PuzzleScript is a really cool tool. You can pick it up and make a game within minutes without any prior programming experience. You draw everything in the game by laying out characters in a grid, from right within the editor. Write a few rules. Make a level, and you’re good to go! Talk to me if you run into any problems.
It’s free as in beer, and free as in freedom. You also get to peek behind the curtain at games others have made.
I wanted to try my hand at a really minimalistic game, so I decided the game would have:
No instructions or tutorials: Players should experiment and figure things out on their own. At the same time, I would try to make things as intuitive as possible.
No story or context: Besides having a kind of elegance to it, I think pure abstraction leaves room for players to fill with their imagination.
No use of the action button: The only keys would be the arrow keys for movement, apart from Undo and Reset.
After toying around with several ideas, I finally had this idea for a game about the mixing of different colors.
In the first few levels, I had to gently teach the players the basic mechanics. I tried to design them so that the only way they could advance in these “tutorial” stages was if they understood the mechanic, even if it was only at a subconscious level. Once the basics had been established, I made some levels which explored the mechanics more deeply.
Subsequently, I introduced new mechanics which built on earlier ones, which followed a similar pacing. I think this gave the game an appropriate progression in terms of difficulty.
I eventually hit a block, when I tried adding a button and door mechanic. I quickly discovered that there wasn’t much I could do with it, so rather than having a few rather stale puzzles, I axed the whole damn thing. Reflecting on it, I think it made the game purer. This is a game about colors, and only colors.
I usually start designing a level by thinking about how the general approach for the solution would work. For instance, for one of the earlier puzzles, it was “the player needs to navigate the blue block to the target, without mixing it with any other colors”. Then I’d make a big room to test out the idea. When it seems like I have something interesting, I shrink the room, taking away whatever that isn’t needed. I then try to see if I can force a more interesting solution. Rinse and repeat.
My first playtester was…my dad. My dad’s hardly a stranger to puzzles and games. He taught me to play chess, sat beside me when I played through the Tomb Raider series as a kid, and erm, adores Temple Run. Watching him play an early build of Palette was interesting. For instance, I noticed that it wasn’t immediately obvious that the player could occuply the same square as the target. I addressed this by adding a second level in which the player had to walk over the target area to complete the level. I also made adjustments to the art when my girlfriend complained of being confused about which blocks were push-able.
I went through a few iterations. For such a simple game, I surprised myself by putting quite a bit of thought into the design of the various building blocks. For example:
- The targets essentially occupy the negative space of the blocks. When a player successfully places a block on its matching target, a solid square is formed. I think it’s quite a strong visual feedback to players; there is no confusion about whether or not the objective has been achieved.
I wanted players to be able to see the color of the target if they were standing on one. Sometimes an unexpected pattern is formed, which surprises the player and hopefully makes them pause just to consider it for awhile.
The background and wall blocks were always going to be either white or black (or grey, a mixture of the two), which are considered to be neutral colors. This was to emphasize the colors in the blocks. I eventually settled on a light background, which just seemed cleaner and less dull. I had initally made the game based on an additive color scheme, but as the combination of red, blue and green was white, it was hard to get it to show on the background. I eventually switched to a subtractive color scheme instead.
Music can really bring out a game, and it was important to me that this game had one. I searched on YouTube for music released under Creative Commons, and before long I found what I thought was a suitable piece.
The most rewarding experience in playing a puzzle game comes when the player suddenly just sees the solution after struggling with a puzzle. That aha moment is quite beautiful, for both player and designer.
I’m quite happy with how this turned out.
UPDATE: I posted my game on the PuzzleScript forum and received quite a fair bit of feedback. It seems that the original color choices weren’t very popular, so I’ve made a few changes. I think the game looks much cleaner now.