Puzzles and Choicescript

In my sci-fi detective game I have word scramble minigame that represents hacking into a computer or device. However, as Mara pointed out above, non-English speakers are at a disadvantage (also, you can just use a word unscrambler on the Internet). I’ve been trying to think of how to replace the minigame with something else.

What I first thought of was to make some kind of image puzzle, be it an image divided into squares and mixed up that needs to be rearranged, or an image that they have to look closely at to determine the answer, or something like that.

However, the problem with this is that if you use the default multiple choice mechanic for *choice, then the player can just cycle through the answers until they get it correct. Countermeasures include a limited number of attempts, ‘timed’ puzzles (essentially the same as limiting the number of attempts) or using *input_text, but that brings its own set of issues.

It’s also difficult to think of something original, as well.


Please no image puzzles.

Why do you have hacking as a puzzle in your game?

Cracked, my favourite ‘educational’ resource has a lot to say on hackers. :slight_smile: http://www.cracked.com/blog/4-things-movies-always-get-wrong-about-computer-hackers/

I remember, back in the 90s, when I played adventure games, most of the hacking scenes actually sent you into the digital web of sorts, where you moved around as your avatar. Unrealistic? Yes. But you could set it up as having a set amount of moves, a set amount of hacking tools to get to the end before you’re detected.

But really, I think if you’re doing hacking, it would be easier to just make it about social engineering, phishing, and then breaking into the machines that way.


I’ve given some thought about how to approach hacking in my game as well. Interestingly, I hadn’t even considered the phishing/phreaking/social engineering angle - but not only would that be simpler to implement, I think it could be tremendously fun as well. There’s just something delicious about pulling off a guileful deceit.

Also relevant: http://mediacdn.disqus.com/uploads/mediaembed/images/320/768/original.jpg

When I say ‘hacking’ I mean bypassing security systems using a specialised device. It’s essentially a way to challenge the player, because otherwise anyone could pick the option to ‘hack’ something and then they’ve got it - and in a mystery game, if you can easily just retrieve any information you need without any effort at all, the mystery isn’t going to last very long. This way, some players won’t find some information and may have to look to alternatives; others will be rewarded for the time and effort they put into the ‘hacking’.

This is not to say that failing to ‘hack’ is going to set you back, it just means that you have to look elsewhere for some of your leads/answers.

My game doesn’t use attribute stats either, so there’s no “Strength” or “Computer Skill” etc. It’s all about how the player wants to handle the mystery; how they decide what to investigate or give priority when they’re presented with multiple options and not enough time to investigate them all.

Also, okay, image puzzles = bad? Just an idea I was considering.

I think the social engineering approach to hacking is very game friendly and definitely fun too. And that comic is definitely so accurate.

The problem with the word puzzle is that as you say it makes it difficult for people who don’t have English as their first language. I would also suspect that it would be difficult for people with dyslexia.

I strongly dislike image puzzles in choice games. That one’s hard for me to describe why. It’s probably unfair of me.

I have a love/hate relationship with puzzles. As a person who struggles with reading comprehension problems, riddles and puzzles heavily reliant on narrative can be a difficult endeavour. But it is often a challenge I enjoy, though the same sentiment cannot be said for everyone.

Another example of using puzzles in a game would be object oriented puzzles. Particularly implemented with some exploring of the setting. The idea would be to collect objects that could help solve the puzzle, and perhaps “Mcguyver” something out of them. To avoid it being tedious, or if you want to avoid having exploration to an extent where it drops the flow out of the story, have the player explore in chunks such as: In a bedroom? Look around to see what can be useful and have items that can be added to an inventory system. However, if the player does not care to do that, have picking up items important to the game at some point so that they are not left with an empty inventory when coming across the puzzle.

@FairyGodfeather I LOVE THOSE LOGIC PUZZLES!!! They are SO much fun!! Sorry, I’m not really adding anything to the discussion here. I’m just having a nostalgic moment!

I do recall that there were ‘puzzles’ in The Order of the Midnight Sun, which is similar to CoG. There was one ‘written test’ that you were given information to study before taking it, which I enjoyed because it gave interesting information on the world I was playing in. There was also another test where you were in a maze and had to go north, east, south or west depending on the clues given.

That one…made me rage. It was very long and confusing and I thought it distracted from the story. There was a fail switch after a certain amount of moves where you could skip to the end of the maze at risk of detracted points at the end of the actual game, which was nice, however I couldn’t bring myself to use it. Haha

I’m sorry for necroing this topic, but I might as well use what was already made.

I’m also interested in seeing how puzzles can be implemented with choices script, and have spent some time trying to make it work. I’ve seen a number of text adventure games try to put puzzles into their stories and they have left varied impressions on me so I thought I would share my thoughts.

1a) What I dislike: The thing I dislike most about most puzzles in interactive fiction is that story, character development, and meaningful choice are often left on the wayside as the player tries to navigate a convoluted maze or work out a word puzzle. I support making the player think, but I don’t think this should come at the price of the medium’s strengths. When these strength are ignore it feels less like the story has come to a halt and now I have an annoying wall of text that to break through in order to continue playing the real game.

