It’s that time of the week again. Time to give my random assortment of thoughts pertaining to the nature of electronic gaming. To translate so as to sound less pretentious, let’s talk about videogames everyone. Although in fairness, I tend to do most of the talking here. Now to keep up with puzzle game month let’s try to talk about a more advanced feature in puzzle games. That feature is of course… gimmicks. But not just any gimmicks are worth talking about everybody. The gimmicks that we are going to be talking about relate to physics. You know, physics, that word you nearly write as psychics every single time you type it. Or is that just me? Anyway it also allows for some interesting game mechanics in puzzle games. In my somewhat humble opinion, the mark of what a puzzle game good is how well the game mechanic is incorporated into the game and how natural is feel to use the mechanic. The reason why I am applying this to physics mechanics is because these make gameplay a lot more complicated and so if you are able to master the mechanic effectively, then that means the game was at least programmed well. Physics isn’t easy. I know because of the tests I had in high school. So to get it right means you have a good game on your hands. Let’s talk a little bit about those types of mechanics.
The first is a game that may not be super popular, but I find the puzzles to be quite entertaining so I feel the need to talk about it. This games is called Teslagrad and the main gimmick of this game is playing with magnetism. Sounds pretty simple right? Use your newfound powers to switch between polarities so you can move blocks and/or yourself through different challenges as you attempt to climb the tower and eventually defeat the evil king. Now the game is not that long, but the puzzles usually give you new and interesting ways to play with magnets and things become really interesting once you get the cloak that allow you to magnetize yourself. The amount of magnetic currents you ride in the late game is ridiculous and is honestly one of the most exciting parts of the game. you see the best part about having a good physics engines is having the ability to gain momentum since that opens up so many more possibilities for exploration. Take a more well known game like Portal 2. This game, unlike its predecessor goes really heavy on the momentum based gameplay, especially in the second half of the game when you start using the crazy gels from the old science center. That feeling of being able to move freely is something that is an absolute joy to behold. Not to mention it is entirely necessary to navigate through some of the later puzzles, since they really start to love bottomless pits. Whatever happened to just having pits with spikes in them? Wouldn’t that make more sense at least since Chell has those force nullifying shoes? Anyway, the point is that the puzzles become more exciting the more you can use the gimmick to your advantage in the game, since that leads to trying different things and looking at the puzzles themselves differently.
You see, there is a certain mindset that is absolutely necessary when solving puzzles. You need to know how best to approach a problem before you tackle it and that means that you need to be very clear about all the different cards you have in your arsenal. Physics can be a difficult card to read because you may not understand exactly how the environment will be affected by your actions. However, if you have a firm enough grasp on what you can do, then you can take things one step at a time until you figure out what to do. In Portal, if you see a button, you press the button to see what it does. If there is something blocking you from reaching that button, then your first thought is how should you use portals to access it. You won’t even realize you are doing it, but that is because the game has successfully gotten you in the right mindset. Once you understand the laws of physics in relation to the mechanics you are presented with, you won’t end up getting stuck on any sequences because you understand that the solution is only hindered by your imagination. In a point-and-click game, and yes I am still a little salty, if your miss clicking on one thing, you can never find the solution despite all your efforts since you cannot deviate from the path laid out for you. However, when the game is based on physics, you usually already have all the tools you need to proceed. You just need to figure out how to use them and once you have gotten into the right mindset ,then the amount of hang-ups you will have will be very few, if any at all. It feels like there is more of a difficulty curve here since your understanding of the game’s physics is directly proportional to the amount of time you will spend in a given area, not counting backtracking of course. Is that more fair than not being able to succeed due to having overlooked minor details. I’m not sure. I do know there is a difference though, because when I solve a physics problem I feel smart, whereas after I finally find the path in a point-and-click I feel dumb. Again, still a little salty.