My writing really needs to catch up with my thinking. Since I finished Psychonauts, and actually a little before that, I’ve been poring over this idea about game design, and how puzzle design and puzzle-solving in adventure and roleplaying games could be described in terms of a young child’s block puzzle. This comparison actually led me to a really cool idea for a game that I’ll share in a future post, possibly tomorrow. But for now, block puzzles.

When you give your player a degree of interaction with the game, you give them a block. In side-scrolling platform games like Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario, you have a basic start point and an end point. You get to the goal at the end of the level — and to do that, you have your square block: run forward. It’s a staple of a great deal of video games: the ability to move forward, generally coinciding with making progress towards the end goal, to reach the exit.

How frustrating is it to be given a tool that should work in a given situation, but doesn’t? In The Legend of Zelda, you may find keys to open doors, but shouldn’t the bombs you later receive also work to open doors? A hammer may be used to smash a colossal monster’s shell, but it won’t put even a dent in a simple, wooden door?

Some games create the illusion of variety by giving you many square blocks and many obstacles that require a square block, but dressing them all up as different — but a game where you have your choice of six square blocks to fit through about thirty square-shaped holes really isn’t much more interesting as a game with one square block and one square hole that you keep pushing your block through, now is it?

It gets a bit more complicated in some modern games, but not by much.