Procedural Puzzles as a Design Tool for Games

2011-2013: Alec Thomson, Clara Fernández-Vara

Puzzledice is a set of tools and programming libraries for procedurally generating puzzles for a wide variety of games. These tools, developed by Alec Thomson at the MIT Game Lab from 2011-2013, are the result of multiple iterations of research and were used to develop Stranded in Singapore during the 2011 summer session of the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab.

The Puzzledice system is implemented as two graphical tools built with the Java Swing Toolkit and a runtime library written for the popular Unity game engine. Two games have been built with earlier versions of the tools and one game was built with the most recent iteration of the tools to test the effectiveness of the system. This later game is released with the system.

A sample game built with the system, Sandwitch is also included to show how a general purpose game can be integrated with Puzzledice. The game is a small adventure game developed over the course of two weeks. Source code for the game is provided for developers to freely use as a reference or starting point.

Research Question

Puzzledice is the result of research into how general purpose procedural puzzles can be used as a tool by game designers. These tools were designed to meet the following three goals:

  • Solvability: The puzzles produced by the tools must be solvable by a player. Additionally, the puzzles must include enough information that a designer can provably prevent a player from placing the game into an unsolvable state.
  • Generality: The puzzle produced by the tools must be abstract enough to be integrated into a wide variety of games and flexible enough for designers to adapt them to specific situations.
  • Usability: The tools must be usable by a small development team consisting of around one designer and one programmer. Integrating the tools with an existing game must be a relatively simple process.

Screenshots

Publications

Thomson, Alec (2013). “A System for Procedurally Generating Puzzles for Games“. Masters thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, June 2013.

Fernández-Vara, Clara and Thomson, Alec (2012). “Procedural Generation of Narrative Puzzles in Adventure Games: The Puzzle-Dice System. Foundations of Digital Games: Procedurally Generated Content Workshop, May 2012.

Games

See Puzzledice in action in the following games (contact gamelab-request@mit.edu if you make a project with this toolkit and want it added to our list):

2011, Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab

Stranded in Singapore is a point-and-click adventure game set in the island nation of Singapore. The player is a traveler stranded in Singapore, forced by circumstances to complete tasks for the eccentric Auntie MeeMaggi. The puzzles in the game are procedurally generated; each playthrough should then provide a different experience, bringing more replayability to adventure games which are usually scripted out very intricately.