Dungeon Puzzle Design

Htlaets

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I've seen some really fun puzzles and some really annoying puzzles in RPG maker games. There's a point in the difficulty curve of a puzzle where you'll just enrage players who will look up the answer online or in a walkthrough.

A few examples of puzzles I've done before, because brainstorming is fun:
Path puzzle: I liked how this one turned out in one of my games because even if a person doesn't get the puzzle they'll still be able to make progress. Let's say you have a dungeon with a bunch of intersections. Parts of each intersection are blocked off by gates.

When you walk out of an intersection your party hears a loud noise, turns around, and sees a gate behind them where there wasn't one before, and looking through the gate they can see that different parts of the last intersection are open.

As they go through intersections, different gates open and close throughout the map. However, it's happening in a pattern, and there's a trick where the gates get triggered every time you enter and exit the intersection, even through the same path the gates get put into configuration 1, 2, or 3. Some gates are open in multiple configurations. If you plan it out, you can make it impossible for the player to get stuck.

On top of that, it's pretty easy to make a hint system from party members based on how many times they've gone through intersections. It's not a hard puzzle, and you don't need to fully solve it to finish it, but solving it makes you finish faster.

Of course, emphasis on how you plan it out, cause if you do it wrong it'll be possible for the player to get stuck.

NPC interaction puzzle: More of a logic puzzle. Let's say you need to get approval from 3/5 guests at a party for an optimal result. Each of them have requests that involve the other guests, some of them mutually exclusive, and some of them even require you to give up loot you might find. Depending on how you frame it, there's multiple ways to complete the puzzle and even some ways to fail it (doesn't have to be game ending), but there's a process of elimination optimal way to do it. Thus, people won't get frustrated by getting stuck, but it'll give a sense of accomplishment to figure out.

Split Party switching: In this case you can do a lot of different things, in my case it's a bit where you can switch back and forth between two parties during a stealth mission, one party can do things to support the other and make it easier/possible for them to advance.
 

TheoAllen

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So if it's just interactive environments, that's not something you'd be against right? What if it did block your path though, but was simple and straight forward. Basically just to require the player to have a certain "HM" before proceeding. E.g. Pokemon did this sometimes so you wouldn't skip certain gyms. Except where mine differs from Pokemon is that you'll have more than 1 option to get past the obstacle, usually 2 or if not 3 of the ones I listed in post #7 could be used in a given situation.
While I do hate puzzles in RPG most of the time, it is not a major turn-off. It's all case-by-case. And why I have that opinion was from accumulative experience I have so far from various RPG. if your puzzle is as straightforward and cheap as Skyrim, I wouldn't complain (but other ppl might complain as if it's a child play).

If you teach me that a boulder can be destroyed with a certain skill, then that's all I need to know. But then when you implement a puzzle that you need to destroy the boulder in a certain sequence to solve the puzzle and when the implication of which boulder needs to be destroyed first isn't helping, that is when I started to hate your puzzle.
 

YoraeRasante

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@Wavelength
I know they changed in later games, but most of the time having an HM is more like a progress check, like "You need cut/surf/strength to continue, Cut you get from this ship minidungeon", pokémon puzzles to me always bring to mind:
Block Puzzle using Strength (Victory Road, mainly opening the way to Moltres, Seafoam Islands dropping them in holes to make a bridge to Articune)
Slide Puzzles (Gold Silver ice floor, that I literally spent hours when I first got the game on christmas trying to get past)
Skill/Speed/Rythm puzzle? I'm not sure how to classify the whole ride on a bike with a delay to get up a tower because it is the only way to be fast enough to jump the holes on the way (ruby saphire and the tower of rayquaza)
SMinigames they have no problem making them a separate thing from the map (Ruins of Alph come to mind)

Of those, the ones that I would consider annoying in the games are the first two... because they can stop your progress instead of just needing to unlock bonuses. A block pushing puzzle in a Victory Road would lock down your progress. Pretty sure the sliding puzzle that annoyed me so much was like this too.
I guess the main problem with those for me is mostly how much they block the story from continuing. For some the others can be even more annoying, like for those wanting to 100% or that need that special weapon pokémon to go forward, changing their lack of strategy and grinding for power traded bu spending time and braincells on those puzzles.

