Adventure games, specifically those of the LucasArts style, were my bread and butter growing up, and as they've gone in and out of style and started to re-find a niche today, there are all kinds of opinions on the roles of puzzles in these games.

Some people think that puzzles of the old kind are a relic of the past and adventure games are better off jettisoning them completely. Others are completely the other way and feel lately adventure games have gotten soft and they want back to the old days of being stuck for hours, unable to progress. 

I fall somewhere between this. I think that there is a certain satisfaction to solving adventure game puzzles, but also people who are nostalgic about the classics often have a Stockholm Syndrome with regards to some of the more unfriendly aspects of the puzzle design. I've seen people remember pixel hunting fondly, and especially I've seen people argue that the only way to do right by puzzles is to have an abundance of verbs to choose from. 

There are all kinds of reasons that I think those ideas are flawed, but perhaps that's an argument for another time. The thought that's been nagging me lately is that the puzzles I've found most satisfying in my time playing adventure games aren't necessarily brainteasers that I solved with a flash of inspiration, like a puzzle in Braid or a mechanism in Spacechem. Rather, they're satisfying in a much less tangible way.

I recently saw a few tweets from an account called Oddly Satisfying which presents various images which are, well, oddly satisfying. The thing is, it's difficult precisely to put into words why these images are satisfying. They just are. They're a little bit clever or interesting or have a nice symmetry to them, but it's hard to put a finger on it. 

It makes me wonder if the best adventure game puzzles are the same way, so I started to think about what my favourite puzzle moments from games past were. And sure enough, my favourite puzzles weren't the toughest, the ones I got stuck on longest or felt cleverest about solving. Instead they were just... oddly satisfying.

Here's a few examples of some of my favourite puzzle solving moments in one of the classics, The Secret of Monkey Island. Obviously, there are puzzle spoilers from here.

In the first part of Monkey Island, you need to figure out where the Swordmaster lives. The shopkeeper knows, but whenever he leaves to ask if she'll see you, he returns with a negative response. The solution is simply to follow the shopkeeper when he leaves, trailing behind as he works his way through the forest maze. Oddly satisfying!

In the game there's a concept called insult swordfighting, where you collect responses to insults, and the insults themselves, and use them to talk your way to victory in fights. It's a bit too long, but the pay-off is great. When you fight the aforementioned swordmaster, she starts throwing insults at you that none of the pirates you fought have used before. The solution is to realize that the responses you have collected work for these insults too, they just work in a different context. It's... you guessed it, oddly satisfying. 

Later still, you are tasked with breaking a man out of prison. You have access to grog, which is capable of melting through the lock, but unfortunately it also melts through the mugs after a short time, it's so corrosive. The oddly satisfying solution this time is to pass the grog from mug to mug as you walk to the jailhouse, so that you still have an intact mug by the time you get there. 

I can think of many similarly satisfying moments from all the adventure games I've played, where it's not necessarily the trickiest, and sometimes rather easy to solve, but nevertheless there's something about the act of doing it that simply feels fun., in context, for what it is. 

If I ever get to making an adventure game (and I have at least one concept that's quite fleshed out), I'll be thinking about these moments of strange satisfaction as my primary source of puzzle-design inspiration.

Posted
AuthorPeter Silk