Blockhouse is Now Available

BlockhouseLevel059Blockhouse is now available on the iTunes App Store!

Give it a download and let me know what you think. I’m working on putting up some solution pages here on the website, but in the meantime, if you get stuck on a puzzle, just post a comment here and I (or someone else) will lend a hand.

Also, I’d like to hear which puzzles were your favorites, and why, since I’m already starting to think about what mix of puzzle-types to put into Blockhouse 2. You can let me know which individual puzzles you liked the best, and you can also tell me which categories of puzzles you preferred. I would divide the puzzles into four main categories:

  • Single-block mazes (like puzzles 26-28).
  • Single-polyomino puzzles (like 29-32).
  • Segmented puzzles (like 33-35).
  • Double-polyomino puzzles (like 36-45).

Of course, there are also puzzles that are harder to categorize, like 14-15, 46, 49, etc.

All thoughts are welcome!

30 thoughts on “Blockhouse is Now Available

  1. I got it this morning (after reading this enthusiastic review http://gameshelf.jmac.org/2009/09/kory-heaths-blockhouse.html ) and I’m really enjoying it (I’m on level 12 at the moment).

    I have a suggestion/feature request. For each puzzle, it would be great to know what the optimum number of moves is, and how good I did. Even better, it would be nice to be able to (anonymously) submit scores online, to see how I compare with other players.

  2. Hi Alan, thanks for the feedback! I certainly considered (and still consider) the idea of displaying a move-counter, along with the optimum number of moves. One of the problems is that I was going for extreme minimalism with the UI, and there’s no room on the current screen to display these things, so I’d have to add extra screens, etc. But I’m sure you won’t be the last to request this, so I’ll certainly continue to think about it.

    One thing that came out during playtesting was that a few people requested it when they first started playing, but once the puzzles started getting harder, they stopped caring about it as much. I’d be curious to hear your take on this issue as you continue to work through the puzzles.

    I plan on running some polls on this kind of stuff – as soon as I figure out how to run a poll! :)

  3. A way to hide it would be to have it on some information screen. Maybe there is space at the bottom right for a “i” icon (or somewhere at the top), and only that screen would display the optimal number of moves as well as other information.

    Alternatively, there could be a setting to have a fullscreen number fade in and out at each move (or a bar move up and down temporarily showing the number of the most recent move as it occurs).

    I’ve done a few more puzzles, and plan to do some before going to sleep. I’ll let you know if I feel it does not matter later on ;-)

  4. Having the puzzle screen flash numbers at me as I play would drive me nuts.

    Maybe you could hide the extra options in the “you win” screen. I guess that’s not ideal, because it’s not trivial to return to that screen if you change your mind later. (You’d have to re-solve level 100.) But you could add a note there saying “Now see how fast you can solve each level in Challenge Mode!” Return to the main screen, and the title “Blockhouse” has been replaced by a “Challenge” button (because, seriously, the player knows what the game is called by now). This brings up your chart, and you can click on any level to enter it… I suppose you just throw the move number into the “Reset” button. Pushing it resets it to zero, and again, the player knows what it does by now.

    Random ideas.

  5. I agree it would be distracting, I was just throwing ideas in the air ;-)

    I just finished puzzle 38, and my favorite puzzles are definitely these double-polyomino ones. My least favorite are the mazes, and the single-polyomino or the segmented are about equal, in between.

  6. Here’s an amusing idea that I’m not really serious about: I could create a set of puzzles for which the optimum solution for each puzzle is equal to its level number. So puzzle #1 would be solvable in one move (an easy tutorial!), puzzle #9 would be solvable in nine moves, etc. That would at least solve my problem of finding a place to display the optimum number of moves, since the level number would fulfill that function. The “Reset” button could display your current number of moves, as Andrew suggests. Of course, I couldn’t do 100 puzzles this way, because a puzzle with an optimum solution of 100 moves would be way too difficult.

    But really, presenting the player with the goal of optimum efficiency opens up other cans of worms. For instance, I suspect that it would suddenly become annoying not to have an undo button. It would be frustrating to be 19 moves into a tricky 21-move solution, and then to have to start over because of a mis-tilt or a mis-swipe. For what it’s worth, I tried a version of Blockhouse that had an undo button in addition to the reset button, and a version that had an undo button *instead of* the reset button. In both cases, I was surprised at how significantly it changed the feel of the game, in a way that I didn’t like. Somehow it made the game feel less physical and visceral, if that makes any sense. Actually, I probably haven’t fully analyzed what I didn’t like about it. But anyway, that playtesting experience is probably one of the reasons why I steered away from a focus on move counts and optimal moves. (It also validated my design decision to make sure that puzzles never become unsolvable.)

  7. @Alan: Excellent feedback about the different puzzle-types. Interesting that your preferences follow the progression that I implemented in each quad – a handful of mazes, a handful of single polys, a handful of segmented puzzles, then a significant chunk of double-polys (and a few weird ones). It will be interesting to see if there’s anything approaching consensus on this issue. There’s an argument in favor of making Blockhouse 2 contain nothing but 100 double-poly (or multi-poly) puzzles. I considered doing that for this version, but I worried it would be too monotonous, and I wanted to present the variety that I found in the puzzle-space.

  8. I actually really liked the maze ones. The pacman screen amused me.

    I’m not real good at these puzzles, but I’m enjoying them anyway. Can someone give me a hint on Puzzle 19. I feel like I understand what the second to last position should be, I’m just having trouble getting it there. Thanks.

    • @Darlene: Do you want a hint or a full solution? My hint is: try to get both blocks to slide up the right side of the puzzle together. Then the purple one can slip around to the left and downward, while the green one stays up there. Let me know if you want a full solution.

  9. As for puzzle types, I really enjoyed having a mix. All double-polys would get tedious, even with the amount of variety that category permits.

    I find the segmented ones by far the most difficult to work on. Keeping track of multiple states like that is just awful for some reason. The single-block mazes are easy enough to be a palate-cleanser; the single-polyomino mazes are also easy, but they somehow exhibit less variety than the single-block ones.

    There might be room for some puzzles with a 2×1 block and a 1×2 block in a large, fairly open arena.

  10. @Andrew: When you say “just awful”, you mean in a good way, right? :)

    Assuming the answer is no, do you dislike them enough that you wouldn’t miss them if there were none in BH2?

    I actually did make some puzzles with 1×2 / 2×1 blocks. For no particular reason, I didn’t include them. I guess they seemed just like the other multi-poly puzzles, but slightly less interesting. But that’s pretty subjective. They were fine. As you can tell, I had a surplus.

  11. Bleah. Stuck at 100! I see the endgame in my head, but can’t get the pieces into that cofiguration.

    Great game, BTW. I got hooked when I first downloaded it and plowed through 60-odd levels in one night (and 2 hours I totally didn’t notice passing). The next few levels were definitely slower going, and I’m just *stumped* on 100.

  12. Hey Kory, I could just e-mail you but I figured I’d say on here how much fun Blockhouse is! I bought it a couple of days ago and haven’t had a ton of time with it but I’m breezing through most of them, I’m on puzzle #83 so I’ll probably complete all 100 in a day or two.

    Though I really liked reading about how you made a program just to build the levels, I’d be very interested in the details of the process of creating a level and how you went about designing the various “themes” of levels that show up over and over. Great job!

    -Danny

  13. @Stace: Focus on getting the green block hooked onto the purple block in the way the target markings indicate. It only takes a handful of moves to do this. Then treat the purple/green blocks as a single unit, and try to move it to its proper position, along with the blue block.

  14. Hi Danny! Thanks for stopping by!

    As far as the “themes” go, the puzzles just naturally fell into four categories (single-square, single-poly, segmented, double-poly), and each type felt different. As far as the individual puzzles go, it was sort of overwhelming to try to come up with 100 of them, so I made my job easier by coming up with a pattern which I more or less repeated within each quad. For instance, I tried lots of combos of shapes for the double-block puzzles, and I narrowed it down to 10 combos that I really liked. I repeat these 10 puzzle types in each quad, getting gradually harder. That structure helped me know what to work on next. I’d pick one puzzle-type (say, two interlocking L-shapes), and I’d design at least a dozen of them, and then I’d pick my four favorites, and order them by difficulty.

