How to Design a Puzzle Level

Unfortunately I can’t give you a step by step guide for making a puzzle level because every puzzle game is different so the process will inherently be different. But what I can do is describe my process of designing a level for Getaway Garden and hopefully you can apply it while designing a puzzle for your game.


I start by drawing a level shape I like because I have to start somewhere and this way I can play with it, which is important to me for creating unique and interesting levels. That’s why I created a simple level editor, so it’s easier to make and change levels.

Then maybe I’ll add a start and a finish node and throw a few crates so you can actually finish the level. Of course, the level is too easy by this point so I start making changes to the puzzle, this is playing as much as it is creating and definitely a large part is iteration and exploration.

I always keep the number of crates to a minimum because it’s easy to make a hard level if you just add a lot of steps, but it’s hard to make a challenging level with a few steps. It’s all about exploring the mechanic and trying to think of new ways of using it.

Keep in mind that it’s impossible to make a good puzzle game if the main mechanic doesn’t create a large possibility space which allows a hard puzzle that is completed in only a few steps.

After finishing a level, it’s time to give it to someone else to play it. Usually what happens is someone finds a way to finish a level that you didn’t foresee and that’s great as long as it not some super easy shortcut that breaks the puzzle.

Sometimes, levels turn out completely different from what they were in their first iteration and that’s good because it usually means it led you to something more interesting.


This may seem as an easy level, but puzzles are like magic tricks. You can be stuck for hours thinking about how the trick is done, but when you see it, it seems easy and you’re left wondering how you didn’t see it before, all that was needed was a change of perspective.

Filip.

Runick – From Idea to Prototype

Well met,
as a recent newcomer I think an introduction is necessary. So here we go, my name is Toni and I joined forces with Black Trumpet Games to bring you a new puzzle game called Runick.

Runick - LogoRunick is a 3D isometric simple, yet challenging puzzle game. The idea is to use the available shapes to adequately mark all the tiles on a given board. The shapes the user interacts with adhere to certain geometric principles and are as follows:

cuboids, which can be flipped over and mark all the tiles they cover

spheres, which can be rolled in a certain direction and mark all the tiles they roll over

Spherepyramids, which can teleport over tiles and mark the tiles they cover, since we all know pyramids can teleport in real life too ☺ (the capsule is used as a placeholder)

Pyramid

The player has to mark all the tiles appropriately to complete the level. Sounds quite simple right? It certainly can be, but also doesn’t have to be!

If you want to try out the game and experience it first-hand, before we go in a more detailed overview of the design, check it out on this link:
https://kiphla.gamejolt.io/runick

I challenge you to complete all the levels in the demo. Who doesn’t love a challenge, now you have to give it a try.

As you have noticed each shape can have a different rune (color) which makes things interesting and in the later levels more difficult. Shapes can change the rune (color) of an already solved tile turning it into an unsolved tile, this forces the player to think about each move ahead.

The Idea

So why this idea and how did I come up with it.

I am already a full-time game developer in Exordium Games and I love to make games so much that I also wanted to make even more games. That means I would have to make a game in my limited free time.

I built my idea on two constraints. First, the game must be simple, with easy to understand rules. And secondly, it should use geometric shapes and colors to communicate the rules to the player.

Games with geometric shapes and colors, as indicators of how the game should be played, always fascinated me. Those two constraints were used as the basics of the initial idea.

On top of all that I wanted the player to have the luxury to play the game whenever and wherever, that meant no time constraints and the ability to take a break anytime and pick it back up without penalties.

All of this resulted in these limitations:

– a small scope
– simple but interesting and challenging
– uses geometric shapes and colors
– can be played anytime, anywhere without pressure

The more constraints I had, the more my imagination flourished (weird, right?). At the beginning, I got the idea of a cuboid flipping on a board trying to mark all the tiles on it. This resulted in me making a prototype and testing it out. Then came the idea of 2 cuboids with different colors and markable tiles. The ideas just kept on coming and it seemed like the game was designing itself. Once I had a couple of levels I immediately uploaded it to my smartphone and showcased it around for feedback. And that’s how Runick was born!

I hope you liked the introduction of our new game, the next blog entry will cover level design, and boy do I love to talk about the level design of Runick. So be sure to follow us for more updates.

Toni
(@kiphla)

So far, so good

A quick review of the first steps and lessons learned in assembling the “Black Trumpet Games” team and the pre-production and production of the game “Getaway Garden”.

The charge begins

This dev blog post is really long overdue. But fret not, things are moving in the right direction, and right direction only. Lessons we learned so far are speeding up the process.

