Puzzle Game Design

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Post: #1
What makes a Snood or a Jeweltoy such a hit?

Both have very rudimentary graphics and audio.

Is there a secret to their addictiveness that "sells" the lacking features of the game? Are good graphics a *bad* thing in a puzzle game?

-Jon
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Post: #2
graphics mean almost nothing in a puzzle game. It is all about the way it works. The only puzzle game I think, where the graphics help convey the idea, is enigmo
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Post: #3
...and The Incredible Machine (which is pc only, but notable all the same)
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Post: #4
AnotherJake Wrote:...and The Incredible Machine (which is pc only, but notable all the same)

FWIW there were several Incredible Machine games for Mac. IM3 was only for sale for a very brief time, but it was available for Mac. IM: Contraptions ressurrected the franchise years later and is a hybrid CD. (I may have reviewed that one for IMG, so if you are curious you could look for that.) And there was an add-on pack of more puzzles for Contraptions.

The designers behind IM, including Jeff Tunnell, later did a 3D IM-style game in the same genre for GarageGames, called Chain Reaction. Unfortunately it's Windows-only.

Measure twice, cut once, curse three or four times.
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Post: #5
I would put IM in a different category than your simplistic, neverending action-puzzle game.

In this category, I think aarku means Tetris, Columns, Puyo-puyo, (the 'falling-block' style), Snood, Puzzle Bobble (essentially the same game)- If you go to http://www.popcap.com, there are a lot of games of this style (a lot of flash games are, since it's rather easy to program.)

Tetris really is the prototype for this kind of game. The addictive quality is that you continually feel like you have solved a miniscule problem (games like this where you can 'chain' moves, like Dr. Mario, Puzzle Fighter, make this more apparent by making it seem like you have solved a large problem when you practically clear the screen, or e.g. in Snood when you drop a giant stack of pieces) constantly. At least, this is one of the modes of the game- but the mode that originally made the genre popular.

We have two 'falling-block' games this year for uDG- Cubic's Rube (CR) and Splock. Though I can't tell you how to design an incredibly addictive game of this style, I can tell you problems here that prevent these games from being as addictive as Tetris. As many have brought up, CR's rules don't really make sense- if it's hard for you to see that you have solved a problem, it starts to feel like random luck, which is an awfully boring game (unless money is involved.) Splock on the other hand is way too complicated- match up colors, sure, but then there is the 3d element, the element of all these other block types that don't make intuitive sense, and so forth. A game of this genre must be simple enough that you can instantly pick it up, and if there are any confusing elements, they must be introduced slowly. There is a lot we can learn about what makes gameplay work just by looking at the uDG games.

I personally grow weary of the modes of play where the idea is just to get a high score, though lots of people love it. A lot of designers, though, agree with me, and have implemented other modes for these types of games, the earliest being the multi-player 'battle' mode, such as the one in tetris where dissolving lines will throw some blocks onto the other player's side, and the goal is to make the other player lose, or Puzzle Fighter, where you are in battle mode all the time. You can also fit in a thinking puzzle into this framework, which I think is available in Tetris by creating an initial block configuration, and having you clear it, or in a similar way in Snood. A key to making a game like this into a 'complete' game is adding all these extra modes. But for a shareware game, you just want to have the addictive single-player element to optimize how much you get out of the amount of time you spend on the game.

On the issue of graphics and sound, I believe the same thing is true as any other games- making these areas better can only help you. The reason this is not as important as other genres is that the gameplay does not depend as much on the graphics being fancy- if the graphics are clean and crisp and you can see what's going on, you will be in better shape than if you have some sort of incredibly fancy 3D graphics where the actual gameplay is obfuscated in the graphics.
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Post: #6
MattDiamond Wrote:FWIW there were several Incredible Machine games for Mac.
Whoah... I stand corrected. I must be blind or something. I hardly ever get to software stores, so if they didn't market online I can imagine that's how I missed it.
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Post: #7
Through my research, I am finding that in a good puzzle game, randomness is kept to a minimum. For example, people don't like some Snood type clones because of powerups. It takes some of the strategy out of it.

A few different game types also seems beneficial.

-Jon
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Post: #8
I fully agree on the randomness thing - keep it to a minimum, if you do it at all. I hate it when I get screwed over in a game for a reason completely unrelated to my playing skill.

- Alex Diener
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Post: #9
... has a simple idea, is easy to understand, has simple controls and a difficulty that raises slowly so you constantly get challenged while having small success at the same time.
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Red Marble Game
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Post: #10
I'm becoming convinced that the idea is really the smallest part of the equation. The idea is always quite simple, and often quite derivative, as posters above point out. It's all about how you structure everything else. Snood and Pocket Tanks aside, I do think graphics make a difference, and then the rest is balancing, gameplay, and polish. How easy is it to get into your game: how many screens must the player see before they are playing? Once playing, how easy is it to get the idea? Are new concepts -- powerups, strategies, whatever -- introduced at the right pace?

Another thing that the best of these games excel at: even if the idea is simple, there is enough added depth as things go on to keep the game engaging for the experienced user. PopCap, for example, really gets this. You can play their games instantly, but if you stick with them you'll see new strategies, new ways to increase your score, etc. That's what sells: people have to want to come back after their 60 minutes or 15 tries or whatever are up, because there's still more to discover.
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Post: #11
I think that's an excellent analysis!

-Jon

p.s. Welcome to iDevGames!
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Post: #12
A puzzle game needs to be two things:

* simple and addictive
* easy to learn, hard to put down
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Max
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Post: #13
Ha! The infamous question "what makes a good puzzle game"! I wrote a 2 page document on that subject a few weeks ago. Too bad it's in french. Rasp

Freelance video game artist and video game compliance tester at Enzyme Testing Labs.
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Post: #14
I've actually written a chapter about it for my Cocoa Desktop Games book.
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Apprentice
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Post: #15
Well being that I am addicted to Tetris and was addicted to Snood, I would have to say it needs to be simple and have a decent pace. Tetris has been around for years, but the simple gameplay lets it continue to be challenging as the speed increases. Snood is just snood, and I do hate most of the powerups in it. You know you are good at tetris when whatever your finace or mother try to do (aka put a dirty sock in your face, or try talking to break your concentration) doesn't work. Maybe I should go play more tetris...
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