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.