Platypuzzler Dev Diary: Finding the Fun

Last time I talked about the basic prototype of Platypuzzler we made to test out the curiosity mechanic, which worked reasonably well and showed potential. But the game itself wasn't fun to play. In fact, at this point there wasn't even much game to play. In truth, I had probably been so focussed on trying to recreate Platypus' personality that I hadn't given nearly enough thought to what the player would actually do in the game.

Platypuzzler Dev Diary: Curiosity Mechanic

Platypuzzler Dev Diary: Curiosity Mechanic

Recreating the platypus' personality in a game means finding a way to convincingly represent its sense of curiosity. Getting this to feel fluid and natural is important, because connected to curiosity is another core tenet of the game – the player can't control the platypus directly. Having control would break the spell – it is the tension of knowing your actions have influence, without always knowing how, why or when, that sustains interest. To succeed in this game means gradually coming to understand how the curiosity mechanic actually works, which is to enter the imaginative world of the platypus for a while and experience things from its perspective.

There are a few important principles to designing the curiosity mechanic, then:

Introducing Platypuzzler

Introducing Platypuzzler

Platypuzzler is about having a playful, respectful and joyous encounter with a mysterious and unfamiliar creature on its own terms. Platypuses are my favourite animals – they are curious, playful, comfortably and stubbornly independent, in constant search of fresh stimulation, and a bit weird. More troubling amounts of insight into my psyche, I fear. I can (and have) happily watch for hours as they swim around madly and contentedly following some unknowable purpose, changing directions, annoying turtles whose existence they seem to find intensely interesting, and using their natural buoyancy to relax and float amusingly to the surface when they feel they've had enough.

The platypus is not a creature anyone can control. This is important. You have to come to it, and it will reward you with the surprises and delights of its presence. I once had the pleasure of sharing a tank with a platypus for a little while. She paddled over to investigate and stare at me intently while munching on some worms I had offered, and stayed to enjoy a few tumbling tickles on the tummy. Then, having satisfied her curiosity, she would dart off to investigate some moss which had suddenly outranked me in terms of interest and appeal. I stirred up the water a bit to attract her attention, but she was done with me for the time being. Once she had exhausted the possibilities of the moss and done a few laps and leisurely somersaults, she came back to see if I had turned into anything interesting, and for another tickle. Eventually she had had enough and the moment was over. I wanted more, but I had already had so much.

I wanted to see if I could recreate this kind of affective experience in a game:

4 | The Game is Afoot

In hindsight, it’s been an uneven few weeks, as it always is when I’m busy rearranging mental furniture. Having reached an impasse with the PhD at the end of last year, I more or less stopped thinking about it and gave myself permission to let it go until I had reason to revisit it. That left a bit of a hole, which I didn’t notice until that familiar you-aren’t-doing-enough-with-your-talents feeling crept up on me one weekend not long ago. Even though I hadn’t actually been doing the PhD, clearly it was occupying some space bubbling away in the background. Now it was gone. And if I don’t have a slow-cooking problem on the backburner, I tend to start climbing the walls. It was time to revisit the ingredients.

3 | The Magic of Conversation

3 | The Magic of Conversation

I first met Terry Pratchett in 1997, on his book signing tour for Feet of Clay, book number 19 in his Discworld series, in which events take place in a flat world balanced on the backs of four giant elephants which in turn stand atop a giant turtle swimming through space. Aside from this fact, the presence of magic and a proliferation of wizards, witches, trolls, dwarves, werewolves and other creatures, however, the world of the Disc is not so very different from our own. This is because the Discworld books are primarily stories about people – what they’re like, how they think, what they’re afraid of, the kinds of things they believe, the follies they fall into and the things they think they can get away with when no-one is looking.

2 | You May Say I'm a Dreamer

2 | You May Say I'm a Dreamer

Last time we talked, I said that whatever project I ended up pursuing next would probably combine technology, education and politics in some way. Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot more about the last part of that. In just what way are we talking, in fact? I could combine technology, education and politics in a PhD, but the fact that we’re talking at all means I clearly have some concerns about that idea. It would be fair to say that I have some issues with the whole academic path, in fact. What’s that about and why does it matter just now?