English Country Tune: Puzzle Ruminations

The first of those two puzzles I mentioned in my last post finally yielded to copious use of process of elimination — I didn’t understand what I had to do until I had gone through everything that wouldn’t work. This opened up access to the rest of the game’s puzzles, which I made short work of, leaving only the other of the two, the one with the resonator.

I’ve mentioned the notion of formulating goals. To be clear, your ultimate goals in this game are usually obvious: get the larvae to their incubation chambers, plant all the gardens, free the whales, get your square to its goal spot, and so forth. But then you have obstacles. Let’s say you can’t reach a larva because it’s over on another structure, across a gap you can’t travel. This creates another goal: bridge that gap. For the most part, I felt like the low-level movement needed to accomplish goals in this game was the easy part, and that I only got really stuck when I couldn’t tell what the intermediary sub-goals were. But maybe that’s tautological.

Solving the resonator puzzle took an “Aha!” realization, and even with that, I didn’t fully understand why the solution worked before going over it in my mind in preparation for this blog post. It also requires a certain amount of reverse reasoning. This was possible because the puzzles in ECT are highly parsimonious, avoiding superfluous blocks and red herrings. Everything has a reason to be there, either as part of an obstacle or part of a solution. In most puzzles, if I didn’t see the purpose of a structure, it sufficed to just ignore it until its purpose became apparent, either because it was in my way or because I suddenly had a need of it. But in some cases, such as this one last puzzle, the path to a solution was unclear enough that imagining what a structure could be used for could clarify matters.

Many years ago, I made an attempt at classifying puzzles in games (and adventure games in particular) by the sorts of thought processes necessary for solving them. Such categories are necessarily vague, and many puzzles partake of more than one, but that doesn’t mean they’re not useful as descriptions. The main categories I came up with at the time were something like this: First, you’ve got those “Aha!” moments, the epiphanies that transform your understanding of the problem. Classically, riddles fit in this category. Then you’ve got puzzles based on the application of known rules. This is the domain of mazes and jigsaw puzzles. Finally, there’s my favorite group, puzzles where you don’t know the rules at first, and have to figure them out through experimentation. This is a sort of puzzle that’s almost exclusively seen in videogames. I don’t think this old taxonomy had a slot for the kind of backward reasoning I just described, so maybe that should be considered a fourth sort.

ECT runs the entire spectrum. Whenever a new game element is introduced, you have to play with it to figure out how it works. (There are in-game descriptions, but they don’t tell you everything.) Once you know the rules, you apply them. But every once in a while, there’s a puzzle that uses the rules in a way that you haven’t thought of. And that’s where the epiphanies come in. My understanding is that Stephen’s Sausage Roll is similar. I’ll be getting back to that shortly.

No Comments

Leave a reply