How to design a puzzle game

Image : Dorfromantik, Toukana Interactive 

Designing a puzzle game can be a daunting task. There are so many elements that go into making a good one, from the mechanics to the systems to the difficulty curve. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the most important aspects of puzzle game design.

We’ll start with defining what a puzzle game is and then move on to discussing the different game mechanics that you’ll need to consider. Finally, we’ll give you some tips on how to build your own puzzle game from scratch.

What are puzzle games?

Puzzle games are a type of video game that focus on challenge, rather than action or adventure. They are usually single-player games where the player must complete puzzles to progress. Many puzzle game mechanics are based on logic, and often require the player to think outside the box to solve challenges.

These challenges can take many different forms, from matching objects to completing circuits to reaching a certain score. Puzzle games often have a high degree of replayability, as players can try to beat their previous best times or scores.

On the face of it, this makes it seem like puzzle games are easy to create. All you need to do is string together a series of puzzles of increasing complexity. However, there is a lot more to designing a successful puzzle game than just coming up with some good puzzles.

In order to create a puzzle game that is both challenging and fun, designers need to carefully consider several different elements. First, they need to decide what type of puzzles they want to include. There are many different kinds of logic-based puzzles, and each has its own strengths and weaknesses.

For example, sliding block puzzles are often easy to learn but can quickly become frustrating if they are not designed well. On the other hand, pathfinding puzzles may be more difficult to grasp at first but can provide a greater sense of satisfaction when solved.

Next, designers need to think about how these puzzles will fit together. Will they be stand-alone challenges or part of a larger, more open-ended game?

If the latter, how will the player progress from one puzzle to the next? What kind of feedback will they receive after completing each challenge?

Puzzle games can be both rewarding and frustrating, but by carefully considering these design elements, designers can create experiences that are enjoyable for players of all skill levels.

Elements of puzzle game

There are several elements that you’ll need to consider when designing a puzzle game. First, you’ll need to decide on the difficulty level. This will determine how challenging the game is for players. You’ll also need to decide on the type of puzzles you want to include. Will they be stand-alone challenges or part of a larger, more open-ended game?

If you want to include stand-alone challenges, it might be best to make them relatively easy so that players don’t get discouraged. However, if you’re looking to create a more open-ended game with multiple puzzles, you’ll need to vary the difficulty level so that players have a sense of progression.

If the latter, how will the player progress from one puzzle to the next? What kind of feedback will they receive after completing each challenge?

Player feedback is crucial in puzzle games, as it allows them to understand their progress and whether they’re on the right track. Without effective feedback, players can quickly become frustrated and give up on the game entirely.

It’s also important to think about player progression when designing a puzzle game. Will the game be linear, with puzzles getting progressively more difficult as the player progresses? Or will it be non-linear, with the player able to choose which puzzles they attempt to solve and in what order?

If you opt for a linear design, you’ll need to carefully craft each successive puzzle so that it’s just challenging enough for the player. Make them too easy and players will get bored; make them too difficult and players will get frustrated. Just right, and players will be engaged and motivated to keep playing.

A non-linear design gives players more freedom but can be harder to balance. In this case, it’s important to provide a variety of puzzles of different difficulty levels so that players can find ones that suit their skills.

Both linear and non-linear puzzle game designs have their pros and cons, so it’s up to you to decide which will work best for your game. Whichever route you choose, careful planning and design will be key to making an engaging and enjoyable puzzle game.

Finally, you’ll need to consider the game’s overall aesthetic. How will the puzzles look and feel? Will there be any animations or sound effects? While these might seem like low-impact choices, they can actually have a big effect on how players perceive and experience your game.

The visual interface is one of the most important aspects of any game, so make sure to put some thought into how your game will look and how your player will interact with it.

You’ll also need to come up with creative ways to keep the player engaged. In-game rewards, social sharing features, and other hooks can all help keep players coming back for more.

With careful planning and design, you can create a puzzle game that will be both challenging and fun for players.

Puzzle game mechanics

One of the most important aspects of designing a puzzle game is coming up with interesting and challenging mechanics.

The mechanics should be something that the player can understand quickly, but will still take some time to master.

They should also be creative and engaging so that the player doesn’t get bored quickly.

As a rule, puzzle game mechanics are split into primary and secondary mechanics.

The primary mechanics are the main interaction the player has with the game, while the secondary mechanics are there to support the primary ones.

For example, in a matching game, the primary mechanic would be matching two pieces together, while a possible secondary mechanic could be having to match more than two pieces at a time.

A good start to the creation of any puzzle game is brainstorming different mechanics that could work well in a puzzle game. Once you have some ideas, you can start testing them out to see how they work in practice.

One of the best ways to test game mechanics is through prototyping. This is where you create a basic version of the game using placeholder graphics and simple code so that you can focus on testing the gameplay.

You can then use player feedback to refine the mechanics until you have a solid game design.

Actions vs mechanics

Within the concept of game design, actions are what the player does and mechanics are how the game responds to those actions.

For example, in Candy Crush, the player’s action is swapping two pieces of candy. The swap creates a row or column of three or more matching candies, those candies are removed from the board and new ones fall into place.

It’s important to think about both actions and mechanics when designing a puzzle game as they will be intertwined.

Different types of mechanics

There are many different types of game mechanics that you can use in your puzzle game design. The four most common ones include:

Matching: This is probably the most popular and well-known type of mechanic. In a matching game, the player needs to find and connect items that match each other in some way. Bejeweled is a good example of this.

