Tuesday 27 June, 2006
I finally finished hard mode and unlocked the special mode... 100 more puzzle.
Yay! Or not...I've decided that I've played enough Mr. Pants andthat I don't have the patience to complete the 100 new puzzles just to see what happens next. Don't take this wrong, I think it's a great game and I really enjoyed it!
As I played my way through the hard puzzles I got to thinking about the help system the game has. In my opinion, this is the number one best feature of this game...even as it shows the problems inherent to this type of game.
Many puzzle games rely on you performing a series of moves in order to achieve a solution. Often, it is necesarry that the moves you perform be done in exactly the correct order. So, you should expect to have to re-play a few puzzles as you
try to converge on the correct solution. The problem is that sometimes you may start from an incorrect assumption (ie, I'm sure this piece should go here) and waste a lot of time backtracking and trouble shooting your solution. In other words, if you screw up at the beginning it is much harder to eventually arrive at a correct solution than if you screw up in the middle. (basically, the number of solutions available decreases dramatically closer to the end).
So, how do you construct a system to help a player make his way through solving a puzzle without actually giving it away?
What this game does is:
1) If you screw up enough (4?) times, the help system is now optionally available to you.
2) At the beginning of the puzzle, before you've made any moves at all, you can choose to "activate it".
3) Activating the helper means that if you make a mistake placing a piece, the helper will kick in, tell you where it really goes, and then shut down. (in other words, you only get help once per puzzle attempt).
4) If you place a piece correctly, it doesn't kick in.
So, this help system (passively) lets you know if you are on the right track and highlights your first (and almost always most important) point of failure. This does wonders for your self-esteem in terms of reassuring you that you are on the right track! It is also passive in the sense that it will only kick in when you make a mistake and gives you help at the right moment, in the right place!
It isn't perfect. But it is very well done. Very.
I thought of different ways to do it, and the only thing I could come up with was having it identify more than one valid solution. There are quite a few puzzles that allow for multiple solutions...it would be nice if you weren't always railroaded (by the help) into the ONE solution known by the help system. (the game doesn't care, if you meet the end condition of no pieces left on the board, you win...so I'm referring to the help system only).
That help system sounds like it's very well done, actually.
Sunday 2 July, 2006 by Sparrow
Are the puzzles random or fixed? I assume the latter.
Does the game track the player's use of help from level to level, or is it "free" (albeit once per level)? It would be interesting if the level select screen had little indicators showing which levels the player used help on - although that could put some players off.
The puzzles are fixed...and the all have names! (the names usually reflect the "picture" or shape of the puzzle).
Saturday 8 July, 2006 by jp
The game does keep track of how many times you've used the help and how many attempts you've made. However, I think it does this at the level of a "difficulty level" which is less granular than each individual puzzle. In other words, it knows that it took you 37 attempts to finish the easy puzzles and you used the help 4 times. It might actually know it on a puzzle by puzzle basis too...but I'd have to go back to anothe part of the game where you can try out puzzles individually...