Designing Puzzles in 48 Hours
The Dungeon Puzzler’s Lament is a puzzle game for the Game Boy Advance initially made in 48 hours as part of the 2023 GMTK game jam. As for all these games, the source code is available in the agb’s project repository.
Here I want to discuss my process for designing the puzzles. It’s been quite a while at this point, but I think I can recall most of what caused these ideas. I’m not going to set out the mechanics of the game in detail here, play the game if you want to understand my thinking.
The first 5 levels of the game were designed by both Gwilym and myself. These were the first things we did after deciding on the basic idea, design beginner friendly puzzles because at this time we were beginners to this idea. Therefore these puzzles are more a limited space for you to experiment and try understanding the mechanics. Making an easier introduction and softer ramp up is something we’ve learnt from previous game jams, the temptation is always to make something you find challenging.
Level 7: Switches toggle things
This was the first level I designed. It wasn’t meant to introduce switches, but it turned out to be the simplest level that involved switches. The idea here was to reinforce bumping being useful to move differently. We’re still in the basic puzzle territory, for instance here there’s only 4 possible places to put the door, 2 of which clearly do nothing.
Level 10: Squids, they have a mind of their own
Another introduction level, this time to squid. This level was specifically made as an introduction to squids moving around and pressing buttons after a play test found this to be hard to intuit in a later level. The solution here was designed to be simple to see, you need to block movement to the right and the second down movement. Given the setup and tools available it’s clear the squid presses the button, which is all we wanted to show.
Level 11: Why did I put that door there?
The thought here was to create an ‘interesting’ path through the level that’s blocked off and then give some tools to open the way. In retrospect I don’t think it’s a great level because it relies too much on timing, which isn’t that interesting. Especially considering that in the Jam version you couldn’t stop a simulation which could be drawn out in this level. Interestingly this level is a lot of player’s favourite.
In making the level, it was made as the level is now but I gave myself many more buttons and doors, this being the minimal set of items in the end.
Level 14: Why does no one look where they’re going?
I wanted a squid to open a door. This was what I came up with. The double door design was my way to prevent you from just giving the key to the hero. The spikes don’t really serve a purpose apart from as adding an additional layer. Originally the two squid faced different directions, the solution being identical. After testing found it too hard they were made to point in the same direction.
Level 16: We used to have treasure in there
The lament of this level is really poor. We came up with many of them in one go and didn’t have any ideas for this one. The treasure room is supposed to be the one tile hole beneath the hero.
At the time of making the game, we didn’t think much of this level. In retrospect it’s my favourite out of all the one’s I’ve designed. The concept here was to create a level where the hero has to hold a key at one point and not at another.
I think one of the things it does best is have the player create their own problem. In this case, the player is the one to give the Hero the key and therefore unable to make the Hero go to the stairs using the other door.
There are 2 other notable things with this level. The first of which is that in the Jam version, you could cause a crash in this level by having the two squids run into each other, with one holding a sword. The sword wielding squid would kill the other, and then upon looking up which sound effect to play could not look up the squid to identify which sound effect to play. There wasn’t even a sound effect to play!
The second notable thing is that you don’t need both squids, an easier solution that for whatever reason I didn’t spot before publishing. It was many weeks after that I first found that you can put the button on the left of the spikes and have the Hero clear the way. Really it’s a nicer solution and I would prefer I never included the second squid.
Level 18: Now they’re just going in circles
The concept here was pretty simple, a level where the Hero goes in circles and you have to use some means to have the hero bump themselves to a different location. At the time we published the game, this was my favourite of the levels I designed. I think it was the last level I designed, having came up with the idea near the end of the second day.