Twisty Little Passages

Development journal for a novel game book of dungeon crawl puzzle adventures, live on Kickstarter
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Letting your hands play

Mike Rimer
United States
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Microbadge: Copper Board Game CollectorMicrobadge: 5 Year Geek VeteranMicrobadge: Puzzle fanMicrobadge: I design games for the love of itMicrobadge: Video Game Developer
Ongoing developer journal for Twisty Little Passages, a puzzle dungeon crawl adventure book, live on Kickstarter.

In this session, I share how to engage the player's mind at a level that balances ease, fun and challenge.

One draw of board games is, essentially, being able to play with toys. I wanted the player’s hands to be actively involved in playing the game. In solo adventure books, you might use a pencil-and-paper or track your stats on a page of the book. I wanted the player to be able to track stats and inventory on the same page as the current area they're playing. Again, this is so there's no flipping back and forth or having to hold your finger at another place in the book to break immersion. Each area layout is designed in such a way as to provide some dedicated space for stats and inventory tracking.

From gallery of mrimer


I wanted a quick and clean system of interacting with elements on the map. You mark off items you collect, doors you open and enemies you defeat. I wanted area topology to be straightforward, so it's always obvious what areas are open and where you can move to at any given moment. This affordance makes it straightforward to play as a team with multiple people solving the puzzle. As all information is open and visually represented on the page, a team can talk through how to clear an area together.

In early experiments, drawing on a map with a pencil and erasing past plays or mistakes got messy. I experimented with placing a clear plastic sheet on a map and drawing on the sheet with a dry-erase marker. That was a neat way to track progress without messing up the book, and it was easy to wipe the sheet and play again. Since it's a puzzle game, this also made it quick and easy to take back moves the player wants to undo simply by clearing their marks in reverse order. However, using a plastic overlay limited play to one area at a time (per sheet), and I considered that one or more players might conceivably want to be playing multiple areas at once, possibly over an extended period of time.

From gallery of mrimer


Next, I experimented with placing map prototypes in a plastic page protectors. This was an even better experience than with a single plastic sheet, because you can keep track of multiple maps in progress at once, and also your marks on the page protector won't slide around relative to the map page, like a plastic sheet might.

From gallery of mrimer


This experience worked so well during playtesting that I decided the book's pages would best be laminated, in order to allow flexible and effortless play on any and all of the areas at any time.

The end result is that the player's eyes and hands are free to move through the dungeon and take actions as fast as their mind can conceive of making them. This works very well in practice to maintain momentum in moving through the level to solve the puzzle.

From gallery of mrimer


In what ways do you like to interact with puzzles?

In the next piece, we'll follow-up with our experience with core puzzle design in TLP and share ways of abstracting puzzles and diversifying through theme, such as movement mechanics and combat.

Thanks for supporting the creation of Twisty Little Passages!
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