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AshlynM's avatar

What is the origin behind illogical puzzles in video games?

Asked by AshlynM (6519 points ) May 21st, 2012

There have been some puzzles which did not, by any means, make any sense whatsoever and I couldn’t understand why I had to that in order to get to where I needed to be. I could’ve easily achieved my purpose without the silly puzzle.

For ex: (possible spoilers)

Uninvited NES: There’s a spider you must catch and in order to do so, you must first spray the railing it’s crawling on to stop it from crawling any further. After you leave the room and come back, the spider is frozen in place and you’re then free to take it. Also, at first glance, there’s no indication that the spider serves a later purpose in the game and what you have to do TO the spider to capture it.

I enjoy playing video games, but sometimes I’m just so confused as to why some of these puzzles even exist.

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9 Answers

ninjacolin's avatar

Side Quests. Classic.
They are the result of not enough creativity and fluid, relevant story.
They make side quests to take up time and make the game feel longer and less of a waste of your money.. except.. as you’ve noticed, these side quests are themselves just a waste of time and hence money.

amujinx's avatar

I believe Uninvited is an old adventure game. The point of adventure games is to find creative ways to meet your goals while having to use makeshift items to continue on. As one other adventure game put it in the opening scene (Discworld 2: Mortality Bytes), they are “lateral thinking puzzles”. The reason that these games were so challenging is the fact the puzzles required you to jump through some unexpected logic hoops to beat game.

Lightlyseared's avatar

Piss poor design.

Symbeline's avatar

This is something I have quite an issue with myself…logic when it comes to puzzles. Say you’re in a medieval dungeon…and you’re accosted with block puzzles. I hate block puzzles. Why are they even there? If I’m some evil mastermind sorcerer, couldn’t I think of something better than damn block puzzles to rig my dungeon with? Like classic dungeon traps instead, such as pits, wall spikes, pendulum blades and whatnot? Why do so many games just have block puzzles? You need to have something that’s relevant with the environment you find yourself in, you should have to work with things that add realism to the place. God of War is good for that; one of the stages in the first game IS an entire puzzle. And that works great, since it’s part of the environment and that environment is part of the story. It wasn’t just randomly put there out of nowhere for you to waste your time with.
Silent Hill is another good example of intelligent puzzle placement.

While I love the old Zelda games, or Wild Arms, I am discouraged by all the block puzzles you always have to do which have absolutely nothing to do with the different themes or story.

So that’s just one example, but I think programmers do this because it’s easier and a lot more simple than to design something relevant to the cause. Even back in its earlier, less accepted days, video gaming was still an industry, and besides people having visions and passions, it remains above all, about money…put in blocks, do something weird to an item, find some cruelly hidden key, crouch down for five seconds with no prior hint about that…it’s an idea of challenge, since you have to rack your brain, indeed, with how illogical it is. It could also be programming issues. Sometimes time and restraints call for simplicity itself. that really shouldn’t be an excuse these days much with all the new technology, but time restraints still abound, they now release half finished games, and you gotta get the patches and DLC’s later for the full experience, gah.

Uninvited sounds neat though. The spider puzzle does sound a little more thought out than just random blocks or find this and stick in that thing genre. What do you need the spider for, anyways? But yeah, I also get frustrated with puzzles, especially really obscure ones where there is absolutely no hint of what to do, why or how. That’s typical of old nes games though. There might be some slight hints, but back then people were hardcore and if you didn’t have a subscription to Nintendo Power, you had to do it all yourself.

phaedryx's avatar

Like @amujinx mentions, these are called “adventure games” and there has been a lot of discussion about why they are good/bad. This might interest you: http://www.oldmanmurray.com/features/77.html

I wish they could combine something like scribblenauts (a true “lateral thinking game” where there are hundreds of different, but valid solutions) with an adventure game.

wundayatta's avatar

I’m not a gamer. Stupid way to start off a post, but sometimes outsiders can see things that insiders can’t.

