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Reflections on puzzle design in Puzzledorf

 This text was initially posted on my weblog right here. It is the third in a sequence of recreation design articles about Puzzledorf. You’ll be able to see the full sequence right here.


I do not get pleasure from enjoying puzzle video games.

A bizarre factor for somebody to say who simply launched a Puzzle recreation, however totally correct. I’ve loved the puzzles in Zelda and Metroid over time, and I get pleasure from downside fixing, however I battle to think about an precise puzzle recreation I’ve loved, until you rely Tetris. But, unusually, I get pleasure from making them. And I do really get pleasure from enjoying Puzzledorf.

When making Puzzledorf, I requested myself a query:

“What makes an excellent puzzle?”

That query has been behind my thoughts for years whereas making small, experimental puzzle video games. With Puzzledorf, I pursued a solution relentlessly till I used to be happy. It was impressed by the truth that numerous my buddies, who do not like puzzles, discovered my earlier puzzle video games addictive.

I imagine I discovered a stable reply for “What makes an excellent puzzle?” that works for Puzzledorf. I am not going to recommend it is the one approach to make an excellent puzzle, but it surely works, and it appeals to a broad vary of demographics and gaming preferences, together with individuals who do not like puzzle video games.

This text covers the rules for puzzle design I used and why I feel it appeals to that broader viewers. I additionally suppose there’s cross-genre functions to a few of these beliefs.

On-boarding course of

Educating gamers learn how to play the sport is the very first thing to get proper. A variety of gamers, nonetheless, hate tutorials. The right way to educate them with out boring them? Or higher nonetheless, learn how to have a tutorial that does not really feel like one?

I take advantage of puzzle design to assist educate the foundations of the sport. I speak in depth about this in “Tutorial Design in Puzzledorf“, however mainly there’s just one approach for gamers to maneuver, they cannot get it incorrect, and I take advantage of visible and audio suggestions to strengthen once they’ve executed one thing proper.

The bodily structure of the puzzle can be utilized to each educate and information, with out the usage of textual content.

Purposeful Design

I imagine that is a very powerful facet of Puzzledorf’s design, particularly when interesting to a broader viewers: all the things has a goal. There isn’t any lifeless house. This, in flip, results in a gamers belief. I am going to say it once more:

  • All the things has a goal
  • There isn’t any lifeless house
  • Gamers belief is earned

I feel this kind of purposeful design is vital for interesting to a broad viewers. There are lots of people who do not like puzzles as a result of they suppose they cannot clear up them. Whenever you earn their belief, they really feel motivated to play by means of your recreation.

What do I imply by lifeless house? Something that is not a part of the answer. I am going to offer you an instance from considered one of my early Puzzlescript prototypes (Puzzlescript is a good prototyping software with restricted graphics). The objective within the beneath puzzle to is to get the orange block on the left onto the orange cross. The 2 blue blocks are simply obstacles to maneuver out of the way in which.

This was an early degree design. There have been numerous areas you would keep away from and nonetheless clear up the puzzle. They had been supposed as distractions from the true resolution. I assumed that was intelligent on the time, however I’ve since discovered that form of design hurts the connection between gamers and my puzzles, and might negatively influence their belief in my puzzles in addition to their confidence to unravel them.

The puzzles resolution is demonstrated beneath.

Subsequent, beneath in purple are the components that I take into account lifeless house, ie, not a part of the answer. The best resolution doesn’t use these areas in any respect.

If I had been to revamp the puzzle now, it could seem like this:

As a result of there at the moment are no distractions, the mind can instantly see doable options. This, in flip, is extra inviting for gamers to have a go, significantly newcomers to puzzle video games. When the mind thinks it may see an answer, gamers can not help however act. And errors really feel much less irritating as a result of it is simpler to see different doable options and “have yet one more go.”

Whenever you design puzzles the place all the things has a goal, in time you earn gamers belief. I distinctly bear in mind one participant saying to me,

“After I realised that all the things had a goal, I began to play in a different way. It made me surprise learn how to use every house. I began to belief the puzzle.”

This pal was a recreation designer and the suggestions was utterly unsolicited, he simply blurted it out whereas enjoying. Being a recreation designer, he was in a position to put into phrases what he was feeling, and it has been an especially helpful guideline ever since. It is the form of response I hoped for, however to listen to somebody say it unsolicited was an immense reward and affirmation of my determination to make use of purposeful design.

Now do not get me incorrect, the unique prototype was enjoyable and lots of people loved it. However the brand new type, the place all the things has a goal, appeals to extra people and gamers discover it more durable to place down.


It is doable to suppose you have designed a puzzle the place all the things has a goal and there isn’t any lifeless house.

Then one participant breaks it, discovering an answer you did not consider. That resolution ignores a part of your puzzle, that means you by accident created lifeless house. That is okay when that occurs – you continue to had a purposeful design and that is what counts. You’ll be able to’t see each risk. The query you then need to ask is, “Is the puzzle damaged? Or was this simply an surprising however enjoyable occasion?”

If everybody skips your supreme resolution, possibly it’s damaged and wishes tweaking. Or, possibly it is simply enjoyable that the participant discovered one other resolution.

I discover it enjoyable to see gamers discover options that shock me. I then take into account if the puzzle wants fixing, or if it is a uncommon incidence and to go away it alone. It is a case by case factor and it is unimaginable to see each resolution.


That is in all probability the toughest facet to get proper, however extremely essential. What’s the proper degree of complexity? And one of the best ways to extend issue?

My first puzzle recreation was made in Puzzlescript, which is a quick prototyping software however has restricted graphics. My approach of including extra issue was so as to add extra stuff to work together with, extra blocks to push. With one of many later ranges (pictured beneath), a number of individuals gave up once they noticed it, with out attempting.

