Act 1, 2 and 3 Combined Puzzles

by Ron Gilbert
Apr 20, 2015

I'm a visual person. Math only makes sense to me when I see graphs and x and y axis plotted on paper, before that it's just a bunch of symbols with no meaning. Schedules make no sense to me as a list of dates, I need to see them plotted out with bars intersecting and overlapping and spanning the weeks, months and years. It is only then that I glean the sense of the time and work needed. It's all about me visually absorbing the information of milestone slippage and cost overruns.

Game design is no different. I need to see the design. Something about the flow and structure of the design has to excite my visual sense. I need to see the picture of the design and it has to feel good, in the way a well constructed piece of art can move the soul. I need to have a visual appreciation for the design that goes beyond the information it contains.

That's one of the reasons I like Puzzle Dependency Charts. They are inherently visual. I can get a sense of the design without knowing anything about the text that appears in the little boxes. Puzzle Dependency Charts allow me to feel the design beyond paragraphs of text or spread sheets of data.

Last week, myself, Gary, David, and special guest designer Jenn, locked ourselves in a room for a day and begin to fill in the details of Act 3 and tie up all the dangling threads previously spun from Act 1 and 2. The next day I created the Puzzle Dependency Chart for Act 3 and began the tedious process of combining the separate Act 1 and Act 2 charts into one chart, depicting the entirety of the core game. That chart is presented above. Please, no flash photography.

There are some puzzles missing from this chart worth noting:

The Delores, Ransome and Franklin flashbacks are depicted as a single box, where in the final game they will be small mini-self-contained adventure games.

There are also several red boxes indicating that we have not fully figured out the puzzle. Most of the red boxes will explode into 4 or 5 new boxes, many with parallel puzzles to solve while (hopefully) tying into the other puzzles.

The chart does not contain the alternate solutions to many of the puzzles.

The size of Act 1 is slightly misleading due to many of the puzzles shown in Act 1 do not need to be solved until Act 2. The graphing software feels compelled to place them up there.

And most important... The chart does not depict any of the personal story puzzles chains for Delores, Ransome or Franklin. These chains are completely optional and their conclusions happen during the epilogue. We have a understanding of the core flow for each, but have not designed them in detail.

That is for our next brainstorm session.

- Ron

Ben Henson - Apr 20, 2015 at 11:38

Tomimt - Apr 20, 2015 at 12:36
How many alternative solutions have you planned for different puzzles and how many (a ball park esitmation would suffice) of the puzzles are planned for alternative solution in mind?

Ron Gilbert - Apr 20, 2015 at 12:46
There is no "plan", we just add alternate solutions as we think of them during development. If you have too many alternate solutions, the game can seem unfocused. You also run the risk that the alternate solutions are too easy, and then it's all anyone sees. Alternate solutions should be cleaver and off the beaten path.

Damian - Apr 20, 2015 at 12:40
Wow! It looks... big! :O

Mario - Apr 20, 2015 at 13:08
on the first glance , this came up to me: HOLY FUCK

Jalte Sørensen - Apr 20, 2015 at 13:15
It would be cool if there were alternative ways of solving things (or at least that is how i interpret your flowchart). That just adds the replay value tremendously. Because you know you could always solve the easiest adventure game by using all items on everything and talk to everyone. You know that all items have a specific purpose, and therefore it is just a matter of combinations in order to solve the game. But then again adding multiple ways can lead to dead ends.

But that is why my favorite adventure games are Maniac Mansion and Kyranida 3: Malcoms revenge, because there is always a different way to end and play the game.
But I understand if you dont go that way, because it makes things more complicated and it makes development take too much time.

Ron Gilbert - Apr 20, 2015 at 13:18
It's not a flow chart, it's a dependency chart. Nodes are dependent on the nodes that connect to it, it's not multiple ways to flow into the node.

I do agree that alternate solutions are fun and we plan on adding them when it works.

DZ-Jay - Apr 20, 2015 at 17:36
Hi, Ron,

I asked this before on another thread, but it seemed that you missed it.  How would you depict optional paths in the Puzzle Dependency Chart?  If the connection to a node depict its dependencies, how can alternative dependencies be modeled?


Ron Gilbert - Apr 20, 2015 at 17:39
Yeah, that's a problem. I haven't figured out a way to do alternate dependencies on the charts without making them so complex that they are not useful anymore. That's why I just stick to the main puzzles. Doable, but not worth it.

smartypants - Apr 20, 2015 at 13:45
There's a transitive dependency near the end, which seems redundant.

Mattias Cedervall - Apr 20, 2015 at 13:56
It looks complicated! I hope you will hold my hand while I play the game.

Text_Fish - Apr 20, 2015 at 14:56
Cool. What software do you use to design the puzzle dependency chart? Do you ever use different types of box to differentiate puzzles from narrative cues, or do you just keep them completely separate?

