Designing Puzzles is HARD

Posted by (twitter: @StaticVoidGames)
July 13th, 2012 8:00 pm

I’ve got the basic engine behind my game done- you control a black sheep, and each level is a pasture you’re trying to escape. But the pasture also contains other sheep (and shrubs) that can get in your way. The other sheep move when you do, and different sheep can move differently (some with you, some opposite you, some always left, etc)- so you have to use the herd’s mentality against itself to get to the goal.

The pre-art version of the game looks something like this:

The trouble is, designing puzzles is REALLY HARD. I don’t know where to go from here. I have a few puzzles that explain the basic principles of the game, but I’m hitting a dead end when I try to come up with meaningful, not-too-hard, not-too-easy puzzles. I thought this would be the easy part!

Any suggestions on how to design puzzles? Any ideas come to mind that I might expand upon?

8 Responses to “Designing Puzzles is HARD”

  1. Puzzlem00n says:

    Hmm… off the top of my head, I’m thinking of using the shrubs to create some sort of maze to funnel the other sheep through… But that might be too hard to design and to play for all I know. I’d love to play some sort of demo version.

  2. Zanzlanz says:

    I’m designing levels for my new game also and it is difficult to come up with good levels too. I find that this works: experimenting with what’s possible and what’s not possible, and slightly editing the level until you can solve it. :)

  3. the3rdc says:

    Love your concept. There are too few quality puzzle games out there, and this sounds like a fun one.

    As for coming up with levels… You could try sort of “reverse engineering” them. Start with the end result you want, with the black sheep able to get out and the flock all around, then follow it back a step at a time to figure out what the start position would look like. But even that, as I imagine it through, is actually way harder than it sounds.

    The other method, which might be tougher depending on your math skills, but would allow for easier generation, is to figure out an equation (or a couple) to figure out based on the starting position, and position, and shrubs, which sheep can must, can, or must not be placed where to make a solvable puzzle. Then you could create a function that could take a random seed and use that equation to generate completely random but solvable level.

    Figuring all that out could take longer than making the game did… But then you’d be able to generate an unlimited number of random levels. Assuming you could figure it out at all. I feel confident I could given a long enough timeline… but know I certainly couldn’t in a day or two. But I avoided math classes like the plague (no one told me I’d want to program one day.):p

    • the3rdc says:

      Could probably write a function that looks like:
      1 – Place the black sheep.
      2 – Place the escape block.
      3 – Place some random shrubs.
      4 – Add a gray sheep of a random type to a random spot.
      a – Check shrubs and all other sheep to see if this sheep makes the puzzle impossible (the tough part)
      b – Remove or keep this sheep accordingly.
      c – If sheep is kept, increment some value that represents “complexity”
      d – Repeat step 4 until the desired complexity is reached (so you can control how easy/hard the level is.)
      5 – Call some level complete event

    • the3rdc says:

      Anyway, whatever you figure out I’m excited to play this one when it’s done. I’ll be watching you! : O

      K I’ll stop spamming your thread now…

  4. KevinWorkman says:

    Thanks for the replies!

    If you want to see a (very) work-in-progress version of the game:
    Applet version here:
    Web Start version here:

    I’d love to come up with some kind of algorithm that generates a (winnable) level, but I don’t think I can do that before the deadline, if at all.

    I’m thinking about maybe adding some different kinds of tiles- more kinds of sheep, that kind of thing. Then each level could just demonstrate how that tile interacts with the others?

    But for now I’ll focus on slightly improving the art. Geez, I really didn’t think this part would be so difficult! I’ve never made a puzzle game before, and was really expecting it to be a piece of cake once the engine was in place.

  5. iandioch says:

    Well, fancy meeting you here?
    The game was great. It took me far too long to figure out the ’15 Slider’ level, but I enjoyed the whole thing. I even managed the random level. The only thing I could ask for is more levels, but judging by these comments, that’s the problem.
    I did have to laugh at ‘Entourage’.
    Yeah, all it’s missing is artwork, the gameplay and level transition are very slick.

    One problem:
    In a few of the randomly generated levels, a shrub occupied the win-space…

  6. KevinWorkman says:

    Heh, thanks! I updated the game (as you probably know by now) to include “better” graphics and more levels. The answer to my problem was to add different kinds of tiles (lava and switches that opened gates) to give it a little more variety. Then coming up with levels was a bit easier but still time consuming!

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