Almost Final Puzzle Dependency Charts

by Ron Gilbert
May 18, 2015

Late last week, Gary, David, Jenn and I got together for what will probably be the last big brainstorm for Thimbleweed Park puzzles. Prior to our meeting, the main story puzzles had all been designed and placed into a glorious puzzle dependency chart, but what we didn't have were the puzzles for the character specific arcs.

These are the side stories that follow Delores, Franklin and Ransome, and, for the most part, these stories were conceived to be optional. If all you care about is finding the murder and uncovering the mystery behind Thimbleweed Park, you can ignore most of the side stories.

As I mentioned in one of the first posts, you won't have to complete these side stories by the end of the game, you can go back and do them later, and the way it worked out, you can (but aren't required to) do about 90% of the side stores before completing the game, but the last few puzzles require the main story to be completed.

This ended up working well from a storytelling perspective because the conclusion to the each of their side stores is tied to the end of the main story, so they should feel like nice epilogues to what has just happened and provide more insight and understanding.

The chart below is color coded to show the character stories. Ransom is in pink, Franklin is blue, and Delores is green. Most of these nodes are optional, but not all and it varies by character. Most of Franklin's puzzles are optional except for the first few. The first half of Ransome's puzzles are required, then the second half become optional. Delores is somewhere in between.

As I mentioned in last week's podcast, this is the most complex dependency chart I've ever done, and for the time being, I'm going to assume that is a good thing.

As a designer, I tend to over-design then cut stuff as it becomes superfluous. I find it easier to cut stuff than to hastily add stuff at the end.

Another goal of the last brainstorm was to find good (emphasis on the good part) puzzles for the rooms that have no use in the game. I feel were were half-successful in that. There are a handful of rooms that serve no purpose and we'll probably cut them.

The arcade has no use in the game, but we'd rather not cut that because being able to play some of the games that appeared in Maniac Mansion would be fun. It's going to drop to a C task and if we have time, we'll wire them up. Don't expect much, they will be more like WarioWare games than proper arcade games.

At this point in a project I like to group everything into A, B and C tasks. A tasks are necessary for the game, they can not be cut. B tasks are pretty necessary, but can be cut or at least redesigned to be much simpler. C tasks are fun stuff that would be fun to have in, but can be cut (and mostly likely will). I don't want to cut them too soon because they might end up being simple to implement and just get done. The ranking of A, B and C tasks are completely fluid, ever changing as the game progresses. Today's A task is tomorrow's B or C task.

I am feeling a little overwhelmed by the scope of the design. If we had another game programmer and another artist, I'd feel fine, but I'm not going to panic yet.

Now for what you've all been waiting for... the puzzle dependency chart. Feast upon it's glory.

The caveats from the last post still apply. Act 1 seems much larger than it really is due to many of the puzzles not needing to be solved until act 2, it's just the way OmniGraffle positions the node.

The modes with red outlines are node we still need to figure out the puzzle. We know the object/outcome, but not how you get here. These nodes will expand into 2 or 3 nodes.

Everything is blurred out, so there are no spoilers. Unless you didn't want to know the game had puzzles, in that case, it's been spoiled.


Zak Phoenix McKracken - May 18, 2015 at 13:14
Every time I see a Puzzle Dependency Chart, my heart is filled with joy!
This one looks like very intriguing!
I see there are some boxes that crosses the Acts, good!
P.S.: one of the most amusing things I remember from Monkey Island 4, was the "abominium"... made with human parts, guessing how it could be useful in a way or another... I wonder if Thimbleweed Park will have some similar idea?

Mario - May 18, 2015 at 13:18
holy cowshit! do you think we will ever solve this? lol

Vegetaman - May 18, 2015 at 13:47
In terms of rooms that have no puzzles.... Would it be possible to make them have some sort of "lore" type addition to the game, where maybe they provide context or clues or make sense in the layout of the game but don't necessarily add items for your inventory? Think of maybe a few posters or places where you could have a conversation with people to learn more about the game to add some "fluff text", as it were. I don't know, perhaps I'm just grasping at straws for a way you could include rooms that don't really have a "purpose" but would still add some extra "flavor" to the game? Of course, not knowing anything about the rooms, I might be off base here.

Matej - May 18, 2015 at 15:02
I agree, to me it is kind of ok to have places with no grand purpose, locations that are there to just enjoy a view or learn something.

