Today I’m home with the flu, plugging away at E3 prep so I’m not totally unprepared and resting so I’m not totally diseased next week (lord knows it will happen after). As it’s important not to actually stress too much on sick days (video game industry, work life balance, etc.), I’m busy working through an item on the backlog: Uncharted 3. The game hasn’t exactly blown my mind so far, but I came across this little puzzle and had to share it for today’s blog. Drake calls it the “Game Show,” so I will too.
I’ve started to sit down and do actual puzzle design for a few prototypes I’m working on, and I’m starting to learn at least one way to go about it. This puzzle revolves around setup, affordances, and removal of information to make it both challenging and rewarding to figure out.
This video shows the solution to this fun little puzzle. So if you want to figure it out yourself, please do. It’s really, really rewarding. The puzzle starts at around 22:05. Watch how it works, where he moves the phoenix, where he moves the horse. The first wall totem he goes to here is the lion, which isn’t shown with the camera.
You walk into a room with a grid of Sabaean script on the wall and four symbols on the edges. There are four totems at four corners of the room, (one eagle, one lion, one blank, and one totem is totally broken) and on the floor in front of each totem is a black square that lights up with a different symbol depending on where you stand. Drake’s journal has two pieces of information in it. The first is a diagram of an eagle and three Sabaen symbols. The second is the bottom right corner of a grid and the position of two of the symbols within the grid. In the center is a mechanism that lets you move the symbols on the grid. That’s all you’re given. There are three elements: The wall totems, the grid, and the symbols on the floor.
The puzzle needs to be solved. By this point you’ve solved a few and you know that you’re not just going to sit here until something magical happens. These puzzles require action. An affordance is something we attribute to an object given its design or context. By placing a mechanism in the middle of the room, the game relies on the affordance of an interactable object in a blocked puzzle room. So you know how to solve it.
The game also uses identical symbols on the wall totems and the grid, so you know that there will be some sort of informational connection between them. The script on the floor is identical to the script on the grid, so you know that there is going to be an informational connection between them. Drake even says for the third time in this sequence of puzzles “It’s Sabaean script again,” (which is also written in his journal), which is a signal to the player that there is a solution in these symbols. Knowing where the action takes place to solve a puzzle and how information is connected between elements is a crucial part of this puzzle design.
The Information They’ve Removed
The interesting thing about this puzzle is how information is presented to you. In Drake’s journal, the “large grid” actually only shows four squares along the left and right side. The first leap you have to make to solving this is that the only “grid like” feature is the wall grid, which is actually 5×5. It’s not a big leap, because the paper in the journal actually cuts off where the rest of the grid would be. You’re filling in the information they’ve removed to start solving the puzzle. In this case, they have physically removed it with a tear. So you head over to the mechanism and move the horse and phoenix to the corresponding places. Nothing happens.
When looking at the grid on the wall, with the phoenix in place, you see that the symbols on all sides of it line up with the symbols in the picture on the left. The wall totem of the phoenix has a box that lights up with those exact symbols when you’re standing in those spaces (square thing when you’re left of it, weird N when you’re right of it, etc.). The information removed from this part of the puzzle is that the wall totems match the grid symbols. There is no direct connection there, and without being too cheap, they’ve chosen to let you figure it out yourself by removing MORE information.
The wall totem of the Lion has four symbols at its base and a light box. The wall totem that is blank has four symbols at its base and a light box. Then there is a fallen wall totem. The information removed from here is what wall totem this was. The phoenix and the lion are represented on the other wall totems… so is it the horse or the goat? The moment you look at this, you cannot help but think that it is irrelevant to the puzzle. Removing this piece of information meant its solution didn’t matter. If it was important for you to figure it out, they would have given it to you. Since the horse is already solved on the grid (in the journal) it is unnecessary to figure out what this totem was. It has to be the horse. It’s already solved, so the game has removed the need to concern yourself with it. Add on to that that the horse would have 3 symbols around it and the remaining two totems have four symbols at their base. (This sounds complicated as fuck, but trust me, it all makes sense when you watch the video). Move the lion, then process of elimination to use the symbols at the base of the goat to figure out where the goat goes on the grid. Blammo
What I Learned About Puzzle Design
I can’t help but feel I was in the room when this puzzle was designed. A total room, with all the connecting information, had to have been built first. Four animal totems on the wall with symbols on the floor corresponding to symbols on a grid where animal tiles go, and a page in a journal that showed the solution on the grid. The puzzle was built solved, then the solution was buried. From there it is a matter of hiding the information to make it more challenging for the player. 1) rip the page in the journal. 2) knock over one of the totems. 3) hide one of the other totems. It’s just one of many ways to create a puzzle, and unlocking it places you not only in Drake’s shoes but in the thousand-year-old-riddlemaster’s, which is an interesting bit of transference. Pure joy.