Today, puzzle games are a genre that is not always on the crest of the wave. This is why we go to rediscover the logic and poetry behind puzzle games
Puzzle games are a difficult genre to tell. This is because by their nature the narrative component is not explicit, it almost always serves to contextualize the progression of the puzzles that make up the levels. Consequently, the attempt to describe this genre in a critical way risks turning into an academic lesson in game design or puzzle design. The challenge therefore translates into giving it a vision that is as modern as it is and less linked to stereotypes. A vision that knows how to render both the logic underlying the puzzle games and the poetry inherent in the particular language used. So let’s immerse ourselves in this playful dimension, at the same time challenging and fascinating, which reveals a lot about the way video games communicate.
Icon, index, symbol
In fact, it is precisely their way of communicating, different from any other playful genre, to have seduced me so much. Here, unlike other genres, not only the process of learning the mechanics (the interaction), but also the actual resolution of the levels (the progression) is much more elaborate. Often, in fact, we are faced with a world without interfaces that pushes us to interpret situations in a much more abstract way than the more action titles. In fact, each puzzle game contains its own language made up of objects, places, sounds and colors that have a precise communicative code. From the line of The Witness to the Jammers of The Talos Principle, passing to the Portal portals, each of them weaves its own symbolic relationship with the game world.
Definition – Puzzle game: logic and poetry
Starting with the historic Portal of 2007, arriving at the most recent critically acclaimed game The Witness, we are going to philosophize about what makes puzzle games a genre to be re-evaluated. To begin with, let’s first see what puzzle games are in practice and what differentiates them from other game genres. Just so as not to get confused. They can be defined as those games in which you have to solve a series of puzzles whose resolution is based on problem solving.
There are several problem solving skills required, from logical reasoning to pattern recognition, passing through spatial or linguistic visual skills. Although there are many titles that include sections of this type, for example in sequences or “mini games” in which you have to solve puzzles (environmental or not), this is however not enough to make them fall into the category. In puzzle games, these mechanics are in fact their “core gameplay”.
A simple example – Puzzle game: logic and poetry
Manipulation of objects, understanding of rules, logical thinking, mental models. Puzzle games contain a complex design within them. The question to be answered, however, is not simply how the puzzles work, but above all what lies behind their originality, creativity and the feeling of “wow” when a solution is discovered. To answer this question, however, we must first introduce some basic concepts. In this part, I will borrow several concepts from the YouTube Game Maker’s Toolkit channel.
Let’s start with the mechanics. The latter establish how and with what we will interact with the game world. From moving around the world to using objects, each mechanic can be categorized. Some rules can be derived from the mechanics. For example, in The Witness, from drawing a line within a square area, different rules can be derived by exploring the potential of the same mechanic. We can imagine, we can establish the rule for which the line must separate white squares from black squares in its path, as in the image below. However, this is not enough to have a good puzzle game. It is indeed necessary to establish a situation that puts the player to the test.