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How to give hints in a puzzle game without giving it away?

Discussion in 'Game Design' started by JoeStrout, Oct 28, 2022.

  1. JoeStrout


    Jan 14, 2011
    I've got a puzzle game in early access on Steam. It's essentially digital circuit design, though dressed up in a fantasy/magic world.

    I just got my first review, and the reviewer had several good points of feedback. But the one that concerns me the most is: they got stuck on puzzle 7 (out of 11 in this early release, but ultimately, that'll be out of 30 or so). And since each puzzle unlocks the next, if you get stuck on one, you're really stuck — the rest of the game may as well not exist.

    A "hint" function is the obvious solution, but I find myself nervous about that. If the hint is too obvious, the player will leave feeling like they've failed even after passing the puzzle. If it's too subtle, they may still be stuck. Seems like hints are fun only when they are "just right," but what's just right probably varies from person to person.

    Possibly that could be improved by having several hints, from super-subtle to basically giving them the answer. How do puzzle enthusiasts react to that?

    Would I need to add some motivator (besides the player's own stubborn pride) to eschew the hints? Like, add a score and deduct points for using them?

    Hints aside, should I let players pass a puzzle without solving it, so that they can go try a different one? But I worry that if they can't solve puzzle 7, they're definitely not going to be able to solve puzzle 8, which builds on the same idea.

    Thanks for your thoughts!
  2. kdgalla


    Mar 15, 2013
    Do you know what the sticking point was? Do you introduce a new mechanic at that puzzle?

    Edit: I recommend checking out "the Witness." It's a game that's very good at introducing puzzle mechanics with no text or hint system. My experience wasn't perfectly smooth, but it's critically acclaimed so there's a general consensus that it's very good.
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2022
    TonyLi likes this.
  3. TonyLi


    Apr 10, 2012
    Also, playtest, playtest, playtest -- the hard way, watching someone play without saying anything. :) If they all get stuck on a specific puzzle, that's one to focus on. Perhaps you can introduce a simplified version of the puzzle earlier on so they know they have that type of solution available in their toolbox.
    JoeStrout likes this.


    Jun 1, 2017
    i think its hard to give advice without having played the game a good deal and i feel that this is a situation where you need very specific ideas.

    However, one general thought i have is that, it sounds like you want to not take anything away from the players sense that they did it all on their own. With that goal in mind, perhaps the best help you can give them would be for each puzzle, you have several similar examples that they can opt to play, and hopefully it can showcase the same idea that they'd need to implement.

    I dont know how feasible that would be to construct, i expect it might be too time consuming. In a phone game that would be the sort of thing you have to watch an ad for and then they would get the hint. But I don't think thats the sort of game you are doing here.

    Also, more broadly, i think going easy and over rewarding players is probably generally going to be more appreciated. Just keep them moving, even if a lot of it is not hyper perfected as far as difficulty curve goes.
  5. AcidArrow


    May 20, 2010
    In point and click adventures (which obviously isn't the same genre, but still), it's common to offer incrementing hints where you explicitly ask for the increased hint so you will be spoiled just enough to be able to progress.

    Another thing that puzzle games let you do, is like give you one or two SKIPS, where you can flat out skip a level and progress, so you don't get stuck, but if you run out you need to go back and solve a previous level you were stuck on, to free up a skip. It's like a very limited "cheat" that you then undo, and helps in stopping the player being very frustrated if a level just doesn't click for them.

    But the best solution to the problem is to have different sets of puzzles that you can progress in parallel. If a user gets stuck, being able to do something else and let your brain solve a different problem for a while, might make it easier to see the solution when they get back to the puzzle they were stuck, reducing the need for hints and skips overall <- but obviously this isn't something trivial to implement.
    angrypenguin and JoeStrout like this.
  6. dgoyette


    Jul 1, 2016
    That's exactly the approach I took in my puzzle game. Sometimes just getting the player to think about a specific mechanic is all it takes. Sometimes my hint is to ask a question to get them to consider why a specific element is present in this level. (There are no coincidences.)

    Each hint is revealed one after the other, only if the player decides to reveal the next hint. Often players will read just one hint, then go back and try to figure it out. That said, what I mostly notice is that players will just read everything and learn the solution, and then move on to the next challenge. I think it's like you said; if they need to resort to any hints at all for a given puzzle, they've already kind of mentally given up, and they just want to skip to the next bit. So, I'd say that the majority of players who have resorted to hints aren't looking for subtle hints, they just want the solution so they can proceed. But I've also had good feedback on the gradual hints, as that definitely appeals to some people who just want a gentle push in the right direction.
  7. JoeStrout


    Jan 14, 2011
    OK, thanks everyone. This is helpful feedback.
  8. BrandyStarbrite


    Aug 4, 2013
    That game looks challenging.:eek:
    I wasn't expecting an anime artstyle either.:D
    JoeStrout likes this.
  9. zombiegorilla



    May 8, 2012
    A bit late to the thread, but another option is offer walk-throughs and/or hints on the official site for the game. You don't have include any extra mechanics in the game, you can just provide a link if they fail a couple of times. Being outside the game adds a few steps and strong awareness the player is seeking help. Also they still have to play level, they will just know how, which is still "playing the game". If a player gets stuck they will move on quickly... the world if full of other games to play. ;).
  10. vintage-retro-indie_78


    Mar 4, 2023
    uhhh, it's quite new idea for a video - game // looks very dynamic, in that the player can do almost anything, it's perhaps more like a logic - engine stuff, in cases like that one more, or less has to just let the player lose, it's over having almost ways of filling the screen, or solving the puzzles . . .

    it's an amazing idea, and actually never seen the stuff before, think you're better off going with user - ideas, or critical ideas, it looks amazing, for sure a 10 - idea, it's just got so many answers, or ways of solving the puzzles it's bit difficult to say, or even if one could give a hint, at least it looks to have infinite complexity, or depth, and think perhaps just let the users try the stuff, see what happens . . . :) :cool:

    anyway, followed the link you provided, it looks amazing, and the puzzles are also on another level, it's a very good idea, and think it's going to be interesting to see if this gets also rather popular, a rare ' stellar ' idea, amazing stuff . . . .