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Thinking about hunt structure. - The Revolution of the Moon
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Sat, Jan. 15th, 2011 07:10 pm
Thinking about hunt structure.

I like a lot of the structure this year, but I can't help but think about different approaches. So sue me; it's what I do. I've seen Three Whole Hunts now, so I'm cleary wise and all that. Really, any of my ideas could be total bull.

Part of the issue I see with the hunt is that it lies in this awkward land between cooperative and competitive event. This distinction is possibly most clearly illustrated in larp design: the larp I play in now is a three-year campaign to tell a specific story the plot team wants to tell. Other larps I have played in the past are a competitive, dynamic struggle between players attempting to gain power that allow them to survive when faced with staffers attempting to kill them. The hunt is both a race to the finish, and so needs to be structured in a way that rewards some things and punishes others, and a cooperative venture where the writers are attempting to entertain the puzzlers.

There are other factors at work. For example (briefly):
Puzzle-solving interacts with two reward pathways in the brain, one for puzzle-engagement and another for puzzle-success. Balancing the two, and never having them both fall off at once, is probably key to keeping the hunt fun. Achievements, for example, were a great way to exploit this and use success-based rewards to smooth out lulls in engagement-based rewards.
People enjoy playing with differently-sized teams. This is something I've watched World of Warcraft struggle with, as 25- and 10-player content. 10-player content is almost always harder, simply because if one person fails to do something you have a 90% effective raid instead of a 96% effective raid at that moment.
Making the hunt feel like an epic storyline-challenge is in tension with "letting people see the puzzles you've put time into writing".
Puzzle solving ability, random knowledge, access to resources and physical presence on site vary widely.

Because I think about these things, I've started thinking about what makes puzzles fun (other people have written exensively about this, so mostly this involves me reading other people's stuff and nodding sagely while actually furiously taking notes) and what makes hunts fun. I feel like my experience successfully leading raids designed to be both fun and progressive, and my experience with larp design, gives me a stronger position from which to talk about fun hunts, and to speculate wildly, confidently sure that I will never have to do the work of actually implementing my ideas *cough*. Anyway, I've finally decided to start writting some of these ideas down.

I'm starting with the structure of the hunt. In the past I've noticed puzzles getting significantly more difficult as the hunt went on; that didn't seem to be the case this year. I suspect this made things more interesting for everyone, as puzzlers could find challenging puzzles before opening up later rounds and could also solve less-challenging puzzles throughout the hunt. However, it did reduce the sense of tension as you progress, at least for me. Things weren't getting harder as you got closer to the finish. There was no ever-rising sense of urgency. It didn't lead me to feel invested in the story (okay, so it didn't help that the story was "Rescue Princess Peach", which I have been the opposite of invested in for quite a while.) On the one hand, for larger teams it let more people be engaged for longer and more people see more of the hunt. On the other, it meant that if you didn't have a large team you'd open up 20 puzzles and your heart would fall; there is no way an 8-person team can compete with a 20 or 40 person team when 20 puzzles appear all at once.

My current thought is to have different tracks to the hunt:
For each round have a few Very Hard Puzzles. This is where the things that are awesome puzzle ideas but you aren't convinced anyone but X, Y and Z would ever solve go. Each of them is probably a multi-part monstrosity that involves knowledge of rare fields of knowledge, complex logical solving and/or multiple insights. These are targetted at small teams of highly-skilled individuals. They would contribute far more than a regular puzzle, but would be completely optional. The goal is that if you have limited man hours but excess solving skill you can solve these and not have to spend as many man-hours on other puzzles, so perhaps something like, if you solve them it fills in all the annoying-to-google information on the other puzzles in that round. (That would mean that none of your puzzles could be "google this information and read the first letter off", but the rewards also wouldn't all have to be the same. Perhaps even have the last one let you skip any answer check involved in finding the coin, but have it be an epically difficult puzzle requiring solving a Duck Kunundrum based on knowing about Sudenese politics and having read the Babysitter's Club books, written in Klingon, which you construct by solving a British cryptic and indexing into it with the solutions from geometric algebra problems. (that is just an example; it's the worse puzzle I can come up with off the top of my head and I am sure someone more experienced than me [that is, anyone who has ever written a puzzle] could do far worse.)) If you can solve these puzzles, it should always be more productive to spend time on these puzzles than on any of the others, but most people probably wouldn't be sure whether they are worth trying, so solving one of these should be a gutsy bet on your own awesomeness.
These could be opened based on a seperate unlocking mechanism from the main hunt puzzles, and have that mechanism be non-automatic. That way large teams who are bad at $UnlockingMechanism would never see these puzzles. They would be a reward for performing skillfully (and by "reward" I mean "punishment, but anyone who would solve them is a masochist anyway.")
I'd probably want to balance this around having a 8 person team who was able to solve them all be able to complete the hunt in the desirable time.

There are the regular puzzles, which increase in difficulty as the hunt goes on. These are what you need to solve to actually succeed, and any answer checks at the end would only be based on these puzzles. They feed directly into the metas and solution.
I'd probably balance these around having a 15-20 person teams beat the hunt in the desired time.

Then you'd have a bag of popcorn. These are short, sweet puzzles that are designed to entertain large teams with many people solving not very quickly. They would contribute to, say, the speed at which puzzles automatically unlock, but not directly to winning the hunt. Basically, the idea would be that if you are willing to solve 150% as many puzzles, you don't have to be as successful at solving puzzles in order to open new puzzles. Ideally these would be a net point loss; that is, in all cases you'd rather be solving any other puzzle, but for people who couldn't usefully be contributing to other puzzles, it would be something useful for them to do. These don't have to get harder as the hunt progressed, or if they did it would be starting from something you might find in Highlights. That way, if a team is getting near the end and some members find the remaining puzzles too hard, they would have something they could have fun solving, even if it didn't really help them get to the run-around. The last round of these puzzles could contribute something to the run around, ideally that was mostly a feel-good geasture. Maybe they let you save cute kittens as you go or something.
I'd want to balance this around having a 30-person team.
The trick is to keep this from becoming "if there are two twenty-person teams who are equally skilled, then the one with ten extra people just eating popcorn will automatically win." On the other hand, large teams do have their own issues.

Now the downside of all of this is the sheer number of puzzles involved. I am sure that writing and test-solving the impossibly difficult puzzles would be a pain in the ass and a half. I don't know if anyone would practically pull this off, or even want to. But it would be one way to design a hunt that catered to different team sizes differently.


Tue, Jan. 18th, 2011 04:39 am (UTC)


Tue, Jan. 18th, 2011 09:13 am (UTC)

confidently sure that I will never have to do the work of actually implementing my ideas

Yeah, you go on thinking that. Because not only are we winning in 2012, but you just put yourself in charge of hunt structure.

(Not really. Well, maybe not really.)