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Friday, October 2, 2020

The Deductive Thrill of Ace Attorney, Sudoku, and Picross

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - After I explain what the concepts are, I share a game idea to combine them together.

In the interest of seeking repentance and atonement (was a recent theme in my life to start this week off), I would like to apologise to the Picross community. ...I'm not sure how big that is, but maybe they're reading this. I've been saying mean things about Picross for years, mostly because I associate Picross with former KoopaTV staffer (and traitor) YoshiRider123 since he did a Let's Play of Mario's Super Picross many years ago, which I considered to be immensely boring to watch.

I also thought that I've expressed my love of Sudoku on KoopaTV before (as in, a very long time ago), but other than under two months ago, that hasn't happened. Yikes. Alright, so, I really like Sudoku. That's the game with the nine three-by-three squares (for 81 squares total) and each three-by-three square will have the numbers one through nine written once, and across the whole playing area, you'll only have one through nine written once for the nine columns and nine rows. Each puzzle is different because some of the squares at the start are already filled in, and then you have to reason what the rest must be. It's easier to explain than Picross, as I try to do a little later in the article.

But I decided to try Mario's Super Picross, since that's free as of last week for Nintendo Switch Online members. You know I'm one, and you should know that if you're not already one, you can become one with me paying for it if you win Round 34 of the KoopaTV Loyalty Rewards Program. Click that for details. Anyway, what'd I think of Mario's Super Picross now that I'm trying it for myself and my only experience is no longer watching a bad Let's Play from over ten years ago?


It turns out that I really enjoy playing it. You see, watching someone do a puzzle game and actually playing it are two very, very different things. And since I enjoy Sudoku (even if that's apparently been a mystery to the KoopaTV audience), it makes very logical sense I'd enjoy Picross. They're both puzzle games based around deductive reasoning.

Deductive reasoning is the logic that, if certain premises are true, you can deduce a solution from those. For instance, if the puzzle area starts like this...

Mario's Super Picross Mario puzzle 8-H capitol beginning start hint
This is level H of World 8 in Mario's Super Picross, which means I've already cleared
over 90 puzzles at this point.


You can gradually deduce all sorts of conclusions to progress through the puzzle. The puzzle above is 20x20. The way Picross works is that the numbers on the perimeter of the board dictate how many squares you got to hammer in consecutively. For example, for the top row, it says “1”, meaning there's only 1 square that should be filled. Since there is already a square filled in, that means all of the other squares in that row can NOT be filled in, so my next move would be to X them out. That also means for the last column of the puzzle board, with the 2 2 hint, I can X out the square on the second row, because there can't be 2 squares filled in consecutively at the second row because the first and third rows are X'd. (Not counting the fact I already know the second row should have 19 Xs on it for the same reason as the first row.)

You also see the fourth row with the “5” clue, yes? That means you can X out the squares in that row that cannot possibly fit that. Since there is already a square filled in, under no circumstances can you fill in a square in the fourth row that is more than four squares away from the already filled in square, in either direction, based on the rules of the puzzle. If you maximise the clues and reasoning throughout the board, and think in terms of what is and isn't possible (and continually update your assumptions the more information you're able to gather), you'll eventually get to completion.




This was all a very long preamble to make a point: The game progression here for Picross and Sudoku—start with a few straws to grasp, understand and investigate the logic behind them (or guess/bluff and hope you don't get penalised), and eventually reason your way to take command over the whole game board as you climactically turn around your fortune—is what makes the Ace Attorney series so wonderful. The way I just put it, they're almost identical. A defence attorney is given a legal case that seems hopelessly stacked against their client—in part due to the corrupt legal system perpetuated by prosecutors like Kamala Harris—and they have to investigate and slowly figure out the truth behind the case (Ace Attorney has a catchphrase, stating, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains must be the truth.” which is the deductive reasoning you must employ for Sudoku or Picross), eventually realising the true culprit. And there are a lot of production values that go towards presenting the story.

But look at the video above. There's no production values there. Just minimalism. That background music you hear? That's going on for the entire duration that you're solving the puzzle. In Ace Attorney, there's a huge soundtrack, with something like this playing at the most climactic moment:



That'd be amazing. So it's based off that that I want a game that goes through a storyline—with a deductive setting like Ace Attorney—but with gameplay that takes the course over a deductive puzzle game like Sudoku or Picross. Think like how Pocket Card Jockey is thematically about horse-riding, but gameplay-wise, it's Solitaire, and completing Solitaire sessions progresses you further in the horse race.

This may or may be similar to the game Murder by Numbers, which is a detective game that has Picross puzzles to perform investigations/obtain evidence. I haven't bought it yet because I've been operating under a long-held belief that Picross is icky, but I've decided that next time it goes on sale, I'll give Murder by Numbers a purchase

Still, to my understanding, Murder by Numbers uses Picross as a gameplay hook to break up a lot of decision-making dialogue trees. What I have in mind is to have the deductive reasoning puzzle game on-screen, and you have the dialogue happening on the sides of the screen (instead of what Mario's Super Picross is doing and leaving that screen real-estate empty). It progresses as you make (correct) progress through the puzzle. Obviously, sound effects and music will play based on what's going on in the storyline, and the tense-ness of the story should match the intensity of where you are in the puzzle.

The only thing that would need a lot of special development attention is to make sure players can't sequence-break the game or skip lots of content if you go to fast. Going too slow should be fine. You might just have nothing happen or idle animations or canned stalling voice lines. To solve the fast issue, you might have to take control away from the player (forced pause) and treat it like a cutscene. That might not sound like a good idea for gameplay on paper, but... Well, this would basically be an “on-rails” puzzle game. I also don't think it'd be distracting. People played Kid Icarus: Uprising and Star Fox 64 just fine with simultaneous story-telling/dialogue while shooting things on-rails.

I pretty much just want the deductive spirit of the puzzle, the thrill of getting to the euphoric state where all of the pieces are coming together, to be reflective of something besides that gameplay moment, like music and plot. I think it'd be beautiful for a game to have ALL of its elements be closely integrated like that, instead of just barebones gameplay at the expense of everything else like Mario's Super Picross.



Any game developer is free to steal Ludwig's idea without credit. Just let him know the game exists so he can play it. That said, let Ludwig know if this kind of game already is out there, or if Murder by Numbers already does this and the developer of that already thought of this idea.

2 comments :

  1. Unfortunately, there is no dialogue on the screen when you are completing puzzles in Murder by Numbers. All there is a floating S.C.O.U.T. and the background. The music is at least much more pleasing to listen to than Mario Picross.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have no idea what the soundtrack is like, just assuming it's amazing given the composer.

      Delete

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