Varying the difficulty of puzzles

Puzzles are at the at the heart of all games.   Over the last 20 years games have changed significantly.  Faster computers and consoles have meant that games now have better graphics, audio, cinematics and more intricate gameplay.

The audience of gamers has also grown over the years.  Where it just used to be a a majority of young males that played games, now there are gamers across all age groups and genders.  The difficulty level of games have had to decrease to make sure that anyone of all ages can pick up, play and enjoy games of all types.  We also now have more to do and have little time to devote, so more games with shorter play times or shorter levels to ensure the player can drop into and out of play whenever they want are widely available.  So with all of these changes drastically affecting the way your players play your games, how do you determine that the difficulty of your puzzles are suitable?

Luckily, adjusting the difficulty of a puzzle is one of the easy parts of designing a puzzle.

Bread Crumbs

This is when you change the amount of information that you provide to the player. By providing the player with more detailed hints given more frequently, the easier it is for the player to reach the solution and solve the puzzle.

Proximity to the solution

In a fair game, the answer to eveyr puzzle lies somewhere within it.  How close the designer places the solution to the puzzle will determine it’s difficulty.   If a puzzle at the end of the game requires the player to drawn on information that they would have obtained very early on and very far away this will make the puzzle incredibly difficult for the player to solve.  However if a character near this puzzle reminds the player in someway of this information that they gained this puzzle will now become a lot easier to overcome.

Alternate Solutions

Providing alternate solutions to puzzles will indeed make the game easier. But it may become too easy.  Also, designing (and testing) a well constructed puzzle with one solution is hard enough without adding multiple solutions.

Red Herrings

These are unrelated pieces of information that have been thrown in to give the player more options to think about when solving the puzzle.  But this will make the puzzle more difficult so if you do include red herrings, try not to use alot.

Steering the Player

A good designer will constantly be steering the player towards the correct solution by providing little or big clues in response to the player’s input. These clues should be short and not be obvious.  The more time the player spends within that puzzle the more information they should accumulate to enable them to solve it.

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