Electron Dance

The Box Impossible

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

After bouncing off Snakebird, I pondered the question: was it an objectively good puzzle game?

What does that mean - to be a “good” puzzle game? Perhaps it depends on what it means to be a "puzzle game"?


I was starting to do that waht is gaem thing in my head. I didn't want to scribble down an academic definition citing power players like Roger Callois, Bernard Suits or Werner Herzog, but I sure wasn’t gonna let The Room or Monument Valley crash this party. You’re not invited.

The Room (Fireproof Games, 2012) is a much beloved mobile title which spawned two sequels - with another one, er, tomorrow? It is more like a reverse room escape; in front of you is an ornate box riddled with little clockwork mechanisms and your job is to open it. You can cycle through several vantage points around the box and zoom in to analyse finer details. Somewhere, there’s a hidden catch or button or slidey drawer which will unlock the box. But the box is a matryoshka doll of increasingly elaborate and intricate challenges and each victory delivers you a new layer to solve. As a description, a more appropriate name for The Room would have been The Onion, but that name is pretty much spoken for. Perhaps The Dark Onion of Mystery.

Fireproof Games call it “a physical puzzler, wrapped in a mystery game, inside a beautifully tactile 3D world”. You’ll notice the explicit reference to “puzzler” in there and many reviews followed suit: “a tactile sort of puzzle game”; “BAFTA winning mobile puzzling mega-hit”; “hours of puzzles and challenges”. But it’s the walking simulator of puzzle games.

I touched on this when I threw a hissy fit about The Room Three (2015) in the Sept 2016 newsletter: most of The Room isn’t really what I’d call a puzzling. If I wanted to be really incendiary to Fireproof Games, I could say it’s more about random button pressing. But that makes it sound like I didn’t enjoy The Room, which would be an untruth.

Let's go back to an essay I wrote in 2014, Screw Your Walking Simulators. In it, I discussed Japanese puzzle boxes, which players have to experiment with to determine the moves required to open the box and, importantly, reveal its contents. The term “puzzle box” was not the precise literal translation of the Japanese phrase “himitsu-bako” which is “secret box”. I argued that many games without goals are better understood as secret boxes, where challenge is of secondary concern compared to the secrets that the developer wants to share with you.

The Room is a secret box game about a secret box. In the main, it’s not about cerebral puzzle solving, but about fiddling with knobs and switches. As the series progressed, more bona fide puzzles crept in but that was never what was special about The Room. It was about the secret catches and the hidden compartments. It just feels really good on some fundamental level to hear the clockwork mechanisms turning as you unlock another layer. It is a toy that makes adults feel like children again, rekindling that wonder at how physical stuff works.

I had similar feelings towards Monument Valley (Ustwo, 2014). The original game contained only ten levels which were not particularly difficult. They were puzzley in the sense that Sword and Sworcery (Superbrothers & Capybara Games, 2011) tended to be puzzley - find the buttons, swipe the right spot. In fact, the eighth chapter, The Box, reduced Valley to a literal puzzle box. Only the final level, Observatory, became truly brain-taxing with some Escher-inspired madness.

So am I trying to argue for puzzle games to be defined by “rules”? Monument Valley is full of rules, but they aren’t intensively mined for challenge in the way that the rules sets of Snakebird and Cosmic Express (Hazelden & Davis, 2017) are. The Room has rules, too, like remembering to scout over every single object and surface with the eyepiece in case there’s hidden imagery. When I see Snakebird, I think about a game that requires a player to contemplate or react, to think and plan - rather than experiment and poke. For me, puzzling means not just having a set of rules but pushing them as far as they can go.

Monument Valley, Sworcery, The Room - these are games about experience, mood, they’re almost a calling: but they’re not going to tell me much about Snakebird. However, as we shall see, turning our back on these titles will not mean knifing mystery to death. All games can be secret boxes; it’s just a question of emphasis.