1b) What I think can be done: One idea to avoid this disconnection is to make it feel as if you and the NPCs are solving the problem together. For example, you could allow a riddle puzzle to be solved through dialogue between the characters. NPCs could point out flaws in your answer if incorrect, and you could do the same with their suggestions until you come to the right conclusion. I think that would be particularly useful for long riddles as the puzzle turns into a conversation with characters arguing, berating, applauding, and helping each other.
Another approach would be have a find one part of a puzzle early on in the story and then find more and more clues as the story progresses. The point of stretching out the clues like that is that you get the thrill of slowly solving a puzzle at your leisure without ever really needing to stop the story to solve it.
You could also make the choices that you make while solving the puzzle have some sort of weight or meaning. You may need to kill someone to complete the puzzle, or maybe you have to an option of cheating one way, another way, or not at all.

2a) What I dislike: Another problem that I’ve noticed with many puzzles in interactive fiction is that they can be very…plain. Being lost in a maze often has all the trill and fun of walking down endless undecorated corridors until you find the exit, and test are often about as exciting as an actual test. To be frank, I’ve already had more than a lifetime’s share of both of those things way back in school. I don’t think a puzzle has to be completely original, but I would like to see at least a touch of the author’s own personal style in these tests of theirs.

2b) What I think can be done: I think its fine to take a classical idea like maze, word, ice, or block puzzles and add them to your game. However, I would like to see something unique about the puzzle that makes it interesting. If magic (or some similar force) exists in the world then why not use it. Shrink, grow, stop time, reverse time, slow time, alter gravity, shift rooms around, walk through mirrors, change the weather, set things on fire, push things with wind that you can’t reach, create stone bridges, create stone obstacles to guide thing down a path, freeze things to reflect light, create a clone, turn invisible, muffle sounds, and so much more. Any one of those things will take away some of the tedium and have the extra bonus of adding a fantastic element to an otherwise plain problem. Ropes, grappling hooks, bows, explosives, levers, spitballs, paper airplanes, flashlight and more can also be used to add depth if magic or high technology aren’t available.

3a) What I dislike: The last thing I dislike is when puzzles are mandatory. Of course, even worse than not being able to get past the puzzle fast enough, is not being able to get past the puzzle at all. I’ve quit a few games just because the I couldn’t figure out how to solve the puzzle, and I don’t think that’s what puzzles are supposed to do.

3b) What I think can be done: I think there should usually be some way to simplify or avoid puzzles in these games. For example, lets say you are playing as a mage and come across a deceivingly complex puzzle where you have to put a ball in a bucket. You found out how to put the bucket in place, but can seem to figure out how to get the ball to roll into it. Your solution? Use some magic to force the ball into the bucket. You waste mana by not using the more complicated solution, but you still get to feel like you accomplished something without wasting too much time figuring out the goldberg machine needed to do it the non-magical way.
There are also a number of “creative” ways to make puzzles optional without making it feel contrived. Don’t want to waste time with a maze? Blast through the walls, or crawl the the thorny hedges at a cost to your resources and health. If characters are traveling through a dungeon you can also provide an easy and relatively clear path to the end, but make it clear that exploring other more dangerous or difficult options will yield greater rewards. You can even use NPC’s approval to incentivice players into doing optional puzzles.

I’m eager to hear what others think about this. (both on whether or not you think my suggestions might help, or what you think could be done with choice script puzzles.)

TLDR I don’t like it when puzzles (1) feel disconnected from the rest of the game, (2) lack originality or style, (3) are completely mandatory. I tried to give my suggestions in the part B’s on how to avoid the above. What do you think could be done to make puzzles more fun?



I forgot all about this topic.

I’d say that the best puzzle I’ve ever played in a Choicescript game was Paradox Factor. The whole game is a puzzle which needs to be figured out, but it’s so very well integrated into the game that it feels natural. I think the non-linear nature of the game actually aids in this.

With most Choice games I feel the linear narrative, and the focus on plot moving forward, actually discourages the implementation of puzzles. I don’t mind the lack of puzzles for puzzles sake, especially since they often break the flow and I just want to get on with the story.

1b) Sometimes I’d like to just solve riddles the way I actually would in real life. In tabletop games I was always a terrible one for thinking of the solution the GM hadn’t, and the best GMs were those who’d just let us go with it in the name of the greatest amount of fun.

One of my favourite pieces of interactive fiction presents you first with a complicated door lock, but before you can get to solving it, your companion just destroys it and continues onward. I think there should always be that brutal solution, because it’s fun and it’s roleplaying.

I like being able to cheat and to find alternative solutions.

I agree about puzzles being plain.

I hate knowing a solution to a puzzle and just being unable to get the game to acknowledge my solution. Or ones wherein they describe the room as having a “broom” in it say, yet it won’t let me pick up the broom, set fire to it and use it to solve the puzzle, no instead I need to find some tinder from another source.

