A thing that bothers me: When things assume that you can't solve simple substitution ciphers.

I just played through an episode of an episodic puzzle-story thing that gave me a cipher with a crib of fully fifteen letters -- yes, the majority of the alphabet. "With that much information, surely they expect me to crack the rest by hand!" I thought. Nope. An hour or so after cracking the cipher, I discovered the puzzle that gives you the other eleven letters.

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Puzzle games being too easy or too hard is a classic dilemma. Partial deployment of puzzles is the generic culprit here. Embarrassingly I spent a few frustrating hours trying to make a jump in the metroidvania game Alma’s Awakening that I thought I had to make and only later found out there was an item that made the section easy. (Maybe it is possible to sequence-break there, but I thought you had to.)

The DaVinci Code is an awful book and one of the thingd that makes it bad is the whole… “He looked at the puzzle in his hand. It had gone unsolved for ages.” Four chapters later: “He looked at the puzzle again. Truly an unbreakable enigma.” Four chapters later, readers finally get to see the puzzle. It’s text written backwards. Four chapters later, the detective figures it out.

I think the intent is to make the game’s challenge more adaptable. Someone who finds the 15L version easy can solve that, others can wait until they get the back 9. Executed well it can create a good sense of flow and steady progress. Executed poorly you can feel patronized or you can be stuck trying to solve an impossible puzzle.

Last puzzle game I played was Agent A (although I got motion sick in the latter chapters so I’ve taken a break) which, while on the whole the puzzles are so easy that it’s more of an exploration game than a real brainburner, does a good job with this. Several times it didn’t let me try an unsolvable puzzle; I tap there and it says I haven’t found what I need yet. Other times it did let me try, and I solved some that I later found more clues for. Like, there is a base five four digit combination lock that was easy to open after finding two digits, even though later I found the other two. That’s a good thing because instead of being like “IDK where to go” I could keep exploring with the stuff I had from that safe. It allowed me to do stuff out of order instead of being stuck. Eventually I did have to find that correct bottleneck, but I was rewarded for my early safecracking with some more stuff to do for a while.

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