When you think of Tiles, the first thing that comes to mind, is probably a bathroom or kitchen, at least more so so than pretty awesome up and coming puzzle game Tiles from Romans I XVI Gaming.
Tiles is a modestly simple premise; get your little square (or rather, Tile) to the end goal. Easy peasy! Or, at least it is, until you have to decide what path to take, knowing at some point you're going to have to backtrack -- only problem, is that once you've passed over the tiles, they disappear.
It's moments like this that give Tiles a somewhat platformer approach to the game. Sure, Tiles as a whole is a puzzle game, but once you have to categorically take a rather "can I make it" way of thinking -- which, as you may guess, leads to a lot of frustrating moments; which is by no means a bad thing -- you begin to look at Tiles as less of a puzzle game, and more of an amalgamation of both dexterity and mind.
Tiles is the type of game that constantly punishes with each mistake, but overwhelmingly rewards with the feeling of real success once you beat a level.
Each time I'd fail a level, I'd mutter the same words each time "right, I've got it this time", and it's this type of addictive nature that alleviates you from any anger, by giving you the near unlimited option of just waiting, planning and simply praying that you've cracked it this time, only to probably fail a few more attempts before you figure it out.
"...you begin to look at Tiles as less of a puzzle game, and more of an amalgamation of both dexterity and mind"
Aesthetically, Tiles is a simple top down grid, with brightly coloured tiles, and whilst this is at first glance, a very simple and minimal look, it by no means takes away any of the depth or ingenuity that Tiles has to offer. Simply put, what Tiles lacks in looks, it more than makes up with content, and boy is there a lot.
"Tiles is the type of game that constantly punishes with each mistake, but overwhelmingly rewards with the feeling of real success once you beat a level."
But then again, Tiles isn't a generic puzzle game, it's a frustrating, punishing hell-spawn of a game, that also grants you immense rewards once you can master it. And for £2.79, it's a bloody good steal!
I caught up with Austin Sojka, the creator and developer of Tiles, who very kindly sat and answered some questions!
Firstly, an obvious question I'm sure you've had plenty of times before, but, what inspired the idea of Tiles?
Hmm, well it's actually a lesser known story than you might think. The original concept of Tiles was born out of constraints. Before this PC release of Tiles I was making games for the Roku, Tiles was originally developed for and released on the Roku, albeit in a different form than what it's now come to be.
The Roku version of Tiles is less of a full game and more of a facilitator for people making and playing user created levels. I've also released 3 other games on the Roku: Retaliate, Snake, and Neon Party Games. I understand the constraints of the platform, in particular the low power cpu/gpu and limited input, really the only buttons you have available for gameplay is the D-Pad.
So the initial goal was to come up with a game that only used up, down, left, right for the gameplay. From that I imagined moving around on a grid where the platforms began to fall after you stepped on them, and then eventually the additional mechanics of other tile types were born naturally from the development. The Roku release went alright, but looking back it really ended up being my playground for testing the functionality of the back-end for user created levels and then I fully fleshed out the game for the PC release.
At first glance, Tiles appears to be a simple little puzzle game, but after playing it, I think it's much more deep and incredibly challenging than initial appearance, was the aesthetics something planned, or did it just seem to fit Tiles?
I am particularly inspired by Super Hexagon and it's developer Terry Cavanagh, he's a sole developer who's strengths are programming and game design, so he designs his games around those strengths. I try to do the same with my games, I'm not an artist so I choose to pursue an aesthetic that I will be able to tackle with the skills I do have. Just like anyone could reproduce the basic shapes in Super Hexagon anyone could reproduce the simple squares used in Tiles, it's how the aesthetic works together with the gameplay that matters.
Whilst the game is described as a puzzle game, there is definitely a platforming element to it, especially as you have to determine a safe path for yourself before venturing off. Was the game designed in this way, or was it just luck? (Or do you even consider it as a puzzle-platformer?)
That's something about Tiles I'm very happy with how it turned out, I often have a difficult time describing exactly what "type" of game it is mostly because the game has the potential to be multiple different things based on the level design. For instance, I could design a level with lots of purple tiles as safe zones and really focus on having the design be a complicated puzzle where you need to take your time and carefully consider your moves. In that type of level, the movement itself wouldn't be the primary challenge, it would be the mental challenge of figuring out what paths to take in order to finish, that's a puzzle.
On the flip side I have a few levels that are quite literally a straight line, there is nothing to figure out at all. In these levels as soon as you see it you know exactly what you need to do, but to actually execute the actions is the challenge. It's one of the primary reasons that I consider the user created levels to be such a big feature, when the game has the potential to be multiple different things based on the level design I don't want to limit players to the levels that I come up with.
Speaking of platforming, Tiles, at least in levels of frustration, reminds me very much of Super Meat Boy. How difficult was it in creating the levels? At least in a way that makes them increasingly more difficult, whilst being perfectly accessible to complete?
It's funny, referencing Super Meat Boy has happened a couple other times and I think a lot of that is due to the nature of how levels are played. I think where people feel that similarity is the punishing difficulty of the levels that doesn't actually feel punishing because you instantly reset after you die. You just keep running headlong at the level until you get it.
As far as the challenge of designing the levels, honestly with most of the levels I started by making a cool looking design, then I would try to play it and see if I could complete it, if not I would either tweak it or toss it. You might think the level design is some carefully thought out process but a lot of it is happy accidents that I tweak to the end result. Then after I had a pool of created levels I went through and sorted them by difficulty.
Along with that there are some more intentionally designed teaching levels scattered throughout (mostly in the beginning) as there is no tutorial. For instance, all the way up at level 35 I am still teaching you things, that is where I force you to traverse 4 tiles over and back, something you will need later in the game.
The ingenuity of Tiles, at least in my opinion, is that the game appears far more approachable because of it's aesthetics, whilst the game-play constantly pulls you in with the kind of "I'm not stopping until I finish this level" appeal. But, if you could describe Tiles to someone who hasn't played it, how would you describe it?
Honestly I don't attempt to describe it often, I feel like more often than not when I try to describe the details of the gameplay it doesn't sound that appealing... Get from point A to point B while clearing all the blue tiles in between. That basic description doesn't do it much justice but then if I go in to more detail it sounds confusing. I usually just try to get people to try it out and have them experience it for themselves, even if it means giving them a free key :P