Gaming Blog

Thoughts on Talos Principle 2's puzzles

I was annoyed by nearly all the puzzles but I could not stop playing because I wanted to see what the next region is going to be.

Some of them are so captivatingly pretty with an amazing atmosphere, you're just glad to be there. Also each new region adds a new puzzle mechanic and I was curious what the next one is going to be.

The regions all have problems though: they are very messy and hard to navigate without a minimap; so I just really follow signs and the compass.

The narrative was completely ignored my me, I was not into it but also not really open to it. Whatever.

But designing lots of puzzles myself for Supraland I want to talk about those.



1. Way too many lasers!! Coming into a puzzle room in region 1 is the same as in region 12. Laser stuff everywhere. The king of the genre, Portal 2, always refreshes what the puzzles are about, always keeping them exciting. The few non-laser puzzles in Talos 2 were mostly my highlights.


2. You're supposed to think "inside the box" using the same principles. The puzzles are shielded off from the rest of the world, the elements of the puzzle are obvious.

The puzzles are never about what you need to accomplish; that's always clear: for example you need to connect a red laser to a red receiver to open a force field and step through.

The goal is always opening a door of some sort or to get verticality. There are no exceptions.

I would enjoy it more if the approach was about getting the player to question what the way to the goal even is, to surprise the player with something in the world being part of the puzzle, make them look forward to executing it and to make that execution really smooth and easy once you got the right idea (without complicated setups and skill involvement).

The rare optional star puzzles were clearly the best to me because they pull these principles off very well for the most part. They are about interconnecting stuff outside of puzzles and between puzzles. There I am actually engaged in exploration and feel proud when I figured it out. There you literally think "outside the box" unlike in all regular levels.


3. Maybe 10-15% of the puzzles use interesting principles where I leave excited after solving them.

Another 25% to me are annoying filler material without any particularly interesting idea at all.

The remaining majority of puzzles introduce some sort of a new idea to the mechanics that is mostly not very interesting, sometimes obscure. I would describe it as using weird edge cases of the known game mechanics as the base for new puzzles. My problem is how weird they often are instead of exciting.

I think the puzzle creation process should be basically this: find some mechanism that is cool and then try to force the player with a puzzle setup to find out about it and then use that mechanism by themselves. The challenge is to make the puzzle as small and effective as possible without getting convoluted (I failed a lot with that, especially in the Crash DLC for Supraland). And here lies my biggest problem:


4. There is too much noise around the core idea. Most of it is swapping objects all the time: for example

- you have an object on this side of the force field first and need to manage to get it onto the other side

- you swap them in a swapping machine (the most uninspired and uncool puzzle mechanic of the entire game)

- you need to replace the object on a button with another

- ...

Swippity swappity swapping stuff _all _ the _ time_. It's a constant struggle of "how do I get this thing over here" and "if I just had one more object!" while you already resorted to putting a fan grid onto a button.

With all the noise around the core ideas of the puzzles, they often feel tedious and overwhelming instead of exciting to play.

I wanna pull off a cool move, because I figured out the main idea of the puzzle already, but all I do is move prisms, boxes, jammers and stuff back and forth in the right order and it needs to be absolutely perfect or you're stuck.


5. Meta elements like the purple force fields should not be part of puzzles IMO. Portal 2 also wisely keeps them out of puzzles (except for rare exceptions).

The issue becomes worse when you have 2 different kinds of force fields with a slightly different color but lots of different specs. The purple force fields are basically object-blockers. But if you want the player to be able to go through something, but not an object, then come up with a proper reason, not magic.

A ladder is a way to make sure the player carries nothing. A narrow gap could do it. For the special requirements of a puzzle it can be wind, water, magnets, fire and more... there are endless options to make sure only certain things can pass certain places at certain moments without involving random purple magic walls.


6. Building tetris bridges from first person view is sooo meh.

But I spent 30 hours in it and often couldn't wait to get back to it. I would say this is because the world is the star of the game and trying to complete percentages.


High On Life - Visually Exhausting

I'm commenting on this from my perspective as a game designer, trying to make Supraworld awesome. The Supra games and this have a lot of similarities so I'm spending even more attention than normally to learn what works well and what doesn't.


High on life would almost qualify as a metroidvania but it's not really ability gated but story gated. Therefore it's actually super linear and you only follow waypoints.

Overall the game's mostly a funny coating for a very shallow game underneath, just like their previous 'Trover Saves the Universe' game, which it feels very similar to.



I had some fun playing it and it made me chuckle several times. There are lots of funny and creative ideas in there, but really only in the narration and the looks, certainly not in the gameplay. Sometimes I also feel the Justin Roiland humor of "I'll just babble around with my 2 voices and break the 4th wall all the time" gets old for me. Meta humor is amazing when you don't expect it. In my memory Mel Brooks was the first to do 4th wall breaking stuff all the time in his movies in the 80s and 90s and it was amazing. The thing is, it's nothing new to me anymore and especially from Roiland it's very much expected now. That made it often feel cheap to me. But there were little great moments now and then.



