Team Size: 1
Role: Designer, Programmer, Artist
Tools: Unity, C#, Photoshop, Microsoft Office Suite
Development Time: 3 Weeks
By combining grid-based navigation mechanics with two abilities – one that allows the player to turn the level upside-down, and another one that allows them to change holes into walkable tiles and walkable tiles into holes –, I intend to create a maze game that rewards players for utilizing visual-spatial reasoning and for planning their movements out carefully.
Top-down puzzle game with maze-like levels
Player ability to turn the level 180 degrees (while keeping the character in place) at any time
Conditional player ability to reverse the spaces on which they can and cannot move
Ranking system where players are rewarded based on the number of moves they take to finish each level
Visual effects including text color changes, which show the player the star rating they will receive at the end of the level
Gameplay Footage (Placeholder):
Note: The lack of audio is because the system currently lacks audio effects.
Research and Thesis:
When I started working on Reversal, my main goal was to develop a system where the player would have to carefully observe each level's layout before using visual-spatial reasoning to reach the end in as few moves as possible. I also wanted to focus on creating interesting visual feedback, since doing so would help me to properly reward the player depending on their performance. This led me to examine a few puzzle games utilizing this visual-spatial style, most notably Flow Free, which also utilizes strong visual feedback. I wrote up a full deconstruction on Flow Free's systems here.
Most of my research for this project consisted of looking into these two aspects in greater detail. In doing so, I learned more about designing visual-spatial puzzles and about creating stronger reward systems and player feedback. For example, I made the UI's color change depending on the number spaces the player had to move to complete a given level. This sequence - going from white to yellow to orange - signifies the rank they will receive upon reaching the end.
My research of visual-spatial puzzles also led me to a few other wrinkles of Reversal 's design. For example, I wanted to make the gameplay difficult-but-accessible, so I chose not to implement a proper fail state. Instead, if the player falls off one of the walkable sections, they are automatically transported back to the starting space with their "Spaces Moved" counter intact. This is also why I chose to rank the player based on the total number of spaces they moved, rather than the amount of real time it took them to complete a level. I figured that if the player had "infinite", they player would be more willing to examine the level and puzzle it out in their heads before challenging it.
Players seemed to enjoy the puzzle mechanics, and most of my testers showed interest in the overall system. All of them completed every level in the prototype in about five minutes apiece. They also picked up on the controls fairly quickly, with some testers trying to understand how rotating a level would alter the player character's on-screen position. Additionally, a couple testers stated they would like to see Reversal released as a full title for mobile devices.
Players also responded favorably to the visual effects for rotating the screen, reversing the spaces on which the player could and could not walk, falling, and receiving their rank. Testers who managed to receive a three-star rating also expressed that they felt more rewarded due to the slightly more complex animation. One players referred to the system as "[v]ery nice and polished," showing that I succeeded in creating strong visual feedback.
What Did Not Work:
While I focused heavily on visual feedback, I completely neglected to add any audio to Reversal. Because of this, I found that some of the feedback fell flat. Receiving a rank, for example, was less satisfying without some kind of sound effect to accompany the stars falling into place, especially when players were expecting it.
Another issue is that falling off the platform felt more punishing than I had intended. Players who fell off the level were totally prevented from achieving a three-star rating, which several of them found frustrating because they were also unable to restart a level without clearing it, first. One tester complained that because of this, the lack of a "true" fail state in Reversal actually worked against it. Several other testers would also click a key by accident or hold one down for too long, which would cause them to walk off. This caused no small amount of aggravation.
First and foremost, I would like to add audio to Reversal. Several events throughout the game (including rotating the level, swapping spaces, falling, and receiving a rank at the end of each level) will benefit greatly if they are accompanied with appropriate sound effects. Similarly, I would also like to add music to the background, or perhaps simply atmospheric noise, to help improve the game feel.
Second, I plan to fix the issues where players would consistently fall off the level and be forced to restart with their "Spaces Moved" counter intact. There are two basic solutions to this problem. These include resetting the counter whenever players fall off (which makes this into a proper fail state, albeit one where they can immediately restart) and adding a clause where they cannot walk off the level by accident. Instead, they will only fall if they rotate the level in such a way that the player character winds up over a hole. This means that players will no longer be able to misclick their way into a hole, alleviating that frustration and ensuring that their rating at the end of each level accurately reflects their abilities.
Overall, I am satisfied with how Reversal turned out, regardless of its design issues. My testers all showed interest in the basic system, and the idea of a "maze" game where players have to rotate each level to reach the end shows promise. While testers seemed slightly less interested in the space-swapping mechanic, most of them still noted that it contributed to the overall gameplay.
In addition to the iterations I mentioned above, it might also be useful to implement more buttons that perform separate functions. For example, one button might turn the level 90 degrees, with players' rotation ability now shifting the level based on its new appearance, while another may unlock a door players need to go through to complete the level. Adding these extra mechanics will provide more depth to the base gameplay and will increase the number of potential levels I can design for this system. That said, while I am interested in furthering this system, I would like to implement the more critical iterations listed above, first.