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The Unique Puzzles of Road Not Taken on PS4

Daniel Cook's Avatar + Posted by Daniel Cook on Dec 10, 2013 // Chief Creative Officer, Spry Fox

How might a roguelike look like if it featured a thinker and explorer, instead of a traditional warrior? If being clever was more important than being strong? That’s a design challenge we’ve attempted to tackle with Road Not Taken.

You play a ranger in a frigid, enchanted forest, trying to save lost children. You start with a few easy-to-learn abilities. You can pick up any adjacent objects, you can carry them around, and you can throw them. Trees, boulders, bears — they all float at your command. But you need to be careful; whenever you carry things, it costs you stamina. If you run out of stamina, you collapse face-first into the snow. No checkpoints, no reloads. It’s over.

The Environment is the Threat

In Road Not Taken, both the challenge and the exciting moments come from the setting itself. You’ll be intrigued by strange objects that you haven’t encountered before, and whose characteristics are never fully explained. There are wild creatures running about, spiky plants that hurt you if you pick them up, and blizzards that sap your strength.

There isn’t a clear way into or out of the heart of the forest, and to make matters worse, the exit to every area is blocked. It’s a chaotic and dangerous mess, and you’ll feel the intensity ratchet upwards as your stamina decreases step-by-carefully-planned step.

You unlock the exits to a section of the forest by organizing the chaos with your powers. Say, for example, that you’ve got an exit blocked by rocks, and you notice that it requires five trees to open. You look over the map and spot a bunch of trees blocked behind various rocks and creatures. Being incredibly smart, you start moving things around and eventually collect the trees together into a single, connected set. Voila! The exit rumbles open.

Road Not Taken on PS4 and PS Vita

Unique Objects with Unique Behaviors

Organizing the chaos is trickier than it looks. You could simply lug trees into position, but you’d end up draining your energy and eventually succumb to the winter storm. And on top of that, you have to deal with all the unique creatures and objects in your way, each of which has its own unexpected ways of moving, combining, and/or draining your stamina.

In Road Not Taken, you improve mainly by learning how things work and learning to play more strategically. For example, moles burrow under things. That doesn’t seem very useful until you figure out that this lets you shift otherwise-immoveable stones around. Forest spirits hurt you if you walk into them, then they vanish. But spirits can also help you… if you learn to unlock their secrets.

And speaking of secrets: they’re everywhere. Sometimes I think of Road Not Taken as this giant treasure box of secrets. Some objects magically combine into new objects that restore your stamina or serve as powerful tools for you. Other objects seem totally useless until you discover the context that makes them helpful (What’s up with that goat, and why is he pooping all over the place?).

Road Not Taken on PS4 and PS VitaRoad Not Taken on PS4 and PS Vita

The Behavior System

Behind the scenes, the objects in Road Not Taken use what’s called a component based architecture. This lets us as game developers combine behaviors in incredibly flexible ways.

To see why this is useful, it helps to understand that many games rely on object-oriented programming methods. You might have a monster class that defines general movement, hit points, etc. Then you create an archer sub-class that has all the properties of the monster, but also adds the abilities to shoot arrows. This is a great technique, but you run into some problems. Say you have an archer sub-class, and also a warrior sub-class that can use a shield. It can be tricky to then create a new creature that can both fire a missile and use a shield. You could move both those abilities back up into the base monster class, but with dozens of abilities and billions of combinations, it can get messy very quickly.

Road Not Taken on PS4 and PS Vita

In a component-based system, the behaviors like missile and shield are completely separate. That lets the designer (That’s me!) mix and match them together. Once I have a set of a couple dozen behaviors, the limits to what I can do are mostly my imagination. Do I want a timid wolf that runs from people but eats deer and turns into a giant ghost wolf if a pack of five are collected together? I can do that with just a few lines of code!

That lets me experiment faster, so that we can build a wide variety of interesting and unique objects (and it lets me hide all sorts of secrets in the game!).

Random Generation

Here’s the other thing about Road Not Taken: like any good roguelike, its playfields are procedurally generated. You can’t memorize a solution. You need to learn the behaviors of each animal or object in the environment and be clever about using those in each new context. Playing Road Not Taken is more like improv jazz than repetitive practice.

Failure is Mastery

You’ll fail a lot initially. The first time the dark spirits emerge and suck your warmth away, you probably won’t recover. The first time you’re forced to abandon a child because you know you can’t reach them without passing out, you probably won’t feel so great.

But eventually, with a lot of cleverness, you’ll master the forest. You’ll rescue all the children. And then you need to deal with the rest of your life, which as it turns out isn’t so easy. What does “victory” mean when you’re still coming home to a sick loved one, or a stricken friend who can’t be helped?

But that’s a blog post for another day.

//Add Your Own

23 Comments

1

+ PiMDx on December 10th, 2013 at 8:04 am said:

Release Date?


