No Overly Complex / Cryptic Puzzles
Make puzzles that people can use logic, knowledge or skill to solve. Think about that last statement and let’s discuss what each one means. When you use logic to solve something it relies upon what a person could reasonably explain being possible. Opening a lock with a banana is not logical. Players use logic to determine that they should open the lock with a key or some other thing that can mimic what a key does or it’s shape. Also having access to a nearby sledgehammer could allow you to logically smash the lock. These are all things that players would reasonably expect to be able to do given a locked door.
When you use knowledge to solve a puzzle it’s usually something that the player has learned or can reasonably learn from something in their surroundings. Sometimes there are murals in a puzzle area, and the murals depict a story or some kind of clue that would help the player understand what to do with the puzzle. You can also show players a puzzle early on that requires a certain knowledge to solve, like a scroll with words in a foreign language. Then you can have players track down a pieces of a translation key that helps players decode the scroll. There are many other ways that you can make players acquire knowledge and then test them, even quiz them based on the things they should have learned.
A puzzle that requires more skill to solve is going to be more “action-packed” in general than puzzles that require logic and knowledge. You can blend the elements together in one puzzle that spans several events, but in general the skill sections will be where you can let the players get more involved with their controllers vs their brains. In my opinion the skill puzzles that are used in the Batman: Arkham series are some of the best ever designed. In those games you had to use devices, timing, remote-controlled weapons and sometimes even combat to solve a “riddle” or challenge thrown down by one of the game’s villains. Throwing a weapon precisely through obstacles, moving the player character through timed hazard sections and being able to find a way out of tricky mazes were all part of the “skill” sections of the challenges.
Don’t Make a “Mouse-Trap” Style Solution to Your Puzzles
This point logically follows the previous one about using logic, skill or knowledge to solve a puzzle. While you can blend these elements into a simple puzzle or a larger puzzle with several sections you should still remember not to bash your players over the head with extremely difficult or just downright frustrating puzzles. Do you remember the game Mouse Trap? It was a board game where you mixed all kinds of unnecessary pieces together to get a ball from one point to another. The ball would travel down ramps and come to points that would raise it, lower it, propel it or bounce it around until it landed in a designated area. You don’t want players to feel like they are the ball in Mouse Trap, moving around unnecessarily and put into illogical situations just to get from point A to point B.
You want to design the puzzle to where the player feels like it’s Player vs Puzzle and not Player vs Designer. Your player should never feel like they are in a prank tv show or “whoever created this puzzle must be a jerk and doesn’t want people to solve it.” If your puzzle is actively trying to change itself to foil players, has a solution that doesn’t seem possible in the world where the puzzle is located or just has some element that makes players want to throw the controller then you need to think about toning it down and making the puzzle more “fun” instead of just an extreme challenge.The more challenging a puzzle is, the more fun you should consider trying to blend in there with it to make it more enjoyable for players to take on.