Ramping up

When it comes to designing the Piczle series of games I have in mind some very specific ways I want players to experience the ramping up of difficulty and challenge. For Piczle Lines it was a little more difficult with its many different puzzle packs the player could choose from right from the get go, but for Piczle Cross Adventure there is a linearity. Within this linearity there is some possible deviation, of course, but generally players will go along a limited number of paths.

So for this game I had the opportunity to put into practise some ideas I have about progress in logic-puzzle games. The way I see it logic-puzzle gaming should ideally following these rules:

  • Relaxing (i.e. no time pressure)
  • Increasing size of puzzles (start small and simple, end up with larger puzzles)
  • Increasing challenge (start of easy, end up with challenging puzzles)
  • Enjoyment of solving puzzles (the reveal of the image once the puzzle is solved)

The main issue with a linear ramping up is that the last point, the enjoyment of actually solving puzzles and revealing the image (and in Piczle Cross Adventure the object being reconstructed within the game world) becomes rarer and rarer. On top of this there is the extra enjoyment of doing a clean-sweep of an area; a message pops up you’ve completed all the puzzles in that area and the map segment in the map screen turns full colour.

Initially you’re playing smaller puzzles so you’re going to see a lot of the above. However, once puzzles start getting more challenging and bigger those points of excitement might only happen infrequently. Similarly, if you start off with too many very small and very easy puzzles, people might get annoyed or impatient by the object unlocking animations.

So in the end I’ve decided on the following rules:
1. Ramp up quickly
2. Mix it up by throwing smaller easier puzzles along the larger, challenging ones
3. As the puzzles get larger, don’t overload the areas
4. Keep the player engaged (as few roadblocks as possible)

1. Ramp up quickly

The smallest puzzles are 5×5 squares big and let’s face it, if you’ve ever done any logic-puzzle of any sort these won’t offer you much of a challenge. Having to sit through a 5 second orso animation every time you finish one would get old very soon. So including the tutorial puzzle there are only 4 puzzles in the whole game that are that size.

As soon as you’ve gone through the opening section and you’ve learned the ropes it’s pretty much go. Sure there will still be plenty of smaller puzzles (5×10, 10×5 or 10×10) but those 5×5 ones? No thank you!

2. Mix it up

What is more refreshing after battling with a challenging puzzle than one or two easier ones? This is a famous tactic in F2P mobile game design: after every difficult level add a few “victory lap” levels for the player to feel good about the game again. Now obviously Piczle Cross Adventure isn’t a F2P mobile game, but the idea of a palette cleanser is a solid one.

On top of this, having a few (slightly) smaller or easier puzzles mixed in late-game also keeps the enjoyment of seeing puzzles solved. A problem with Piczle Lines DX’s humongous puzzles was that it took several hours to see a finished puzzle image. After that you were hardly likely to tackle another gigantic puzzle, are you? It’s best to spread those out a little.

Also I’ve added composite puzzles, i.e. a grid of 3×3 separate puzzles (i.e. 9 puzzles) that altogether form one big solution image. By having some of these in the game the player can enjoy solving smaller puzzles while still enjoying a prettier solution image when they are all pieced together. This way you can work, at the largest size, on a solution of a 60×60 pixel image, but it’s broken up into 16 15×15 sized puzzles that won’t all take ages to clear.

3. Don’t overload the areas

In Piczle Lines Adventure map areas are broken down into themes. Instead of selecting the “snowy themed” puzzles, the player has to actually make their way up a snowy mountain to find them there. As a to-do list maker I also know how satisfying it is to be able to put a full stop to something. So clearing an area of all its puzzles gives you a little message saying so, counts towards one of two trophies and shows that area of the map in colour (incomplete areas show in black & white).

I aimed to make most areas similarly “packed”. So earlier areas have a lot of smaller puzzles in them, but later areas have fewer big puzzles, to try to even out the achievement of wiping areas clean.

4. Engagement

Almost by requirement of the design, a story based adventure logic-puzzle game, there has to be some linearity. There are ways I’ve utilised to steer the player in certain linear ways, and there are roadblocks, but I’ve tried to not actually impede progress.

As explained in an earlier post I try to examine the player enjoyment on all levels, from micro to macro; from how it feels to control right up to the joy of clearing the game. I wanted to ensure that a player would never spend hours in the game without some kind of reward or enjoyment, be it the fun of solving a puzzle, seeing the object appear in the world, right up to clearing areas, earning trophies and eventually finishing the game.

By mixing in smaller puzzles in later areas, adding simpler puzzles here and there, not overloading the later areas too much and increasing the fantastical nature of new areas as you find them I hope to have created an experience that is both relaxing and rewarding in equal measures throughout the time the player spends with it.

Now obviously, all of the above is the design on paper. In reality concessions have to be made, plans change, needs must. But by keeping this goal in mind during development I hope to have created an experience that most logic-puzzle fans should enjoy!

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