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Does Action + Puzzle have to = Disaster?

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In many games we play today tow genres seem to be dominate. Puzzles (especially RPG’s) and Action games (Shooters, Action RPG’s and games like Tekken), Many Games especially shooters send you down a predetermined path without any real thought required unless you are playing Portal, fighting against some very good AI, or playing a game that I may not have herd of. Too much of the game becomes reflexes and less of it thought. Even in games like Zelda were it is a mix of the two it never seems to balance. Either there is puzzle after puzzle that are all you do with only a little fighting or you have mediocre at best puzzles that only seem to annoy you and good fighting sequences. Not to make fun of these games (I happen to love Zelda) and some of these are classics but, how many games do we know of that really are a perfect balance? ( if you know of one tell post about it. Trust me I would love to hear about it.) If anyone has any ideas for a game that you think balances these traits (or excels at them both) please post them. Here is an example of a game design that I am working on. I know it is not perfect because It is still in the early design phase, so please tell me if you have any recommendations for improvement. I don’t have a name yet but here is the basic idea. The game is very much like the old Zelda games ( The 2D ones). You have a top down view and a set world map. As you move off screen it scrolls to the next block. You then go through the worlds solving puzzles. Some added features are . A summon based system. You summon a familiar to help you out with puzzles possibly making the puzzles even more difficult. . All dungeons and mini dungeons are converted into a Mega Man style side scrolling game where you can use spells, Items and your familiars to fight your way through the dungeon. . Bosses and Minibosses that drag you into a fast paced fight that you need to use your previously gained items, familiars and the one new item you got to win in a strategic manner. This is just one of my ideas for a balanced mix of puzzle and action. It needs work as there are many flaws and minor details that need to be addressed but it states the general idea. Another cool idea that I’ve had for a while is a multiplayer Tetris like game where one player tries to trap or crush another player who can move or break his already positioned blocks. All ideas are welcome.

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The problem with combinding puzzle with action gameplay, is, when a player feels "threatened" when they're trying to solve a puzzel, they'll usually end the threat before they finish solving it.

Take Metroid Prime, for example. Before I think of where I'm going next, or how to solve a certain situation, I always clear the room of enemies. Thus, it's not really a mix of puzzle/shooting gameplay, it moreso just switches between the two.

I always liked the idea of having highly strategic boss fights. So many games base their boss battles on skill and reflexes, rather than being able to think on your feet.

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You run a couple risks while doing this. The main one is that you could alienate both people who like action, but not puzzle, and puzzle, but not action. Half Life 2 has some examples where there are puzzles combined with action. One I remember (I think it was episode: 1) was where you pushed cars over the antlion tunnels while fighting them off. Though the event was interesting, I'm not sure if I would call it "fun" (matter of opinion though). So you have to realize that there are a lot of people who probably are okay without thinking in their games. It's fun to run through Halo, Serious Sam, etc... with a shotgun and blow people to shreds. When someone picks up the latest console FPS they aren't expecting to put on their thinking caps.

That said 2D action gamers would probably expect puzzles. Even so you'll have to do a good balancing act. I find the trouble with Zelda esque puzzles, is that they can't be too hard, or out of the box. So the game will "teach" you to hit wood with you're hook shot, and then have you shoot all sorts of wood through the temple. It's not really hard thinking, but I played Ocarina of Time around 9 times so I'm not saying it isn't entertaining.

If you play Half Life 2 with commentary enabled you'll get some interesting insight into how they helped players figure out their puzzles. For example everything that could be broken by the crowbar has the same texture. They found that if they had something with a different texture that was supposed to be broken players wouldn't try to hit it.

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What about the Bomberman series? Its puzzle element (placement of bombs vs terrain blocks) is also its killing-action element (bombs explode and any enemies that are in the corridor & range of the explosion would become eliminated). And sometimes to eliminate a certain enemy you have to blow through blocks in a manner so that you don't accidentally blow yourself to pieces. That game was pretty popular back in the day.

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Quote:
Original post by IronWarrior
The problem with combinding puzzle with action gameplay, is, when a player feels "threatened" when they're trying to solve a puzzel, they'll usually end the threat before they finish solving it.

Take Metroid Prime, for example. Before I think of where I'm going next, or how to solve a certain situation, I always clear the room of enemies. Thus, it's not really a mix of puzzle/shooting gameplay, it moreso just switches between the two.

I always liked the idea of having highly strategic boss fights. So many games base their boss battles on skill and reflexes, rather than being able to think on your feet.


