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Maps: Maps as Puzzles
"I personally object to episodic
games where you play one screen of Space Invaders and one screen of Breakout
and one screen of Galaxian and one screen of this and one of that. To me,
that's not a game. It's just taking five bad games, putting them
together, and calling them one good game. I'm philosophically against that."
The basic idea of a puzzle is that there is some obstacle in your way
to something that you want, and you need to find a way to get through that
obstacle. It can be a simple as a door where you need to find the button
to press or the key. In fact, most well made games can be looked on as
being one single puzzle; The Legend of Zelda is basically one large
puzzle where you need to save Zelda, and to do that you need to find the
eight triforce pieces to open the door to the last dungeon where she is
held, and to do that it complicates matters a bit by making each triforce
piece in a seperate dungeon, each itself having a lot of puzzles, and then
it makes each dungeon location secret, but all somehow reachable through
the overworld, which is the largest map and connects the others (and it's
not only a way to get between the dungeons, but has puzzles itself). The
bosses themselves are puzzles: the puzzle is finding out how to kill each
one. How to find and enter each dungeon is also a puzzle. How to open certain
doors in those dungeons are puzzles. How to get certain weapons are puzzles.
It's a complex interweaving of metapuzzles and puzzles and subpuzzles and
What's more important, there is a feeling of integration among them.
Learning some trick in one dungeon may help you in others, getting some
item in one may make others easier. A collection of unrelated puzzles (such
as the puzzles in the Resident Evil series) doesn't feel as fun,
learning something in the process of solving one puzzle won't help you
solve others, you'll never see that type of puzzle again, or refer back
to it in any way. The puzzles (some block pushing, some painting clicking,
some jewel switching, etc.) could have been in any order, and the player
wouldn't have noticed, since each is a seperate game with seperate rules
and seperate tokens.
It might even be said that the puzzle is the basic element of the game.
A battle system would be nothing without battles that you need to win,
and maps would be nothing without obstacles that you need to pass. Would
it be fun if you could just walk to a certain spot unfettered, watch some
story, walk to another spot unfettered, watch some more story, finally
you walk to another spot unfettered, and then the credits start rolling
and the game is over? It wouldn't even be a game, and the player would
question why the walking was needed at all, and they weren't just warped
from place to place.
Map puzzles have a long history. Some games, such as the Final Fantasy
series, don't give their maps very many puzzles at all. You just need to
find all the treasures and find the boss, simply by walking around. The
only real puzzles are the battles.
But all maps have at least one puzzle - finding things (including ways
to other maps). The more maze-like the map, the harder it is to find things.
Distance itself is a puzzle (an obstacle) to goals. This means that I can
coherently say that all maps are puzzles. Some are just better puzzles
And this is the way you should think of map design. When you make a
map, you're going to need to know what is in the map that the player wants,
what do they need to do in the map. Then you're going to decide what obstacles
you are going to place in their way.
A few things about map puzzles:
1) Puzzles should result from logical consequences of their worlds.
They should make sense to where you are. If you are in a swamp, have the
puzzles involve the nature of that swamp. If you are in a town, have the
puzzles involve the nature of that town. Witness Majora's Mask:
The town puzzles involve people and things which are found in a town, and
the swamp puzzles involve things which are found in the swamp, etc.. Beyond
that, all puzzles in that game are connected, because they are all based
in the puzzle of doing things in a limited amount of time. This can be
thought of as a 'puzzle theme' for the game, vs. the 'puzzle theme' for
a particular map.
2) Puzzles should not be 'undead' (should not rely on saving and
loading). That is, you shouldn't have to 'try everything', die a few
times, until you 'stumble' upon the correct answer to the puzzle. The foolish
thing to do would be to have three buttons, two kill you and one opens
the door, with no way of telling which was which. You'd just need to save
and try them randomly. That isn't a very fun puzzle.
3) Puzzles can have more than one solution. Many people who make
puzzles give them one obscure solution, and no other way to solve it. If
you want to get into a house, there is only one solution provided by the
game designer, you find the key. But what about other entrances? Can't
you bomb your way in? Can't you pick the lock? Can't you knock on the door?
Or go down the chimney? Taking into account multiple possible solutions
to puzzles is more time consuming, but usually results in the better puzzle.
Just don't make the solutions too different in the level of work involved.
Don't make a magic key hidden in a dungeon guarded by dragons when the
player can just pick the lock on their first try. If you make multiple
solutions to a puzzle, make them equally difficult to do.
