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TIGSource ForumsDeveloperDesignHow to get started with designing levels for puzzle games?
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Author Topic: How to get started with designing levels for puzzle games?  (Read 297 times)
Sinci1
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« on: February 16, 2020, 04:00:14 AM »

Hello there, so recently I started to learn more about game design by actually making mini browser type games, and it's going good so far, however recently I started making a puzzle game, it's a 2D puzzle-"platformer" game where the main gimmick is that there are these platforms that you can control and move around. And they have a few properties like for example they can't collide, so if there's a platform in the way of another one the first platform can't go past it.

So I think the gimmick itself is pretty unique and has a lot of potential, however, for the past week I have been trying to figure out how to design the puzzle levels, I have no idea how to design puzzle levels so that the player actually has to think about how to solve it, instead of the player trial and erroring their way through the level.

So yeah, right now I am stuck on this part, and I have no idea where to go from here. So if you guys have any tips and tricks on how to design puzzle levels that are fun and get you to think, please let me know! If it's necessary I could provide a mini-demo of the game with a few tutorial levels explaining the core mechanics [since maybe the reason why I can't design puzzle levels is because of the core game design?], although I don't want to have the levels designed for me, but rather to hopefully learn about some tips and tricks that will help me design good puzzle levels!

Thanks in advance Smiley
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ThemsAllTook
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« Reply #1 on: February 16, 2020, 07:44:06 AM »

Designing puzzles can be quite a puzzle in itself. I sort of do it inside out, starting with the action at the core of the puzzle that I want the player to figure out that they have to do to solve it, then building enforcement mechanisms around that to guide them toward that realization. Most of my puzzle design has been done in DROD, so things I say here would need to be adapted for a game with different mechanics.

When I'm building a DROD hold, I keep a big text file around with ideas that I jot down whenever they come to me. The goal in every DROD room is to kill all of the monsters and exit the room afterward, and there's a large variety of different monster types and room elements that can get in the way of that. A lot of puzzles tend to take the form of avoiding killing specific monsters as long as possible, leading them around onto pressure plates and other things to allow you to navigate the space of the room. A core action of a DROD room might be something like "manipulate the roach into stepping on plate A and the goblin into stepping on plate B to make it possible to traverse the south part of the room, then swap the positions of the monsters so it becomes possible to traverse the north part of the room".

So, with this idea in mind, I'd set down the two monsters and a basic mechanism that would require the action as described above for room traversal. Sometimes the basics are enough, and I don't need to add anything more to spice up the puzzle. I'll then test out the puzzle pretending to be a player, and try to assert observations with forward reasoning from what I can see in the room's default state, to see whether it's necessary to make any large leaps in logic to understand how to reach the goal state. The hope is that I'd find an easily followable chain of logic that would lead to the goal, without an escessive amount of branching choices or dead ends. If it's too obvious, I might go back to the editor and add a secondary mechanism or something to obfuscate the goal. If it's too open ended, I might cut out parts of the puzzle to reduce potential tedium.

Now, DROD is a game that's had many years to mature and refine its puzzle mechanics. It's a little bit different when you're also creating the core mechanics of the game while designing puzzles for it. I'm currently writing a new puzzle game and having some interesting back-and-forth between level design and mechanics design. I'll often get an idea of some cool mechanic I can implement that would lead to a lot of puzzle potential, or some cool puzzle I want to make that would require me to implement a new mechanic. I think it's healthy to feed this loop to some extent, but not to let it go on forever; at some point I have to say "well, this is the set of mechanics I have, so all puzzles will just have to work within those constraints".

I think the core of how I design puzzles remains the same in any environment, though - a spark of inspiration about what the player's goal should be, then creating a situation that lets them parse out a way to reach that goal from their starting state. There's a lot of momentum involved, so once I get the boulder rolling on a couple of puzzles that feel good, a lot of other ideas tend to come to me all at once. When I'm out of ideas, I try not to force myself to design puzzles without inspiration. As long as I'm keeping the game in mind, the spark usually comes to me after a day or two, and I get a good idea for something new to try.

I hope this helps somehow!
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georgecrhennen
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« Reply #2 on: February 16, 2020, 08:36:10 AM »

Hello there, so recently I started to learn more about game design by actually making mini browser type games, and it's going good so far, however recently I started making a puzzle game, it's a 2D puzzle-"platformer" game where the main gimmick is that there are these platforms that you can control and move around. And they have a few properties like for example they can't collide, so if there's a platform in the way of another one the first platform can't go past it.

So I think the gimmick itself is pretty unique and has a lot of potential, however, for the past week I have been trying to figure out how to design the puzzle levels, I have no idea how to design puzzle levels so that the player actually has to think about how to solve it, instead of the player trial and erroring their way through the level.