2

+ xPapaSauce on December 10th, 2013 at 8:05 am said:

This just makes me want The Witness more…


3

+ Prothean on December 10th, 2013 at 8:20 am said:

Love to see more games coming to PS4, but I’m going to lump this one in the “better suited for mobile” category


4

+ KazeEternal on December 10th, 2013 at 8:22 am said:

Yes RElease Date Please? Going to need something to play after I platinum Resogun, AC4, KZSF, and NFSR.


5

+ AtFatesFingers on December 10th, 2013 at 8:28 am said:

@KazeEternal Try playing Knack, man.It’s awesome.


6

+ Dragonchasers on December 10th, 2013 at 8:47 am said:

SpryFox makes great games. Day 1 purchase for me.


7

+ pokota03 on December 10th, 2013 at 8:51 am said:

Easily one of my most anticipated games. Every aspect I’ve seen thus far interests me. The adorable art style, the emphasis on being clever, and the even the melancholy tone, all of that makes me itch to play.


8

+ pokota03 on December 10th, 2013 at 8:53 am said:

Oh, and I’d kill for a Road Not Taken PSN avatar.


9

+ dsigns209 on December 10th, 2013 at 8:56 am said:

I’m a huge fan of Triple Town. Can’t wait for this.


Daniel Cook's Avatar

10

+ Daniel Cook on December 10th, 2013 at 9:47 am said:

We don’t have a firm release date yet. Hoping for “early 2014″ … i.e. soon. :-)


11

+ lisatsunami on December 10th, 2013 at 10:05 am said:

Fail to rescue children? Wow, I don’t think I need something that depressing. Thanks for the new PS4 game anyway.


12

+ boxmyth on December 10th, 2013 at 10:29 am said:

Yes for this. Seems like the type of game that could get quite addicting, and I love that art style.


13

+ KazeEternal on December 10th, 2013 at 10:40 am said:

@5 AtFatesFingers

Thanks for the suggestion, but I shelfed Knack till I’m ready to come back to it. It’s a fun game, but some design flaws and needs some patch work for input lag. It is a good recommend though.


14

+ tusunami on December 10th, 2013 at 11:25 am said:

Now this looks like a interesting game just might get this when this comes out.


15

+ plaztiksyke on December 10th, 2013 at 1:13 pm said:

Day one purchase, really excited there’s an indie developer making a game that doesn’t force players into hetero-norms. Gameplay and art style look fantastic as well. My mom and I played Nethack on our PC every morning/evening for over a year until we finished it, so rogue-likes and procedurally-generated worlds always appeal to me on some level (so long as they are completeable in less than 30 hours).

@KazeEternal I sort of agree with you on Knack. I love the feel of the gameplay and look of it, but it makes two classic platformer/brawler design mistakes: fixing the camera on a scene with enough depth that your character gets occluded by larger enemies, making it impossible to judge if your distance from the enemies; and there are definitely times when controls become unresponsive during certain points in an enemy’s animation cycle. both would be critical gameplay issues in any console generation, but in a “next-gen” game it’s just weird and disappointing. if it had 3D support, that would help the first issue a bit, but Sony seems to have an allergy to mentioning 3D in any of their first-party titles right now — probably to avoid consumer confusion.


16

+ SDkngsht on December 10th, 2013 at 1:14 pm said:

this looks kind of awesome. almost like bomber man w/a little PixelJunk Monsters like charm with some puzzle elements thrown in. definitely going to check this one out.


17

+ ElektroDragon on December 10th, 2013 at 1:15 pm said:

Is it turn based with randomly generated items? If not, it’s not a true roguelike.

What I wouldn’t give for someone to make a true roguelike that Moria or Angband for a modern platform with modern graphics. Diablo is great, but a true roguelike would play so much differently.


18

+ koolaidman2kool on December 10th, 2013 at 2:09 pm said:

Dammit Stop Putting Little kid Games Sony im Tired of waiting for the PS Store update ,,, an i want New Action games Not like BF4 or Madden or Ghost!! Goddammit is it too hard to do an update -____- Ive been waiting to patiently to not get a response


19

+ PrimeroIncognito on December 10th, 2013 at 2:33 pm said:

@ plaztiksyck

But, being intelligent and thoughtful is a “hetero-norm”… oh well… sucks to be you.


20

+ hongthay on December 10th, 2013 at 5:14 pm said:

This game sounds very intriguing, and if the puzzles are the right length, perfect for the Vita. I look forward to playing it.


21

+ siriusbee on December 10th, 2013 at 7:00 pm said:

Looks cool, hope to give it a shot. Enjoyed the discussion on game architecture.


22

+ MrVargas on December 11th, 2013 at 5:04 am said:

Indies like this are giving the Vita Life. Thank you indie devs and playstation staff for keeping the interesting games coming. I know the Vita sales are not as great as they could be, but you guys are doing right by the people who purchased the Vita.

It is by far my most played platform of the last two years (despite owning a PS3, PS4, Wii U, 3DS XL, Xbox 360, iPad, iPhone, and gaming computer).


23

+ Elvick_ on December 12th, 2013 at 10:00 am said:

Can’t wait.


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