I just wouldn't like another Neverhood Hall of Records. That one was cool for the first playthrough, but really frustrating in any replays.

Peter Campbell - May 18, 2015 at 19:32
So it took me a few minutes to find this, I asked this very question on Podcast #3 and both David and Ron responded...

Me:  "One specific question about designing TP...
1) So is every room intended to have an item to acquire and/or a puzzle to solve?  Obviously no one wants to go into an almost entirely empty room with a lone weirdo npc standing inside who only says "I am error" when you talk to him, but I don't mind if a room exists just to have npcs to interact with who give out useful information about the town or hints about what to do next"

David Fox's response: "Re your question 1, I think it's ok for some rooms not to have puzzles to solve if they're adding to the story/ambiance of the game. Always an opportunity to explore, get more info about the world, even if it's not required as part of the storyline. It's more about balance and storytelling and having fun while you're doing it. My 2 cents."

Ron Gilbert's additional response: "Yeah, David's right. Every room has to have a purpose. That purpose can be a puzzle, meeting an important character, seeing a story element or just helping to define the world (in decreasing order of importance). It's better if a room's purpose is more than just one of those things and a perfect room does all 4. If you have to many rooms's that do only one of them, then the game starts to feel sparse. The goal is a tight game."

vegetaman - May 18, 2015 at 21:37
Ah, this sounds perfect. Thanks!

Tomimt - May 19, 2015 at 04:32
Yeah, I think too that rooms should have a purpose other than just be there. I've used Syberia games as an example on other posts as well. A beiatifull looking games, but filled with locations that have nothing else to do but to increase time spent walking from location A to B. In the first playthrough they felt awesome, but later on I've come to hate them, as you don't do anything else in those rooms but to walk from exit to exit.

Patrik Spacek - May 18, 2015 at 14:23
What a small spider!  :0 good job

Josejulio Martínez - May 18, 2015 at 14:36
Yay! Seems long enough to enjoy a good play, are there going to be multiple endings?

Peter Campbell - May 20, 2015 at 23:20
Not sure about multiple endings but I know that there will be optional playable epilogues for the secondary playable characters (the two detectives are the main playable characters, the secondary playable characters are the clown, the reporter, etc).  I think there's multiple paths to get to the ending, and i know for sure that there aren't going to be any dead ends thankfully.

Alan - May 18, 2015 at 14:52
Wow.  Looking at that things fills me with warm anxiety.  I just cannot wait.

I'm also SO EXCITED about the POTENTIAL to play those arcade games.  Man, that was THE DREAM when I was a kid.  (That, and unlocking the ability 'go to bed' with Razor ;)

Mattias Cedervall - May 18, 2015 at 20:46
Go to bed with Razor?! Please tell me much more!

Rum Rogers - May 18, 2015 at 15:04
Seems pretty messed up, judging by its appearance.
I paid to get frustrated with an old-school adventure game, seems like my prayers have been answered!

Miguel - May 18, 2015 at 15:05
My first impression from the dependency charts that I've seen from Monkey Island 1 and 2 is that Thimbleweed will have many more puzzles and hence will be longer. This obviously depends on how intricate the puzzles are, but that's my first impression comparing with the work in this blog post What's your gut feeling about it? I also think that Thimbleweed will be much less linear than the good old Monkeys. I really like seeing dependencies between the acts far from the end,  that's a sign of a good story behind it. Thanks for keeping us posted!

Tim - Jun 01, 2015 at 09:11
Thank you for sharing that amazing article!

Christopher Stevenson - May 18, 2015 at 15:09
So who’s Jenn?

Christopher Griffin - May 18, 2015 at 15:50
See this old post -- first sentence after the Puzzle Dependency Chart™ graphic:

Christopher Stevenson - May 18, 2015 at 16:24
Thanks, I missed that earlier mention..

She’s still a mystery though.

Derrick Reisdorf - May 18, 2015 at 15:28
So, an interesting design decision was to bring back the verbs.  I wonder if any puzzles were created specifically with this in mind.  For example, without an open/close verb you could not close a door from inside a room to see something taped to the inside of a door (unless "Use door' replaced open/close).  Since Ron felt strongly about retaining the verbs, I wonder if there was any extra consideration for designing puzzles where it is even more important as to HOW you use an item- specifically push/pull, open/close.

Mattias Cedervall - May 18, 2015 at 20:44
I do hope it will be possible to play some arcade games! I don't think I would be able to create puzzle dependency charts that advanced!

