31. How Do We Pace Puzzle Games?

A few weeks ago I read this tweet:

The linked image is reproduced below, in case the twitter embed breaks at some point:DC8Rx6fXsAA5bbHObviously, pacing in games is very important, but this comparison got me wondering about how exactly you pace games which focus on puzzle-solving. It’s not that I haven’t thought about this at a subconscious and abstract level. In designing Taiji, I care very deeply about making sure that the game is as interesting as possible, and this often means addressing pacing, at least in some hand-wavy way. But, I’ve mostly been playing by ear, and I haven’t put forth my approach as a formal set of design guidelines.

I did give a semi-formal lecture on puzzle game design a couple of years back, intending it to be a bit of an elaboration on a lecture given by Marc Ten Bosch and Jonathan Blow in 2011, taking those ideas and expressing them as a practical set of rules. I thought it might become a useful resource for beginning puzzle game designers, which seems to have been validated by some of the responses I’ve received. Watching it is useful in understanding the design approach that I use, but because it is so high level, there is still a large amount of intuition required when the proverbial puzzle design rubber meets the road. And furthermore, it doesn’t really say what pacing in a puzzle game is, much less how you should go about improving it.

So, where do I go from there?

I actually spent around six months working on a video essay about The Witness, wherein the explicit goal was to use that game as a case study for exploring the details of good puzzle game design. In particular, I find The Witness to be a standout example of non-verbal communication of ideas through gameplay (Conveyance), both when it comes to teaching the player new mechanics through play, and more remarkably, the way in which the mechanics combine to express something fundamental about humanity’s search for Truth. However, in my writing and editing process, I got lost in the details of individual puzzles and didn’t manage to connect them to the larger picture of the game.

Although I don’t consider that effort completely abandoned, I still feel I lack the proper words to really express my thoughts about the subtle things happening in that game’s design.

I sometimes get questions or suggestions from viewers on my twitch streams. Sometimes these are good ideas, but when they are bad ones, I tend to take an inordinately large amount of time attempting to explain why I think the idea is bad. I mostly do this because I do not wish to appear as though I am simply a diva who is following his own whims, and is insulted by anyone’s criticism of his creative vision. Rather, I want people to understand that I am working within a design framework, and there are certain decisions which very clearly step outside the framework.

The issue is that it’s only very clear when viewed from inside my own mind, but outside of my mind, the framework is ill-defined because I oftentimes lack the words to really express what I am even talking about fully.

I tend to detest jargon, but sometimes creating new terminology is useful, or even necessary to logically explain the choices that one is making, or to make those choices more effectively.

A good example of useful jargon is the entire field of music theory. Without the abstract concept of playing “in the key of A minor”, we would instead have to rely on everyone’s instruments being tuned into the same key by one person who understands the harmony on an intuitive level, or we would require an inordinate amount of communication and correction among the musicians who wish to play together as a group.

So, the main question that I have been turning over in my mind, is how exactly do I define what I think of as the “ideal” pacing or flow for a sequence. What follows is a first attempt to address that question.

•   •   •

One of the great things about the structure of Taiji is that the entire game is open from the beginning. The player can choose from several major areas and tackle them in any order that they wish. Sometimes progress in an optional area will be halted because of lack of knowledge of a puzzle mechanic from another area, but there are no artificial barriers to progress. This allows the player to set their own pace, to a certain extent. If they get bored with the nature of a puzzle that they are stuck on, they are free to travel to one of the other areas and think about a different type of problem.

This design could easily be used as an excuse to not care about the internal structure of each area, but I still try to do my best to pace and structure the areas properly from within.

Still, until I read that tweet, I didn’t even think to use the word “pacing” to describe the concern. Other genres have been thinking about pacing for decades, but the primary historical difference between puzzle-solving games and those other genres, is that other genres have core gameplay, and puzzle games do not.

