Tobold's Blog
Monday, June 25, 2012
Riddles and Puzzles

What has roots as nobody sees,
Is taller than trees,
Up, up it goes,
And yet never grows?

This is one of the riddles Gollum asks of Bilbo in The Hobbit. So Bilbo whips out his trusty iPhone, and googles the answer: "mountain". Or he asks the answer in General chat. The Secret World, which has quests with riddles even helpfully provides in in-game browser which opens automatically with Google. Found the hints "music of the seasons", "favorite composer", and "1723", but can't think of the answer to Dr. Bannerman's computer password? Just google it! In any case, it isn't something you could just figure out, unless you already know something about composers of classical music. And once you know the answer, the riddle is trivial for your next character doing the same quest.

Now this is the carpentry puzzle in the MMORPG Puzzle Pirates. The pieces you get are random, so you can't google the answer to this. And you do not need any prior knowledge of a specific subject to solve this puzzle. Unlike a riddle, the puzzle is replayable and doesn't become complete trivial once you solved it once. There are lots of different puzzles in Puzzle Pirates alone, and there have been lots of other games, multiplayer and single-player, that used puzzles as gameplay elements as well. Bejeweled clones are frequent. Puzzle Pirates even has sword fights simulated as competitive Tetris-like puzzles.

I don't think that riddles are a good idea for MMORPGs. If you are already expected to google the answer based on hints, then why bother to search for the hints in the first place and not just google for "Dr. Bannerman's password"? On my The Secret World beta impressions post a commenter said that Funcom had turned investigative missions off for that beta weekend, because General chat was just too full of spoilers. MMORPGs are collaborative multiplayer games, and riddles just become trivial if solved by a collaborative multiplayer effort.

I think that puzzles would work a lot better in MMORPGs. They do work in Puzzle Pirates, and they would work just as well in a bigger game. They aren't trivialized by outside help, and you can reuse them several times for different quests. They even come in varying degrees of difficulty, if one would actually want to put something really challenging into a MMORPG.

This was the first thought that came to my mind with TSW. Riddles/ mysteries are not the best form of content for MMOs:

- good ones are hard to craft
- they're easily spoiled and quickly trivialized by the community
- they're not repeatable
Puzzles and riddles are inherently different and serve a different purpose in each game.

While I wouldn't be actually 'proud' to solve the puzzle, I would if I solved the riddles and mysteries in TSW without help. And why complain about the lack of replayability, when the game is designed so that your character can (in time) train everything and fill all roles, essentially making alts useless?

And about spoiling the riddles, I never got why people complain when the google-ing part is optional. If you feel like you want to work on something on yourself for hours, what's stopping you?

Is it the misconception that if you spend two hours without any measureable character progression, you essentially "wasted" your time?
So what you are saying is that if somebody has exactly the right level of education so that guessing a classical composer is challenging (and neither impossible nor trivial), and is playing with exactly the right level of completely artificial and arbitrary restrictions on what help he might or might not use, and if he doesn't like playing alts, then riddles are in fact no problem?

You know that is a rather weak point, otherwise you wouldn't have bothered to add such a bullshit strawman argument to it at the end.
I agree that riddles add very little to the game-play of an mmorpg. I still think there can be a limited place for them in the "lore" of a game. We are all familiar with the notion of a gatekeeper who poses a riddle to those who would pass. I think it still adds flavour to a game to have such gatekeepers even if everyone just googles the answers.
Why exactly would you even WANT to put puzzles in a MMO game? Be it fantasy, modern or whatever?

The type of gameplay I expect from an MMO is pretty much defined (a mix of button-press based combat / crafting / farming / character progression / rpg on appropriate servers). Honestly if I want to solve puzzles, I'll go play a puzzle game.....
I work in a bookshop. We have a whole bay of books of Crossword puzzles. On the shelves next to them are large Crossword Dictionaries, Crossword Lists and Crossword Solvers. We don't stock, but are frequently asked for, electronic crossword puzzle solvers. The same people who buy the crossword books buy the books that help them fill them out.

