Stacking problems makes for more interesting puzzles

I know I said I’d be making a decent introduction to my game saying what it’s about and stuff, but I’ll leave that for another day as I’d rather talk about what I’ve done today, and the thinking behind it.

A new level I made today, just for you... well really I made it for me but I'm in the mood for sharing so you are lucky 🙂

In this post I’ll be going into detail about a new level I made, so if you dont want ‘puzzle spoilers’ (if such a thing exists) then you can play here before reading.

this level was made as a quick test for a feature I coded today of what I call a ‘drain field’; when Sarah passes through it, she can’t use her wall running powers until she reaches a recharge point.

Why I made these new ‘drain field’ things:

this is a similarish use to what I originally had in mind for recharge points, Sarah would only have so many ‘uses’ of her wall-running before having to return to a charge point to refil them. after a little testing it turned out this created very few extra possibilities for gameplay, and mostly meant 400% (figure may be a guess) more backtracking, so this was ditched in favour of a ‘limited time’ power, so I can have walls that take longer than the timer allows to traverse, causing sarah to fall off the wall unless she can make it to a recharge point and max out her wall-running timer.

This worked out pretty well, but resulted in very few possible situations where a recharge point was actually neccesary, and I did like how not being able to use your ability before getting to a recharge point forced a certain type of traditional platforming, essentially changing the way the player has to see the level until they are ready to run along walls again.

Complex problems are just sevral simple ones bundled together:

And thus, the drain field was born. I like it particularly because it lends itself very well to how I design puzzles; any problem is simple on its own, but when sevral simple problems are combined it makes for a more complex one where the player is best off standing back and trying to figure bits out step by step. heres an explanation of how this works in todays level:

simple problem #1:

The button is on the wall, you cant stand on walls

simple solution #1:

use your super power, then you can stand on walls!

and we can make this ‘puzzle’ more complex by adding another problem, specifically the problem being the removal of the solution.

simple problem #2:

cross the field, and you wont be able to use your power

so the solution is to find a way use your power, in this level you must do some platforming to cross the field and find a recharge point, but I could just as easily force platforming and have a gap in the field to navigate to, or some button puzzle to turn off the field etc, all possible solutions to the problem I will explore as I plan my levels.

The Point is…

the point, which I’m probably not being all too clear about, is that with a wider range of simple problems to choose from, the combination of these different problems can create a vast range of potential complex problems, and keep the game both interesting and challenging.

also, it’s my hope by forcing the player to navigate without using wall running powers I’ll be able to make parts of my levels contain more traditional platforming with bouncy, slippery and moving surfaces I had (and quite enjoyed) in my early builds but not so much since adding the wall running power.

what do you think of my approach to puzzle design, is it a little too simple, as all the puzzles can be potentially solved by deciding where you want to end and work backwards step by step, or is that the perfect way to have to solve a puzzle? any suggestiong for alternatives?

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7 Responses to “Stacking problems makes for more interesting puzzles”

  1. Ink says:

    So far this seems like a really neat addition. I can foresee abuse, though, if that’s a crutch for every level. A lot of frustration comes from the “I have this neat ability, but I constantly can’t use it” type of game-play. As an alternative to this, if you’re going to have power removal fields, I would suggest including a way to get immunity to it as an alternative, presenting more than one way to solve the puzzle.

    That way, you can do a “pure” win, by solving the platform puzzling and getting your power back, or you can do an alternative platform puzzle and get the immunity, allowing you to “cheat” (not really, though, because you had to go through effort to get the immunity) and beat it your own way.

    I’m a big fan of sandbox style puzzles that let you develop your own solutions.

    • Sophie says:

      hmm, I do have a tendency to create problems with only one solution, and usually I prefer things that way; players will do the first thing that works and move on, not noticing all the work put into alternatives. the extra solutions might as well not be there as far as the player is concerned.

      that said, if an approach to solving a problem ‘should’ work, I would like to think I make sure it does. which results in multiple solutions. and I certainly dont intend to use this in every level. like I say, its just an extra option for making things interesting, I’ll only use it if it forces the player to rethink their approach.

