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.
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:
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: