I should get back to writing something interesting before this turns into a travel diary. I’m almost done with my thesis and will be posting parts of it here soon. Now though, I will critique the design of the soon to be released puzzler Elefunk. It’s for Playstation 3 and only available in the Playstation Store. With its low price point my critique might seem harsh, but let’s just forget about the price and look at the design. Elefunk is about building bridges for elephants. That is a fun and charming idea and letting a physics system evaluate the strength of the bridges is nice as well. In theory, this should give the player a lot of freedom to design a bridge she likes. The time based score system encourages the player to build the bridge as fast and fragile as possible, such that levels cannot be easily mastered by simply building a huge and very strong bridge.
But Elefunk is no fun, and as I see it, this is due to one big mistake: The player has limited access to the building elements that make up the bridge. This effectively negates the freedom offered by the physics engine and creates puzzles with only one solution (roughly). This was obviously done to create difficult puzzles, because with unlimited supplies of building elements the game would have been really easy. I believe there is a much better way to control the difficulty level though. What the designer should have done, is to increase the weight of the elephant and to add more elephants. This would make the bridges harder to build in the limited space available, even when the player has unlimited access to the building elements. Also, the game would still have the time challenge if one wishes to optimize the score and building process.
Lesson learned? Don’t add a physics engine if you don’t intend to use the freedom it will offer.