There’s this weird intersect where virtual and physical items meet. You look at movies and the old Harryhausen stop-motion creatures existed for decades. It took Toy Story for industry to realize that digital effects could be a viable alternative. Sure, we still have some serious uncanny valley issues, Star Wars notably, but by and large most things are turning into digital assets.
D&D is a good example of something that has bucked the digital trend. Sure, there are some amazing D&D games, and WotC has some digital tools to help with sessions, but the real experience is still only available in a semi-live event. Two reasons… it’s a whole lot easier to design and adapt a session with physical media, especially with real-time curveballs. Second, the face to face aspects still aren’t working perfectly through video calls. There was a time where digital media looked like it would take over, but the advent of 3D printers and massive price drop in miniatures has reversed that trend.
I’ll roll back the clock to Myst for a minute. Revolutionary at the time, it was a 3D puzzle game that focused on logic and the environment. There was a spike in that type of game, but eventually it became saturated with rather poor clones and frankly, bad puzzle designs. We reached a point of brute force clicking to find hidden clues, or solve puzzles. The genre didn’t die though, it embraced that commodity aspect and went straight to Flash’s waiting arms. For a decent period, JayIsGames was the hub for escape room games. There were all sorts of games here, good and bad, with multiple coming out every week. Some were click fests, others key hunts… but there was some gold in there. Long logic-based quests to save a planet, or get out of jail. The genre was tailor made for digital, as the solutions only had 1 answer, and the assets and logic could be reused later on. If you have the chance, you should check out The Room series on mobile… a near perfect example of solid puzzle design. And yet…
In the mid 10’s we started to see Escape Rooms come out into the real world. You and some friends paid money to get locked into a room and have to solve a large set of logic puzzles within an hour. The beauty of these rooms is that while they require some thought to design, they need next to no upkeep for a very long time. You can set up 3-5 rooms and never change them for a year and people will still pay to do them. Mobile Escape rooms are not available, letting you have a similar experience (though MUCH less tactile) from the comfort of your house. They are pretty much multiplayer Myst games.
Roll the clock back even further, and you have old wooden puzzle kits. Slider puzzle. Rubik’s cubes. Things that kept you busy for a while until you unlocked the logical solution. They remained somewhat ‘simple’ because the cost of construction was so darn high. Mr Puzzle is a great window into the ever increasing complexity of puzzle designs. C&C machines + 3D printers have opened up a new world of puzzles and complexity. For $20-$50 you can get some real brain teasers that will get you really going crazy. I recently opted to pick up a pair of wooden puzzles, with multiple steps.
It’s an impressive feat to take the concept of a puzzle room, in that you solve one puzzle and use that result to solve another, in a physical form. It took me over an hour each to solve the puzzles. Each time I was stumped and came across the solution, I was frankly amazed at how the logic was physically applied. Nothing felt cheap or a cheat to get through.
I’ve got my eldest taking a look at one of them now. It’s supremely fascinating to see a child’s brain at work at solving these things. Maybe someday I can show her Myst and where I cut my teeth on the genre.