viernes, 9 de octubre de 2015

One-screen puzzles

Shortly after Mario Maker's release date, Seth Bling of youtube fame published a level entitled "One-screen puzzle".

Levels featuring puzzles in a single screen were not a novelty, but what was and what made this level worthy of that name that implies it's THE One-screen level was that the solution was very interesting definitely not trivial and you could spend an hour trying to solve this level. It got quite a bunch of stars and a place in the elusive top 100. It made the genre rise in popularity and Seth made other 4 such puzzles since then.

As a fan of puzzle games I couldn't help but try my own take on these levels.

 Pow It - (course id: 30CB-0000-0098-7220)

Living Fire (course id: 9334-0000-0090-111E)

 Flight Day (course id: 82B6-0000-0093-FA1D)

So let's talk one-screen puzzles.

About Puzzles Levels

I may have spent a good amount of free time making levels for a puzzle game to be left unnamed for now. When I think of puzzles there are some things to find interesting. Light spoilers for Seth Bling's puzzle :
  • The mechanic(s): A puzzle level in a game like Mario that has plenty of kinds of objects and combinations between them should center around a game mechanic (you call them gimmicks when you don't like them). A player that finishes the level should leave with a new learned trick. The better and more interesting/unique the mechanic the cooler the level will be.  If you want to you can try and make a single level about multiple mechanics. It can really up the difficulty and make it more challenging but this is risky as it makes the level more confusing. I prefer centering around a single thing, specially in one-screen ones where space is tight. In Seth Bling's level above I'd say the key thing is the way the P switch is actually more solid than the caparace. That's something I didn't keep present until solving it. 
  •  The contradiction: The mechanic acts like a key, lacking the key should lead to game states in which things don't make much sense. In a Portal level, you need to push two buttons under a time limit so tight that you almost need to be two places at once. In Seth Bling's puzzle, you need to use the spring both to jump and also to send objects in another path, and it appears that one usage negates the other.
  • The diversion: The solution to the puzzle needs certain objects but just leaving them might make it too obvious that they are needed there and might make the solution seem trivial or worse, happen by total coincidence without the player realizing it. Giving some objects fake / initial roles and requiring the player to take them out of them can be a nice detail. In Seth Bling's puzzle, the red koopa's evident use is to help save Yoshi.
  • The Hints: On the other hand, you don't want the player to feel clueless about things. If the mechanic is way original the player might need help getting there. This help is really one of the hardest parts of puzzle design. You want the player to feel clever. So the clues shouldn't be super explicit, but the player should also not feel lost for too long. In Mario Maker that means they'll skip the level in a flash.
  • The Implementation: Just knowing what to do is one thing, doing it is another topic. Implementation and logic are often at odds. Too much logic and the puzzle is a pure brain teaser. While cool, it wouldn't fit too well in Mario. Too much implementation and the level is not that much of puzzle anymore. Difficulty is another thing. I dislike puzzles in which implementation is difficult because, to me, it adds frustration. You are the player and you KNOW how to solve this but the stupid puzzle just won't let you actually do it. This is the part I like least about Seth Bling's puzzle levels. After figuring it out I still needed 40 or so attempts before getting it right, at that point the level felt more like a Kaizo level than a puzzle.
If you want to try my puzzles on your own (pleeaaaase someone play my levels!) you should stop reading as I am about to spoil them big time.

Pow It

Pow It is in my opinion the easiest of the bunch. The mechanic it centers around is very simple: The Pow block makes coins fall down, this includes blocks that turned into coins because of the P switch. Big deal huh? Well you see, the contradiction is that if you don't know this there are many ways in which you'll get trapped.

The main diversion exists as the Muncher next to the P switch. Your first reflex will be to use the Pow to kill it so you can grab the P switch.

But doing means you failed the puzzle, remember the intended solution is to use the Pow while the P is active. It's not all that bad though, because using the Pow this way makes the Hint happen; The 3 coins will fall, reminding you that Pow makes coins drop.

How can this be solved? It's my least favorite part of the puzzle. I mentioned how I don't like tricky implementation, but it turns out it might be needed to be able to correctly disguise the solution. In Seth Bling's level, it's hard to make the caparace stop so you can use it again. This makes thinking of using the caparace that way less trivial. In Pow It, it appears you need to kill the Muncher to get the P switch, but it isn't exactly so...

If you somehow gently drop the Pow above the Muncher you can walk on it then with some luck you can jump and fall on the P switch. This makes the Muncher drop in height a bit allowing you to take back the pow (be careful).

I think this part of the level may have creeped a bit over what I originally intended. Are players even supposed to know how to drop the pow without activating it? That you can use it to walk on top of harmful areas?

I may do something like update the level so the pow starts on a Muncher and you can walk on it at first. Better hints or it makes it too obvious?

Living Fire

Living Fire is my favorite of the bunch because the solution is very unique. It begins with a hint: Fire balls can make bob-ombs explode. Right then it shows you a diversion, you need to rush to use a bob-omb to rescue the clown car. You certainly will need the clown car to reach the other side of the level.

That's when the troubles begin. You need to make the two other bob-ombs explode. But the fire can't be moved. There's a yoshi which can eat fire and then use it to throw 3 fireballs, but Yoshi is on a side of the level too far from the fire that falls from the pipe (contradiction).

The mechanic is actually funny: If you live the clown car right below the pipe, the fire ball will take control over the clown car. Did you notice they have eyes? Turns out these fireballs are alive!

Once possessed, the clown car will move towards Mario but is mostly harmless (unless you touch the fire "brain") you can jump to push the clown places. A good place is the bob-omb on the top. So that was the real use of the starman , you didn't only need it to go through the saws but also to kill the fireball and take back control of the clown car.

It's unfortunate that there are no hints that this is even possible. My big hope is that while trying to do things and jumping around it happens naturally that the fire ball possesses the clown by accident. Then they can turn that into a solution.

This doesn't solve how to explode the other bob-omb and what Yoshi's role is in all this, but I think that's enough spoilers.

Flight Day 

There's one key mechanic / puzzle to solve in this level and it is that conveyor belts allow Caped Mario / Tanoki Mario to gain momentum in a small space. To divert away from this, I put the giant spiny on top of the conveyor belt, making it seem like the belt is there just to keep the spiny in place. The koopa then needs to be used in two situations: One is free get the leaf from the question block. But we also need to kill the spiny. There are two ways to do this, both require you to really know how to throw shells.

That secures one pow. The rest of the level is about using the other traits of the cape and this extra pow to get the other pow. This one is really implementation-heavy, but I enjoyed the result so I'm sharing it.

Thanks for reading

Play my levels!