Reflections on puzzle design in Puzzledorf



 This text was initially posted on my weblog right here. It is the third in a sequence of sport design articles about Puzzledorf. You may see the total sequence right here.


I do not take pleasure in taking part in puzzle video games.

A bizarre factor for somebody to say who simply launched a Puzzle sport, however solely correct. I’ve loved the puzzles in Zelda and Metroid through the years, and I take pleasure in drawback fixing, however I wrestle to consider an precise puzzle sport I’ve loved, until you depend Tetris. But, surprisingly, I take pleasure in making them. And I do really take pleasure in taking part in Puzzledorf.

When making Puzzledorf, I requested myself a query:

“What makes a great puzzle?”

That query has been at the back of 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 quite a lot of my associates, who don’t love puzzles, discovered my earlier puzzle video games addictive.

I consider I discovered a stable reply for “What makes a great puzzle?” that works for Puzzledorf. I am not going to recommend it is the one strategy to make a great puzzle, however it works, and it appeals to a broad vary of demographics and gaming preferences, together with individuals who don’t love puzzle video games.

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

On-boarding course of

Instructing gamers how one can play the sport is the very first thing to get proper. Quite a lot of gamers, nonetheless, hate tutorials. Find out how to train them with out boring them? Or higher nonetheless, how one can have a tutorial that does not really feel like one?

I exploit puzzle design to assist train the principles of the sport. I discuss in depth about this in “Tutorial Design in Puzzledorf”, however principally there’s just one manner for gamers to maneuver, they can not get it unsuitable, and I exploit visible and audio suggestions to strengthen once they’ve carried out one thing proper.

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

Purposeful Design

I consider that is crucial side of Puzzledorf’s design, particularly when interesting to a broader viewers: all the things has a objective. There is no such thing as a useless area. This, in flip, results in a gamers belief. I am going to say it once more:
All the things has a objective
There is no such thing as a useless area
Gamers belief is earned

I believe this type of purposeful design is vital for interesting to a broad viewers. There are lots of people who don’t love puzzles as a result of they suppose they can not clear up them. Whenever you earn their belief, they really feel motivated to play via your sport.

What do I imply by useless area? Something that is not a part of the answer. I am going to provide you with an instance from one in all my early Puzzlescript prototypes (Puzzlescript is a good prototyping software with restricted graphics). The objective within the under 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 best way.

This was an early stage design. There have been quite a lot of areas you could possibly keep away from and nonetheless clear up the puzzle. They had been supposed as distractions from the true resolution. I believed that was intelligent on the time, however I’ve since discovered that type of design hurts the connection between gamers and my puzzles, and may negatively affect their belief in my puzzles in addition to their confidence to resolve them.

The puzzles resolution is demonstrated under.

Subsequent, under in crimson are the elements that I think about useless area, ie, not a part of the answer. The perfect resolution doesn’t use these areas in any respect.

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

As a result of there are actually no distractions, the mind can instantly see doable options. This, in flip, is extra inviting for gamers to have a go, notably newcomers to puzzle video games. When the mind thinks it may possibly 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 another go.”

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

“Once I realised that all the things had a objective, I began to play in another way. It made me surprise how one can use every area. I began to belief the puzzle.”

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

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


It is doable to suppose you have designed a puzzle the place all the things has a objective and there is not any useless area.

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 useless area. That is okay when that occurs – you continue to had a purposeful design and that is what counts. You may’t see each risk. The query you then need to ask is, “Is the puzzle damaged? Or was this simply an sudden however enjoyable occasion?”

If everybody skips your perfect resolution, perhaps it’s damaged and wishes tweaking. Or, perhaps 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 think about if the puzzle wants fixing, or if it is a uncommon prevalence and to depart it alone. It is a case by case factor and it is inconceivable to see each resolution.


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

My first puzzle sport was made in Puzzlescript, which is a quick prototyping software however has restricted graphics. My manner 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 under), a number of folks 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 soak up, they usually 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.

A number of the extra veteran puzzle gamers noticed the complicated puzzles as a problem and plowed via them, having fun with them. However the majority of my testers weren’t “puzzle players”, they usually received overwhelmed by puzzles that had been too complicated.

What I got here to appreciate was this:

It was not the issue that scared folks off, however having an excessive amount of data to soak up at a look.

That data overload switched peoples brains off. Once they regarded on the puzzle, they did not know the place to start; they could not see a clearly outlined drawback to resolve, or any potential options, in order that they gave up. Quite a lot of these folks then stroll away considering they do not like puzzle video games, when in reality the puzzle itself was at fault.

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

Finally, as I attempted totally different approaches, I noticed Sokoban video games (block-pushing puzzles) have plenty of puzzle-solving strategies. By isolating these strategies, and making an attempt totally different mixtures, I found I might manipulate the issue of the puzzles with out including an excessive amount of complexity. I might make puzzles that regarded easy, however had been troublesome.

I discovered the next to be true:

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

I found my puzzles appealed to the broadest viewers after I did the next:
Decreased the variety of transferring elements
Created puzzles that regarded easy
Issue elevated via tougher puzzle fixing strategies, and totally different mixtures of strategies

Beneath is an instance of a later sport stage from Puzzledorf that appears easy, however is likely one of the tougher ranges within the sport.

It Seems to be Straightforward, However Surprises you

I discovered the next to be true:
When a puzzle seems easy, the mind sees doable options
Whenever you see doable options, you need to have a go

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

I see this over and once more after 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. Beneath demonstrates the answer to a mid-game puzzle.

To gamers, it seems 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 manner (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 other sides of the place they have to be.

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

Puzzle Fixing Methods?

As talked about earlier, there are numerous strategies required to complete a Sokoban puzzle. In the event you progressively add new strategies, or mixtures of strategies, 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. Instructing the early expertise is roofed intimately in my Tutorial Design article.

Block Pushing

Instructing Block Pushing may sound apparent, however there’s quite a lot of new gamers on the market. In Tutorial 1, there is no such thing as a strategy 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. Quite a lot of first time gamers take some time to get their head round this.

Tutorial 2 additionally lets you already know you’ll be able to solely push 1 block at a time.

Wall Caught / Cornered

Above is stage 1, the primary stage with a fail state. Gamers determine rapidly that if you happen to push a block towards a stable wall, or right into a nook, there is not any strategy 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’ll be able to’t push 2 blocks at a time, you turn into blocked in, ie, there is no such thing as a manner out besides to undo. Identical 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 crimson block from behind. Lastly, he has to push the unique white boulder out of the best way from one other angle to get the crimson block house.

The lesson is: typically you push blocks slightly 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 strategies are beginning to be mixed to create issue.


One of many extra superior strategies is juggling.

Up till this level most blocks you push alongside one path, presumably in small steps, however nonetheless one normal path. Juggling is the concept you push a block a technique, solely in an effort to transfer it again some place else.

Instance above: watch the white boulder. You may see that within the gamers first try, he pushes the white boulder all the best way ahead in a single path, which ends up in him getting caught.

Restarting, the participant makes use of child steps to push the white boulder one area ahead, angle across the crimson block to place it, then juggles the whereas boulder again into the slim alley out of the best way, however in a unique path. That is juggling – you push one thing a technique, solely so you’ll be able to push it again one other manner.

Beneath is an instance of later sport juggling. You could find yourself juggling 3 or 4 blocks at a time in some puzzles.

There are numerous different strategies 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’ll be able to see the total sequence right here. There are extra deliberate to be written quickly.

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.