To Hint or not to Hint

I spent a lot of time at the beginning of the game development working in the generation of the puzzles. In logic puzzle games, puzzle generation is often puzzle solving.

So then, when I generate a level, I also have the solution. In this case, the shortest route from the initial configuration to the final, “solved” one. That’s how I can say that a puzzle can be solved in N moves. But I know not only the amount of moves, but also which moves and in which order. And not only do I have the list of correct moves from the initial to the solved setup… I have the list of moves from any piece configuration to the solved state. What good is that for? Well… I can provide hints to the player!

hint_screenshot

So in practice, it does not matter how many flips the player did, I can always tell her the shortest way, from her current position, to the solution. Of course if she already moved 10 times on a puzzle with 3 min moves, and I know she can reach the solution with 2 more moves from her position, her total count will  probably(*) be 12, and not 3. But anyway it guides her to the solution.

Now the question is: should I include this hints? and how much hinting should I provide? There are two reasons for avoiding hints: space constraints and bragging:

  • If I include all possible paths to the solution, some of the bigger levels require megabytes of space. Actually, I cannot include the biggest ones I’ve generated (12 differently colored pieces) because they would require up to a hundred megabytes.
  • When I added the mastering/unlocking mechanism (finish 10 puzzles from a level to ‘Master’ it, master a level to unlock harder ones) then having hints means that you have almost immediate access to all levels. So you cannot brag about reaching a particular level, and any kind of badges/points/other scheme for indicating player progress loses its meaning immediately.

So I enabled hinting only if you were 3 moves or more far from the solution. But that just reduces all levels to a 3-moves level (albeit 3 moves in a 10-piece puzzle might be harder to solve than in a 4-piece puzzle, if only because there are more things to look at).

And then… even when the hinting button is shown, only one or two persons I’ve shown the game to have noticed it. And not even one outside of them has asked me if there is some kind of hinting mechanism. Everyone assumes you just have to find out by yourself. Does that mean that there is no interest in the feature? On the other hand, most people still have not tried the harder levels, where you can feel lost quite easily, so I’m not sure what will happen there.

Maybe an option would be to provide only one or two hints per level… should evaluate that.

Of course, there is also the potential so add hints as an in-app purchase, which I find downright disgusting (but for sure lots of people will think otherwise… hope I do not eat my own words in the future).

(*) probably, because maybe the first moves he must do might undo the last ones he made.

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