Puzzling mechanics

Ever since I played Karoshi and a handfull of other games (primarily short flash based ones) I’ve been really intrigued by the use of a particular type of puzzle: the mechanics themselves. Nothing is explained, everything is left to you, the player, to figure out on your own.

The concept itself is not even remotely new to me, I always derived joy from learning new interesting things I can experiment with. Be it chemical experiments, physical experiments or videogame interfaces. All those things derive the same feeling, that “Can I do this? Can I do that? Wow that actually worked!” sort of feeling.

In a world increasingly filled with mind-numbing tutorials on every single videogame on the face of the earth, it’s refreshing to find one that treats the player as a thinking human being.

Another beacon of light
Another beacon of light

Not so long ago I was playing Fallout 2 for the first time and there’s one thing that still sticks in my mind: I had to open a sealed door and I had no clue on how to do that. All I had that could do the trick was an explosive, “Well, this could probably work” I said to myself. I “interacted” with the bomb and I was greeted with a timer GUI. I set it to 30 seconds and… yep, it’s now ticking. What the hell do I do now? I have it on my inventory! If it explodes … am I supposed to drop it? But in most games to drop an item means to loose it forever. *sigh* I might as well drop it by the door.

Needless to say, I was smiling from ear to ear when the door was blown to pieces. I was overjoyed. The mechanics made sense. It all made sense. Why the hell no other game implemented something as clever as this before? This world is alive, nothing magically evaporates for the sake of balance or easier implementations: If you drop a machine-gun in the middle of the city, it will stay there until you pick it up again (unless someone else is in battle mode confronting you and the enemy AI decides that picking it up is worth it… imagine that, an enemy that appears to actually think).

Anyways, the point is: The game didn’t explain to me how to blow up the door, it didn’t even tell me I could check the scenery for items. Letting the player guess on how to progress let’s him feel clever and overjoyed when he comes up with a solution.
There’s no cleverness in doing what the tutorial says, there’s no moment of revelation, you are only following orders.

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