Inspiration For Puzzle Design

Discussion in 'Game Design' started by unreason, May 21, 2007.

  1. unreason

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    Hi, this question is for all the puzzle-type game designers out there: How do you come up with inspirations for level designs? Do you have a brainstorming process of some kind? How do you come up with good, challenging level designs that people like?
     
  2. lakibuk

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    Usually not by thinking.
    I play around with the editor while programming the game and place game elements on the screen. Then sometimes i see a combination of elements which could make sense in a level. Later i make a whole level based on this idea. While developing the game (when levels are not even working) i make screenshots of these ideas so that i don't forget them.
    When i try to construct a level with logical,analytic thinking i don't have much success. Ideas just don't seem to come this way (at least for me).

    I'd love to hear other people's approach.
    For example: DROD,Chocolate Castle,Aargon Deluxe,Prof. Fizzwizzle.
     
  3. Coach

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    Begin with the very easy (for the end user) levels to get a feel for the basic mechanics that constitute a problem/puzzle in the game. Then gradually try to mix these, find out unexpected ways to use them, or even add new ingredients (I personally try to avoid this).

    Just as the end user can't hope to finish the later levels without first having a go on the earlier levels, I couldn't make those difficult levels without having learned from the early, easy levels.
     
  4. Ryan Clark

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    There are two methods I used for the Professor Fizzwizzle levels I designed:

    1. Think of some central "trick" and then obfuscate it. The trick could be something like: You have to fire a frost-gun shot from a specific location, and then run to a different location to open a gate so that the frost gun shot can get through the gate (an example of a "timing" trick). I then build a level around that trick, and add other mini-puzzles to confuse the issue. The mini-puzzles distract the user, and make it harder to apprehend the central trick.

    2. Throw a bunch of stuff on the screen, semi-randomly, and see if you can solve the puzzle. If you can, remove some things, or add additional obstacles, and see if you can still solve the puzzle. Repeat until your method for solving the puzzle is quite convoluted, and difficult.

    Method #2 takes more time, but usually results in more difficult puzzles (I find). But it requires that you are good at solving puzzles yourself, otherwise you won't come up with clever ways to overcome the random obstacles you create :)

    The final "advanced" level in Professor Fizzwizzle was created using both methods at the same time. I started with a central trick (you have to precisely place a pulley in order to block a Rage-Bot's sight line), and then added some terrain and a bunch of inflatable magnets. I solved the level right away, at first, so I took away 1 inflatable magnet. It then it took me about 5 minutes to solve, so I took away 1 more inflatable magnet. Then it took me about 1 hour to solve, so I took away 1 last magnet... I almost gave up, but after 4 hours I found a crazy-convoluted way to solve it :) I figure if it takes the game's programmer 4 hours to solve a level, it'll take the average user quite some time! (At least, I hope so!)
     
  5. whisperstorm

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    There is a third way --- 1)release a level editor with your puzzle game - 2)accept submissions for your Puzzle Game Deluxe II :)
     
  6. jefferytitan

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    I like Ryan's approach. :) Overall I would tend to (either analytically or by playing a bunch of random levels) find what is difficult to get around in my game. Then I'd try to come up with some sort of artistic concept for the level that is compatible with the central problem. And then I'd play and tweak it a few (dozen) times. The reason I'd throw in the artistic element so early is (a) it's nice to look nice and (b) I suffer from blankpage-itis. Once you have a theme you have a framework for tweaking it.
     
  7. GolfHacker

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    For Dirk Dashing, I actually started on the artistic side.

    Each level is a mini-story within the overall story. I broke up the main story into five parts, each of which takes place in a distinct area - the initial town and surrounding area, then woods, mountains, city, and mountaintop castle. Each part has six levels, so I came up with six distinct locations within each area, one for each level. For example, the city levels consist of a main street, factory, underground sewers, warehouse, bank vault, and jail.

    I then thought about each level and the kinds of puzzles and obstacles you might find encounter in such a location. For the factory, I took my inspiration from the droid factory in Star Wars II, with lots of conveyor belts, mechanical obstacles to avoid, etc. For the bank vault, I thought of Die Hard, where the terrorists had to disable all kinds of security layers to open the vault door - I also added some security systems inside the vault.

    I then had to program each new puzzle feature and create artwork for it. It took a lot of work, sometimes weeks on a single level, but it made each level unique and fun.

