What Makes a Good Puzzle? - evolve-gaming.com

What Makes a Good Puzzle?

Game Maker’s Toolkit
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Puzzles can be one of the most complex things in game design. In this video, I break down some great conundrums from favourite games, and share some knowledge from sharp puzzle designers, to find out what makes a good puzzle.

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Further Reading / Viewing

Level Design Workshop: Solving Puzzle Design | GDC

A Good Puzzle Game Is Hard To Build | Rock, Paper, Shotun

Games shown in this episode (in order of appearance)

Snakebird (Noumenon Games, 2015)
Braid (Number None, 2008)
Portal (Valve Corporation, 2007)
Stephen’s Sausage Roll (increpare games, 2016)
Induction (Bryan Gale, 2016)
Yono and the Celestial Elephants (Neckbolt, 2017)
The Talos Principle (Croteam, 2014)
Cosmic Express (Draknek, 2017)
Deus Ex GO (Square Enix Montreal, 2016)
Pipe Push Paradise (Corey Martin, 2018)
Inside (Playdead, 2016)
Lara Croft GO (Square Enix Montreal, 2015)
The Swapper (Facepalm Games, 2013)
Portal 2 (Valve Corporation, 2011)
The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom (The Odd Gentlemen, 2010)
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Nintendo, 2011)
Hue (Fiddlesticks Games, 2016)
The Turing Test (Bulkhead Interactive, 2016)
Black the Fall (Sand Sailor Studio, 2017)
Rise of the Tomb Raider (Crystal Dynamics, 2015)
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (Naughty Dog, 2016)
Ittle Dew 2 (Ludosity AB, 2016)
Agatha Christie – The ABC Murders (Artefacts Studio, 2016)

Music used in this episode

Snakebird OST
k. Part 2 – 01 untitled 1, animeistrash

Contribute translated subtitles –


  1. 🙁 I expected you would mention The Witness

  2. I like escape games. But in fact, most of the time, I find the puzzles boring and not inspired.
    I wonder if some of the advice you gives are relevant in escape room. I've to think^^

  3. 6:25 I remember playing a Zelda game for the DS when I was a kid. At one point, you needed to copy something from a map on the top screen to your personal map on the touch screen. I poked at it for an hour with no idea what to do, but when I came back from dinner later, the puzzle had apparently solved itself. When I played through the game a second time, I got stuck at the same exact place. At one point, I closed the lid of the DS, and finally realized that touching the two screens together was actually the solution. I still remember the frustration I felt in that moment to this day. If solving a puzzle doesn't cause any euphoria, it's probably too contrived…

  4. 13:19 i still remember how i successfully failed this puzzle by going to the decret place and collecting enough can to weight down the button

  5. in portal 2 on the cube laser laser level i used the camera on the wall to block the lazer and the block just sitted on the button, today i find out that wasnt the intended solution

  6. That Talos puzzle is where I stopped. The difficulty VS vertigo tradeoff stopped being worth it.

  7. 2:26 the words of a man who never played "The Witness" before

  8. After watching this video my brain hurts I guess I'm good with games based on sci-fi and environmental conflicts

  9. When you see your favorite youtubers comments on this video;

    i am your favorite youtuber

  10. Ok, here is my summary/transcript. Hope it helps, feel free to discuss and correct 😉

    What makes a good puzzle?
    1. Minimal Requirements:
    1.1 Mechanics:
    – Rules and Limitations (as well as interaktion possibilities),
    – "Cleverness" of main mechanic decides about number and difficulty of possible puzzles,
    – external sources can be used to augment main mechanic (e.g. portal),
    – Use Combinable Mechanics for more possibilities.
    1.2. Clear Goal: (Player needs to figure out how to do it, not what to do!)

    2. The Catch:
    – Key conflict of puzzle, Logical Contradiction, where 2 (or more?) things seemingly are in direct conflict with each other -> looks unsolvable

    3. The Revelation:
    – Realisation about logical implications of(/a way to use the) Mechanics (should come as "Why did I not think about this earlier?", and NOT as "I didn't thought this would be possible" -> Hard to balance)
    – A revelation needs some lateral thinking (thinking outside of the box), to be one.
    – Teaches a new mechanic/application of mechanics, which can be reused after (e.g. an assumption? :D).

    4. The Assumption:
    – Use already established knowledge, to trigger the false assumption about how the level is to be solved, to
    enable a catch and lead to the revelation
    – Advantages of using this:
    1. Player not overwhelmed
    2. Mental model build in failed first try
    3. Puts focus on catch
    – Example of Assumption, Catch and Revelation: Snakebirds Lvl. 10

    5. Presentation:
    – Make clues, but not too obvious ones.
    – Puzzle should be minimalistic -> (almost) no extraneous elements (no red herings!), and busywork.
    – Clear Feedback:
    – which effect players actions caused
    – clearly signal when assumptions are broken. (Tomb Rider example, for lack of feedback)

    6. The curve: Progressing difficulty, make sure needed knowledge is there.
    – Sorting Criteria:
    – More poss. Solutions -> easier
    – number of steps required: higher -> difficulty higher
    – options in each timestep, mechanics that need to be known)
    – Needs Playtesting!!

