a.k.a. The Constipated Mathemagician
Drakensang: The River of Time made me do something very strange a couple of days ago. Something I haven’t done for a game in… well, a long long time.
The game presented presented me with a very particular kind of challenge. A mathematical challenge: given a set of items, the game asked that I split them up into four boxes according to a small suite of rules.
The challenge was not such a difficult one, but there were far too many numbers for me to handle it alone. I sat back, picked up a propelling pencil, and started working it out… On paper.
Games have always had puzzles and they probably always will. However, the tendency has always been, in my experience, towards puzzles that involve interaction — arranging objects by button-pressing or pushing them around a tight environment, Crystal Maze type stuff. These might require a bit of lateral thinking, but unless there are a million buttons that move the objects in different pattern there’s no need to write anything down. And, well, these are computer games — is it really desirable to push the solution out of the game space?
On the other hand, there are riddles. Word puzzles that are made somewhat easier by the tendency for them to be embedded in conversation systems where there are only a finite number of possible responses, so if you don’t get it from the riddle alone you can probably match the answer by working backwards from the options.
So when D:TRoT dropped this stonker on me, I was somewhat surprised. I can’t imagine any game other than one grown from pen-and-paper RPG heritage using a puzzle like this, and certainly no triple-A next-gen console title is going to make you think so hard you have to write it down (people hardly finish these games as it is).
Algebra-cadabra, more like. The game presented 20 lead weights and 13 iron weights, and told me to use them all. Crate 1 wanted to have double the number of iron weights than lead, crate 2 wanted crate 1’s amount of iron plus one and double the amount of lead in crate 3…
Basically, there was a series of non-trivial relationships between the types of weights in each crate.
I wrote all the rules down and generated a workspace. I picked a number to start from (Crate 3’s rules were, considering the number of objects involved, the most constrained, so I started there), and followed the rules into each crate. It only took me two tries, as you can tell by the scribbling.
I’m sure there would be a more mathemagical way to solve the problem with simultaneous equations and all that jazz, but I couldn’t be bothered going that far and trial-and-error did the job.
I have to stress that it didn’t put me off in any way; I was just momentarily stunned. It was a case of information overload — I read the puzzle rules, realised that they kept going and weren’t going to be easily fudged, and went for the pencil. The fact of the puzzle wasn’t unexpected (the level had already presented some much more traditional game puzzles), but its form certainly was.
No, Drakensang, you’ll have to try harder than that to stop me from loving you.