In a shooter, for example, the core gameplay is running around, jumping, and shooting enemies make progress. As the game goes on, you might get new and more powerful guns, the enemies might become more varied or have different movement patterns, but the core of the game is always that same core gameplay. In fact, the core gameplay is why we even call these games “shooters”.

So, one might ask, why would puzzle games not have core gameplay?

The answer, is that some do and some do not.

Disregarding the variety of action puzzle games (such as Tetris) which clearly do have core gameplay, and focusing on the category of puzzle-solving games, there are a two main categories: games with systemic puzzles, and those which feature one-off, ad-hoc puzzles. The main difference being that the systemic ones have core gameplay, and the non-systemic ones do not.

Without core gameplay, it is next to impossible to pace a game. This is why adventure games have such a reputation for ridiculous difficulty spikes and poor pacing. Some puzzles can be solved in a few minutes, whereas others will hold up players for hours or even days. Although the primary gameplay in an adventure game is “solving puzzles”, because each puzzle is entirely different, nothing the player learns in one puzzle can be carried forward to help them solve the next. (There are some exceptions, but this is more due to rigor on the part of the designer than any true systemic underpinnings.)

The great thing about systemic puzzle games (games like Taiji, or The Witness, or Portal) is because all of the puzzles are built atop an underlying system, every puzzle has the potential to teach the player something about how that system behaves, and the player can use this information to better solve new puzzles.

When there is a sequence of puzzles which are specifically designed to build up an understanding of a systemic idea in the player’s mind, this functions very similarly to a paragraph of text. (In the lecture I gave a couple years back, I referred to this concept formally as a capital-S Sequence, but whatever you call it, it’s just a smart way of structuring of a series of puzzles.) In the same way that a paragraph is a series of sentences elaborating on one shared idea, a sequence is a series of puzzles with a shared idea at their core.

So, back to pacing for systemic puzzle games. How exactly do we go about it, and can we at least draw a broad outline of what constitutes good pacing?

I would say that the ideal structure for puzzle sequences follows a dramatic arc. The beginning is marked by a slow and logical build-up, the player works through puzzles step by step, and then there is a climactic moment to cap off the sequence. This climax to the sequence can take on a lot of forms, but the first two parts are usually very similar across all sequences.

This structure shares an obvious similarity to the Three Act structure for storytelling. So, let’s just borrow that terminology in order to define it formally:

The 3-Act Structure of Puzzle Sequences


Every puzzle sequence has an main idea at its core, this is either a system or something that all of the puzzles in the sequence are “about”. For purposes of discussion, we’ll just call this The Main Idea. 

INTRO: In this act, The Main Idea is introduced in a relatively opaque, but simple way. The player solves a puzzle, or a short series of puzzles, and then they understand (or believe they understand) The Main Idea well enough to begin deductive reasoning about puzzles in the next act.

Because the player may not fully understand The Main Idea even by the end of this act, the puzzles here should be very simple and able to be solved quickly in order to not lose momentum early.

The player will be solving most of the puzzles in this act using intuition, so it is important to keep their assumptions in check and make sure they don’t get lost in the weeds. This is a particularly good time to use Reprises (when the structures of two puzzles are very nearly identical, in order to emphasize the differences) to create counterpoints to certain wrongheaded assumptions and build understanding.

BUILD-UP: In the second act of the sequence, The Main Idea is explored more deeply, with various puzzles gently increasing the challenge or layering on complexity.

Puzzles in this section are less intuitive, and require the player to use a more top-down approach, deducing the solutions based on what they have learned in the first act. Momentum is ideally constant or very gradually decreased during this part, with each puzzle taking about the same amount of time as the one before it.

CLIMAX: In the final act, we finish exploring The Main Idea, and the puzzles reach their highest point of challenge as the sequence ends.

Sometimes the most satisfying way to conclude the sequence is by introducing a twist. This is a puzzle which must be solved through lateral thinking rather than deduction. There is something that the player does not know which is required to understand and solve the puzzle. Optionally, this knowledge can redefine or re-contextualize The Main Idea. If this happens, when we proceed to the next sequence, it will be with the same Main Idea, but with the new context.

