Context: The Eden Project is a cooperative puzzle solving game with a heavy focus on narrative. As the players uncover what happened on the adrift spaceship they woke up on, they also need to decide whether to trust each other.

Designing with a unified theme

In this project we decided to create a gaming experience that leaves players with something to think about. In pre-production we settled on the theme of trust and used this theme to inform every design decision. So how does one make a game about the very abstract concept of trust? Since the target is to create an emotional experience we were able to quickly make ground laying design decisions based on how much they would serve the main theme:

  • The project should be coop as trust only exists between people
  • Trust is created by proving someone to be trustworthy
  • When trust is tested it creates a lot of tension -> players should decide whether to trust their partner or not
  • Cooperative puzzles integrate the theme of trust as relayed information needs to be accurate
  • When the game is based on the decision if players trust each other it will likely not have much replay value -> We can heavily lean into a linear/scripted story
  • Therefore, the puzzle design can be more in the style of escape rooms rather than systemic puzzles

Only by asking if a certain design decision would add or remove value from the theme of trust we created a basis for the game which resulted in our following concept for the story experience:

Narrative Concept for The Eden Project

Building and testing Puzzles

Smart puzzles are at the core of any good puzzle game. However, building and testing prototypes was quite difficult due to lockdowns and quarantine restrictions in 2020. To circumvent this I used the software Tabletop Simulator to quickly and effectively design prototypes for riddles and present them to my colleagues and fellow students for testing.

Tabletop Simulator (Berserk Games) as tool for rapid prototyping in a remote workflow

First each puzzle was played by team members and then by independent playtesters. The testing sessions as well as time for completion and other data was recorded. Each puzzle was assigned a score of how fun it was to solve by all players as well.

Design Specifications for Puzzles

Since we wanted to create another networked coop game we decided that the puzzles should test the ability to communicate effectively with your puzzle-partner. That already set the boundary conditions for our puzzle design. Puzzles should:

  • have easy execution
  • be divided among both players
  • be easy to solve when viewed as one person

The goal is to create puzzles in which each player is doing something very different but a solution can be reached together. So dividing each puzzle into nessecary actions and information and splitting these up between the players lead to some fun interactions between playtesters.

Another important aspect of designing the puzzles is to anticipate what players think the solutions will be and setting the constraints of the puzzle in such a way that it nudges players towards the correct solution. This way solving the puzzle follows a sort of three-act-structure:

And of course the most important aspect of making a puzzle game is testing, testing and testing. Because The Eden Project is currently in development I can not show many visuals. But here is a teaser we made for our booth at the digital GDS 2020

Eden Project Teaser for GDS 2020

We are currently in the third month of developement for the Eden Project.

More finished projects can be found here.