All the Pretty Puzzles

Everyone likes bloodsports, right?


Here’s three things I noticed as I wound my way through Sword & Sworcery.

The Sense of Calm

The  vast, beautiful landscape and delightful soundtrack were a big part of that, but not all of it. The movement was also a big part of that the “kinesthetics,” the
“game feel.” The delay was very nice – I can click on the link to the next screen, and just zone out while the Scythian did her woeful thing, winding her way to the next zone. I also thought it was great to make the puzzles part of the environment – you were rewarded for clicking on things and noticing detail in a world that you WANTED to pay attention to. I also think the text had a lot to do with it: big, mellow, encouraging, like a calm friend who is just going to be supportive. Really very nice.

It made me think about how to engender that feeling of calm and bliss by running on auto-pilot for a while. It’s an excuse to take a few minutes and just breathe, and think about the current mystery.

The Vagueness of Goals

This was not as great a thing. Finding out where to go and what to do was often a process of elimination, and, when I wanted to actually go somewhere and make progress, I often had to cycle through a few intervening screens. I had to visit the Moon Grotto too often. I like that this game has a deliberate, and slow pace, but the third or fourth time I’m fighting a pointless ghost to move the moon so I can go do a thing just to complete the thing that I was one screen away from completing before I turned around and went the wrong way….

There is something to be said for getting lost in a beautiful game. The hours you can dump into Fallout 4 or Skyrim or the ambient delight of Proteus are evidence of that. But when you want to do something, and you know where to go to do it, and you were just there…the backtracking can be repetitive. It loses some of the charm.

Aimless wandering is cool, but unclear consequences are not. Not knowing my time warp would reset when I stepped out of the Dream World? Not understanding that I had to raise my sword and not sing at a certain point near the climax? Most of the hints were good, and helped guide me to the solution of actual puzzles without overtly revealing the answer, but there was a surprising lack of clarity on certain elements that could’ve been a lot better.

My note to self: always be clear about the next action. If I’m ever in a position to have a million-dollar budget I might rethink that, but at the scale I’m working, that clarity is critical to progressing the game.

The Opaqueness of Plot

This is a bit of a trend among arty indie games, but S&S suffers from it. I have no idea what uploading the megatome at Mingi Taw meant to the Scythian or what her arrival meant to Girl, Logfella, and Dogfella. The setting was so specific – the Caucasus – but I had no reason to think that specificity held any meaning. It all felt vaguely awesome and serene, which is cool, but there’s little character or motivation or humanity there. The experience was nice, but it had little lasting relevance.

My note to self: maybe consider character goals and motivations if your game is going to have characters in it.

I did enjoy the experience quite a bit, though.

So now onto its near-opposite: DARK SOULS.