      • Maxim says:

        I agree with Sophie that a puzzle should only have 1 solution. The nice part about solving puzzles is finding the solution. If there are multiple solutions the level can seem messy and secondary solutions can look like cheats or broken levels. Of course if you say it’s a sandbox puzzle game that’s not a problem, but it removes the focus of finding a solution and puts it more on getting what you want. Cause what puzzles do is they have you think rationally in stead of use your skill (of platforming, etc) to get that what you want. If there are multiple solutions you don’t think about stuff anymore, you just do what’s in front of you and hope it’s 1 of the many solutions.

        Also, limiting a player to use his ability of awesomeness (here running up walls, obviously) just makes them really want it back and motivates them to find a solution rather than accept it and finish the level without it. So I think it is smart to use it as thing that blocks you from being awesome which can be solved though thinking, rather then use it as a way of limiting the player making normal platforming possible. Of course the platforming is part of your movement when you can’t wallrun anymore. But there shouldn’t be a room which starts with a powerbarrier that then let’s you traverse the room though platforming and then have you recharge it at the end to continue to a new room, that’s like have a FPS with a level where they take all your weapons and you just have to run like mad. But if it makes you search for weapons which you can then use to escape, it would be a better level =D

        I hope I’m not being all too unclear. Also, if you don’t agree just ignore me 😀

        Cheers!

        Maxim

        • Sophie says:

          I do agree with you for the most part, though having only one solution doesent fix people from just running around trying everything without standing back, one of my brothers has a habit of attacking every level I make without even standing still and hoping trail and error will win him the level lol… though actually I appreciate him doing that, so I can design levels where that wont work, my biggest problem with boxgame was levels could be beaten without the player having realised how they did it.

          and yeah, I dont want to put a field at the start of the level and a charge at the end just for it to be a ‘platforming only’ level, its more so I can take an environment that works one way with wall running, but becomes alien when the ability is removed.

      • Ink says:

        Sounds good to me. Like I said, it’s a really neat addition. I think it shows a lot of ingenuity and inventiveness for the genre. Even if it does appear often, it can be a great tool to add some variety to the levels.

  2. matt w says:

    Hey, just a comment about my problems with this. (Sorry.) I like the puzzle design but the jump design made me cry and it took me about twenty tries to beat the level. It seems like I basically had to do pixel perfect double jumps — most of the time I was And twice when I’ve made it to the block my momentum carried me off the edge and I had to Start. The. Whole. Thing. Over.

    Part of the problem is that I find the camera in Unity completely swivels around a lot, especially when I’m in a corner, and that makes it really hard to line up the jump when my character’s in a corner. But also, you know, if I’m playing a puzzle game I’d rather have it be about the puzzle than “did you press the space bar at the right millisecond? Then try all the other jumps ten more times.” I just think the level wouldn’t lose anything by making the blocks a little wider and closer together so you had to do all the same moves but they were a little easier. Esp. because if you fail a jump a bunch of times you start to wonder if you’re even supposed to be able to make it.

    FWIW I loved boxgame and I don’t think I ever had this kind of problem with any of the levels — it seemed like if I needed to make a jump I could. And I’m an old codger with bad reflexes so you might not want to cater to me. 😉

    • Sophie says:

      ah yes, I have been worrying lately that my non-stop playing of the game has granted me mad skills regular gamers wont develop by the time I throw out this kind of level.

      I havent in fact even established in any way yet that you can jump further if you dash before you jump, and further yet if you jump while in the ‘super’ mode. like this a double jump isn’t even needed on gaps like these.

      its definitely something I’ll keep in mind though, especially in areas like this where the walls are close and controlling both the camera and the player feel like two seperate jobs.

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