Coming into this class, I was very excited to understand what makes a puzzle game good. My family spent a lot of our free time playing puzzle games, from Pentago to Blokus to Set (as you’ve probably seen in my critical play responses). In addition to my love for physical games, I also enjoy my fair share of video games; as a child, most of these were geared around puzzles, like Brain Age or Professor Layton, but as I got older (and my parents allowed), I started playing more adventure based video games, such as Legend of Zelda.
With this “gaming background,” I felt like I had a pretty good grasp of the types of games that exist. Therefore, I was really excited to understand the mechanics of each of these games and learn what specific design choices contributed to my enjoyment of them. One of the earliest topics from class that stuck with me were the “types of fun.” It was really interesting to see the types of fun laid out because it became clear to me why I enjoyed some adventure games over others. Games like Legend of Zelda incorporate the exciting battling of monsters while still having a significant puzzle portion, like solving maze levels to get to a treasure. I found that I don’t like games with more open ended pure “fantasy” type of fun, since I like being constrained a bit more in the game’s problem space. I learned I prefer card games that engage with “sensory” fun since I enjoy the adrenaline rush of speed games, like Egyptian War or Set, although gambling games are the exception there. Therefore, for my first project, my team worked on a game that heavily incorporated time pressure since my friends and I enjoyed adrenaline rush games a lot!
One of my favorite parts of the class was the Critical Plays. It exposed me to a lot of different types of games, and I actually ended up playing a couple of the video games all the way through, including Year Walk and Superliminal (a new favorite!). I had never played video games with a short playtime (8-10 hours) like these, so it was really interesting to see how the narrative structure was different than other longer puzzle games I’ve played. For example, Professor Layton has a playtime probably around 20-30 hours depending on if you complete all the side quest puzzles, which allows a game narrative to be more filled out. However, particularly in Superliminal, the light narrative of escaping a dream worked really well to pair with the shorter playtime even though it wasn’t as built out. It leaned more into the philosophical, which I really enjoyed, especially as an older gamer now. Being able to play such a range of games taught me more about my own gaming style and how it has evolved.
For the second project, I was really excited to bring elements of puzzle games I played in the past into our project. It was much harder to get to a solid puzzle than our first game since our game space was much larger, so I enjoyed the challenge of balancing novelty with difficulty. Most of our playtesting was making sure our puzzles weren’t too hard or too easy, and now I have a lot more appreciation for the designers of puzzle games. If I could keep working on our escape room, I would try to harness more of that philosophical approach that Superliminal does really well and add more narrative tidbits into the puzzle solving experience.
While I’m not sure I’ll keep developing games, playing more games will definitely be a more interesting process since I am equipped with tools to analyze and deconstruct why I like a game. I’m also able to recommend games to friends more accurately based on their preferences and my understanding of games. I’m drawn to very narrative heavy video games, and since I do watch a lot of TV, this should be an interesting way to get the narrative I want with some more interaction! The video on Subnautica really captivated me, and I’m excited to explore more games like this one.
Overall, I’ve gained a critical eye on how games are built, and I’m excited to play more games with this new understanding.