Giant Bomb News

105 Comments

The Great Escape...Key

Johan Peitz's maddening puzzler and the 48-hour competition that birthed it.

The most annoying problems are the ones staring you in the face the entire time. John Locke blew his up.

I want you to load up a game called Bathos, and come back when you finish it. Click here. It should only take you a minute.

Not so simple, right? Or maybe it was. Puzzles are curious business, and there are few things more maddening than watching someone struggle with a puzzle when you already know the solution.

There's not much in the room, which is what drives you crazy. Why, keys, why?!

In Bathos, the solution is right in front of you, but the game goes out of its way to convince you it’s actually not. Why else would the character have a health bar? Why would someone create all these keys if one of them didn’t actually do something? Both thoughts ran through my own head.

“As a player, being watched trying to solve a puzzle game, you’re very vulnerable,” said Johan Peitz, the designer of Bathos, during a recent conversation. “You really have to show ‘this is how I think.’”

Peitz, whose day job involves running social game developer Muskedunder Interactive, created Bathos as part of a 48-hour themed competition called Ludum Dare.

These competitions are often referred to as “game jams” in the development community. Peitz made the competition harder on himself because of prior commitments, meaning he had only 24 hours to put together a game for it.

Participating in the Ludum Dare is a particularly daunting challenge, too, since it requires the participant to wear all creative hats simultaneously--artist, musician, programmer, designer, tester, etc. Peitz finds having broad skill sets crucial to game development, and usually hires similar people. Braid designer Jonathan Blow has been a vocal advocate of the all-in-one philosophy, arguing it avoids the often difficult communication gap of having to explain an idea to someone else.

“It’s very much you and your computer and nothing else,” he said.

The theme Peitz worked with won't surprise you: escape. Bathos isn’t even the only game submitted for the Ludum Dare that required hitting the escape, but more than any other I played, it was the one that tried to make you feel totally crazy.

There was no particular inspiration for how Bathos game together. Peitz was under a time crunch, an idea came to mind--he ran with it. That’s largely how competitions work, and why many tend to result in game ideas that sound great...before imploding.

“I’d say every other jam results in nothing,” he said. “Usually, once you get an idea, you don’t spend so much idea on actually figuring out all the quirks, so you just hope that it will work and you can go ahead into it. And if it’s the wrong decision, it’s really hard to find the energy to restart. It’s more like ‘Okay, it didn’t work out quite as well this time, let’s try to go play video games instead.’ [laughs]”

After Bathos went into the wild, Peitz observed how people reacted. He included hints within the game, but they were definitely subtle, and with a mass of keys in front of you, it was easier to focus on figuring out what the hell to do with them.

“I really wanted the player to think about keys, but not the actual escape key, so it’s the juxtaposition between what’s a key and what’s not a key and things like that,” he said. “And also, the only screen shot I ever released was the guy holding a key saying ‘It’s not the right key.’ I always tried to focus the player to think it’s about keys but not that kind of key.”

Playing with keys is summarizes my time playing Bathos. I mean, there’s all these keys, right? One has to work. Even at the time, I knew that made no sense, and acknowledged the keys were a red herring, but without anything else to go on, I started sorting the keys on one side of the room.

Surprise, surprise--none of them worked.

The response to Ryan and I playing Portal 2 co-op on TNT recently was...interesting.

I spent a few minutes staring at the window on the right side. Light’s streaming in, so there must be something to that, right? What if I stack all keys on top of each other? As it turns out, there was something to that. Sort of. One of the glitches he missed allowed players to get some keys in the wall, suggesting there was a way to jump on the keys and reach the window.

Look at all those keys, man! Don't you just want to put those keys into the door! I sure do!

“The window is actually open, so if you could have jumped up there, you would have been able to get out, but there’s no way to get out,” he said. “There’s a hole in the collision detection. You can get out of the window, but you can’t get to the window. Nobody knows that, of course.”

Clever girl.

Since there’s so little to do in Bathos, it’s not uncommon for players to stumble across the solution by accident, hitting the escape key as part of a rage quit. Peitz hasn’t heard of anyone staring at the screen for longer than 15 to 20 minutes, but also isn’t surprised “Bathos walkthrough” is the most popular search term related to his game.

People must be pretty disappointed when they click through.