I somehow missed this topic the first time around :confused:

Anyway, I always include puzzles in all of my games. The Race has several puzzles to solve (some with multiple choice answers, some with input_text answers). As @lightningbirdd said above, depending on your partner, they will either help you, or point out mistakes (April), try to help (Leonie) or be useless (Dan) in their suggestions. The Race was also a finalist in the XYZZY awards for best puzzles and best individual puzzle.

Blackraven has many riddle style puzzles dished out to inmates for either dollars or cigarettes (pay an ante, then if you answer the puzzle correctly, you get a prize). There are three types of puzzles there, with number sequences, word puzzles and full on riddles (including several unique riddles with complicated answers). In all, I believe there are around 70 different puzzles in Blackraven at present.

Finally, for anyone wanting to try out a visual puzzle of mine, take a look here:

And here:

These are two puzzles (the first is easier and will help you work out the second) that I created a couple of years ago but I don’t really have a home for other than as a puzzle!

I have a puzzle game on the back back burner.

Hmm, doesn’t make a lick of sense.

I have three possible answers for the first one though;
-Simply put, fruit pie. Though strawberries are from the rose family and are colloquially counted as berries.
-The predominant fruit are apples, so maybe apple pie.
-Or lastly (my favorite), pie doesn’t have two layers, that’s a cake.
Those forks makes it look like a maze and all, but if so, that’s the worst maze I ever saw, all the routes are wide open.
If it’s the first letter in the name of the fruit, then it doesn’t make sense either. Nor color coding.
It’s either going to be something completely illogical or one of those things where you just go d’oh.

Edit: Oh, looking closer at the picture, there’s a symbol hidden at the bottom of the questionmark, so, 3.14?

The second one looks a bit like a rebus, but it doesn’t seem to form anything coherent, though banana-dog should totally be a thing. I’m assuming the idea is to traverse it in a set order, but without any hints given that’s a tall order.

@Lordirish That game had a typo on the front and when I failed on hard, test 1, it just crashed. Other than that, an interesting take.

This was a test project that I have not worked on in some time, I do plan on returning to it at some point. It was my attempt at a puzzle game, it does have a lot of problems and the code is far from being smooth. However I believe it can be made into a fun little western game.

I also have a game that uses the interpreter that is a bit of a puzzle game, it is a science fiction and a bit dark. Once I finish my current project, hopefully by August I plan on returning to one of these as they will be far smaller projects.

@MutonElite, you are close with 3.14 but need to be more accurate to solve it…

For the second one, there are actually a lot of hints, but you’ll have to watch closely to see them…

Does combat count as a puzzle do you think? I was thinking of where you’re presented with an attack and you need to work out what is the best way to counter that attack and then launch one of your own that can’t be countered. Of course with some you just need to pick your highest stat but I don’t think it would be too tough to make fighting a proper puzzle, one that’s logically integrated into the game.

Of course there’s also puzzles in knowing what order you need to perform various actions in. I’m fond of all of the Grow Games but http://www.eyezmaze.com/grow/rpg/ is a favourite. So no pretty pictures, but the principle of 8 choices, select the right order, would work in a choice game. Of course you’d need to have a way to reset it and to ensure it doesn’t feel like a chore and that the trial and error is fun.

I think it does if you frame it to be a puzzle by removing the select skill choices with success based on that skill. Take the bridge battle with Captian Hunter in sabers of infinity. I think that battle plays somewhat like a puzzle, it is more involved than simply knowing and picking your strength. It wouldn’t call it a perfect example of a combat puzzle but it is well done.

Divided We Fall also had a few good sections that felt like combat puzzles. The ending battle for Morales was probably the clearest example of one. It had its own faults in that it felt random at times and you never really thought much past the current choice in the stratgey part.

Surviving the winter in CoReb, could be consider a puzzle. Trying to survive the winter with your morals, or trying to get the most bang for your quaterstaff without burning down half of Shayard. Although I wouldn’t consider it a typical puzzle because it’s not about finding an answer to riddle or problem, but more about how your story unfolds.

Emily Short put together a great depiction of what makes for good puzzles. Emily Short on Best Individual Puzzle | The XYZZY Awards

She defines seven virtues for puzzles:

  • Extent
  • Explorability
  • Surprise
  • Ingenuity
  • Originality
  • Fairness/accessibility
  • Structural integration

I’m by no means proposing this as some sort of scoring system or checklist. It’s exceptionally rare for a puzzle to demonstrate all of those qualities at once, and they’re not equally desirable in all contexts. Indeed, some of these values are typically at odds with one another: it is not easy to make a puzzle that incorporates both explorability and surprise. A puzzle with high narrative stakes and long extent can also be tricky, because tense narrative moments often need to be timed. Puzzles in choice-based games often have an easier time with accessibility than parser games (no guess the verb!), but a harder time achieving surprise (options are enumerated!). Etc.

IMO, choice-based games in ChoiceScript that focus on making an “explorable” puzzle, like Paradox Factor, can be quite satisfying.

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