Ok, about my statement earlier:
I guess it is not so much in presentation but on the overall final usage. Which in this case is what will or will not matter to the player.
A puzzle is nothing more than an obstacle that depends on the player's mental skills instead of the party's learned ones (unless they use the learned skills on the puzzle, as already covered).
While you may be thinking they are mostly just a mental one, some like timed puzzles also challenge their mental speed and reflexes. And those... may become the most annoying ones, because you need to focus not only on finishing it but you also need to use a new set of skills than the rest of the game.
With that in mind:

A Change in Taction:
your examples may be giving me a different vibe to what you meant, but...
the doors one seems to be like a teleports puzzle, but through doors. Or I got it wrong, to be honest that was a bit confusing. The point is the player being unable to find the way out by simple vision and having to make a mental map separate from the game map.
And the jumping one may start simple but soon the developer will turn it into a platforming puzzle. Would be kind of a waste of ading the mechanic if they never did.
In the same vein would be a moving platforms/elevators one I guess.
They eventually become nothing more than a new gimmick to make a dungeon puzzle based on, mostly maze-like. Like a new coat on a block-pushing puzzle.

Skill Challenge:
Ok, so it is similar to the Change in Taction in a way, in that in itself it is not a puzzle but... it will clearly become a staple for when that skill is needed. While presented differently, there is not that much difference between a dungeon focused on sliding puzzles and one focused on "walk on tightropes to reach the other side" save the mechanics used.

Minigames: now while these may seem different... that is for when they are side-minigames. The player won't feel that different when the minigame is needed to progress but they are not good on it. And of course, if the minigame is used once, chances are it will return at least two more times with different forms of complexity/difficulty.
 

Failivrin

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Hmmm... This discussion is making me want to replay Golden Sun. The games are so old now, I can't remember enough for a more detailed analysis. Unfortunately, I haven't found any RPGs like Golden Sun either. Those games perfectly integrated two genres. I never felt like the puzzles detracted from RPG elements or vice versa.

I'm a bit unusual because I'm designing a puzzle game, but I don't actually like puzzle games. I mean I don't like games with only puzzles. I want narrative, exploration, and eye candy too. Adventure games, in my experience, have a good bit of exploration and eye candy, but they tell only superficial stories.

Good luck with your project @staff00 . By the way, it should be very easy to design a log rolling puzzle. I believe your problem is that a log character can occupy multiple tiles, but the event occupies only one tile? There are plugins that allow you to expand an event's interactable area, or you can do a little more legwork and place an invisible event next to the original event. The invisible event (priority same as characters) covers the extra space filled by the log character, and you can set the events to move in unison. You could also break the log into separate characters and set them to move in unison, but that's really too much work.
 

Frostorm

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@Failivrin What does your puzzle game entail? Is it purely a puzzle game or an RPG w/ puzzle elements?
 

Failivrin

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@Failivrin What does your puzzle game entail? Is it purely a puzzle game or an RPG w/ puzzle elements?
I guess you could say it's a puzzle game with RPG elements? Or an RPG minus combat? The player navigates fantasy worlds and faces monsters, but the monsters are just parts of the puzzles. Puzzles are mostly basic physics and logic but each one requires some additional cognitive or perceptive shift. The player has a couple of magical abilities and learns to use them in different ways according to the situation. Before and after each level, there's a good bit of story involving some dialogue choices. I'm not aware of another game like it, so I guess it could be a great success or a total flap haha.
 

