Electron Dance

Electron Dance Highlights

9Sep/188

Graveyard

This is the fourteenth part of The Ouroboros Sequence, a series on puzzle games.

Riddle me this. Aside from being logic puzzle games, what links the following titles?

Correct! They are all games I intended to finish but, instead, I never click on their desktop shortcuts, rendering part of my desktop a puzzle graveyard. But are they really dead?

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8Aug/188

The Laboratory of Logic

This is the thirteeneth part of The Ouroboros Sequence, a series on puzzle games.

In the “secret” addendum video to The Unbearable Now, I briefly mentioned I liked how the panel puzzles in The Witness (Thekla Inc, 2016) felt like little laboratories. That is, each puzzle was a self-contained experiment and it was practically encouraged to review them.

In fact, most logic puzzles can be framed as laboratories in the same way, but few games embrace this as well as The Witness.

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25Jul/1819

Repetitive Strain

This is the eleventh part of The Ouroboros Sequence, a series on puzzle games.

Chromatron 4

Sooooo… I was trying to put together a few words building on some of the Ouroboros comment discussions. It started out as a short thought experiment but I kept expanding on it until I realised this was sort of a deep dive. Welcome to inside baseball, puzzle edition.

Do not think of this as My Magnum Opus Thesis of Puzzle Design but just a guy trying to get a handle on certain concepts. I’m happy to be shot down, have a contradiction identified or be told I’ve forgotten something.

Let's talk about the “laboriousness” of turn-based logic puzzles, because if a puzzle feels like hard work, you’re more likely to throw in the towel rather than complete the thing. The idea of a puzzle as a chore keeps coming up. Compare the "laboriousness" of Sokoban to something like a contemporary laser reflection puzzle.

But what do we mean by laboriousness? What causes it?

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15Jul/1812

Virgin Lands

This is the tenth part of The Ouroboros Sequence, a series on puzzle games.

Opus Magnum

In the last two Ouroboros essays, we’ve talked about how puzzle design iteration is innovative and examined a particular design lineage.

In this article, effectively the final part of a trilogy on puzzle innovation, I want to head away from well-worn genres and talk about designs which feel more fresh.

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3Jun/1821

Reflections on a Design

This is the ninth part of The Ouroboros Sequence, a series on puzzle games.

Archaica: The Path of Light

Last year I developed an interest in the qualities of beam reflection games. I’d never really had a hankering for them until I tried Archaica: The Path of Light (Two Mammoths, 2017) and it got me thinking about whether the ideas contained therein were actually unique. The levels were tight and buzzing with ideas: beam splitters, beam generators, mixing different colours of light, portal-type objects that teleport lasers…

What were the origins of the reflection puzzle? I began to dig.

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27May/1813

Been Around The Block

This is the eighth part of The Ouroboros Sequence, a series on puzzle games.

Haven’t you got any more ideas?

Do you really think the world needs another block-pushing puzzle? What makes pushing blocks special? Can you for the love of God stop churning out the same game, again and again and again?

Yeah, I didn’t want to play block pushing games any more. But one day I played Full Bore (Whole Hog Games, 2013) and it changed my mind about everything.

What is puzzle innovation?

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8Apr/1815

Agoraphobia

This is the seventh part of The Ouroboros Sequence, a series on puzzle games.

She believes she has exhausted all of the beautiful possibilities in the puzzle rules before her. But there are only 15 levels. 15 exquisite, perfect creations, full of nuance, each offering something unique and precious. It’s too short. Jonathan Blow didn’t make billions with 15 line puzzles. How many puzzles did The Witness contain in the end? 500? 600?

“There’s only one thing for it,” she muses. “Make bigger puzzles.”

The technical term for this design transition is jumping the shark.

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Filed under: Ouroboros 15 Comments
26Mar/1831

The Citadel Reborn

This is the sixth part of The Ouroboros Sequence, a series on puzzle games.

23 Dec 2013. Boson X and Dissembler developer Ian MacLarty tweets, "Have you had a go at PuzzleScript? Citadel looks like it could have been made using it (without the lives and timer)."

He's talking about the game I released in 1993, a Sokobanlike made in a time I'd never heard of Sokoban. I reply to MacLarty: "BUT THE LIVES AND TIMER ARE CRUCIAL (lol) I haven't checked out puzzle script; walk away from potential time sinks... Maybe l8r?"

The jerk fires back, "I don't imagine it'd take you long to learn. Oh and it also allows the player to *undo any number of moves* ;)"

Over four years later, last Wednesday to be precise, for some reason that I can't fathom, I started tinkering in PuzzleScript for the first time. On Saturday, I released a game on itch.io.

The Citadel is back, kids, and you can play it in your desktop browser right now. Let's talk a little about that.

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15Mar/1811

Claustrophobia

This is the fifth part of The Ouroboros Sequence, a series on puzzle games.

The Citadel

Wikipedia says Sokoban was a really early videogame work, created in 1981 by Japanese developer Hiroyuki Imabayashi for the NEC PC-8801. I can go with that. The canonical definition of Sokoban (Hiroyuki Imabayashi, 1981) is “move a bunch of box-shaped crap from A to B within a space so small it’s a bloody joke”. Wow, that definition is so woolly it could even nab Cosmic Express (Hazelden & Davis, 2017).

Anyway, in real Sokoban, players quickly figure out immediate consequences of the rule set. Walls are block graveyards as the player can only push not pull. Similarly, put together four blocks in a square and they congeal into a rigid mass, a game over state if they’re not where they’re supposed to be.

Regardless of whether Sokoban was responsible for spawning them or not, games which involve pushing blocks around are sometimes called “Sokobanlikes” even though they may be wildly different in nature. Maybe you can pull. Maybe the blocks are not important. Maybe everything is connected.

I think the first Sokobanlike I played was a German title called Zebu-Land (KE-Soft, 1991) in which blocks were an obstruction between the player and the exit. I didn’t finish it as I was soon wowed over by a richer and bigger Polish alternative called Robbo (Avalon, 1989) in which there were bombs and obstacles of many kinds; perhaps too action-orientated to be properly considered a puzzle game but all those extra ingredients made it extra tasty.

But I didn’t finish Robbo either because it spurred me on to make my own spicy Sokobanlike called The Citadel (Joel Goodwin, 1991) which I covered in depth some time ago. I later repurposed the code to craft Orson (Joel Goodwin, 1995) which was almost pure Sokoban. I found it miserably boring. Creating Orson levels made me die a little inside and I was exhausted after making ten.

This is where it started: my hostility to the Sokobanlike.

It’s true to say that the naked Sokoban experience is too stagnant to keep my attention beyond a few levels. But there’s more going on here than it seems. Something more psychological.

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15Feb/1814

I Hate Playing With Myself

This is the fourth part of The Ouroboros Sequence, a series on puzzle games.

In 2008, a recommendation on Rock Paper Shotgun led me to Cursor*10 (nekogames, 2008) in which the player has to make it to the 16th floor - but the player's life only lasts a short time. With each new life, the player is accompanied by the ghosts of their previous incarnations, working side by side to reach a common goal. If you need to click a box 100 times, it’s a damn sight quicker if a previous life is there to assist you with the clicking. It was the first time I’d seen this sort of mechanic, but unlikely to be a world first: Braid (Number None, 2008) released later in the same year utilised a similar mechanic.

But I’ve seen this design pattern again and again over the years in puzzle games. Today my mission is to explain why I hate it.

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