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'The Guest' - Game design decisions

Here I talk about the game design decisions in one of the puzzles of our most recent game "The Guest", a first person exploration game published by 505Games.

It’s been a while since I considered talking about some parts of The Guest, publish them in case they can be useful to any other developers and, while I’m at it, force myself to analyze our project more thoroughly.

Today I’d like to talk about the music box puzzle. The player has to memorize a melody and then repeat it on a nearby panel in order to access the next room.

I’ll be explaining the first prototypes of this puzzle all the way to the final design, which is the one you can currently find in the game.

The original idea was to have our sound engineers compose a 6-note melody. It would come out of a music box that the player finds in the living room, and they would have to memorize and repeat it in a visible panel next to the door.

Given the nature of our game, we didn’t want the solutions to be looked up on the Internet. So, to make sure this wouldn’t happen, we decided to generate a random melody. This obviously cut out the idea of creating a “musically attractive” melody, but at least we managed to create a unique puzzle for each player.

Another thing we wanted to avoid was for players to solve this or any other puzzle through brute force. At first you could enter the melody and the panel would verify it, and every time it was incorrect it would just reset. So the player could try lots of random melodies until they got the right one, which would make solving the puzzle much less satisfying. What we decided to do at first was add an “Enter” button to verify the melody.

But even with this button, the player could still try lots of random melodies without being penalized at all for their mistakes. Therefore, we then decided to add a maximum of 3 attempts. After failing 3 times in a row, the melody would change. This way, we would make the player use the strategy we wanted, which is to listen really carefully and sharpen their hearing abilities.

In order to make up for this added difficulty, we added a “Clear” button so the player could delete the notes they had added. Thanks to this, they can try different notes without having to use up their attempts.

Another problem we came across was the panel itself: it was too visible and obvious to see, and we wanted the players to discover the music box before. Asher Einhorn explains in this Gamasutra article what he encountered in puzzles of some of his favorite games:


“I kept finding myself solving puzzles through experimentation or trial and error without fully understanding either the objective or the true nature of the puzzle itself.”

The player must understand the problem before being given the tools to solve it. Therefore, we decided to keep the panel closed until the handle was placed into the box, so the player’s order of thoughts would be:

  1. I find a music box that plays a melody
  2. I find a panel next to a closed door where I can play musical notes
  3. I have to copy the box’s melody into the panel in order to open the door

By elaborating the puzzle like this, we add a moment of surprise for the player when discovering the puzzle’s elements and finding an inscription that draws the player’s attention and motivates them to continue.

Surprise is quite an important element in the context of the game experience. Jesse Schell says the following in his book “The Art of Game Design”:


“Surprise is a crucial part of all entertainment – it is at the root of humor, strategy, and problem solving. Our brains are hardwired to enjoy surprises.”

On another note, one of the biggest mistakes we made was not thinking about all those with hearing impairment or that simply don’t have a good ear for music. So, in my opinion, this puzzle could be a different yet interesting experience for some players while for others it could be quite frustrating.

However, in the puzzles that were created in the final stages of development (like the music box) you can tell that we were much more careful when making decisions. But…

What do you think of the puzzles in The Guest and the decisions we made?

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