March 19, 2010

This large post has the final version of my dissertation, be advised that the word count came in at 6585 words, it’s a long read but you should be able to just skip to the Further Issues & The Nature of Puzzles sections right at the end without losing out on too much content.

The Challenge of Puzzle Solving in Games – Robert Farr

Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of BA in Creative Computer Games Design at

Swansea Metropolitan University (Formerly Swansea Institute of Higher Education)

Table of Contents

Chapter Content
1 Introduction
  What is a game?
  What is a First Person Shooter?
  What is a Graphic Adventure Game?
  Chapter Summary
2 First Person Shooter
  Examination of 1998 release: Half-Life
  Examination of 2008 release: Far Cry 2
  Comparison between Half-Life & Far Cry 2
  Innovations in the genre/special mentions
  Chapter Summary
3 Graphic Adventure Games
  Examination of 1998 release: Grim Fandango
  Examination of 2008 release: Jack Keane
  Innovations in the genre/special mentions
  Chapter Summary
4 Further Issues
  A Visual Demonstration of Difficulty
  Challenges of Varied Difficulty
  Advertising & Hype
  Budgeting for Game Releases
  Control Concerns
  -Mouse & Keyboard
5 The Nature of Puzzles
  In Conclusion

Word Count 6585

Chapter 1: Introduction

            This dissertation will examine the nature of puzzle solving within computer games, focusing on two particular genres within gaming – The First Person Shooter (FPS) and the Graphic Adventure Computer Game genre. aiming analyse the reasons for why the graphic adventure computer game genre has diminished in popularity and standing within the games industry, comparing it to shooting games which continue to rise in popularity and sales year after year. In doing so, the intention is to understand the weakness’ inherent in the design of adventure games and therefore highlight where the common problems in adventure game design lay thus highlighting ways in which adventure games could be improved in future game designs.

What is a game?

            In order to do the above it is first necessary to examine the definition of a game as this informs further discussion of the reasons for why adventure games have suffered recently. However, there are many definitions of what a game actually is; in Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals (Salen, Zimmerman, 2004) there are interpretations of what a game is, focusing on a variety of different assumptions & analysis. However none of these definitions appear to be perfect, many of which were invented prior to computer games entering the mainstream. This demonstrates why creating games can be problematic, since there is some disagreement about the requirements for a definition of a game.

            For simplicity we shall instead focus on a definition authored by game designer Greg Costikyan. In his article I Have No Words & I Must Design Costikyan starts by clarifying what games aren’t – that they’re not puzzles because a puzzle has only one solution and remains static, whilst a game has many moving parts or state changes such as a character that travels from one location to another – A puzzle will only tend to have its solution and nothing else (entering the solution to a puzzle such as a crossword isn’t a state change, but rather an answer to a question, the answer itself does not change).

            He states that a game isn’t a toy, as games have a goal of that the player struggles toward whilst a toy has no explicit goals (these goals are instead invented by the person playing with the toy), indeed Will Wright the designer behind Sim City has described the product as a toy instead of a game as it provides a sandbox environment in which the player invents goals instead of being given them.

            Additionally, it’s made clear that whilst many games may have narrative or story elements, the story is not the game and that the traditional concept of an authored story as one that is unchangeable means that the presence of a story can potentially conflict with the creation of a game. Ultimately, Costikyan gives the definition: “A game is a form of art in which participants, termed players, make decisions in order to manage resources through game tokens in the pursuit of a goal.”

What is a First Person Shooter?

            In Game Design and Development: Fundamentals of Game Design (Adams & Rollings, 2006), the First Person Shooter genre is regarded as a subset of Action Games, here the player interacts with the game world through movement and by using a selection of weapons. Progress generally occurs in the form of enemies that are defeated (usually killed or otherwise incapacitated) which as a result, opens up access to new areas that enemies previously prevented access to (by attacking the player during movement through the environment). Though the player has access to a variety of different types of weapons, they are usually all designed with one purpose in mind, defeating enemies & destruction. 

What is a Graphic Adventure Game?

            In Game Design and Development an adventure game is described as “an interactive story about a protagonist character who is played by the player. Storytelling and exploration are essential elements of the game. Puzzle-solving and conceptual challenges make up the majority of the gameplay. Combat, economic management, and action challenges are reduced or nonexistent.”

            Interaction with the game primarily involves using of a variety of different objects that are collected and placed in the player characters inventory for use on other objects, which are either already in your inventory or are locked in place in the environment (The player probably wouldn’t put a door in their inventory, though sometimes a character might carry an item in their inventory that they might not ordinarily do so, for example in Simon the Sorcerer, Simon can place items as large as a whole ladder into his hat for use later). Graphic adventure games are regarded as a subset of adventure games, with text adventure games such as Adventure being the first instance of this form of game.

