Thursday, 9 April 2015

Talos and Story in Puzzles

I want to rave a bit about The Talos Principle

Steam tells me I've played 5 hours and I feel like I'm barely scratching the surface (although I play quite slowly and methodically). It's probably been reviewed properly enough times by now, so I won't, but I will summarise by saying that in my opinion it offers the rarely-seen combination of excellently designed puzzles; rich, beautiful artwork, and an immersive story and universe.

Confusing, weird, and very pretty.

Last night I was stuck for around 40 minutes on one of the star puzzles. I had searched everything on this island twice and was feeling utterly, utterly defeated at the hands of this (as it turned out not too difficult) puzzle. My attempts: initially systematic, then frantic, had become completely random and I was close to losing all hope. Just then, at what felt like the last second, I spotted the trick I was looking for and within 20 seconds had the puzzle complete. 

My head fell into my hands and I spent a good 30 seconds just breathing and clearing my thoughts. A real sense of desperation, and genuine stress had crept into me attempting this not-roadblocking, not-time-pressured, not-mentally intensive puzzle. I needed to calm down. I needed to recover. It was a very unusual, but deeply satisfying experience.
There are two points about this anecdote I want to emphasise. 

Pretty pretty pretty.

First is that The Talos Principle featues excellently designed puzzles. Although IMO the difficulty skews a little toward too easy throughout the game overall (caveat: I'm only about 20% of the way through), there are difficult ones out there (generally the stars, which don't seem essential for progress at my stage in the game), and all of the puzzles are incredibly elegant. It is actually very hard, and requires a lot of time and energy, to get stuck in the Talos Principle, because even if you can't see what works, you can usually see a few things that might work, and experimentation has a lovely tendency to reveal something you didn't think of yet. 

Second is that I experienced a well known puzzle-feeling, the: I have exhausted everything I could try, I have no hope of proceeding,  I may as well consult a walkthrough now manner. But I didn't, and I didn't ever feel close to doing so, not because I was worried about spoiling the puzzle, but because TTP had me so thoroughly wrapped up in its world that I didn't want to break out of character by minimising the game. It would have felt **awful** to do so. So I think this is a key lesson about the interaction between game and story and puzzle: very often a quality of story can tide over a temporary dissatisfaction due to a stuck puzzle.