So yeah, right now I am stuck on this part, and I have no idea where to go from here. So if you guys have any tips and tricks on how to design puzzle levels that are fun and get you to think, please let me know! If it's necessary I could provide a mini-demo of the game with a few tutorial levels explaining the core mechanics [since maybe the reason why I can't design puzzle levels is because of the core game design?], although I don't want to have the levels designed for me, but rather to hopefully learn about some tips and tricks that will help me design good puzzle levels!

Thanks in advance Smiley

Some advice I got from Edmund McMillion (Team Meat) (this is paraphrased and edited but is the basic idea expanded): take an object you have, lets say a piston and make that piston do things in the first level. Lets say the piston pushes you left if infront of it and launches you. You can put this piston next to a ledge that you wouldnt be able to jump across and make it so the piston pushes you farther than you can jump. End level. The second level you would simply expand that idea by playing around with the map. Now, not only does this second level have a ledge with a pit but it has a rock that you can collide with to move, push the rock infront of the piston and it launches into an enemy killing the enemy teaching you not only that the piston launches not just you but those objects matter and can kill you and enemies. This wouldnt be a second level but maybe a fourth as you should have a level or 2 after a new idea is introduced that lets the player get used it the new idea.

Think systematically.
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michaelplzno
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« Reply #3 on: February 16, 2020, 08:42:07 AM »

My process is somewhat similar to ThemsAllTook. I designed a bunch of puzzles in Don't Shoot Yourself and it took quite a long time to find the direction of that game.

I first started with just a plain circle and had a bit of spark of inspiration as Thems experienced and thought about sending out a bullet in the circle and seeing if it would bounce back and hit the origin. I did a prototype of that overnight and had the first version of the game, but I didn't really realize that it could be a bigger thing for many years and until I had done a lot of other work.

When I revisited DSY I became more self aware: I understood that the bullets you send out determine where they will be later, and thus I realized that the game was much more puzzle and strategy than a classic bullet hell. That's when I started making each level a different shape that I thought looked cool just for variety.

But the different looking levels didn't really add too much to the fun, and I was tempted to scrap the project again till I had another epiphany and decided to make some walls that don't bounce correctly and instead snipe at you, and I made a level where you have to move in a triangle to avoid the sniper walls. That level impressed some of my play-testers and I had a formula for how to make the levels interesting: a combination of new shapes and new walls that require the player to innovate a bullet pattern based on the constraints that the walls present. And that makes the walls the bad guys which really thematically fit with what I was trying to express in a subconcious way.

So then I came up with weird shapes and new kinds of walls just trying to make them look interesting visually and make me curious about how to win, and if I could figure out how to beat a level it made it into the game. There were some levels that were too boring: I had a flower level that looked interesting but was too simple to beat so I added a new type of wall that constricted the player, but not the bullet's movements. Sometimes I would be playing a level and come up with a solution that almost worked so I would rework the level till that solution was correct. For another level I wanted to play with the concept of a parabola so I designed a diamond shaped level that focuses your bullets on a sniper wall and forces you to move in a square.

Then finally I showed the game to some players and tried to reorder the levels into something that had a better and smoother progression. Some of the levels were really tough and some of them were much easier so I just tried to re-order everything to get people dying as little as possible at the beginning.

Actually there was a bit of griping about the concept being too cerebral so I added 10 tutorial levels that came before the first level as a way of helping people learn the game a bit better. When the game released on steam I did get people who had beaten the entire game 100% so I guess the puzzles weren't too hard. But that cycle of "-> idea -> build -> test" was present throughout the entire process.
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Sinci1
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« Reply #4 on: February 16, 2020, 01:39:45 PM »

Thanks all for responding! honestly, I was already brainstorming and sort of figured some things but I couldn't really fully define it or figure out how to incorporate it, but now I think I figured out thanks to your guys' help! all 3 of you  Grin
I think I'll make a list of possible obstacles, and then sort of try to apply some of the obstacles to a level until I think it's a decent puzzle, we'll see how it goes but for now, I appreciate you all taking the time to comment!

P.S: if someone else is reading this post and has some tips and tricks for desiging puzzle levels please post about it here!
« Last Edit: February 16, 2020, 02:41:01 PM by Sinci1 » Logged
jbarrios
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« Reply #5 on: February 28, 2020, 12:07:35 PM »

Mark Brown recently made a video about how levels from "Baba is you" are made.  I think it may be helpful:



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Sinci1
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« Reply #6 on: March 01, 2020, 01:09:47 PM »

Ooh, that does look quite interesting! I'll check it out in my free time, thanks!
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