What if the enemies were part of the puzzle? What if you needed to assess what the enemies' patterns are and use it to your advantage in order to clear a puzzle...?

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I know many of the 2-D platform shooters (or space shooters) had huge bosses that came in parts - you had to kill this body part first before you kill that body part, then to actually damage the boss you have to blow up a shielding body part to reach its soft/vulnerable part.

Overhead 2-D shooters could also be a form of puzzle + action mix, in that you have to weave between the vast amounts of enemy fire and try not to get hit. Its sort of like Tetrix, except instead of inserting blocks into appropriately-shaped slots, you are "inserting" your ship through enemy sprite/fire patterns.

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All types of action and combat can be made into strategic puzzle-like gameplay. Actually, all combat is strategic to a certain degree. The problem is the fact that it is repeated. Usually, many times. If you repeat an unchanging puzzle enough times, the aspects of it that make it a puzzle vanish, and the only challenge remaining is timing and efficiency. This is what happens to all action and combat in games that focus on it. The only way to prevent this would be to frequently change the strategy involved with the action. And if the game focuses on it, it would result in a very short game.

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There's also the thing of AI to consider - its just too difficult, sometimes, to implement an AI that does just that, imposes upon you varied strategic options, unless it learns and records your strategies. The AI in most FPS games are usually built around set "behaviors" to which gets cloned to all enemies of its same type.

On puzzles in action, likewise, I also believe that the reverse can be true (action in puzzles) in that many puzzle games are also action-oriented, relying on the player's coordination and timing to solve that puzzle. For instance, Tetris has a timing and aiming aspect involved in it. There might not be any punching or killing, but there sure is aiming and fast-moving objects involved.

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Tetris is a type of game that doesn't lose its "puzzle" as it is solved, regardless of the number of times it is repeated. The root concept is to find an optimal destination for a block shape within a time limit. What keeps the game from losing its puzzle is the dynamic foundation. As a block is stored, it changes the foundation, changing the optimal destination (for future blocks), which changes the puzzle. The randomized new blocks are important too, but only because they're vital to changing the foundation in an unpredictable way.

It may be possible to implement this type of concept into combat or action. But the fact that a player character keeps moving around while doing battle would make it tricky to have the strategy result of one encounter modify the strategy of future encounters.

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I have an idea for a top down shooter, when there is combat a glowing checkerboard will be superimposed over the world (walkable areas). The magic system will follow the rules of "chess" more or less (pawn, king, queen, rook, knight, bishop).

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I think Half-Life 2 is both the most shining example of this sort of gameplay and the most eloquent argument against it.

In the midst of a fierce fight, you'd be given a chance to perform a novel maneuver, often with the aid of the gravity gun, and really turn the tide of the fight. The enemies were pretty sharp, but you could stymie them by maneuvering objects to block their ingress, creating ad hoc traps and using the weapons and environment in concert.

It wasn't really all that much fun, though.

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Yes, disaster.

But then again, I disliked the Zelda games, and pretty much hated Half Life; (and metroid and single player bomberman) so I might have a smidgen of hate for puzzles in my action games.

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Quote:
Original post by Iron Chef Carnage
I think Half-Life 2 is both the most shining example of this sort of gameplay and the most eloquent argument against it.

In the midst of a fierce fight, you'd be given a chance to perform a novel maneuver, often with the aid of the gravity gun, and really turn the tide of the fight. The enemies were pretty sharp, but you could stymie them by maneuvering objects to block their ingress, creating ad hoc traps and using the weapons and environment in concert.

It wasn't really all that much fun, though.

I thought the overall game was a lot of fun, but it was also a big hypocrite. It tried to present countless realistic and outrageously complex physics for combat and traps, but then as soon as the player tries to use them to employ their own customized gags, the realism falls apart. For a simple example of this, a single enemy human can blast through a door by simply walking, regardless of how well you block it from the other side. Adding the ability to control so much in a game without having the game fully respond to it results in countless unrealistic fail-safes and safety-catches like this. This is all a bit off topic, though, so I'll stop complaining here.

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D/Generation combines action and puzzles. Monsters can help the player by disabling traps or push buttons. There is also a bit of strategic and moral dilemma; Do you want to save a hostage and recieve an extra life for doing so, or do you decide not to risk your life and let the hostage be killed by the monsters.

Action combined with puzzles is a great genre in my opinion, much more entertaining and satisfying if done in the right way.

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I'd consider Deus Ex 1 to be somewhat of a puzzle / action game. The reason I believe it has puzzle elements is the nature of the things you could do. There were all sorts of tasks that required you to solve problems, hack turrets, find passcodes and there were multiple ways to solve any problem from brute force to stealth to turning the environment against the enemy.

I'm not sure if it enough of a puzzle to quite be considered that. Though if you took that style of game adding in puzzle type of activities would be a breeze.

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Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time had a fairly abrupt delineation between fighting and jumping around. That said, the jumping around was a very clever, elegant mix of action and puzzle. You needed to figure out how to use the bars and ledges and whatnot to get from one place to another, but often you had to do this with a time limit, while negotiating dangers like rotating sawblades. The result was an ever-shifting mix of carefully analyzing and figuring things out, and performing under time pressure.. the different dimensions which the level designers found in these elements comprised much of the appeal of the game. The same was true of Portal: Some areas were easy to analyze but required quick reflexes, others were difficult to figure out but you could take as much time as you want; others were between the two extremes. I think the takeaway from both of these games is that thinking puzzles shouldn't be carefully delineated and removed from the action... players should pass seamlessly into and out of them.

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Super metroid and zelda games are worth looking at as they are enjoyed by so many including me but the mix of action and puzzle is a fine line to walk. For instance I played Overlord on a mates 360 and felt I was always bringing my imps back to help kill things rather than do the boring puzzle with them. That grew into me not liking the game.

Personally if the action is very trigger finger fast stuff I don't really want to think about solving something at the same time. The two games I referenced tend to have predictable enemies and enjoyable puzzles meaning you can puzzle and kill things comfortably. The only times a puzzle is presented and you have to act fast action wise are boss fights and they are designed to be hard.

It would be frustrating to have puzzles and action where you have to solve the puzzle fast enough or you lose. It would be equally frustrating to have a tough puzzle to solve but you have to spend all your time fighting of a never ending supply of enemies that are not predictable and require 100% of your attention for example, therefore leading to you never getting to look at the puzzle enough.

So personally I conclude if you want both at once, either the puzzle or the action needs to be predictable and easy. Predictable puzzles are boring in my opinion but hack and slash games use them to vary the game levels without taking away from the pure action. Easy action elements like easy enemies to kill, would be the way to go for me. Now we're back to zelda and super metroid. Like I said before though, boss fights tend to break that rule because you want to push the player till they understand what to do and then it reverts too the balance

But as always what I just said is by no means the law, only part of the equation. If you think the player can handle both action and puzzle at once under timed pressure like the example mentioned before me in prince of persia then go for it. Only testing will you be sure if it's right or wrong. It also comes down to the situation, the player could be relaxed and then suddenly they have to do all this stuff and feel annoyed by the game as they lose. Anticipation of the puzzle and action together can be more than enough to let the player find it easy enough and it not be a disaster. Only real way of finding out if it's a disaster or not is by testing and then perhaps tweaking the design.

For your own game you could try to balance it and you could alienate players. Think about if you want it to be action or puzzle. If you lean towards one more then maybe think about an all action game with optional puzzle elements that if the player wants to do then they shall be rewarded or vice versa. Personally there is no reason to do whatever you want but keep in mind "is this fun" and get other people to test it and see their reactions.

[Edited by - DontPanic on June 11, 2008 6:23:10 PM]

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I think that this is a very good idea to be borrowed. I'd like it to be applied any prolonged farming behavior detected, in order to avoid the in-game bots and farmers.

When the bots farm too long, a simple puzzle is given such that whatever it farmed within a period of time will be removed if it failed to solve the puzzle on time. Say, a bot is set at 8:00am for a long time farming till 1:00-3:00pm, a random puzzle is given to say that, "Son, you hunt too long without a rest, your spirit feels exhausted, . Your gold farmed in the past 3 hours will be gone with the wing when you fail to solve the puzzle on time.
Quote:
Original post by steveworks
Not to make fun of these games (I happen to love Zelda) and some of these are classics but, how many games do we know of that really are a perfect balance? ( if you know of one tell post about it. Trust me I would love to hear about it.) If anyone has any ideas for a game that you think balances these traits (or excels at them both) please post them.

Pretty surprising no one mentioned Tomb Raider series yet. Another example would be ICO (and earlier take on the same subject, the Lost Vikings) where the puzzles were based on need to combine different abilities possessed by multiple characters under your control to progress further.

Both of these games seem to work pretty good because they avoid dichotomy in gameplay. I.e. it's not "arcade and puzzle" in the sense every now and then game yells at you "pu-pu-pu-puzzle time!" ... but the puzzles are integrated seamlessly in the environment, and are pretty much constant part of moving forward.

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