Puzzling Our Way Home

Recently, I got to sit down and play Going Home. Depending on who you ask, it is either an interactive story or a storytelling game. There really are no puzzles to it, there are a few keys and, if you don’t enable any of the mods from the start, the quest is pretty linear. You have to go do A to have B happen, which gives you access to C.

This is a railroaded quest to the extreme. I cannot deny that, nor can I deny there are some gaps in logic when you consider how this would be done in real life and not game form, but mentioning any would spoil the game some for those who have yet to ty it, likely due to bad reviews and that is the problem.

When the game came out,  it was $20 on Steam. Expensive for a game that you can reach the end of in 2-3 hours. Granted, that’s the same price of a movie of the same length, but I think people were expecting more based on the medium. The common idea is video games should have a certain amount of content for a certain price, and most of that content im gamed is challenge of some sort. Stealth, combat, opposition,  puzzles, and so forth. Without the challenge, what is the game?

Prince of Persia and Mirror’s Edge didn’t appeal to everyone with their added combat, instead feeling more focus should have been on platorming instead. Combat was just added in, the opinion is, because the game needed it to be a game and its not a game without combat. Listening to people talk about what should and shouldn’t br in a game reminds me of the opening to Swordfish, with Travolta bemoaning the way that Hollywood is, as people try to talk about what make games good and challenging.

So, can you have a game without combat? In a tabletop game, I believe so, depending on the players you have. Gone Home is a good example of one way to do it for the storytelling and mystery types, as it gives a new area to explore by giving you hints of where to find things and it builds up the storyline as things go on. You have the narrator telling you one story with the items you find lying around providing you at least two other stories. The game doesn’t hit you over the head with these other stories, so you may not find all the pieces of it, but if you take time to find things you can figure most of it out.

One really good thing Gone Home did for RPG design is to show you don’t need to beat players over the head with facts and connections. Their puzzle design was not designed to be obvious, as there was no indicator saying where the next clue was, and you do not have to find anything beyond the main storyline triggers of the game.

That aspect of puzzle design is an example of how you can use Schrodinger’s Universe to your advantage, as players will not know events until they uncover them, so to use the Gone Home example, you only know what happened to your sister. Your parents stories have pieces everywhere and, were this an RPG, you could use some of the information you find to help you. Blackjack wrote an article about some examples of connections you can come up with and how the players would be able to piece it together, If Only You Turned On The Television.

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