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Puzzles in Doom

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Fundamentally, a puzzle is a circumstance in which the player approaches an obstacle, and does not yet know the solution. It's a situation where the player knows what he/she wants to accomplish, whether it be a passage way, reward, or part of a bigger puzzle, and something is preventing the player from doing it. The part of the obstacle that makes it a puzzle is there is a solution that makes the obstacle go away.

The elements of a puzzle are the problem, the objective, and the goal. In Doom, puzzles are already programmed into the game by the way of keycards. These are the most obvious puzzles in Doom. Theres a door with red trim on it. Attempting to open the door returns an dsoof sound and a message saying you need a red key to enter. There's the problem. Finding the red key is the objective, and the goal is being able to pass through the door and thus, the rest of the level.

Doom also features linedef types that open and shut doors, lower or raise floors, ceilings, and teleport the player and monsters to different locations. While these multi-function level design tools are available, its up to the level designer to construct a puzzle with these actions. Many maps feature the basics like, pressing a switch that opens a door to the goal, or a switch that raises a pit creating a bridge, lowering a lift to ride up, etc. Puzzles can offer a much needed break in the action after the player has killed everything on the premises while still keeping him/her engaged. Most common puzzles in Doom are pretty basic and are quickly solved with a single action. Some of the more intricate ones require precise timing, such as a switch far away from its activating lift or door that requires a frantic run to make it to the objective in time. Other ones involve platforming, such as raising a platform that's used as a stepping stone to run across a long gap.

The most famous puzzle in any pwad I can recall is the yellow key puzzle in Icarus: MAP08. It's not the best example of a complex puzzle in Doom, but it was by far the most engaging and difficult to solve I've ever encountered.

Puzzles are similar to the more intricate traps, but don't offer a direct threat to the player and usually provide a reward when the puzzle is figured out. As a simple example, you might have one switch temporarily expose another switch, perhaps out of direct view of the first switch but within running distance. The player, in that case, must recognize the sound of a wall lowering or a door opening and locate the second switch before it is hidden again. Finding the second switch in time might grant the player access to a weapon or powerup. Most Doom players don't enjoy a lot of puzzle solving, but, in moderation, puzzles can add a great deal to the enjoyment of your level. Be cautious, though, about making your puzzles too difficult. What seems obvious to you while writing the level will likely be very obscure to your players. As a rule of thumb, the puzzles you design will be five times more difficult than you think they will be.

--Ron Allen and Bill McClendon, Unnofficial Wad Designer's Handbook

Doom has a pretty limited toolset as far as puzzle creation goes, and as a result, most players are pretty adverse to the idea of puzzle-solving when playing a map, as most attempts at puzzle creation are unfortunately pretty weak. Many of Doom's fundamental rules aren't very malleable for the purpose of puzzle solving, most linedef actions can only perform a single action, and more importantly, there are very few puzzles you can create that don't have linear solutions.* However that shouldn't stop you from implementing a puzzle into your map.

The most important tip in designing a puzzle in Doom is to make it easy to understand, hard to solve. This means that the goal is presented to the player in a way that is enticing, and the objective or series of objectives, often a switch, has an obvious effect, but it is unclear at how the effect gets you closer to your goal. It is very important for the engaging part of puzzles for the player to be able to see the causes of his actions, and figure out how those actions can lead him to his goal. This is why switches that open up a door waaaay on the other side of the level are frowned upon by players, as well as wallhumping for secret passages to be a dumb failsafe-solution for finding secrets when there is no other clue around. You want to reward the player for applying his/her logic, and happenstance discoveries should be prevented. Designing a puzzle in Doom can sometimes be as difficult to create as it is to solve. It helps to design a puzzle by making it simple, and working backwards, creating each step of the puzzle in reverse sequential order until it's a complex network of actions to perform to get to the end result.

It helps to analyze the players abilities and weaknesses and see how it can be used to your (the puzzle designer's) advantage. The Doomguy can run fast, activate switches, shoot (gunfire switches) run across gaps, and scale 1-pixel width floors. However, the doomguy can't jump, climb, see well in the dark, and can also be killed pretty swiftly, to name a few. It's important to analyze his abilities and understand that a combination of these abilities can be used as parts of a solution to a puzzle, while his weaknesses have to be considered as potential barriers for the obstacles.

Hopefully that helps, and I look forward to seeing more puzzle creations in people's maps. Please post examples of puzzles in maps you liked or very much disliked for discussion :)

(*)Linear puzzle solutions are solutions to puzzles that only have one sequence of actions to complete them. Once the player figures it out the first time, the challenge and thinking process vanishes for any subsequent replay of the map. This is different than a dynamic puzzle solution that has more than one way to achieve the goal.

