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Level Design: Uniform vs Variable sized levels

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Hello!

 

I have been part of a team working on a grid based puzzle game game for mobile for the past couple of months.

Currently, we have all our levels ready and people love them. All our levels are 17x17 unit squares.

But one of our devs came up with an idea of reducing the size of the levels while keeping all the puzzles intact for purpose of smaller solution space.

So now we have varying sized levels but all of them use smaller space. So we can zoom the camera a bit more in certain levels.

Do you think this is a good change or keeping all levels the same size (in our case a 17x17 unit square) makes the overall experience more coherent?

 

Following screenshots will help you understand the issue.

 

Original:

[attachment=34357:Screen Shot 2016-12-30 at 6.05.42 PM.png]

 

Smaller size:

[attachment=34358:Screen Shot 2016-12-30 at 6.09.58 PM.png]

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Not sure of the exact gameplay and I'm not a big puzzle fan, but varying pacing is often a good idea to help prevent player fatigue. It would seem odd that you'd get fatigued doing something you enjoy, but mixing up pace is suggested in media as diverse as writing and film. A small level could be used as a reward for completing harder levels (seen this done in FPS games) or as a challenging break to easier levels.

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grid based puzzle game

What's the game like? The two depicted levels are very unlikely to "keep all the puzzles intact"; it depends on the rules.

 

For example, in a Sokoban game the upper left corner remains very easy, the dead end in the upper middle becomes usable due to the wider opening, the upper right corner is drastically simplified with an effect on difficulty that depends on destination squares, and the rest of the level remains trivially wide open.

 

On the other hand in a roguelike game losing the isolated pillars and reducing distances would make evasion much more difficult on the smaller map. Ranged attacks with a limited range would be too cheap in the small map, too unlikely in the large map, or both.

 

On the third hand, in a Bomberman clone both levels would be too open, but the large one would have a suitable combat zone in the upper right corner.

 

Shrinking levels is unlikely to be an easy to automate task (and if it were, directly designing compact levels instead of shrinking redundant ones should be easy).

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Hah, when you said "keeping the puzzle intact" I immediately agreed with this other person. Remove anything that doesn't need to be there. If the level geometry only plays the role of holding the puzzle elements, then reduce as much as possible. I should emphasize that "doesn't need to be there" doesn't mean you have to make your game black and white with squares, even though that would surely make that puzzle more readable. There are things in a game that contribute to the experience in indirect ways. For example, maybe you need extra geometry in your level because you want it to look like a jungle, and it's important that the player is convinced that is a jungle. In that case, the extra geometry needs to be there, just not because of the puzzle. Does that make sense?

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