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What's better: hints or explosive barrels?

We're still working to decide the single best thing in games

Last time, you decided that secrets behind waterfalls are better than boss battles as skill checks. I'm not sure I agree but I can't disagree. We're doing difficult work here. This week, it's a question of a helping hand when you're stuck versus something so unsubtle that it'll take your face off and you'll be glad for it and even be miffed if it doesn't happen. What's better: hints, or explosive barrels?

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Video games do want you to finish them. Oh sure, many want to challenge you and some even want to punish you, but they do largely want you to be able to finish them. Sometimes, for whatever reason, you hit a stumbling block. That's when the game might offer a hint.

Pondering a puzzle with Machinarium's hint system.

The purest example is puzzle and adventure games where you can simply click a button to request a hint. Handy, that. I particularly like how Machinarium's hints are little cartoon thought bubbles. Machinarium even offers the option to be outright told the solution in exchange for completing a minigame. An elegant solution is tile-moving puzzle games like Bejeweled flashing a possible solution if you've not made a move for a while. Then games with other characters can run wild with all sorts of helpful hints. Narrators who drop thoughts, bosses who shout directions, people who call you on the radio, companions who idly muse and rule out incorrect solutions, and chums who unsubtly stand by objectives and gently kick them while saying "Huh...!" They really would like you not to be stuck.

Hints can be patronising. Hints can be over-eager. Hints can annoy me while actually I know the solution thank you but I'm busy checking out the silly brands in this drinks machine if you could just be quiet for one minute thanks thank you thanks. But I'll not pretend that hints haven't saved me at times I've been a total idiot. Hints help smooth over potential differences between how a game's makers understand it and how players might, and help us align. Thanks for having my back, hints.

Explosive barrels

Orbs are to be collected. Waterfalls should have secrets behind them. Fruits are delicious. Barrels should explode. That's just video game rules.

But which is better?

If I see a barrel in a game with violence, I will immediately attempt to explode it. I must understand this world and its rules. And if its rules don't say that barrels should explode, I will judge it, and I will be disappointed. How about you?

Pick your winner, vote in the poll below, make your case in the comments to convince others, then we'll reconvene next week to see which thing stands triumphant—and continue the great contest.

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