A short pattern-based game made for Ludum Dare #48! Can you solve the puzzle and outsmart the Great Zamien Cruuxfeld?

After doing a multitude of game jams, I’ve come to realize what works the best, especially when working solo, is to focus on one mechanic and keep scope small. Whatever crazy-cool ideas and visual tricks you can do in the game doesn’t matter if the game can’t even play properly or can’t be understood. 

The theme for Ludum Dare #48 was “deeper and deeper.” Knowing the easiest theme to choose would to be digging and going down deeper (and my game Night Fish was already about falling deeper into a lake), I thought about what could be a creative twist on the subject. I thought about going deeper into someone’s mind, almost like going through the layers of consciousness in the movie Inception. Banking on this idea (I’m also creating a board game at the time of writing, so fictionally traveling into someone’s mind is a topic I’m constantly thinking about), I wrote up a quick plan of how the game was going to work. I wanted to capture the idea of “what card am I thinking of?” Or “which cup has the ball underneath” kind of guessing games. The functional mechanics to the game I wanted to be obvious, but how the mechanics are supposed to function (how I wanted the player to play the game) I tried to leave hidden. I use this same idea in my game Night Fish, where the game appears to be a fish-catching game, but the player is actually meant to dodge the fish so they can reach the other side. In Mind Pit, it looks like just a guessing game where the choices that the player is supposed to choose is given at random. 

Some players believed that was what was happening in the game: that everything was random and the only control they had over the game was randomly guessing. This lack of control and only performing guesses leaves the player feeling helpless, and was one of the emotions I anticipated the player feeling. I included some hints at the bottom of the game’s description, hoping that the player would understand that the game was really about memorizing patterns. The trickiest problem people had with the game is how the patterns worked. Each color corresponded to their own pattern, and when a new color was introduced, that color’s pattern was reset. This explanation is difficult to give without showing the exact patterns each color has, so when presenting the game to players I really hoped for the best. 

How this game was presented did not give the resemblance to a puzzle game. This was kind of on purpose. I wanted to give the game an ominous tone, as the mind has no shape or form. I used a dark background and lots of droning in both the background music and the selection buttons/keys to imitate monks singing in the key of C. The game also has a time element to it, which the player has to go by. A lot of puzzles don’t force pressure on the player, especially when the make a wrong move (except for match 3 puzzles, or Simon Says [would this be a puzzle game or a reaction game?]). A person’s memory may also not be quick, and not showing them what was happening, making them go through the trials of failing, obscures the point the game is trying to make. If they don’t understand that they have to memorize the correct choices, then they won’t memorize it. 

In a game of Simon Says, players know that they have to memorize the choices because they will fail instantly if they don’t. The player is also given the pattern slowly. I tried to imitate this by introducing the length of the colored patterns in short sequences, but I obscured this by having the sequences of patterns randomly chosen by difficulty. How the game was broken down was that there were 5 levels of difficulty, ranging from novice to master. Each level, which I referred to as a “set,” held 3 sequences of 7-8 choices that I planned out, which got increasingly more difficult as the levels went on. The 3 sequences in the set were chosen at random. I didn’t want the player to memorize the exact pattern that ALL the colors were appearing, I wanted them to focus on the specific patterns of the colors. 

Besides the point of the game not coming across to players (this may also be due to it being a game jam game and people are trying to get through a bunch quickly), some didn’t understand the kind of leveling/point system that I gave to the game. At first creating the design for the game, I thought the game would gradually speed up and the speed that the player reached would be their “score.” I also was changing the title of the player (novice, beginner, intermediate, advanced, master, wizard) when they completed each set. I decided to get rid of the speed counter because I believe the game was difficult enough and didn’t need to increase the speed, and not dealing with the technical design of the increase of speed allowed me to shorten the scope a little and focus on the main mechanic. Without having a standard scoring system and players not understanding that the game ends, many requested that there be a scoring system so they could have a representation of how far they got in the game. 

Let’s debate on this topic: What if I DID have a scoring system? When I was making the game, I never thought of an actual score. The game wasn’t to go on forever, so if all players were to finish the game, they would all get roughly the same score. If the player were to fail a lot, then they wouldn’t finish the game and get a lower score than someone who did. What I wasn’t anticipating was that almost no one finished the game. That’s a big “oops” on my part. Having already know the patterns to the colors, and knowing that you could just spam all the keys continuously to win, I always would reach the end. It’s knowing this that made me realize that playtesting a game with others is VERY important. Many struggled with the game because they didn’t develop it and didn’t know its secrets. So back to the scoring system: While I thought (and still kind of think) it’s unnecessary, I understand where the want to have one is coming from. Seeing a score makes a player feel that they accomplished something. When my game ends, players just feel like they lost, without ever being acknowledged for the work they put in to get to where they have gotten. 

People’s experiences with the game is always interesting to see compared to what I experienced developing it. One player said once they understood how patterns reset, they reached a kind of “flow” state by quickly knowing what buttons to press next. This was exciting to hear as that was my goal for the game, the player has truly reached a level of “mental deepness.” On the other hand, another player said once they knew the pattern, the game was “easy.” This would make sense, as once you know the answer to any puzzle, it becomes easy because they are not using their mind to solve it anymore, they are merely going through the actions to try to solve it. While some wanted a scoring system and answers to help them through the game, they still enjoyed how it was presented to them, in a clean, colorful, and unique format. Reading into player’s experiences and understanding what parts are the actual problem is important in developing a strong, cohesive game. While I don’t plan on updating the game, the lessons learned from it I take into account for future productions.