    Originally, I started with a predefined set of puzzle pieces, and I tried to mix and match them creatively, but this only took me so far. I did half the game this way before I realized that all the levels were starting to look and play alike. So I changed my approach, and the final levels ended up so much better than the first levels I had made. The difference was so glaring, that I had to rework most of the early levels I had already completed.

    For Dirk Dashing II, I'll probably follow the artistic approach for the whole game.
     
  8. electronicStar

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    I was asking myself this same question about puzzle games. I was thinking that I wouldn't like to be in the situation where I'd have spent hours designing a puzzle level and have players discover a ridiculously fast way to solve it that I wouldn't have noticed.
    I was thinking that if I wanted to devellop a puzzle I should try to find a mathematical way of creating the levels, lol.
    But I think that for the very cloned games (breakout, zuma,etc...) devellopers must recycle level ideas from previous incarnations of the game.
     
  9. Garthy

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    For E.V.E. Paradox:

    Arena:
    - Decide on the types of enemies I'd like to see (create them if needed).
    - Set level up.
    - Play level until one of these things happens (bearing in mind target difficulty):
    -- I clear the level too early: Add more enemies at this point.
    -- I am completely overrun: Remove enemies at this point.
    -- If a location is too effective, change the scene to make it less so.
    -- If a location is useless, change the scene to make it more useful.
    - Repeat until I finish the level with minimal or no periods of zero enemies.
    - Make fine tweaks based on desired difficulty level.
    - Finished.
    - Time: Generally 1-4 hours plus feature creation time.

    Orbit:
    - Copy similar level.
    - Adjust/create paths.
    - Guess sensible parameters.
    - Repeat:
    -- Play level.
    -- Adjust parameters.
    - Stop when difficult is roughly right.
    - Time: Generally 1-4 hours plus feature creation time.

    Flick:
    - Decide on the types of pieces I'd like to see.
    - Create new piece types if needed.
    - Put pieces roughly where I'd like them.
    - Is level roughly right? If not, nuke level layout entirely and restart.
    - Repeat:
    -- Try level.
    -- Adjust pieces and obstacles to make easier/harder.
    -- Find impossible pieces, fix.
    - Stop when level is roughly right.
    - Time: 1 hour for easy levels, up to 16 hours for hard levels, plus feature creation time.

    So generally:
    - Try a concept.
    - Code new "thing" behaviour, if needed.
    - If it is terrible, nuke it and restart.
    - Repeat:
    -- Try level.
    -- Adjust level.
    - Stop when difficulty is roughly what it should be.
     
  10. jefferytitan

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    Hey Garthy, I'd suggest changing the background color of your site to blue - for people on a slow connection the background image takes a long time to download, during which the text is unreadable. :)
     
  11. Moose2000

    Moose2000 New Member

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    Yes, I wouldn't want to design a puzzle game without an automated system for at least finding solutions to the levels.

    For the game I'm building at the moment, I had to create the tool for generating levels before I did anything else, in order to find out whether the concept worked at all.

    (Briefly, you have a grid of points, and a little articulated frog, and to solve the puzzle you have to move the frog from one end of the grid to the other while only stepping on the points (screen). This means that to get a workable game I had to find the right combination of grid spacing, frog scale, limb lengths, joint stretchiness, etc etc, to provide enough freedom of movement to make the game solvable while retaining enough restrictions to make it interesting.)

    If I hadn't had a system that let me repeatedly massage all the variables and generate test puzzles, I don't think I'd have been able to create a game at all.
    Now that I've fixed the parameters for the game, the puzzle generator is also paying for itself by greatly speeding up the process of creating the final puzzles. Human input is still needed to make sure the puzzles are interesting, attractive, and ordered to gradually introduce the concepts of the game one technique at a time, but the basic mechanics (is it solvable at all? is there a trivial shortcut?) I don't have to worry about.
     
  12. lakibuk

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    How do you do this? Puzzles games tend to be np-complete.
    I don't know what this means, but it says solving can take a looong time.
    You can even win 1 Million $ if you find a solution.
    http://www.claymath.org/Popular_Lectures/Minesweeper/
     
  13. Moose2000

    Moose2000 New Member

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    I use a brute force approach. It's heavily optimised, and is good at exploiting symmetry and ignoring large classes of unsolvable layouts, but yes, as the playing area gets bigger it can take an awfully long time to find a solution.