So I’ve got a rough intuition as to who should get on the invite list, but have no intention of getting any more precise. See, there’s not just dragons here, but spider dragons. Like, when a puzzle game utilises randomness, is that okay? Say, something like Twofold inc. (grapefrukt games, 2016) or even Spelltower (Zach Gage, 2011) which relies on how well-organised the player’s brain dictionary is? What about puzzle games when there’s a time limit or a speed requirement? What about roguelikes, aren’t those puzzlelikes too? And surely some action games are like strategy puzzles, where figuring out the correct approach requires not just experimentation but some contemplation? What about puzzle games that obfuscate puzzles, using noise to make things more difficult? If I just stick to games which are really like Snakebird - turn-based Sokobanlikes with no lightning reflexes necessary - I may miss some important insights.

The truth is for years I've been uncomfortable categorising games as "puzzles" because it's a pretty broad tent. Although I have a dictionary definition here which reads "a game or toy in which you have to fit separate pieces together, or a problem or question that you have to answer by using your skill or knowledge" some players do regard mystery meat navigation and hidden object games as puzzles. In common parlance, the word is more nebulous than some uptight dictionary is willing to acknowledge.

This impossible box I’m trying to squeeze the term “puzzle game” into has all the same problems like the one you’ve seen others squash “game” into. Probably best not to bother.

Especially as all I've done is set myself up for a contradiction. Next week, what I have to say about Spelltower, Threes! and Alphabear will make you question why I bothered with a definition at all.

Download my FREE eBook on the collapse of indie game prices an accessible and comprehensive explanation of what has happened to the market.

Sign up for the monthly Electron Dance Newsletter and follow on Twitter!

Electron Dance Highlights

Comments (22) Trackbacks (0)
  1. One distinction depends on the fairness thing I was talking about in the last post. Something like Grow Cube or an escape-the-room thing–some of which can be harrrrd and involve serious cryptography-like things*–is a riddle, not a puzzle. Riddles and puzzles have solutions, and they’re both supposed to exhibit a logic, but the logic of a riddle is a one-time thing. Once you’ve figured out what has a face but no head and hands but no arms, you can’t necessarily apply the same principle to the thirty white horses champing on a red hill.–The rules you mention like “Scout every object” don’t count, I do declare, because they’re rules for the player (guidelines, even), not rules the game obeys. Like “Don’t knock half a sausage over the edge,” except, of course, when do. The interactions with a riddle are still special-cased.
    Riddles can seem unfair because you may not get the logic, or the logic may be clear once you’ve seen it but you may wonder how you were supposed to figure that out. Puzzles can be kind of unfair when they’re too big to break down at once, like The Great Tower or Nova 7 or the bonus in A Good Snowman Is Hard To Build, but there’s the idea that you have what you need in order to do the puzzle, no matter how hard it is to figure out. This is what you talked about in “An Honest Game.”
    (Most interactive fiction puzzles are riddles, btw. Another way of thinking about it is, if you’ve read the source code and you still don’t know what to do, it’s a puzzle, not a riddle.)
    The complication with the Honest Game thing is the possibility of a Starseed-like. A puzzle game might not reveal its rules up front. (In the Honest Game comments I called this “enigmatic” vs. “perspicuous.”) Figuring out the rules can be a puzzle of sorts–or is it a riddle? The kind of riddle that gives you feedback, which is the kind you should have in games anyway, except that here the feedback can be given more systematically–since the rule is a rule you can outright experiment with it. And often there’s a small enough number of things you can do at any given time (because the things you do are governed by rules, so there can’t be that many of them) that there’s less of a space to explore when you have to discover A Secret. Which is what I said felt fair to me. Though this isn’t as true of Starseed itself, perhaps, because it has the infinite canvas of the Platforming Space in which to hide its secrets.