Pacing in this final act is less important, and the puzzles can be very difficult and time-consuming here. As a rule though, the final puzzle in the sequence should take longer than the ones that came before it.

(Additionally, it is useful to remember that a larger area which explores one Main Idea can be built up out of multiple sequences. To reprise the literature metaphor, the larger area would be similar to a chapter in a book, where the sequences would be paragraphs, and the individual puzzles, the sentences. In this case, each sequence will usually explore a small aspect of the overall Main Idea, and the structure of the full area will have an arc of increasing difficulty that is somewhat similar to the individual sequence, although not as rigid.)

The best sequences are generally the ones which hit the main points of each of the acts very clearly and without losing player momentum at the wrong times. Ideally the overall pace should start quickly and slow as the sequence progresses, with the easiest puzzles being in the Intro stage, and the hardest and most time-consuming puzzles being the Climax to the sequence.

Ideally we want to think about pacing as controlling the difficulty of the puzzles over time, but evaluating the difficulty of any given puzzle is not straightforward. In fact, it is one of the more subjective things in the entire field of game design. Although the skills developed by playing one action game oftentimes carry over to the next, this is rarely the case with puzzle games, and the perceived challenge of any given puzzle can vary quite dramatically between individual players. There is some correlation between higher IQ and lower perceived difficulty of puzzles, but there is still enough variation in the ways in which people think that some difficulty spikes are probably unavoidable.

I think this is a big reason why, perhaps more so than for other genres, it is important to have a large number of testers on the game, and to take each individual test with a grain of salt. One has to have a strong vision for what the player’s experience should be like, and also have a developed sense for when the deviations in a particular player’s experience are acceptable and when they are not.

This is more or less where my theory starts to unravel a bit. There may be a way to develop a good method for objectively evaluating puzzle sequences, but I see this as one of the areas where it is still more art than science. Even with infinite time and good luck, when making puzzle games, one must always accept that a certain number of players will have a bad experience. Really the best you can hope for is that a greater number of players will have an experience that is closer to the ideal than those that do not.

•   •   •

I’d like to close with a quote from Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. I didn’t really find a way to work it into the essay naturally, but it resonates with me in relation to the type of puzzle game design that I do. It comes from a chapter in the book which is sort of acting as a meta-commentary for the whole book. For context: the structure of Invisible Cities is a series of descriptions of the ways in which a city might be constructed. However, there are some descriptions which are more valid than others:

“…from the number of imaginable cities we must exclude those whose elements are assembled without a connecting thread, an inner rule, a perspective, a discourse. With cities, it is as with dreams: everything imaginable can be dreamed, but even the most unexpected dream is a rebus that conceals a desire or, its reverse, a fear. Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.”

“Invisible Cities” – Italo Calvino

10 thoughts on “31. How Do We Pace Puzzle Games?

  1. Thanks so much for this!
    Very insightful and interesting.

    I think this Sequence structure works better (or only works?) when there is a rest between sequences. In The Witness, you traverse the world quite a lot; in Portal, the elevator sequences provide story elements.

    Do you think a long stream of sequences (what you referred to as a chapter) might wear the player down? Or the contrast between long, difficult puzzles in the climax with short, intuitive puzzles in the Intro provide enough variety for the player?


    1. Thank you.

      You raise a good point which I didn’t address very well in the essay. Which is the question of dealing with pacing in between sequences and avoiding what I’ve heard William Chyr call “puzzle fatigue.” (Although I am not certain that he is the originator of the term, I think it is a useful descriptor)

      I think the main reason that I didn’t address it is because I haven’t quite done so for Taiji yet either. The chapter remark was really a bit of a slight attempt to address whatever the higher order structure might be, and I perhaps didn’t do such a good job of it as I haven’t quite gotten there with my own work.

      I would said your intuition about giving the player a break (or an opportunity for a break) between sequences is good.