    Luckily my aim is to find specific game solutions rather than to find a mathematical proof for the general solution of arbitrarily sized boards, so 'good enough on small playing areas' turns out to be good enough to get the job done. At one point I was considering building the puzzles in sections so that I could put together really big boards, but it turned out that smaller boards are more fun.

    So yes. It's desirable to work with an auto-generator, but you may be working on a game that doesn't permit one. Luckily mine does.
     
  14. Garthy

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    (Apologies in advance for being completely offtopic)
    Thanks for the reminder- I've been meaning to do this for close to a year, but have been putting in off because there is a lot of stuff to change. It occurred to me when I saw your comment that I could do it in ten seconds with sed. I have no idea why I didn't think of this before. The bulk of the site should be fine now.
     
  15. Ronkes

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    My advise would be to go for quantity. Just design as much puzzles as you can, without worrying too much about how good they are. This will get your creativity flowing and after a while, you learn what types of puzzles work and what types don't.

    When I was working on Trichromix, I designed at least two puzzles each day. After two months, I had a nice library of puzzles. Not all of them were good enough to include in the final game, but that was okay, since I had enough of them to choose from.
     
  16. Cartman

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    One of my most successful levels was designed by working backwards. I started with the end and drew a path that overlapped itself all the way back to the starting position. Then I placed objects in the path that could only be moved or crossed in the specific order. And finally created borders around the paths. It turned out that this approached created a very challenging level and didn't require much time to create.
     
  17. Pyabo

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    An idea I've seen implemented is to have a level design contest with a preliminary version of the game & level editor. Give out $50 for every level included in the game or some sort of prize.

    Also, try playing puzzle games that might inspire you... games that are mechanically different, but w/ things that may translate into your design. Check out Dweep, Professor Fizzwizzle, DROD, Castle Awesome (or Excellent), etc. Stay away from games where the mechanics are too close to your own -- no one likes plagiarism!
     
  18. Artinum

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    Most of the suggestions here boil down to the same thing - start with a basic concept (be that the setting, a simple puzzle or just randomly throwing stuff at the screen) and then keep replaying it, aiming to make it tougher until you reach the required level of difficulty. In fact, this is probably the best way to approach most creations (including programming, writing, artwork, music, sound effects...)
     
  19. lexaloffle

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    I use Ryan's method too: On one end of the spectrum there are puzzles which are designed with a trick in mind and the puzzle is known to be solvable the whole time. On the other end, an aesthetic idea is tweaked until it is solvable. I think the nicest puzzles happen in between.

    To expand on lakibuk and Coach's posts - I like to develop a repertoire of devices, each one a small grouping of puzzle elements which has it's own particular useage and gives the player something interesting to discover and understand. I documented some of the simplest devices I used in Zen Puzzle Garden here. In Chocolate Castle, I built gates out of moveable blocks, lock and key systems using ice blocks, filters which would only let certain shapes pass through, etc. These won't make much sense if you haven't played the game, but they are all identifiable features of a puzzle which (hopefully) give the player satisfaction when they discover and learn how to control them.

    Devices can be combined to make larger ones, which gives puzzles a nicer structure. It means that there is something underneath the puzzle that the player can break down into smaller pieces to find a solution.

    "How to win $1m with Zen Puzzle Garden"
    http://lexaloffle.com/bbsa/viewtopic.php?t=75
     
  20. ErikH2000

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    I like starting with something I call the "puzzle story", which is some concept or situation I want to create that can usually be summed up in a sentence or two. Example puzzle stories:

    * The player must walk across a wide open space containing many restrained monsters. He releases all the monsters when he is in a seemingly vulnerable position, but then manages to survive.

    * A room has mechanics to it that work like a safe. The player has to unlock and open the safe without being detected by guards.

    * The player enters a race with some monsters where they all run along track. The goal is to finish first.

    Then I go to work creating the level that enacts that puzzle story. I.e. for the last "race" puzzle story, I have to figure things out like: How do I get the monsters to behave like racers instead of just attacking the player? How do I make the goal of winning the race equal completing the level? I want to accomplish these tasks with existing elements, and not by coding something new. If I make a race track that doesn't actually convey the idea of a race track to the player, it's okay--all the convolutions thrown into the level design will usually add up to something interesting and fun.

    -Erik
     

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