Zak Phoenix McKracken - May 19, 2015 at 04:16
Well, when I was playing Day Of The Tentacle, it was simply a fantastic idea to be able to play the original Maniac Mansion on an almost abandoned Commodore 64 on the desk...
Maybe in Thimbleweed Park the characters could travel between time and space, go 10 years in the future (1997), meet the Mindbenders and return to 1987 to warn the people!

Dan - May 19, 2015 at 09:35
Yeah, it was a matchless idea to include MM in that way. Maybe this could be copied with Thimbleweed Park if there will be a sequel one day, which takes place in the early 90s.

The idea of time travel is an element that I use to associate heavily with the era from mid-80s till mid-90s, since the Back To The Future trilogy dates from that period and the plot of Day Of The Tentacle was seemingly influenced by these popular flicks (just as a lot of other products from that era).

Zak Phoenix McKracken - May 19, 2015 at 17:22
Yeah... and don't forget, we are currently living that "The Future"... we are in the 2015 year!
Many things to check... many games to play... many movies to watch... and many automatic clothes and shoes to purchase!!

Dan - May 19, 2015 at 19:53
...and Thimbleweed Park brings us a form of the cafe 80s.

Geoff Paulsen - May 19, 2015 at 10:14

  You always make the comment "don't worry many of the puzzles can be done in Act 2", and that it's an artifact of Omnigraffle of where it puts the Act 2 node.

   I've never used Omnigraffle before, but I searched the web and found that in Omnigraffle 6 there is an option to give a hint to the automatic layout engine of where to place a selected node (page 80-81 in

Use the Object Rank buttons to assign a hierarchical rank to the
selected objects. Default lets OmniGraffle decide the rank based
on connections, Minimum puts the objects at the top of the
hierarchy, Maximum puts the objects at the bottom of the
hierarchy, and Same makes sure that the objects end up on the
same level. These assignments don’t change the directions of
connection lines, so you can always select all of your objects and
choose Default to return them to normal.

  Looks like a nice program.  I hope this helps.

Peter Campbell - May 19, 2015 at 16:38
For Ron, David and Gary, I have a question that's completely unrelated to the puzzle dependency chart....

For the development of Thimbleweed Park, or for any game in general really, when the developer purchases a license for a development tool/program needed to make the game, whether it be a sound effect program or graphic engine or whatever, when the developer or company purchases that license, can they use it indefinitely for future sequels/titles, is there a number of years before the license expires, or are they only allowed to use the license for the specific game that they are buying it for and have to re-purchase the license again if needing it for a different game?

Ron Gilbert - May 19, 2015 at 18:08
It depends. Different tools have different licenses. Some of for a period of time, others are for just that game, others are for the game, but only one platform and others you have to buy for each developer working on the game. It's all across the board.

Peter Stillman - May 21, 2015 at 09:27
Unrelated question that might have already been answered: In terms of graphics will Thimbletweed be more like Maniac Mansion or Monkey Island ? please let him say Monkey Island, pleas let him say ...

Yours truly


Mike - May 21, 2015 at 15:46

Peter Campbell - May 21, 2015 at 19:25
Ah, yet another Peter on this blog lol.  TP's graphics will be very similar to Maniac Mansion BUT the scrolling will be smooth.  I've only ever played the NES version of Maniac Mansion so I can't really talk about the C64 version but on the NES version the stuttery/choppy scrolling while walking from one end of a room to the other was really irritating on the eyes, it was almost like a strobe effect with the way the frames would kinda "blink" really fast.  

Also, Thimbleweed Park will feature parallax scrolling, vertical scrolling, zoomed in/zoomed out camera views, better animations, and there's already a bunch of videos on this dev diary of the game in action, but just know that the graphics on the test videos are of very barebones wireframe art, aka very early, rough looking, detail-less rooms that were quickly put together so the developers have places to "walk" the characters around in to test out the game engine and stuff.

natalija - May 21, 2015 at 16:03
I didn't want to know that the game had puzzles ....Great , now you spoiled everything :( ... I know that I'm getting annoying with this but you forgot to write something at the end ..

Aubrey - Apr 02, 2017 at 19:07
Hopefully sometime in the future we can get an unblurred version of this. :)

Aubrey - Apr 02, 2017 at 19:08
Hopefully sometime in the future we can get an unblurred version of this. :)