      I think ideally this should also be a change of focus. I think in The Witness the (spoilers) are a good example of that. As you mentioned, you do a lot of traversing the island in that game, and although the island is beautiful, it’s really the (spoilers) which give you something to do while you are going from place to place. Most importantly, that activity gives the part of your brain challenged by the main puzzles a rest.

      My hope for Taiji is to have something similar, but I haven’t figured out what that would be yet so I instead I at least hope to cut down on traversal as much as possible (possibly with warping) and rely on the variety of the areas to avoid fatigue. This is a more Braid like structure, albeit perhaps improved from there because the non linearity of Braid was famously unapparent.

      As an aside, I think the failure of the nonlinear structure of Braid was perhaps due to the history of linearity in platformers. Other games have trained players to play a platformer in a way that is not conducive to a good experience in Braid. Perhaps a better way to allow this type of non-linear design for a puzzle platformer is to adopt a “metroidvania” type structure. (Although some linearity may be unavoidable.)

      I hope that’s a reasonable answer to your question. Again, thanks for reading.


  2. Very interesting comparison/theory, I had examples from The Witness come to mind as I was reading through the post, so it’s easy to see how this is a sort of formalization of what designers usually do intuitively. I myself often feel there has to be some parallels between puzzle game design and stand up comedy writing, or writing in general (comedy bits have also the structure with introduction, build-up and a twist/climax at the end, so it’s definitely possible, but it could also well be because I’m making a puzzle game while watching a lot of stand up comedy, lately :P).

    My issue with it is that I find the theory doesn’t and shouldn’t apply to every puzzle game. For puzzle adventure types that lean more heavily on the puzzle aspect (like The Witness) it could be a great way to ensure proper pacing of sequences (thanks for the terms). But in the case of games like Stephen’s Sausage Roll, Jelly no Puzzle, Snakebird (especially SSR), one of the more refreshing features for me were the lack of introduction or a clear climax (Snakebird and JnP dedicate one level to introduction for the whole game) and slow build-up (again, only a few levels in Snakebird, none in SSR). For example, playing Stephen’s Sausage Roll, what I felt the game was trying to communicate was something like “I know you are intelligent enough to figure out all the basics on your and I’m not going to waste your time by making you go through long sequences of easy levels. So here here you go, figure things out and solve puzzles.” And that’s a direction I want to see more puzzle games go in.

    I understand The Witness (and probably your game too) tries to experiment with the idea of communication through design (and it does an astonishingly great job at doing that), but playing the game myself and watching other people play it, I often wondered how players would react if the more complex puzzle panels (the logic ones) had also shown where you made an error the way the earlier tutorial puzzles do and there were no tutorial. The designer’s expectation is that the player should leave the puzzle and try to find a tutorial, gain the knowledge to solve the puzzle and come back.
    And that’s an amazing concept in my opinion and I don’t expect from The Witness to do otherwise, but I’m sure although it would have had an off-putting effect on some players, other players would have been able to solve and derive more joy from an already complex puzzle that shows where you make a mistake than if they had to deal with easier, trivial versions of the mechanics before. I would enjoy a puzzle sequence that starts with a build-up or a single puzzle that contains all three stages within itself.

    I think there is a lot of room for exploration in that direction, and many other directions for that matter, and not every puzzle game has to stay with the three act structure.
    That said, I appreciate your attempt to verbalize these ideas so they can be discussed more easily. I really liked the comparison to writing, and just like writing, I think you can do all kinds of crazy things through puzzle design that don’t really fit into the three act structure, the last thing we want is for all puzzle games to become similar to one another.


    1. Thanks for the feedback.

      I agree that there is certainly room for puzzle games outside of this type of structure. My goal is more to give some verbal tools for understanding how puzzle games function, than to try to say they should all be a certain way.

      But I would like to take a moment to address a way in which the games you mentioned might not actually be exceptions.

      It might be fair to say that Stephen’s Sausage Roll is simply not concerned very much with pacing, but I would claim that the game is just playing at a much slower tempo than a game such as The Witness.