    *Kind of like Fez! As I understand it. Interesting that we’ve circled back to Monument Valley and now Fez because this was going to be one of my overlapping rants in the “Discussion: Unfinished Tales” thing (future archivists: search for that post to find the context, if I put in another link I’ll get spam-filtered), which is why don’t I like Fez? Well, one thing is that it’s a platformer where I find the platforming to be sludgy. Also it’s too slow to give up its secrets, in a way–I played and explored for a long time, and even found one of those anticubes everyone talks about (in a place that sort of seemed like it was set up to introduce them), and I don’t feel like I’ve really grasped the movement system, to the extent that in my main save I think I did something unpredictable and marooned myself in a dead end. And I put in enough time that I should’ve grasped the movement system. And all the things I look up about it are just recipes for the Sekret things to do–go here and knock five times–as though the thing you’re actually spending most of the time on, moving around and turning the world, is an afterthought to the real heart of the game. And that sits ill with me.
    Now there’s a very very high chance here that this is sour grapes, or in gamer parlance that I need to Git Gud. In art in general I feel as though I should be chary of saying that something many other people appreciate is no good, because there’s something they see in it, and who am I to say that it is not there? And much more so in games, and even more so in games that are about unlocking secrets that I haven’t unlocked. The people who like Fez know something that I don’t: at the very least, how to Fez.
    But but: Foddy said of Starseed Pilgrim, “Imagine if Fez was all in 2D and had a super-addictive and original logic game as the main mechanic, rather than jumping and rotating.” So Fez is a Starseed-like. The point is to discover the hidden mechanics. Except the surface stuff of Starseed is more engaging–there’s time pressure in the main game, there’s a goal even if what you do with the goal is not obvious, there’s a pace at which you discover things (what does this do, what does that do, ooh this does two things, what does this do, hmm, wait I can do this [this was the part where I got brickwalled because I misread a graphic], omg new stuff, wait I can do that??? and then there’s more). Whereas–it’s hard to call Fez not engaging in that way, because there’s all the cool graphics and exploration and lots of tiny secrets, but there’s an explicit goal given, which is Go Lots Of Places And Collect These Things We Said, and the gameplay for that is Not Exciting after a little while. It is Not Exciting enough that the Fez fan community seems not to talk about it. There are, I say, some nice bits (this one with invisible platforms that you can figure out) but still. And the parts the fans do like, they describe as “cryptography,” but I’m like, these sound like the puzzles you get in room escape games. And if I want to do those, why don’t I play a room escape game where I don’t have to walk as much to get to them? (Didn’t think I’d get back to the beginning of this comment, did you.) Except: It could be that if I actually discovered what was behind these puzzles, they would open up to me in a systematic way as I learned more about them.

  2. See, I knew we’d have some interesting conversations down here, Matt. I’m sure I could extend the series by pasting in a few of your off-topic but now super on-topic comments over the years.

    I like the distinction you posit between puzzle and riddle – although I don’t know if we could actively use the latter because of its strong connotation with words. A riddlelike, sure. Generally Ouroboros will keep its distance from riddles and focus on puzzles. Generally. (Nonetheless, it doesn’t solve the last problem that “puzzle game” is a really wide field and attempts to be more precise will probably ruin us.) Still, I might borrow this for a later post and completely bury the origin of this insight. (ha ha, sure)

    I was indeed thinking about Starseed when I wrote this but that was far more difficult to figure out as it didn’t quite line up with the secret box angle because it front loads riddle over a rich puzzle backend.

    I have not played Fez but from what I gather it chases that childhood fantasy of a game with oodles of secrets and things to do and there’s so many rooms and oh my god it’s so awesome and massive I’m so tiny

    The real question we should ask of such masterworks: does it blend?

  3. I realised a long time ago that “Puzzle” is a bad genre name, because no one agrees what it means.

    Tetris is definitely not a puzzle game – I’d call it an arcade game, or a score-attack game. But unfortunately, enough people call it a puzzle game that I can’t say “no you’re wrong it’s not a puzzle game”.

    So I call my games thinky puzzle games, where “thinky puzzle” is a specific genre rather than a subset of “puzzle”.

    The distinction you highlight (that I’d probably agree with) is more about systemic exploration rather than thinkyness though. Does this game explore a small set of mechanics to their full potential, or is it a large set of one-off puzzles?

  4. Hi Alan! Glad to hear I’m not the only one feeling the term “puzzle” is overburdened. I think your point is what Matt was grappling with above, with the analogy of a riddle (once solved, solved forever).

    I’m looking for something “cerebral” in a puzzle game and The Room, for example, isn’t very cerebral at all aside from remembering what you’ve tried. I’m serious when I call it the walking simulator of puzzle games. I think people forget that the game is happy to give you a constant stream of hints and I think that masks the frustration, that some of it feels arbitrary (those marbles were a terrible idea!).

    I can give Starseed Pilgrim’s opening a thumbs up because it’s about figuring out the mechanics, a one-off task to set you up for the real challenges.

