Theseus: The Risks and Rewards of Continuity

Posted by (twitter: @themeorch)
April 22nd, 2016 12:00 am

Early on in development of Theseus, I made a simple decision: the character’s shape at the end of each level would be maintained at the start of the next level. I wanted to give the journey continuity and make it feel less like just a collection of levels.

So I set up the system that would save your shape between levels and started designing puzzles. Initially I wanted some levels to solvable with the character in a variety of shapes. However, levels that might start with many different shapes were hard to make solvable and even harder to make quickly. I had to give each puzzle a unique solution. The character’s shape would be maintained between levels, but I’d make sure I knew exactly what that shape would be.

The continuity between levels made it necessary to design levels in order, and any changes I made to a level had the potential to affect the levels around it. This was manageable in a small game — in a larger project, this could have been very cumbersome. One advantage to controlling the shape at the start of each level was that I could ensure a nice variety of shapes throughout the game.

As the jam neared its end, I was pleased with the 22 levels and how they explored the 3 main mechanics. Then, with 1 hour left, a playtester found an alternate solution to a puzzle… And I realized I hadn’t removed the system that maintained the character’s shape between levels.

I had designed the levels to control the character’s shape, but any alternate solutions I hadn’t found could put the player into a level in a shape that made that level impossible! This is particularly bad in a puzzle game, as players expect to get stumped and are less likely to realize they’re totally stuck.

TheseusUnsolvable

An unintended impossible situation.

I rushed to remove the shape-saving system and make each level start with a predetermined shape. As a result, it’s possible your shape might change from the end of one level to the beginning of the next. In those cases, congratulations and apologies — you found a solution that I didn’t see during development, and the illusion of continuity between levels might have been broken.

After the jam, I found 4 unintended solutions. I’ve uploaded a Post-Jam version with level tweaks that prevent them. It’s possible that more exist, though, and I’d love to hear from anyone who finds one.

Thanks to everyone who has played Theseus and left comments/criticisms. You can play Theseus here.


One Response to “Theseus: The Risks and Rewards of Continuity”

  1. WeaverDeveloper says:

    Fun little game, it’s definitely one of the better games that rely on having actual gameplay and using the theme for it. Puzzle games are not my favorite so i gave up 1/4 way into the game, but i enjoyed it regardless.

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