Sequencing: In these games, the player needs to put items in the correct order or sequence. The classic game Simon is an example of this type of mechanic.

Sliding: Sliding puzzles are ones where the player needs to slide pieces around until they’re in the correct position. Sokoban is a well-known sliding puzzle game.

Physics: In these games, the player needs to use physics principles to solve the puzzles. Angry Birds is a good example of this type of game.

Analog vs Digital

Mechanics can also be divided into analog and digital. Analog mechanics are mechanics that have a free-form aspect to them. For example, in the game Jenga, players need to carefully remove and place blocks without knocking over the tower.

Digital mechanics are ones that have a more precise or rule-based aspect to them. In Tetris, for example, players need to make sure the pieces fit perfectly into the slots.

Both analog and digital mechanics can be used to create fun and challenging puzzles. It just depends on what kind of game you want to design!

Building a puzzle game

Once you have the basic mechanics in place, it’s time to start building the actual game. This is where you’ll need to put your creativity to the test.

You’ll need to come up with puzzles that are both challenging and fun to solve. Remember, the goal is to keep the player engaged, so make sure that your puzzles are anything but boring!

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some tips on designing puzzles for games:

Puzzles should be based on a central mechanic

This is the most important tip when it comes to designing puzzles for games. The puzzle should be based around a central mechanic that is integral to the gameplay. This could be something as simple as using blocks to build a bridge or using mirrors to reflect light onto a target.

Make sure the player has all the information they need

Before designing a puzzle, make sure that the player has all the information they need to solve it. There’s nothing more frustrating than being stuck on a puzzle because you don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle. If you’re not sure whether or not the player has enough information, try testing the puzzle out on a friend or family member.

Give the player a chance to experiment

Once the player has all the information they need, give them a chance to experiment. This is where playtesting comes in handy. You can get a good idea of how hard or easy a puzzle is by seeing how long it takes people to solve it. If you find that people are getting stuck on a particular puzzle, try making it easier by providing more hints or giving the player more time to complete it.

Puzzles should be challenging but not impossible

The goal of a puzzle is to challenge the player without being impossible. If a puzzle is too easy, the player will get bored and if it’s too hard, the player will get frustrated and may even give up on the game entirely. The key is to find the right balance of difficulty.

Keep in mind that not everyone is a puzzle expert

When designing your puzzles, keep in mind that not everyone is a puzzle expert. If you’re making a game for a general audience, make sure your puzzles can be solved by people of all skill levels. On the other hand, if you’re making a game for hardcore puzzlers, feel free to make your puzzles as difficult as you like. Just remember to test them thoroughly before releasing the game to make sure they’re actually solvable!

Don’t be afraid to experiment

Puzzle design is all about trial and error. So don’t be afraid to experiment with different ideas until you find something that works. And if you get really stuck, there’s no shame in asking for help from a friend or colleague.

Managing difficulty

As you’re designing your puzzle game, it’s important to keep difficulty in mind. You’ll need to strike a balance between making the game too easy and making it too hard. If the game is too easy, the player will get bored quickly. But if it’s too hard, the player will become frustrated and give up. Finding that perfect balance is key to designing a successful puzzle game.

Difficulty vs complexity

There’s a difference between difficulty and complexity. A complex puzzle is one that has many different elements to it. A difficult puzzle is simply one that’s hard to solve. It’s important not to confuse the two when you’re designing your game.

Just because a puzzle is complex doesn’t mean it needs to be difficult. And vice versa. You can have a complex puzzle that’s easy to solve if the player has all the information they need. Or you can have a difficult puzzle that’s simple in design.

Combating frustration

When designing difficulty, it’s important to avoid frustration. A good way to do this is by giving the player a sense of progress. Even if they can’t solve the puzzle, they should feel like they’re getting closer with each try.

This can be done by adding hints or clues as the player fails. Or by breaking the puzzle down into smaller pieces.

It’s also important to make sure the player knows what they need to do to solve the puzzle. If they’re not sure how to progress, they’ll only get more frustrated.

Remember, a little frustration can be a good thing. It’s what motivates the player to keep going. But too much frustration will only lead to the player giving up.

When designing a puzzle game, it’s important to strike a balance. too easy and the player will get bored, too hard and they’ll get frustrated. The key is to find that sweet spot in the middle.

Avoid allowing players to skip forward

A common mistake made by puzzle game designers is to allow the player to spend real money to skip ahead.

In reality, this can lead to greater player frustration.

If a player is stuck on a puzzle, they’ll be tempted to spend money to skip it. But then they’ll be even more frustrated when they get stuck on the next one.

Since they haven’t learned anything from the last puzzle, and most games have a linear difficulty curve, they’ll almost certainly find themselves stuck on the next puzzle, with the added frustration of having paid money to put themselves in that situation.

It’s much better to design your puzzles so that the player can’t skip ahead, even if they wanted to.

This way, they’ll be forced to learn from their mistakes and get better at the game.

Not only will they be more likely to stick with it for longer, but they’ll also feel a sense of accomplishment when they finally beat the puzzle.

Creating your own puzzle game

So there you have it, a brief guide on designing puzzle games. Remember to keep things simple, test your mechanics thoroughly, and get feedback from players to help improve your game.

With these tips in mind, you should be well on your way to creating an enjoyable puzzle game for all to play. Thanks for reading!

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