      How a game like SSR fits into the Sequence concept is less obvious because I decided to omit a formal definition of Sequences, but it’s important to note that a Sequence is not required to be more than one puzzle. It’s simply clearer to pick apart and explain the concept when you use the example of multiple discrete puzzles. The entire arc can exist inside of a single puzzle, so long as the puzzle has a clear directionality and sense of progression to it.

      Many of the levels in Stephen’s Sausage Roll (maybe all?) are actually of this variety and can be best understood as highly constructed Sequences. Although there are not discrete puzzles making up the parts of the Sequence, the game uses level design to constrain the players choices at each point of progression through solving the level. In this way, the larger levels can also be broken down into a series of micro challenges. Part of what’s interesting about SSR in particular is the way in which it is sometimes unclear where the first step in the sequence even is. I think this is where you get the idea that the game is skipping the easy puzzles. The player is expected to put in the effort to find the chink in the armor, so to speak, particularly when it comes to some of the larger and longer puzzle sequences.

      Although the point about SSR or Snakebird skipping the easy puzzles is interesting, it is difficult to generalize. Stephen’s Sausage Roll, for example, gets a ton of momentum at the beginning because the game is built on an incredibly solid and intuitive metaphor. Although many of the details of the game are strange, the goal itself is simple enough that it can seem like a joke.

      Another way of putting it is that there’s a certain amount of non-abstract-ness to the core gameplay, so it is easier to teach. Cooking sausages in the real world involves very similar goals to the goals in the game, and the physics of the game world are not too dissimilar from real world physics. So the player doesn’t require much tutorialization about what the core gameplay is. They can more or less just muck about until they figure out how to maneuver.

      In contrast, The Witness often requires very easy puzzles to begin with because the mechanics of the game are so abstract. Just showing a big board full of symbols is like handing a player a Sudoku puzzle when they don’t know what the rules of Sudoku are. It would be very unlikely that they could intuit what they were supposed to be doing.

      Even still, I think your experiment already exists within the game in the form of the vault puzzles. Before even reaching the first set of color separation puzzles, the player runs into a puzzle which is complicated even if they understand the mechanics, but they don’t yet.


  3. Thanks for replying!

    I never said SSR isn’t concerned with pacing, I was even going to ramble about how it does a similar thing like the three act structure with single puzzles, but my comment was already getting too long. So if you agree a Sequence can also be a single puzzle then I guess we have little to disagree as to how SSR fits the into your theory. If we can now talk about SSR levels in terms of pacing, one thing I noticed about its levels is that their compact structure allows for multiple build-up moments that don’t all necessarily have to lead up to the solution, but are in some sense revealing or insightful depending on what you already know in the game. Separating those moments into their own levels would probably make for less difficult puzzles you don’t want in SSR, but in The Witness, you have to find all the meaningful ones and put them into their respective levels/panels/etc.

    I also agree with you that some mechanics are simpler to explain than others or some games might have fewer core mechanics. The Witness and Taiji both have a lot of core mechanics and games like Portal or Ernesto use a lot of secondary mechanics in order to fully exploit the consequences of the core mechanics. Snakebird and Jelly no Puzzle, on the other hand have very few secondary mechanics and SSR has only one set of connected mechanics throughout the whole game, so I understand the latter examples don’t need as much introduction as The Witness (which deals with abstract mechanics on top of having many unrelated mechanics).

