I recently read an excellent post by Toni Sala titled “Game Design Theory Applied: the puzzle of designing a puzzle game.” You can click on over if you want, but the summary is that puzzles are not considered to be games, at least by some folks, due to four main issues.
This struck a bit of a chord with me as I work from outside of the typical industry of people here. I work for Puzumi Puzzles, we make those puzzles that you have to move with your hands. We consider ourselves to be creative puzzle distributors - we have little in common with jigsaw puzzles.
The four proposed problems with puzzles as games
The problems posed in the article are that puzzles have four main issues:
They follow a dominant strategy - something game developers avoid
They do not follow typical game mechanics - you have to change your perception to solve them
They only have one solution - they lack multiple pathways towards success
They are not replayable - the desire to replay leaves once you know how to solve it
You can read this in more detail in the post itself, but that is the summary. Toni comes up with a number of different ways to get around these issues while still staying within the typical puzzler paradigm. What I’d like to offer up for discussion, I’m no expert when it comes to game design as I am but a humble puzzler, is a bit of lateral thinking on the puzzle genre.
How to get around the four issues of using puzzles in games
Toni brings up a number of ways to get around the four points above by creating new and interesting ways to use puzzles, introducing a bonus system, and making for a better overall experience by changing the difficulty curve.
What I’m proposing from what I’ve learned from researching our puzzles, and playing with our puzzles, is that you can create a puzzle that doesn’t have one solution and that is replayable by stepping outside of the traditional puzzle idea.
The problem, I find, with traditional puzzles is that they are designed to have only one solution. The jigsaw puzzle is what has caused this - nearly everyone think of jigsaws when they think of a physical puzzle.
Our puzzles do not follow the typical puzzle formula of only having one solution, this varies game play and increases replayability. This is possible due to how our puzzles are designed - they have many interchangeable polyforms that lend themselves to having many different solutions.
Let’s try and make sense of this puzzling proposal
What I’d like to offer is that puzzles within games, or puzzles that are games, can have this same feature with the right kind of design. Again, I’m not a game design expert, but couldn’t a game with a design similar to New Sokoban have multiple polyform pieces in play at once, that can fit together in different configurations, and that are interchangeable across the game board? This would offer multiple solutions as to how the puzzle is solved, increase replayability and maybe even break up the dominant strategy problem.
Basically, what I’m proposing is that we stop looking at puzzles as 2D constructions with one solution within a square game board, and look at puzzles as something more dynamic with multiple solutions built in to it by using interchangeable polyforms.
I’d like to hear from the rest of the community. Maybe such a game already exists and I don’t know it, maybe my concept is completely flawed, or maybe you’re working on a similar game! I turn it over to your eternal wisdom...