Posts by Tag / GAME: Portal (4)


Actually Learning to Play: Why There Should Be Easy and Hard Modes for Game UI

Why don’t games have hard and easy modes for the UI? Different players have different needs, and one-size-fits-all solutions shrink a game’s audience.

In a blog post titled The Importance of the New Player’s Experience, Josh Bycer catalogs several types of “new” players for a given game:

  1. Players who are new to this specific game, but familiar with other similar games or the conventions of the genre.
  2. Players who are new to this game’s genre and conventions, but familiar with gaming in general.
  3. Players who are completely new to gaming.
  4. Players who have played this specific game, but have put it down for an extended period and are returning - especially if it is a live-service game which may have changed considerably in the meantime.

All of these players need some amount of guidance (or at least reminders) to understand how to play the game, but the amount and nature of guidance needed varies considerably between them. One might expect games to thus present a few different levels of optional guidance to cater to each group, but it’s typical for games to design their tutorials and onboarding for only the first group, providing little help for the “new” players of other kinds.



Logical and Lateral Puzzle Games

Some puzzle games establish a set of consistent rules and then task the player with applying those rules to varied situations to accomplish goals. We might call these “logical puzzle games.” Prominent examples here would be Portal, Stephen’s Sausage Roll, and the pre-Eliza Zachtronics games.

In these logical games, satisfaction comes from mastering the tools the game gives the player. Thus, it’s vital that the rules be communicated clearly. If the game hid or obscured anything about how it works, it wouldn’t be playing fair and it would be actively preventing the player from achieving the game’s satisfying experiences.

Some other puzzle games instead task the player with figuring out the rules at least as much as applying them. Even if there is a set of consistent rules somewhere deep down, they express themselves in a way that seems to change frequently and defy generalizable logic. We might call these “lateral puzzle games.” Prominent examples here would be Antichamber, Superliminal (according to this review though I haven’t played it myself), and Gorogoa.

In these lateral games, satisfaction (I think) comes from pleasantly mind-expanding reveals. The game deliberately hides things about its world or rules so that the player may be surprised when the curtain is pulled back. In logical games, that would block off the game’s satisfying experiences - but in lateral games, it’s required for them. You can’t have a reveal without having misdirection first.

But like I said, I only think that’s where the satisfaction comes from, because for me lateral puzzle games are wholly unsatisfying. Daniel Weissenberger characterized Superliminal as existing “only to show off how clever its developers are” and I felt similarly about Antichamber and Gorogoa. It tempts me to dismiss the entire subgenre, especially in contrast to Portal being famously designed to make the player feel clever instead.

But! I know these games are well-liked by their audience - I tried both Antichamber and Gorogoa due to their enthusiastically positive reviews. So I suspect that what’s actually going on isn’t that lateral puzzle games are bad and all these people somehow failed to notice. Instead, this is likely another case where we enjoy different games due to different wirings. Much like with large games that make you work to find their quality content, I don’t get a thrill of discovery from lateral puzzles - to me they feel like exercises in reading the developer’s mind more than stretching my own. But if I did experience that thrill? If I found those surprises genuinely rewarding? I’d probably love these games and be grateful for the journey they took me on.


Crash Course: Top Five Games to Increase Your Gamer Literacy

Are you on the fringes of gaming? Do you want to get in deeper, but find yourself unsure where to start? Do conversations with experienced gamers leave you feeling lost? Is “sorry, but our princess is in another castle” your freshest gaming joke? When it comes to gamer culture, are you on the outside looking in?

Dogs on the outside looking in.

Have no fear: Doctor Professor is here!