segunda-feira, 29 de agosto de 2016

Eight steps for great puzzle designing

Scott Kim is a designer who creates puzzles for print media, websites and computer games. He is a big reference in this very specific field of ludic studies. Ernest Adams, in his book Fundamentals of Puzzle and Casual Game Design (2014), references Kim’s work talking about the “eight steps to create a good puzzle”. I want to highlight some ideas in these eight essential points.

1. Find inspiration: seems obvious, but it’s a nuclear part of the process. To solve lots of puzzles could be a great inspiration, but to search for ideas in other fields is another interesting way to create enigmas. Literature, movies, comics, toys and TV series are some examples of where to find inspiration.

2. Simplify: “keep it simple” is a mantra for game designers. After creating the main idea of a puzzle, it’s important to remove the excesses. Exploring the features of the platform (console, board game, mobile media etc.) can give you creative solutions for puzzle design.

3. Create a construction set: this third item is about prototypes and fast tests. With an idea on your mind, start to construct models (analogical or digital ones) and test this initial version. Test, test, test and test it again. Test alone and call other players to test.

4. Define the rules: Adams (2014, p.10) says that rules are “the key part of puzzle design. Most puzzles are characterized in terms of four things: the board (Is it a grid? A network? Is it regular? Or is there no board at all?), the pieces (How are they shaped? What pictures are on them? Where do they come from?), the moves (What is allowed and what is not? Are they sequential or simultaneous? What side effects do they have?), and the good or victory condition (Does it have to be an exact match, or will a partial one do?

5. Build the puzzles: when the mechanics is ready and functional it’s time to create the final version of the puzzle (analogical or digital). Here we need to pay attention to the first aesthetical details, information architecture and clear instructions for the player.

6. Test: is the final version done? Then test, test, test, and test it again. To find zero faults is difficult but it is always the desired outcome.

7. Devise a sequence: in a game with many puzzles - or many levels with puzzles – it’s good to create a logical order for them. Raising difficulty with some hints between the challenges is an interesting way to work the challenges of your game.

8. Pay attention to presentation: sounds, graphics and other details will make the difference in the puzzle experience. A good puzzle folded in a poor layout could be terrible for the players. Here, multidisciplinary work is essential.

Finally, it’s important to remember that, especially in digital games, puzzles can reach a new level of challenge using some impossible features or breaking the laws of physics. But in analogic games it’s possible to find interesting solutions, like in the “Codex Silenda”, a wooden book that compels you to solve puzzles to turn the pages.

In the video below, the designer behind the idea shows us a little bit of his creative process for this product.



ADAMS, Ernest. Fundamentals of Puzzle and Casual Game Design. San Francisco: Pearson, 2014.

terça-feira, 16 de agosto de 2016

How Super Mario Mastered Level Design

This video from Extra Credits is an awesome game design class using the level 1-1 from Super Mario Bros as an example. We can learn many important features with this classic game. It's a simple level but full of good references to think about game design.

Check the content below:


domingo, 7 de agosto de 2016

What we can learn from Atari's Keystone Kapers

I always like to replay some old classic games from the Atari generation. Not only because of the nostalgia, but to find some simple game design solutions to inspire myself to create new ludic stuff.

This week, I was playing the excellent KEYSTONE KAPERS (Activision, 1983) and I'll talk a little bit about some interesting features from this game, in this post.

I played this game a lot when I was a child and it is a masterpiece until today. The narrative is about a cop chasing a thief inside a kind of a shopping mall. Before discussing some highlights from the game, I invite you to watch the gameplay; please, pay special attention to the brilliant multi-floor scenario linked by a lift.

For a game from the beginning of the 1980's KEYSTONE KAPERS is a very advanced ludic experience. Three important game design points to observe in this title are:

1. Multiple interesting dangers with increasing difficulty throughout the levels. The scenario is always the same, as well as the speed of the two characters; so, objects thrown by the villain against the hero move differently. The shopping cart moves in a straight line, the balls kick, the airplane occupies the top of the floor etc. with a progressing level of speed. About this, Brathwaite and Schreiber (2009, p.100) remember us that "video games that have a sequence of levels, simply start off easy and become progressively more difficult as times goes on" and we can see this feature in classic arcade games.

2. Twitch decision-making. KEYSTONE KAPERS starts slow and becomes fast level by level (as we can see in the previous video). In the beginning of the game, it's possible to run only on the floors, use the stairs and catch the thief. However, in the high levels you must use the lift to capture the villain. Brathwaite and Schreiber (2009, p.101,102) teach us that there are five basic twitch mechanics: pure speed, timing, precision, avoidance, and time pressure. In some way, we can identify these five elements in the gaming interface.

3. Minimal and clear art direction integrated with the gameplay. Everybody knows how difficult it was to create games for Atari platform using minimal resources and few bits for programming, sounds and interface. In KEYSTONE KAPERS, we have a very strategic use of every single element. It's possible to clearly identify all the objects, the scenario, the characters and the gaming interface elements (points, lives etc.). All these features cooperate to create a good gameplay; a good art direction establishes logical dynamics for a good gameplay experience.

Once more, we can find inspiration in some treasures from the past. I usually call it "ludic archeology". If you want to read more about this subject, click here.



BRATHWAITE, Brenda & SCHREIBER, Ian. CHALLENGES FOR GAME DESIGNERS: non-digital exercises for video game designers. USA: Cengage, 2009.