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Making a Badass Puzzle - Part 3 Postmortem

Spirit Island Development Update #4: For my third Unity prototype, I created an "interrupt system" for the player to interact with and impact a linear dialogue chain. The goal is for the player to feel like less of an observer and more of an active participant during a dialogue scene.

Part 3: Postmortem

In-Person Observations

It was fascinating watching people play this game. I received a very good spread of testers, ranging from people who never play puzzle games to people who are avid puzzle gamers, with the majority of testers being in-between. The avid gamers finished the game in ten minutes or less, finding few issues and executing a fairly straight line of interrogation.

The majority of the in-betweeners got caught up with a few red herrings and followed some very complicated erroneous strands of logic! One conversation I had with a non-gamer who spent 30 minutes on the puzzle explained this logic to me: “I heard a 5 in the Bowie record, but then I looked at the record case, and saw that it was made in 1983. The last number in the year is a 3 - so now I’m thinking it’s supposed to register a 3.”

A lot of the players were delighted upon first discovering that there were hidden audio tracks within the music. They would light up and smile when finding it, or become more intent with the game, leaning closer to the tablet. Afterwards, many people remarked that it was a “cool puzzle” that they enjoyed.

Time to complete:

Fastest: <5 minutes (wasn’t timing exactly at the time)

Slowest: 30 minutes

Average: 15 minutes


Response to Survey Results

The survey indicated what I hoped for: players, on the whole, thought that the puzzle was difficult. Both players who indicated that it wasn’t (registering it a 4 of 5 in easiness) marked themselves as being avid gamers (5 of 5). The spread of “funness” skews high, but did have some lower numbers. I estimate that lower scores could be raised by improving the user experience.

As for my favorite result: People felt overwhelmingly satisfied or very satisfied after finishing the puzzle! This is more remarkable considering that at least one of the players who indicated a 4 or 5 in response to that question did not fully complete the puzzle.


Design Improvements:

After watching people play the game, there are a number of small improvements I would make, mostly involving user experience.

  1. There are too many steps involved with switching the record, it slows the game down without reason and can cause frustration.

  2. Improve the tactile intuitive response of the switches on the record player. The switch to reverse the track could be more obviously a switch.

  3. Implement the drag-and-drop - everyone tries to drag and drop!

  4. Make the combo look more like a suitcase-lock.

  5. Change to single-tap to interact with an object, double-tap to change view.


This puzzle was a big-time success, in my opinion. With a few minor tweaks, it will definitely make its way into Spirit Island!

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