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When we were kids, jigsaw puzzles were those funny pictures of cats and national landmarks we put together at Grandma’s house, jamming the pieces in until they fit. Many of us have moved on to new hobbies, but now a team of developers at Montreal-based company Trinôme is reminding us why they’re still cool — by moving them off the table and on to mobile devices.
The project is a twist for the French company, which usually works with television and web shows. That’s actually what Puzzle Axe started as before Trinôme scrapped it into a game. This isn’t a totally new excursion for the group, however. Producer François Veillette has some background in making web-based games such as point-and-click adventures — a good basis for the “jigsaw meets adventure” Puzzle Axe — but this is the first professional venture into games for community manager Alphonse Hà.
“We think it’s going to reach an audience that likes to do puzzles, but it’s also going to reach an audience of people who don’t typically like puzzles,” said Hà.
Veillette and Hà showed GamesBeat some early footage of Puzzle Axe, which is still in development. Below are a few of the ways the team is redefining what we think of as jigsaw puzzles by turning them into interactive, fully animated adventures.
Puzzles that tell a story
Illustrator Samuel Boucher provided the concept art for 10 minutes of animated cutscenes interspersed across 25 puzzles. These short sequences lend context to the scenarios. Players witness how the princes Andylion and Noxious choose to use the two royal axes while their father is away on vacation. With the magical heirlooms, the brothers can either destroy or rebuild the world around them by breaking it into jigsaw pieces.
“Every puzzle mechanic has a link in what happens in the story and what emotions we want to convey to the audience,” said Veillette.
The levels follow the narrative. “In the story, you need to figure out who’s going to be the legitimate heir to the throne,” said Hà. “That’s why you go down the staircase to go into the crypt to meet with the Oracle” — one of several characters that players meet in the game who also triggers the whole adventure.
“Puzzle is kind of the natural way of interacting with your fingers,” he said. “And on top of this, with the digital aspect of it, you can do so much more that’s interactive [than just] putting pieces together.”
As players explore the kingdom, they interact with its architecture in various ways. “Almost every puzzle has a new mechanic in it,” said Veillette.
One puzzle tasks the player with exploring a portion of the castle by lighting and building a staircase shrouded in darkness. Players must place torches at certain points to be able to see the rest of the room, which isn’t confined to one frame. It keeps going down — a jigsaw puzzle that expands and comes to life through animation.
This was Veillette’s favorite for its “purity,” he said. “I like it because it explains really well that there’s a new twist in the jigsaw puzzles.”
Another puzzle in the crypt involves constructing a glass ceiling under the pressures of gravity. “There’s a right order to put the pieces,” he said. “You cannot start building from the top because it’s going to fall down. So you’ve got to go from the base and then build, build, build.”
Puzzle Axe contains a few puzzles that feature monsters — like a rotten chicken-leg beast that the Oracle summons to test the brothers’ mettle.
“With your finger, you just tap on the monster, and the monster falls out into jigsaw puzzle pieces,” said Hà. “And then after that, you can rebuild [him] with other pieces.”
Eventually, he becomes a friendly creature. The same concept applies to a storm scene at sea, where players change angry clouds into happy ones.
Through the dual animation, the monster becomes what Hà called a “two-faced version” of itself.
“There are different ways to play with this one,” said Veillette. “You can choose to destroy everything in the screen and build it, but it’s much easier to destroy just small parts. So you see half of the rotten chicken leg and half of it which is well done. So it’s really funny to see the combination of those two images together, and the animation makes them fit together.
“At the end, it’s a happy chicken leg, and you eat him,” he said, laughing.
Rock ‘n’ roll
Another puzzle involves arranging identically shaped pieces by listening to the music notes they produce, which come from four different instruments.
“When you hear the melody … it’s because you click on the axe to hear it. So it’s like a magical axe,” said Veillette.
Players have to rely on sound rather than sight to solve the puzzle. Hà considers it the most challenging one.
“Every piece is the same shape, and you really have to go with the ear, and there’s a lot of different sounds,” he said. “And usually [with] jigsaw puzzles, your reaction is to go for whatever is visual. You get visual cues, and that’s how you put things together. But this is completely different.”
The world is your jigsaw
Players also construct images from objects that don’t resemble typical jigsaw pieces. One scenario takes place underwater, where players put together scraps of a boat, which bobs to the surface. But before they can, they have to figure out how to prevent a fish from darting out of its cave and wrecking it.
“It’s like a puzzle within a jigsaw puzzle,” said Hà.
Veillette also demonstrated how players navigate a maze of their own creation by forming a path across the screen. The “labyrinth,” as he called it, grows with every new selection. Players may encounter dead ends or have to cross intersections by choosing the right pieces.
The power of touch
At one point, Andylion emerges from the castle to find a mouse named Bob trapped in a cage. To free him, players fill a bowl with monsters by building up the picture.
What’s cool, though, is that as you move pieces around the screen, the eyes of the creatures inside the cage follow your finger.
“This has nothing to do with gameplay,” said Veillette, adding, “You see that detail, and this is some funny detail that adds up to the overall vibe.”
Another mysterious element is a butterfly that flutters around the screen. It has a special role in the puzzle. There are a lot of these little moments, said Veillette. “Sometimes it’s just small stuff like that.”
“With the iPad, with the touch devices, mobiles — whether it’s iPhone or any other Android device — it doesn’t really take advantage of the full power of the touch yet,” said Hà, in reference to other puzzle games on mobile. “Angry Birds is nice, but that’s something you could easily do with a mouse and a cursor.” There aren’t enough games out there that maximize this potential.
“To make a game is like a conversation we have with people,” said Veillette. “You’ve got to give them something different and take them by surprise.”