4) Start easy, increase difficulty. Think of any Miyamoto game.
He presents you with weak puzzles of a certain type, puzzles which are
intended to let you get to know the way those types of puzzles are set
up. Then he makes harder versions of those puzzles... the same puzzle elements,
just requiring more complex thought and quicker reflexes. An example: Super
Mario Bros. Remember that really hard jump in level 8-3? Would it have
made sense to put the hardest jump in the game in level 1-1? No. You put
the hard puzzles at the end, and the easy ones in the beginning, or risk
eliminating the challenge of every latter puzzle. Puzzles near the end
of the game should be a lot more difficult than the introductory ones,
that's the way the mind likes things. If you put in puzzles which are easier
than the ones it has already seen, it will feel disappointed: it likes
things to get more interesting and more complex with time, not less.
Puzzles have two parts: the obsticle and the reward. The final reward
is the successful completion of the game, and all other rewards should
in some way take you closer to that final one (whether through opening
up of new maps, getting new allies, or increasing in your abilities, all
rewards in some way aid you). A puzzle which when successfully completed
does not help you feels like a waste of time (a long corridor with a treasure
at the end, fighting many monsters, reaching the treasure, opening it,
and then finding one gold piece feels like a waste of time for this reason).
The reward should match the puzzle difficulty, in a general way at least,
otherwise the player feels cheated in some way, and doesn't learn 'the
value of a puzzle' (similar to how if someone is always given money freely,
or alternatively if no matter how much work they do they get the same amount
of money, they don't learn 'the value of a dollar' (which would be better
phrased 'the value of effort')).
I now go to the two main types of maps found in most RPGs.
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Maps: Safe Maps
Safe maps are maps which cannot kill you. They may have puzzles, but
they don't have anything that you can 'fail irreversibly' on. The best
examples of these are the average town map in most RPGs. They have 'stores'
(places to trade the results of battle effort for rewards, usually in the
form of an increase in abilities), they have 'townspeople' (places to learn
more about the game's imaginary world and story, places to learn locations
of things, places to get clues, etc.), they have 'inns' (places to trade
the results of battle effort for a reduction of battle fatigue), they have
diversions of all kinds, but they don't have anything that can end your
quest, and they don't have anything which can seriously set you back in
your quest. They feel safe.
When designing a safe map, you should have various goals in mind. Like
all maps, you want them to add to the feeling of being in the game, but
unlike other maps, you want them to be places to trade resources for other
resources (trade rewards of puzzles for other rewards). The key is to make
this fun. It's easy just to make stores and have them gold turn into equipment
and weapons, but it isn't very interesting to the player, it's too expected.
Why not have the choice between using the hard-earned gold for buying a
new weapon, upgrading an old weapon, giving gold to someone to research
new weapons, using gold to buy someone else a weapon to defend the town
(and if you don't do this enough, the town won't be there next time you
arrive), using gold to repair the park that was destroyed in your last
battle, using gold to build a new road to make your trips easier, using
gold to set up a reward for a contest to see who is the best fighter (finding
a new ally and new clues in the process), etc., etc... ie., why have only
one way to spend your gold? Why not make the choice of where to spend it
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Maps: Danger Maps
Danger maps are the other kind of maps, they can kill you. Overworld
maps in most RPGs are usually mixed: they aren't entirely safe, but they
aren't really that dangerous either, they just connect everything. Danger
maps are where you put the most challenging puzzles, whatever the type
of puzzle your game uses.
Danger map design should be focused on making them puzzle like, much
more so than safe maps. It should be unclear which way you should go, they
should try to trick and kill the player. Safe maps are on your side, danger
maps are not. The danger map designer must be a dasdardly villain, while
the safe map designer is a wise mentor. The only 'rules' that the villain
has to follow is that 1) there should be some way to succeed (it can't
be impossible to do well) and 2) the puzzles shouldn't defy the logic of
the game. But other than that, anything goes. Be sneakey: make spikes come
up from the floor (as long as there is some way to avoid them), make monsters
lie in ambush under rocks (as long as there is either some way to defeat
them or some way to counter their ambush), and make stairs collapse and
doors lock behind the player (as long as there is some way to get out of
the trap). When you design a danger map, you hate the player. If you hold
back, the player will feel your weakness and take advantage of it (and
feel that the game was too easy and pointless). The player, if he or she
faces an inept danger map designer, or one who breaks the rules of villainy,
will have no feeling of self-satisfaction upon their success.
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