Coming up with an interesting puzzle is one of the difficult tasks for a designer. Most often, puzzles are created based on the main gameplay mechanics invented during the production of the game. Therefore, it is rather difficult to meet interesting and impressive puzzles that are not related to the main gameplay. Thief (2014) is an example of not only an interesting implementation of puzzles through the environment, but also their development. Let’s look at how the developers at Eidos Montreal create and develop puzzles in the game using signifiers and visibility.
Signifiers give us signals, tell us what actions are possible and/or how they should be done. Signifiers must be visible, otherwise they will not be able to perform their functions. The player must always understand what kind of information the designer is trying to convey to him, he must understand why exactly this environment object is located here. Thus, the developers of Eidos Montreal, in their first story puzzle, use at least two guard signs to attract the player’s attention. He meets them at the first glance at the puzzle. When thinking about solving a puzzle, the player’s eyes will always come across these symbols, indicating the solution to this riddle. So the player can spend a minimum of time on a simple puzzle.
The next plot puzzle has a slight complication. In the House of Flowers, the player will come across a medallion puzzle (Fig. 1). To make it clear to the player what exactly he lacks for a complete solution to the puzzle, the developers leave the first sign in the same place where the task itself is given. It should be borne in mind that the developers specifically cordon off the person from the previous location so that there is no thought that the solution is hidden somewhere in the whole house, but only underground, where the task was received. So the player, moving in this space for a short time, thanks to the abilities of the hero, finds a solution (Fig. 2) and goes further in the story.
The third puzzle, which the player will meet in the architect’s house, surprises, first of all, with its scale. The challenge is to replicate the architectural space that a person can see through a window. It is worth adding that the player will be able to see the solution almost immediately. Allows you to do this very simple rule used in the construction of the composition – the rule of thirds. You can see how the architectural structure, which is the solution to the puzzle, is located on the two right focal points. The other two contain what the player is trying to reproduce. So the player always has before his eyes the result he is trying to achieve, and the puzzle itself. It is worth adding that both objects are located under it at the same angle, which again creates a solid and correctly built composition.
Another one of the interesting implementations of the puzzle. At the end of the game, the hero needs to take the Primal stone from the device that needs to be broken. In order to break the mechanism, the player must use a switch that controls the strength of the stone. Here, the developers use a visual cue that tells you exactly how to adjust the operation of the mechanism, which will allow you to blow up the device.
Most of the traps in the game are recognized using the player’s concentration mechanic. So the player has to carefully move around the location in order not to make a mistake when moving in a negative space for him, which is equipped with traps. Later, traps are also used in interactive objects that have rewards. This brings a lot of variety in the compilation of puzzles. So, if the player sees an unguarded chest in the room, then you can pay for the haste to pick up the reward. Or, using concentration, you can disarm the set traps to achieve a reward. I liked one of the following puzzles, compiled by the developers based on everything that the player went through earlier.
Visualization helps players understand whether a given object can be used in the way it thinks it should work. What actions are possible, how and where it can apply any properties of this object.
Due to visibility, the player can recognize the trap here even without concentration, seeing the pressed plate and neatly placed objects on it (Fig. 1). You can test this theory about this with the help of the same concentration (Fig. 2), but not the problem. There is no switch to disable traps. At the same time, the player will be able to see the corpse at the end of the corridor. Here, the solution to the puzzle is already being drawn up, since there has already been training that it is possible to drag the corpses of people, and the pressed plate with objects indicates that this dragged object can be used as a trap activator (Fig. 3).
The designers of Thief (2014) managed to make puzzles not only interesting, but also managed to realize their development as you progress through the game. The environment is one of the strongest tools for the level designer to convey all the important information to the player. The rule of thirds can also allow you to always see all the important objects for the player’s eyes. Visualization also allows you to make it clear to the player how all the properties of environmental objects work in the game. Communication is the key to good design. And the key to communication is signifiers.