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digithead100

Thoughts on puzzle maps

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Ah yes, puzzle maps. The bane of my playthroughs. What usually happens is I run around the map for half an hour before giving up and looking at a walkthrough or doom wiki or something. While I have nothing but respect for the mappers who put hours of hard work into crafting these, I can't say I enjoy playing them. What do you think constitutes a good puzzle map and do you have any tips for an impatient scrub such as myself?

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Mm, they can be a nuisance at times, but I've found most puzzles within a Doom map tend to not be too overly complicated beyond your timing between a switch and the result of said switch that you've got to run towards or having to backtrack to try and find what on Earth the switch did at all if you can't hear anything happen within your vicinity. A bit annoying when you're thirsting for demon blood, but a Doom map puzzle isn't usually asking you to solve anything too elaborate.

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I like them, they are usually introducing innovative/rarely used Doom mechanics and when done right, turn out to be excellent. (See Finely Crafted Fetish Film)

 

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Posted (edited)
7 minutes ago, TheNoob_Gamer said:

I like them, they are usually introducing innovative/rarely used Doom mechanics and when done right, turn out to be excellent. (See Finely Crafted Fetish Film)

Exactly. Puzzle maps can be really fun and satisfying to get through, but I prefer them as their own seperate wad, instead of them being included in a megawad that's mostly oriented around action.

Have you seen any of dobu gabu maru's stuff? I recently played his "Frozen Exuviae", an excellent and spectacular single map, part of the exuviae series, which encourages you to mostly avoid fights or approach them in a very unique way. What this map achieves with only boom features makes you really appreciate it more

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I have mixed feelings about them.

 

It all boils down to how well executed they are, I've played maps with puzzles that were relatively easy and fun to solve (the cathedral level of DVII comes to mind here), and I've played maps with puzzles that I ended up despising, such as some maps from NEIS. If the map actually gives the player clues about what they're supposed to be doing it tends to be fine, but when you find yourself in a large, complex map with no indication about where or what you should be doing it stops being fun and confusion and frustration settles in immediately.

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Posted (edited)

I think a distinction should be made between obscure progression and puzzles. People here have mentioned problems in knowing where to go, which is not necessarily a puzzle. It can be, but it can also be poor communication between the designer and the player or just the way the map is supposed to be - like some very large exploratory maps that don't really tell you what to do, but rather want to find out for yourself. I consider "puzzles" to be more immediate and somewhat more clearly defined problems that require you to logically piece together different available information to solve them. This information can be related to things like game mechanics (boxes on buttons activate stuff), the environment (a switch sequence requires you to follow environmental hints to determine the correct order) or even knowledge of a specific area of expertise not directly related to video games (additive color puzzles in The Witness), or it can be a combination of these.

 

There are hardly any actual puzzles in the Doom IWADs, and even in user generated maps most things considered "puzzles" are just obscure progression. Similarly in Hexen, most of the "puzzles" are mainly just hunting switches and figuring out where that hidden passageway is that just opened. So basically just bouncing around until you find your way, with hardly any deduction necessary. The only one I think qualifies as a puzzle in Hexen is getting into the secret room in the last secret level. It required understanding of game mechanics and reading the environment, and was not just something you could do by hugging every wall. A very natural way puzzles have been embedded into some Doom maps is via difficult combat encounters where understanding game and monster mechanics is crucial, and that direct action might not be the best approach. This is best experienced in slaughtermaps, though in smaller degree it is employed in more "traditional" maps. Doom Zero also had interesting secrets that could be considered puzzles of sorts, not to mention actual puzzle maps like The Given and some of the maps in FCFF which have puzzle mechanics at the center and not as a diversion.

 

Ultimately making a good puzzle map requires you to be mindful of your audience. If you make a single puzzle map and market it as such, you are free to experiment with more outlandish ideas. Usually people experienced with the genre will appreciate all sorts of novel ideas. If you make a puzzle map or two in a set of otherwise regular Doom maps, you need to take into consideration whether or not people not accustomed or interested in puzzle maps would get bogged down by this. For example, an upcoming puzzle map I made for a community project includes an Exit switch right at the start for more impatient players to skip the level entirely, since puzzling is not the focus of the project as a whole. Secrets are also a good place for puzzles in maps, because it gives the players a chance to ignore them at their leisure.

 

Here are a few things I've considered important when designing puzzle maps:

- Introduce new puzzle mechanics in a simple environment, so players are more likely to understand the causal links between the mechanic and the outcome. Most mappers employ existing mechanics (such as lifts, platforms and teleporters) in their puzzles, and therefore need no separate introduction.

- Give player hints! They can be obscure, but they need to also be separable from the environment via some concept introduced along with the puzzle, like a codeword in a phrase or an environmental que that connects the activatable thing to something else in the map.

