Block puzzle: first prototype


I’m using SpriteKit. The built-in physics engine made this pretty painless. Making a block draggable is just a matter of tracking the touch movement, and updating the block’s position, then letting the physics world push back if the block is moving into a wall or another block.

The trickiest part was letting you move a block by dragging another block into it. In this case, you want all of the affected blocks to respond to your finger. But in the standard physics world, the other blocks essentially “push back” against your finger. A bit of custom logic was required to circumvent this.


Ok, I’ve been playing around with the idea for a few weeks. Now’s the time I like to look through prior art to see what’s out there already and to get inspiration.

I google “block slide game” and similar. The closest match is an old browser game that pops up with various names on various flash-game hosting sites. Red Block Rescue is one.


A fun little game. Compared to my dominoes puzzles, this game packs the blocks in tighter, with fewer degrees of freedom. And it leverages more single-square blocks requiring more “micro” movement tactics. Qualitatively, the gameplay reminds me of those old tile puzzles where you unscramble a picture.


On the iOS side, I found a number of games with a wooden block-slide aesthetic. I don’t know which one is the original and which is the clone, but here’s a sample:




Despite surface similarity, these games are quite different from Red Block Rescue and my dominoes puzzles. Key difference: each block only slides in one direction. Vertical blocks only slide up or down; horizontal blocks only slide right and left. As a result, the gameplay is very different. The problems feel less spatial and more about sequencing moves in the right order.

Further searching led me to a gem of an iOS game: Puzzle Retreat. This is really a high-quality game. It has similar wood block aesthetics, but the game play is very different. There are different block types (ice, fire, etc.), and goal is not “escape” but rather filling the floor with blocks.


I was really impressed with Puzzle Retreat’s online forums. Each level has a facebook thread where people ask for help and give tips. I poked around these forums and ended up following a link to a game I had never heard of, but won some awards in 2014: A Good Snowman (is hard to build).


I really like A Good Snowman’s 2.5-D aesthetic. It’s sort of brilliant. The gameplay is strictly a top-down, 2-D grid. There’s no perspective (and this is not “isometric”). But the graphics give an illusion of depth and height.

Inspired, I quickly sketched some mocks of my dominoes puzzles using this 2.5-D aesthetic. The pawn is maybe a giraffe, maybe a panda. Side boundaries are bushes, and the blocks have the illusion of height.


New time filler

My new favorite time filler, for those moments where I’m tempted to pick up my phone and get lost in the internet. Now I sit down with some dominoes and invent puzzles.

The goal is always the same. Get my pawn (in this case, a usb plug) from its starting point in the bottom row to an exit on the top.

first puzzle

I start by picking a grid size, say 4×5. Then pick a starting spot and arrange the dominoes to fill up the grid. (At this point, the grid is in my head, I’m just arranging the dominoes on the table). Important, now I sketch the positions of the dominoes on paper. If this ends up being a good puzzle, I don’t want to forget the starting pattern.

Next I try to “solve” the puzzle. I don’t know yet where the exits will be. Instead, I try to work the pawn up toward the top row in as many places as I can. In doing so, I figure out which exit squares are too easy and which exit squares are impossible. Then, of the remaining possibilities, I pick one “easy” exit and one “hard” exit and mark them on my paper. (In some puzzles, it is impossible to get to the top row, so I mark these failed puzzles with an X).

A half an hour later I have a few post-it notes filled with puzzles. Here’s what I accumulated over the course of a few days last week.

Level Post-Its

Seeds of an idea

My three-year-old loves to arrange dominoes in big rectangles like this.

big rectangle

But sometimes gaps are left along the edges. I noticed it’s kind of fun to slide the dominoes and manipulate the negative space. Maybe there’s a game to this, something about moving the holes together, merging the gaps…

negative spacy

What about putting an item in a gap. (In this case, it’s a usb adapter!) The puzzle is to move the item from one side to the other.

first puzzle