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  1. #1
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus LTK's Avatar
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    Non-linear Puzzle Games

    Let's define 'non-linear' as having a variety of possible routes to take from point A to point B. With that in mind, we know about non-linear narrative design (The Witcher 2) and non-linear level design (Dishonored). But what about non-linear puzzle design?

    I'd hold up Spacechem as the pinnacle of a non-linear puzzle game, because not only does it have a mindbogglingly high number of different conceptual solutions to a particular puzzle, every concept can also have many structural variations that affect its speed and efficiency, with often a trade-off between the two. I think the game is in a league all of its own, but it can't be the only game that allows its players to be creative with their solutions.

    Most puzzle games I've played have absolutely no non-linearity about them. That includes puzzle platformers: Braid in particular got on my nerves because the 'game guide' says you just have to keep at it trying to solve the puzzles, and you'll feel smart when you eventually get it. I don't, because all I'm doing is looking at a problem and trying to figure out the one particular solution that the designer wants me to discover. It may require a lot of thinking, but in the end it's simply a way of fitting round pegs into round holes.

    So what other puzzle games are there that allow you creativity in your solutions? Is there a game that is to Spacechem what Dishonored is to Deus Ex? Or the other way around?

  2. #2
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    If you count Commandos 2 as a puzzle game, which I do, then Commandos 2.
    Irrelevant on further examination of the rest of the thread.

  3. #3
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus DaftPunk's Avatar
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    But isn't commandos linear,i mean you need to do things in order to progress right ?

  4. #4
    Lesser Hivemind Node Feldspar's Avatar
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    Braid's puzzles were single-solution rather than multi-solution, because it is really difficult to implement multi-solution puzzles in a platform game without making them brokenly easy. However with more abstract genres and especially with sandboxy games (like Spacechem) it is easier to leave open several routes to the solution.

    I remember playing The Incredible Machine years ago, a 2d puzzler that used various levers, balloons, see-saws, springs, balls, cogs and so on to create various different effect, some levels were incredibly precise on what you needed to place where to accomplish them, others let you run wild and come up with a variety of bizarre solutions (I just remember painstakingly positioning springs to make stuff fly all over the place just for comic effect), so I guess that counts on both scores.

  5. #5
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus b0rsuk's Avatar
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    Mission in Space: The Lost Colony looks like an X-COM or Space Hulk style game at first, but actually has more in common with puzzles:

    - aliens always move 6 hexes
    - motion detector is basically infallible
    - damage variance is low: (6 - hexes_travelled) * 20-30
    - in vast majority of cases, visibility (and therefore accuracy) is 100%. In cases where it isn't - well, there are 5 rounds per burst that can hit, which heavily limits the "all or nothing" effect.
    - levels are handmade with no randomness, starting positions are always the same

    I highly recommend it. If you have a knack for optimization and like experimenting to find better solutions, MIS is surprisingly fun and has very high longevity for a flash game.
    www.kongregate.com/games/StormAlligator/mission-in-space-the-lost-colony

    -----------------

    Speaking of platformers, Spelunky is much more of an arcade game than a puzzle, but it clearly rewards planning and caution. While multiple paths to the exit are not always generated (mostly in stage3 and 4), you start with 4 bombs and can blow up walls. Bombs and ropes are among most common items. I frequently catch myself thinking how to handle the next obstacle. Should I blow up a wall, spend a rope, throw a stone, try to fight (and whom). So while Spelunky is not a good example of a puzzle game, it shows that platformers can be non-linear. Did I mention levels are randomly generated ?
    Last edited by b0rsuk; 23-12-2012 at 03:13 PM.
    pass

  6. #6
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus LTK's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by NathanH View Post
    If you count Commandos 2 as a puzzle game, which I do, then Commandos 2.
    I'm not familiar with it. What's the gameplay like? From the description, it seems like it counts as nonlinear level design rather than puzzle design.

    I think the essential difference is that a puzzle gives you all the information required beforehand, whereas a mission-based game has an element of exploration in its levels.

  7. #7
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus DaftPunk's Avatar
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    Commandos is exactly what you are looking for,before mission they say what you have to do,then its upon you to figure out the rest.

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    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Rauten's Avatar
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    They do tend to give you some tips, like "beware this machinegun nest" or "you may need to grab this officer's suit as a disguise", but overall yeah, it's "these are your guys, this is what you have to do, hf gl".

  9. #9
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Kelron's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Feldspar View Post
    I remember playing The Incredible Machine years ago, a 2d puzzler that used various levers, balloons, see-saws, springs, balls, cogs and so on to create various different effect, some levels were incredibly precise on what you needed to place where to accomplish them, others let you run wild and come up with a variety of bizarre solutions (I just remember painstakingly positioning springs to make stuff fly all over the place just for comic effect), so I guess that counts on both scores.
    Yes yes yes TIM is fantastic. It's supposed to be a kid's game but don't let that stop you.

    http://www.gog.com/gamecard/the_incr...hine_mega_pack

  10. #10
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus LTK's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Feldspar View Post
    Braid's puzzles were single-solution rather than multi-solution, because it is really difficult to implement multi-solution puzzles in a platform game without making them brokenly easy. However with more abstract genres and especially with sandboxy games (like Spacechem) it is easier to leave open several routes to the solution.
    I see what you mean, and I think this is because every one of Spacechem's reactors can be thought of as an extremely constrained level editor. So instead of the traditional method where the designer creates a level and has the player operate it, Spacechem lets the player create a level and has the game operate it. It's completely backwards! Where a puzzle platformer may force you to learn how to reach a specific place by dropping off a platform and jumping in midair, Spacechem forces you to invent jumping.

