Jotting down some notes from John Owens' talk about Metapuzzles at GC Summit 2010. I sometimes think that people think too much about metapuzzles... but on the other hand, just last week I was helping someone to brainstorm a mini-hunt, at the very beginning trying to figure out how to get started with no idea what puzzle to pick, I asked: well, is there some final answer that all of this is leading up to?... Because if we have that, we can sorta work backwards to the rest. Oh wait, I'm supposed to be jotting notes about Owens' lecture, not about my conversations and/or possibly spoiling a mini-hunt. On to Owens' lecture...
- It goes back to at least the 1981 MIT Mystery Hunt: answer twelve questions, put together the twelve answers, they tell you where to go.
- OK, so let's define terms. What's a metapuzzle?
- metapuzzle combines stuff you've seen earlier
- it's not enough that it wraps up the story: it's gotta be a puzzle
- Pure meta: you just need answers from previous puzzles; contrast w/
- Environmental meta: you need additional info
- Some conference room game examples
- Pure Meta example from 2002 Mystery Hunt "Monopoly", Dark Blue hotel puzzle. [When I look at the MIT website, I only see 4 sub-puzzles leading into that meta, which uses six words. I guess the other two are around somewhere, but by golly that was a big hunt; I'll never find them... oh wait, here's one of them; not sure how it was clear to the players that it went with the others, but whatever.]
- Another "Pure" example: Mystery Hunt 2006 "Spies" hunt had several metas, including one from the Buenos Aires puzzles. It turned out that each answer word in that round of puzzles had an interesting property. So again, it's a list of words that leads to an answer.
- Environmental meta example: vatican meta from MIT '04: you took the answers from previous puzzles and plugged them into a "stained glass" diagram.
- A great example: the "las vegas brochure" from Microsoft Puzzlehunt 8, "the hard way". Brochure of puzzles, each puzzle w/part of instructions on how to fold, spindle, and mutilate the brochure to reveal a message. [Yeah, that was awesome]
- Mystery Hunts vs. The Game:
- Mystery Hunt: you have all the puzzles. So you might solve half of them, then try to plug their answers into the meta.
- The Game: you get one puzzle at a time. You might not see the meta until the end.
- More design considerations
- Explicit vs Implicit metas: When you "receive" the meta puzzle, do you know it's a meta?
- If players shouldn't toss out info as they figure it out, do you warn them?
- Is the meta optional?
- Can you solve it "along the way" or do you need to wait until the end? Can you crank on it a little "along the way" even if you can't totally solve it, just enough to keep you busy in the van?
- What does it solve to? The finish line?
- What if GC skipped you over a clue? How do you get the info you need
- Some Bay Area Game examples
- Example: The BATH 3 double-meta—only one team gets to solve the second layer. Also, because there's all this info running around for the second layer, it's tougher to solve the first layer because there's so much "noise".
- Example: Coed Astronomy's SF Game Meta didn't just re-use hunt'ss answers, but also re-used processes. That was new and cool. [Yeah!]
- Example: First Game Owens ever played: ISETV in LA. Along the way, you pick up a diary that mentions a device, and later on along the way you pick up pieces of the device. By the time you reach the end, you have put this thing together and it plays a message telling you where to go for the end of the game. Really well done.
- Example: The 420 Game on a matrix theme gave you strips of a math matrix. There was a "crank to turn" during the game: decoding these strips. But you couldn't jump to the end w/partial information: you needed the numbers from all the strips or you couldn't solve the matrix.
- Example: The Genome Game
They gathered cards as they went, each showing a "nucleotide".
But not until the last site did they get some info they needed:
which column was A, which was T, which G, which C.
- Muttering from the audience: you know, there's a standard ordering of ATGC, and if you tried to solve it that way it didn't work...
- Yeah, but we only made one team cry over that.
- Example: The Jackpot Game had an optional meta. You got a card at each site. At the end, there was something to do with the cards, but you didn't have to. Except, by frenzied gamer logic, there's no such thing as an "optional" activity. [John Owens gives a little more detail about this meta in his Jackpot game writeup]
- Example: Espionage Game. You pick up some triangles along the way, along with some rules for turning triangles into letters. Then you get a big board on which you can plug in the trianges—then recognize that this is a map of your route, with the triangles showing bridge crossings, take them in order to spell out message.
- Interesting thing to try: MIT Mystery Hunt has multiple metas. Bay Area Game doesn't really do that. But it could. [Hmm, yeah. Zorg and Ghost Patrol had several run-arounds. Each of them could have been a meta. For Zorg, didn't we pick up some alphabet blocks at each UC Berkeley location, then put them together somehow? Did the blocks relate at all to the puzzles we were solving along the way?]
- An MIT-style meta-meta might be too much to cram into a bay area game. Interesting to consider, tho.
- Question time!
- Brent Holman: Do you like metas? If a game doesn't have a meta,
are you sad? Some teams get frustrated by a tough meta after 36
hours of solving.
- Yeah, I like it. It's I feel like I'm building up to something. It's a nice thing for a designer to think about.
- Dan Egnor: To avoid the exhaustion-after-36-hours, maybe try to make your meta more fun and not-so-difficult.
- Yeah. You know, if I were doing Genome again, I'd make it easier. Yeah, that's an important thing to learn.
- Linda Holman: you know, in the Amazing Race, they kinda have metas.
Like, put the flags of the countries you visited in proper order.
Or list every animal you encountered in order.
- That might fail the easy-fun test, though. It's hard on a team at the end of this multi-day race when they do poorly on that.
- Rich Bragg: If you're gonna pull something like that on teams, make it clear to them that they'd better keep track of stuff. It's easy to lose things in the van.
- Yeah, and if it's something to collect, maybe make it easy to carry.
- Wei-Hwa Huang: The Hogwarts Ending: was that a meta, or just an activity?
- I guess that was an activity. It wasn't a meta: it didn't take answers from lots of the puzzles you'd had along the way. It was just this one thing you learned.
- Brent: It was kind of an epilog. It wasn't a puzzle, exactly, but it was an important piece of the story's plot.
- Yeah, not all games need metas. That was the perfect way to end that game, given the theme.
- Ian Tullis [kinda hard to hear what he's saying]: I love metas! In the past few decathlons, there have been some multi-part puzzles. And so that multi-part puzzle kinda has a meta. But there hasn't been a whole-game meta.