In our staff room at lunchtime several people routinely do crossword in the newspapers, quick crosswords, general knowledge crosswords and cryptic crosswords. Everyone in the staff room chips in as questions are pondered out loud. Occasionally someone will consult their smartphone.

I think you miss the point of puzzles. The point isn't "to be puzzled". It's to solve the puzzle. That doesn't have to be done by force of will or prior knowledge. It can be done by research and discussion. That's part of the amusement, entertainment and satisfaction.

Funcom have included an in-game browser in The Secret World specifically so that players can look up the answers. There are tips on the loading screens that suggest it. The way it is intended to work is that each player will spend just as long on each puzzle as it takes for their frustration to outweigh their fun. Then they will look up the answer.

This isn't unique to TSW. It's how puzzling works. Whether there are enough puzzlers who also like shooting zombies with shotguns is another matter.

No riddle will cater "exactly the right level of education" and will never be "neither impossible nor trivial", no matter how they make it out to be. What is trivial to you, can be challenging to me and vice versa. What matters is the overall experience, how the riddle is presented and how the story around it flows.

While reading the Hobbit, did you really think "wow, what riddle is lame" or did you just want to see how Bilbo went on to deal with it?

"Playing with exactly the right level of completely artificial and arbitrary restrictions on what help he might or might not use" does still not answer why you absolutely NEED to use the in-game browser if you feel it cheapens the experience. This is like complaining that there is a walkthrough for an Adventure game over at Is there someone pointing a gun at your head, making you read spoilers?

"You know that is a rather weak point, otherwise you wouldn't have bothered to add such a bullshit strawman argument to it at the end".

Actually no, it is my honest opinion. But if you think anything that contradicts your opinion (which is obviously a universal truth of some kind) is a "bullshit strawman", then I can see why the comments on the previous post miraculously dissapeared overnight.
I think you have a point, and puzzles certainly have a place in games. Puzzle Pirates is a great example, my girlfriend is still playing it after years of paid membership. Just for the record, she also plays games like Skyrim as well, and isn't really a walking casual gamer stereotype.

Actually Skyrim is another good example, with both the lock picking mini game and with the difference to gameplay between playing it as a hack-and-slash, or using sneak and bows. While they are both different styles of play, both require more than just pushing the buttons in the right sequence.
Tobold, his argument is that there is no replay value required because there is no such concept as an alt because your character can -eventually- play all roles because your character can -eventually- unlock all weapons. If your shaman can be exactly the same role, spec, spells -everything- as a warrior then why bother leveling up a warrior? TSW is not designed to have alts, simple as that. Wether that is a good or a bad thing remains to be seen.

Puzzles, if part of multiplayer setting, will also be trivialized. We've seen this before in the ancient pylon puzzle in SWTOR. The puzzle I remember from WoW is the one from Ogri'La in Outland. The difference with riddles is that these won't be trivialized by text to solve, it will be solved by a small application. Actually, I did not need the Ogri'La add-on because I used Notepad.exe to write down either R, G, B, or Y.

"Is there someone pointing a gun at your head, making you read spoilers?"

Yes, I read general chat, and there I read people who ask answers to riddles or waypoints to where they should head to. I don't mind I read their questions, but I do not want to read answers. I wrote a bug report about this, suggesting a netiquette rule where [such] answers ought to be told in reply via /whisper instead of in public because else people would read spoilers why they don't want to. Later, I suggested [spoiler] tag in General chat and this was also agreed upon. I don't know the solution to the problem, but I really do wish it'll be solved. The advantage puzzles have over riddles is that puzzles cannot be spoiled in general chat.

The danger of puzzles however is that they'll be overused in the game without the option to skip them. Then they become boring, like the lock in Skyrim.
Actually no, it is my honest opinion. But if you think anything that contradicts your opinion (which is obviously a universal truth of some kind) is a "bullshit strawman", then I can see why the comments on the previous post miraculously dissapeared overnight.