            Adventure games tend to be a somewhat purist genre, so whilst there is an additional subset known as Action Adventure games, there is some question regarding at what point the game stops being an adventure game and when it starts being an action game. One of the most coveted aspects of traditional graphic adventure games is that they generally involve a very low level of time pressure so as to allow the player to intuit solutions to the puzzles, so adding an element of time pressured action to the game has the risk of upsetting adventure gamers.

Chapter Summary

            A game definition by Greg Costikyan was examined which highlighted areas where there can be some confusion regarding what a game actually is, titles like Sim City might be regarded by many as a game when in fact it is more akin to a toy because games should have a goal (rescue the princess, try to survive as long as you can, etc).

            The commonalities in the two genres were also examined, both emphasise progress through environments, but the nature of the obstacles and solutions are different and it’s here that the comparison can really begin.

Chapter 2: First Person Shooter

            This section will begin by discussing two First Person Shooter titles released 10 years apart and will discuss the differences between the two titles as well as other developments that have occurred in this genre over many years.


            Half-Life was released in 1998, developed by Valve Software and published by Sierra Studios late in the year. Prior to the release of Half-Life, what little story was told in games was done in cut-scenes which take control of the game away from the player (this is often looked down upon, because the perspective shift between a cut scene and the game itself is regarded as an immersion breaker as well as taking control away from the player). Instead, Half-Life uses ‘scripted sequences’, pre-planned events that would play out in roughly the same way on each play-through – the cut scenes took a variety of forms, from an alien punching its way through a wall, to characters who would see and talk to the player character Gordon Freeman, though he doesn’t talk back during the game or its sequels.

            In Half-Life progression takes place in a linear manner from one location to the next as the player tries to survive an alien invasion triggered by a science experiment gone bad that causes various alien creatures to be teleported into the research facility. The army is then sent in to contain the threat, including eliminating any scientists that have survived the incident.

            The majority of the game involves combat, with scripted sequences providing narrative and exposition to help the player understand what needs to be done next whilst giving information on events within the game world such as warning the player that the marines have been sent to kill everyone in the facility rather than save them. The game was also celebrated for having soldiers which would intelligently try to flush out opponents with grenades rather than simply attempting to charge them head-on (So a player couldn’t just sit by a doorway waiting for enemies to run through one by one, the player had to be more imaginative regarding the way in which battles are fought).

            Lastly, the game will sometimes require the player to go through a variety of jumping puzzles, lead a Non-Player Character (NPC) to a door in order to open it or to defeat especially large ‘boss’ monsters that are designed to test the limits of the players ability whilst also providing peaks in the experience.

Far Cry 2

            Far Cry 2 was released in 2008 and developed at Ubisoft’s internal studio Ubisoft Montreal. The game is set in a fictional African nation in a state of civil war, pitting the player as a mercenary whose job it is to eliminate a notorious arms dealer known as the Jackal.

            The game gives the player a lot of freedom to roam the environment within the game world as it provides a sandbox environment with jungles, various kinds of encampments such as mines, factories, shanty towns; huts, shacks and riverside shelters. The game provides the player with missions that at first appear to offer an illusion of choice, until it becomes apparent that the main missions must be completed in sets for the games story to progress, though the player does have some choice over the order in which the main missions are played.

            The game gives you a selection of playable characters, once you have chosen one of the characters the others are added to the game in a somewhat randomised manner and show up later as potential buddy characters. Once you have asked one of the other mercenaries to act as a buddy character, that character will come and rescue you should you be incapacitated for some reason, picking you up and giving you a syrette to bring you back into the fight, providing an interesting preventative against player failure. The buddies also give the player alternative ways of completing missions and in so doing provide additional benefits to safe houses such as syrettes, ammo stores and vehicles.

            Far Cry 2 also attempts to build a stronger sense of realism with a simulation of the wildfires that can result from explosions, Molotov cocktails and flamethrower use, where a fire can quickly surround the player and engulf her or provide a wall of fire that prevents enemies from giving chase. The game minimises visible interface elements such as a numbered health & ammunition listing, accessing the map literally brings up a map and compass that the player character holds in her hand and vehicles can be repaired by lifting up the hood of the car and using a spanner to repair the engine.

            The realism does fall down at some points of the game, as the game mechanic for repairing vehicles is particularly simplified and the game has a habit of replacing enemy soldiers at checkpoints far too quickly, resulting in a game experience that sometimes feels rather contrived.

Comparison between Half-Life & Far Cry 2

            During the last 10 years or so, the games industry has become especially focused on high detail visuals, frequently trying to emphasise a degree of realism to the setting of a game. Far Cry 2 is no exception in this case, where an attempt to improve the realism of the game has been pursued not only in the visual quality of the world but also in the interactions with the game world, such as the removal of Heads Up Display (HUD) elements like the numbered ammunition count found in Half-Life.