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I made a puzzle in a recent map.

It was a set of 9 rooms in a 3x3 grid, with walls that blocked each archway into each room. The player walks into the center room and sees a key, but it raises as he goes just out of reach. Mobs spawn and several walls in the doorways of these rooms raise, so now the player has to navigate a dynamic maze of these 3x3 rooms.You have to press several switches which change the layout of the maze. After 3 switches the key lowers. The whole time monsters are spawning in as well. The following is an image so it makes more sense, the red lines are the places where gates come up in various patterns creating a new maze to navigate around these rooms. This is probably honestly the hardest event I have ever made in a doom map, also it required ACS scripting so maybe its a bit more than what you wanted, anyways, picture:

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I don't think I would call anything that needs just a single switch press a puzzle. That sounds almost insulting, as if anything that requires something else than shooting is too complex for us, dumb moronic players. I wouldn't call Mechazawa's construction a puzzle either: it sounds like just a linear sequence of switch pressing and fighting where it's impossible to get lost or confused.

Your problem-objective-goal system sounds like a good way to create "family-friendly" puzzles, but that's only a very tiny part of all the cool puzzles that are possible in Doom. Often in puzzlish maps you have no idea what you're even supposed to achieve (e.g. find some random switch on the other side of the map that will then open a random door somewhere without any indication). That's a very interesting and complex feeling too, thanks to it wads like City of Doom are so entertaining. So who cares about the people that want everything clearly presented in front of them. Maybe they can play sudoku or something, that's a nice puzzle game with clear rules where nothing is hidden from you. But a large part of Doom is exploration without knowing what's ahead and it deserves to be incorporated into puzzles, dammit.

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Memfis said:

Often in puzzlish maps you have no idea what you're even supposed to achieve (e.g. find some random switch on the other side of the map that will then open a random door somewhere without any indication). That's a very interesting and complex feeling too, thanks to it wads like City of Doom are so entertaining.

You call it interesting and entertaining, I call it extremely annoying. For me random switch hunts are not puzzles. I mean, look at the Portal games. It's usually very clear where you have to go, and you quickly get the general idea of what to do, but figuring out what exactly to do is the puzzle.

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I agree, using the term puzzle in that context has a condescending sounding connotation. It's only there to describe the most basic puzzle in doom.

For example, an organism is any living thing that can grow, consume energy, and reproduce. Us humans are organisms. However, by definition, an ocean floor sponge is an organism too. A sponge is far less interesting and less complex than a human is, but it is no less an organism.

Puzzle is the most basic word I can think of to describe that particular event. If a puzzle uses one switch to activate an action on the map, its a pretty weak puzzle, but its still a puzzle. I'll have to play city of doom and see if my definition needs to be amended. I think another important part of puzzles in Doom is to some how let the player know he's in a puzzle, by providing him with things that appear to be obstacles. Sometimes hitting a switch and not knowing what it does can be a good thing if you page through your memory for doors that couldn't open or items you couldn't reach.

@mechazawa that puzzle looks pretty cool! I like how the maze transforms as you go through it :)

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To be fair, I did make my 'puzzle' in this case a bit more newbie friendly. It started out as a cramped slaughter map, and you *had* to find a secret in order to survive. Also, at least the first time playing, you had to figure out where to go. I could probably make the path randomized each play through but I didn't have the skill at the time.

After I finish this pack, I may work on more complex puzzles, but they will undoubtedly all use ACS. For example, making combination locks. Some part of the map has a clue about some combination, and some other part of the map has a door with 5 switches that you have to press in a certain order. The basic concept of 'running and hitting switches' is still the same however. This would let you essentially have as many 'keys' in a map as you wanted.

I think part of what makes puzzles hard in doom is you don't have a real messaging system. For example, in Unreal 1 you had the universal translator, so mappers could put little notes all over the map that give clues about things. In zdoom at least you can make messages flash up on the screen, but they only last a few seconds and its annoying to have a message spam you every time you cross a line.. or to not have had time to read it that time you made it a once only action.

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Mechazawa said:

In zdoom at least you can make messages flash up on the screen, but they only last a few seconds and its annoying to have a message spam you every time you cross a line.. or to not have had time to read it that time you made it a once only action.

Print is a basic but inflexible function to display text. Use HudMessage if you want to set your own display time, font, color, position on screen, fading effect, etc.

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