Most of Peitz’s game work it outside the puzzle realm, but creating Bathos has given him some ideas about how one might design a larger scale game that relied on people talking to one another to solve puzzles. Sounds a bit like what’s happened with From Software’s Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls.

If you’re interested in seeing more of Peitz’ work, head over to his official website.

Patrick Klepek on Google+
105 Comments
  • 105 results
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
Posted by patrickklepek
The most annoying problems are the ones staring you in the face the entire time. John Locke blew his up.

I want you to load up a game called Bathos, and come back when you finish it. Click here. It should only take you a minute.

Not so simple, right? Or maybe it was. Puzzles are curious business, and there are few things more maddening than watching someone struggle with a puzzle when you already know the solution.

There's not much in the room, which is what drives you crazy. Why, keys, why?!

In Bathos, the solution is right in front of you, but the game goes out of its way to convince you it’s actually not. Why else would the character have a health bar? Why would someone create all these keys if one of them didn’t actually do something? Both thoughts ran through my own head.

“As a player, being watched trying to solve a puzzle game, you’re very vulnerable,” said Johan Peitz, the designer of Bathos, during a recent conversation. “You really have to show ‘this is how I think.’”

Peitz, whose day job involves running social game developer Muskedunder Interactive, created Bathos as part of a 48-hour themed competition called Ludum Dare.

These competitions are often referred to as “game jams” in the development community. Peitz made the competition harder on himself because of prior commitments, meaning he had only 24 hours to put together a game for it.

Participating in the Ludum Dare is a particularly daunting challenge, too, since it requires the participant to wear all creative hats simultaneously--artist, musician, programmer, designer, tester, etc. Peitz finds having broad skill sets crucial to game development, and usually hires similar people. Braid designer Jonathan Blow has been a vocal advocate of the all-in-one philosophy, arguing it avoids the often difficult communication gap of having to explain an idea to someone else.

“It’s very much you and your computer and nothing else,” he said.

The theme Peitz worked with won't surprise you: escape. Bathos isn’t even the only game submitted for the Ludum Dare that required hitting the escape, but more than any other I played, it was the one that tried to make you feel totally crazy.

There was no particular inspiration for how Bathos game together. Peitz was under a time crunch, an idea came to mind--he ran with it. That’s largely how competitions work, and why many tend to result in game ideas that sound great...before imploding.

“I’d say every other jam results in nothing,” he said. “Usually, once you get an idea, you don’t spend so much idea on actually figuring out all the quirks, so you just hope that it will work and you can go ahead into it. And if it’s the wrong decision, it’s really hard to find the energy to restart. It’s more like ‘Okay, it didn’t work out quite as well this time, let’s try to go play video games instead.’ [laughs]”

After Bathos went into the wild, Peitz observed how people reacted. He included hints within the game, but they were definitely subtle, and with a mass of keys in front of you, it was easier to focus on figuring out what the hell to do with them.

“I really wanted the player to think about keys, but not the actual escape key, so it’s the juxtaposition between what’s a key and what’s not a key and things like that,” he said. “And also, the only screen shot I ever released was the guy holding a key saying ‘It’s not the right key.’ I always tried to focus the player to think it’s about keys but not that kind of key.”

Playing with keys is summarizes my time playing Bathos. I mean, there’s all these keys, right? One has to work. Even at the time, I knew that made no sense, and acknowledged the keys were a red herring, but without anything else to go on, I started sorting the keys on one side of the room.

Surprise, surprise--none of them worked.

The response to Ryan and I playing Portal 2 co-op on TNT recently was...interesting.

I spent a few minutes staring at the window on the right side. Light’s streaming in, so there must be something to that, right? What if I stack all keys on top of each other? As it turns out, there was something to that. Sort of. One of the glitches he missed allowed players to get some keys in the wall, suggesting there was a way to jump on the keys and reach the window.

Look at all those keys, man! Don't you just want to put those keys into the door! I sure do!

“The window is actually open, so if you could have jumped up there, you would have been able to get out, but there’s no way to get out,” he said. “There’s a hole in the collision detection. You can get out of the window, but you can’t get to the window. Nobody knows that, of course.”

Clever girl.

Since there’s so little to do in Bathos, it’s not uncommon for players to stumble across the solution by accident, hitting the escape key as part of a rage quit. Peitz hasn’t heard of anyone staring at the screen for longer than 15 to 20 minutes, but also isn’t surprised “Bathos walkthrough” is the most popular search term related to his game.

People must be pretty disappointed when they click through.

Most of Peitz’s game work it outside the puzzle realm, but creating Bathos has given him some ideas about how one might design a larger scale game that relied on people talking to one another to solve puzzles. Sounds a bit like what’s happened with From Software’s Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls.

If you’re interested in seeing more of Peitz’ work, head over to his official website.

Posted by Morningstar

Oh this madman again.

Edited by bluehat9

very interesting...actually figured it out after something like a dozen keys.

Edited by slayergnome

Lol fun article even after i figured it out I was like wtf that makes no sense, escape ke...... oh you clever bastard

Posted by ChrisTobin

The title of the article kind of gave it away, but a tleast I discovered a game I otherwise wouldn't have.

Posted by m0nk3y80y

@Robo_Gorilla said:

The title of the article kind of gave it away, but a tleast I discovered a game I otherwise wouldn't have.

It is a bit on the button, is it?

Posted by isles

I just spat my water out seeing this on the front page. This was my favourite thing to come out of Ludum Dare this year.

Posted by lightsoda

I remember playing this when it was released for the LD, didn't get too far though, soo many keys. Been thinking of participating sometime in the future myself. I should let it be said that our beloved notch used to, and still do occasionally, participate.

Posted by yyZiggurat

I'm a paying member but I can't view the video in the middle of the article, what gives?

Posted by prestonhedges

"In Bathos, the solution is right in front of you"

Not really. This is more like a Sherlock Holmes story where it hides evidence from you to make the solution seem ingenious. I've got keys here that say "End," Enter," and "Home." Also using the keys to climb up toward the window is a valid way of escaping that room, but the game doesn't allow you to do that.

Posted by Vexxan

That key-game gave me nightmares.

Posted by ChrisTobin

@HomemadeZiggurat said:

I'm a paying member but I can't view the video in the middle of the article, what gives?

There is no video in the middle of the article.

Posted by rufo

I usually champion small, experimental games that make you question the conventions of the medium… but honestly, I thought Bathos was more obnoxious than clever.

The controls are listed right there. Not listing one of the controls does not a game make. I honestly feel I would've liked it better if there simply hadn't been any mention of controls at all, and I was left to discover it for myself.

Personal opinion, of course. Nothing against those who thought it was clever.

Posted by Thoseposers

i'm with @rufo. It's not really even a game, it's more like a riddle

Posted by patrickklepek

@Robo_Gorilla said:

@HomemadeZiggurat said:

I'm a paying member but I can't view the video in the middle of the article, what gives?

There is no video in the middle of the article.

There was; I'd embedded TNT. Swapped it.

Posted by BenderUnit22

This game reminded me of the quests on Giant Bomb. Didn't like it one bit and the "clever" idea behind it boils down to betraying the fact that you're controlling an avatar in a game, but rather are operating a program.

Posted by Andheez

It didn't take me too long, but I am fairly quick on puzzles. After playing Portal 1, Portal 2 was.....cake.

Edited by knightlyknave

@rufo: I agree. This wasn't a puzzle it was purposefully hiding what to do from you by putting in those directions on screen.

Posted by dr_mantas

Didn't catch the hint in the title. Spent 10 minutes putting keys in walls and doors. Then it finally hit me and I solved it. Pretty clever little thing.

Posted by max_mischi3f

I used to hang out on message boards with Johan Peitz and Derek Yu. It's been really interesting to have that unique perspective of these developers from 10 years ago and watching their skills progress from their early proto-games.

Posted by DigTheDoug

@HomemadeZiggurat: It's not a video, just a picture.

Posted by MrOldboy

I wish I had played the game before all the "There is a solution, I promise" and "the solution is right in front of you." hints. Just so I can see if I would have thought of the solution. But knowing the game had a trick made the solution appear immediately.

Edited by mnzy

Reminded me of when I was little and the older kids changed the rule of the game mid-match. Not liking it, sorry.

Online
Posted by Babylonian

Maaaan, this makes me miss covering Ludum Dare for Bytejacker so bad. There are some seriously brilliant games tucked away in there, and I remember losing whole days to digging up and presenting the gems each LD pulls out.

I have particularly fond memories of Terry Cavanagh (the VVVVVV guy)'s Radio Silence and (the non-LD jamgame) Red Sky. miss u, indie gamez~~

Posted by langdonx

I "solved" it after like 5-10 minutes, I guess you could say, but I don't think like I actually solved like you'd solve a real puzzle or a riddle. After trying a bunch of keys in the game and jumping around like a mad man, I thought there was some undocumented action I could do, so I started systematically pressing keys on my keyboard (not even making the connection). Sure enough there was one. I don't feel like I'm smart for beating the game... I just feel like I just happened upon the solution.

I wonder if anyone actually "solved" the puzzle without just throwing crap at the wall until something stuck (or trial and error).

Posted by Sessh

Took me about a minute to figure it out, since your guy practically tells you what to do - in goddamn caps.

Posted by Ksaw

Yo! Fuck this game! I say this of course because I lack the brain power to think "outside the box" and have the patience of a toddler. I'm gonna go play more Batman.

Posted by Camling

Shit, I hit Escape right after the beggining, because I wanted to pause and leave for a sec. Well that was anticlimactic.

Posted by jacobgray

Took about half a minute. I must have played too much Layton...goofy logic has creeped into my brain.

Posted by takua108

Wow, this is really cool and all,

but the title of this article completely spoils it.

Posted by Landon

@gladspooky said:

"In Bathos, the solution is right in front of you"

Not really. This is more like a Sherlock Holmes story where it hides evidence from you to make the solution seem ingenious. I've got keys here that say "End," Enter," and "Home." Also using the keys to climb up toward the window is a valid way of escaping that room, but the game doesn't allow you to do that.

You try standing on top of keys to escape a room.

Posted by Owlright

Solved in probably 30 seconds, after spending a few seeing if I could get out the window. I've probably played one too many literal solution puzzles though.

Posted by Grumbel

Have to agree with rufos that the puzzle was rather obnoxious. There is certainly some fun to be had with making a game depend on out-of-the-box thinking or hiding the controls (Metal Gear's Psycho Mantis comes to mind), but this thing just came across as cheap, as there really wasn't any interactivity to the solution. You do it or you don't, without a smooth way of slowly getting there. Would the game have as gladspooky said reacted to other keys or even mouse input it could have been a good bit more entertaining.

Posted by TekZero

Aside from the hint in the headline, when I saw the key fall from the celing, I said to myself "it can't be that easy".

Edited by Lokno

So yeah, this made me feel pretty stupid. I was stuck trying to figure it out over a half and hour and stumbled on the solution in a desperation attempt. I can't help but feel a bit robbed though. I guess its a play on words, but the solution is not in the game, and so it requires your to ignore the sense of place. Also, there really isn't any hints, because since I would assume the player character doesn't know how to get out, so saying "its not that key" doesn't allow me to conclude anything. Who said it had to be a key? Feels like an old adventure game where you have to get into the exact head-space of the designer to figure out the puzzle.

Posted by KillyDarko

That was actually pretty awesome ^^

Posted by RedRocketWestie

I'm not sure if I should be grateful or upset that the title gave away the solution.

Posted by tourgen

pretty cool to see Ludumdare getting some exposure here

Posted by ThePhantomnaut

Yeah I noticed the keys. :)

Posted by WarlordPayne

The hint that the keys themselves give you is what led me to the solution.

Posted by Gamer_152

Man, not much love for Bathos in this comments section. I actually thought the game was pretty impressive and I was amused when I figured out the solution.

Moderator
Posted by Ronald

@WarlordPayne said:

The hint that the keys themselves give you is what led me to the solution.

Yeah, by the fourth or fifth key you pick up he's said "wrong key" and then "there must be some way to escape". By that point I said "OK, I know the right key now."

Posted by WarlordPayne

@Ronald said:

@WarlordPayne said:

The hint that the keys themselves give you is what led me to the solution.

Yeah, by the fourth or fifth key you pick up he's said "wrong key" and then "there must be some way to escape". By that point I said "OK, I know the right key now."

I wasn't paying much attention to what he was saying so I didn't pick up on that. What I meant was that there are three keys that drop from the ceiling with letters attached to them. One has an E, one has an S, and one has a C.

