Poll Question 154 – How do you feel about pure puzzle mods?

10th January 2010

Single Player First Person Shooter Maps and Mods for Half-Life 1, 2 and Episodes 1, 2 and 3

There has been some discussion on the forum about “the rise of puzzle mods”. Personally I don’t see that they are becoming more popular or being released more often.

Considering how long physics has been in the HL games, it’s almost strange that we haven’t had more pure puzzle mods. Ideally, I think 95% of players prefer a balance between action, exploring and puzzles, but the operative word is “balance” and for some 30% of each is too much.

I suppose we have always seen puzzles as being something to break up the action, to provide a period of build up and to allow the designer some fun. Now though, whole mods are being made and that is interesting.

In some ways, Arena maps could be considered pure action, and I certainly don’t enjoy those too much. So, perhaps it comes down to the type of puzzles.

A comment was made that 2009 was the year of the “interesting” mod and modders are trying to break out of the confines of simple FPS action. Puzzle is just one gameplay style some modders are trying.

What is clear, is that we all have a choice whether to play or not play the mods and that must have some small effect on the modders building them. Back in August 2009 I asked Do you think the R & D mod will spawn more puzzles mods? At the time of writing this poll question 60% said Yes. But we still seem to be waiting for the results.

I believe there are better platforms and communities for creating puzzle mods than Source and the HL community. Players who really enjoy puzzles only need to do a web search for Flash games and can find some great puzzle games. The amount of effort that needs to go into pure puzzle mods, just doesn’t seem to be worth it, based on the responses of players.

What do you think?

The Poll


  1. Joe

    There a 3 types of people who play half life 2, People who like a good story. People who love puzzles and people who love to just watch stuff explode in a shower of bullets.
    Personally I like a good story, So I’m not bothered. But a mix of the 3 really makes my day. The things is. Many of us like a good puzzle mod but modders would rather have a mix to satisfy multiple audiences.

    I would chance the poll text to “I prefer combat” or something, as at the moment “I hate them and avoid them all” is very strong where as the other two aren’t.

  2. Had to vote Hate and Avoid because it is nearest to how I feel but not accurate. The other 2 options do not reflect my view at all.
    I dislike puzzles when overdone but play puzzles games with combat. R & D was a PF for me but why some describe it as a non-combat mod beats me.
    Are not 2 unarmed Karate exponents fighting engaged in combat?
    I’ve run through EP2 in my mind and can only remember a couple of teasers rather than puzzles. Sort out and plug in at the radio shack and the plate/grenade trick to get the RPG.
    There are some other things ‘to do” such as find and fit the cogwheel to operate to bring the vortigaunt down in the lift but these don’t even count as teasers let alone puzzles in my book.
    I think Valve have struck the perfect balance of Teasers/Puzzles/To Do versus combat.
    I’d guess at 5% against 95% combat.

  3. Kasperg

    Everything has its own context. I can consider Portal as a very good puzzle fps game because both the theme and gameplay mechanics speak of exactly the same thing. Not only that, there’s a relationship between the puzzles and a learning curve that teaches you to combine simple tricks to solve bigger puzzles. You can almost always find the answer to “what you need to do” in “what you have done before”.
    To implement a similar system in a mod is not easy.
    Half-life 2 Episode 1 had a few puzzle-style mechanics with the energy orbs that required a similar approach and growing difficulty, while still being 100% true to the story and the environment.
    And once again, this is something very hard to pull off.
    I think it comes down to variation. The fact that one can survive through a Half-life environment solving only puzzles or only shooting things that move is (for me) an incomplete approach that will never fully satisfy me.
    I might have said so before, but I think knowing exactly what you are doing (as in combat-centric, puzzle-centric) but not knowing exactly where you are doing it (generic themes, environment designed only for the sake of a particular gameplay concept)is a type of approach I like less and less because it constantly reminds me that I’m playing “a game”, and not living inside a cohesive and logical game world.
    That said, it’s perfectly possible to have a total-puzzle or total-combat experience that is well designed and enjoyed by a lot people who are looking for that.