It sounds to me like they are trying to make games more like life. Adventures in real life have all kinds of random things happen and you never know, irl, whether something is going to be relevant or important, either now, in the near future, or not for years. Sometimes irl, you realize, years later, that if you hadn’t done something, you would be unable to to get where you are now.

Your spider may have a purpose in the game, and you haven’t discovered it yet. It seems to me that programmers are kind of quirky. They have a sense of humor where they might throw something in that could be seem unimportant, but turns out to be important, or, just to keep you guessing, seems important, and isn’t. It would be very satisfying if the spider allows you to do something special in the game. Maybe it allows you to make a potion that puts some baddy to sleep and then you get into the secret garden, or whatnot. I don’t know. I never played an rpg in my life. Well, no, that’s not quite true. Back in the 80’s, I took one look, with the text interface where it says to go to the next room, and I realized I had no patience for that kind of nonsense. I know I have no patience to figure out to spray a railing to catch a spider now, either.

But games are about narrative. Not regular fixed narratives, but narratives that can change and go in alternate paths and where the user can, within limits, determine the course of the narrative. In other words, you help write the story, with “write” in quotes. This gives you a sense of power and agency that is lacking in books and movies, where your only option is to follow the story as is, or not read it or watch it.

When you play a game, you have gotten used to the idea that every action matters, so when you get to an action that seems irrelevant, it sounds like you get angry. This is where I imagine a zen game programmer sitting back and snickering at you. It’s the path that counts, not the goal. Yet games place such emphasis on the ultimate goal. But if it weren’t for the path, and how interesting the path is, you wouldn’t play. That’s why I never played. The path looked totally boring to me. Nothing I cared about.

But games absorb you gamers, and you can easily stay up all night playing and playing, trying to figure out how to get to the next step. I think it’s very similar to what happens to people who have so-called “mental illnesses.” In my experience with mental illness, my mind needs constant stimulation, and it has to be intensely emotional. Things need to be dangerous—only dangerous for real, not fictional danger.

I think that for many people, games and horror genre stuff provide that rush of adrenaline that people need to feel like they are living a life that matters. And you have come to expect this and your games and scary movies give you that rush reliably. So when you come to something that seems irrelevant and doesn’t get your heart pumping, you feel cheated.

Which is exactly what the game designers have in mind, I think. It’s an attempt to keep you emotionally honest to some degree. They are reminding you that you can’t be satisfied all the time. You have to go on side tracks in order to make you value the real track all the more. If it was always straight to the goal, it would stop working. You wouldn’t care any more. You need… you desperately need to go astray, or else the whole thing will stop working for you.

AshlynM's avatar

@Everyone Duly noted.

The spider is only used to scare a ghost away. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tv-JNTA1ceE&feature=relmfu Fast foward to time 4:50Your character tosses it onto the ghost. Why is it afraid of spiders? All that work to capture it and it just gets thrown away.

Symbeline's avatar

Very interesting @wundayatta, for someone who has never played any games at all. I feel compelled to go further with this. so I can sound like I actually know something XD

It sounds to me like they are trying to make games more like life.

This would be true a lot more today than games of yore. Although realism was always an aspect that many programmers go with, especially when it comes to graphics and sound, the origin of gaming, while I can’t really say what is, wasn’t that. However they do take common everyday skills as tools you need to proceed in a game; you see a problem, now solve it. Overcome obstacles, kill shit, go forth without dying, or like this example, figure stuff out. Today, modern games have all sorts of subjects you would have never seen in older stuff. Theology, philosophy, sexuality, morality, politics, psychology…all this deep shit. They’re more violent, they’re more mature, they’re more detailed…but the core idea has never left the table; problem solving. Of any sort. Sometimes it makes sense, sometimes it’s completely asinine…but it’s always there.
Still, what they put around that core is something that people feel they can relate to a lot more than basic save the princess stuff. So that’s why it’s interesting you say games are trying to be like life, because I denno if they’re attempting that, but many games now do reflect elements closer to us than the old stuff.

