I don’t do Game of the Year, but I can do the games I enjoyed the most this year. This is the third of three.
Dissembler (Ian MacLarty, 2018) and I were inseparable for months.
19 February 2018. Ian MacLarty dropped me an email which opened with:
I’ve been enjoying your recent series on puzzle games. It so happens that I’ve been working on a puzzle game of my own call Dissembler.
I did not draw attention to the typo but replied immediately. I gave MacLarty the kind of the response every developer hopes for.
I may not play for a few days as I’m pretty sick right now.
MacLarty had sent me a Steam key for the game and… it was not love at first sight. It was a match-3 game that felt similar to Bejewelled (PopCap, 2001) – you flip tiles to make colour matches and the tiles disappear. To beat a puzzle, you have to make the entire board disappear. I mean, it was fine, but it didn’t really click click with me. That’s despite the only sound the game makes is a really satisfying click. As I explained in The Monte Carlo Player:
Initially, I found Dissembler merely diverting as you might have gathered if you watched my February stream. For many of the levels the next move was usually obvious. Whenever I genuinely became stuck, I would try random approaches to see if I could uncover the magic move required for progress. I did not feel like I was solving, but acting as a vessel through which The Lord communicated His Solutions. I didn’t rate Dissembler so much as a puzzle but a brilliant zen experience.
I usually find puzzling like this more convenient on a mobile device and bought a copy of the Android version the following month. After I completed the handcrafted levels, I moved on to the daily challenges: six procedurally-generated puzzles starting with Baby’s First Puzzle and ending with Thanos’ Infinity Gauntlet. It is strange to say but somehow these impassive puzzles felt more real. The handcrafted puzzles were little setpieces like interactive cutscenes in Half-Life and had a sort of meaning and purpose given to them. The dailies gave no shits for teleology and the harder challenges required Dissembler skills I did not yet possess.
Normally, this is the point where I throw in the towel. But there were just six puzzles, right? Some days all six were straightforward. Some days the puzzles kicked you in the butt then stole your lunch money. Such puzzles would remain in the queue for days, daring you to solve them.
Dissembler became a daily ritual for me and, in the process, I transformed into a Dissembler expert. I could now dismiss moves which were obviously a waste of time, I could see bad futures in the tiles which would reduce the number of potential paths to success. I was no longer solving through guesswork.
I do not know if anyone would share this experience. Perhaps my relationship with Dissembler is unique; I cannot quite explain it. Neither why it is called Dissembler, because “to dissemble” means “to hide your intentions”.
In many ways the Dissembler dailies make for the perfect game. The boards never get too big and unwieldy. There are only six challenges each day which means it never overwhelms but always has something new to offer. And best of all several of the puzzles are dead easy, like a nice shoulder massage before it kicks you in the butt.
I paid £2.99 for Dissembler. £2.99 for the game that meant the most to me this year.