game design, code, writing, art and music

Dynamic hint system for my puzzle game

Whenever a player is stuck on a level of a puzzle game, they usually have only 2 options:

  • Give up.
  • Look for a walkthrough online.

Both of these experiences are bad.

Finding a walkthrough or a guide can be time consuming and cumbersome. Because the player turns to third parties for a hint, as the author of the game I can't control the quality of those hints. If the walkthrough is a video, it will likely contain many levels in a row, which can result in accidental spoilers of the rest of the game. The player is always only looking for a hint to one particular bit in one particular level, and seeing anything beyond that bit can ruin a portion of the game for them.

That's why for the past couple of days I've been working on a built-in dynamic hint system for my game Pilie Pals (add it to your wishlist on Steam if you like puzzles!).

If the player is stuck, they can view the solution to the current level from the pause menu, play it back step-by-step with the ability to stop at any moment and take control over the game, to try and solve the rest of the puzzle by themselves.

Here is what it looks like in action:

The solution is offered to the player at no penalty, as opposed to "locking" the hints behind annoying paywalls, unrelated minigames, timers, etc.

The rationale behind this decision is that if a person is playing a puzzle game, their goal is to have fun trying to solve the puzzles without external help, and they would only resort to using a hint if they're really stuck.

This kind of hint system has many advantages, when compared to online walkthroughs and guides:

  • Easy to use: The solution for the current level is easily and quickly accessible to the player at the press of a button.
  • Correct: As the author of the game, I record these solutions myself, so I can ensure that they are always correct.
  • Spoiler-free: The solution is always shown only for the current level, and never beyond that.
  • Interactive: The playback of the solution is fully controlled by the player. Once they learn how to solve the tricky bit that's been giving them trouble, the player can take control of the character and try to finish the level by themselves. This gives the player a chance to enjoy the game even after using a hint.

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