I interviewed Keziah Jarrett of Seraphim Escape, Brisbane's scariest escape rooms, this week. During which, she told me that the best way to design a puzzle experience for a friend or loved one was to keep it simple, fun, and linear.
(check out our interview here)
This sentiment has echoed a thought, ney, a feeling that has been growing inside me of late. The more I play puzzle experiences the more I discover how much I want to be entertained. Solving puzzles should not feel like you're back in an exam room. Solving a puzzle should be motivated by a simple contention: what happens next.
The narrative can be a tricky and complex beast to wrangle when creating puzzle experiences. Most experience designers know that the quality and delivery of the narrative will be what grabs the attention, and emotion, of the player. But we struggle to incorporate it into our experiences. Why?
Because the narrative is hard. Narratives deal with the heart, not the head. And puzzle designers love using their brains. But incorporating the heart into puzzle design takes something other than systems thinking, or abstract reasoning; it takes empathy.
Now, I'm not saying I'm any better at crafting a narrative into a puzzle than anyone else. I'm surely worst than most. But I understand that if I want my players to experience my games, then I am going to have to inspire feelings, not thoughts.
So with all this being said, I am confident to go on the record and say:
"Puzzle adventures must be guided by logic, but driven by heart"
Heart, feelings, and empathy for the characters. These are the motivations to solve the equation or search for the missing finger or look for the killer's phone number in a buried Instagram post. The heart is what fires us up as human beings, as feeling creatures and compels us to sit for hours until we figure out the mystery.
In my upcoming puzzle adventure: The Unsual Remains of Sophie Valentine I will make it my sole endeavour to craft an immersive narrative as my foundational experience. I will use puzzles merely as tools to augment the storytelling, like grammar in a sentence or a hammer in building a house.
And I will use emotional, feeling experiences, as the treasure.