  5. Hi! I don’t really have anything to say right now I just wanted to say I really enjoyed reading this article and so many of your other articles. Very much looking forward to the rest of the series.


    Actually, seeing how much SSP is being talked about, I feel like I should briefly mention La-Mulana — I think some of the initial spark for Starseed was related to wanting to make a game *like* La-Mulana (full of mystery and kinda blind & supremely rewarding exploration) but where the puzzles were based on a deep internal logic rather than being a bunch of disconnected riddles.

  6. To some people, the category “puzzle” is equivalent to a set of negative traits: non-dexterity, non-realtime, non-violent, etc.
    What do you think? Are negative categories dangerous when we want to define new categories?

  7. Thanks droqen – and I want to mention I haven’t forgotten or dropped that piece I interviewed you for last year…

    Marcos, off the top of my head, I feel that defining concepts like this as what they’re not doesn’t tell you a great deal about what they are. They offer value for taxonomy but little else.

  8. The Room for me was more akin to a simple Myst-like, maybe closer to the Quern variety, which is like a simpler, linear Myst. It’s more about exploration than working anything out, even though you’re not traversing, only exploring whats in front of you. I never played them on mobile, but played 1 and 2 on PC and found them surprisingly immersive, if not as tactile as the originals.

    I would add a little to Matt’s definition of a riddle, if I may. A riddle is figurative. It has a logic, but a metaphorical logic. Take Monkey Island 2. I’d call most of the tasks in that game puzzles, and I know that doesn’t fit the definition of either HM nor Matt, but they differ from that one infamous “monkey wrench” puzzle, which stands out because it is figurative. (You use a hypnotised monkey as a “monkey wrench”.) It’s logic only works because of wordplay, just like hobbit or sphinx style Riddle riddles do.

    The same can be said about some of the tasks given out by survival horror, especially Japanese Resi or Silent Hill style ones – sometimes the combination for the safe is actually the answer to a riddle.

  9. Lots of food for thought here Joel! Just to be annoying:

    “I think about a game that requires a player to contemplate or react, to think and plan – rather than experiment and poke. For me, puzzling means not just having a set of rules but pushing them as far as they can go.”

    Would you then not consider a wordsearch a puzzle?

    This came to mind simply as a flippant response, but I think it accidentally speaks to two things: firstly that the expansive definition of “puzzle” that you find objectionable has a history older than video games, and secondly that there is perhaps a cognitive development aspect of puzzle play that I am not remotely qualified to comment upon.

  10. (Oh yeah, and a third thing: it speaks to the roots of genres as, more than anything else, marketing categories. As in most people would consider wordsearches puzzles because you can walk into any newsagent, pick up a book of puzzles and find a wordsearch inside – alongside other kinds of puzzle that better fit your “contemplate or react, to think and plan” descriptor, which I like btw.)

  11. Mr. B

    Yeah we’re grabbing at partial meanings of words here. The riddle was thrown in because it was a one-off setup as opposed to being an actual riddle. But then I think I’m able to clarify something in the answer to Shaun here…


    Hello, sir. And I hope your book writing is proceeding well. Not too well, of course, because that would make me jealous. Anyway, your comment(s) really helped!

    What I’m struggling with, in this essay, is picking out a category of puzzle games that have a Snakebird-ness, much wider than just Sokoban. And that led me down the garden path of worrying about what a puzzle game actually meant. Because, you know, over the years, I’ve had people toss in examples which are so far edge-of-puzzle as a sort of argument, I was sometimes tempted to throw the puzzles out of the pram.

    I don’t really care about defining puzzles only so much as I’m trying to figure out what is an acceptable depth of field because I think The Room is utterly alien to Snakebird. How can I argue Snakebird is a good/bad puzzle game when someone throws The Room into the room?

    But your flippant response has led me to understand what I was dithering around, because indeed I was thinking of crossword puzzles when I wrote this and was unable to decide how I would place them.

    It seems when I’m referring to a puzzle re: snakebird, I am talking about a definable puzzle category. Snakebird has a set of rules within which many individual tasks can be presented to the player. The Room doesn’t really offer that nor Sword & Sworcery. They aren’t repeatable – everything is unique. A wordsearch is a “class of puzzles” and an individual wordsearch, like an individual Snakebird puzzle, can be disposed of once complete.