            Half-Life was revolutionary when it was released for the way in which it told its story via scripted scenes that do not take away player control. In the 10 years following the games release that main lesson has been taken on in a variety of different game projects. The manner in which weapons are located and the world is explored has changed significantly; whilst there are still many games released that have a linear structure in a form similar to Half-Life (Including its sequels), the open sandbox world and ability to choose missions rather than be given a linear sequence of missions has grown in popularity somewhat.

            However, at their core, both games are still none-the-less about shooting at enemies with a variety of different weapons that are all designed to kill in one way or another with some additional elements then added to both games to provide some variety in the experience, that is the jumping puzzles and scripted sequences in Half-Life and the open world exploration and choice of approach to missions in Far Cry 2.

Innovations in the genre/Special Mentions

In the Thief Series, the player plays a thief named Garrett who has the ability to blend into the shadows. Instead of being a game about attacking your enemies head on with guns blazing the player must stick to the shadows and either evade or incapacitate threats using stealth attacks and has a variety of equipment including climbing & lock picking tools as well as a variety of arrows designed for different purposes. For example water arrows put out flaming torches, noisemaker arrows can draw guards away from that door you’re attempting to sneak through, etc. At higher difficulty levels, the game requires that you complete each mission without killing any living human being as the character is intended to be a thief rather than a murderer.

In Portal, the player is given only one weapon which instead of being a gun in the traditional sense a device that allows the user to project two portals onto suitable surfaces which the player can then walk between. The game is about manoeuvring instead of attacking, though the portal generator can be used as a weapon by creating one portal underneath a threat, causing it to drop through the portal and fly out the other – disabling turrets or possibly being used to launch objects through the games simulation of physics. The physics simulation means that you can place one portal on a wall and the other on a floor at the bottom of a chasm – The speed at which you fall through the second portal means you can be launched across the chasm that prevents progress.

Deus Ex is perhaps the pinnacle of single player First Person Shooter gaming, as it tries to offer a significant amount of variety in the way the game can be played and the responses that the game can feedback to the player. For instance, if the (male) player character walks into women’s toilets in the headquarters early on in the game, it will note that the player has done this resulting in a sequence later on where the player character gets told off for going where he shouldn’t be. Additionally, the game provides the player with a selection of different ways of going about any task including coercion, bribery, stealth, frontal assault, hacking computers, picking locks and so on and provides the player with three different end game scenarios to choose from rather than offering merely one possible ending.

In addition to single player games, multiplayer competitive and co-operative games are available to fans of First Person Shooters ranging from games such as Team Fortress 2, Unreal Tournament and Planetside to co-operative games such as Left4Dead in which the players must work together to survive a level.

Chapter Summary

            This section discusses the progression and development of shooting games and it quickly becomes clear that whilst the shooting itself is somewhat limited in terms of variety there are a lot of ways in which to expand upon the use of guns. In the short discussion above we see shooting games that add a story to give meaning to the gunfire told in game rather than in externalised ‘cut scenes’, making the behaviour of enemies more intelligent/cunning, through jumping puzzles, opening up the environment to make a game as much about exploration as it is about gunplay, allowing you to choose which character you play in the game, focusing on a sense of realism or focusing on combat between players over the Internet rather than against automated Artificially Intelligent opponents. Some shooting games invert the principle of defeating enemies through direct combat entirely, such as Deus Ex & the Thief series which provide the player with tools for avoiding conflict or in Portal, where the gun is intended as a tool for moving objects and the player around instead of being a typical damage dealing gun.

Many of these are inspired by ideas from other genres, like the jumping puzzles of 2D side scrolling games such as Mario or the character building elements commonly seen in Role-Playing Games (where experience points are used to improve your characters ability to complete tasks or survive fights) or place driveable vehicles in the play area that might previously have only been seen in tank or racing games.

They are often presented in a way which not only builds upon the existing gunplay, but also provides a wider variety of meaningful choices to the player besides which enemy to shoot at first and it’s this variety that is particularly attractive to the people who play shooting games. Not all shooters add many additional aspects to them – some choose to focus on the core aspects of shooting, movement and enemy/weapon variety and there is a market for this too.

Chapter 3: Graphic Adventure Games

            This section will begin by discussing two Graphic Adventure Game titles released 10 years apart and will discuss the differences between the two titles, plus other developments that have occurred in this genre over many years.

Grim Fandango

            Grim Fandango was released in 1998. Developed and published by LucasArts, the game places the player in a fictional underworld afterlife with unusual visual styling’s. Gameplay consists of using various items on other items and talking to characters that provide hints on what to do next.

