Recently, Egoraptor released an episode of Sequelitis comparing three major title in the Legend of Zelda series. I’ve been listening to this episode over and over again (all thirty minutes!) because I believe Egoraptor has touched on some very important elements of emergent mystery in gaming.

Link: “A Link to the Past Versus Ocarina of Time”

He describes The Legend of Zelda (NES), then Link to the Past (SNES), and then Ocarina of Time (N64) while illustrating differences between the mechanics and importantly, the aesthetics of each game in turn.

There are way too many concepts to discuss all of them in detail, so I’m going to highlight a couple (this time!) and see if I can’t build a “mystery hypothesis.”

Puzzle Versus Mystery

Partway through the video — I don’t recall when, it is thirty minutes long after all — Egoraptor discusses the difference between a puzzle and a mystery as they relate to systems and mechanics using “Open Sesame Tricks” as an example.

In the example, he describes shooting an eye with an arrow as a method of opening a door — in Link, everything on the map is clearly visible and you just have to figure out what to do, whereas in Ocarina you have to find it.

There is no puzzle in the Ocarina example — granted you may not know how you’re supposed to open the door (by shooting an eye on the wall) — but before you can even attempt to open the door, you have to find that eye.

“Finding a diamond to whack,” is not difficult but it is time-consuming. Egoraptor described this as lacking challenge, since it only “tests” a player’s patience.

A good example of mystery that Egoraptor describes, is “what treasure will be found in the dungeon” and the creating of expectations — with the Big Key, the Big Chest, and the Boss Door — and an emotional through-line with a dungeon.

Here he’s using acting terminology but I think it really fits the scenario.

I don’t think I’m actually going to have time to discuss more than one point at a time, so let me summarize a bit in conclusion:

Puzzles are an important part of mystery. Puzzles are self-contained, and the player/audience is provided with all the clues in the beginning.

Waiting is not inherently challenging, and a test of patience — including “level grinding” — should never be an element of a puzzle.

While it may occasionally be acceptable to include waiting or grinding as a component in a mystery, they are unacceptable solutions to a puzzle.

Expectations are an important component of mystery.
“If this, then that.”

A dungeon door is an invitation to solve a mystery. Goals such as treasure and boss fights are milestones in a “dungeon mystery.” Puzzles, including combat encounters and logic puzzles, serve to test the player along the way.

Puzzles have solutions but mysteries may be unsolvable. A mystery is often something intended for contemplation — sometimes it is a truth to meditate upon. Sometimes the solution to a mystery is, “what do you think?”

As I bring this to a close, I realize I’ve probably trodden on stuff that’s been defined by others and that I’m only (poorly) realizing for myself.