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Making a badass puzzle! Part 2 - Design

Spirit Island Development Update: For my third Unity prototype, I designed a difficult puzzle for a touchscreen device that required three steps of logic and relied mainly on audio clues. The goal was to for the player to experience a moment of joyous surprise and a great sense of accomplishment after completing the puzzle.

Part 2: Design

The Nitty-Gritty

I designed and implemented this puzzle in Unity, using Procreate (a drawing tool for the iPad) to create all of my own art assets.


The aesthetic of this prototype is in keeping with the one I chose for my last prototype “Emma’s Big Day Out.” The game is made up entirely of 2D images created in a sketchy, black and white style.


I refined my touch controls for this prototype and used as an example those controls found in The Room 3:

  • Double tap to zoom in on an area.

  • “Reverse pinch” to return to room view (the standard touchscreen “zoom out”).

  • Swipe up and down to move the dials of the combination lock.

  • Pull and drag to move movable items such as the record player arm.

The gameplay flow is very much in keeping with standard point-and-click adventure games: the player begins in a room and clicks to inspect objects, interacting with those objects when possible.

Living room scene

The player is presented with a simple room.

The player double taps on the record player and now sees this screen.

Record player

They can interact with all of the elements on the record player by tapping or dragging.


Puzzle Design


If you plan on playing this game yourself (and I hope you do!), stop reading this right this second!!

The player is dropped into the room and, within this prototype, given no instructions. There are only three options to inspect: the rug, which has been turned up in the corner; the record player; and the table underneath the record player.


The player must find and then decipher hidden audio clues to determine the code for a combination lock in a hatch on the floorboard. The audio clues are embedded within the four different audio tracks to loop with pitch distortion.

Possible Interactions:

Record Player:

  • The player can manipulate the pitch through the switches on the record player: one switch controlling speed from .5x to 2x, and the other reversing the direction of the record.

  • The player can choose a record from the below selection and place it to be played on the record player.

Record Selection

  • The player is presented with four different options of records. They are able to grab a record out of its sleeve, placing it into their inventory.

Combination Lock

  • There are four numbers in the combination lock. The player can swipe the numbers to rotate the number wheels.

Steps to solve the puzzle:

  1. Finding the hidden messages:

  2. The player must pick up a record out of the record sleeve.

  3. The player needs to place a record onto the record player, press a button to turn the player on, and drop the arm onto the record for the audio to play.

  4. The player must adjust the handle and the reverse-switch to find the “correct pitch” wherein the hidden message will play coherently.

  5. The player must repeat this for each of the four records.

  6. Decoding the hidden messages:

  7. Each hidden message is a brief monologue spoken by a different actor. The monologues are completely different from each other and seemingly random. The only thing that each has in common is that a section of the story will say exactly one number clearly. This number is the information that the player needs to find. Thus each record corresponds to one number.

  8. The player must disregard red herrings: a few times in the hidden messages the monologue will refer to an amount but will not say the number. For example, one monologue refers to a soccer match that ends “three - oh,” and another message talks about shopping in a nickel store.

  9. Figuring out the order of the hidden messages.

  10. Written on the cover of each record is the date that it was released. The combination must be inputted in the chronological order of the record releases.

  11. The player wins upon entering the correct combination into the lock screen.

Ways to Adjust Difficulties:

I anticipated that this would be a fairly difficult puzzle due to its number of logical steps. Some possible ways of making the puzzle easier:

  1. Remove step #3: Allow the players to enter the numbers in any order.

  2. Remove step #2: Instead of having the hidden recordings be monologues, they can simply be repeating a number on loop.

  3. Add more hints through VO or environmental elements.

  4. Provide more feedback when the player has successfully completed any step.

  5. Remove red herrings.


So - how did it go?

Well, that's in Part 3: Postmortem!

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