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  • Writer's pictureTiago Massochin

From Tedious to Engaging: Crafting Interest in Puzzle Game Design

Creating a puzzle game that seamlessly blends engaging challenges with a smooth progression curve is akin to crafting a piece of art. It requires a delicate balance of creativity, technical prowess, and an understanding of player psychology. As the lead designer for "Circuit Breakout," a unique puzzle game featuring two distinct characters, I've had the privilege of navigating this intricate process. This dev log provides an insight into our design philosophy and the steps we've taken to enhance the game's appeal.


The Challenge of Monotony

A common pitfall in puzzle game design is the over-reliance on repetitive mechanics and logic. This often leads to a steep difficulty curve that can result in player frustration and disinterest. In the early stages of "Circuit Breakout," we faced a similar challenge. Our unique characters, Data and Surge, were overshadowed by monotonous scenes and a problematic difficulty curve. The game lacked those captivating moments and "aha" instances that make puzzle games truly engaging.

Recognizing this issue was the first step in our journey to create a more engaging and dynamic game. We knew we needed to break away from the monotony and introduce elements that would captivate the players and make them eager to progress through the game.


The Journey to Engagement

To address these issues, we embarked on a journey of research, experimentation, and iteration. Our goal was to introduce captivating scenes, exploration opportunities, and meaningful player choices that would make our game more engaging and dynamic.

We started by researching successful puzzle games and understanding what made them engaging. We analyzed player feedback to identify the areas where our game was falling short. We then experimented with various design elements, testing and iterating on our ideas to find what worked best for our game. Through this process, we were able to introduce captivating scenes and exploration opportunities that added depth to our game and made it more engaging.


The Art of Puzzle Game Design

Designing a puzzle game is an art in itself. It requires a deep understanding of player psychology, a knack for creative problem-solving, and a keen eye for detail. In "Circuit Breakout," we've dedicated different levels to specific puzzle elements, ensuring a fluid and enjoyable experience for the players. We've also made sure to reintroduce previous elements frequently, keeping them fresh in the players' minds and maintaining a balanced difficulty level.

Designing each level around a specific puzzle element allowed us to create a more fluid and enjoyable experience for the players. It also helped us maintain novelty throughout the gameplay, as new mechanics were introduced within a short period. This approach also ensured that players did not face significant difficulty spikes when new game elements were introduced.


The Freedom of Choice

One of the unique aspects of our game is the introduction of puzzles with multiple possible solution processes. This allows the player to make micro-decisions during the solution process, adding a layer of depth and complexity to the game. Instead of having a single linear path with sequential steps to complete a puzzle, we redesigned some puzzles to allow the player to decide the order in which they tackle the puzzle's components.

Puzzle 07 flow map segment showing the different paths that Surge and Data can make on the level
Puzzle 07 flow map segment showing the different paths that Surge and Data can make on the level

This approach not only enhances the player's sense of agency but also makes the gameplay more dynamic and engaging. The result is still the same: players need to change A and B to proceed to C, but now the player can choose whether to change A first or B.


The Aesthetics of Progression

In addition to gameplay mechanics, we also focused on the aesthetic appeal of our game. As players progress through the game, they encounter new visuals that maintain their attention and enhance the sense of progress and adventure. We retained the same architectural base—a sci-fi factory—but changed each floor's colour palette and emotional approach creating a unique aesthetic and chromatic scheme.

Infograph showing the different aesthetic of each floor in Circuit Breakout
Infograph showing the different aesthetic of each floor in Circuit Breakout

The Rewarding Journey

Creating a puzzle game featuring two characters with a satisfying difficulty curve and engaging gameplay is a complex endeavor. By analyzing existing games, finding areas for improvement, iterating on design elements, and incorporating captivating scenes and player choices, we managed to enhance the overall experience of "Circuit Breakout" by masking its puzzle core with an adventure façade.


Through this journey, we've learned several valuable lessons. Studying successful titles can provide insights into engaging gameplay design. Analyzing player feedback can help identify areas where players struggle or lose interest. Iterating and experimenting with new ideas can lead to a balance between challenge and engagement. Most importantly, understanding our audience and being open to feedback is crucial for refining our game.


Final Thoughts

Creating "Circuit Breakout" has been a journey of passion, creativity, and technical prowess. It's a testament to the artistry of game design and the power of creative problem-solving. As we continue to refine and improve our game, we remain committed to our vision of creating a game that is not only fun to play but also offers a unique and engaging experience. We're excited about the journey ahead and can't wait to share more updates with you in the future.


Signing off,

Zizo Mass

 

References

CJL. (2020). How Baba is You Puts the Spirit of Play into Puzzle Games - Game Design Blog. [online] Game Design Blog — Cheryl-Jean Leo. [online] Available at: https://cjleo.com/2020/06/01/how-baba-is-you-puts-the-spirit-of-play-into-puzzle-games/ [Accessed 31 Mar. 2023].


Damien, (2022). Managing Difficulty in Puzzle Games – Grogan Software. [online] Available at: https://www.grogansoft.com/2022/01/01/managing-difficulty-in-puzzle-games/ [Accessed 31 Mar. 2023].


Game Maker's Toolkit. (2018). What Makes a Good Puzzle? [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zsjC6fa_YBg&t=2s&ab_channel=GameMaker%27sToolkit [Accessed 31 Mar. 2023].


Game Maker's Toolkit. (2023). How I make puzzles for my indie magnet game [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akeVPZLZejY&ab_channel=GameMaker%27sToolkit [Accessed 31 Mar. 2023].



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