    Only through these comments can I see how far I should have gone with the essay. (a) What I consider “puzzle games” are equivalent to a defined class of puzzles and (b) this is still just an academic exercise built around what is useful for me, right now. Thus, with that perspective, we can toss aside alternative definitions and applications (marketing) because they aren’t relevant to me. In other words, I am defining puzzle as a purely narcissistic exercise :)

    My “puzzle game = puzzle class” definition becomes unstuck when everyone is pretty sure game X is a puzzle game, but each puzzle is unique. To wit: Antichamber. How much of it is reusing rules? It’s a massively expensive game, creatively speaking. The different puzzles are thematically related but many of the puzzles are deliberately chosen to break any sort of conventions or rules. Throw away what you know and look again.

    Also, another counterexample in the opposite way: does Monument Valley feel like a class of puzzles…? I would argue not.

  12. I love where you’re going with this, and I presume the puzzle quandary here is going to feature prominently in the book!

    Anyway, I had some thoughts reading this. Some people “think” by “poking.” In fact, I think the reverse is absolutely true as well.

    I’ve been recently playing through Celeste (and obsessively searching for its secret TACOs as well), and I came upon a tremendously devious and taxing screen. For anyone who’s playing it, btw, I refer to Flag 3 of the b-side version of The Summit (If you’ve never played Celeste that probably reads like utter nonsense).

    I spent about two and a half hours on this single screen. The first 20-30 minutes, I’d argue, was actually thinking what the fuck am I supposed to do to get past it. I made lots of test jumps, and lots of test deaths, probably the equivalent of sketching if this were a more cerebral or even numeric experience. Always lots of test deaths. But it wasn’t until about a half hour of fussing with it that a part of its solution began to take focus. Hazily, but it was drawing close.

    I spent about an hour after trying a hypothesis. A hypothesis that proved incorrect, but the combination of the agility required to test these trains of thought meant a lot of time was taken. It was frustrating, but I felt close.

    I’d wager I only spent about 45 or so minutes actually, legitimately, attempting a rational solve. Once I got closer, I had a lot of near misses–this particular screen even added a painful period where you scamper up a sheer ledge and pray that you have enough stamina to make it. Once I got close but didn’t see that the stamina resultant of this solution was going to be enough, even barely, I reworked my solve to give me a few precious split seconds of stamina more.

    Yet, it seems weird to want to call Celeste a “puzzle-platformer,” even though I 100% felt like that was the game experience I was having at this specific point (and a few others, throughout, but this one is the real killer imho).

    I have spent a comparable amount of time in puzzle game environments on a tough scenario. I never beat the witness, but there were puzzles that would literally involve me staring at an unmoving screen in thorough contemplation, waving away my PS4’s warnings that it might want it to go into sleep mode (this was somehow particularly humiliating). But the truth is, if i’m DOING something, anything, fidgeting and failing but feeling productive and IN the moment somehow, I can spend 2 and a half hours enjoyably vexxed.

    If a puzzle game has something more nuanced than grid-based movement, thus giving me a way to inhabit its environment in a way that feels more “proper” or absorbing, it will net me more, it will motivate. I bounced off Snakebird, and although that game has somewhat conventional controls, its tile-based nature always makes it feel a little more rote and synthetic than something like Celeste or Braid.

    Sorry for the blather. Another thought I had is, are Roguelikes puzzle games? Desktop Dungeon comes to mind as the most obvious example, but that’s really the genre boiled down to its essence. Even though most other Roguelikes involve luck, something about them has always felt very puzzley to me.

  13. Hello (again) Leo.

    Right quite a few things to unpack here… on people “thinking by poking” I do have an Ouroborus post along these lines as I’ve got a lot to say on it. Again, no real answers, just questions, lots of questions. There are skill games that have puzzle-like aspects – where you can’t just win with skill alone, but you need the brains to find a strategy that works. Sometimes this is as simple as memorising the correct jumps (something like VVVVVV or Super Meat Boy) there are other more subtle experiences like THOTH or, as it seems from your experience as I don’t have any, Celeste.