            The game branches out somewhat over time so that some sets of tasks are presented concurrently and can be completed in any order within that branch. This title is interesting in that although it received much critical acclaim, it was deemed as having a poor commercial performance despite selling somewhere between 100 and 500 thousand units (Nova Barlow, 2008).

Jack Keane

            Released in 2008, developed by Deck13 and published by different publishers depending on the region in which the game was being sold (Strategy First in North America for example), the titles named character is drawn into a mission to save the Earth against his own will. The game boasts having 250 objects with which to solve puzzles but aside from this there isn’t anything that particularly makes the game stand out in the genre.

Innovations in the genre/Special Mentions

In Starship Titanic, the game allows you to adjust the disposition of robots that serve aboard the starship via a series of statues. Additionally, the game uses a text parser, not typically seen in graphic adventure games; to handle conversation with the robots either to get hints or for progress within the game.

In the Professor Layton series, the game tells the player what the puzzle is, therefore reducing the amount of guess work that the player must do to progress in the game (It’s easier to answer a question if you know what the question is, whereas many adventure games don’t give the player the question which makes discerning the solution harder).

In Broken Sword: Hidden Dragon the game includes small puzzles and action sequences which are kept to a minimum to avoid alienating the adventure gaming audience. Examples of such puzzles include moving crates around in order to balance a plane hanging off a cliff or to create a route to get over walls/onto buildings and a version of the jealous husbands river crossing puzzle (Which then gets re-used as a plot element soon after). Though use of action sequences in a game which is otherwise a low time pressure experience is risky, these are kept to a minimum and do not detract from the overall experience too much.

Chapter Summary

            Adventure games tend to focus on having a strong story, rather than being revolutionary in other ways and there appears to have been far less innovation possibly because whilst shooter games take a relatively simple formula and then build upon that, the formula for adventure games is less straightforward and is therefore harder to build upon in a similar manner to shooter games. Sometimes a game will boast about the number of items that exist in the game world which isn’t actually an indicator of quality, the more items you have in a game – the more likely the player will be forced to guess a solution to a puzzle unless attempts are made to compartmentalise the game into regions that do not share inventory items.

Chapter 4: Further Issues

A Visual Demonstration of Difficulty

            A Gamasutra.com blog article ‘Designing the Solution Space’ (David Rosen, 2009) provides a visual way of perceiving solution difficulty for games. In the image below, the dip in the grid represents the choices that lead to a solution or progress within a game for a range of possible choices (in this somewhat analogue case, think of walking in the general direction of a door that leads to the next room/location).

            This is an interesting way of seeing how perceiving the correct choice can lead to progress within the game and with a few modifications can be used to demonstrate how the ‘what do I do?’ frustration of puzzle games can be a problem. In first person shooters, the player tends to use a variety of equipment that fits along one theme, that of a weapon in the players’ inventory that is intended to harm enemies in the game world. All of these weapons achieve roughly the same goal but in slightly different ways or to different degrees of effectiveness.

            For adventure games however, this is far from straightforward. All of the items the player holds in his or her inventory are different in purpose and potential uses. In addition to this, rather than all the world objects being variations on a theme (different enemy types: Soldiers, tanks, aircraft) the world objects can also be extremely varied leading to a lot more guesswork due to the shape of the solution space. Though the solution is sometimes obvious (plug in plug socket to power a computer) it is frequently more a case of understanding the problem before perceiving the solution.

The problem becomes clear – each time an attempt is made to solve a puzzle in an adventure game, the attempt is either a success or a failure, there is no in-between state of partial progress like that seen in the shooter solution space presented above.

Challenges of Varied Difficulty

            One of the major issues in developing a game takes the form of adjusting the games difficulty. In shooter games, the difficulty is determined through several distinct pieces of information, the players’ health, the enemies’ health and the damage of various weapons; much of this information tends to be somewhat hidden from the player, operating ‘under the bonnet’ and can be tweaked relatively easily by simply changing a number in a table. If a particular enemy is deemed to be too tough then its maximum health could be reduced from 80 to 75 for example. It’s even possible to create a range of difficulty settings (usually easy, medium & hard) so the player can decide in advance how challenging the game is.

            Unfortunately, adjusting difficulty in adventure games is not so easy and often might require new content to be created. If a puzzle is deemed as too hard during play testing new lines of dialogue that give a hint to a problem might need to be written, voice acted and implemented into the game (assuming the puzzle isn’t scrapped altogether and replaced with a different one). Creating difficulty levels is also much harder, possibly requiring design time in order to create different versions of each puzzle that require more/fewer items to solve. As such, it is rare to see adventure games offering difficulty levels, a notable exception being Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s revenge which has a ‘Lite’ mode that makes some puzzles easier and removes a character.