My main takeaways from a game maker standpoint are about the visual clarity of the game... where it is a great guide on how NOT to do stuff. I feel reaffirmed about a lot of stuff I'm trying to do in my games.


It is visually very rich. That will help sell the game and maybe help world building. But from a gameplay perspective it's hard to see what's going on. The screen is filled to the brim with clutter. Even every pointless wall has lines, cables, panels, slits. There are devices and stuff everywhere you look. Everything is glowing in bright colors like "hey look at me, I'm important". But actually 98% is just pointless geometry. The few meaningful things are also glowing but you won't notice. Every scene you look at is so overwhelming because it's so full of stuff, it's exhausting! When you press T the game shows you where you need to go and it oulines important things... features you only need to compensate for bigger mistakes you made.


The main lessons for me are the following:

- Don't use the same/similar assets across the whole world or even in multiple areas in the same region. Everything blends into one and nothing stands out, you dunno where you are. Especially the jungle world is a total mess to me. But also urban areas feel messy because there are so many buildings that all look the same.

- Keep saturation and brightness low for things that don't need special attention. Bring 'em up for meaningful things only!

- No pointless stuff absolutely everywhere (crates, containers, boxes, tires, cages...)

- Right angles help me to orient myself. It might look more boring, but if paths go off in all kinds of angles, I find it even harder to find my way in this world. At 90 degrees my brain can manage it much better.

- Use details only where you need them. In this game you can't even see where cluttered floor geometry ends and an important gameplay object starts because it all visually blends.


Combat, Exploration:

I kinda enjoyed finding the secret chests but their placement is mostly really boring, like the "walk around a corner and there it is". There are also many many places where you need to get very high on top of things to find the chests. And the game is showing you the middle finger many times there with invisible walls blocking off things you should clearly reach. The game has a lot of problems taking its geometry seriously, where the gameplay geometry does not equal the visual geometry. It's by far not as bad as Psychonauts 2 though. I know the out-of-bounds struggle I had in Supraland so I totally understand, but I think for Supraworld it will be possible to be 100% accurate with geometry visuals vs gameplay.


Back to the chests: There was no anticipation about their content it's 10% upgrades I don't really need and 90% contain money I can spend on upgrades I barely need. I played on "normal" skill and combat was trivial but all exploration serves the purpose of making combat easier, besides 3 upgrades that help traversal. Might just be me, but all combat felt annoying. I was only hoping for it to be over every single time. The enemies mostly all felt the same and when new enemies were added they were kinda the same as the previous ones. It doesn't matter which gun you use. You have so many options to make your life easier in combat, and all options are valid for every enemy.

I perfectly know the struggle of making exploration rewarding and combat not annoying. I don't have all the answers there but I have a plan for Supraworld that I'm excited about and we'll see how it turns out.



There were very few and they are barely worth mentioning really as they explain themselves. I remember one single "aha" moment with a mechanism I did not expect.


Overall I'd say "play it, there is fun to be had" but it's no glowing must-play recommendation. But the game sure is glowing everywhere all the time.


Why Deathloop is a bit meh to me

I always feel bad for posting so many 'meh' articles. It's not like I want to. I would love to love the games. I'm trying, I swear!

Anyway, congrats to Arkane for being so brave to try something so unusual. We all know that no big studio takes any risks and they usually just keep repeating their winning formula. But is it that unusual besides the elevator pitch? I think it had to be streamlined so hard to avoid player confusion, so that the actual gameplay experience is pretty standard.

While Dishonored and Prey, two of my alltime favourites, had lots of interesting fresh gameplay mechanics, Deathloop has none actually. Running, jumping, shooting and a couple of abilities taken straight from Dishonored. Gameplay wise there is nothing new at all. The world interactions are limited almost entirely to opening doors, pulling levers, entering codes, carrying batteries and portable guns. All things their previous games also did.
And, oh boy, does it rely on codes. There is codes everywhere. If the developer has no idea how to gate off a section in a creative way, just use a door with a key code.


Besides these, the actual gameplay is mostly circumventing or killing all the badguys that are roaming the place again and again. The different places are pretty much the same in that regard; gameplay does not change. You will develop your goto approach that works the same everywhere. The game never lured me out of my comfort zone.


The upgrading process takes up a lot of the gameplay. It feels good to pickup all the special things you can find. But the big downer is that you can only equip very few things at once so the whole process becomes useless pretty quickly. To equip some other cool upgrade I would need to drop my double jump? No way! To try another slab ability I need to drop something fundamental like the blink-teleport? No way! This way it's really hard to ever leave your comfort zone and try other abilities. Upgrades that would have let me use more abilities at the same time would have been great but it never expands my slots.


The 8 visionaries are really strangers except for Julianna. They are supposed to be interesting characters, but I barely know their faces. Ingame you just see a hectically running around person from a distance. They were not introduced in interesting ways so that I could feel I know them before I gun them down (without noticing them because they are likely among a bunch of other random NPCs). There is a lot of text pieces about them everywhere, but I can't connect these to a face that I don't know. And it's way too much text. It just didn't work for me.


