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Game elements or information that instruct players how goals can be fulfilled.

Players may be unsure about how to fulfill goals in games for several reasons. They may have misunderstood the descriptions provided, they may know what the goals are but not how to reach them, or the games may be designed so figuring out what the goals are is part of the gameplay. Clues are game elements or information that players can find through gameplay that helps them become aware of what the goals actually are. The Clues may be explicit, describing exactly how to reach the goal, or implicit, describing facts and events in the game world which need to be interpreted by the players. Of course, this categorization is not clear-cut, as the vagueness of the clues can vary.


Non-Player Characters in The Legend of Zelda series often provide players with tips about how to not only play the game but how the interface works. The series also makes uses of signs in the environment to show where different locations are; this design solution is also present in the Elder Scrolls series. Signs are also used in most racing games, e.g. the Gran Turismo series, the Need for Speed series, and the Sega Rally series, to contain warnings about upcoming curves.

In the board game Mansions of Madness, game masters place a sequence of cards representing Clues that help players finding out how to win the scenarios they are playing.

The location of quests in both the Dragon Age series and the latter installments of the Fallout series are marked on maps, and for the latter the direction to this locations are indicated in the HUD compass.

Good locations to place portals in Portal 2 are marked with crosshairs in some of the more challenging levels.

Using the pattern

Besides what information they should include, designing Clues requires an awareness of why the information should be provided and how it should be provided. Generally, Clues are typically introduced to modulate how difficult Challenging Gameplay should be or to ensure Casual Gameplay. However, Clues may not necessarily lead players towards actions they perceive as beneficial for the progress in the game. When this is the case, Clues are instead used to promote actions, which the players would probably not otherwise initiate, in order to support Predetermined Story Structures. This may be make these Clues examples of the Red Herrings pattern, used to trick players into actions that are against their low-level goals but that may be required to complete the telling of Predetermined Story Structures or to put the players in positions so that they can reach the higher-level goals of the game. Clues to finding Easter Eggs are examples of luring players to perform actions that are not necessarily required to complete or win games, and can be seen as Clues to finishing Unknown Goals. So are those leading to Secret Areas in general, but these may provide Resources that can help indirectly towards finishing game goals.

Looking at how they are presented, Clues either take the form of information purely about games' Alternative Realities or information that breaks Thematic Consistency through containing Extra-Game Information. Regardless, Clues can be designed to take the form of advices, encouragements, or warnings. Advices tell players what to do before they have started performing a set of actions; encouragements provide feedback that a given action is correct although the goal or the closure is not completed yet; and warnings give players advice on what not to do. Encouragements are typically used to indicate completion of low-level subgoals in Goal Hierarchies or to promote further Game World Exploration of a given area or object. A more specific type of encouragements are Near Miss Indicators - these indicate that players have tried performing correct actions but failed to do them correctly.

Clues can be created in many ways. They can be game elements in games that have to be interacted with to reveal information, e.g. Helpers, Landmarks or Props, or simply properties of the environment, e.g. Diegetically Outstanding Features or Traces. These types of Clues may however be impossible to actually detect unless the correct Vision Modes are used; Point of Interest Indicators in contrast can provide extra attention to Clues that might have been found anyway. By using game elements together, Environmental Storytelling can be created which also can function as Clues. Eavesdropping and Dialogues are ways in which Clues can be achieved socially through interaction with Non-Player Characters (or Helpers). Clues can also be provided in as Non-Diegetic Features, e.g. Geospatial Game Widgets. Automated Responses in the form of Cutscenes can be used to minimize the risk of players missing the information presentations in the Clues, and these can either be the actual Clues or ways of pointing players to the game elements or Non-Diegetic Features that are the Clues. Player Aids and Feelies are a type of Props that can be Clues without using the same medium as that which is used to let players have gameplay within a Game World.

A design option related to how Clues provide information is if they give Direct or Indirect Information. For example, Helpers can provide Indirect Information to the players on how to solve Quests, while Traces can allow players to deduce where Enemies and Traps are located. Other Clues provide more Direct Information, e.g. signs in Oblivion or The Legend of Zelda series that indicate directions where players can should go or explicit warn about dangers ahead.

While Clues are often passively waiting for players to find them, they can be used as part of Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment systems to give hints when players have tried and failed with specific tasks several times. Having Clues appear as Tooltips when players hover their God Fingers or their Avatar's gaze long enough on game elements is another way in which games can activate Clues for players based on their behavior; Loading Hints can in contrast be used when one with good certainty wants to know that players will have seen them, at least if one has played a game sufficiently much.

Rabbit Hole Invitations are a special types of Clues which rather than provide hints on how to act within games are hints on how one can start playing a game.

Diegetic Aspects

Clues do not have to be diegetic since they relate to reaching gameplay goals, but making them fit with a game's Thematic Consistency lets players use the facts about its Alternative Reality to better understand the Clues. They do need to do this if a game is supposed to have a Detective Structure since not having this would provide perspectives other than that of the main protagonist. Specific parts of Game Worlds that can be used in this way include Diegetically Outstanding Features, Landmarks, and Props, as can Dialogues and other types of Information Passing with Non-Player Characters.

Interface Aspects

Clues do not have to exist in Game Boards, Game Worlds, or Levels. They can also be presented within the interface or a game, e.g. as part of HUD Interfaces, Mini-maps, or larger maps in Secondary Interface Screens. As an alternative, the Clues that exist in Game Worlds or Levels can be indicated in these interface components as well. The previously mentioned tooltips is another example of how Clues can be part of a game's interface rather than part of its Game World. These types of Clues are rather obviously Non-Diegetic Features of a game.

Narrative Aspects

When Clues do not break Thematic Consistency they can be part of Predetermined Story Structures. Typically ways of combining the two patterns are through Cutscenes, Dialogues, Eavesdropping, Environmental Storytelling, and Traces. Clues are also quite commonly used to help solve Quests.


Clues typically make Puzzle Solving activities easier, and can be used to provide Casual Gameplay or focus players on what constitutes the core of Challenging Gameplay. As a more specific example, Clues related to Movement affects Game World Navigation while others make hint at where Enemies or Traps exists in Game Boards, Game Worlds, or Levels. They are however Illusionary Rewards since they in themselves do not affect game states in ways that help players. Even so, by explaining new actions or the characteristics of new game elements, Clues can help provide Smooth Learning Curves throughout games, especially in the case where games provide more Clues as a form of Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment to players progressing slowly. An example of this is the owl (a Helper) in The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time that sometimes flies in to steer players to the correct places.

Given players hints on what can be achieved, but also what can encountered, lets Clues provide both Anticipation and Tension in games. Clues complying with a game's Thematic Consistency can support Detective Structures and let players use their understanding of the Alternative Reality of a game to reason about the gameplay. When intertwine with Predetermined Story Structures, gaining Clues can become the goal objects of Gain Information or Gain Ownership goals, e.g. to learn about Achilles' Heels of Boss Monsters.

Depending on how they are present and what information they contain, Clues can either support Thematic Consistency (and be modulated by it) or break it, e.g. through introducing Non-Diegetic Features into a game. Extra-Game Information, e.g. about how to use the game controls or the game mechanics, always gives rise to Non-Diegetic Features and thereby break Thematic Consistency and possibly also Emotional Engrossment.


Can Instantiate

Anticipation, Casual Gameplay, Direct Information, Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment, Indirect Information, Illusionary Rewards, Non-Diegetic Features, Rabbit Hole Invitations, Red Herrings, Smooth Learning Curves, Tension, Thematic Consistency

with Predetermined Story Structures

Gain Information, Gain Ownership

with Thematic Consistency

Predetermined Story Structures

Can Modulate

Achilles' Heels, Challenging Gameplay, Easter Eggs, Enemies, Game Boards, Game World Exploration, Game World Navigation, Game Worlds, Goal Hierarchies, Levels, Movement, Puzzle Solving, Quests, Resources, Secret Areas, Traps, Unknown Goals

with Thematic Consistency

Alternative Realities, Detective Structures

Can Be Instantiated By

Cutscenes, Dialogues, Diegetically Outstanding Features, Eavesdropping, Environmental Storytelling, Feelies, Geospatial Game Widgets, Helpers, HUD Interfaces, Information Passing, Landmarks, Loading Hints, Mini-maps, Near Miss Indicators, Player Aids, Props, Secondary Interface Screens, Tooltips, Traces, Vision Modes

Can Be Modulated By

Automated Responses, Cutscenes, Extra-Game Information, HUD Interfaces, Mini-maps, Point of Interest Indicators, Secondary Interface Screens, Thematic Consistency

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Thematic Consistency if used together with Extra-Game Information or Non-Diegetic Features

Emotional Engrossment if used together with Extra-Game Information


An updated version of the pattern Clues that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design[1].


  1. Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.