Edited by CornBREDX

As a concept its neat, which I assume is the point, but as a game the solution is dumb. Because the game straight up lies to you. That's pretty cheap even if there are hints in the text.

I solved it before reading through this by basically trying all the keys (which admittedly seemed wrong to begin with because there is so many, the term orgy of evidence from Minority Report ALWAYS sticks in my head with these types of things and in this case the keys seemed like a distraction- I tried them anyway because... video games- you never know). The hints in the text made me try... other keys so basically I hit everyone until it worked.

Possibly spoilers if you havent read the article or tried the "game" yet.

Reason I found that solution dumb is you see the keyboard as a controller and we are told only 6 work. Naturally, as far as we know, only six keys work for the game. We have no indication a hidden key on the keyboard is actually a controller option. That's not a solution to a puzzle, that's cheap because the game lies to you.

In narrative lies can be fun, because ultimately it's about messing with where you think the story is going, but when you start to lie about how your game works you're just trolling your player. Whether or not you as a game player are ok with that is admittedly up to the player, I didnt have an interest in Demon Souls originally because of that kind of concept. Dark Souls I found much more intriguing because it was hard but fair- I will admit though I can only speak about Demon's Souls as an outsider, I never played it. Dark Souls doesn't lie to you, it just doesn't tell you. Is there a difference? I suppose one could debate there is not, but in theory people are more inclined to believe what they are told from the outset before becoming annoyed that they are being lied to when they discover they are (if they ever discover it at all).

As a discussion, this is a fascinating topic but as a game play element, my personal take is straight up lieing to a player about their game play options is worse then not telling them anything.

Just my thoughts on it. =)

Posted by Clonedzero

not my thing, but i appreciate it.

i'd give it a try just for a whirl but im extremely sleep deprived right now and dont want to feel stupid lol

Posted by MormonWarrior

I would have never figured this out myself. Ever.

@CornBREDX: I totally agree with you. Straight-up lying to the players about the rules in the game is entirely different from just being vague. This sort of obtuse puzzle does remind me of some clever stuff in Zelda/Mario DS games like requiring you to blow on the mic even though you've never been told that would do anything, or closing the screen to swap the image from one to the other. Clever stuff is one thing. Telling me only a few keys work and then making the solution to press the Esc key is ridiculous. I didn't feel dumb, I felt cheated.

Posted by Koobz

So... it's a troll game with a painfully on-the-nose meta-joke punchline.

I'm all for new frontiers in gaming, but I hope this whole "fucking with the player so they waste their time" thing doesn't catch on. I mean, I figured it out, but I feel like I accomplished nothing. I am winner?

Posted by awe_stuck

its clever and definitely significant when you think about how to design a game. other then that its a total middle finger to my sanity. i played this for 2 minutes, knew the keys wouldnt work. oh, and totally glazed over the title. if it wasnt for the title im sure a lot more people wouldnt blame themselves. i press the x tab not the esc key. where has this guy been? seriously, tho. nice game...

Posted by CornBREDX

@Koobz: Technically it's old school design. If you look back on a lot of old NES games, especially bad ones, they seemed to revel in messing with the player. A pretty classic example is in the classic NES Dirty Harry game- there is a room if you enter you cant leave. This is believed intentional as the Developer wrote something on the wall, basically laughing at you. As far as I recall there is no indication this will happen until it does. In those days, this meant you had to start the game all over again.

Granted this is an extreme case, as there is no way out of the room and no way to know until you have it happen. However, one could argue the puzzle is learning to never go in that room.

Posted by madhacker

I've always wondered why nobody really talked about the Sega Genesis X-Men game. There's a moment there when you defeat a boss (I think it was Mojo) and then a timer shows up and starts counting down. There's a prompt on the screen that says "You need to reset the computer". Now, this was pre-internet. If that timer gets to zero, the game is OVER. I tried so many times (and mind you, that was a HARD game) to press buttons on the screen. There was nothing in the game that you could do. Nothing to interact with.

The solution (which blew me away as a kid) was to LITERALLY reset the computer. If you pressed "reset" on the Genesis, you'd see a Matrix-y (this was pre-matrix as well) list of numbers, and then the game would take you to the final level.

This was third-wall breaking gameplay before Metal Gear Solid's Psycho Mantis fight and on occasion I still think about that to this day.

...but y'all don't know ;)

  • 105 results
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3