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  • Detective Game Design: Puzzles Vs. Story

    - Julian Colbus


    Hopefullly all this will become crystal clear when put to concrete use! The following is an early level in Lacuna. It doesn't contain some of the difficulties added later (like a large number of channels communicating potential evidence). In harder cases, the player will need to have paid attention to testimonies, news articles etc. from earlier levels to arrive at the correct conclusion, and some cases span multiple levels. Not this one, though; all the information required to solve it is directly contained in the clues and dialogs of the one level where it starts and ends.

    This chapter won't reveal much of importance about the story, but it will spoil the solution to this one puzzle, so consider yourself warned.


    Here's what happens: Our protagonist Neil is called to a crime scene to investigate a murder. His colleague Gary explains that a sniper must've taken the fatal shot from one of the opposite highrisers. He mentions that one of them, the casino, is holding a large event with lots of security, so it probably wouldn't have been the sniper's first choice. Neil is also told that the bullet hasn't been found yet.

    At this point, the player is given the Case Sheet, allowing them to submit their solution at any time from now on. This way, the player cannot know when exactly they possess enough information to solve it correctly. It also allows them to just submit any random solution if they completely get stuck and want to get on with the story. The Case Sheet simply reads "The shot was fired from ____", which doesn't spoil the solution while also formulating the question very clearly. There are only four options to pick from, which does make the answer more guessable, but we decided that was acceptable for the first puzzle, especially given that the player has only one shot.

    The player can now walk around the building freely, investigate objects and talk to witnesses. Some of what they learn may be fluff, world-building, or even red herrings, but some is important evidence. The body lies out on the balcony, from where four buildings are visible: Gadle Hotel, Pixie Casino, Sakura Hotel, and Rocket Tower (from left to right). By investigating them, the player learns their approximate distance to the balcony. The position of the body, head to the left, already indicates that the shot probably came from somewhere on the right. A witness inside who saw the body hit the ground corroborates this.

    The player may notice that they can also investigate a cupboard next to the balcony door. Its description states that the bullet disappeared into the wall on the other side and that it is locked. Investigating it unlocks a new dialog with a witness who gives the player the keys. They open up the cupboard and find the bullet. Neil's colleague takes a look at it and surmises that it came from a rather small and quiet rifle that cannot shoot accurately over distances greater than 200 meters.

    The player asks for the key in the newly available dialog

    Gadle Hotel probably appears unlikely at this point because it's too far on the left. The casino is also on the left and would additionally be a bad pick due to its increased security that night. This leaves Sakura Hotel and Rocket Tower, only the former of which is close enough to be plausible. (Remember that the player learned both the rifle's effective range and each of the buildings' distances to the balcony earlier.) At this point, the player may decide they've seen enough and submit the Case Sheet.


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