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EmpyrealHell

2d Puzzle Platform - level design?

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So the other day I was bored on the internet and eventually ended up playing some mindless flash games. I hit one that was supposed to be a puzzle platformer and it was terrible. I thought to myself "I could do better than that, and it wouldn't even take me that long." So I started work on a flash game with the idea of a puzzle/adventure game in the vein of super metroid. I got my world setup, rendering, mapping, etc all works, upgrade system, the whole 9. I've hit a problem though. All of my levels suck. I can't design levels that are mentally challenging. I don't know if it's the system I have or what, but I can't make a puzzle that doesn't have an obvious solution. I can make it hard to do (precisely timed jumps) or make it risky (if you fail you start the level over) or even require the use of engine tricks to make it (you go slightly faster right after landing from a jump, chaining jumps increases distance). All of these lean towards the adventure and platforming side of it, but I'm at a loss for how to work the puzzle aspect in. In a weak attempt at making it feel more like a puzzle I threw in locked doors with keys that are scattered about the level, but unless you can get to key 1, you can't go through door 1, so there's still a directly linear path to the end. Are there any books/guides/discussions on how to make a level feel like a puzzle? I know that people can spend careers on learning good level design, and I'm not looking to make the best levels ever seen, I just want something that feels like more than going through the motions.

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Are you sure you are the only one that doesn't think that your levels are obvious? Have you got anyone else to try them first?

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yes, my sample pool was small, but we all are in agreement that I suck at it. Even some examples of good puzzles would be helpful. So far I'm just going off the metroid theme and that's far less of puzzle and more of action.

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Erk. Good puzzle levels are the ones that DON'T require being super speedy, super dexterous, and aren't risky. Puzzle-solving is all about being able to relax and take your time enough to ponder a mysterious set-up and what you should do with it. What you need, to start with, is a list of puzzle-mechanisms in other games, then you could eliminate any you don't think you could implement, try to think of clever or humorous twists on them, and then finally assemble them into puzzles and sort the puzzles out by complexity and difficulty.

The most basic puzzle mechanism is a destructible barrier: I am here, goal is there, object is blacking the only path. This can be different kinds of objects, and the objects can be destroyed by different actions of the player character, depending on what tools and inherent abilities the character has.

Second most basic puzzle mechanism is hiding the goal, or a necessary subgoal like a key or a switch, inside/behind a destructible object. There could also be multiple keys or switches behind multiple destructible objects, or it might be necessary to collect all the items of a set, for example, oh, a statue of every sign of the zodiac.

Next step up, simple pattern recognition. Perhaps you need to light all the torches which make a square, but not the one which isn't part of the shape. Perhaps you need to press switches A B and C in the correct order.

Now add in another basic element, the ability to move objects around. Now you can slide blocks to make stairs, push a trampoline to a useful position, push balls that will roll down hill gaining speed until they smash a barrier, or a button that won't stay pushed unless you put a weight on it, or a button which you have to turn on and off at different points to make other puzzle elements work.

More complex, either multiple objects need to be slid in the right order or you need to use one object to get another to the correct position like ice blocks that slide as far as they can instead of a single square, or you need to do container math to get an equal amount of water in each of three containers, or all 3 objects to the opposite side of the river without any eating the other, or a towers of hanoi puzzle. Or you have 3 buttons and 5 panels and each button flips two panels and you need to get all 5 panels to match. Or a tangram or tri-ominos type tile rotation puzzle.

Then you can add complexity to get into systems of gears and rotating rooms, hydraulics and floodable rooms, , windmills and waterwheels, furnaces and boilers, ropes and pulleys, weights and balances, magnets or gravity control, modifiable tracks for rolling or sliding objects, prisms or mirrors that must be aligned properly to transmit a beam of light or defract it to a desired color.

Commonly, these are made less straightforward by having a broken or missing piece and a replacement must be found and/or a tool must be used. This expands easily into recipes: you have a cannon and a wall, but you need to find a cannonball and some gunpowder and a source of fire to use the cannon to knock down the barrier. Or an NPC won't help you unless you bring them bread, but the baker has left town so you have to find his recipe book, gather all the ingredients, bake the bread, then finally give it to the NPC.

Now if you give the playable character some kind of distance weapon (boomerang, slingshot, arrows, fire arrows, bomb arrows, ice spell, lightning spell, wind spell, etc.) you can add things that need to be done here while the player is there, or unorthodox ways to act where you can't go or transport yourself where you couldn't otherwise go (grappling hook, suction cups, sticky/magnetic boots, helpful animals, growable plants.)

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I am also interested in this topic, but I am just talking out of the blue.

I think there are three part of puzzle solving:

1) Understanding the syntax and vocabulary of the puzzle
2) Formulating a solution after knowing the syntax, using the available words
3) Execute the solution

I think that the focus of a puzzle game could be on any of mix of the three parts. Part 1 is characterized by experimenting, it is a puzzle on obtaining knowledge. Part 2 is characterized by mental simulation and manipulation of known information. Part 3 is characterized by manifesting knowledge in a physical form.

Chess is a "puzzle" game that focuses on Part 2.
Sokoban also focuses on Part 2.
Tetris focuses heavier on Part 3, where speed of action matters.

Part 1 includes recognizing that a puzzle exist, learning what the goal is and discovering the dynamics related to the puzzle. But I can't think of a game at the moment that focuses heavily on this. Usually, in a game, the learning phrase is fast and obvious. I think that jigsaw puzzle is actually of this type, where the bulk of the "puzzle" is of figuring out where the puzzle piece should go; after knowing what that piece is, the solution and execution are trivial.

Riddles are also Type 1 puzzles, where the bulk of the work is to figure out the correct way of reading the riddle. Once you see got the correct interpretation of the riddle, your original search space expands to the new context, and the expanded search space has the solution.

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Quote:
Original post by sunandshadow
Wow. You know, when you you say it seems so obvious. That was actually really helpful. I'm gonna hit the designer again and see if I can put some of that to use. Thanks!

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Have you seen braid its a 2d platformer that deals with time manipulation (where you can rewind time, slow down time, time reversal).



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You might want to check out this Flash game for inspiration. It has *no* unfair or completely arbitrary puzzle. Fearing such, and being impatient, I referred to a walkthrough twice and both times I came to regret it as the solutions seemed quite obvious in hindsight.

http://www.eyezmaze.com/eyezblog_en/blog/2007/03/dwarf_complete.html

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Quote:
Original post by EmpyrealHell
Quote:
Original post by sunandshadow
Wow. You know, when you you say it seems so obvious. That was actually really helpful. I'm gonna hit the designer again and see if I can put some of that to use. Thanks!


Glad it was helpful - I was also glad you asked your question because I never sat down and wrote out a list of puzzle elements before, and it will be a useful thing to stick into my own game development paperwork. That's by no means a complete list - my housemate was just saying something to me about conveyor belt puzzles, which I didn't mention although it's basically the same as slides/tubes/train tracks. Also I was thinking remembering the use of balloons in The Incredible Machine, and hole-digging in Lemmings...

[Edited by - sunandshadow on January 11, 2009 5:38:53 PM]

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