Can puzzles have depth?

They can, but they usually don’t, and that’s usually not the point of puzzles. I think puzzles and puzzle design is a step removed from game design, even though they’re seen on similar terms by most people. Puzzles tend to emphasize singular solutions over dynamic challenges. Games like Catherine or Tetris have more possible solutions and are more freeform in a gamey type of way, which is why I think Tetris isn’t really a puzzle game at all (I haven’t played Catherine, but I know some sections emphasize specific solutions and there’s a more free-form versus mode).

I think Puzzles should be judged by their own standards separate from the standards used to judge games because there’s definitely something different going on with them, and it’s not really my interest to figure out what or try to come up with some type of cohesive framework for that medium.

Personally I’d encourage game designers to avoid puzzle-like design in their games unless they’re making a puzzle game or are using it for content framing purposes, to organize blocks of content with some overarching light puzzle structure.

The primary difference between games and puzzles is that on hearing the solution to a puzzle, it’s usually trivial to complete the puzzle, but static solutions don’t exist nearly as often for games. There’s a spoiler effect. Once you know it, the challenge disappears. Puzzles don’t generate inconsistency in individual players like games do, they block success, then cease to block thereafter (unless you forget the solution). In a game, you might succeed 1 time out of 10, but it takes another 10 tries until you can succeed again at the same challenge.

This recent claim of yours (you never said it before?) that puzzles are almost not really games is weird. They certainly deserve the title more than pure execution skill games, with nearly no choice making–at least they showcase high-level possibilities within a complex system. They’re different from action games in that they’re expository, rather than combinatoric, so they can be spoiled as you say, but someone who reads a puzzle solution can be said to be playing the game as much as someone who is being told each move in a board game. The actual game is understanding the system. They may not actively challenge on subsequent playthroughs, but the thought process they entail is similar as that required by action games. Ostensibly, any puzzle game could be turned into an action game by making some tweaks here and there, so that it becomes combinatoric.

You’re right, I’m flipflopping on this one. It’s just that puzzles clearly share different characteristics from games and can’t be readily understood in the same ways. If you want to go by a strict definition, related to succeeding at things inconsistently, at overcoming challenges, they definitely fit in the same family. I’m just hesitant to call them games outright. Something seems off about that.

I don’t think the same can be said of pure execution skill games, though other academics have previously separated these into a category they call, “contests,” rather than games. I’m more inclined to call pure execution skill games as such because of the lack of the spoiler effect and because they do have a state space, even if it’s a small one.

I don’t think you can turn every puzzle game into an action game, like for example, Antichamber and Professor Layton.

My base point is more that to understand puzzle games, it would require very different thinking than for regular games, which is outside my scope personally.


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