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How rigid design limitations improved Gorogoa's puzzles

"The handicapping of the player is part of what’s interesting in design," says Gorogoa dev Jason Roberts. "The source of all your power is where you choose to look."
"All you’re changing really is what you’re looking at in any of the tiles. The source of all your power is where you choose to look."

- Gorogoa dev Jason Roberts explains how one design limitation created new puzzle opportunities.

Gorogoa expands on the simple concept of moving tiles to create a puzzle game that is equal parts compelling and challenging and, as developer Jason Roberts tells Rock Paper Shotgun, refining that seemingly basic mechanic was a challenge in itself.

While the full interview covers a lot of interesting ground about the overall design of Gorogoa, one theme present throughout much of the conversation is how imposing limitations, both on players and himself, helped Roberts improve the overall design of the game.

Roberts, who himself designed, developed, and illustrated the game, says that he fought the temptation to let players interact with the scenes depicted on the tiles themselves throughout development. Instead, he focused on creating puzzles that built on the interactions between multiple titles, giving the player an observational but still hands-on role in the unfolding narrative. 

"As soon as I allow the player to fiddle physically with things in the world there comes this temptation to create challenges that exist only within one tile, and I wanted to make sure that wasn’t true," explains Roberts. "The handicapping of the player is part of what’s interesting in design. All you’re changing really is what you’re looking at in any of the tiles. The source of all your power is where you choose to look."

Placing those limits on what players could do also imposed design limitations on Roberts himself but, looking back, he’s thankful those restrictions came into play. Preventing players from directly interacting with the environment to do things like opening a cupboard or moving a sheet gave him the opportunity to introduce new puzzles to accomplish those same tasks and reveal new tools within the environment.

Rock Paper Shotgun’s full conversation with Roberts touches on this, and many other aspects of the game’s design, in more detail and is well worth a read.

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