Dishonored was great in a completely non handholdey way with mission markers in the HUD disabled. Deathloop is way too complex to do that. You get completely lost. If you play it with handholding on you are basically just running to the mission marker at all times and are rarely doing anything on your own. I prefered that over complete freedom because it would have been too overwhelming; but if done right, it would work that way too. Also there is just one rigid way to solve the entire puzzle. There is no alternative ways at all. They would have made it even more confusing probably.


How the game bombards you with little tutorial texts in its menus was painful. I think tutorials needs to get introduced very slowly, not all at once. Ironically these tutorials made the menus seem way more complex than they actually are.


The ending is meh. While Dishonored's endings are not much they at least leave me resolved. Prey's ending, while contoversial, is a giant twist you don't see coming and that's cool.

Deathloop's ending twists nothing and doesn't give me a "what happens afterwards" glimpse. You solved the problem and there are the credits.


Why I struggle to enjoy Psychonauts 2

Looking at all the praise from press and gamers, I'm probably the only person who doesn't love it.
I loved Psychonauts 1 so much back in 2004 and helped crowdfund part 2. Being 17 years more experienced now is definitely part of why I'm so bored with it.

I knew the story and ideas were going to be the strongest point but...

- ...the story/characters lost me early on. The game introduces lots and lots of people including their names, and it was just overwhelming hence I didn't care about them when they showed up much later. These moments felt like they are supposed to be meaningful moments but to me they weren't because none of them felt introduced properly.


Ok... who cares, I don't care much about story in games anyway and my own games show of how little importance that is to me. But...

- ...the gameplay is not smooth. The running is slow. The lack of depth perception makes jumping frustrating. Using the ball to jump higher or glide is very fiddly. Swinging on those horizontal bars takes out the flow. I won't even mention sliding on rails.

Most gameplay is very generic jump'n run stuff. Jump from one platform onto another. Sometimes an object is moving back and forth between the platforms that you need to avoid. The platform might be a big letter with wings and that looks cool, but the raw gameplay never changes. It could be ok if jumping had a good flow, but jumping around is simply frustrating because...


- ...the game does not take its geometry seriously; what you see is in most cases not what you can walk on. Lots of surfaces you slide off for no reason and invisible walls that block you off from places where I thought I see a secret passage. A little fence I could clearly jump over, but no... they put an invisible wall there to keep my natural exploration tendencies suppressed. I gave up trying to do anything besides the obvious main path. I am used to games not taking their geometry seriously, but I've never seen anything exagerate it like this one does. You can imagine how important that one is to me, because my own games lean so heavily into just that and I know players all embrace this seemingly unintuitive jumping around on any piece of geometry that sticks out of a wall somewhere. Everyone automatically tries it and loves it when it works.


- Combat feels unsatisfying and takes forever. Most attacks take long to charge and don't feel impactful. For efficient fighting you need to switch back and forth between lots of abilities, but...


- ...assigning abilities to buttons is so tedious and stops the flow of experimentation for me because I'm too lazy to switch them all the time. If the abilities are on different buttons all the time, I can't get used to them for instinctive quick usage. Especially during combat I knew I could do much better by using lots of ability variation, instead I just psi-blasted them and it took forever instead of switching abilities forever. Especially the boss fights were taking painfully long by just repeating the same thing over and over.


- Very little metroidvania appeal with almost no new abilities and the few that you get are barely used in interesting ways. The slowdown ability for example is used on the ever repeating fans or too fast platforms. It feels like a lot of potential was wasted there. The abilities from the first game are still there, but they also barely get used in any remarkable way. Backtracking can be done but doesn't matter really because you won't get anything worthwhile for it.


- The abilities are inconsistent; like sometimes you can burn things, but then there is wood and stuff that you cannot burn that definitely should burn. In the few cases where telekinesis works on critical objects there is a display telling you to do it, because play testers obviously always forgot about it so they had to add more hand-holding.


- It holds my hands so much. For a game with brains everywhere, it treats me like I have none. It pulls me through a linear path and tells me the solutions to the few puzzles almost instantly.


- Collectibles are often laid out in a very obvious and unchallenging way. They might just sit in the middle of the critical path and not even try.

The collectibles have a funny framing (emotional backage, figments of the imagination etc.) but in the end they are really all the same thing and collectibles don't really matter. The plenty unlockable upgrades are barely worth mentioning and mostly useless.


- Most parts of every level look identical no matter where you turn, so you always lose orientation. Have I been at this place already? I dunno, they all look the same. The hub world does not suffer much from this though.


- Levels are mostly macguffin hunts over and over again. Bring the 3 seeds, the 4 instruments or whatever. The objects are just an item placed at the end of a linear jump'n run passage. Using macguffins as an excuse for interesting action is cool, but not if you use them to just repeat the same gameplay over and over. The game is filled with fascinating places full of creativity, but often the path to the different macguffins uses the same assets, like the paths to the instruments looked exactly the same. It's like all ideas way overstay their welcome.


The mind-levels in the first game had much better puzzle mechanics like the milkman and napoleon levels that everyone loves. The "goggolor" level had no special gameplay, but it was telling a funny story for just the right length and had me constantly amused.

Psychonauts 2 however seems to drag out any idea forever and just has no clue what to do with the gameplay.