PuzzleScript Rules

I was watching ThinkyCon, a conference on making puzzle games, and many designers mentioned that they use PuzzleScript to prototype their ideas. PuzzleScript is a puzzle design environment created by increpare, the designer behind Stephen’s Sausage Roll and many other puzzle games.

PuzzleScript is a marvel of economic design. A single text file specifies, all the graphics, levels, sound effects, and all the rules of the puzzle. It uses a custom system to concisely express rules. So concise that the rules of Sokoban can be expressed in a single line.

This efficiency comes because rules are expressed as find-replace rules. That makes it a grammar replacement system, which I last discussed when looking at Ludoscope and Unexplored. But it has many pragmatic features geared toward puzzle design, which I’ll explore in this article.

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What Is Procedural Generation

Procedural Generation can be interpreted quite broadly as just “making computers make cool creative things”. People make art, games, music, audio, stories and all sorts of weird things.

I’ve been doing it as a hobbyist for some time, and have become more and more involved: I make tutorials, projects, I sell a tool online for a niche algorithm, and recently taught a “masterclass” at Everything Procedural, the main conference for professionals in the space.

I thought I’d spill some digital ink about what it’s actually about. I get asked often enough, and this will help me clarify my verbal answers.

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Jules Takes Over the World

Jules felt stung as he left the psych ward. He wasn’t bothered by the battery of tests they ran – after all, he’d just had a major head accident. Nor was he bothered by the extra time they’d spent holding him as they flew in a neuro specialist to try and understand his extraordinary condition.

No, it was the final remarks as he was approved for release. “Sure, he’s testing off the charts for mental aptitude, perhaps a tenfold gain in thinking speed and memory, but that’s not a reason to hold him in a ward. What’s he going to do, take over the world?”

This, Jules took personally.

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A still from Steamboat Willie

There’s been a lot of clamour about generative AI for images, like Midjourney or Stable Diffusion. It’s killing creating jobs or whole industries; it’s illegally using copyrighted data for training purposes; it’s eroding the nature of art itself. I’m sure there are many out there who would be happy to see an outright ban on AI image generators and the like.

On the other hand, it’s undeniable that this is a valuable technology. Not just for the corporations making them, but of benefit to the world. Sure, every artist unpaid is someone else’s money saved, but also as the costs of art fall, that democratises everything around art. A friend of mine made personalised Christmas card this year, a small joy of the world that simply would not have occurred before. I co-wrote a custom murder mystery with ChatGPT in barely longer time than it took to play. The lowering skills bar for indie comics and games is something I hope leads to a profusion of new original things, much as digital art and games engines have spurred it in the past.

How can we resolve these things, to have our cake and eat it? Well, society has faced this problem before and has found a solution that, though imperfect, has endured for centuries.

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