When iOS games first came to market, we saw an opportunity to release this as an app. With OpenGL 3D graphics and a touch screen to play on, it seemed the perfect medium for our game. However, it took us many moons to finally get the game out on the iOS platform. In the meantime, hand held devices went through an explosive growth and game apps became commonplace. Game design theories were revised and books were written on the “Art of Game Design”.
People started differentiating puzzles from games and though many puzzles are popular, they don’t have the same rewards as games and it’s more challenging to get people hooked on solving puzzles. The puzzle, inherently, has several problems. The key problem being they are not re-playable and also the reason why puzzles are not considered to be games. Puzzles always have a dominant strategy, i.e., the solution. Where as a game is based either on a theme or a mechanic, in case of puzzles, the goal is to find the dominant strategy. The problem is that once you get it, the puzzle ceases to be fun.
Puzzles often require us to make a perceptual shift to be able to solve it. And it is a double-edged sword: if you make the shift, you solve the puzzle and the satisfaction is huge. However, if you don’t, the frustration can be big too. The problem is that solving a puzzle is just a matter of inspiration. No game mechanics are involved here. Puzzles also often lack Triangularity, which is giving a player a choice to play it safe for a low reward, or to take the risk for a big reward and it is a strategy used to make a game interesting and exciting. But, in puzzles, there is usually one optimal solution.
By applying some simple tricks we tried to minimize the problems associated with puzzles. Using game design theory, we tried to modify it into a puzzle-game at first. But then we realized that by offering lots of puzzle instances with a well-designed and balanced difficulty levels, we can gamify the puzzle. So, instead of designing a puzzle-game, in the iQubePuzzle, lots of puzzle instances are offered to the player in the scramble mode with well-designed and balanced difficulty levels.
As you keep solving puzzles in increasing difficulty in the scramble mode, your mind gets slowly used to the difficulty and the perceptual shift effect is minimized. To avoid frustration, you can ask for hints to solve the puzzle. Of course, it will cost you points that you have earned. If you still fail to solve it, you can ask for the solution!
To achieve the “illusion” of Triangularity in the iQubePuzzle, there is the point system. In the scramble mode, you get points for every puzzle you solve and higher the level, more the points earned. When you solve with fewer number of moves than required, you get bonus points as surprise! Each puzzle can be replayed any number of times if you want to nail it.
Some players take the trial-and-error strategy. They focus on solving the puzzle and forget about the points/bonuses. They perform a lot of unnecessary moves, go back, and try again. Other players try to solve the puzzle in their mind and afterwards execute the movements that lead to that solution. This is not exactly Triangularity, but indeed it is an emergent mechanic based on the trade off between reward value and the risk of performing certain non-correct movements.
Minimizing the dominant strategy effect is tricky because, as we said previously, a puzzle is actually all about finding the dominant strategy. To deal with it, there is the stars system and the under par system, and even an over par under certain circumstances. This allows rewarding the player for achieving a sub-optimal solution, and, at the same time, encourages him to find the optimal one.
The challenge mode is all puzzle and once you solve it you are done. It doesn’t have hints or a point system. But it allows the player to enter the Hall of Fame, a leaderboard not unlike other games that keeps the challenge alive and of coming up with the best possible solution. At the time of this writing we have no indication of what is the minimum number of moves to solve each one of these puzzles.
Finally, about the re-playability, there are endless puzzles to be solved of varying degrees of difficulty in the scramble mode!
Happy playing! And let me know your thoughts on the iQubePuzzle!!