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When recently playing an adventure game (Dreamfall Chapters) it hit me that most adventure games I've played have had only a single solution to the "puzzles" they require you to solve. This frequently means a single clue the player has to "get" or they may be in for a long session of "brute force" combing through everything they can find in the game world. (I remember this happening to me several time in classics such as Sam & Max Hit the Road.)

In comparison, a frequently cited piece of advice for Game Masters that want the players to follow clues in a tabletop roleplaying game is the Rule of Three, which basically states that every conclusion should be supported by (at least) three clues that the players see. As a corollary, every "chokepoint" problem should have three ways to solve it.

Is there a game design reason for why a similar rule isn't necessary for video games? Or are single-solution puzzles just lazy design?

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Yes, it's lazy design. But you have to understand that, apart from laziness, time and budget constraints may play a factor in how in-depth a game's puzzle-solving is. Each solution needs to be developed, coded, and tested, and the more you add, the more you have to deal with. Witness how buggy today's games get and you'll have an idea.

There's also the notion that what may have been clear to the designer may not be clear to the player, and what they think is an easy puzzle may stump you for months. (F'rex, the "monkey wrench" puzzle in Monkey Island 2 relied on a pun that flew over the heads of a lot of non-English speakers.) Since the designer isn't there to clarify or give extra hints the way a GameMaster is, the amount of stonewalling due to a bad puzzle is even worse.

FWIW, not all adventure games were like this. Maniac Mansion, for example, had multiple solutions/endings based on who you chose and what they did in the mansion.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Your first paragraph is a good point – the effort to make three solutions possible is much higher than with a GM, so the tradeoff may be different. \$\endgroup\$ – Hassassin Aug 15 '15 at 6:23
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The rule of three sounds like good advice, but often times some of the funnest or best things go against practical advice and yet are still somehow fun or good.

For instance, many argue that you need to hand hold a player into a game with an intro sequence that orients the player to their abilities. Legend of Zelda for nes dropped you into a world without a sword and gave you no introduction whatsoever - you could even miss the cave to get the sword! - yet the lack of hand holding added to the sense of exploration.

Back to the adventure games, I feel like there is an element of humor to their way of doing things. Defining humor is hard but one type of humor makes a previously confusing thing very obvious. I remember in monkey island you had to get a head for a cannibal's soup. Couldn't figure it out and eventually realized (by random chance) you had to read the book "how to get ahead in navigation".

Basically, there are rules that are good guidelines, but some of the fun of games can come from breaking the rules, and I think that is part of the fun of those games that gave them their distinctive style.

Know what the rules are but know when to break them I guess (:

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Another thing to consider is that every 'solution' has to be planned out, developed, and tested. With the world being as it is, time and money can drive a lot of decisions in development.

If you've given a player a puzzle and set up a solution, when you have 10 more puzzle-solution combinations to make are you going to get on to them or worry about making 3-5 other possible ways that the user could complete said puzzle?

Ideally yes, a user should be able to complete any one puzzle in any combination of ways that make sense, but sometimes the time constraints or the engine that the game runs on simply can't handle that.

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protected by Community Sep 18 '16 at 20:02

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