Solutions Complete!

Hit a milestone this week - every puzzle in the game (even the 10 new puzzles for the upcoming update...) has now been recorded in the solution viewer!  The solution viewer will be coming out in the next update, and will allow anyone to view the solution for a given puzzle.  This was something that was frequently requested, and we realized that if we wanted to implement it, it had to happen before the level editor went live.

Creating the solution viewer didn't take too long, but re-solving all the puzzles and putting their solution data together was.  It took me more than an hour to solve some of the puzzles - and I made them!

Anyway, now that work is done, and we can get that update pushed out soon.  Hooray!

Sun Stones - the game that plays itself?

We're hard at work improving Sun Stones - we've published 4 version updates since our release two short weeks ago.  We're pleased to announce that we have had not one single bug report in that time, so all of our efforts have been going towards future content.

The three big areas we're expanding upon include:

1 - New puzzles!
2 - Level Editor!
3 - Solution VCR!

The Level Editor is a very highly-anticipated item, at least partially because it's been locked out for users since release, but we left the buttons in to tantalize players.  The editor has actually been functional for months - we built all of the puzzles for Sun Stones with the in-game level editor - but it's going to need quite a bit of UI polish and tuning before we're ready to release it to the masses.

New puzzles are self-explanatory.  ;)

The Solution VCR, however, is a new feature that might surprise some players - because we've been keeping it under wraps the past month.  Some players get stuck on a certain puzzle - and even though in Sun Stones you can always move on, these players will often give up on the game entirely.  That's no fun!  But we're giving them a way to simply watch the solution for themselves, letting them learn the trick to that particular puzzle and then move on with the extra knowledge.  We're literally teaching the game to play itself for you.

Now, this might seem a bit odd - what's the point of a puzzle game where the solutions are just given to you?  Well we're not simply going to let players cheat on the puzzles - we want to limit the number of times they can use it.  To this end, we are introducing "solution tokens" these tokens are very limited (we're still working out exactly how limited they are) and each solution you view costs 1 token from your stash.  This poses a challenge to players - is this the puzzle you REALLY want to get hints on?

We know this will be a somewhat controversial feature - but we're excited to share it with the world in the next few weeks!  As always, we welcome your feedback.

Who's Smarter Than Us?

Sun Stones has a rather nice Trophy system - which serves as both a learning tool and a reward system. Most of the Trophies have clear conditions which must be met - earn every star on The Hunt, for example. Or transform the maximum number of stones at once.

But there is one very special exception to this system - a trophy we call "Smarter Than Us" This trophy is given if a player completes a puzzle faster than we listed as a "perfect" score. The only way to get this trophy is to do something which we, as the developers, didn't figure out on our own.

When you earn this trophy, the trophy text comes up telling you to write to us and let us know about your achievement. Once we verify your accomplishment, we do a few things:

1 - We adjust the puzzle in the next update, so that nobody else can earn the trophy for the same thing.

2 - We add your name to the patch notes, immortalizing your genius for all time.

3 - We add a thread on our forums with your name, to draw public accolades to your talent.

Sun Stones has only been out a week, but we've already had 2 clever players earn this trophy and contact us. You can head over to the forums or check out our patch notes.

Sun Stones is a very challenging game, and we know that there are multiple correct solutions to many puzzles. How many more puzzles have an optimal solution which we did not discover for ourselves? As the number of players grows, we can only assume that our players will turn out to be Smarter Than Us!

Burning Content

Sun Stones is (hopefully) about to go live across several App portals including Apple's App Store, the Amazon Appstore, Android Marketplace, etc.  There will probably still be a few technical hiccups to smooth out, but the game is essentially finished.

Of course, being a future-looking company, we're already planning aggressive updates, new content & new features.  This is essential because Sun Stones in its launch state is what we call "a content burner" - it's not a game you'll play through once you've mastered the existing content.  So once you "burn" through a particular puzzle with a 3-star rating you are unlikely to ever play that puzzle again.