    Whether these are good puzzle structures remain to be seen. They keep the player engaged, which a purely cerebral puzzle does not necessarily. And perhaps that’s okay. I think neither one is better than the other – more of what players of different dispositions engage with. For the purposes of this series, I’m only considering a definition of puzzle which delivers me something “similar” to Snakebird and so action games requiring brawn aren’t going to have too much to input here, although they will make an appearence here and there.

    We did have a funny conversation just a couple of weeks ago on whether turn-based match-3 games were roguelikes, because they pretty similar qualities. Matt W eventually answered with a resounding “no” due to the lack of ongoing mystery. Randomness does rear it’s head in plenty of games we like to call puzzle games: Match-3 games, Twofold, Alphabear – so randomness does not automatically lock us from puzzle territory!

  14. I can’t believe I put forth some sort of definition for a puzzle game! I’m a Wittgensteinian! I don’t believe in definitions for anything!

    I will defend the stuff I said as a way of picking out the category we’re interested in here. Granted that “riddles” conveys the wrong impression (and the kind of thing I’m talking about in interactive fiction gets called “puzzles”), what Joel said about unique vs. repeatable mechanics gets at a lot of it.

    Definitely agree with Alan that Tetris is not a puzzle game in our sense… and so as not to fall into what Marcos said about entirely negative definitions, what I’d say is that these puzzles have solutions. Tetris has strategy and stuff like that, and even more so Six Match does (which isn’t even turn-based). But while sometimes you have to do the same kind of cerebral calculations that you need to do in a puzzle game, there’s no guarantee of a solution, and the emergent puzzles will be full of all sorts of irrelevant elements (not that tossing in red herrings isn’t a legitimate tactic for one of these games, or even filling up the board with a bunch of noise). Also, it would be utterly bizarre for a puzzle game to reward you for a particularly economical solution to one puzzle by making the next puzzle easier than it would have been, but part of these games is setting up your next step to be easier. For similar reasons I don’t count Starseed Pilgrim as having a puzzle backend–you have to plan and there’s tricks to fill out but it’s platforming through an area that doesn’t particularly care if you can solve it.

    Here’s another example–in chess you have to do lots of complex calculations, and you can get into situations where winning or drawing requires solving a puzzle, but chess puzzles will be set in a way that guarantees a solution. And among chess puzzlers it’s an aesthetic thing that they shouldn’t have any extraneous elements.

    Roguelikes also don’t have a guaranteed solution, for the most part–though I wouldn’t be stunned if Desktop Dungeons was parametrized in a way that there was always a solution. But also, they rely on incomplete information in a way that our puzzle games don’t–even if you removed the few random combat elements from Desktop Dungeons, you wouldn’t have a game whose solution you could work out from the beginning, because the map isn’t entirely revealed. In line with that, you don’t often see our puzzle games having permadeath; part of the game is experimenting to work out the solution and correcting your mistakes. There’s Minesweeper, I guess–which I don’t really think of as a puzzle game, partly because there’s no guarantee that you won’t find yourself blowing up simply because of incomplete information, but it’s definitely on the boundary.

    (Also on the boundary: puzzle platformers! Braid is definitely mostly a puzzle game, even though it involves reflexes too, which is part of the reason why in retrospect some of the “There’s no filler!” hype was silly, because puzzle games don’t generally have filler in the sense he was talking about where you have to defeat fifty of the same kind of enemy, and in the sense where there are places you’re just walking around Braid totally had that like for instance anything involving bunnies. Fishbane [hi again, Droqen!] is more hybrid–there are definitely some puzzles, where you have to plot a way through a seemingly impossible course, but there’s also a lot of real-time challenge because usually the solution still seems impossible after you think of it. Sometimes there’s even planning in the timing, as you have to figure out a way to cue yourself to jump at the right moment. Is that part of what you’re talking about with Celeste, Leo? It sounds like it’s even past Fishbane. Also, Droqen, where are the goldfish in Moonlit Grotto? I even found the one up in the moon in the second screen [third counting the moonlit interlude] but there are like, many more according to the end screen.)

