The goal this month was very simple - try to create a game that's challenging, while also actively attempting to remain extremely relaxing. Whether that's the gameplay itself, or the visuals, or the sound design, everything needs to be focused on a calm, smooth, peaceful experience.
I also wanted to try my hand at making a tiles-on-a-board puzzle style game, but I was dead set against falling into the old tired rut of match-3 gameplay. I wanted to make puzzles based on a ruleset I hadn't seen before.
In the end, what I had was a puzzle game named Yì.
Let's get this part out of the way right up front - yes, the name of the game is Yì. Much of this game's presentation reflects a heavy Chinese influence. The tiles are based on the Wu Xing, and the music (provided as always by Ben Freund) is written to create an eastern-influenced mood. When I was trying to come up with a name that fit the theme and the presentation, I wandered across "yì" which, if the Internet hasn't lied to me, can be translated from Chinese as "unravel, clarify, find a solution." It fit both the mechanics of a puzzle game and the simplicity theme too well to pass it up.
Baking Relaxation Right Into It
Making a game relaxing touches on a lot of different areas, and I wanted to make sure I made an effort to carry the theme through all of them.
Presentation and Ambience
Aside from the mechanics, the other obvious area where I wanted to try to keep things smooth and calm was in the presentation. That part was actually much simpler - when not worrying about game play implications, there's a lot more flexibility to just do whatever will make things feel more relaxing.
My usual intrepid music composer Ben also hooked me up with some custom sounds of tiles interacting with various surfaces, so each piece makes a quiet sliding sound when picked up, and a satisfying soft clunk when placed. There are several of these sounds, and each was played with minor pitch variations, to hopefully keep them from feeling canned and fake.
- Tile dimensions - all three dimensions of all tiles have a 5% variance when created. They'll still look pretty much the same, but not identical. Occasionally, you'll get a 105% right next to a 95% and you'll see the difference, or a tile with 105% height and 95% width that will look kind of squeezed, but in general it's too subtle to really notice.
- Initial rotation - all tiles are randomly rotated to one of their angles of symmetry. That way, details like the wood grain, or the bands on the tiger's eye pattern for the yellow stones, won't always run in the same direction, and the slight rounding differences won't always be on the same corners.
- Transient rotation - every time a tile is picked up or placed, the rotation varies by up to 3°. Again, usually not noticable, but occasionally it'll hit right on the +/-3° mark and it'll look a little off. Don't worry - if it bothers you, you can just pick that tile up and put it back down to get it back in line.
- Offsets - when a tile is placed, there's a slight variance in where it gets placed, so it's sometimes a little off from the center of the cell.
- Music Fade - the music itself fades gradually to become more and less pronounced, and then the periods of silence between sections of the song vary significantly in length, so sometimes it starts right back up, while other times it will disappear entirely for a while.
Feeling Like You're Getting Somewhere
If I want you to feel calm, but I'm giving you puzzles that aren't immediately solvable, that's a tricky line to walk, especially if I'm not keeping secrets from you. What you see is what the puzzle is, so there needs to be some feeling of progression as you move through the puzzles.
That's easy enough for the first few puzzles, as the game teaches the player the rules and introduces the challenges one at a time. At that point, I needed a way to make the player feel like they're still learning without directly teaching them anything. All I can say here is that I hope I at least partly succeeded - I knew the tutorial puzzles were easy, and I knew a couple of the later puzzles are quite challenging until you learn certain things about how the board has to be laid out in order to find a solution, but the rest I just hope are reasonably difficult and not overly frustrating for players. I'm admittedly depending on the design of having no failure states to keep things from being too frustrating - you can never dig yourself into a hole.
Not too bad, I think. I'm not sure a game could be much more peaceful and relaxing while still actually asking you to do anything, and despite having some difficulty coming up with puzzles, I think I ended up with an entirely reasonable set of puzzles which, at the end, are challenging while still being fair and giving the player a way to solve them without just blindly fumbling. The presentation was really the focus this month, along with making my first ever game of the pieces-on-a-board variety, and I think that worked out nicely.
Note: the following builds are available for testing purposes but I don't have the ability to test them. These are Unity builds so I don't anticipate any serious issues, but I can't vouch for correctness or performance of these builds.