Saturday, February 21, 2009

Puzzles in Myst games

The GameSetWatch blog has a posting on puzzles in the Myst games. It's not quite consistent - the intro promises more than the body provides, but the conclusion is right:

Fairness, novelty, and integration are all important for making good puzzles, but what makes the puzzles discussed here stand out is their payoffs. Each of them has a moment of epiphany, where the odd structure of the game world suddenly makes sense, and all the pieces fit together. Because they are especially tricky, the reward is sweeter, and the player feels a greater sense of accomplishment.

It's this puzzle with a twist that is the greatest strength of the Myst series. By starting with a solid puzzle and then adding a twist, developers can make their own puzzles stick in players' memories. This doesn't just apply to adventure games, either; any kind of game that uses puzzles will be better-served by a cleverly crafted obstacle rather than just another game of Nim.

I've long loved the Myst games, and certainly don't think they're the reason the adventure genre has suffered over the last decade. If they are, it's because other game designers struggle to match the quality, internal consistency, and production values of the Myst games. (Frankly, I think that's more connected with the adrenaline-fueled, frame-rate obsessed FPS crowd that just don't get the more cerebral pursuit of the Myst games.)

I will say though, that there is one puzzle I thought stuck out as really not belonging in the Myst canon, and that's the dreadful Dream puzzle of the Serenia Age in Myst IV. Far to subject to the vaguaries of colour vision and a long way from fitting the criteria of the article at the top of this post.

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