GDC11: Limbo Dev Totally Calls Out Uncharted, Prince of Persia for Sucky Puzzles


Demoing Playdead’s development engine for Limbo at GDC 2011, Lead Designer Jeppe Carlsen used another popular game for a direct point of comparison when building puzzles — as an example of what not to do.

As he laid in elements to quickly create a puzzle scene in front of the packed conference office, Carlsen said, “Because we’re not designing Uncharted or something, I of course want there to be some kind of trick to this.” Then he dropped a saw blade onto the ceiling of the puzzle room and a gun turret on the floor, and left Limbo’s protagonist young boy to deal with escaping death from either as gravity began to flip back and forth between pulling up and pulling down.

Yeah. It was a pretty sick burn.

Carlsen said played through Uncharted 2: Among Thieves again before heading to GDC this year, where he was slated to give a talk about designing Limbo’s puzzles. He was paying attention to the way Naughty Dog’s cinematic powerhouse action game did puzzles — and came to the conclusion that it kind of, well, didn’t.

“I tried to sit down and think about what I’d been doing for the last five minutes,” Carlsen said, referring to a puzzle about midway through Uncharted 2 in which the player is tasked with reflecting light around a room to open a door. “I don’t believe there was actually a puzzle to solve. I was just doing what the game design told me to do — I climbed up and found the first mirror and moved it, and then I kept going until I found the next one and moved that, and kept going and found the next one and moved that, and I was done.

“They had a different priority in design than we did,” he said. “They were focused on delivering a compelling story and characters.”

Limbo, on the other hand, was about puzzles. Its art direction was minimalistic, its storyline and character development were non-existent, and the entire idea of the game was to create challenging puzzles without a lot of elements.

Too many elements was a problem Carlsen had with another big action-adventure title. Carlsen used an example from 2008′s Prince of Persia, in which the player has to control the flow of a liquid through a 11 different pools. Eleven was way too many, Carlsen said.

“Coming into a scene like that, seeing all those elements, I can’t be bothered to analyze the puzzle, so I just take a trial and error approach,” Carlsen said. “I just start moving things and seeing what happens until I finally get the puzzle solved and move on. I felt it was only challenging because it was so complex.”

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