    As far as designing individual puzzles, I tried to make them as simple as possible while remaining interesting. For instance, I’d take the two interlocking L-shapes blocks, and I’d try putting just a single square wall somewhere in the puzzle. In a 6×8 puzzle, there are only 48 possible places to put a single wall (and really fewer, when you consider rotations and reflections), so I tried them all exhaustively. Then I’d try exactly two walls, and exactly three walls, etc. Even here, I felt like I was almost exhaustively exploring the puzzle space, because my evolutionary process was trying thousands of wall positions, and only showing me the ones that were interesting. In the end, this turned out to be enough. If you go back and look at all the double-block puzzles, you’ll see that they mostly contain four or fewer wall blocks. That was all the complexity I needed.

    The other puzzle types were a bit different, but followed a similar pattern. The single-poly puzzles were exactly like the double-poly puzzles, except I needed to add a lot more than four wall blocks to get interesting puzzles. With the segmented puzzles, I started with a simple wall separating the segments, and then had the evolutionary process add only a handful of walls. For a lot of them, I added the walls symmetrically, which created segments that were mirror images of each other. Those actually seemed to result in particularly interesting puzzles. The single-block mazes were the hardest puzzles to design, because my evolutionary process was not good at evolving them. In the future, I’d like to come up with a better process for this.

  15. Okay, after a long bus ride today, I am brutally stuck on 83. How hard can it be? Pretty hard, evidently, because my brain hurts. May I have a hint, please?

    As my friend Dan said today, “This is pretty much the best dollar you ever spent, right?” Yep.

  16. Hi Matthew! I know your name from rec.*.int-fiction years ago. Welcome! Thanks for the compliment – that made my day.

    Hint for puzzle 83: The general progression of the solution is to put the blue block on its target, then the purple block, then the red block. But the blue block will need to come off its target once and then go back on it in order to make this work.

    Let me know if that’s too obscure…

  17. Phew! Got it! That makes 100 levels in the can. No rush on Blockhouse 2; I do need to get some work done one of these days.

    Really great game. rec.*.i-f takes me WAY back, although I still hang out with some of those folks.

  18. Interesting effect:
    I seem to have an easier time with certain puzzles just by turning them. I hate to admit that I was stuck on level 40 a while until I turned it upside-down. Then everything just slid into place (pun intended). Similarly, level 73 was easier once I rotated it 90 degrees so that the menus were to my right.

    Maybe it has nothing to do absolute orientation… just that it’s not the way I’ve been banging away at it for the last ten minutes.

    Anyone else experience this?

  19. @Ryan: I solved lots of these puzzles on the iPhone simulator while developing, so I played them all right-side up. But when I first implemented the tilt controls, I found it a lot easier to control by holding the phone in landscape position. After a while though, I got more used to it, and now I keep the phone in portrait all the time.

    It does make sense to change orientations when you’re stuck on a puzzle. Changing your perspective helps you break out of ruts and find positions you haven’t found before.

  20. I love this app. I downloaded it as preperation for the car trips over Christmas and I can’t put it down!! Great idea, plus it doesn’t get boring — just challenging!

  21. Yea, done.

    Some random notes:
    My last few levels were 83, 89 and finally 81. Level 81 wasn’t really that hard, but I though it was going to take longer than it actually did.

    IF I RECALL CORRECTLY, level 94.

    I thought Level 100 was going to be the granddaddy of them all. I mean really… three pieces? It was no walk in the park, but it certainly wasn’t the most difficult.

    I’d be interested in hear which levels others thought were the most difficult.

    Brainstorms for Blockhouse2:
    – Multiple disconnected areas like 83, but with weirdly shaped pieces, a la 100.
    – A few levels with the exact same board and piece starting positions but different goal positions.

  22. Kory, your game is on my iphone’s “elite page.” It sits alongside with Trism and Edge (no longer available here in the U.S.). My question to you is, when will we see Blockhouse 2? Please tell me your 85% or more done or that its hitting the app store this month, I can’t wait any longer!

  23. I have a silly question about the insides. Looking at Blockhouse.plist, I see lots of ___Decal things in there (titleDecal, floorDecal, tiltSwitchDecal, etc). They look kind of like base64 images or something like that. Keeping game images in the same resource file as puzzles is kind of silly; was that just something with BlockhouseBuilder?

    • Yeah, my implementation is a bit strange. I actually rendered all of the block shapes (rounded corners, etc.) in BlockhouseBuilder and included them in the resource file in a greyscale format. Every time you access a puzzle, the app uses this data to contstruct an OpenGL texture containing the full colored blocks for the puzzle, along with the background. If I had it to do over again, I would find a more conventional method.

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