In each creative area there are simple things, best practices, that you can learn and apply to greatly increase your final product. Mastery takes time and practice, but going from nothing to understanding the basics takes usually very little time; and the difference in quality is notable. Here’s the short story of how understanding the concept of Puzzle Dependency charts, increased the scope (and hopefully quality) of my games.
I first found about them just recently, from Thimbleweed Park, they were used as a prop somewhere in the game. Some light reading and a few examples were enough to make me understand that my approach to developing puzzles was wrong (I had no approach).
Here is a really simple example I created:
Puzzle Dependency charts help the designer visualize puzzle structure and branching so that he might fine tune everything as needed and avoid linearity or add complexity. It’s an analytical tool of sorts.
In the example I drew, in order to catch the fish you first need to fix the fishing pole and procure some bait, two puzzles in order to complete one action. In parallel with this one puzzle (catching some fish) the player could be solving another one, or more (as illustrated with the empty chart). This assures that if the player is stuck on one puzzle he can work on solving another without getting too frustrated. And these actions and their flow are better visible when structured inside a dependency chart.
Of course, the topic is long and wide, this is just a simple writing detailing the fact that they exist. Here’s a link to Ron Gilbert’s blog where a much better explanation can be found (after all, he created the concept), including links to tools that one can use in order to create puzzle dependency charts. I should also mention that a lot of examples, including the charts of popular games such as Monkey Island or Grim Fandango can be found online, should you wish to study them.