Puzzle Design: Design Philosophy

In order to effectively design puzzles for digital purposes a number of steps must be followed for the user to be successful at solving the problem.

1: Make sure all element s are visually informative and can be used by the use to track and evaluate the success at the puzzle.

In a current project I am working on, one of the components is a node based puzzle arranged in a matrix of connections. Each part visually is designed to convey information in context to the solution. The parts are the puzzle nodes, the blue conduits connecting them, and a separate progress bar on the side or top of the puzzle.

Each of these elements is informative to the solving of the puzzle when assembles as seen below.

In the above example, each node has a number of “lights” on it’s surface which corresponds to the number of active conduits the player needs to connect to reach the solution. The problem of the puzzle needed to be solved for is the fact that the number of active needed conduits may or may not be the same as the number of connected conduits. For example, the node at the center of the cross shaped section on the right side has four connected conduits, but only two need to be active to complete the node. The node lights are activated by toggling the conduits between blue to signify inactive and red to signify an active conduit. Once that node is fully lit, it will be added to the progress bar at the top of the puzzle until all the progress lights are lit up, like in the puzzle below.

2: Design multiple ways for the player to evaluate their progress.

In the above example there are multiple ways for the player to assess their progress towards solving the puzzle. Each node has its own set of red lights which are updated in real time as the player activates and deactivates the connected conduits.

Also, each individual conduit changes from blue to red as the player toggles them between active and inactive.

There is also a progress bar at the top of the puzzle with lights that correspond in real time to the number of nodes with all of their conduits activated. Once all of the lights are lit on the progress bar, the puzzle is solved.

3: Create a clear starting point with a methodology for logically progressing towards the solution.

The Node and conduit style puzzles in this blog post’s examples has no bias for whether the player begins on the right or left side. In order for the player to have a starting point to begin solving the puzzle certain nodes are designed with all available and activated nodes to be the same. In other words, all of the connected conduits must be turned on for the node to be completed. Locating these nodes on the puzzle not only gives the player a starting point for solving the puzzle, it also leads to a clear methodology of logically including and excluding connected conduits to get the correct number of lights lit on the individual nodes. the example below shows the method for finding both a starting point and beginning the logical progression of the puzzle,

At the top of the above example, you can see a two light node with one light lit next to a three light node with only one light lit. In order to complete the right-most node with the two light, the conduit between that node and the three light node must also be toggle to an “Activated” state. By process of elimination, the puzzle can be completed from this point forward.

4: Make sure the problem is solvable OR…. for Gods sake check you work.

Have you ever released a completely broken game update on Steam for a game you have charged people money for? Well  I have and it’s one of the most unpleasant experiences around. Take a couple of days, put away your planning notes, and go back to the puzzle you have designed completely cold and attempt to solve it in the manner you intend the player to use. If it’s a bad experience for you, it will be an objectively awful to impossible task for your player. You will probably do this a few times if it is a new type of puzzle, but it ends up being worth the time you spend. Remember, the point is to both entertain and challenge, and an entertaining challenge seems fair and accessible.