While I was taking in the various experiences at the Steam VR Developer Showcase, a couple of themes started to materialize, one of them being puzzles. Of course, puzzles of some form are generally found in most games, but of the 12 games that were shown, three of them use puzzle solving as a core mechanic for their game play.
Nothing But Puzzles
Fantastic Contraption, from Northway Games, is easily the most recognizable as a puzzle game. There’s no mistaking this one -- all you do is solve puzzles. You may have seen some of the videos that have recently surfaced about the game. It’s actually a re-imagination of a 2D game Northway released in 2008 (and is still available,) which shares the same name.
To play Fantastic Contraption, you must build things (read: contraptions) that can get a pink ball to its goal, located somewhere in the environment. You are given a selection of items that you can use to create your “contraptions,” including sticks and bars that you can stretch or shrink to any length you desire, and cylindrical “wheels” (with rotation direction markers). There is also a glue substance available that can make the attachments more rigid, but you don’t need to use it in all cases.
Fantastic Contraption features quite an intriguing menu system. Your items come from two different locations: an animated cat with parts all over it that you can reach down and grab at any time, and a shortcut system that has you reaching for parts on various areas of your own body. Reach behind your head for the two types of sticks, one for each hand. Wheels are found on your head, and glue comes from your ear. Just for fun (as far as I can tell), you can also pull a bouncy ball from your mouth and start bouncing it around the room.
Fantastic Contraption will be released with HTC’s Vive in April, and it will feature 100 levels on day one. The company has plans to add a level editor to the game that will come out at a later date. We were told this will be free DLC when it comes out. Northway Games is also working on implementing a multiplayer aspect of the game that is planned for later this year, which may end up being a free addition as well.
Key Element In Gameplay
The Gallery: Call of The Starseed is another game that relies heavily on puzzle solving. This game is being developed by Cloudhead Games and has been heavily influenced by the Myst series of games. The Gallery will feature a range of puzzles to figure out, and the Blink system used for navigation is very reminiscent of the point and click system used in the classic games.
When you first start playing The Gallery, you are launched into a training world that teaches you the basic mechanics of the game. It shows you how Blink works, which is a fairly similar mechanic to the system that Budget Cuts uses to navigate through the world (minus the preview portal). The training session asks you to “Blink” to various spots in the world that have bottles sitting on pillars. Your mission is the smash them all. Once that is done, the actual game will start.
My short time with the game didn’t allow me to really dive into it fully. I was able to get a feel for moving around in the world, and I started to collect a few items that were found on the ground. One of those items happened to be an old Walkman cassette player (an object that one journalist noted that his kids would never recognize.)
The Walkman is required to play back cassette tapes that you will find strewn about the world. These tapes have clues that will lead you to the next puzzle (I told you it’s like Myst). My time with the game ended before I figured out any of the puzzles, but it left me wanting more.
Though I barely scratched the surface of The Gallery: Call of The Starseed, I can already see the direct influence that Myst had on the development of this game. Myst was one of my favorites PC games in those days, and I look forward to spending many hours with The Gallery.
The Gallery: Call of the Starseed will be available on day one of the Vive launch.
Puzzles Secondary, But Necessary
Budget Cuts, while not inherently a puzzle game, also features a puzzle-solving aspect. You have to time your movements to avoid the roaming robotic security guards, and you have to locate things like hidden keys within the world so that you can progress through the game.
Puzzles have always been part of video games, but solving them in VR adds a whole new level of fun. I was given just a glimpse of each of these games, but all them offered interesting takes on puzzle-solving in virtual spaces.