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 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.
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. 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 he can work on solving another.
Ron Gilbert suggests working backwards and starting designing a puzzle from the end. To follow on the example I drew earlier, don’t ask yourself what to do with a fishing pole, ask yourself how to catch a fish; and from there create the puzzle.
A few good reads on the topic:
– https://grumpygamer.com/puzzle_dependency_charts – blog maintained by Ron Gilbert