Puzzles vs Games

Layton is awesome. You don’t classify puzzles as games, right? But as something sort of a sidestep away?

Yeah, I don’t think they’re really the same type of thing, or at least, can’t be judged the same type of way. Puzzles tend to focus on a small number of solutions, and games tend to focus on a large number. Puzzles have a spoiler effect, where once you know the answer to a puzzle, it’s trivial; where in games even if you’ve done something before, it can still be extremely difficult.

You could also say there’s a continuum or spectrum between the two. After all, I frequently point out elements in games that are more puzzle-like.

I think Tetris being labeled a puzzle game, as well as other falling block games similar to it, is a complete misnomer.

I like good puzzles, but I think they need to be judged on a set of standards and criteria that isn’t the same as games. Something like depth (as I’ve defined it for games) is no longer a factor for whether a puzzle is good or not. Though then there’s weird exceptions like portal which clearly benefit from depth in a manner similar to games. A large state space in of itself can help prevent a puzzle from being brute forced, by trying every possible solution. A lot of Layton puzzles for example just involve inputting a number, but they are still frequently good. I could probably ruminate on good puzzle making until I come up with something satisfactory with a lot of research, but currently I regard that as outside my scope.

Though now that I think about it, I can see a connection between many puzzles and complexity class, as pointed out by Raph Koster in his Games are Math talk. http://www.raphkoster.com/2009/09/22/gdca-games-are-math-slides-posted/ A lot of good puzzles (and good games) regard problems that are difficult to process in terms of state size, but there are exceptions to that too, like simply figuring out connections between established mechanics.

I know you’ve said several times that you don’t consider puzzles to be real games, but do faster-paced versus puzzle games like Tetris Attack/Puzzle League or Puyo Puyo exceptions? Come to think of it, do they even fit into your definition of puzzle games?

Okay, Tetris, Panel De Pon, Puyo Puyo, Magical Drop and so on, I don’t consider these to be puzzles. I think that’s a misnomer based on their similarity to abstract puzzles. Many people call these action puzzle games. They’re totally games. There’s really no point of ambiguity about them, the same way with puzzles.

I’m fine with misnomers as long as we’re all clear it’s a misnomer and it’s a clear self-contained category (Like Role-Playing Game, or Action Puzzle Game, which both are misnomers, but it’s also really clear exactly what you’re referring to).

Could you shit talk that group of Golden Age mystery novel writers that considered their books to be games played between the author and the reader?

I’d say it’s more like a puzzle or riddle than a game. I mean, Phoenix Wright is built on a similar principle and I’m okay with that.

The trouble with mystery novels, unlike games is, you don’t have repeated chances to solve a generic version of a problem. You have one chance, and you get it, or it’s spoiled for you. You can’t go back and retry because you know the answer. You can theoretically grow the skill of seeing the patterns writers leave for you to have a higher success rate at guessing what the answer to the mystery is, but theoretically, it’s also kind of a crapshot because circumstances are unique to each individual book.

Like, similar to a game, these mystery novels do have something that you can be consistent or inconsistent at, but unlike a game, they have no possibility space.

They’re cool being what they are in my book, even if I might get a bit technical about the terminology.

How come you are so kosher towards Ace Attorney even though it’s almost a visual novel and has no depth?

Don’t forget Professor Layton and The Witness as well. I’m fine with puzzles in general even though they have no or little depth. If you’ve been following along, you’d know I’ve covered this before. I think puzzles probably follow different principles than games and I appreciate a good puzzle. I’m honestly not sure exactly what makes a good puzzle, I just know one when I see one, and I consider the problem of what makes a good puzzle outside the scope of my writing here. Trying to figure out the underlying principles there seems like a hard problem that is way more soft than something like Depth.

Ace Attorney has you thinking in a problem-solving mindset. It’s kind of tricky to figure out the answers, even if you can ultimately brute force everything when it comes down to it. And usually the answers are pretty fair and understandable rather than, “how was I ever supposed to make that connection?” (not always unfortunately). It has its roots in the same sort of mental mechanism that creates fun in games even if the same principles can’t completely overlap.

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