Saturday, August 30, 2008

Puzzles and Games

In honor of the fact that I will be a teaching assistant for the first games-related course a student in our game development stream will take, I'd like to reflect on the state of puzzles in today's games.

I'm intrigued by the words of a gaming blogger from about a month ago:
Despite my fondness for the adventure games of yore, it appears the days of puzzles in narrative games have come and gone. Puzzles, especially the serial unlocking variety found in the old LucasArts games, seem to have become a relic of a bygone era. Where they once provided a necessary ludic element to a clever and often complex narrative - designed to add challenge and force the player to earn his progress through the story - few modern players have the patience for such challenges anymore.
I fondly look back on playing games like King's Quest. Ok, so maybe this series wasn't as complicated as, say, Myst, but I do seem to remember long series of tasks to be done in order to unlock to the next stage. You could get stuck for hours sometimes, reduced to just clicking on anything and everything until you got a step further. Sure, this could get frustrating, but you know what? When you finally finished the game, you felt like you actually accomplished something.

These days, it seems that even the games that once had the best puzzles have dumbed things down for the modern gamer. I'm pretty sure the older Zelda games were a lot harder to finish than today's Twilight Princess. The latter has become more of an interactive story than a puzzle-filled adventure game (disclaimer: I still love it anyway!).

Perhaps this has happened because of technology. In the good old days, with less power available on the graphics side, and not enough storage for high quality sound, it was the puzzles that drew you in. Nowadays, the eye candy, beautiful music and recorded voice immerse you into another world without needing to solve innane riddles. Your reward at the end of the game comes more from the resolution of the story itself than the feeling of conquering the brainier requirements. As an added bonus, you usually also get gorgeous, rendered cut scenes to tie up the loose ends.

If modern gamers really aren't interested in hard-core puzzle solving, then so be it. The industry has to continuously mould itself to fit its current audience. It's not that interactive stories aren't fun, after all. I just hope that there will always be a place, no matter how small, for the Mysts of the modern gaming world.


Chris said...

Even when games that do include puzzle component these days, the impact on the gamer is just one more Google search. Within days of release all the cheats, hacks, and walk-thrus are posted on the Internet. There seems to be a small handful of gamers out there that actually solves the puzzles. The rest simply let those first few do their thinking for them.

Gail said...

So true Chris. I always make a point to avoid using walk-through's, but the temptation is always there when you feel completely stuck!

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