Level Submission

If you are interested in submitting a level, that would be great! It will be super cool to see how you build upon my creation, and I’ll have fun trying to solve your level. If I get enough (or really good!) level submissions, I may include them in a future update to Path To Oblivion.

How to submit a level

At present, I’m going to lay out a basic structure only. If Path To Oblivion really takes off, I’d even consider creating a level designer in the app!

Send an email to developer@silentzebra.com, including a spreadsheet attachment (I can work with most file formats) which uses the following:

  • 1 to denote a yellow tile
  • 2 to denote a red tile
  • Any number greater than 10 to denote a teleport tile. The first set of two tiles (because each teleport must have a location it teleports to) could be denoted 11 on each tile, then the next set of two as 12 on each tile, etc.
  • To identify where the player starts, you could add a comment on the starting tile, or colour code the tile differently, or put a star or “P” after the tile number, whatever works
  • Optional (makes my life easier): 0 to fill in empty spaces (where the player cannot move)

Example below:

Colour coding done with conditional formatting in Excel – not necessary. Note the comment to denote player start.

It is possible (even easy!) to create levels that are impossible to solve. I hope you will not troll me by submitting impossible levels. If I can’t figure out the solution, I’ll email you back and you can show me how it’s done. If you would like to include a solution path along with your submission, that would be great! Please include it on a separate sheet, or later on in the file, so I can give the level a try first without spoilers 🙂

Why lock content behind in-app purchases?

I considered making the game completely free to play, with no forms of payment whatsoever. I enjoy making games, and I enjoy seeing people play the games I make. Of course, a completely free game has a higher chance of being shared from person to person, and will likely reach a greater audience than a game with ads or purchases.

There’s one obvious reason for in-app purchases – developers need to be paid for their work.

But there’s something more deep than that, and it lies at the heart of how the capitalist system and free markets work. Money signals what is valued and what is not. People are willing to pay for things that they want. By paying for my game, not only are you rewarding me for the time and effort I spent, but also, you demonstrate your support for what I do, and that pushes me to do more.

So, not only are you paying for content in this game, but you are also supporting the creation of more content and more games. This is particularly crucial for indie game developers like myself, where I don’t have a salary and don’t have a budget. Every contribution is greatly appreciated as financial support, and more importantly, as a vote of confidence in my creation.

Who knows? If Path To Oblivion is successful enough, I may even decide to build games full time 🙂

 

Design Philosophy

What makes a game fun?

Everyone enjoys different things, but generally, it boils down to mental stimulation. It’s fun to try new things and have new experiences. Adventure games create a vast world for you to explore. Platformers, puzzle games, or any game with multiple levels – engagement is created with increased difficulty and new interactions that challenge the player to think in new ways and come up with new ideas. And when you finally beat a level, you feel a sense of achievement.

There’s no fun if there’s no challenge

When I used to play games competitively, I always tried to find opponents who were at least on par with me, if not better than me. Yes, it might be fun for one or two games to completely crush a weaker player, but for me, that becomes very boring very quickly. On the other hand, I could spend hours playing with someone who was around my level. Each game provided a new challenge, a new opportunity to make changes to my gameplay and come up with new strategies. I would have to constantly be thinking, learning, and adapting – and this was what could engage me endlessly.

Not everyone is like me; some people would be happy to spend hours destroying new players, even just using the same tactics over and over.  For these people, perhaps the feeling of power and competence is enough; there doesn’t have be much thinking involved. But I believe many people like to be challenged, and challenged in a particular way. For example, it may be challenging to read and fully understand a lengthy legal document, but most people wouldn’t find it fun.

What kind of challenge is fun?

To be fun, a challenging task needs to be:

  1. Doable
  2. Stimulating

The first is straightforward – if a task is too hard or impossible, eventually you give up. There’s a nuanced question about what is “too hard”, and that varies from person to person. Indeed, I suspect many of the later levels in Path To Oblivion will be too hard for most people. I’ve tested the game with some people who I consider to be quite intelligent.  All found the hard levels to be hard, which is what I wanted – I’m always annoyed by games that have a “hard” difficulty setting that ends up being easy. However, some even found the later medium levels a bit too difficult. That prompted me to put hints on this site, and I’ve tried to design hints in a way that reduce the difficulty without completely removing the challenge. Adjustable difficulty is always good, and easier to implement in games like RPGs. Here, I let you adjust the difficulty by choosing how extensively you want to use the hints.