    Unlike Leo I find myself drawn more to tile-based puzzlers a lot, because the rigidity of the tile system allows for more easily defined rules. Which reminds me of a tough case here: Crayon Physics Deluxe. It’s definitely a puzzler of some sort, and has systematic rather than one-time rules, but the open-endedness of your actions seems to put it in a different category from the ones we’re talking about. You’re expected to come up with unexpected solutions–the fact that the author knows a solution is almost irrelevant. And World of Goo is of the same flavor, but farther away from the puzzle end of the spectrum and more toward the precision building end.

  15. oi I had the tab open and didn’t see Joel’s comment and his thing about memorizing the correct jumps basically preempts something I was trying to say in that big parenthetical paragraph

  16. (re: Moonlit Grotto: I genuinely don’t know. I looked for them a few months back, came up empty-handed. You’ll have to ask @netgrind on twitter)

  17. Hello Joel! My book writing is progressing slowly, thank you kindly. I don’t have the valid excuse of needing thorough research to anchor it to the real world, because I can simply make shit up. Of late I’m trying to force myself into the habit of writing every day, even if only a little.

    I am pleased my comments were useful. Consistent rulesets, dispensable puzzle instances: yes, that makes sense to me.

    And Antichamber kind of breaks it, yes. I didn’t play it through so I can’t comment on its full breadth, but perhaps… no… no, I’m not playing this game, Mr. Narcissistic Exercise. ;)

    Have you played Goragoa? It doesn’t fit in with the Snakebird set but it is quite charming, and I enjoyed the hour and a half I spent with it.

    There is also an odd little free Android game called Yellow, which is mildly interesting. Methods of interaction (and thus ‘puzzle’ solving) recur, but a lot of the time you need to figure out which input or interaction variant or set you need to try. I wonder if there’s a line to be drawn between this and Antichamber? Like, Yellow is a secret box game which only works conceptually with touchscreens, in a comparable way to how Antichamber is a puzzle game which only works conceptually with simulated 3D space? Are they a class of puzzle game that is chiefly distinguished by how they utilised technology unique to videogames?


  18. Sorry my comments are getting shorter. I have devote my time to the newsletter and the next Ouroboros…


    It’s funny as I was reading your comment I was going to say but but World of Goo and there it was, right at the end. It’s interesting to think about ponder “physics puzzlers” actually make the cut, whether they offend our puzzle sensibilities. They definitely have elements where you need to experiment but gosh darn it, a lot of Goo is so messy! I feel like I scraped through some of those levels by the skin of my teeth. Compare with something like The Talos Principle which is an incredibly precise box of tricks when you examine it.


    I played the original Gorogoa prototype and it was over as quickly as it started :) I haven’t had bought the new version. Is it more secret box? Do you have to use your brain or is more like clicking around to find the correct hotspot? I remember the prototype was a bit like that. Not finding hotspots so much, but finding the correct combination to make the scene move forward. (Vignettes wouldn’t really feel like a puzzle game to me, just a toy.)

    I’ll give Yellow a spin, I’ve not heard of that one. But in terms of “a class of puzzle game that is chiefly distinguished by how they utilised technology unique to videogames” I’m going to have throw out, Shaun, sorry. We like our handwavy definitions around here but I think I could practically fit a truck through that one :) Occasionally you have to leave categories alone and just embrace things for feeling unique.

    I just watched 1980s “Afraid of the Dark” on Netflix just before it vanishes on Thursday and it’s a really strange film. It’s not a horror film or a thriller – yet it puts up a front as such – and it keeps you on edge, the whole thing is just weirdly off. For a British movie, it feels quite Lynchian. But I feel like I can’t put it easily into any category. And maybe that’s for the best.

  19. To me, Snakebird and the like very much include experimentation and poking. Granted, not in the same way as The Room, but in every puzzle level of Snakebird I do spend some time moving around, seeing what’s possible. This helps me get a glimpse of how I’m supposed to solve it.

  20. Ori, this is a valid point. In fact, it’s so valid there’s a later chapter of Ouroboros dedicated entirely to it. :)

  21. That’s an integral part of the automatic level curators that I program for my puzzle games: it measures how much “poking” the levels require, versus the number of possible solutions.
    Each game is unique and require to add other heuristics later, but that is the foundation.

  22. I guess I have only a few weeks left to try it then before I get to the relevant essay :O

Leave a comment

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail.

No trackbacks yet.