So a few weeks ago I posted up a bit of a story on how I stumbled across The Hidden Garden jumping puzzle, and the adventures I had in exploring it and uncovering its secrets. But as I moved about the garden, I couldn't help but notice all the little designer touches here and there that made it such an enjoyable experience. I've been a game developer for some 15 years, and though I'm not a content designer by trade, I've spent more than my share of time thinking about and building zones in games. For Atomic City Adventures, I developed four entire city zones, and then had to think about the best ways to repurpose them in such a way that made sense. Because Hidden Garden is more than a jumping puzzle - it's almost a mini-zone in and of itself, it makes a great candidate to examine some of the subtle and not-so-subtle methods designers use to assist you through the level.
Instructions are not the place to be subtle, and the designers know that. Through her conversation, they pretty much tell you straight up what you need to do. You need some elemental clusters to open the chest.
From one side, as you gaze across the incredible vista that you are afforded, observing the beautiful waterfalls, you can clearly see the cantle of water, dancing atop some cliffs below you. And on the other side, looking across to the other side of the zone, you can clearly see the cantle of wind. And then finally, and this is most important, from where you gather the Cantle of Light, you can clearly see some diving goggles. The presence of Diving Goggles is essentially a message from the designers that it's okay to jump from here. Or at least there's a smaller chance you'll die if you jump from here. So in just a very small space, you've been told where two of the three remaining cantles are, and how to get down.
Plummeting into the water below, when you go to make your way out, there's only one way out of the pond. And though you don't know it at the time, you've been dropped into a location that is quite close to the fourth cantle - earth. All you have to do is walk around to the top of the pond, in either direction, and you'll immediately discover some earth elementals, and right next to them you'll see the Cantle of Earth.
So where you go next doesn't matter too much, you've been given clues for both of the remaining cantles. As you stand there looking up at the very obvious Cantle of Water, you can see an opening in the back of the cliffs below the cantle - behind the waterfalls. And upon entering, you find yourself in a picturesque grotto, filled with wildlife, giant plants, and sparkling waterfalls. Now, I have to admit, I didn't pick up on the giant leaves right away. For whatever reason, unlike mushroom pads, which are clearly designed for jumping pads, the leaves to me seem like something that would give when you stand on it. But a little bit of experimentation, or perhaps another adventurer chancing by, and you quickly learn that the leaves are the key to this puzzle.
So that's that. I hope you enjoyed looking at the zone through a designer's perspective. And more importantly, I hope you gain some appreciation for the hard working guys and girls that develop that content. There is almost nothing that happens in these virtual worlds in which we play that happens completely by accident. That waterfall, that sweeping view, that fortuitous pool at the bottom of that cliff, those spiders you encounter along the way - all are there for a purpose. And somewhere, someone spent an extraordinary amount of time thinking about just exactly the right way to present that content so that you can enjoy it in the most satisfying of ways.
Wherever you're gaming, I hope you enjoy!