Advertising & Hype

            It’s been said in some quarters, that the games industry has become too reliant on advertising and building up anticipation for a game before it has been released (otherwise known as hype). During the lead up to a game release (perhaps many months in advance) information on a game will emerge in the form of preview articles, trailers and game displays at events such as the Electronic Entertainment Expo in America (typically extensively reported on by games websites). All of which serves to build up a massive amount of excitement about the soon to be released ‘must have’ games.

Though research by Waggener Edstrom Worldwide suggests that the most significant factor in the decision to buy games happens through recommendations from friends & relatives, it is important to consider how information on upcoming game releases travels amongst consumers. The recommendations from friends & relatives happens via individuals who are regarded as knowledgeable about games, usually members of a group known as ‘hardcore gamers’ who are considered the go to people for advice on what games to buy. Hardcore gamers are known for their voracious appetite for information on games, so whilst this group acts as the source for 33% of game purchase decisions, in actual fact that advice will be informed as much by the reviews, adverts & online product demonstrations (‘demos’) that form the advertising/hype for a game release. The advertising is typically targeted at the knowledgeable gamers who then pass that information on via word of mouth commentary.

            Indeed, a discussion involving a variety of games journalists (N’Gai Croal et al, 2008) provides interesting anecdotes that relate to this issue, for instance Kieron Gillen states “The vast majority of press coverage is for games that either aren’t available, or are only just available.” and that “Games without the hype have lower expectations. I remember the attitude being crystallized by a comment I saw ages ago on Kotaku which stuck with me, when they linked to a B-game someone had 9/10ed: “It can’t be any good, as I haven’t heard of it”. It’s an ugly, but common, tautology.”

            As such, this means that if a game is to be a successful title, it needs to impress potential hardcore gamers with the sort of information that appeals to their mindset. This presents problems for adventure games. When comparing the trailers for a selection of games from the shooter and graphic adventure game categories the differences quickly become apparent. Whilst the trailers for shooters frequently involve exciting explosions and other cool stuff, trailers for adventure games appear far more muted, perhaps even boring. As such it is harder to find people who will be enthused about the release of an adventure game because targeting the marketing at audiences that will appreciate a slower paced adventure game is considerably harder.

Budgeting for Game Releases

            The problem becomes apparent when the budgets for games are taken into account, with rumours that occasionally more money is spent on the marketing for a game than on the creation of the game itself, it’s been said that Modern Warfare 2, which cost around $50 million to make, had a marketing budget of $200 million (Ben Fritz, 2009). An article on what happens in a consumers mind when deciding on game purchases (Juuso, 2008) points out decisions are often not based on reason or logic but rather on emotion and most game advertising is aimed directly at those emotions. The companies most likely to invest considerable funds into the advertising of games are large publishers such as EA, Activision & Take 2 who do not back the adventure game genre, for instance of the 62 titles released by EA in 2009 (many across multiple formats) not a single adventure game was released, the nearest game to this concept was MySims Agents which they classified as a ‘kids’ game.

            Instead the baton falls to smaller publishers, independent developers that self publish and the occasional games developer that attempts to specialise in adventure games. Currently the biggest supporter of graphic adventure games in publishing is Microids, who have released 47 adventure games since 1997 (averaging about 4 a year) with a mix of fictional settings as well as some based on historical events. Only a relatively small proportion of the titles released by Microids have not been in the adventure game genre.

            Telltale Games in particular is a games development company that has embraced adventure games in a significant way, going so far as to self publish some of their games over WiiWare on the Nintendo Wii, a system via which the game can be downloaded digitally without the need to visit a retail outlet. They have also taken to releasing the games as a series of episodes which means the games are broken down into discrete chunks that reduce the number of world objects & inventory items that the player has to wrestle with in a single sitting. By adopting an episodic structure they also benefit from the typical consumers familiarity with existing episodic entertainment mediums, they can tailor future episodes based on feedback from each episode and from a financial standpoint, having episodes means they can get some return on the investment of a games development sooner rather than later.

Control Concerns

            One of the main challenges of developing a game is in finding the optimum way in which the player controls events in the game environment, typically this will happen via one of three dominant control methods – The Mouse & Keyboard combination usually reserved for only Personal Computers, the gamepad (which is primarily used on home entertainment consoles such as the XBOX 360 & PlayStation 3) and lastly the WiiMote, a relatively new addition to the selection of dominant forms of game control that functions like a pointer device but also has additional motion sensing capabilities. Each of these control methods have advantages and disadvantages depending on the type of game that is being made. There are also additional peripheral control methods such as the Guitar Hero controller modelled after a guitar, but these are products which have to be bought for the computer/console rather than being supplied with it and are therefore unlikely to be used in an adventure game or shooter.