It seems to me that programmers are kind of quirky.

They are, in more ways than one, especially Japanese programmers, which is a huge chunk of where gaming comes from, and almost the only place games came from for a long time. But Japan is a culture so different from ours, so it’s hard to say, for me anyways, how quirky they are. Or maybe they just seem as such since I’m not a part of their culture, and don’t get everything. So we just call em insane. Obscure gameplay and goals, or ideas for goals anyways, since most goals seem to get along just fine in the same spectrum, may be a weird sense of humor. But get ready to see many Japanese games referencing weird ass shit out of nowhere that has nothing to do with the game, for example. Most likely, such references are programmers’ ways to pay homage to their inspirations and all. Like in Final Fantasy VII, you get one guy who, for a special attack, lights a dynamite with his cigarette before hucking it at enemies. I’m sure you know where that comes from. :)
But yeah I totally derailed…as far as gameplay goes, and the goals such as you suggested with the spider…as I say, I think it’s mainly due to time restraints, simplicity and not knowing what the hell to do beyond finding keys in chests. You could totally be on to something though…I’m totally convinced some programmers go all out just to piss people off.—anyone ever play Parasite Eve II? Not putting in enough save points and making you backtrack like an asshole all day is not poor programming…or shouldn’t be, anyways.

But games are about narrative. Not regular fixed narratives, but narratives that can change and go in alternate paths and where the user can, within limits, determine the course of the narrative. In other words, you help write the story, with “write” in quotes. This gives you a sense of power and agency that is lacking in books and movies, where your only option is to follow the story as is, or not read it or watch it.

Sometimes. Video games have different genres, and some are ALL about fixed narratives; in most games, you’re following a predestined story, and you have no say in how it turns out, unless this game decides to have three or four different endings, which usually require one thing to do at a certain point. In video games, you play through a story, but you don’t really change it. You just witness it. It’s interactive yeah, but you don’t shape anything. Remember, too, that a lot of games have stories as secondary elements; even for role playing games, gameplay usually comes first. (although this is the one genre where the story is often the most intricate) What you describe does exist, especially today. (Mass Effect, Fable, in which you choose to be either good or evil depending on how you act in the game, Dragon Age)
But this doesn’t happen enough to define all games as being about narrative, nor is it free enough yet to really be all that narrative. You’re gonna have to play table top RPG’s for that.
Which is something I sometimes wish they would do more of. But remember, video games are played, so gameplay is almost always the first thing you’ll think about. Therefore…

It’s the path that counts, not the goal.

Both count. Obviously, a gamer aims at a goal, but the path is what’s fun. And we need the goal to have more paths after. I gotta save this hot chick, but first I have to beat up this big ugly bastard, and I’m going to enjoy beating him up because the game is fun; but I’ll enjoy the reward after. More levels to play, experience points to obtain, stuff to upgrade…until you finally finish the game, and it’s up to you whether or not you have a sense of accomplishment after lol. (or check out new game plus or unlockable dungeons and shit)
You’re totally right though; the path is what counts. But despite what I said about gameplay being priority, I don’t think games would be where they’re at today, if so much work didn’t go into stories and plots.

In my experience with mental illness, my mind needs constant stimulation, and it has to be intensely emotional. Things need to be dangerous—only dangerous for real, not fictional danger.

As I say, for someone who never played games and doesn’t know anything about them, your relation is is frighteningly accurate, at least in my supposing of what it would be like to have a mental illness and needing to stimulate myself, vis a vis or otherwise said illness. But that’s one point right there; video games stimulate something, anyway. I mean, indeed, why else would I sit around playin em to the wee hours of the night? There’s some satisfaction and reward I seek/feel from them, perhaps as you yourself seek emotional stimulation. Then again it may be different. As I watch horror movies and play games, I don’t seek real danger; but to visit some other worlds and have fun in them. Still, I think your relation stands, when it comes to need, whatever it is, and what to do about it.

Which is exactly what the game designers have in mind, I think. It’s an attempt to keep you emotionally honest to some degree.

You think too much. The video game industry is a fuckin’ cash cow. XD But in a way…when something like this happens, where you gotta piss around for hours searching for some bullshit, it’s usually termed as crap gameplay or poor programming, (whether it warrants it or not) depending on the goal of the game, and what it’s aiming at. But sometimes that makes games classic. It reaches to a form of stimulation that perhaps was not intended by the creators, but adheres to some players. Some people love bad games.
Some passionate and true designers would agree with you, and for good reason. Some games like to distract you, make you think and fuck you up; it’s an intent. But more often than not…it’s not always intentional. Take Silent Hill for example. These games are notorious for having shitty controls. They’ll never get it. They’re hopeless. But I always loved the crap control, because this is a survival horror game where in most cases, you’re playing as a normal schmoe. You’re not some elite hero, chosen paladin or some commando. You’re a normal man, or woman. In real life, most people don’t know how to really fight or wield weapons like most game characters do. So in this series, fighting monsters is a fucking chore because the controls suck so much; but it adds realism to the horror, since you’re a normal guy, scared out of his wits and just trying not to die. It adds a lot to the fear factor and atmosphere of the game.

I can write long ass shit too, yo! XD

wundayatta's avatar

That’s beautiful, @Symbeline. Thanks for taking the time to share your thinking. Let me clarify a point or two.

When I said they were making games more like life, I did not mean in the sense of look and feel. I meant in the sense of emotion. Life is sometimes exciting and sometimes boring. But mostly it is full of problems that are not obvious. If I were designing a game, I’d want to do some of those things you spoke of—be weird. Come out of left field. Make things less than obvious for people. Surprise them.

I’m surprised that games aren’t more interactive in terms of narrative yet. I guess I read too much science fiction. I recently read a novel that featured a game—and MMPORG, I think—and the idea was that the writers were writing the game just in time and programmers were programming what the writers wrote bare instants before the new situation was released to the public.

I think I could be a game writer. I could be a variable narrative game writer, too. I have the kind of mental organization necessary to keep that kind of thing together. So anyway, if you’re ever interested, it would be fun to attempt a project together.

I think you have a great deal of the kind of experience with games that you have become a critic. You see trends and patterns. You understand from the inside—in an inductive way. I think I can make some good guesses about what is going on based on deductive reasoning and things I know about psychology, writing, geeks, psychology again, and technology. I’m not completely up on the latest technology, but I know enough in general that I can get up to speed on just about anything very quickly.

I digress.

I think too much. How many times has that accusation been thrown at me in my life? I couldn’t begin to count them. Yes, I do. And that is precisely what makes me good at what I do: building really big models of life the universe and everything.

Game designers may not yet do what I say they do, but I bet they do. They need to think that way if they want to beat the competition. They have to be very concerned with they psychology of their customers. They need to know all about them, and especially what makes them tick. They need to understand intensity inside and out. Or rather, the ones who do, will do well.

There are many intensity paths, and if I were researching the topic, I would create intensity maps of a lot of different narratives. I’d look at horror movies and suspense movies and love stories and symphonies and dances and games and yoga classes and workout regimens and a bunch of other stuff.

I’d map all these experiences in terms of intensity, and I’d end up with a set of narrative maps, and these would become templates that would show me exactly what I need in a game at any particular moment, and then all I’d have to do is write and program that level of intensity.

Well, there’s an idea. I wonder if it will work its way out into the world, or if will die. It’s free for the taking if anyone wants it. I doubt I’ll ever do anything about it. But I’m pretty sure it could form the basis for some pretty valuable intellectual property for anyone who wanted to do the work. You’d develop a narrative generating machine. I’m sure they probably already exist, but maybe not. Whatever. I like this idea. I like it as a way of quantifying a specific aspect of narrative that is susceptible to quantification and also may be really useful.

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