Let's analyze that in detail. I write a post in which the words "time" or "waste" do not appear even once. You accuse me of being under "the misconception that if you spend two hours without any measureable character progression, you essentially "wasted" your time". So how is that not a strawman argument? It has absolutely nothing to do with my post. Actually a puzzle would spend more of my characters time than a riddle, and I said puzzles were better.

You are belonging to the unbearable breed of internet commenters who when faced with any criticism of their favorite game, respond with ad hominem attacks on the author. The comments on the "beta impressions" didn't "mysteriously disappear", I simply had to lock the whole comment thread because those attacks were taking overhand.

Look at it that way: If you can't come up with a cleverer counter-argument to my "Shoddy production values: Crashes, bugs, scheduled maintenance of 4 hours in the middle of a beta weekend" than your "You suck, you're burned out, you haven't played the game long enough, you shouldn't write negative reviews", you simply aren't welcome on my blog.
The issue with puzzles is that not everyone likes them or is good at them. Puzzle Pirates is popular, but it is not WoW. Of course the same can be said of shooting monsters accurately, or staying out of the fire. But more people *think* they can do these!

I agree that riddles are atmospheric but utterly susceptible to spoilers. Procedurally generated puzzles have a place, but I think they won't wind up being a big part of most MMORPGs because these games are designed to be accessible to most people.

In my ideal MMO nobody would be able to go everywhere or do everything, but this goes against current trends which probably exist for good reasons.
I seem to remember that during it's closed beta Stargate Worlds had puzzle minigames somewhat similar to the ones in Mass Effect 2, but during my very short stay before it closed down the ones I came across were either bugged or disabled.
I actually had quite a lot of fun with the riddles and investegative missions in the TSW beta i tried, not despite having no way of knowing the answers, but BECAUSE i had no way.

It made me look up thinks i wouldn't have otherwise, it taught me stuff i would have never known otherwise. Is it any use? probably not, but does that matter? i had fun, so much so that i decided to just say F it to the rest of the normal quests, and just go looking for more investegatives.

And as for spoilers in general chat: i don't know if it was due to it being a closed beta weekend when i tried it, and the people were thus more invested in the game than during an open weekend, but i had no problem with it what so ever. Sure, people would be giving tiny hints and such, but if you wanted the answer, they opened up /w. Heck, there was one person who posted a spoiled, and promptly got raged to hell and back by what seemed like the entire server.

All in all, i'm considering trying TSW JUST for the investegatives, since i had so much fun with them.
Tobold, I think you might be slightly missing the point of these riddles.

This game takes place in the modern world where you have ingame internet access. You are SUPPOSED to research the riddles on wiki or whatever. You wont be able to solve them with your own knowledge all the time.
Its part of the fun.
Your character does ingame research and allows you to obtain the answer and proceed. No doubt learning a thing or two on the way.

Of course you could just google the answer directly. Thats OK too, if thats what you want to do. But you dont have to.

Its the same as many other MMO mechanics.
For example:
You have a solo boss fight at the end of your questline. You can:
A: Research the boss online and find out his special moves ahead of time. Allowing you to probably beat him the first go.
B: Try and work out how to beat him on your own, possibly taking a couple of deaths to do it. Maybe only resorting to the internet guide if you take too many deaths and get frustrated.

Both are perfectly viable playstyles.
I would hate to play an mmo that made me solve some random puzzle for every other quest. Instead of kill ten foozles we would have solve ten puzzles. It would be fun for the first few times, but like every other game that incorporates puzzles (looking at you mass effect and bioshock) they quickly lose their charm and just turn into a chore and just another layer of grind if it isn't optional.
So, after playing the game a lot over the past two beta weekends, I have to say that I definitely will play it when it goes live. Don't know how long I'll stick with it, but I'm going to play it. I think it's fun.

Those of you arguing about the puzzles and/or riddles in the game are missing the point.

The point is also that there are SOME puzzles and riddles in the game. Not every quest needs you to solve a puzzle or riddle. In fact only a minority has - so far. You want to try and solve it on your own - fine do so. You want to cheat on-line and blow past it? Go for it. Who cares? - it just a few quests.