The fact that Filip has made a small but smart little game called SokoJump that got greenlit on Steam that triggered me to offer my help to him. More than one year, and many local game dev drink-ups later. We are resembling a real team. Maja is helping with community manager apart from being our character designer and artist. Filip is iterating his game design ideas by writing scripts for Unity. Hrvoje and Karlo are respectively making sounds and music happen, and yours truly is slowly making new 3d assets. The small game from the beginning of these lines is growing into the “Getaway Garden” our very first independent game. A spatial puzzle game meant to bring you soothing and relaxing experience in your precious free time.

Dispelling the evil eye

One of the first challenges our team faced was the not so romantic fact that day has only twenty-four hours, and that contrary to the popular gossip we are not robots (yet).

If anything that Indie game development community is not lacking it is enthusiasm. However, we all know that working on your own project faces you with the lack of many different things other than enthusiasm. Things like expertise in specific fields of the production or business, things like the absence of extra funds and therefore the absence of any workable budgeting, and depending on the situation, the dreadful lack of free time that stems from the fact that even visionaries have to eat.

But visionaries we are, from the triple-A executives all the way to people like us, making their first slow steps into the independent game development. Locked and loaded with plenty of enthusiasm and visions we set out on our journey of creating games that we deem worthy of our free time and when this “slowdown buff” of reality struck us, what we found as a remedy was the fact that all of us were professionals with rich experience in different fields, and we knew that no matter what, if done with clear vision and professional approach every project comes to its end. It is only matter of time or money when will this moment come. Long before this endeavor, we all learned that clear vision, good organization, self-esteem and sheer perseverance will yield results and this knowledge keeps us going forward still.

The procedure

At this moment our first game Getaway Garden is well underway in its production phase. After the initial chaotic brainstorming phase, we choose to enter a thorough pre-production phase and define the fundamental user experience loops and moments. This also gave us the opportunity to rethink everything, sometimes even going far away into complexity only to return to the starting position, but this time armed with confidence. Along the way, through the production, we have learned a lot.

Digital games, being such a complex synthetic medium that readily accepts other media in itself also constantly stage new surprises during the production process. Older media have the advantage of a rich theoretical coverage. These media can be also used for fresh new results, but their processes and processing are pretty well understood. It is so simply because of the long period they have been in use. New technical possibilities enter game-making process much faster than the we can really learn to use all the possibilities we already have. Therefore, using the practical knowledge in organizing, for instance, film production, can help a lot, but also leaves loads of practical issues unaddressed. Still, a good understanding of the reasons for certain processes in the production in other media does make the game production process more easily navigable.

Lessons learned until now

There might be a more appropriate moment in the future to go into greater details of the lessons we already learned. A moment that will grant us the benefit of hindsight, but this is what we know now nonetheless.

It is good to let your creativity rage…

…but without losing the bigger picture, without losing sight of the general goal, and of the scope of the element being creatively addressed at that moment. This brings us to the second point.

The good solution comes at the cost of addressing lesser solutions too

As a rule, if some detail does not seem just right, rethinking it freely, asking all the uncomfortable questions is still cheaper than spending precious time on producing a substandard solution. That being said here comes another point:

Even good can be better, sometimes

Scrutinizing a solution during the design phase can still result in a substandard solution. It should take us less time to solve the problem now. Our understanding of it is better, and as better solutions generally tend to be simpler ones too.

Choose your battles

Some aspects of game production can be designed beforehand in a traditional pre-production way really nicely. For example, some art elements, some more general user experience solutions, visual identity, some writing, basic gameplay loop etc. can easily be designed in advance. However, some aspects prove themselves to be very resistant to traditional pre-production designing. These mostly come from the area of game design. Game rules balancing being obvious one, but also the final choice of camera view, inclusion, or exclusion of some game mechanics etc.

Some aspects of the game such as art elements and direction can be conceptualized successfully during the pre-production phase.
Prototype!

You should spend an appropriate amount of time and effort into prototyping. It is a must.

Show your colors

Identity is very important! Well thought out game title, game logo, likable main character, etc. Producing symbols that everybody on the team can identify with is a great way to keep the vision and enthusiasm going. Do it as early as possible. It is easier to fight for the cause when there are a bugle and the battle standard to rally to.

Don’t over-design

It is possible to over-design, especially on a smaller project.

Better safe than sorry

You can always streamline an over-designed project, with too many details, during the production. Removing the excess can create a more exciting product. An under-designed project can easily exit production under-delivering, and unexciting.

That’s it for now

A Little bit of this, a little bit of that, and you have been brought up to date. On both the state of our team growth and our ongoing game production. Stay tuned, as things are going to get more interesting with the end of this year. We will slowly start to take our first public steps. Start showing the state of Getaway Garden on specialized events gathering some valuable feedback.

Until then, please tell us what do you think about all this in the comments section underneath!

Cheers!