Sunday, 13 May 2012

Noticing Something is Not a Fun Challenge

One of my criticisms of Silent Hill: Downpour's puzzle design is the way the challenge would often lie in simply identifying all the necessary components.

In one particular 'Otherworld' section very late in the game you enter a room which is mirrored vertically; the floor is reflective and you can see a copy of the room below you although it has two monsters in it and two large cages raised off the ground, which don't exist in your version of the room. You can turn a valve to rotate the room and switch between versions. The idea is to get the monsters to stand in the right spot by scaring them with bright floodlights, then hit a couple of buttons to drop the cages down and trap them. The problem was that I didn't actually notice the buttons, because they had a dull colour in a dull room and were way off at the edges away from all the other important stuff.

I thought I had to use the valve to rotate the room and make the cages fall when it turned the right way up, which I think is a fairly logical assumption (despite being in a very illogical, nightmarish setting). When I eventually noticed the buttons I nearly kicked myself, and the resulting realisation was not a satisfying or rewarding conclusion to the challenge because the solution was simple and obvious. The term 'puzzle' is applied very loosely here. It's like trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle with several pieces missing, but having no clue that those pieces should even exist in the first place. When you finally find them, well of course they go there.

It occurred to me that a puzzle is best when the player is fully aware of all its working parts, they're just not sure how they fit together (or perhaps whether they do even fit together, but red herrings are another story). Downpour failed in this respect, several times, and the resulting effect was plain frustration that these key objects were not signposted well enough.