Cathode Rays

Compelling puzzle games are inherently physical. There’s the crowded field of examples on the iPhone thanks to Angry Birds’ success, but even more sophisticated puzzle games like Portal ultimately rely on our knowledge of the physical world and how it fits together.

Take Cathode Rays, for instance, which is a light-based no-button puzzle game. You guide colored beams of light around obstacles towards a goal by moving your mouse. The trick is, you can only cross a color with the same-color obstacle; a red obstacle breaks a green light’s beam.

Knowledge of light and how it instantaneously travels in a straight line is pretty useful here. But when you play a puzzle game, you don’t often process the game world on that level. You’re not using equations to calculate angles of light like the game engine is doing in the background. You’re using your knowledge of the physical world, and your internal simulation of it, to play with these puzzles until you can solve them.

Of course the game world isn’t like the real world, which is part of what you have to learn to be good at puzzle games. Learning to use your momentum to jump really high in Portal is one of the things you can’t do in the real world, so it has to be taught as part of the game. Same thing here with light beams and obstacles.

Talking Points: Are there any examples of puzzle games that aren’t physical? Are they any good? Why do physical puzzles fascinate people so much? Could you make a puzzle game about something non-physical, like speech?

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Comments

Examples of nonphysical puzzle games:

Sudoku
Professor Layton
Picross

I just played around with this. Very fun and quite aesthetically pleasing. Great share.

Oh man, in most games my colorblindness is something I can get over by seeing differences in shading or saturation between two colors that look the same, in this one I absolutely cannot see the difference between any of the things on screen. Sucks, it looks fun.

Switchbreak wrote:

Oh man, in most games my colorblindness is something I can get over by seeing differences in shading or saturation between two colors that look the same, in this one I absolutely cannot see the difference between any of the things on screen. Sucks, it looks fun.

Colorblindness issues were my first thought when I was editing this article.

That music! I must have it!

Once the beams start to move it gets haaard for my underdeveloped brain.

You know, I really find the whole 'talking points' schtick to be offensive. We are adults, not children, and we can determine for ourselves what's interesting to talk about.

Malor wrote:

You know, I really find the whole 'talking points' schtick to be offensive. We are adults, not children, and we can determine for ourselves what's interesting to talk about.

Immediately reminded of an old Saturday Night Live Mike Myers skit.

"I'm feeling a little verklempt. Talk amongst yourselves. I'll give you a topic. Duran Duran is neither a Duran nor a Duran. Discuss."

Malor wrote:

You know, I really find the whole 'talking points' schtick to be offensive. We are adults, not children, and we can determine for ourselves what's interesting to talk about.

I like the talking points, it gives me something to think about going into the game.

I also dig the talking points, it stops it just being a ten-minute timewaster for me.

I like the music (I always seem to).

I suppose the Phoenix Wright court parts could almost be called a speech-based puzzle game..

Pity. I just get flashing eplilepsy-inducing screen garbage. Ah well.

Malor wrote:

You know, I really find the whole 'talking points' schtick to be offensive. We are adults, not children, and we can determine for ourselves what's interesting to talk about.

And yet even with a prompt for discussion, this is all you offer.

I'm really glad that it has a lower-res option, since I play a lot of net games on my netbook, and many of them don't fit all their info on the screen (even Soul Brother was a little pinched).

As for the question of physics-based puzzles, I think the appeal is that, even with a loose abstraction of real-life physics, the dynamics are fairly easy to guess or learn and understand. That sort of thing may not be as intuitive for a, say, chemistry-based puzzle (which may work out a bit like adventure games, with so many guess/check inventory combinations). I guess there are biology-based games, with things like the dungeon-management games (mob X only spawns in Y conditions, etc.), but I don't know how many are puzzle games.

I'm not sure what your definition is of "physical puzzle game" in the questions. If it's puzzle games meant to model the physics of the real world, then pretty much any match-three game is a non-physical puzzle game. Bejeweled, Hexic, Flowerz, etc., etc. Likewise word games like generic crosswords or Bookworm. All of them are good, and are, I think, more enjoyable than physics-based puzzle games.

For my own self, I find that physics-based puzzle games tend to be far too finicky in their needs to really be enjoyable. I really wanted to enjoy Eets, for example, but the physics engine could produce wildly different results depending on the pixel-perfect placement of the puzzle pieces. In that case, it was the lack of fidelity to the real world that caused a disconnect from the gameplay despite it ostensibly being a puzzle game modeled on the real world.

If by "non-physical puzzle game" you mean puzzles that don't involve physical objects or representations of them, then Auditorium would qualify as it involves no physical objects, just light and sound.

ClockworkHouse wrote:

pixel-perfect placement of the puzzle pieces

I've got the name for my next casual title in Game Dev Story.

If by "non-physical puzzle game" you mean puzzles that don't involve physical objects or representations of them, then Auditorium would qualify as it involves no physical objects, just light and sound.

Yes, I didn't necessarily mean real-world physics but just physical relationships between objects.

Though you've thoroughly disproven that theory with Auditorium which is a pretty great puzzle game and really has to do with the sound processing part of your brain. I hadn't really thought of Auditorium as a puzzle game, honestly. Definitely turns me around on my idea in the article.

Not having experienced a glut of existential flash games, I quite enjoyed this one. The credits music was a nice touch as well.