November 11th, 2010
After I had more or less written my article on Puzzle Quest and variation, I shared my ideas with Richard Terrell who tipped me off to another element of the game which left a strong impression on me. To quote what he said: “Bejeweled is a weak puzzle game because the highest level you can play is very close to the first tactics/strategies you come up with” and later “You make matches on the screen. The bigger the match, the more random gems fall. Because no one can guess the random gems, you’re left to only work with what you see.”.
(As a further impediment to Puzzle Quest, when taking on higher level opponents, it appears that the AI is aware of the random gems and strategises around it, so as to line up large cascades (in-game term referring to matches that drop into place) and award themselves extra turns.
Richard challenged me to think of a solution to this tricky design limitation and this is the best I’ve got:
To remove the randomness of the drops and allow for higher level play, the player ought to see the “off-screen” gems-so why not just reveal it, but not let the player interact with these gems? It makes sense that the revealed, non-interactive part of the board should be 5 gems tall as this is as much as can be cleared vertically in a single go.
My solution also creates other issues though. 5 gems of vertical height is more than half the height of the board. How can this much information be contained on the screen without squishing the board? Also, only revealing 5 gems ahead would only extend the level of play to possibly to 2-3 turns ahead. What if the player is planning even more moves ahead, looking to capitalise on the extra turn granted from a 4-5 gem match or by lining up several strings of cascades (very high level play). I have an interface solution for this as well.
Instead of treating the board as something immobile, add scroll buttons or bars to the right side of the board and allow the player to freely peek at the gems cued up. Interface-wise, this would already fit in fine with the PC version which has its own minimising, maximising and close buttons taken from PC applications. A logical limit for how many rows of gems the player can view would need to be set also. In the DS version, the player could switch between a view of cued gems and the statistics menu in-game.
This solution fixes the random element of play which can become particularly frustrating at times, while also allowing for higher level play. Something that I’m not so sure on is whether gems that are not on the board should count for matches on the board. Hmmmm… back to you Richard. ^_^
Keep reading for my suggestions on alternative quest modes!