Frostorm

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I guess you could say it's a puzzle game with RPG elements? Or an RPG minus combat? The player navigates fantasy worlds and faces monsters, but the monsters are just parts of the puzzles. Puzzles are mostly basic physics and logic but each one requires some additional cognitive or perceptive shift. The player has a couple of magical abilities and learns to use them in different ways according to the situation. Before and after each level, there's a good bit of story involving some dialogue choices. I'm not aware of another game like it, so I guess it could be a great success or a total flap haha.
I would totally play it, I'm already psyched! lol
 

Basileus

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I prefer my RPGs to have some puzzle elements. It just doesn't feel like an epic adventure if getting the legendary MacGuffin from the Ancient Tomb is as easy as walking down a few corridors. Obviously you don't need them everywhere - it would be weird to put them on a major highway for no reason. But a big part of RPGs is exploring places, and exploring is more fun when it feels like a challenge that not just any random townie could do.

I'd also recommend Golden Sun for this. Those games are great at taking simple concepts and expanding on them over time. A common traversal puzzle involves jumping over small gaps. The characters jump automatically when the player walks in the direction of a gap that is only 1 tile wide. The puzzle comes from needing to move an object into place to act as a platform to reduce a gap to only 1 tile. One of the most basic abilities gained at the start of the game is a telekinesis ability that lets the player move an object a tile or two away from them in any direction. This allows the player to move platforms they cannot reach as well as move objects that are stuck in a corner (which is amazing for preventing failure states). This is expanded on quickly with other abilities being used to free up objects to enable them to be moved, such as a whirlwind that can clear vines keeping an object down. You can combine multiple abilities into a single puzzle, like using an ability to fill a small pit with water then freeze the water to make an ice pillar that can be used as a platform from a higher elevation. There is a big focus on vertical design where the player can end up crossing an area from different directions at different elevations, with actions the player takes at one level affecting what they can do at other levels.

This type of gameplay offers a change of pace from the usual walking around and fighting battles, which helps to break up what can otherwise become dull gameplay loops in many RPGs. It's similar to the frequent minigames in Final Fantasy VII, where the player would be asked to perform one-off activities to progress the game, like doing timed button presses to perform CPR or timed movement sections to avoid hypothermia. Other RPGs of that era added these kinds of "set piece" moments to spice things up, but I never found them as engaging as puzzles that used familiar mechanics which evolved over time. I much prefer something like Tales of Symphonia which gave the player a projectile ability which was often modified in dungeons to solve thematic puzzles (i.e. changing the fireball into a lightning ball to power magitech devices in a lightning dungeon). I think this type of alternative gameplay is important to make dungeons feel like more than just empty corridors - see complaints over recent Tales games over the simplified dungeons that no longer have those puzzles elements.
 

Frostorm

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Sorry for the slight necropost, but I was wondering for those that don't like puzzles, what do you think of the Zelda games? Especially the older 2d Zelda games. I think I'm just having a hard time believing people would hate that entire franchise for its focus on puzzle-solving...
@TheoAllen @Wavelength @Tai_MT I think you guys have expressed dislike for dungeon puzzles, yes? I'd really like to hear your guys' opinion on this, thx!
 
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YoraeRasante

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you have to remember though, zelda is more action-y, and the puzzles focus on this. you get the new tools and they focus on using that new tool, learning different uses both in and out of battle, then both at once, the tool many times is a focus on the boss even, until in later dungeons you are comfortable enough they are combined with other tools.
 

Frostorm

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I'm aware, but with the prevalence of plugins that change RM games into an action RPG, I figured it wouldn't be outside the scope of RPG Maker's capabilities. Not that I endorse or encourage using those plugins (cuz I prefer turn-based), but other devs might.

My game does have 1 similarity to the old Zelda games though, and that is how the camera works in dungeons. I use a 20x11 tile layout @ 960x540 resolution so the screen never scrolls. The player simply moves onto adjacent rooms by walking towards the edge, just like in the 2D Zelda games. That's why I figured it would be a missed opportunity to exclude dungeon puzzles in my game. The tactical battle system I use also takes place on the same map they explore in, so no teleporting to a "battle map" like the default LTBS setup. I wanted to include puzzles and have the mechanics also affect/interact with the ongoing battle.

