14 Mar 13

Revised puzzle designageism

2013-03-14puzzlesImageSo far, the puzzles in Desktop Dungeons have been an odd sorta peripheral to the main game – they’re hooked into the experience, but they’ve always stood apart as their own special mode and people generally don’t pay much attention to them until they realise that one or two item unlocks happen to be puzzle-dependent.

This isn’t too bad on its own. We wanted to focus on puzzles primarily as tutorials and learning experiences distilled into small, pure sections of educational monster-thwacking. Such situations don’t have much mileage by nature (at least compared with the infinite possibilities of a randomly-generated dungeon run!), but the lessons last for a lifetime. At least when they’re done properly.

The puzzles have been challenging to make thus far. Creative solutions are good and all, but when you’re trying to teach a particular lesson and players improvise by clicking on an unintended monster (earning a shortcut to victory), they’ve missed the point entirely. And because the Desktop Dungeons core is built around freedom and creative solutions, you open yourself to a world of exploits every time you add another component. Most puzzles go through a freakish number of discarded drafts before they even reach the beta audience – only to be instantly broken anyway.

Combatting this results in the most frequent problem currently encountered with DD’s puzzles: a string of very specific tasks that often require weird moves which don’t come up in regular gameplay, often required so that everything “clicks” in the right way without making the puzzle blatantly obvious. Which means that a system designed to educate and enlighten players ends up confusing and frustrating them instead. Not a brilliant move, especially when people simply get stuck and don’t learn anything at all.

TL;DR? It turns out that building a puzzle to teach one trick is useless if it doesn’t teach the foundation tricks first.

Recently, we’ve been pushing for smaller, simpler puzzles which go over some of the concepts that the already-existing puzzles actually need you to understand, training players up for more advanced scenarios while benefitting their overall game. At long last, the WEYTWUT experience bonus that you need in the Gnome pack is explained in its own puzzle. The BURNDAYRAZ  damage pop-off (and fireball retaliation order) that Mystera requires is presented in as unambiguous a way as possible. And, of course, the general concept of regeneration-based fighting (and how it interacts with modifiers) becomes far clearer as we implement more puzzles that use unrevealed terrain.

The fact that players can carry these tricks into other puzzles – and the broader DD experience – should improve many, many dungeon runs in the future. As we continue to insert these “primer puzzles” to fill knowledge gaps (and make other puzzles easier with hints and stat adjustments), we hope that they’ll become more of an educational win and less of a perplexing halt.

And hey, the more tricks players are encouraged to learn, the more tools they have at their disposal when the time comes to tackle those Hard and Vicious dungeons later in their careers!


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