Can you crack it?
CUBE combines classic slide puzzle and pipe connector gameplay for an addictive and brain-bending challenge. Each puzzle has the player connecting the cube’s start and end points while passing through all the gate tiles along the way. Advanced puzzles have gates that only allow through a specific color of light, adding an intriguing layer of complexity. Check out the alpha at our website or on Desura.
From humble beginnings
CUBE began as a prototype built in the fall of 2011. In three weeks, a team of three students conceptualized and built the first version of the game and established some basic design principles. In this version all tiles could be translated and rotated; except for gate tiles which were always stationary.
Several months later, one of the group members submitted CUBE to the Montreal Games Incubator with a new team heading development (including myself). After being accepted into the incubator, CUBE was able to be worked on full time for two months at Concordia University in Montreal.
During these two months, I completely redesigned CUBE and its puzzles in order to create a more satisfying gameplay experience. This process began with analyzing the existing prototype and fixing various issues in the design. It was at this point that translation and rotation became separate properties for tiles, new tile types were added, and various elements for player guidance such as face connectors were added. Once these new design principles had been established my role shifted toward building puzzles, listening to player feedback and implementing small changes to make the overall experience more enjoyable.
Testing was done on both PC and iOS, with iPad being the final target platform.
Elements of a puzzle
Gate tiles are specific pieces that must be lit up in order to complete the puzzle. Gates are visibly different than regular tiles, and can require a specific light color and order. This forces players to figure out how to reach the end of the puzzle while still satisfying the conditions of the various gates. Gates are one part of the framework that gives players hints toward the puzzle’s solution.
A colored gate. These gates require that the light passing through them must be a certain color. For example, a red gate only lets through red light. In some cases colored gates also require that they be gone through in a specific order.
Portal tiles teleport the light beam from place to another. Portal tiles are colored in pairs of two, allowing players to see which portals are connected.
Connectors are pieces of pipe located on the edges of the cube faces. Players cannot cross faces on the cube unless they use a connector piece. These were implemented in response to feedback that players were getting overwhelmed by the number of possible solutions. Because connectors specify where faces can be crossed, they reduce unnecessary complexity and give the player a framework to work with when solving the puzzle.
These tiles alter the color of the light beam as it passes through them. Because some gates only allow a specific color of light pass through them, color changers are vital elements of puzzle solving. Color changers be red, blue, green or white, and each play an important role in color mixing.
Two primary colors can be combined to create a secondary color. The three secondary colors are yellow, cyan and magenta, each being a different combination of red, blue and green. Finally, by introducing all three colors to a light beam, the beam becomes white once more. So if a yellow beam passed through a blue color changer, the beam would come out white. This is modeled easily by looking at an additive color wheel like the one below.
Below is an advanced usage of color mixing. Notice that on the top face, the blue light goes through the green color changer and becomes cyan, and the a red light goes through the green color changer and becomes yellow. Color mixing can be seen in the gameplay demo embedded above for a better understanding.
One of the challenges with puzzle games is preventing players from getting stuck without simply giving them the answer. In CUBE, this was remedied with a point system. Each puzzle has a time challenge and move challenge score that players can beat to earn points. Simply solving a puzzle is worth 3 points, beating the time challenge is worth 1 point, and beating the move challenge is also worth one point. The more points a player has the more puzzles they unlock, meaning that if they ever get stuck on a certain puzzle, they can go back and beat some challenge scores to gain a few more points and move on to a new puzzle.
On the menu image above, the cube icon means that a puzzle has been completed, the green arrows means the move challenge has been beaten, and the stopwatch means the time challenge has been beaten. Puzzle 1-01 for example has all three of these, giving the player 5 points in total. Puzzle 1-09 has not been completed yet, and the player needs seven more points before they unlock puzzle 1-11.
Incubator Post Mortem
The internship at Concordia University was a smashing success. For two months our team of three was able to focus completely on CUBE, allowing us to accomplish quite a bit in a short amount of time. Concordia University and TAG lab were extremely helpful partners, bringing in professional game developers from all disciplines to help us along our way.
There was a bit of a slow start as we rebuilt the project from the ground up, but this paid off in the long run since it allowed us to develop for iOS, and build a custom level editor that has saved hundreds of hours on the design side.
One of the problems we ran into was a lack of specific documentation for design requirements that sometimes led to a breakdown in communication. It was also sometimes tiring to do the same sort of work every day for weeks on end with no variation, leading so some stretches where the team was too burnt out to make significant progress.
These problems have been addressed in CUBE’s ongoing development, with improved documentation and better communication practices.
The general reaction people have when playing CUBE has been extremely positive. Each showcase results in both players and onlookers becoming totally immersed in the puzzle, often working together to find a solution. This behavior was consistent through all stages of development, and has only become more engaging as time has gone on. CUBE has been publicly shown at PAX East 2012, Gamefest 2012, and many small venues throughout the course of development.
The results of testing provided invaluable feedback on puzzle difficulty and skill of an average player. The game’s difficulty curve shifted accordingly, and new mechanics were introduced at specific times to keep players hooked.