    But still, if you think about it, you could apply The Witness’ design philosophy to SSR, which would lead to easy levels, each maybe introducing one of the subtleties of its mechanics. But in the actual game, you pick up on those subtleties whenever needed to solve a puzzle and they are never explicitly introduced. That said, you are for example likely to play Emerson Jetty at the start of world 2 and The Great Tower at the end in SSR, and it’s not surprising that the former serves as an introduction to the stabbing mechanic (I don’t know if that’s the right word) and the latter as an introduction to stacking sausages and its consequences. And both include multiple surprise moments akin to a build-up in a separated Sequence of puzzles, so like you said, there is intro and build-up in SSR, but all in one puzzle (someone definitely needs to make an analysis video on SSR). The Witness and Stephen’s Sausage Roll are different kinds of puzzle games after all and I don’t think either would improve by doing what the other does

    I understand your point, but I still think you can show a player even a Sudoku puzzle, not explain the rules, but mark rows, columns and blocks that contain errors as well as numbers that occur multiple times in each one after the player submits their solution (no such thing in a Sudoku puzzle as submitting your solution, but assuming there is) and people would be able to work out the rules for themselves and solve the puzzle.

    In the tutorial panels in the witness you see your errors flashing red whenever you finish drawing the line, and that’s deliberately omitted in the normal puzzles to ensure that the player leaves, looks for tutorials and comes back. The vault puzzles in The Witness don’t show the player where an error is made and that’s what makes the difference, people leave that first puzzle because they literally have no clue as to what those symbols mean, but if they tried a random line and some of the dots flashed, they could experiment more and eventually find out what they mean.

    The Witness does nothing wrong, but if you set out to make a new puzzle game without that effect in mind (knowledge serving as key to doors), then you can experiment with complex puzzles with no tutorials. Again, in terms of your theory, the introduction and the build-up phase wouldn’t exist separate from the puzzle, but would be communicated through as you try to work out how the mechanics work and how certain parts of the puzzle are solved. Also, now that I think about it, I don’t see a point in keeping the symbol flashing even for the tutorial puzzles, the puzzles are simple enough to let you solve them even without knowing what to focus on, any thoughts on that?


    1. Apologies if I appeared to mean that you personally were saying SSR wasn’t concerned about pacing. I was just trying to say it might be a fair assessment for someone to make. The game is more confident than The Witness in some ways, in that it really just doesn’t care if you don’t want to put in the effort, especially at the beginning. This can be off-putting to some players, and could be seen as a less of a concession to the player’s experience.

      Don’t be worried that you’re going to ramble on to much about a puzzle game when you’re talking to me, haha.

      It does seem that your assessment of how SSR could be understood using this theory mirrors my own, although I must admit that I hadn’t quite thought about if it did or did not until after reading your comment.

      One thing which you mentioned, which I think is a good general takeaway from SSR is that it is always good if you can create space for the player to optionally play with the mechanics and learn new things.

      I agree that someone (even myself, if I finish the game), should do an analysis video on SSR, I should probably first finish the one I started on The Witness, but only if I start to feel like I’ve cracked the nut there enough to say something useful about it.

      Jonathan Blow did say a few interesting things about SSR in his Storytime session at PAX last year.

      As for my thoughts on the flashing symbols on the puzzles in The Witness, I never fully put it together until your comment that the flashing things were only there in the early tutorial puzzles. Their appearance seemed somewhat random.

      I think they are useful, but I am not exactly sure of all the reasons why they are there, for as you said, many of the puzzles could just as easily work without them. It’s possible the the flashing symbols were there as an attempt to address the opacity of the solving process, and to let the player know when they are more or less close to solving the puzzle.

      Either way, I haven’t done such a thing in Taiji. However the puzzle system in Taiji is more similar to the fully opaque sudoku type puzzle, in that there is no point at which a solution is submitted. The puzzle simply dings once you have put it into the correct configuration.

      I have wondered whether that is a detriment to the puzzle-solving process in Taiji, though. As a lack of a submission step makes the puzzles much more open to being brute forced, and also makes the moment of solving sometimes accidental and unsatisfactory.

      So it may be that the combination of the flashing symbols and the submission of solutions to the puzzles in The Witness is what tends to make solving puzzles feel more satisfying. But I’m not so certain of that either, as it can also happen that you solve a puzzle on accident in The Witness in a similarly dissatisfying way.

      Still, there is something enjoyable to submitting the solutions, in the same way that one pulls a lever on a slot machine and either wins or loses.