I made a decision, after a lot testing, there was an excessive amount of data for the participant to absorb, and so they received overloaded. My discovery, for the common participant, was this:

If participant’s cant absorb the issue at a look, and see a doable resolution, they get overwhelmed.

Among the extra veteran puzzle gamers noticed the advanced puzzles as a problem and plowed by means of them, having fun with them. However the majority of my testers weren’t “puzzle avid gamers”, and so they received overwhelmed by puzzles that had been too advanced.

What I got here to understand was this:

It was not the problem that scared individuals off, however having an excessive amount of data to absorb at a look.

That data overload switched peoples brains off. After they regarded on the puzzle, they did not know the place to start; they could not see a clearly outlined downside to unravel, or any potential options, in order that they gave up. A variety of these individuals then stroll away considering they do not like puzzle video games, when actually the puzzle itself was at fault.

Nonetheless, while you cut back the complexity, the issue that the participant has to unravel turns into clearer, and they’re extra more likely to embrace the problem.

Ultimately, as I attempted totally different approaches, I noticed Sokoban video games (block-pushing puzzles) have quite a lot of puzzle-solving methods. By isolating these methods, and making an attempt totally different mixtures, I found I may manipulate the problem of the puzzles with out including an excessive amount of complexity. I may make puzzles that regarded easy, however had been tough.

I discovered the next to be true:

A puzzle that appears easy, however has a stunning resolution, is deeply satisfying.

I found my puzzles appealed to the broadest viewers once I did the next:

  • Decreased the variety of transferring components
  • Created puzzles that regarded easy
  • Issue elevated by means of more durable puzzle fixing methods, and totally different mixtures of methods

Under is an instance of a later recreation degree from Puzzledorf that appears easy, however is likely one of the more durable ranges within the recreation.

It Appears Simple, However Surprises you

I discovered the next to be true:

  • When a puzzle seems to be easy, the mind sees doable options
  • Whenever you see doable options, you need to have a go

When puzzles look simple, however have stunning options, it would not scare off new gamers. And that shock turns into a motivator to maintain enjoying. This broadens the potential viewers, but in addition creates a deeply satisfying problem.

I see this over and once more once I watch somebody clear up a puzzle, sit again, the subsequent puzzle begins, then they lean ahead to begin the subsequent one, unable to assist themselves.

Let me give an instance. Under demonstrates the answer to a mid-game puzzle.

To gamers, it seems to be easy. Get the blue block onto the blue cross, the inexperienced block on to the inexperienced cross, and transfer the white boulders out of your approach (there are additionally color blind choices).

What makes this puzzle attention-grabbing is the beginning place of the blue and the inexperienced blocks; they’re on the alternative sides of the place they have to be.

The issue, then, is determining learn how to swap their positions. It sounds easy, however the addition of the white boulders makes it an entire lot trickier. The common participant takes many makes an attempt to unravel it, however because it would not look scary, and the mind sees doable options, individuals need to have a go.

Puzzle Fixing Strategies?

As talked about earlier, there are numerous methods required to complete a Sokoban puzzle. In the event you steadily add new methods, or mixtures of methods, this turns into addictive and a extra satisfying problem than merely including extra blocks to push.

I will not undergo all of them, however right here space few examples. I’ve named them so it is simpler to recollect. Educating the early abilities is roofed intimately in my Tutorial Design article.

Block Pushing

Educating Block Pushing may sound apparent, however there’s numerous new gamers on the market. In Tutorial 1, there isn’t a approach to go besides forwards, forcing you to push the block.

Angling / Multi-push

Above is Tutorial 2. Gamers must be taught the concept of coming at blocks from totally different angles. A variety of first time gamers take some time to get their head round this.

Tutorial 2 additionally lets you realize you may solely push 1 block at a time.

Wall Caught / Cornered

Above is degree 1, the primary degree with a fail state. Gamers work out shortly that in the event you push a block in opposition to a stable wall, or right into a nook, there isn’t any approach to get it out. It is a easy fail state with an essential lesson.

Blocked In

In the event you get 4 moveable items in a sq., since you may’t push 2 blocks at a time, you turn into blocked in, ie, there isn’t a approach out besides to undo. Similar goes if the setting turns into a part of the block.

Child Steps / Combos

Watch the primary white boulder, the primary piece he strikes.

Initially, he pushes the block too far and will get caught.

On try 2, he pushes the white boulder only one step ahead, therefore child steps.

Then he can angle round to get to the purple block from behind. Lastly, he has to push the unique white boulder out of the way in which from one other angle to get the purple block house.

The lesson is: typically you push blocks just a little bit, in child steps, to get them the place you need them.

Usually this results in pushing the identical block later from one other angle, which additionally demonstrates how methods are beginning to be mixed to create issue.


One of many extra superior methods is juggling.

Up till this level most blocks you push alongside one path, probably in small steps, however nonetheless one normal course. Juggling is the concept that you push a block a technique, solely with the intention to transfer it again elsewhere.

Instance above: watch the white boulder. You’ll be able to see that within the gamers first try, he pushes the white boulder all the way in which ahead in a single course, which ends up in him getting caught.

Restarting, the participant makes use of child steps to push the white boulder one house ahead, angle across the purple block to place it, then juggles the whereas boulder again into the slender alley out of the way in which, however in a special course. That is juggling – you push one thing a technique, solely so you may push it again one other approach.

Under is an instance of later recreation juggling. Chances are you’ll find yourself juggling 3 or 4 blocks at a time in some puzzles.

There are a lot of different methods just like the hook and swoop however that is past the context of this text.

If you have not learn my different Puzzledorf Reflections articles, you may see the full sequence right here. There are extra deliberate to be written quickly.

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

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