wheybags' blog: I'm making a puzzle game & some philosophising

I'm making a puzzle game & some philosophising

- 12th April 2023

Drilbert is a short puzzle game I'm working on with a unique digging mechanic. You can download the demo for free on steam. So why did I decide to make this game? A problem I have with many puzzle games, is that while I really enjoy them, I rarely finish them[1]. I think this is due to a core issue: length. Most designers, when building a puzzle game, come up with some great mechanics for puzzles, they create some initial puzzles to teach the player the mechanics, and then the rest of the game is basically pushing those same mechanics as far as they can with increasing difficulty. The problem with this for me is that the fun of a puzzle game is the little hits of endorphins you get when you figure something out (the aha moment). As the puzzles get more and more difficult, those lizard-brain happy moments get spaced out further and further. Personally, I find that I start to lose interest when the levels take more than a half hour or so.

Digging dirt

You can fix this issue in several ways, you could introduce more mechanics to learn, you could put a hard cap on the difficulty level (aka, the last >50% of the game would be not getting more difficult over time), you could bring in non-puzzle gameplay to space out the puzzles. Or you could go for my favoured solution: just end the game before the levels get long. So that's what Drilbert is striving to be: a short puzzle game with some interesting mechanics, that doesn't overstay its welcome. I really think it's possible to make some interesting games this way that couldn't exist as longer games.

A perfect example in my mind is the original Portal. The game is only about three hours long, so it doesn't need a lot to keep every level both interesting and achievable in a reasonable amount of time. When you compare it to its much longer sequel Portal 2, it is so much more boiled down and interesting. Portal 2 was not a bad game by any means (it is a favourite of mine as well), but if you look at the design, how did they make it work? By adding a ton of new mechanics. Those new mechanics made it possible for the game to exist, but they also detracted from the perfectly rounded and complete experience that the original was able to deliver[2].

Many bombs

So is this game the best way to realise my goal? I don't know honestly. While I have worked on games before (commercial and otherwise), this is the first time I've tried to sell a game that I designed myself. It's probably not going to fill my internal "I want this to exist" meter, but we'll see. I'll probably return to this concept. It's stuck in my head hard enough that I would be surprised if I'm ever fully satisfied. Either way, it's fun, so I'm going to keep doing it. If you got this far, maybe you care about this project - the best way to show that is by wishlisting it on steam. It really does make a difference.

1: Lookin' at you zachtronics <3

2: Side note, but I feel the same way about Left 4 Dead 2 vs 1


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