  4. tungsten

    depends on the content of the game interwoven with puzzles,i remember the conundrum mods for half life which were entertaining but compared with the r&d mod worlds apart please more mods like r&d,it took me 9 months to finish half life 1 with its puzzles such as finding ways to get into the air ducts to move on, so simple in hindsight but half life was a one off game writing these comments all these years later prove that,i think you can only go so far with pure shoot me ups but combined with puzzles it keeps the interest at a higher level,a clever balance between puzzles and action would always appeal to true hl lovers but I suppose the old die hards would still consider hl as the ultimate shoot up game,i agree with joe as a mixture of shoot up, puzzles and a story line can be enjoyable if the quality is as good as r&d

    1. Xblah

      This is the biggest sentence I’ve ever seen. You expressed everything in a single sentence. That is perfect (if you understand irony).

  5. Of the choices and sticking to the wording of the question, I had to vote hate and avoid. I love puzzles as a periodic appearing component of mods however not purely puzzles or even mostly.

  6. David

    I also voted hate and avoid. In my mind, ideal physics puzzles should have multiple solutions, and be accessible to anyone with a knowledge of physics and an understanding of the parameters of the “world” in which the problem takes place. Part of the issue with the mods is that the rules of the “world” are often inconsistent (in most cases while playing the mod, object X doesn’t move, but in one puzzle, it does as a scripted event, which may not be obvious).

    Puzzles in the half life series are easy because they don’t involve hidden variables. Most of the annoyingly “difficult” puzzles I’ve played in mods have solutions that logically follow the laws of physics, but only certain objects are able to be interacted with, and which of those objects is not made clear (these puzzles typically involve scripted events).

    And any challenge based entirely around timing is not a puzzle.

  7. Mel

    I would vote hate and avoid, although dislike is closer to the mark.

    I am trying to write something different to what I have already said regarding puzzle mods. For sure they have appeared to grow in popularity recently although they have been a part of the HL custom scene for a long time.

    My recollection of some of the early puzzle based mods recalls positive reactions, with mods such as Conundrum, Condoundrum2 and The Challenge Deep by DocRock and Ron Smith respectively having established a good early standard for such mods.

    In many ways these early mods added to the rich mix of Hl custom mods, they set out to be challenging without bring about brain damage and ruining the flow and continuality of the game.

    My first negative reaction to such games came with the release of Riot in Progress. A very ambitious and for the time brave effort that tried hard to gives us new gameplay concepts, however, it was both too clever and hard for it own good, the authors had set the playing controls much too high, an issue they tried to rectify but unfortunately the damage was done, and so much good work never achieved the acclaim it should have.

    The problem I have with today’s release is that they set out to be ultra challenging, it’s as if the only aim is to be more difficult and impossible then what went before and to this end I believe they have lost the plot and now are catering for a selective part of the HL community, be it a substantial part.

    Along the way we are losing the richness of HL gameplay, it being replaced by a singular thread that adds little to the advancement of Custom Mod mapping, which in the past made great progress with story telling, presentation, visuals, design and new concepts.

    The single theme puzzle mods do not, or do not need to bother its self with such advancement in gameplay, it’s simplistic to the max and without any consideration to the balance of gameplay often leads to a very repetitive experience that just cries out for some relief.

    I will leave the pros and cons of technical issues to the mapper and designers.

    For sure there is a place and market for puzzle mods and good luck to those that enjoy them, my concern is that we will get more of the same at the expense of more ambitious mods, as both authors old and new find it much easier to produce for this selective market and its limited requirements. That should set the cat among the pigeon

  8. BlueWolf72

    Love puzzles but they need to be fresh.

  9. Slim voting parameters, but I went with neutrality. Personally, I don’t mind a good puzzle game, but to be honest, I only really engage in one when I’ve reached a “ho-hum” attitude toward combat based material and need to change things up a bit.

    I’ve really enjoyed some of the more recent puzzle mods done on Source, R-n-D for example was done very well, but the charm wears of quickly for me. Unless the mod somehow really grabs me, it best serves as a short distraction. Climbing, jumping,sorting and stacking just doesn’t challenge me enough to hold my attention for long.

    While keeping the mods concept and quality in mind, I have to lean more toward the logic based puzzles of “Dear Esther”. One rare mod which was truly original and entirely captivating. But again, for a short time. I don’t want to work on it for days.