- Have variety! If you're making a large puzzle map, either use one mechanic in increasingly difficult situations (where novel ways to use it might also be found) or have multiple different mechanics used in different places.

- Avoid situations where an unintended mechanic can almost be used to solve a problem unintentionally, because this leaves the player unsure whether it's their lack of skill or wrong mechanic at fault for getting stuck.

 

As for being impatient, well, this is completely up to you. Nobody can tell you to like puzzles. Either you enjoy the mental exercise or you don't. If you want to get better at them, start with simple puzzle maps (or games.) Also, only look at a walkthrough as the last resort; learning empirically is much more effective than learning by reading.

 

 

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Funnily enough over on the 1K Lines 2 Discord we've been having a long discussion around puzzle maps, specifically because of Aurelius' submission.

 

A well-designed puzzle map is a wonderful thing.  The feeling of finally understanding how the level all fits together is fantastic.  In my experience, the hardest part of the puzzle map for the player is starting it: each mapper (however unconsciously) has a particular language for how they approach making puzzles, and if you're not "tuned into" that language, simply getting your foot in the door can be really tricky.

 

As an example, the puzzles in The Given are relatively self-contained challenges: you can take a step back and physically look at the puzzle laid out before you.  This is in complete contrast to something like the 1K Lines 2 puzzle map (RC1 coming soon folks!) where the puzzles are integrated into the map itself.  Upon first glance, you can't even tell it is a puzzle map.

 

This is why this: 

15 minutes ago, Aurelius said:

- Introduce new puzzle mechanics in a simple environment, so players are more likely to understand the causal links between the mechanic and the outcome. Most mappers employ existing mechanics (such as lifts, platforms and teleporters) in their puzzles, and therefore need no separate introduction.

 

Is so important.  As a mapper, you need to conscious of bringing the player on board with you.  Make sure they understand a) that they're playing a puzzle map (especially important for megawads!) and b) how to start thinking about the solving the puzzles.

 

There's a big difference between "I don't know how to solve this" and "I don't even know what I'm meant to be solving".  

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I can't really think of any puzzles in any Doom Wad, so they must not stick with me. I'm not big on puzzly bits. The most I can usually tolerate is something like a secret switch hiding on the backside of a crate. I do remember liking the first little bit of Grove though.

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I suppose I've got two views on this.

 

As a mapper, puzzles are fun to make and, when they work, make me feel all clever. Watching a player tease out the solution as I envisaged is great. From this perspective, I'd argue that puzzles are quite rewarding to make and therefore a good thing to have in a map.

 

As a player, I'm very, very torn. I've played a lot of old-school maps where pressing switches or walking to the right place or noticing the odd-thing-out is the puzzle, and that's fine. Normally within the bounds of stuff id did, and therefore stuff I'm prepared to take on from the get-go. On the other hand, I've played secret maps like the one by people like @valkiriforce in one of his Doom Core trilogy megaWADs, where the whole map is nothing but purely trying to work out what each switch does, how that interacts with the rest of the map and generally being up against an inscrutable brick wall of puzzling, where even searching for the pieces takes a long time. This generally requires more patience than I'd ever hope to have, and I'm thankful for an easy way out to skip the level.

I guess, if it's a map I'm playing, I'm happy to have a small, simple puzzle as part of a larger experience. Or I'm happy to have a puzzle map be what it is, but I don't expect to like it and will be glad to not have to do all of it. Needing to read the author's mind, or consult the map in an editor to work out where to go next is generally a step too far for me, particularly if it's not even an optional secret. Leisure time is simply too limited for me to be able to invest it in something I won't get much joy out of.


By contrast, a game that is deliberately a puzzle game is something I'm happy to engage with (The Talos Principle or Portal, for example), so the context of it being a Doom map is definitely a large part of my impatience.

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It depends. If its button and door puzzles then they are pretty lame but if its combat puzzles in order to figure out the best approach for a room of enemies then they are awesome.

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Posted (edited)

Puzzles are tough to get right. I created a puzzle speedmap recently (a dangerous combination if I ever saw one) comprised of two puzzles, one of which got pretty much unanimous positive feedback and the other one pretty much unanimous negative feedback (at least the initial version of it, which I later updated). What I did right in the positively received puzzle was to have sufficient and continuously accessible clues, without it feeling too obvious. It was also engineered in such a way that it was practically impossible to solve the puzzle via luck - you had to understand it to solve it. It was also praised for being innovative. On the other hand, on the puzzle I didn't do so well, I showed the player a clue in the first room, and then had a one-way teleport to the actual puzzle in the second room. This meant if you didn't spot the clue in the first room, you would never find it at all. I also didn't think about what the player would do if they didn't get the clue - turns it out it became a very tedious game of trial-of-error. Finally, the puzzle was also less innovative as the same kind of puzzle had been done in both IWAD and PWAD maps.

