making it too easy… (as Ron said yesterday, at some point, if you keep adding hints, you wreck the puzzle)

No, I didn’t mean that. I mean that the game designer has to provide enough information to make the puzzle solvable by deduction. If most people don’t make that deduction, then you just call it a “difficult puzzle”, which is OK. :slight_smile:

How can it be ok? :slight_smile: This means that 95% of people will solve the puzzle in the second way… and not have fun. It seems better if you “wreck” the puzzle slightly, but 60% of people solve the puzzle in the first way.

Maybe it’s just a matter of finding the right balance, case by case…

Because the goal of an adventure game is not to make puzzles easy, but to provide a challenge. Players get satisfaction when they solve a difficult puzzle and it’s OK if they get frustrated when they are stuck, because it’s part of the way adventure games work.

If you focus too much on how much a specific puzzle should be difficult/easy, you lose the wider perspective: an adventure game is made of several puzzle to solve, some of them can be difficult and some of them can be easier. The final goal is to create a balance, which the designer reaches by including both difficult and easy puzzles.

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at any rate, what’s interesting to me is that nobody here suggested to take measures to enforce the “proper” reasoning, i.e. to make it impossible to solve the puzzle in the second way. And some of you even seem to be against this, unless I misunderstand.

(I’m thinking of a UI that forces you to explain why you are doing something. As part of the sentence you are composing. )

I’m against this kind of solutions. I don’t like the idea that the game should limit the player in such ways, because in my opinion adventure games are also made of exploration and experimentation. It’s a kind of freedom that personally I wouldn’t like to loose. It’s a game, not an exam. It can be argued that puzzles are a kind of implicit exam of our skills but puzzles are integrated into the story so that it doesn’t feel as an explicit scrutiny of the player’s deductive skills. Assuming by default that the player is a short-minded individual who has to constantly explicitly prove the contrary can easily be perceived as insulting.

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stated in these terms, it makes sense…

(but what if this UI has other advantages? e.g. it abstracts away all the boring details of the interaction. I need to let you try it one of these days)

Can you provide an example of which details you consider boring?

off the top of my head… to catch a rat: open the cage, pick up a stick, find a rope, tie the rope to the stick, put the cheese in the box, wait for the rat to enter, pull the rope. All these things in the correct order. And all that, when you have already solved the puzzle in your mind.

Or in Indy4: attach a hose to the balloon, then attach the hose to something else i don’t recall. then inflate.

Or in Monkey2: combine the banana with the metronome. These are details that nobody would ever be able to guess, and must be solved by boring trial and error.

With the UI I have half-implemented, the boring details are abstracted away, because you don’t need to click all these items. You only need to click the most important item, just enough to make your purpose clear. For example: “use peg-leg with saw” becomes "use peg-leg to “make-the-carpenter-leave-the-shop”. It’s more to the point. in particular it is unnecessary to require you to click the saw. (Guybrush will use it automatically.)

Edit: my point is that this UI does not seem insulting to me.

I agree that it’s not insulting if it’s designed in that way. You should be aware, though, that you are reducing the point-and-click experience and developing something that it’s mainly a logic puzzle game that shows you scenes when you solve a puzzle. It might be interesting and I would probably enjoy it, but removing from the equation the execution of the actions needed to solve the puzzle makes the game a completely different beast. Some people just want the meal while others like to cook it.

In my opinion that’s not a very interesting nor good puzzle, not because of the banana-metronome combination but because I don’t understand why Jojo needs to be distracted to be picked up.

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If I understand correctly, this is one of the things Ron tries to accomplish when he puts together his puzzle maps. In this case, you would not find the saw until you after you had found the carpenter and the pirate – and, ideally, after you had already attempted to pick up the hammer. You would then have the hammer situation in your mind when you come across the saw and would be more likely to make a connection.

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