    I’m of the 70-30 clan. I too, prefer a good balance in the game play, but I’ll take the majority in combat. I’ve always loved that element of the HL franchise as the puzzles seamlessly integrate into the game while staying true to the story line. I believe this fact has attributed much to it’s overall success. The puzzle solving sections of the game give you the opportunity to gear down and when you’ve accomplished the task your fresh for more mayhem. The linear nature of the game play basically prevents burnout to one element or the other keeping it a bit fresher.

    As for growing interest in developing puzzle mods on Source, I don’t see why there would be. There are more versatile tools for creating them, but I certainly don’t want to see them fade away either.

    1. “The puzzle solving sections of the game give you the opportunity to gear down and when you’ve accomplished the task your fresh for more mayhem.”
      How very well observed and said, jjawinte.
      Spot on.
      BTW have you’ve forgotten to get your GRavatar? Be delighted to see your face here as well as at the forum.

      1. No I haven’t, but I’ll take a look.

    2. Kyouryuu

      jjawinte makes an excellent point. You have to understand what the role of puzzles is in HL2. Many FPS games run with constant action for long periods of time. A common complaint about Modern Warfare 2, for example, is that the game is always “cranked up to 11.” There is never any downtime. The problem with this kind of pacing is that it invariably becomes exhausting. It’s sensory overload.

      What HL2 does is pace itself so the puzzles are a breather in between combat spaces. The result is a more well-rounded experience. Even then, we’re not talking about amazingly hardcore puzzles, but we are suggesting something more elaborate than push-the-button-on-the-other-side-of-the-level mechanics.

      Puzzle mods suffer the same problem, but in the opposite direction. If you are bombarding the player with puzzles around every corner, it’s going to get real stale real fast. You are striking the same chord over and over again.

      1. Grey Acumen

        I’ve found that’s only true if the puzzles are all basically the same type. As long as the puzzles are of a wide variety, then each TYPE of puzzle becomes a palette cleanser for all the other types of puzzles, even though they all are puzzles.

        However I do believe that you are correct in saying that much of HL2’s success is in the pacing and balance between combat and puzzles.

    3. Grey Acumen

      While keeping the mods concept and quality in mind, I have to lean more toward the logic based puzzles of “Dear Esther”. One rare mod which was truly original and entirely captivating. But again, for a short time. I don’t want to work on it for days.

      Dear Esther..? Puzzle..? gwahh *head-asplode* Whaaa?

      How did Dear Esther come into this topic? I remember playing through the whole dang thing and there isn’t a single puzzle of ANY kind in that mod, not even getting into LOGIC puzzles. It’s just a story telling mod that runs through lines as you explore the place.
      Gah, PLEASE don’t go around billing it that way. It’s that type of thing that made me decide to try it and was directly responsible for why I wasn’t able to enjoy it properly. I kept looking for where these “puzzles” were that people were talking about and finding nothing.
      You didn’t even need to stack boxes or crates or push buttons. You just follow a rough path and keep going while a random paragraph of story gets spouted off at you occasionally.
      I probably wouldn’t have played it yet, if I hadn’t been misled about its content, but when I ultimately DID get around to trying it, I probably would have been in a much better mindset to enjoy it with the proper expectations. It’s a disservice to the mod to bill it as something that it really just ISN’t.

      1. You are correct sir. My apologies. I completely misspoke myself there. I think far faster than I can type so try not to take offense.

        1. No, no offense taken. I just wasn’t sure if you had made a mistake or if you had actually thought it was a puzzle mod. Either way I felt it warranted correcting. Even though I didn’t enjoy it, I still could see the quality of the mod, so I do think it should be given a fair shake.

  10. Nrmartins

    Well I really like them a lot. I love puzzle mods, even more when they have a complete ambient. Puzzle mods that brings out innovative designs, such as Reserach and Development mod, is a plus. So, they are completely recommended.

  11. Grey Acumen

    Wow. Puzzle lovers unite in this thread. Looks like PlanetPhillip.com is going to have to become PlanetPuzzle.com 😛

    Puzzles are the truest challenge in every aspect, both for the person trying to solve the puzzle and the person trying to create those puzzles. Before I get any more into this, I should make sure to clarify how I define a puzzle.
    A puzzle is any situation in which the difficulty involved in progressing stems primarily in determining what to do, rather than the task itself being difficult to preform.