VSJ - Apr 20, 2015 at 20:42
On the last podcast I think that Ron said the tool name. But I was hearing it on a noisy ambient. So I bet on OmniGraph or SomethingGraph, most probable OmniGraffle.

Ron Gilbert - Apr 20, 2015 at 20:44

Sushi - Apr 20, 2015 at 15:25
So, who is this mysterious Jenn?

Natalija - Apr 20, 2015 at 15:31
You forgot to put your name at the end of the blog.AGAIN! :-)

Ron Gilbert - Apr 20, 2015 at 15:33
FIXED! Nothing sneaks past you!

Mattias Cedervall - Apr 20, 2015 at 16:44
I think that deep down you want to be anonymous, Bro Ringlet.

prbalbontin - Apr 20, 2015 at 16:15
Certainly this dependency chart belongs to Ed's bedroom.

Josh - Apr 23, 2015 at 05:29
Amazing memory. Nice catch!

PrinzJohnny99 - Apr 20, 2015 at 17:37
Can you show the PDC of Monkey Island 2, just for comparison?
Do you already know what the PDC of the "light" version will look like?

Mcloud the Cowboy - Apr 21, 2015 at 12:44
What does PDC mean?

PrinzJohnny99 - Apr 22, 2015 at 06:50
Puzzle Dependency Chart

Ron Gilbert - Apr 20, 2015 at 17:41
I haven't done the PDC for MI1 or MI2, so I don't know.  I don't have the originals, and besides, I never kept them up-to-date as the design evolved. There is a point where it's just busy work.

I am building one for MM. I'll post then when it's done.

Amb - May 02, 2015 at 04:08
this will deserve its own post.  I got a massive kick from solving the chandelier puzzle as a ten year old.  Hooked me on this style of game.

Peter Campbell - Apr 20, 2015 at 20:50
So I'm a complete noob when it comes to understanding charts like this and I have a few questions, I hope my questions make sense...

1) Does a puzzle box depend on each previous puzzle box connected to it to be accessed/solved before that furthest puzzle box can be solved?

2) If you "Enter Town" in the beginning of Act 1, then do the two puzzle boxes that are on the far right side of the chart that are connected to it, the next puzzle box connected to the 2nd far right puzzle box is a super long line that goes waaaaaaaay down to the middle of Act 3, skipping Act 2 completely.  I guess I'm kind of repeating my first question, but that just means that you can reach that puzzle very early on in the beginning of the game during Act 1 but you still need to do most of the rest of the game first before you can solve that puzzle and only when you get to Act 3, despite having reached that puzzle box early on in Act 1?

Peter Campbell - Apr 20, 2015 at 20:53
Edit: I meant the super long line goes down to the BEGINNING of Act 3, not the MIDDLE of Act 3.

Ron Gilbert - Apr 20, 2015 at 20:53
1) Yes.

2) No, you could complete that puzzle in Act 1, since there is no dependency.  Remember these boxes might just steps. A box might say "Pick up Wrench", which you can do in Act 1, but what you need the wrench for is in Act 3.

Arisitides Castiglioni - Apr 20, 2015 at 23:36
I always wonder Ron, how do you guys come with what needs to be done to solve a puzzle? for example the famous DOT Puzzle of washing a car to make rain, how do you get the solution?? do you start with: Okay, we need to  make it rain, and then a storm of ideas between the whole team starts, until somebody comes with a good solution.  or you just throw the solution in a "ideas pool" and when you need to solve something you just pick up something that works for it??

Simon - Apr 22, 2015 at 08:57
I second that question - it would be very exciting to hear how a puzzle is "born", Gary and Ron. Of course there is the main plot, and you use dependency charts that depict all necessary steps. But furthermore (and not visualized in the charts) are also "boundary conditions" that tweak a puzzle to be easy or hard, to be obvious or not: like the rooms , e.g. is everything one needs close together or widespread? Are the surroundings obscuring or highlighting a puzzle? How many other objects are around in general... - in combination, these boundary conditions account for the spirit of the puzzle probably more than the straightforward problem and solution. I realize that it is probably hard to elaborate on that without spoling, but it would be fantastic if you gave some general insights about how a puzzle sprouts in your workflow!

Mario - Apr 21, 2015 at 07:30
To Ron, Gary, David and the rest of the Team:

How is it now to get feedback from us, fans and upcoming players of TP during your production?
Is it more helpful?
How much different is it for you now than in the 80s? i guess in that time, you did not have so much feedback from so many people.


David Fox - Apr 25, 2015 at 17:43
@Mario, it's a very different experience having access to so much feedback. Back in the 80s, the only feedback was from the other game designers/programmers at Lucasfilm Games. We eventually had playtesters, where we got lots of great feedback and of course bug reports. For Monkey Island, Ron started doing "Pizza Nights" where he'd invite everyone to an evening of playing parts of the game on a dozen computers, keeping us all happy with an endless supply of pizza. He'd load up a section of the game and watch how we all played through, where we were stuck, etc. Watching people play your game can be excruciatingly difficult... at least for me, I always want to jump in and give hints. But you get way more information that way than just with playtesting bug reports.