The second is more subjective. I’ve touched on it above – the ideas of novelty, of creativity, of inviting new ideas and strategy. Let me illustrate further.

For me, many games that exist today are either too easy, or they are hard for the wrong reasons (that is, they fail to be stimulating). The problem is especially bad in the RPG genre (as much as I love RPGs). For example, some games have a boss who does so much damage in one attack that it kills your entire team. The only possible way for you to win is to grind against weaker enemies repeatedly, level up, get more health (or better equipment) and try again. That, to me, is poor game design. It’s hard to beat the boss, but not in an engaging way. On the other hand, consider a boss who also deals huge amounts of damage, but the damage can be mitigated based on the positioning of your characters or the sequence of actions you used over the previous turns. This boss is still difficult to beat, but allows you to win so long as you play smart. The challenge lies in tactics and strategy rather than repetition and hours spent – a much more fun challenge.

Making Path To Oblivion Challenging in the Right Ways

Repetition without variance is one of the fastest ways to kill enjoyment. In Path To Oblivion, there are often one or two “tricks” to each level. These are elements of the level that make it difficult to solve, and once you’ve figured out the trick, the level becomes much easier. I try my best to avoid reusing the same trick in different levels, and even if I do, make it only a small part of the level, so the challenge remains novel. The goal is that each level feels different and presents you with a challenge you haven’t encountered before.

Contrast for example, only making larger and larger levels. In a sense, the levels become more difficult to complete – but if you can use the same heuristics, and just apply them on a larger scale, it is not mentally stimulating. I have tried my best to avoid this in Path To Oblivion; even in all the larger levels, I embed new tricks so that no level feels too similar to the last. There was one hard level I designed that I later removed because I felt it was just a large level without a unique or interesting feel to it. Solving it just felt tedious.

This is why some of my favourite levels are the hard levels that have only yellow tiles. What those levels show is that, to make a level challenging, you need neither a very large number of tiles nor a large amount of added complexity from new concepts. You can make something that is challenging and engaging even just from a small assortment of basic components.

My favourite level from a design standpoint. A very small number of tiles, and none of the more complicated tiles – yet still a difficult level to beat.

Path To Oblivion’s Level Progression

Path To Oblivion starts simple, then gets harder with each new level. I’ve tried to create a manageable but challenging difficulty curve, with difficulty increasing from level 1 to level 8 in each level set. I’ve put a lot of time into crafting levels and ordering level difficulty, changing order several times based on observation and feedback.

Bonus level difficulty is a bit widely distributed, partly because those levels were added later in development. In any case, I try to use achievement points values to denote relative difficulty across all levels and level sets.

Path To Oblivion – Replayability and Broadening the Appeal

What happens once you’ve beaten all the levels in a puzzle game? Typically, the answer is you’re done with the game – there’s nothing left to do.

I’ve tried to mitigate that with randomly generated levels, hoping this provides more replayability. Of course, even with randomly generated levels, after playing long enough, they start to feel fairly similar, and perhaps repetitive. To try to make the repetition a bit more fun, I’ve got some achievements to give you a goal to work towards when doing the random levels. As all RPGs have taught me, repetition is always more fun when you have goals to work towards.

I’ve also implemented time trials. The intent is for the speed aspect to keep you engaged. Though there may be repetition, there’s a constant challenge of moving not just accurately, but quickly. Perhaps this also helps broaden the appeal of the game, because now the game tests not just your logical thinking skill, but also your ability to process situations and act quickly. Time trials are also where continued experience and familiarity with the game really come into play (whereas the levels are mostly about novel challenges). So, perhaps this appeals a bit more to those who enjoy spending time with a game and seeing their investment pay off as they perform progressively better and better. I hope this also helps keep the game engaging for people who may be turned off by the difficulty of the later levels, providing a different way to keep you stimulated.

