Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Everyday Genius SquareLogic Demo

Wow. Fantastic. I got the Everyday Genius SquareLogic demo from Steam before I headed out to the airport. Being a little gun shy from my last experience (Steam made a fuss about me playing a demo while not connected to the internet) I verified that I had completed the tap dance of commands to enable offline play before leaving for the airport.

EGSL provides a wonderfully constructed demo that makes Sudoku-like math puzzles accessible to casual and hard core math puzzlers alike. I skipped the tutorial and jumped straight into game play and was not disappointed. The game presented a couple of tips as I played and I was on my way.

The first few puzzles were obvious and easy to complete so that players could focus on basic controls and learn some of the helpful decision aids that the game provided. If I do have one concern about the learn-to-play component, it’s that the game did load a few too many advanced features early on that weren’t required to solve the puzzles – thus they became forgotten by the time I would have wanted to actually use them.

Puzzles were untimed and you had unlimited moves to solve them. You could guess if you wanted, but the game encouraged you not to by insisting that each puzzle could be solved without guesswork. The game did NOT penalize you for incorrect guesses, but instead provided non-derogatory feedback that you might change your response.

After playing several puzzles I realized that there was a move counter and that if I wanted to challenge myself I could try to minimize the number of decision aids I used in order to solve the puzzle. Moreover, I soon figured out that there was a “perfect” solution to the puzzles I tried. 16 squares meant that puzzles (at least the way they’ve been constructed so far) could be solved in 16 moves.

Achievements were rendered as progress were made – some rewarded loyalty (keep playing and you get them) and others rewarded skill gains (start beating par) and still others rewarded mastery (solve more difficult puzzles gracefully).

One of the most interesting takeaways from the game was its use of gating and locking content. The designers clearly understood that some people would want a long, gradual introduction to the game. They would need to start slow and build up their confidence before being capable of solving more difficult puzzles without frustration. The default progression pattern allowed players to do exactly this, providing a fun and non-threatening challenge ramp. More complex puzzle types were unlocked after winning the “boss” challenge at the end of a long incremental chain of puzzles.

However, more advanced puzzle solvers who wanted to dive into the harder puzzles could easily do so if they were feeling bored with the current puzzle type. They could hit, essentially, the “I’m ready” (or maybe “I’m bored with the current challenge”) button and skip to the boss battle. If it looked like too much of a leap, they could go back and continue the default progression. Otherwise they could beat the boss and unlock the next set of puzzles.

This game is a shining example of how to make a game approachable to all interested players regardless of skill level. The learn-to-play components were excellent (except for the introduction of a couple of advanced decision aids too early on which led to me forgetting them) and I look forward to examining the stand alone tutorial to see what it brings to the table.

Before I knew it the 60 minutes were done. I found myself wishing I were on a wi-fi equipped flight so I could purchase the full version of the game. I’ll do so tomorrow.


No comments: