When I was writing my previous post, I spoke about how much I enjoy eliciting that spontaneous feeling of accomplishment that accompanies the moment when a player solves a puzzle – the “Eureka!” moment, if you will.
But there are a whole host of other emotions that lead up to the conclusion of solving a good puzzle. This is something I had never given a great deal of thought to during the design process; I’m fairly sure that any considerations to a solver’s emotions were taking place on a fairly subconscious level. Looking back though, I can now see that I imposed my will all over the place in Madness, not just in how I intended players to approach a puzzle logically or mechanically (though they often surprised me), but also in how they responded on an emotional level. At some point I must have asked myself: What emotions do I enjoying feeling at various steps of the solving process, and how can I make others feel the same way?
Hooray, we got the box open! Uhh…Now what?
The immense satisfaction that comes with figuring out an intermediary puzzle is often short-lived when solvers realize that upon besting one puzzle, they’ve managed to unlock several more in the process. Puzzle veterans are used to this; in timed events especially, there’s simply no time to savor the small victories when there are suddenly three fresh new tasks to be dealt with. This scenario might not be enjoyable at a stressful job, or at home when the kids start screaming at the same time the stove catches on fire. But in the world of puzzling, it’s tremendously exciting.
The chest in the picture above is an actual example from The Madness From the Sea. Sealed with a simple three-digit combination lock, this chest sat in plain view of the players from the onset of the game. Once players solved their first mystery (remember that the term “mystery” is simply my flavorful name for “puzzle” within the game), the combination was revealed to them on a computer screen. This generally took place within twenty minutes of the start of the game.
The items inside varied greatly in terms of immediate usefulness to the team. For example, the large card on the left titled The Statesman signaled to players the start of a new mystery to solve, as each mystery had its own corresponding card that looked very similar to this one. That feeling of recognition is a highly positive one in a large-scale puzzle event. As a creator, my goal is to trigger a response in the player that effectively says: “Ok, even though I now have a new task before me on which I have made no progress, I know exactly what this object signifies, and that is reassuring.”
This emotion exists in varying degrees. Before opening the chest, most teams had assembled a set of cards featuring seemingly unrelated images. The cards were numbered one through nine, but the card with the number eight conspicuously missing. Once a player found the missing card inside the chest, he or she may have felt something along the lines of: “With this discovery, it would appear that I have completed the set of all cards of this type. I may not yet know what to do with these cards, but the mere fact that I have them all is somewhat reassuring.”
What is this thing for? I can only speculate…
Continuing across the emotional spectrum, players also found this card inside the chest, which features a colorful compound with a vaguely science-y sounding name:
Unlike the previous examples, this card was generally the first of its type to be discovered by the solving team. As such, we perhaps can’t ascribe much to it in the way of reassurance other than that which we’ve gleaned from other similar patterns: “I have not yet seen a card like this, and so can only speculate as to what it might be used for. But so far in this game, it seems as though items don’t pop up in isolation. Thus, it seems likely that there may be others like it, so I will keep a sharp lookout for more.”
By revealing a single card of this type early, I was attempting to not only tap into the part of the brain that generates curiosity and wild speculation, but also the part that drives completionism, or the desire to collect every object in a given set. The colossal success of the Pokémon franchise illustrates that completionist tendencies exist on a grand scale, and can be harnessed to achieve many different objectives (such as collecting googly-eyed critters or generating truckloads of money, depending on where you sit).
I chose to reveal these fictional compound cards gradually, spaced out more-or-less evenly throughout the course of the adventure. By the time the final card was revealed near the end of the game, players’ completionist brains had had plenty of time to obsess over collecting the full set:
(NOTE: In a subsequent post, I will discuss the puzzle that used these cards, so don’t think too hard about them in the meantime!)
In addition to the positive feelings that a creator should aim to evoke in his or her solvers, there are also feelings that one should take great lengths to avoid subjecting them to. I think I’ll save a discussion of that topic for another day.