Think Fast, But Not TOO Fast
This is perhaps the toughest single bullet point for any puzzle game to get right, as there’s really not much of a “trick” or “shortcut” to success – it always comes down to the simple question of whether or not the creator has taken enough time to tweak the system. Almost any puzzler you can name, when you get right down to it, demands two things from the player – the ability to plan their actions WELL, and the ability to plan them FAST. The pair are constantly at war, as one’s most successful strategies tend to come to fruition when the rough spots can be ironed out at leisure; being pressed for time in such a setting demands that all challengers strike a delicate balance, avoiding the hazards of both rushing into bad decisions and being left in the dust due to over-caution. This elegant tug-of-war is the heart and soul of much of the puzzle genre – however, the responsibility of maintaining equilibrium does not fall solely on gamers’ shoulders.
Some puzzle designers have yet to realize that there’s a difference between getting stuck whilst solving a video game versus, say, a newspaper crossword puzzle – even considering all of the technological advances implemented over the years, the latter is still much easier to stare down at length, put away for awhile, and come back to later. Gluing one’s aching eyes to a glowing screen as the soundtrack loops and your batteries drain will wear on most puzzle fans far more severely than cupping one’s chin and re-scanning the daily Sudoku challenge – rough spots are inevitable, of course, but video games should be very, VERY wary of stopping a player dead in his tracks for a long period of time as he waits for a viable solution to manifest itself. Of course, venturing too far in the opposite direction is no good either – punish one’s audience too severely for not constantly reacting on the spur of the moment (especially in titles with several buttons to juggle) and you might not even be hocking a puzzle game any more.
Video game puzzles are unique insofar as there’s almost always something else waiting and working “behind the scenes” – once all of that newspaper crossword’s answers are successfully fitted into the grid, its designer’s job is done, and when the reader figures out how to fill them correctly he’s also finished until the next one arrives at his door. Video puzzlers are much more complex to create and master, as they have the potential to go on forever – no matter how skilled you get, there’s always an opponent, record, or other challenge that will force you to push yourself farther. It’s a long journey, and players need to be able to think ahead (but not TOO far ahead), and quickly (but not TOO quickly) – if either of these principles is misapplied then the trip is likely to conclude before its time, but if the right balance is struck the quest in and of itself becomes timeless. That, I think, is what every puzzler ought to aspire to.
Well, I suppose that’s all for this edition of Forgotten Essentials
– I’ve no idea if/when another one of these will pop up, but as I hinted earlier on this article is really more of a lead-in to a larger project that I’ve been chipping away at (and promising to unveil) for quite some time now. At the moment I’m putting the finishing touches on it, and hope to finally reveal the bugger to my fellow c-bloggers (and anyone else who might care to drop in) before much more time has passed – I won’t offer any further hints as to exactly what it entails, but the content of this article should give you a good idea of where its basis lies. In short, keep an eye on this space if you like what you just read.
Until I pop up again, thanks as always to this blog’s visitors for giving me a bit of your time – I hope you enjoyed the read.
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