Adventure game puzzle design

By “adventure game”, I really mean any story-based game.

This is post is mainly just a dump of useful links regarding puzzle design, so I can have them all in one place. There won’t be anything terribly elucidating here, just links to useful articles.

I think there are some more, but I’ve lost them.

Right now I’m trying to apply this kind of puzzle theory more rigorously to Cascade Quest. Many puzzles in their current form in the game are woefully unsatisfactory, as has been demonstrated by some playtesting.

Right now I’m trying to polish up the puzzles in the first zone of the game. One thing I’m struggling with is trying to make the puzzle tree more “bushy”. What that boils down to (if you read some of the articles listed above), is trying to give the player several things to do at any particular time. A strictly linear puzzle progression can lead to player frustration if they can’t solve the current puzzle they’re working on, and have nothing else to do.

I’ve managed to make many of the puzzles have multiple independent conditions that need to be met. However, I’m running into problems informing the player of the necessary conditions. Usually there is one obvious thing the player needs to do to solve a puzzle. When they accomplish that, they may only then find that they need something additional. The end result is that the player will probably still progress linearly through the game (and possibly get blocked).

This is more of a narrative problem, I suppose. The puzzle dependency graph may be “bushy”, but the in-game narrative still drives the player through a linear discovery. I haven’t seen much discussion of this in any of the articles I linked, but it’s become a problem with nearly every puzzle to which I’ve added multiple pre-conditions.

One good example of this kind of being glossed over are the GDC slides I linked above. One example they give for “bushifying” the puzzle tree involves opening a chest. You need a key to do so. To add an additional pre-condition, we can say that the chest has rusty hinges, and so you also need a can of oil. The player now has two things to do to occupy their time.

However, how do you deliver that narrative? The player won’t realize the chest has rusty stuck hinges unless they already have the key and have tried to open the chest. So this attempt at parallelizing the puzzle tree risks becoming simply a longer linear chain in the tree.

So these are the kinds of things I’m thinking about right now.





2 comments on “Adventure game puzzle design

  1. I just read “Why Adventure Games Suck”, thank you for sharing this.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Just another WordPress site

Just another WordPress.com site

Harebrained Schemes

Developer's blog for IceFall Games

kosmonaut's blog

3d GFX and more


Turn up the rez!

bitsquid: development blog

Developer's blog for IceFall Games

Game Development by Sean

Developer's blog for IceFall Games

Lost Garden

Developer's blog for IceFall Games


Developer's blog for IceFall Games

Casey Muratori's Blog

Developer's blog for IceFall Games

Blog – Coherent Labs

Developer's blog for IceFall Games

Rendering Evolution

Developer's blog for IceFall Games

Simon schreibt.

Developer's blog for IceFall Games

- Woolfe -

Developer's blog for IceFall Games

Fabio Ferrara

Game Developer

Clone of Duty: Stonehenge

First Person Shooter coming soon to the XBOX 360

Low Tide Productions

Games and other artsy stuff...


Just another WordPress.com site

Sipty's Writing

Take a look inside the mind of a game developer.

Jonas Kyratzes

Writer & Game Designer

%d bloggers like this: