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Reflections on problem pacing in Puzzledorf

This text was initially posted right here on my weblog.


The problem stage of video video games is a giant subject, usually with sturdy view factors on various ends of the dimensions.

“Laborious video games are extra rewarding.”

“Video games must be simpler and extra accessible.”

And plenty of different factors of view. What I’m going to debate on this article, nevertheless, will not be a lot how laborious the sport is total, however quite, the problem pacing – how shortly the sport progresses from it’s simpler, easier challenges and into the harder challenges.

I might be reflecting on the problem pacing in my very own Steam launch, Puzzledorf. Take into account, applicable problem pacing goes to differ primarily based upon many elements, together with style and target market. I feel I cowl sufficient normal rules to be helpful as a suggestion with any recreation.

3 Forms of Curves

After I sat right down to create Puzzledorf, I assumed the primary stage must be the best, the final stage the toughest, and that the problem would regularly improve all through the sport at a reasonably fixed price. That is roughly the identical strategy I’ve taken with different puzzle video games. A graph demonstrates what I imply.

Gradual Improve


The above graph demonstrates (to not actual scale) roughly what I attempted to perform. A regularly rising problem, simpler within the first half to slowly onboard gamers of all ability ranges, then ramping up problem within the final half of the sport.

Beneath is one other method some video games might strategy problem pacing.

Fixed Improve


I feel it’s pretty self explanatory – the sport will increase in problem at a relentless tempo kind starting to finish. In fact strive as one would possibly to create a relentless problem improve, one participant might get completely caught on a stage, and one other participant blitz via it. There are all the time anomalies you’ll be able to’t account for.

Beneath is the problem curve I ended up utilizing, after a lot play testing and a dialogue with a good friend.

Variable Improve


Somewhat than both a gradual or fixed improve, I used a variable problem curve, modelled off of the gradual curve. Psychologically it had a more healthy affect on gamers experiences, inflicting gamers to have extra enjoyable, really feel empowered they usually had been extra more likely to end the sport. I’ll talk about all of the curves and my experiences with every strategy additional beneath.

Reflecting on Fixed / Gradual Curves

Of the two preliminary sorts of curves, fixed and gradual, I feel the gradual is the higher curve. Having that gradual problem at first permits gamers to ease in to the sport, be taught the foundations and develop their expertise earlier than they get to the tougher challenges on the finish. Nevertheless, that final half, the place the problem ramps up, could be problematic for some gamers. Fixed problem curves have the identical points.

Via play testing, listed here are some points I discovered with each curves as the sport will get tougher:

  • They are often discouraging
  • They are often exhausting and overwhelming

Let’s discuss that in a bit extra element.


Probably Discouraging

This one shocked me and was a giant issue, significantly with puzzle video games. Some individuals are simply terrified of puzzles, afraid they may not be “good” sufficient to do them. Placing apart the truth that I feel everybody is wise sufficient, and a superb puzzle recreation ought to equip you with the talents to beat it, this mentality turns into an issue as the problem will get tougher. Please word, the extent instances and numbers beneath are hypothetical eventualities for the instance.

If stage 11 takes a participant quarter-hour, and stage 12 takes them half-hour, some gamers, quite than seeing that the sport is getting tougher, as an alternative really feel like they had been slower and never ok. I obtained this as verbal suggestions from fairly just a few gamers. This actually shocked me, and I feel it’s rooted within the concern of gamers questioning if they’re “good sufficient” to beat the sport. It was at this level some gamers would cease enjoying altogether, feeling like they had been incapable of beating the sport.

This was unlucky as I need my recreation to empower individuals to really feel a hit as a result of they beat it, and to equip them with the talents they want alongside the best way.


Exhausting and Overwhelming

Some gamers, experiencing that every stage successively took longer, would then assume (appropriately) that the subsequent stage will in all probability take them as lengthy or longer, after which quit. Understanding it was going to get tougher each time was too overwhelming. That is significantly noticeable in a puzzle recreation, since you is perhaps spending intervals of time simply trying on the display screen and considering. In a busier recreation you’re doubtlessly much less conscious of the very fact.

Within the state of affairs of a fixed or gradual problem improve, as a result of each stage is tougher and takes longer, the participant hardly ever looks like they’re bettering. It’s purely psychological – they’re bettering, however they don’t really feel prefer it. For some gamers, this demotivates them, they usually cease enjoying. That is the place the variable curve excels.

Advantages of Variable Curve


From my play testing expertise with Puzzledorf, I discovered a number of key advantages from the variable curve:

  • Respiration house and pacing
  • Encouragement and empowerment
  • Reinforcement of studying

On account of a mix of the entire above, I observed gamers had been total extra more likely to end the sport, however again to that in a minute.

Respiration Area and Pacing

Considered one of my favorite video games is The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. There are huge, thrilling dungeons that it’s important to full, and usually they get tougher with time, however between the dungeons you’ll be able to discover, stroll round cities, experience your horse throughout the fields and search for secrets and techniques – it’s all of the stuff that occurs across the dungeons that made me fall in love with Zelda. And the moments exterior the dungeons permit me to relaxation; they create house with quiet moments between the thrill.

It’s these quiet moments in a number of journey video games that create the pacing, and make the thrilling bits extra rewarding. This sort of pacing additionally helps stop the participant getting overwhelmed and exhausted. It’s tougher to attain in a puzzle recreation, however not unimaginable. You may obtain it, to some extent, by various the problem.

Understanding and believing that the subsequent puzzle will all the time be tougher can create pressure. Experiencing variable problem within the puzzles, discovering out you completed a puzzle faster than the final one, makes a participant really feel rewarded and extra relaxed. They really feel like they’re bettering, which lessens the stress and creates a more healthy tempo to the sport.


Encouragement / Empowerment

As I talked about in my earlier article, Tutorial Design in Puzzledorf, I like to make use of experiences, quite than textual content, to show the participant. To unravel the puzzles, it’s important to be taught numerous methods. Some are fundamental: in case you push a block right into a nook, you’ll be able to’t push it out. Others are extra superior. I don’t inform the participant they’re studying it – they simply be taught with out considering as they play. And by regularly introducing the gamers to extra advanced methods, and utilizing the structure of the degrees, I slowly train via design.


It’s necessary to notice that gamers are studying most of this mechanically with out enthusiastic about it as a result of it’s simply a part of the puzzle. That is partly why, I consider, after I used a extra fixed problem curve, since every puzzle took longer to finish, gamers felt prefer it was as a result of they had been too sluggish to resolve the puzzle, not realising that it’s just because the puzzles are tougher and require extra superior methods. They don’t realise how a lot they’ve truly realized.

This leads again to the fascinating dialog I had with a good friend. This man loves tremendous heroes and video games with tremendous heroes. He made an fascinating remark once we had been speaking about my recreation.

“You understand, one thing that’s actually cool about while you get a brand new energy in a recreation, is when there’s a few simpler ranges to allow you to get pleasure from the brand new energy, to make use of all the things you simply realized, and really feel such as you’re superior. Then you definitely really feel such as you’re truly getting higher on the recreation, earlier than bringing out the subsequent potential, and the sport will get tougher once more. It permits you to actually get pleasure from it. Perhaps you possibly can use that in your puzzle recreation in some way.”

That was the seed of inspiration for my variable problem curve. By throwing in a neater stage or two, after a extremely robust problem, the participant will get to make use of the talents they realized to smash out a stage and really feel good. This sense of accomplishment helps them to really feel they’re bettering, which they all the time had been; you’re simply serving to them to comprehend it.

That feeling and that information empowers them. That, in flip, motivates and encourages them to attempt to end the sport. And it’s that feeling of accomplishment that results in the pacing, as a result of that top emotion of success reduces the stress, and the variability within the pressure creates the pacing.


Reinforcement of Studying

That is the place I used to be speaking about educating via experiences. Throwing in some simpler ranges that allow the participant use expertise they’ve simply realized is an efficient strategy to reinforce their studying.

In traditional Zelda video games, you’d receive numerous objects that every one possessed distinctive talents. Then the dungeons would usually be stuffed with puzzles and challenges that solely that merchandise, with it’s distinctive talents, can clear up. They begin easy, then regularly get extra advanced. Nintendo very cleverly makes use of a complete dungeon to differ this concept of gaining one thing, studying use it, then turning into an skilled with it. Then usually later dungeons and the bigger world will provide alternatives for the participant to indulge these expertise additional.

Discovering methods to make use of this mannequin of studying, all through a variable problem curve, is beneficial for educating via design, in addition to a enjoyable strategy to be taught and play.



After I initially had a extra fixed problem curve, as pictured beneath, I observed fewer individuals had been prepared to complete the sport. Some individuals, after just a few troublesome ranges, simply gave up. After probing somewhat, that is the place I realised that a few of the gamers had been getting overwhelmed.


By various the problem, as pictured beneath, individuals had been extra more likely to play additional and end the sport. As an alternative of giving up after a tricky stage, I observed that lots of people couldn’t assist themselves and began enjoying the subsequent stage. Individuals appeared happier total whereas enjoying, trying extra refreshed and decided because it obtained more durable.



Various the problem, and never simply rising it over time, seems to empower gamers, giving them an opportunity to really feel extra relaxed and benefit from the recreation extra, and extra more likely to end the sport. Utilizing a gradual problem curve as a base, however then including in variability, creates higher pacing by various the stress.

Whereas this text was significantly targeted on a puzzle recreation, I feel a lot of what I realized is relevant to different genres, one thing I intend to discover as I develop different sorts of video games sooner or later.

If you wish to be taught extra about Puzzledorf, you’ll be able to see the web site or take a look at my weblog.

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