Renga in blue

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Designing multiplayer puzzles

Let it be said: multiplayer puzzles are hard. Back at my first post I discuss how a puzzle where two players push buttons simultaneously is changed into a natural action.

However, sadly, such a setup is often presented as a puzzle. Surely, multiplayer puzzles can be more interesting than "everyone perform action X in multiple locations". (To be technical, I'll call them symmetrical puzzles.)

The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventure presents some excellent multiplayer puzzle design. A brief overview: the style is 2D action-adventure, like Zelda in the SNES days; there are four characters or "Links", each a different color; each can be controlled by a different player. I find three major principles:

1. Asymmetrical puzzles.
This is similar to the simplistic puzzle of requiring all players to find places and push a button, but in this case different players need to perform different actions (example: one player holds open a section of wall while another shoots through it with an arrow).

2. Uniqueness.
The Links each can carry only one item, so the game has player-selected temporary uniqueness. One Link may be carrying the hammer and another may be carrying the feather; with both required to pass a certain puzzle, multiple players are required.

Note that uniqueness can be intrinsic (that is, permanent uniqueness), in the same way different characters in an RPG have different "powers" that make up a team. In Four Swords this is done in a fairly simplistic manner by matching certain devices with certain colors (so only the player of the right color can use them).

3. Dependency.
Uniqueness can create a condition where two Links are cojoined in proximity; to be specific, sometimes one Link needs to carry another. (For example, the Link with the feather may need to carry the Link with the hammer to get to where the rock should be destroyed.) These moments create a greater sense of teamwork (since if one Link falls, the other does as well).