Mouse & Keyboard

            The Mouse & Keyboard originated with Personal Computer Systems and came into their own with the Windows Operating system that allowed the person to select items on-screen without having to type in some form of command on the keyboard. They would prove to be particularly suited for computer games as they allowed the user to select/grab items in adventure games just as they could an icon on a Windows desktop or to look around in a three dimensional world with a great deal of precision – great for aiming at hostile threats approaching the player in a combat game. While the mouse is used to look & aim, the keyboard is used to move around and can encompass other uses such as pressing number keys to change weapons or pressing the escape key to exit to the menu. Perhaps the biggest disadvantage to this control method is that the player tends to need a desk or other flat surface on which to rest the mouse & keyboard which does not suit everyone.


            The gamepad originally came into dominance with the Nintendo Entertainment System at which point it was a relatively simple affair that had two action buttons,  a directional thumb pad control and two menu buttons (‘Select’ & ‘Start’). Subsequently, however, the typical gamepad has become significantly more complicated in the form of more & more action buttons that run the risk of making the controller hard to use. Indeed, consumers new to a modern gamepad find that they struggle to become used to using the controller, where common behaviour includes frequently pressing the wrong buttons or struggling to use the analog control stick(s) with precision, resulting in situations where the player is unable to avoid looking either at the floor or the sky rather than the middle ground from which most hostile characters would approach a player.

            It is worth noting however, that these controller issues only tend to be a problem in fast paced games with high time pressures placed on the player, where pressing the wrong button or a lack of accuracy when firing a gun could be the difference between life and death. Adventure games potentially serve as a suitable way in which a consumer unaccustomed to the use of gamepads could learn to use the controller, as high time pressures are unusual in the adventure game genre.

The WiiMote

            The WiiMote is an interesting design choice for a game controller, as it is a pointer device in a truer sense than a mouse cursor and incorporates some of the buttons you might find on an early gamepad. It frees itself from the problem of having too many buttons leading to confusion on the part of the player and is far more reliable for precision control than a gamepad analog stick. One potential issue however is a higher risk of muscle fatigue in the user, who might have to keep the pointer directed towards a television for long periods of time, bringing into question the usefulness of a device for games that require steady aim for long periods of time without a break. Many of the Nintendo Wii’ most popular games – such as Wii Sports – only require the occasional usage of the pointer device, such as regularly swinging the controller in the Tennis game (meaning the players muscles have a chance to relax between each swing).

Chapter 5: The Nature of Puzzles

            What is most interesting about this discussion is that in both forms of game, the player is attempting to overcome obstacles within the game world; however the way in which those puzzles are solved is different. Shooters focus on a core aspect of defeating enemies with guns which is relatively simple to build upon. Adventure games meanwhile seem simple at first – you’re simply using items in your inventory on items in the game world – but the player will often end up guessing solutions rather than intuiting them logically.

To use a specific example from an adventure game, in Escape from Monkey Island, the player needs to get the lead character back inside a bank in order to prove his innocence after a bank robbery. There’s a hint in the form of an open window high up on the side of the building but no sign of a ladder. In order to enter the bank, the player must open a nearby manhole cover with a broken sword, read the name written on a manhole cover (the player has to ‘look’ at this object to learn there are names on it) then walk into a ‘Palace of Protheses’ shop and ask for a free limb, using the names written on the manhole to answer a set of questions results in you being given a prosthetic skin which you then stretch across the open manhole to create a trampoline. Once explained, this seems to make sense, but it can take a real leap of the imagination to get this right without resorting to random guesswork or reading a walkthrough on the Internet (essentially a guide that tells you how to complete the game, removing the challenge in the game in the process).

In Conclusion

            The question remains, how could adventure games be made more successful than they are currently? First, it is necessary to bypass typical definitions of a game, adventure game players don’t necessarily care whether an adventure game has innovative new gameplay and can be just as appreciative of a good story as they can of a good game. Adventure games might not be games in the strictest sense, but they are still interactive entertainment of a sort and shouldn’t just be discounted because it isn’t immediately obvious that a game is fun.

            Consider targeting non-gamers, but remember that the advertising & marketing system is built around ‘hardcore gamers’ who spend a lot of time on game related websites and won’t transfer news of adventure games via word of mouth because those games do not appeal to them. It is therefore inadvisable to rely on word of mouth to spread awareness of adventure games. When making the game for owners of the Nintendo Wii (or any large crowd of casual part-time gamers) you may need to bypass traditional marketing methods and target the consumer directly through newspapers, television, non-gaming magazines and shop-front/street advertising. When attempting to pitch an adventure game to publishers make it clear that this is a form of game that has been neglected to a sufficient extent that it is a niche worth exploring again and that the large casual gaming demographic is more suited to this form of game due to lower time pressures and an emphasis on non-violent puzzle solving instead of combat and hand-eye co-ordination skill.