A lot of the comments I see made about the dislike of dungeon puzzles seem to be in part due to the desire to continue onto combat, which puzzles get in the way of. But what if they didn't? What if you didn't have to choose between battle or puzzle?
 
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YoraeRasante

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Not exactly of the battles, but of the game progression.
Most puzzles kinda lock you out of progression compared to the rest of the game. No exploration unless it is just to collect the keys, in which case it is the opposite as it becomes forced exploration.
To me at least, Zelda on the other hand is able to make most puzzles feel like a core part of the experience, how to reach the door or find a key for them just as important in the player's head as beating the enemies in the way to it.
 

HumanNinjaToo

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@Frostorm I don't think you should worry so much about what other people on the forums like or dislike when it comes to puzzle elements. Everyone here has their own ideas on what makes a good game based on our own experiences. You don't have anything to prove to anyone. If your game has puzzles, the puzzles fit into the other game themes nicely, and the puzzles work as you intend them too then I don't think you have anything to worry about.

It's honestly difficult to judge some game mechanics when taken out of the context of the game. Like @YoraeRasante mentions with Zelda-like puzzles: A lot of those puzzles would be annoying in any other game but Zelda; however, they fit well within that game because of the overall design of the game and its focus on teaching certain puzzle mechanics to be used on the bosses and in future dungeons.

I think if you want the most fair criticism of your implementation of puzzle and gameplay, then you'll need to release some demo of these things working together, so that people can give it a fair shot. Game theory is one thing, implementation is another.
 

Dororo

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I was reading your post and immediatedly thinking of Zelda dungeons! That are nothing but a big puzzle to solve.
But in RPG games you own a secret, untold incentive: growing up in level (usually fighting) and collecting equipment. If you stop this for 4 hours to make a Zelda dungeon exploration, something's wrong: my primary goal is left out and I perceive a stall in the experience. That's why such puzzle dungeons work in Zelda 2d games - you own a different incentive since the start (Zelda is mostly pure exploration).

Anyway, from what you're actually telling, it look more similar to a METROIDVANIA concept. That's my best kind of game. You can explore new areas of the map using new skills (or older ones creatively).
It sound that this mechanic score the better of everything so far exposed - you have to fight to collect new skills, puzzles can be easy up to having just the skill to solve it or very complex with a combo of skills, you can continue the exploration even if that zone is out of reach that moment, backtrack for extra secrets - and combat is there anyway for you to enjoy.
You can also consider party compo and possible branches - the water skill can open shortcuts, but the character is strong enough for the monsters inside the ice cave?

I'll surely like a lot a game so made - I like all metroidvania games, after all.
 

Frostorm

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Yea but Metroidvanias are real-time, not turn-based. Have you played the Golden Sun series before? That's basically the benchmark I'm referring to.
 

YoraeRasante

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The thing with Golden Sun though is that you are presented with this concept, how to use the skills out of battle and thus how they can be useful in puzzles, not only before your first battle, before you even get out of your room.
You wake up and is pushed out of your room, but first someone else visibly uses a skill. Later, you yourself use a skill in a puzzle-ish manner (but not an actual puzzle, just to show how it can be done), just one use but enough to show how it works and how it can be used later. Only some time later you even get your first battle. I... think. Maybe the invincible boss battle was between them? Not sure. It was before the first actual battle at least.

So it is not that it does puzzles in an exceptional way, it is that it is established even before the story actually started that you could use the skills out of battle for puzzle purposes. From that start, to not have them used in creative puzzles would have been a disappointment.
The wind party member introduces mind-reading. Did you really not expect everyone to have a separate text for when you use it on them, that would not only give more info for the plot but also personal and world lore? Same idea.

So yeah. The expectation of the puzzles kinda makes having them much more acceptable.
 

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