I’m quickly approaching gold status on Iridescence, and with all foreseeable technical work finished, I’m deep in the throes of level design. Originally I had planned to ship with 100 levels, but today I decided to cut that in half and target 50 instead.
Why am I doing this?
I’ve been stuck in this stage of development for a while, actually. Slide had 16 levels when I released it, and I was intent on having significantly more for Iridescence, being as it’s going to be a commercial release and I want people to feel they’ve gotten their money’s worth. 100 seemed like a nice round number and I assumed that reaching it would be fairly straightforward.
This is the part where I was wrong. Designing puzzles is actually really hard. You want them to be challenging but still fun, subversive but not unfair, and most importantly they have to mesh with one another as a cohesive whole. On top of all that, the puzzle designer has to learn to work backwards from an interesting solution to a starting state that doesn’t make the goal obvious.
The whole process is very creatively-bound, and it’s impossible (at least for me) to sit to down and just crank out new levels up to a set quota. It’s been hard to keep a steady pace, and the constant awareness of how much more work I have in store hasn’t helped.
While considering all this, I realized that I was coming at this whole process from the wrong direction. In all my favorite puzzle games, the number of levels is irrelevant; the game goes on until it runs out of meaningful things to do, and then it stops. My number one goal in Iridescence’s design is that each level provide some way of stretching the player’s mind; whether that’s by introducing a new system, or subverting assumptions to cause misdirection. This is in direct conflict with having to fill a set number of levels. Some puzzle games are based on a small set of mechanics which are then used in levels that are more about going through the motions than finding something new each time. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, of course, but it goes against the philosophy I’ve been building Iridescence around.
In the end, I’d rather make a concise game that does what it sets out to do and nothing more, than a long game that’s full of repetition and filler.