            When dealing with the specifics of how the game is designed, avoid complicated puzzles that require many actions in a chain to solve (such as combining 3 items together then using that combined item on a world object). Reviewers may be critical of a lack of difficulty, so consider providing multiple levels of difficulty (giving the player that choice also increases re-playability) in a similar manner to how it is done in Monkey Island 2: LeChucks Revenge – experimentation into an introduction sequence that tests the players ability and then recommending an appropriate difficulty level is also a possibility. Compartmentalise the game into sections/regions or episodes so that the player doesn’t potentially end up carrying a large amount of items at the same time without having made much real progress.

            Ultimately, the assumption that an adventure game is a game must be questioned, Ragnar Tørnquist put it best when talking about The Longest Journey and its sequel: “There could have been more interactivity, but then I feel like one of the faults of TLJ was the puzzles were sometimes just puzzles. I wanted to get away from that. So we tried to make every single puzzle integrated into the storyline, so you keep moving forward at all times. And doing that is harder than you’d think, especially when you’re grappling with completely new technology…”

            Therefore it can be argued that when making an adventure game, the design should be led by the story, just as some games are led by the art, technology or interaction between players. When doing so, it is important to make a world that is interesting to the player and makes an impression as these are the worlds that will be talked about most (creating word of mouth in the process), titles that have really grabbed the players imaginations always have an interesting hook that makes the player want to spend time in that world, whether it be a fantastical environment not unlike that seen in Avatar or The Longest Journey, interesting & fun characters like those seen in the Monkey Island series (which depicts an idealised pirate fantasy) or a specific element in the world that is interesting such as the automatons and the mystery of the mammoths fate in the Syberia series. It is the journey, discovery and the adventure that is important, rather than the game.


Katie Salen & Eric Zimmerman, 2004, Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, pp 70-91.

Ernest Adams & Andrew Rollings, 2007, Game Design & Development: Fundamentals of Game Design, Pearson Education, pp 436 & 619

Greg Costikyan, 1994, I Have No Words & I Must Design, http://www.costik.com/nowords.html

Nova Barlow, 2008, Walk, Don’t Run, http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/issues/issue_139/2994-Walk-Dont-Run

David Rosen, 2009, Designing the Solution Space, http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/DavidRosen/20090831/2897/Designing_The_Solution_Space.php

Mike Fahey, 2009, Word of Mouth Sells the Most Video Games, http://kotaku.com/5428141/word-of-mouth-sells-the-most-video-games

N’Gai Croal et al, 2008, A Symposium On Game Reviews, http://blog.newsweek.com/blogs/levelup/archive/2008/12/18/a-symposium-on-game-reviews-topic-1-review-scores-part-i.aspx

Ben Fritz, 2008, Video game borrows page from Hollywood playbook, http://articles.latimes.com/2009/nov/18/business/fi-ct-duty18

Juuso, 2008, Every Game Purchase Is Based On Emotions, http://www.gameproducer.net/2008/02/11/every-game-purchase-is-based-on-emotions/

John Walker, 2008, Ragnar Tørnquist On… Dreamfall & Faith, http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2008/08/20/ragnar-t%C3%B8rnquist-on-dreamfall-faith/


Katie Salen & Eric Zimmerman, 2004, Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Ernest Adams & Andrew Rollings, 2007, Game Design & Development: Fundamentals of Game Design, Pearson Education

Lawrence Kutner, PhD, Cheryl Olsen, ScD, 2008, Grand Theft Childhood, The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games and What Parents Can Do, Simon & Schuster

Jesse Schell, 2008, The Art of Game Design, A Book of Lenses, Morgan Kaufmann Publications

Raph Koster, 2005, A Theory of Fun for Game Design, Paraglyph Press

David Perry & Rusel DeMaria, 2009, David Perry on Game Design, a Brainstorming Toolbox, Cengage Learning

Christopher Vogler, 2007, The Writer’s Journey – Third Edition, Michael Wiese Productions

David Freeman, 2004, Creating Emotion in Games, New Riders Publishing

Andrew Rollings & Ernest Adams, 2003, Andrew Rollings & Ernest Adams on Game Design, New Riders Publishing

Greg Costikyan, 1994, I Have No Words & I Must Design, http://www.costik.com/nowords.html

Nova Barlow, 2008, Walk, Don’t Run, http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/issues/issue_139/2994-Walk-Dont-Run

David Rosen, 2009, Designing the Solution Space, http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/DavidRosen/20090831/2897/Designing_The_Solution_Space.php

Mike Fahey, 2009, Word of Mouth Sells the Most Video Games, http://kotaku.com/5428141/word-of-mouth-sells-the-most-video-games

N’Gai Croal et al, 2008, A Symposium On Game Reviews, http://blog.newsweek.com/blogs/levelup/archive/2008/12/18/a-symposium-on-game-reviews-topic-1-review-scores-part-i.aspx

Ben Fritz, 2008, Video game borrows page from Hollywood playbook, http://articles.latimes.com/2009/nov/18/business/fi-ct-duty18

Juuso, 2008, Every Game Purchase Is Based On Emotions, http://www.gameproducer.net/2008/02/11/every-game-purchase-is-based-on-emotions/

John Walker, 2008, Ragnar Tørnquist On… Dreamfall & Faith, http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2008/08/20/ragnar-t%C3%B8rnquist-on-dreamfall-faith/

Unreferenced Image List

All other images sourced from existing references or created for this dissertation.

Keyboard & Mouse Example


Nintendo Entertainment System Controller Example


XBOX 360 Gamepad Example


WiiMote Example



4 Responses to “Dissertation”

  1. […] Threader Larington’s dissertation The Challenge of Puzzle Solving in Games is lobbed online. Yay […]

  2. […] more from the original source: Dissertation « The Dreaming Game Designer Share and […]

  3. zipdrive Says:

    This is a nice piece of work, but I think you have some misses:

    1) You state that adventure games are not as popular because the big publishers don’t make them this is a chicken & egg problem, because the publishers don’t make them because they expect little revenue since the genre is not popular.
    If you go back in game history, I think you will notice the popularity of adventure game went down BEFORE big companies stopped making them (case in point: Grim Fandango).
    2) “Ultimately, the assumption that an adventure game is a game must be questioned”- what? why? The fact that such games may give greater importance to story or mood does not deny their “game-ness”.
    3) “When dealing with the specifics of how the game is designed, avoid complicated puzzles that require many actions in a chain to solve”
    Again, I respectfully disagree- the main issue – beautifully demonstrated by ‘solution space’ article you mention- is the lack of progress made with partial solutions. To be clearer, it’s not that combining three objects with the environment is bad. rather it’s that combing any two of thm together (or with the proper environment) does not usually propel the player forward. This can be solved using clues and sensible puzzles.
    4) I did not find in this dissertation any effect the controllers issue you mention has on the popularity or lack thereof of adventure games. So what is that section for?
    5) complexity is a problem in puzzle games because they are much wider in their scope and application than shooters. In FPSs you just move and shoot- limited number of tools for a limited problem space. In many adventure games both the toolbox (actions and items a player can use) and the problem space (type of issues faced) are much wider and are therefore more difficult to grok. One needs to consider adventure-like games such as Fahrenheit and Heavy Rain, where the toolbox is much diminished.
    6) Regarding “inventory inflation” issue- this is caused first because of what I mentioned in the last part- huge problem space and toolbox, and also because historically many puzzles had solutions that did not make much sense and therefor players had to desperately mix and match items and locations and items to guess the solution.
    As in the example you bring with the makeshift trampoline, this is not a very logical solution, unless it has been hinted that jumping is generally possible and it’s been foreshadowed that there’s usually important information on the undersides of manhole covers.

    wow, this came out long-winded. Anyway, it was an interesting read.

    • Robert Farr Says:

      Thanks, I ran into this problem where I really struggled to make progress on the work as the deadline loomed so I didn’t put it through anywhere near as much feedback as I would’ve like. Well, any really.
      So, let us see:
      1) I’d say my main concern with regards to this is that companies fled the space altogether rather trying to see what problems customers were having with the style of game and directing design to fix and evolve. They’re all too happy to come up with DRM and other anti-piracy measures, but I’m not convinced enough effort was put into correcting the downward trend of adv gaming.
      2) This somewhat relates to meaning applied to the term game itself, depending on who you ask, games need to have fun, goals, interactivity (etc.) but sometimes we can get so caught up in chasing after these elements, cutting out anything that doesn’t match the requirements that we might end up missing out on other avenues. I’ve seen folks questioning whether Heavy Rain is a game at all (Haven’t played it myself yet, really want to) and that is in part due to the usage of ‘game’.
      3) Yeah, to a certain extent I was advocating minimising chained puzzle solutions of that manner simply because it somehow seems safer to do, but if there’s a clear enough distinction between each part of that chain it shouldn’t be a problem. I suggest it more as a better safe than sorry approach – With suitable play testing it could probably be fixed depending on the scenario.
      4) To be honest, I probably would’ve cut the controllers section out in a revision, I think it distracts from the dissertation and would’ve been better as a smaller article by itself at some point I should try to write that article.
      5) I’ll have to take a look at Fahrenheit and Heavy Rain, they’re both conspicuously absent from my ‘have played’ list right now.
      6) Don’t think I need to add anything there, that was the point I was attempting to make, but it might not have come out as clearly as I’d have liked.
      Thanks for the feedback though, it’s much appreciated.

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