    When a combat situation comes up in a game, that combat situation can be overcome simply by saving constantly. Kill a guy, save, take too much damage, reload, ect. Even without having quicksaves, simply being able to reload at all will grant you insight into what enemies you will be coming up against and how they will attack, and therefor what preparations you should make ahead of time. Eventually any combat situation can be overcome through sheer stubbornness.
    Puzzles are a completely different type of challenge. Reloading rarely carries any advantage towards solving them. (unless the puzzle is timed, or carries punishments when not solved correctly) Either you can solve the puzzle or you can’t, and it is only through personal growth that you can solve a puzzle that you weren’t previously capable of solving to begin with. You must be creative and use observation and logic to learn how things work and what new ways old rules can be applied. These skills are beneficial even in real life, and not just within the game, so the accomplishment of overcoming them is more personally rewarding as well.

    However good puzzles are also more difficult to make than good combat situations. Tactics can be taught, and ARE taught, and so pretty much anyone who is willing to take the time can learn them, through personal experience and repeated simulations. I certainly don’t intend to be dismissive though. The people who actually DO put forth that effort are rare and are worth recognizing.
    But puzzles are an entirely different matter. Rather than effort, creativity is the key here, and creativity is not something that can be taught or learned. As Einstein said; “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” Those people who create puzzles must not only create a problem, but must then ALSO provide a solution to that problem. On top of this they must then convey the means to solving it so that anyone CAN notice it, but not everyone WILL. To complicate their task even further, every puzzle solved is one more rule that the audience will more readily recognize, making any following puzzle using it that much easier. As if that wasn’t enough on it’s own, when making a mod for a game like halflife, getting the puzzles to fit into a cohesive storyline puts severe limitations on the entire process.

    Creating puzzles that CAN be solved while still maintaining difficulty is an immensely precarious task, and usually requires the creator to have thought of ways to use rules already present in ways no one else has thought of before. I have found personally that creating a good puzzle is easily ten times more difficult than solving any of them. Finding a mod that even has good puzzles in it at all is a rare gem and a treat, finding a mod that manages to stand on nothing but its puzzles is well worth encouraging.

    1. Grey Acumen

      dangit, for some reason it keeps logging me out. I hate having to manually log back into this site.

  12. I vote neutral, however it is a rare “puzzle only” mod that will keep my attention to the level of “play it now.” I can enjoy the occasional “find the batteries” puzzle, but for the most part I need some map progression to keep my interest beyond a “play it later” mod. There are only a few puzzle mods that make it to the top with R&D.

    Without looking at all the comments to this poll question, I can, with confidence, say that most of us want some combination of shooting and puzzle solving which is uniquely Half-Life.

  13. Berrie

    Voted I like them.

    But really it’s about the execution of the mod/game that makes or breaks something.
    If a mod has a combination of story, aesthetics and internal logic than it doesn’t matter all that much whether I only shoot or solve puzzles.

  14. Just puzzles. Ooh no. Very boring. I like puzzles but with a punch up thrown in.

  15. RustySpannerz

    I like 25% Puzzle, 25% action, 25% atmosphere and 25% Storytelling.

  16. Muzzow

    I voted love them and want more. Since playing R&D, I really want more mods like that. Exploring and action is fine, but almost every mod is about exploring and gunfights. Gets kinda boring in time. And the only aspect which makes me downloading more mods is, to see how good the enviroment is and I’m solely focusing on visuals meanwhile… how the levels look, if custom content is used or not, if they’re lacking atmosphere or not, etc. Seeing something completely different compared to the neverending array of “old style” gameplay is something I’m dying for – just because puzzle mods are so very rare.

  17. Pingback: Episode #66 » Podcast17

  18. SeanSchirmer

    The problem with puzzles is that they are very difficult to design well, and when they’re not well done they can wreck a mod.

    Jumping puzzles that require microtiming to make a perfect leap are almost always mistakes, and simply detract from the flow of a game. Other problems ensue when the modder doesn’t follow the physics of the Half-Life universe such as when there have been stacking puzzles throughout the mod, but when another stacking problem presents itself, an obvious ledge (for instance) can’t be reached. The logistics of puzzles are often difficult and have to be consistent throughout the game. I played a mod recently where small steel stairs couldn’t be moved but a gigantic steel container could, and we were supposed to be able to figure this out.

    I do enjoy a good puzzle, but a modder has to be very careful not to damage his mod with a puzzle that’s incompletely thought out.

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