I don’t want to review the whole game. But I do want to talk about one puzzle that I found infuriating. No, not that one, which could so easily have been improved. A different one. Not because it was hard (it wasn’t). But because it had a bizarre design. I’m going to spoil some minor aspects of the puzzle, but not the interesting part.

Here’s the set-up. Actually, here’s the pre-set-up: puzzles in the game are both entirely arbitrary and entirely diegetic: some asshole has stranded you on this puzzle archipelago and is forcing you to solve his puzzles.

OK, now the set-up: You’re on an island. There are two other islands, one to the South and one to the North, and you can’t presently get to either island.

There’s a green laser thing shooting out of a crystal. You can rotate a reflector doohickey to make it point to another crystal on the North island, at which point you can press a button and “ride” the laser across. There’s also a crystal on the South island, but you can’t point to that one because it’s too high up. There are other reflector doohickeys visible but not reachable.

When you get to the North island, you find a machine (actually, two, but they function in tandem), and more reflectors. The machine controls (in a way that I will leave vague) the enablement and orientation of all of the reflectors. You also find a piece of paper which describes a particular set of reflector orientations that it wishes you to achieve.

If you manipulate the machine appropriately, you can make the reflectors assume this orientation (and enable them all). This machine is pretty cool. Not the world’s most innovative puzzle, but (unlike many of Quern’s puzzles), not readily susceptible to brute force. I did not regret the minutes I spent figuring out how to make it do the thing.

Completing the pattern gives you a new way to travel back to the central island. It also makes a lever pop up, which lets you adjust the initial reflector upwards so you can hit the crystal on the South island.

This is stupid.

The path that the new pattern sends you on takes you around the otherwise inaccessible back side of the central island. Instead of having the South island crystal high up, they should have had it obstructed so that it could only be reached from the back. You would still need to do roughly the same reflector manipulation, but instead of doing it because a piece of paper told you to, you would be doing it because it would directly let you reach your goal. There’s no need for the lever, in that case, and no need for the piece of paper. (This also requires either a slight change in the mechanics of crystals, or one more crystal, but neither would break the rest of the game).

This would have a subtly different effect, in that you couldn’t travel directly from the central island to the South island. But that’s not a path you need to take more than once (OK, twice, I didn’t notice something the first time I was there). And anyway, once you’re there, a fast return path could have been provided (Quern does a lot of this).

The reason my design is better is:

  1. It is more interesting to figure out how to use a tool to accomplish your goal than it is to figure out how to input a pattern because a piece of paper told you to.

  2. The lever is an unnecessary piece of hardware that doesn’t contribute to making the puzzle harder or more interesting.

Possibly even better would be to have the reflectors arranged roughly as they currently are, but while you’re riding the laser the long way around the back of the island, you can see something that you would then need to use to decide how to change the routing. I am not sure this idea would actually be better, because I found the laser-riding to be headache-inducing. But at least it would have fully used the possibilities of the set-up.

Maybe you could argue that it’s diegetic that the puzzle has this weird lever epicycle (because the dude who has trapped you here is just not a good puzzle designer), but that is the last refuge of the scoundrel.

Next post: Middles: A Daily Word Game

Previous post: Turds