This is the ongoing developer journal for Twisty Little Passages, a puzzle dungeon crawl adventure book launching on Kickstarter on May 14.
In this session, I share how to engage the player's mind at a level that balances ease, fun and challenge.
We wanted to provide a level of engagement that keeps things fun and interesting but not becoming overwhelming or frustrating. It's crucial to have a ruleset that's easy to reason about and keep all the details of in your head at once, while also allowing for a wide range of emergent possibilities. Think of what you can do to have the player's attention focused on the important parts of the play experience, streamlining parts that would distract from that experience.
In TLP, there is a concise set of core rules and interactions, such as getting keys to open doors, picking up elixirs to boost life points (HP), and fighting enemies to take damage. We were delighted to confirm that even staple mechanics like these can be combined in a variety of ways to provide many interesting puzzles.
Providing interesting choices, which require a process of exploration to discover which decisions are correct, plus a theme to make it into a story experience, can be quite fun!
We made combat deterministic and typically based on only three dimensions of attack (ATK), defense (DEF) and life (HP). A given class of enemy always has the same ATK, DEF, and HP. Damage taken from a hit in combat is directly calculated from the difference in your ATK and the enemy's DEF, and vice-versa. Taking turns trading blows, the one who runs out of HP first is defeated.
The damage taken from an encounter can be known ahead of time. To simplify the calculation process, we provide a damage table for each type of enemy so the player doesn't have to figure out the outcome in their head. Now, the player can quickly decide which encounters to engage in based on the expected outcome.
We added equipment that the player can find to boost ATK and DEF. With player stats streamlined to three dimensions of ATK, DEF and HP, one can clearly reason about how a change in one will affect the outcome of a battle.
Streamlined combat allows players to think more strategically and focus on the core aspect of puzzle solving rather than having to work through repetitive nuts-and-bolts play mechanics.
While gathering HP is effective to "spend" in a single combat, ATK and DEF provide persistent compounding effects to HP, each in a distinct way. DEF directly reduces the damage you take each time an enemy strikes you, thereby effectively providing consistent incremental boosts to HP from each encounter. ATK, on the other hand, potentially enables you to take out enemies more quickly. This means you get damaged fewer times in battle before coming out victorious. ATK provides larger, while possibly more infrequent, leaps in HP savings from all future battles.
Given choices, the player must decide whether it's better to acquire improved armor to reduce damage taken in combat or better weapons to take down enemies faster.
Several variants of these tactics will make an appearance throughout the puzzles in Twisty Little Passages.
In the next part of this journal, I'll present some ways for content and information to be provided in puzzles to enable the player to engage in a thematic gaming experience.