Ron Gilbert - Apr 25, 2015 at 18:15
They were called "Pizza Orgies".

Natalija - Apr 21, 2015 at 10:00
Are there going to be dead ends in this game like those on Maniac Mansion?

Mattias Cedervall - Apr 21, 2015 at 11:23
Ron said there won't be dead ends in Thimbleweed Park. :-)

natalija - Apr 21, 2015 at 13:50
I'm glad to hear that! I started to play MM three months ago and I still don't know how to remove paint from the wall ( don't tell me , I want to figure out myself!) ... I think that I'll have to start all over (I'm not sure but I think that I waste my paint remover on green tentacle :)   ) .... I really hate those dead ends and deaths too!

Mattias Cedervall - Apr 21, 2015 at 16:58
I think you should use water on your screen. ;P I actually can't remember how to remove the paint. I wish you good luck!

Natalija - Apr 22, 2015 at 00:43
Yup,I start it ALL over :-/ ..

Mattias Cedervall - Apr 22, 2015 at 08:48
I'm sorry to hear that! :-(

PrinzJohnny99 - Apr 22, 2015 at 06:59
I hate these points of adventure games, where you can waste half your inventory and then realize hours later, that that one part you wasted was crucial. That also happened a lot at infocom games.

BTW. I think from the premise and the mystery tone that the game is likely to have, Thimbleweed Park is the perfect game to give a lot more depth outside the actual game, like an additional newspaper or a diary or any other goodies that could fit in a gamebox (or pdf nowadays). That also worked with infocom adventures or also with Alan Wake, if you want to take a more recent game.

Zak Phoenix McKracken - Apr 21, 2015 at 11:44
It seems very interesting. I already am tasting the adventure feeling... yumm... tasty...

Dan - Apr 21, 2015 at 21:14
Some weeks ago you wrote about the challenge of winning modern gamers for Thimbleweed Park and how to handle them. Well, I've just read an old entry on your Grumpy Gamer blog:

I like your idea to let the player and the character learn together. The naivety of Guybrush's character was definitely one of the main reasons why so many people began to love adventure games back then! So it could be worth it to do so again with Thimbleweed Park in order to make it as accessible as possible and especially to get through to modern gamers.

MrY - Apr 22, 2015 at 02:04
I swear one of the blurred boxes includes a puzzle where you  carry an ivy league babe's books.

PrinzJohnny99 - Apr 22, 2015 at 07:03
Now you mention it... I misread the 'k' with a 'b'...

Dude number n - Apr 22, 2015 at 16:50
Is there a way to estimate how long going through all the puzzles would take, based on the chart? In the same vein, is there a target or do you add puzzles until you think the game is long enough?

Ron Gilbert - Apr 22, 2015 at 17:03
There is no way to know. Everyone solves puzzles at a different speed. I'm guessing based on my experience with Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island, but when we start playing Thimbleweed Park we may find it needs more or less puzzles. It's not just game length, it also realizing that a puzzle chain is too tedious. Game length is also very hard. How long should the game be? I worry that players remember the old games taking a lot longer than they really did or maybe because they were younger. It's a hard thing to judge.

Zak Phoenix McKracken - Apr 23, 2015 at 04:01
Indeed. Besides, younger people tend not to use the exertion, on the contrary older ones likes to be challenged. Hard to predict... anyway, listen to your feelings, and your experience. They will guide you to find an acceptable compromise.

Julian - Apr 23, 2015 at 05:54
Hi Ron and Gary. I'm german and fan of adventure Games and I'm curious about the sentence: “(Adventure games) exist in our dreams, and memories, and in Germany" from Tim Schafer. It's true, because even recently there was a parody about a Television Host, called Markus Lanz in a german Late Night Show, called "Neo Magazin" with Jan Böhmermann, that was useing elements from classical Adventure Games like Monkey Island:

Also in comic culture: Do you know the Disney Comic Book Writers Carl Barks and Don Rosa. Rosa is also super popular in Germany. He is regulary touring across Europe and very popular for his Scrooge Mc Duck Comics in the tradition of Carl Barks:

Check out his "Life and times of Scrooge Mc Duck"...

It's really strange that Rosa and Barks are both not very popular in the states, the same thing with Adventure Games...

Jonny - Apr 28, 2015 at 09:53
Hmm. Not enough pirate art. Move on.

(Just put some theme art there like thimble or weed or parks)

Julian - May 04, 2015 at 10:13
More pirates in Thimbleweed Park!

Aubrey - Feb 27, 2017 at 19:21
After the game releases, any chance we can get an unblurred image of this?