World design

When making puzzles for Piczle Lines DX the first step was to think of a category and then to think up 20 items that would fit such a category. This was by far the hardest part of designing Piczle Lines! Try it for yourself. Pick any category and think of 20 items in that category (that would also make interesting images/puzzles). For Piczle Colors I just made a lot of puzzles and through playtesting ordered them more or less from easy to hard, small to large.

For Piczle Cross Adventure I wanted to go back to puzzle categories, but due to the nature of the game they would all need to be able to fit into a scene. However I wasn’t going to put a limit or minimum on the number of puzzles per category. If I thought of more than 20 then great, if not, that’s okay too. I’d make certain areas larger if there were more puzzles that could go there, and others smaller if I was going to have a hard time filling it up.

Step one was to think of a series of categories and think up some puzzle objects that could fit within them.

Making lists of areas and categories. To avoid spoilers these are visual representations of my lists. The size of the circle is a rough indication of the number of puzzles in that category.

Secondly I made a representation of potential area sizes based on the number of puzzles I could think up, as well as what I want to represent visually. For example, there is a theme park category, but I wanted to make sure that was a sizeable enough area in the game, not a small, throw-away one.

Rough layout of the different areas.

Then I put them, by gut feeling if anything, into some kind of world grid. I have an idea that the player should start at the professor’s home, so that would be the starting hub. I wanted the player to have some measure of freedom right from the outset in deciding which direction to go. However I also wanted the world to have a few paths that open up as the player progresses. I also have in my mind that certain areas and certain puzzles should appear later in the game, to preserve a sense of progress and, hopefully, surprise.

A rough flow chart of the initial sketch of player progression through the different areas.

Once I had a basic layout, I sketch a path I’d like the player to follow. This is a little hard as the player is free to move where they want. So then I have to think of some roadblocks, to make sure the player at least follows a basic route. It was also important for me to add a little bit of backtracking. As the world isn’t huge the backtracking shouldn’t be too onerous, but I wanted to instil that sense of “aha!” a player gets when they have come across an inaccessible area, but later find an object that will help them reach that area. “Hey, that fallen tree blocking the path…I should be able to clear the path using this Score Studios-branded merchandise chainsaw!” for example.

Formalising the map tiles per category.

Creating a solid framework for your world before you even start fully creating it is a great help. It’s good to often look back on your design and check you’re still going in the right direction. Also it helps mentally walking through your world, which is made easier with a visual representation. Designing and thinking up roadblocks to steer the player into certain areas before others also is an easier task if you can visually sketch it out.

Obviously, as with every aspect of game design, nothing should be set in stone. During development a couple of areas got switched around for a better flow, and some new ideas for roadblocks cropped up that were better than the ones I initially designed.

It’s always recommended to write down your design. In this process you think of things and solve problems before you even encounter them during development. Plus, if you’re visually minded like myself, having sketched out your ideas and mentally walked through them really helps visualise your game.

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