Closing Thoughts

Why did I write all this? Partly because I want to show how much time I’ve spent thinking about the design of this game and trying to make it fun (even if I ultimately failed to do so), and hopefully that gives you more reason to try my game. Partly because, in articulating my philosophy, I scrutinize my decisions and check whether my line of thinking makes sense. Partly because maybe someone out there might find this interesting.

As always, feedback is welcome.

Bonus – 7

There’s a certain aesthetically pleasing pattern you can recognize here and apply – going in loops around the teleport tiles, avoiding leaving ends.

If you’re having trouble, I suggest tackling tile 7 first:

Then 8:

Then 6:

Then comes the trickiest part of the level: the stretch of blocks to the right of the two #3 teleport tiles. The key is to create a “bridge” of sorts from one of the #3 tiles, while clearing out all other tiles connected to the other #3 tile. You want to try to get to a position like the below:

From this point on it shouldn’t be too hard. Just be careful not to create any ends.

Bonus – 8

Oh man, this level. This level is really, REALLY hard. The hardest level in the game, by a wide margin, and that’s in comparison to other levels which are already hard! None of my playtesters (some very intelligent people!) could solve this level without hints. Even I (the level creator) have trouble solving this level.

However, as with most levels, there are multiple solutions here. The path I’m going to show is actually not the path I originally intended on creation, but rather what I discovered playing through it after I had forgotten the original solution.

Start by going down 3, right 1, then back left, and clear the red L shape, getting to the below position:

Now we’re going to go right to 2. Notice what we’re doing: creating a path that connects from the bottom up. We’re setting up for later when we hit the #1 teleport tile, clear the bottom of the level, and can then continue to clear the top part.

From 2, clear out the cluster of 4 red tiles, leaving the loop besides the bottom #1 teleport tile intact:

Next, we’re going to carefully clear out 3 red tiles, leaving one to the diagonal top right of the higher #3 tile, then move downwards:

Notice what we’ve done here: we’re setting up for later when we hit the #3 teleport tile. We want to be able to execute the below sequence, which is critical to avoid creating ends in the top right part of the level and in the middle of the level.

Next we’re going to clear the bottom right, before going to the #3 tile:

Notice the tiles I leave attached to the lower #1 teleport tile: it is done this way so that we can take the loop, clear the bottom left, and make it out on the bridge we created earlier. You can tell how much calculation and thinking goes into beating this level – you have to be looking way ahead while you’re planning your moves in what seems to be an unrelated section of the level.

And then we’ll execute the green sequence highlighted earlier:

All that remains is to clear the top, get to the teleport tile, clear the bottom, move along the bridge created earlier back up, and finish in the middle or upper middle.

I’ve been more generous than I initially planned, as I’ve given a path that makes it through all the trickiest parts. Perhaps I’ve taken away too much of the challenge already? Some part of me thought it would be fun to provide no hints and see how long it would take for someone to come up with a solution.

And with that, (assuming this is the last level you needed to clear), you’ve completed all the levels I’ve crafted by hand! Hopefully you had some fun amidst the frustration, and leave feeling accomplished at having beaten the most difficult challenges I could throw your way 🙂

 

Bonus – 6

Start by going right and clearing the snake-like section including the 2 and 5:

Then go left one and back, getting to the below:

We are forced to create an end; just make sure you can get to it from 3:

If you need a little bit more help: make your way to the below diagram and you should be in the clear:

 

 

Bonus – 5

The below should give you an idea how to go about clearing the first section:

The key is then to go to 6, not 5. Loop up and back around and make sure to clear out the tile below:

The last tricky part of this level is creating an end and leaving a path that allows you to get to that end. The below formation is one way to do it:

Bonus – 2

There are a lot of ways to clear this level.

One suggestion: clear all the teleports first. So this means going 1 -> 2 right away.

Then go back and forth in the top right, and then all the way down to 4: 

Next, directly to 3:

Loop around a little bit, then go up, to get to the below:

Recognize where the end is and this shouldn’t be too hard.

(Answer: the protruding red tile at the bottom)