This means that it is essential to have new content ready to go - so that people can keep buying content after burning their initial free content.  But "burners" have a substantial flaw, in that each new content pack takes 2-3 weeks to create, but can probably be finished in just a few days.  (Right now our packs contain about 25 new puzzles, each of which take 10-25 minutes for an expert player to master.  That's 4 - 10 hours of content for 99 cents!)  Even if we worked on nothing but new Sun Stones content, we'd never be able to keep up with demand!  And once players run out of content, we've lost them.

So the real trick with a burner is to find ways to expand content exponentially, rather than linearly.  We have a few ideas in the works to do this with Sun Stones - here are a few top contenders:

1 - The Level Editor

This is actually the same in-game editor we used to create our 100 initial puzzles - we just need to polish up the presentation a bit for general release.  With this in place, players can build their own levels - allowing for dozens or even hundreds of hours of additional play time (at least for those folks who enjoy creating stuff.)  But the Level Editor also helps our content bottleneck in some fresh ways.  Players can submit their best custom levels, and we'll release a free "best of our fan levels" pack each month or so.  This shifts the content-creation burden, and helps to build community!

2 - New Game Modes

Most people will play each puzzle only until they get that 3-star rating, because there is nothing else to accomplish for each individual puzzle.  If we add new game modes, which provide new challenges for each puzzle (but which don't fundamentally change the puzzle's data) we can instantly provide players with 100 puzzles for each new game mode.  If we can add 2 new game modes, that is 300 puzzles!  New game modes are clearly a winning way to get more content out efficiently.

3 - New Achievements

We're quite proud of our native Trophy system - there are more than 30 Trophies for players to earn.  We took pains to make sure that only a few are things you would naturally do during play - so the others need to be catered to a bit.  For example, there is a trophy which directs players to "build a broken man" - to earn it, they need to complete one of our human puzzles using only broken stone fragments - no intact stones.  As we add other types of content, we will absolutely be thinking of new challenges to introduce as trophies.  Trophies are some of the best content, because they really get players thinking about the game, as opposed to just grinding through content.

Your Guide in the world of Sun Stones

One of the central pillars of Sun Stones has been engendering a sense of exploration in the player.  Exploration drives the movement within the game, our introduction of stone mechanics, our writing aesthetic, our achievement and star mechanics, and more.  We carefully pull players through the game without pressuring them with specific goals, clocks, or thresholds.

In our recent glut of User-feedback, the calm atmosphere and potential for real learning at their own pace have been two of the most-appreciated elements of the game.

So of course we're changing them.

A small number of players tend to re-play puzzles over and over, trying for perfect mastery.  These players have been frustrated because the open-ended exploratory nature of the game does not lend itself well to dense information about performance over time.  Many iOS games focus heavily on the dense presentation of information, so Sun Stones, by comparison, seems a bit barren.  These players were often some of the most enthusiastic about our sparse aesthetic, so it's really a matter of wanting things both ways, rather than an indictment of how we're starting players off.

So our changes this week and last have been focused on finding a way to change the way we feed information to players, without changing anything for players who don't go specifically looking for dense information.

Navigating the Glyph Wall

The central hub of Sun Stones is the "Glyph Wall" - where players select a glyph to visualize, and create patterns over time from the glyphs they have finished.  These screens are simply groups of pictograms - touch one, and you are taken to that puzzle.  This is a very natural and simple way to navigate between puzzles for our players.  But some players want to know - which glyphs have I played perfectly, and which did I simply pass?  That information was available within the puzzle, but not visible on the Glyph Wall directly.  We considered putting additional information on the Glyph Wall - but it absolutely crushed our aesthetic to do so.

The solution we came up with was to create an "info box" mechanic.  If you touch a new glyph - you are still taken directly to that puzzle.  No change there.  If, however, you touch a glyph which you have already finished we bring up a small box with information about your past performance, and a small "Play" button.  This gives players a chance to check their past performance without leaving the Glyph Wall, but doesn't change our original play-experience for most players (who don't re-play puzzles).

We'll make the new version available to players soon.