 

Another reason why puzzles are tricky is that unlike combat, it is hard to 'difficulty-adjust' them. With combat you can just reduce enemies, add health etc, but in puzzles you would have to somehow find a way of displaying an extra clue on lower difficulties, or allow a tricky puzzle section to be bypassed entirely, else it is basically equally as difficult on HNTR as UV.

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As long as they're solvable using logic and not by bruteforcing (looking at you, STRAIN MAP21) I tend to really like them.

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I love them, i feel like Shooters should be more of a "think and shoot" instead of a "kill kill kill", although that's probably because the first shooter i ever played was Portal, and then Half-Life

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I'm not familiar with many puzzle maps in DOOM, but I usually like puzzles. it adds to the game a story, like the demons hid the key behind this fake wall. it adds a sense of realism and that, in the end, you are just a human. puzzles can be difficult, but isn't that the point? to puzzle players?

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I usually don't like puzzles in doom maps. I guess you could put me in the category of "lazy" players. I can appreciate an easy puzzle here and there, but if a map has a puzzle that immediately stalls my progress and brings the pacing to a halt, I usually stop playing. An example of this is that chess/checkers thing in map01 of FCFF that just made me say "screw that, let's just play <some other wad>"

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Posted (edited)
On 6/29/2020 at 3:53 AM, Biodegradable said:

Mm, they can be a nuisance at times, but I've found most puzzles within a Doom map tend to not be too overly complicated beyond your timing between a switch and the result of said switch that you've got to run towards or having to backtrack to try and find what on Earth the switch did at all if you can't hear anything happen within your vicinity. A bit annoying when you're thirsting for demon blood, but a Doom map puzzle isn't usually asking you to solve anything too elaborate.

 

 

Eternal Doom says hi.

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I find puzzles are an important element when pacing gameplay. I think they are avoided mostly because it's difficult to get them just right. But without them, it's hard to use pure fight mechanics to make a moderate-sized map without it becoming a monotone "fight-proceed-fight-proceed" loop.

 

The tricky part for me is balancing difficulty: Puzzles that I thought would be simple turn out to be too difficult and puzzles I thought were too difficult turn out to be a breeze in some cases.

 

One story I remember is about a switch on/off puzzle that I thought was going to be too tricky. It had randomized starting positions and required the player to hit switches in a pattern so as to turn "off" all the pillars in a circle. I feared it would be so difficult that players would quit in frustration, so I built in a "give up" option that appeared after the player didn't finish the puzzle after so many moves. But during play-testing it turns out this is a common puzzle style outside of Doom (I didn't know this) and so players found it easy (one even said "Oh, I love these!" and finished it in only a few moves).

 

The most painful for me is coming up with a clever Vanilla-compatible puzzle and it's too difficult during playtesting so you have to remove it. Oh, I can feel the sting of a few of those torn-up notebook pages of ideas still today...

 

Not all maps need a puzzle, of course. But when done right I find they can enhance gameplay and the overall "fun factor" of a map.

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Meant to reply to this several days ago and put it off.

 

To respond to the other question, yes I do have a few tips to get better at puzzlers.  Observation is arguably the most important skill.  Look for clues, anything that seems off or out of place, try to work out what switches and walkover lines affect, etc...  Using the automap is part of observation.  Sometimes clues and even puzzle solutions are hidden there if you take the time to look.  Also helps with finding false walls.  Even though you may not see through a solid textured false wall, as far as the automap is concerned, lines behind it has been mapped if you look in that direction.

 

  Having some level of understanding of how the Doom engine works also helps out.  It's not necessary to know everything in depth but even just understanding that teleporters work by crossing a line in a set direction rather than stepping on a sector will aid in sniffing out puzzle solutions.

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I don't mind them, as long as they're not excessively huge and cryptic, and the "solution" isn't just being lucky enough to spot that suspicious looking brick tile in the corner or whatever the fuck. Some puzzle solving is actually good. It encourages the player to think, keeping them engaged with the gameplay. Hiding clues to solve the puzzle encourages the player to take in their surroundings and observe the world around them, but, everything in moderation. Don't be too cryptic. Not everyone who plays video games is a forensic science major. Chill a little bit.

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Doom Zero has some of the best puzzle maps i have seen in quite some time.

Complex but not impossible to understand, also, most of the time, near the point of view, allowing the player to mindfully resolve them

They are the total opposite of Eternals Doom puzzles, as the later has switches that activate something on a far away on the map with big rooms and big rooms in the middle. Its easy to just forget what you were looking for, and advance on the map without knowing it.

Not bad, but sometimes a little annoying. 

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