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A puzzle is something simple in concept, but by nature, can be very complex. It can simply be put the square peg in the square hole, or deciding where each person wants to sit at a table because someone wants to sit next to their cousin instead of their stepmother. Puzzle video games also take on a variety of different natures, from tales of gentleman pointing at criminals, to escaping from a facility after being kidnapped. However, I believe, that puzzle games are also perhaps the most unique genre in gaming...because they go further than what I've just mentioned.
HOW CAN YOU BE A GENTLEMAN IF YOU POINT AT PEOPLE!? POINTING IS RUDE!
Let's start with a definition: "puzzle", according to Google, is "a game, toy, or problem designed to test ingenuity or knowledge". This, of course, insinuates that a person does something that required them to think, possibly on the fly, and tested their previous knowledge. What if, then, we decide to say that a strategy one adopts could be considered a puzzle, because the strategy is something that a person came up with in order to solve a problem they were faced? If we consider this, than a huge world of possibilities becomes open to us.
When a person plays a video game, the experience they are having can be summed up in a simple manner: they are interacting with the game in some way, whether it be motion, vocal, a touch screen, or good ol' buttons and sticks, in order to perform an outcome. That outcome can have many purposes, from moving forward within a story, to beating a friend in a multiplayer game, or simply achieving a Tetris. However, no matter what the player is doing, that outcome most likely requires some sort of strategy. Maybe you're choosing specific moves to use, or specific weapons, or maybe turning the blocks in a different way. Here, we start to see the correlation. If we consider that a puzzle can be solved using a strategy, and all games require some sort of strategy-than doesn't that mean all games are puzzle games?
Excuse the mass gore.
While I've thought of this idea before, this blog was sort of inspired when, a few days ago, I got Hotline Miami, and was talking to xl9 about it, and he mentioned how he thought the game could be considered a puzzle, and it was something I'd thought about while playing the game, as well as a fact I agreed with. The game has the player character, known as "Jacket", taking out mobs of goons set out in a certain fashion within a level. Some might patrol around a room, or maybe are sitting down, unsuspecting of anything bad about to happen to them. If you die in a level, you're forced to go back to the last checkpoint, which are far inbetween. You're forced to be careful and quick with your kills, and this is what makes the game a puzzle: you're finding the right strategy to kill the goons.
In first and third person shooters, enemies hide behind cover, move erratically, use shields, powers, or other things in order to get an edge over you as an opposing force. This means that you have to create a strategy when playing, in order to deal with the enemies. Sure, you don't think "okay, first, I'll jump out, and shoot for their weak spot, and hope I land enough hits to kill them", but you do create a strategy as you go along, which may become something you repeat later on. The strategy becomes the solution to the puzzle you're given, and thus, we see a correlation. Both moments in first person shooters and puzzle-focused games involve the player coming up with a solution towards a predicament-it's simply how it's executed that's different. One may be on the fly, one may be after sitting around for hours before finally realizing you can rotate a piece.
Starting to see it?
In role-playing games, of all types, strategies almost always are required. In X-Com and Fire Emblem, you need to move your characters around a map in a fashion that allows you to defeat the enemy. In games like Fallout, your goal is being able to survive and defeat the enemies in the Wasteland, and the way this is a puzzle is that you have to find a winning combination of arms and perks to survive. Also, using V.A.T.S. is like a puzzle-maybe you're weak, but far away from an enemy, and you know you won't kill them-shooting their weapon to destroy it would be an ideal way to survive, and a solution to the predicament you face. In turn-based RPGs, you'll need to normally just find a combination of moves that will be powerful enough to defeat the enemy, but sometimes the battles are more puzzle like. In Shin Megami Tensei, the Press Turn system allows you to take another turn if you attack the enemy's weakness, and in Radiant Historia, the enemies are in a grid, and you can push them back and forth across said map to change how strong their hits are, but also how strong your hits are on them.
While sports and racing games are more of a stretch, they can be called a puzzle in some fashions. In games like Madden, you need to set up your players in an alignment that will allow you to get the best yardage. As for racing games, you need to use items, shortcuts, and specific moves like drifting in order to get ahead. Each player can adopt them to a specific playstyle, and this find one that works towards their ultimate goal, which is winning the race. Sounds like a stretch, I know, but you are using your knowledge of how turns work, and how the track is laid out, in order to win the race.
Well, I know this ended up a bit short, but I think I'm going to end off here guys. If you have any exceptions to the above theory I have, feel free to post below in the comments, as well as any other thoughts. See you tomorrow.
EVERYTHING. EVERYTHING DOES.