  11. 14:00 i love how the player character seemingly celebrates… and the dies right after the animaion

  12. Awesome, I'm inspired to make a game now! …uh, how exactly do I do that…?

  13. I tend to believe a good rule-set will let the puzzle build itself. Take chess. It's a relatively simple rule set that leads to puzzle complexity

  14. I think you can sometimes make really cool exceptions to the rule about making the goal of the puzzle obvious. The first thing that comes to my mind is chess puzzles. There have been many instances where I've spent a ridiculous amount of time scratching my head over how to win a piece when mate in 4 was on the board. There are also games like Outer Wilds (which might only be considered puzzle games in a more abstract sense) that present the player with fuzzy notions of what needs to be done, but few hard and fast goals.

  15. Portal 2 is what I beat which I got so happy when it happened

  16. You mentioned that good puzzles have a clear goal, but one of my favorite puzzle games of all time, Starseed Pilgrim, has no obvious goals, and instead forces the player to explore to find out what the goals are. I encourage you to play it if you haven’t already!

  17. Only kind of puzzle games I like is Tetris… Some versions of tetris (and bombliss) has a very enjoyable and fun puzzle mode… I guess those things would belong here…

  18. I'm coming back to this after a year and I gotta say thank you! This video helped me win my first game jam!

  19. Excellent video. Worth subbing. Thanks for this!

  20. 11:43 OMG I spent so long doing that level and did not even find that solution, I spent 30 minutes eventually going behind the test chamber in some secret area that old, broken down and had creepy writing on the walls, I then picked up a water jug to block the laser and used the cube on the button

  21. One thing that i would want to add is that repeating multi-stage puzzles brings tedium, which can be frustrating. In one of the one-hit obliterator shrines in BotW, you die if you dont get the puzzle right. Repeating the earlier puzzles in the shrine that i had already solved was very frustrating. i think we should avoid repeating already-solved puzzles

  22. but i have a question, what is the best way to come up with a good assumption, revelation, and catch for your level?

  23. But in Turing Test the puzzles is for a robot, so a thing that have to be simple that a robot can solve

  24. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the puzzles in manifold garden!

  25. Omg is "PB Winterbottom" the inspiration for "Time Travel Understander,"?

  26. Duolingo bird are what ever his name his is in the thumbnail

    EDIT: It at least looked like him

  27. Awesome video and super interesting, thanks a lot!!!

  28. okay but now i wanna know how you get through that sausage roll lol

  29. If you want to introduce the mechanic required to beat the puzzle easily, the best example i could think of is just a funny moment in deltarune, at the king's castle, the rouxls kaard puzzles.
    Or at the first block-pushing puzzle where there is the funny interaction(or at least i found it funny don't judge me ok) of "Who the heck is [Z]"

  30. You haver to update this vídeo… We have another puzzle call BABA IS YOU

  31. To summarize, for my own benefit, a good puzzle has:
    • A clearly defined goal, and clearly defined obstacles between you and that goal.
    • A solution that is derived from the game's rules, which have been communicated to the player

    The best puzzles have:
    • a "catch" where the obvious solution doesn't work for some reason
    • a "lead" where the player is led to try this obvious solution once to see it fail
    • The logical leap from the obvious first solution, to the final correct one requires the player to learn a fundamental concept about the game's rules.
    • Learning this concept triggers a satisfying "eureka moment"
    • The size of this eureka moment is determined by how much the player had to figure out themselves, versus how much of the solution was handed to them (Portal 2 vs. Turing Test example).

    The biggest takeaway for me here is that there is no formula for puzzle design. In order to create your own puzzle that follows all of these rules, you first have to:
    1. Create an interesting game mechanic
    2. Build a game world, and notice the ways that traversal/progression through this world is affected by your new mechanic
    3. Isolate these individual concepts or nuances, and then try to explain them
    4. Then, instead of explaining it in words, show it using a scenario like the ones in the video.

    Puzzle designers are basically just really good teachers.

  32. Why can't figuring out what to do be part of the puzzle, as well as how to do it.

  33. The Unpuzzle series is simple, but very good at building up on information you previously obtained and making you feel smart for figuring it out.

    I personally have a hard time with puzzles that have only one way to solve them, unless it is as stated built clearly on prior info or pretty simple, so it's always neat to run into games that present multiple ways to solve something.

  34. I always thought that the red worm guy in the picture had yellow hair (the beak) and some arms (his hair)

  35. How many of these games are on PlayStation or Nintendo Switch or 3DS?

  36. Thanks. You're really helping me with developing my game.

  37. I just released my first Android game called Electrify!, a logical puzzle game based on electronic circuits. It was the hardest but amazing project of my life, honestly. The final sentence of the video could not be more correct. I am so thankful that I found this!

  38. I thought creating puzzles might be easier than solving them because hey, you're creating the answer instead of finding it, right? Then I started attempting to create crossword puzzles & I realized that starting from scratch, even if there's a formula, is MUCH harder than working backwards on someone else's puzzle – & if you're the one CREATING the formula? It's even harder. Plus, you start to doubt where the line is between "ingenious solution" & "solution that only sounds sensible to you because you're the one with the knowledge of the solution & will be practically impossible for players to reach by themselves"

  39. if i was a bad puzzle, i wouldnt be here discussing it with ya

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