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Monday, October 25, 2010

Puzzle Authoring and Editing In A Game Control Setting

I've had a few conversations recently that have prompted me to get some thoughts down regarding what it's like to be part of a GC, specifically when it comes to authoring puzzles for an event.  My only GC experiences, other than volunteering as site volunteer for others' events, have been with the loxi team.  Loxi is the combination of lowkey and Desert Taxi team members working together.

This unholy union was formed during the run up to Pirate's BATH where lowkey split into two teams (Sloth In A Pirate Hat and Donkey In A Pirate Hat), each responsible for a puzzle.  This was my first time creating a puzzle for an event and was also my first time receiving feedback on a puzzle and in making repeated edits from the suggestions of a GC for puzzle refinement.  That first time was very tough for me.  My team had made something, guided considerably by my ideas, and I loved it.  For someone to tell me it was OK but could be better was hard.  Being told this multiple times for the same puzzle was, as much as I knew it to be an irrational reaction, a blow to my ego.  The end result was a fun, well-received puzzle (which was part of an extremely fun event) and a wonderful group of new friends.

My girlfriend, Rachel, is just getting to experience this for the first time as well.  Rachel is helping us GC for Ghost Patrol: Bust A 'Nother Ghost (aka BANG 29) and has written a puzzle for the event.  As it typical and not at all unusual, she is proud of what she's created and loves having authorship over a puzzle that will appear in an event.  The experience, however, has led her to create what I (perhaps with bias) think is a pretty great metaphor.  It goes something like this: Imagine you are an artist commissioned to create a work of art; in this case, a painting.  Maybe you've been commissioned to paint a bucolic, pastoral scene or perhaps it's a rainy cityscape or a languid nude.  You carefully craft your work of art and present it to your buyer.  Your buyer looks at it and is clearly pleased but shows just a hint of that "this is what you got me for Christmas?" look before saying "It's great.  Really great.  I love it.  But, you know, wouldn't it be a lot better if it had a kitty cat painted down in this corner?"  Ouch.  It's not that they're wrong, necessarily, and they are the customer/buyer so what's the big deal if they want a kitty?  The big deal is that your vision, the artist's vision, did not include a kitty.

Far from my first experience with this was my experience GCing for Ghost Patrol in 2007-2008.  Lowkey (lowkey) had never GC'ed and we all had our own ideas of what the ideal event would include.  Members of Desert Taxi all came with GC experience and were quite good at generally pulling things into orbit with reality.  As we became more comfortable with what our event would look like and how we would go about achieving that vision, we began creating content.  That event had more than 60 puzzles, overall, and at least a dozen more were discarded along the way for varied reasons, generally related to theme and whether or not a ghost would do something, you know, in real life.  Very quickly we all had to get over ourselves and the purity of our individual artistic vision for the benefit of the collaborative vision.  Few of the puzzles I wrote ended up looking anything like their first iteration and those that did were not well received.

Which brings me to a hard truth (for me, ymmv): Puzzles created through collaboration and/or which receive multiple drafts of refinement through editing suggestions from the GC as well as informed by playtests are generally superior puzzles.  Puzzles worked and reworked in a vacuum by an individual can end up over-thought and overwrought and, in my case at least once during Ghost Patrol, broken.

My attitudes toward puzzle authoring have changed greatly from that first Piratey puzzle.  I know I'm not great at authoring puzzles.  That's a limitation I can accept.  Now when I write a puzzle, I tend to write the roughest of idea drafts.  I want, first, to see if an idea will be well-received.  I want and need for my teammates to tear my ideas down to the foundation so that we can start to build something we'll all be proud to present.  This, I would venture to say, is not the attitude of all of my teammates.  Many of them are extremely skilled and creative puzzle creators, fully capable of fleshing out wonderful puzzles requiring minimal editing or tweaking.  That just isn't my forte.  I find that puzzle writing, as well as every other GC responsibility, benefits from the input of the group.

Input, feedback, criticism, these things can be hard to hear and even harder to act on.  Ghost Patrol was year's worth of very hard work and re-work and re-re-work.  Part of what made the experience so exhausting and sometimes so slow was the contentiousness of fighting for ideas, themes, content.  It is hard work to find consensus and hard work to let go of one's ego towards that goal.  It was totally worth it.  It's funny that one of our first puzzles was one related to "Team Dynamics" as our dynamic was one that allowed for some seemingly full-tilt arguing where some ideas won, some ideas lost and we all moved forward as friends.  (This dynamic, I think, can seem strange to outsiders and is one that will merit its own blog post soon.)  In the end, though, we were all able to put out a product that we could all stand behind and be proud to call our own, even with it's mistakes and missteps.

Summation: Puzzles are generally made better through feedback and re-write.  I may not want a kitty next to my languid nude but everyone else does.

1 comment:

  1. Matt wrote:
    "...This, I would venture to say, is not the attitude of all of my teammates. Many of them are extremely skilled and creative puzzle creators, fully capable of fleshing out wonderful puzzles requiring minimal editing or tweaking..."

    I'd like to call bullshit on this particular quote :). ALL of our puzzles have been torn down and rebuilt - some down the to foundations, some just to the frame, but we've all taken our lumps. Brian's S(xxxxxxx) puzzle, my R(xxxxxx) puzzle- easily 10 versions of each. Like most ideas, puzzles just get stronger when bounced off other people- especially in our group where we have so many people with so many different backgrounds.