📖 Qualities

All the variables that define a puzzle piece

Puzzle pieces are comprised of a variety of qualities, such as colour, function, and placement. The qualities are what distinguish pieces and provide variety.

Each piece has qualities that are relevant and irrelevant to the puzzle. For example, the shape of a key is relevant to the puzzle, as it determines which lock it fits, but the key's material is irrelevant. A designer needs to be aware of the qualities that are relevant, both seeking to add variety as well as be conscious of complications.

Not all qualities are available in all mediums. For example, an online escape room can't make use of the smell. It could indicate what something smelled like, but that would be indistinguishable from a piece of lore.

Primary qualities can be grouped into two major groups. Intrinsic qualities are those that are part of the piece itself, not needing any environment to define them. Extrinsic qualities are those that define a piece in terms of its environment.

Intrinsic Qualities

These are often considered the physical qualities of the pieces, as each can be directly respresented in a physical, real-world, object. However, most of these properties exist in abstract medium as well. For example, an image on a monitor, or printed on a shirt, can still have a shape, or use artistry to convey how it feels.

  • Appearance: An intrinsic quality that we perceive with our eyes. Examples include colour, shape, and form. Be aware of colour blindness and limited visual acuity.
  • Haptics: The intrinsic quality covering the sensation of touch and can include texture, temperature, resistance and mechanical motion of a piece.
  • Smell: Puzzle pieces can have scents. Be aware that many players have limited ability to distinguish similar scents.
  • Sound: The audible quality of a piece. A sound can be active, such as a bird singing or the radio playing, or it can be passive, such as a drum that needs to be struck. Be aware that many players have limited ability to distinguish differences in musical tones or recall aural sequences.
  • Composition: The materials used to construct the piece. These are often revealed through the other qualities, such as visuals, haptics, and lore, but are a quality on their own. Magnetism and electrical conductivity can be considered part of the composition of an object.
Extrinsic Qualities
  • Function: The extrinsic purpose that an object serves, such as a key unlocking a door, or a fork for eating.
  • Lore: Pieces can have extrinsic relevance in the game world. Somebody owns the object. Somebody created the object. Where did it come from? Does it have any special sentimental value? Lore is a fairly open-ended quality. Presenting lore without a lot of text can be a challenge, and it's important to know whether it's appropriate for the audience (for example, escape room players, given time constraints, tend to frown upon blocks of text, whereas story heavy adventure games may welcome it).
  • Spatiality: An extrinsic quality referring to where a piece is placed in the environment. Pieces can be within a container or designated area. Or they may be connected to the same device.
  • Temporality: An extrinsic quality referring to when an object is present in the environment, or with which regularity it appears. A cuckoo of a clock may appear every 15 minutes, or the moon appears only in the dark of night. This is perhaps the only quality that isn't exhibited on its own, but only a dependent quality.
Abstract Qualities
  • Lingual: The semantics, and perhaps syntax, of the words and phrases are significant. This quality is distinct from the graphical text itself. For example, in a riddle, the paper and font in which it is written is not relevant, only the meaning of the words themselves are.
Dynamic and Dependent Qualities

Most qualities of a puzzle piece are static: they don't change. By allowing players to interact with the pieces we can add dynamic qualities: things that change.

Although we often don't think about it this way, solving a puzzle requires some quality of a puzzle piece to change. For example, if we use a key to unlock a door, the door's function of blocking access has changed to allowing access.

Related to dynamic qualities are dependent qualities. The clearest examples of these are placement and temporality. If you move an object around a room does it's behaviour change, such as the color changing in the sunlight, or beeping as it nears an item of interest. Does something happen on a regular interval, like an item beeping every five minutes or a picture changing colours.

Though it may be hard to draw a clean distinction for dependent qualities, they do provide another approach for puzzle design. By looking at qualities in combination you could find other dependencies that yield interested puzzles.

Feedback on Working Draft

If you have any questions, need an example, or want clarification, then let me know. Ask on Discord or Twitter.

Assume everything in this reference is a working draft, there's prone to be some mistakes and inconsistencies. I figure it's best to publish and get feedback rather than write for years in secret. The terms will change, the structure will shift, and the bugs will be chased out. It'll take a while.