We set out to make a puzzle game based on The Witness set in physical space so that players would have to walk around like they do in the digital game. We chose Ryder Hall, for obvious reasons, which became both our canvass and our constrictions. In design, we chose to use two distinct “spaces” within the 3rd floor of Ryder, the atrium and the hallways, which would have split up the game more like The Witness, which has distinct themepark regions that focus on different mechanics. We were unable to get the color-based puzzles to work in time, however, so we had to scrap our idea of using the hallway and advertisement boards.
I am very proud of the game we playtested on Thursday. I think there was a cohesiveness of the design with the single mechanic, which made learning easy for the players. I tried to keep my group of playtesters all working as a group to solve the puzzles, but as in The Witness, spatial puzzles like this are not conducive to multiple people working at the same pace, or being stuck solving one puzzle before solving the next. Halfway through the playthrough, I let players do what they naturally wanted to do, which was split up and solve the puzzles on their own. There was some initial confusion over what constituted a solution, especially with the mix of clue-types, but it was around the halfway point that they all understood and were excitedly solving the puzzles. I think a strength of the game is that it makes full use of the playspace. First, it takes place over a wide playspace, which is immediately apparent upon entering the atrium, seeing all of the blue tape lines all over the place. Next, each puzzle is located in three dimensions, with the depth of the puzzle being a big factor of the difficulty in solving them because the clues are 2D. That aspect is exaggerated in certain puzzles like the one where players have to line up the strip of tape through the window in the lab, which requires playing and understanding the space that they are in. The third use of space is the requirement of players to walk, bend over, crouch, and sit in the environment in order to solve the puzzles, with one puzzle requiring physical interaction of the 3D space (pushing the elevator button).
I think if I were to continue working on this game, I would want a space where the game could be a more permanent installation that would allow more fine tweaking of the puzzles. I would also use playtest feedback to determine what type of clues to provide for each puzzle, because some of the clues given in this playtest were too hard. I think playtesting could also lead to a better understanding of puzzle difficulty, which could then be separated into different levels for a more smooth difficulty curve akin to other good puzzle games. I would like to include other puzzle types, like the color puzzle mechanics that we playtested but couldn’t get to work in time. Overall, I think we achieved making a fun puzzle game that used space in exploratory ways.