I could understand the complaints if 50% or more of the quests were puzzles or whatever, but there seems to be a decent mix - enough to change things up a bit without adding undo frustration.

They are trying, and I appreciate it.
So what happened to my comment? I think I was on topic and polite...
Err if you are hell bent of spoiling your own experience - nothing will stop you. And yeah riddles are no repeatable, but the process of solving it first time is still quite good.

TSW may not have puzzles, but riddles are fun.

SWTOR was praised for its story element. Well TSW has a much better story and background world imho, one which is more interesting to explore

True once you seen everything - well you seen everything. But there is a lot to see. Its not like AOC, -they do actually have content beyound first zone
So what happened to my comment? I think I was on topic and polite...

Your comment, and all the other comments, are still there. But with commenting disabled on that thread, nobody can see the existing comments either.

The alternative would be to selectively delete half of the comments, which A) would cause even more complaints about censorship, and B) makes some of the dialogue between comments nonsensical.
@ Bigeye, there are 7 types of quests:

* Story - blue icon, primary game narrative
* Action - red/brown icon, combat-focused
* Item - dark green icon, collection-focused
* Investigation - light green icon, factional history/challenging puzzles
* Sabotage - yellow icon, covert/evasion missions
* Group/Dungeon - purple icon, dungeons
* PvP - orange icon, PvP

(Source: )

If you don't like a certain type of quest you can skip it. Wanna kill 10 zombies? Do red ones. Prefer to sneak around, evading combat? Take the yellow ones. Not up for watching a 2 minute monologue video? Don't do the blue ones. Etcetera.

It is an improvement over other games such as WoW where I first need to read the quest before I can decide if I like the type of quest. In TSW, I can get an idea about the quest beforehand. I can also easier look through my quest log to see what type of quest I'd like to finish. Of course I still read the quests (for fun).
I very much enjoyed the riddles during the beta weekend -- they were pretty much the only thing that felt truly unique to TSW, in terms of the MMO gameplay.

They're not for everybody, but "being for everybody" is not a virtue that is compatible with the evolution of a form. If we want innovation in MMOs, we have to encourage this kind of risk-taking, not just pooh-pooh something because the masses won't take it in the spirit in which it's intended.

There's no harm in including the riddles, and there's potential benefit. People who don't enjoy riddles will look up the answers. People who do will have another facet of the game to enjoy. And maybe some people who start out thinking they'll just Google it will turn the corner and realize that they enjoy some detective work after all.
I’m repeating what others have said. (TL;DR: I enjoy riddles more than puzzles. Those who don’t can skip them, but they can’t skip puzzles.)

One of the starting areas for the Norns (Vikings, barbarians, Nords, whatever) in GW2 involves paying homage to the Raven totem by answering riddles. I actually quite enjoyed this one, challenging myself to think of the answer. I think the beauty of riddles is that if you WANT to be challenged and think for a bit, you can. If you don’t want to, or it’s blocking your progress/goodies, you can google it. Everyone wins. Unlike a puzzle, in which case you have to be good at it or you fail. The only thing that disappointed me about that quest was that there were only 20 or so riddles. I kept repeating it hoping to find more.

It’s like eating your vegetables before your dessert. If you only want dessert, riddles let you skip to that. If you happen to LOVE roast veggies (like me), you will take your time and enjoy both. With puzzles, if you happen to dislike your veggies, that’s too bad. No dessert for you.
I think the game would be well suited for puzzle type stuff, with all the locked gates, sewers, school rooms, pyramids, and so forth. It's not to be in this game, unfortunately.

I am quite happy that there are riddles and investigation missions, though. I get that they're "one-shot" content and aren't nearly as fun the second and subsequent times. Which is why I'll skip them and do more of the other types of missions if/when it comes time to level an alt.

I'll also say that I'm a classical musician and I thoroughly enjoyed "figuring out" the identity of the composer, even though it was trivial for me with my training. I was proud that my background was of some use in the game, and not just when entertaining audiences.
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