Playtest insights on Amanita’s Botanicula : interaction design and the complexity of puzzles

Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 10.39.23PART 2 Botanicula is a “relaxed game perfect for hardcore gamers, their partners, families and seniors”; A point and Click adventure by Amanita Designs, who already won our hearts with Machinarium.

I’ve had the chance to test this game with two teenagers: Joe, a core gamer, Alex, a casual gamer and Robin, a 5 year old little girl, a 66 year old grand mother and a zen-game loving mom. Here’s some highlights of their player experiences.

Tested on PC/Mac

This review includes screenshots and details of the end of the game, beware of spoilers

A wide variety of controls and interactions

Variety is rich and fun

The game allows the player to interact with the game in many ways:

  • Items and creatures can be clicked, sometimes to progress in the game, and sometimes for the sheer amusement of watching what they will do.
  • Moving the mouse over some elements will trigger an interaction : creatures will hide, run away from the cursor, others will appear, grass will curl up… It gives the feeling the world is alive and wonderful. Sometimes leaving the mouse somewhere will trigger an interaction. Good feedback is required to figure that out, but in Botanicula, it is well done.
  • Some items can be dragged. This is less obvious at first, some items seem to be dragged after clicking, but sometimes players feel like they need to hold their mouse button down. This control creates some confusion for the player, who is unsure how to proceed exactly, and needs a couple of tries to get the hang of it every time they encounter the situation. But they feel like it makes them think out of the box and need to be creative in how they solve problems.

The exploration and controls are fun to explore, understand and master. The following video illustrates how users engage with the environment through a diversity of interactions.

Combining the controls though…

The end gets more complicated though, and the combination is a little difficult to understand, and very difficult to master even for our hardcore player, who wasn’t able to figure it out properly until the second playthrough :

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First, the player needs to click his character to load a power. On click, there will be little particles that flat around the character to indicate it is ready to shoot.

Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 20.11.48Then, the player needs to place his mouse cursor above an enemy to shoot a light bolt at it. And then, you have to do this really fast, on many enemies, in the right order. Real arcade gameplay in an adventure game !

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This is where not one of our four players understood: they all kept clicking on their character, then clicking on the opponents. The result is, they all were too slow and only the hardcore gamer managed to finish, happy to face a challenge, playing on a trackpad.

Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 19.59.47He did feel something was off and that he didn’t get something about the controls, but he only figured out what the second time he finished the game.

The kid give up very soon, too scared by the scene. The casual gamer rage quit. The teenager was really surprised and disappointed, and felt bad for not managing to finish a “kids game”. All four players had a strong reaction to this change of “genre”.

Variety in interactions create complexity in puzzles

Sometimes too simple for players imagination

In this puzzle, all adult players tried to move the greyish bubbles into the air vents, thinking it would allow the characters to move through to the other side. The red node was understood as being a bothering object that would be in the way somehow of getting the other bubbles in the slots.

Then, when the adult players understood they needed to make the red “ball” fly out through the right vents in the right order to make the key drop, instead of walking to it, they kept adjusting the position of the neutral bubbles, thinking it would otherwise not make the red one go the right trajectory. It took hours.

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The kid on the contrary, she just solved the riddle in ten minutes, just playing around because it was funny to move the red bubble around, and not stuck with a too far fetched preconception that all bubbles needed to have a use.

The “least favorite” puzzle : trial and error

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Three players felt frustrated on the bumping jumpers puzzle. The goal is to move around these spongy creatures, then jump from one to the other to reach the other side. The direction of the jump and the required position of those creatures  seem arbitrary to the players.

They felt like it was plain trial and error, with no way of anticipating or understanding the logic of these random jumps. They all managed to complete it, but didn’t like it as much as the other puzzles. The hardcore gamer also voiced annoyance when he had to do this level again, and kept if for last, after a first, frustrated, unfruitful attempt.

Only the casual player disliked another level: the one where the player blows 3 horns, and each makes a sound and creates a body part of the create, in the hope of randomly creating a full creature with the right body parts.