      1. Yes, pacing in terms of a linear sequence of puzzles for the most part doesn’t exist in SSR and that’s especially off-putting in the first world where you have no idea what counts as easy(er), which makes finishing a puzzle more difficult for a mediocre player than if they were presented more linearly, since you don’t know if you can do it or you are dealing with a difficult puzzle and come back later. I’ve heard multiple people complain that they couldn’t solve a single level in the first world, I don’t know if it gets better once they finally do. But I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, it serves as a filter for the later puzzles, since they aren’t going to get easier, so players who can’t solve many puzzles can instantly know it’s not the right game and demand refund, while players who get past the first stages will be sure the game is worth it and is not diluted by the designer for the sake of other players’ experience.

        In your post, you talk about puzzle sequences with multiple puzzles and never mention how the structure is in effect just the experience the player has with the game. So an example of bad puzzle design would be expecting the player to know a basic in a puzzle that’s about higher order things, despite the knowledge you expect being needed for the first time. The player probably assumes he/she knows all the basics and it could then seem unfair once they find out what they needed to know. This never happens in the examples of hardcore puzzle games we talked about since the early levels in those games are about the basics, they are just twisted enough to be difficult, or rather they are hard puzzles with a twist that the designer knows also require an understanding of the basics. The designer simply has to make sure you know all the things you need to know at any point in the game.

        Yeah, the panels wouldn’t be as responsive if the flashing weren’t there, but I still think they are kind of superfluous. It also goes against the theory of players having to hypothesize first and then verify it it’s correct. If you instantly know where you made a mistake you can cross off more options more quickly and I don’t know if that’s a good thing. Maybe the only important thing there is for the player to just learn how the mechanics work, whereas the important thing in other areas is for the player to look for tutorial areas if they don’t know how the mechanics work and just try to solve the puzzle if they do, so there probably isn’t supposed to be an active inquiry going on most of the time.

        I don’t think lack of submission is that much of a problem, and even if some puzzles are solved by accident, they still communicate their ideas, because then most players in my opinion will go back and learn from their solution, which is a good thing. As for the feeling you get from submitting a solution, I personally don’t feel a difference as long as there is a thinking process that gets me to the solution and a sense of accomplishment (even if it’s a mere “now you can move on to the next thing”).

        Liked by 1 person

  4. “Ideally we want to think about pacing as controlling the difficulty of the puzzles over time, but evaluating the difficulty of any given puzzle is not straightforward. In fact, it is one of the more subjective things in the entire field of game design.”

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention number of possibilities for a given puzzle (e.g. number of solutions, number of actions needed in a given possibility space), it seems like a very natural/straightforward (and objective) way to evaluate the difficulty of a puzzle. Of course, that does not always correspond to actual difficulty for a number of reasons, but it seems to me there should at least be some correlation.


    1. I think you make a reasonable first step towards a metric of difficulty evaluation, and it is probably remiss of me to not at least mention some of the very broad markers of difficulty. For example, in Taiji, I do tend to start areas with puzzles with a relatively small possibility space, and increase the possibilities as I increase difficulty. So it’s not true that there are no ways to evaluate the relative difficulty of puzzles. I just have found that more often than not, I am surprised at which puzzles players find much more difficult than others. Sometimes a puzzle which I saw as very simple completely stumps a new player. So, minute and highly specific pacing is quite difficult to achieve, I think.

      Still, there is probably some way that the different aspects of puzzles which can be objectively measured can be used as a tool to make these decisions.


  5. “Ideally we want to think about pacing as controlling the difficulty of the puzzles over time, but evaluating the difficulty of any given puzzle is not straightforward. In fact, it is one of the more subjective things in the entire field of game design.”

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention number of possibilities for a given puzzle (e.g. number of solutions, number of actions needed in a given possibility space), it seems like a very natural/straightforward (and objective) way to evaluate the difficulty of a puzzle. Of course, that does not always correspond to actual difficulty for a number of reasons, but it seems to me there should at least be some correlation.


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