Wednesday, October 24, 2007

More Puzzle Quest... And a non-sequitir on the joy of breaking boxes, crates, and barrels

I'm really enjoying Puzzle Quest. It's the kind of thing where the core mechanic is so relaxing and compelling (basically Bejeweled), it makes me forget some of the annoyances.

That said, I should list some of the annoyances I've found:

  • Music: Repetitive and annoying. I've turned it down so that it is hard to hear. I may just turn it off.
  • UI menus: B-button usage often penalizes the user. I mean to "back out" or "cancel" a selection and end up exiting the UI by mistake (e.g., leave inventory management screen when I just mean to hide the "more information" bubble) . This is especially troublesome with the level up screen because I can't figure out how to access this screen again until the next time I level. Oops.
  • Pop up help bubbles: I've disabled them at this point, but sadly they blocked too much screen real estate to be useful in many cases.
  • Selection reticle: I can't put my finger on it (and haven't really analyzed it) but I find that about 5% of the time I make a selection mistake when trying to choose the second gem and end up getting penalized for an illegal move. Maybe I've just been tired? I'll need to look at this more closely.
  • The Citadel: This seems important, but is hard to discover and remember. The UI screen lets me know that there are a bunch of things to do here, but it's hard to evaluate whether it's better to invest money here or in the store (buying items).
  • World map icons: I think I'm starting to figure some of this out. Luckily you can basically just mash around and add quests and fight things without really having to care about the world map level of detail. Well, at least for now I seem able to ignore it and do just fine.
Writing this really reminds me how important core gameplay mechanics are to the basic enjoyability of a game (and tolerance of its flaws). I'm still amazed at how much I love to crush boxes in Halflife 2 (which I've played before). I even find myself fondly reflecting back on other games where crushing boxes has been a fun way to break up the monotony of wandering corridors.

It's funny how powerful a reinforcer crushing boxes can be. Here are some of my top Box Crushing memories:
  • Doom's exploding barrels. Especially when incorporated into cool puzzles
  • Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance's Barrels. I still remember the first time I saw a red barrel and wondered "what would happen if..." and killed myself in the resulting explosion.
  • Ratchet's wrench: How cool was it to power up the wrench so that smashing the ground caused larger and larger amounts of damage that would send more and more bolts swirling your way. This series also took the idea of smashing boxes a lot further by making all kinds of things smashable.
  • Overlord's minions: This game is far more fun than it rightly should be -- in large part (for me) because I love watching my minions run around and tear things apart.
I know that it's trendy to bash games that use crates (cf. Old Man Murray), but there seem to be some legitimate design uses of destructable boxes:
  • Puzzle solving (stack/bust/explode them in order to make progress in a level)
  • Visceral reinforcement (the sight and sounds of things breaking... warms the cockles of my heart).
  • Breaks up tedious corridor walking (gives you a reason to mash buttons as you wander)
  • Variable intermittent reinforcement (sometimes there are cool things to be found/revealed -- kind of like winning a jackpot)
  • Helps me know where I've been/where I need to go (box smashed = been there; not smashed = haven't been there yet)
  • Helps balance the level when I come back to replay it (give me the powerups I need to survive)

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