How do you layout a series of puzzles into a book that you want the player to solve in sequence when you cannot prevent them from flicking through pages and discovering the final puzzle? Traditionally treasure hunts with multiple puzzles or objectives involve a gate keeper or locked box that prohibits the player from progressing until they have an answer or key. When hiding riddles in a book they may not discover the first puzzle first, and there isn’t anything physically stopping them from trying to solve another clue they may have found.
As previously mentioned there are a number of ways the Study Planner treasure hunt mitigated these issues. What it all came back to was a solid game design and lots of play testing. Even for a hidden Easter egg in a College Study Planner there still needed to be a layout of how the game ran and how the objectives would be met to lead to the final location. The design layout also detailed how players would be prevented from solving puzzles out of sequence.
The Treasure Hunt had three riddles hidden in cryptic puzzles in the Study Planner, and one further puzzle at the treasure’s location. This last one was to prevent a player or passer-by from claiming the cash prize even if they stumbled across the treasure by mistake. All of the puzzles and flow of the hunt was designed in reverse, by this, we started knowing we needed a physical location each player needed to find as a goal. We then created a puzzle based on the requirement of that solution, and so on, and so on working backwards. More or less asking ourselves, what do we want the player to do in order to get to X.
Each puzzle in the Study Planner further involved a cryptic phrase that lead to a riddle, that in turn lead to the next cryptic phrase. The cryptic phrases all required deciphering, written as symbols as they were easier to hide amongst the pages of the planner. Intermixed with the actual symbols and clues were false symbols, marks, and messages. Each of these simply translated to nonsense or lead to dead end pages with no further puzzle. The encryptions weren’t overly difficult as it was aimed at 13 to 17 year old’s, however the riddles became the crux as each player’s interpretation of the solution was more often incorrect. This was intentional as the aim of the Treasure hunt was that it should take time to solve, rather than be found within a few days or weeks.
While the first puzzle was laid out in the book using a simple cypher and required little effort. The second and third puzzle were related, both used a similar fashion to be discovered and both used the same deciphering method, which was part of the second puzzles solution. If you found and deciphered puzzle two you could instantly decipher puzzle three without any further trouble. This would normally be troublesome as puzzle three is the last puzzle who’s solution determines the physical location. However the trick was that puzzle three required puzzle two’s solution in order to progress. This was done simply by having puzzle two’s solution follow a sequence of numbers (pages) that lead to puzzle three. Puzzle three required this exact sequence of numbers as part of its solution, therefore gate keeping any player who skipped ahead. In practice this worked as puzzle three and two were both discovered by players who hadn’t yet solved the first puzzle. However this left them with dead ends as when discovered out of sequence they each didn’t make sense.
The puzzles were play tested to ensure that out or sequence solutions weren’t possible yet they were clear if your followed the correct order. Only three people working at the college knew of the treasure hunt located within the study planner during development making sure it wasn’t leaked out before its time. With all puzzles in place and Study Planner designed the final piece was to distribute the book. But how do people know there is a game afoot?