    I remember playing The Incredible Machine years ago, a 2d puzzler that used various levers, balloons, see-saws, springs, balls, cogs and so on to create various different effect, some levels were incredibly precise on what you needed to place where to accomplish them, others let you run wild and come up with a variety of bizarre solutions (I just remember painstakingly positioning springs to make stuff fly all over the place just for comic effect), so I guess that counts on both scores.
    Oh yes, physics-based games do have a lot of potential for this. It reminds me of Incredipede, which also looks like it has the capacity for creative solutions. It's just hard to think of a serious problem to solve for them other than 'reach point (x,y)'. Or in Incredipede's case, 'reach point (x,~)'.

    Looking at The Incredible Machine, they actually do seem to provide interesting goals to the player. It looks like a very complex game, I wouldn't mind giving it a try. Is it very difficult?
    Last edited by LTK; 23-12-2012 at 09:50 PM.

  11. #11
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Kelron's Avatar
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    There's a ton of puzzles of varying difficulty. Plenty to keep you occupied

  12. #12
    Lesser Hivemind Node Feldspar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LTK View Post
    Looking at The Incredible Machine, they actually do seem to provide interesting goals to the player. It looks like a very complex game, I wouldn't mind giving it a try. Is it very difficult?
    I remember it being more finicky than difficult, although bouncing things around the screen with pixel-perfect precision might have been my obsession rather than the games point. It certainly isn't a game that's difficult to get the hang of.

  13. #13
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    Crayon Physics - though that suffers from giving you too much freedom and some solutions just being too good/universally useful.

    Scribblenauts has the same issues too.

  14. #14
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    Hitman: Blood Money?

  15. #15
    Activated Node P7uen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by deano2099 View Post
    Crayon Physics - though that suffers from giving you too much freedom and some solutions just being too good/universally useful.

    Scribblenauts has the same issues too.
    Personally, I think if someone is just trying to finish the levels, Scribblenauts is not the game for them. You can just win everything by using a jetpack, sure, but you can't complain that's not fun or challenging, when you can quite happily sit there for hours trying things using your imagination.

    It's a bit like complaining a box of lego with no instructions is no fun.

  16. #16
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus LTK's Avatar
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    From what I've seen of Scribblenauts Unlimited, that one allows for a lot of creative solutions. It's the variety of programmed behaviour that allows problems to be concrete and solutions to be emergent. It definitely fits the bill of a non-linear puzzle game. Now if only they'd hurry up and release the damn thing!

    Although I'd sooner say that beating all of Scribblenauts' levels with a jetpack is sort of like playing 'the floor is lava' with lava-proof shoes on. If you make a game out of a box of Lego, you get Minecraft's creative mode.

    I also played Crayon Physics Deluxe, and it was way too finicky to be any kind of fun. On the other hand, that might be because I only played it on my phone.

    Quote Originally Posted by Giaddon View Post
    Hitman: Blood Money?
    I thought I clearly distinguished 'level design' from 'puzzle design' in my first post.

  17. #17
    Lesser Hivemind Node fiddlesticks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LTK View Post
    I thought I clearly distinguished 'level design' from 'puzzle design' in my first post.
    You said there is a distinction to be made between those two, but you never specified what exactly this distinction entails. Calling Blood Money a puzzle game is fairly accurate, in my opinion.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by LTK View Post
    Oh yes, physics-based games do have a lot of potential for this.
    Armadillo Run has been described as a modern Incredible Machine (er, except it's a few years old now).

    http://www.armadillorun.com/

    It looks like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YPmrAZk6fY

  19. #19
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus b0rsuk's Avatar
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    Looking at a video of Armadillo Run, I wonder why there are no modern pinball games where the scene is actually in full 3D.

    Very cool levels:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qgbwWADKAm0
    Last edited by b0rsuk; 24-12-2012 at 05:22 PM.
    pass

  20. #20
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus LTK's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fiddlesticks View Post
    You said there is a distinction to be made between those two, but you never specified what exactly this distinction entails. Calling Blood Money a puzzle game is fairly accurate, in my opinion.
    True. The distinction is hard to make. I mentioned earlier that there is an element of the unknown in those games mentioned, and the player usually starts out knowing nothing about how the 'puzzle' needs to be solved. You need to scout the level, observe patrols, find out if there are tools you can use, etcetera. The challenge is in learning the layout of the maze more than actually traveling through it. If you already know all the routes available to you, and all the obstacles along the way, achieving your goal is not nearly as difficult.

    My idea of a puzzle game is one where all the information you need is given to you beforehand. You have an overview of the entire level where no information is hidden from you, you know exactly which tools are available to use and what they do, and you only need to apply your wits to achieve the goal. Plus, there is usually no barrier between concept and execution: When you know how to solve the puzzle, there is nothing preventing you from actually solving it. You don't have to put a targeting reticule exactly over the target's head, you don't have to time your strike perfectly in the gap between two guards' patrols, and you certainly don't have to perform a flawless combination of button presses to make a jump to a distant platform.

    With that definition, puzzle games outside of classic adventure games are actually shockingly scarce...

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