Crayon Physics Deluxe

Continuing into the Steam indie pack, I first made some failed attempts at getting The Path to work on my machine — I’ll have to return to that one later, perhaps after my next system upgrade. Giving that up, I proceeded to Crayon Physics Deluxe, a physics-puzzler based on the novel idea of letting the player add arbitrary objects to the scene by drawing them with the mouse pointer, and deducing their physical attributes from how and where they were drawn. (I described Blueberry Garden as having a hand-drawn look, but allowing the player to draw things really takes that idea to a new level.) I remember trying the prototype of this, Crayon Physics sans-deluxe, when it was new. It wasn’t clear to me then how the simple mechanics could be extended to interesting puzzles. It seems to mainly manage it by adding more types of things you can draw. For example, at one pivotal point, your repertoire expands to include pivot points — drawing a small circle inside another closed object provides a nub that forms the basis for pendulums or levers.

As is fairly common in level-based puzzle games, CPD doesn’t require the player to complete every level to advance. Levels come in batches (depicted as islands on a map), and each batch is unlocked by obtaining a certain number of stars. Each level can yield two stars. The first is granted for simply beating the level — the level’s goal is marked with a star to make this clear. 1Actually, I’ve seen a few levels that have two stars in them, marking two goals. Beating such a level requires hitting both stars. It seems like you still get only one star for beating it, though. The second star requires the player to meet three challenges: an Elegant solution (meaning you only draw one thing), an Old-School solution (no pivot points — that is, a solution that would work in the original Crayon Physics), and an Awesome solution. The Awesome solution is of particular interest, because it’s done on the honor system: players are expected to decide for themselves whether or not a particular solution is awesome.

The Awesome criterion is a peculiar, and somewhat controversial, choice for a puzzle game. Generally speaking, puzzle-solving involves a mode of mind in which all you’re trying to do is satisfy the puzzle’s constraints. Critical evaluation of your own work on the basis of its aesthetic merits isn’t part of the puzzle-solving mindset; it’s more part of the Artist or Designer mindset. So the author of CPD is essentially trying to break us out of puzzle-solving mode and put us in a more creative frame of mind. Some people don’t see the point of this, or perhaps see the point but resent it, preferring to stay in puzzle-solving mode, do the minimum, and just arbitrarily check the Awesome checkbox whenever they need to. But such people miss the point of the game. I say that with some confidence: the author has made statements about the game’s point, and why he added the Awesome criterion in the first place. It’s basically because he saw people doing the bare minimum to complete the puzzles and wanted a way to encourage them to do otherwise.

Personally, I’ve never met an honor system I didn’t want to honor. And that applies even moreso in games, where cheating just means cheating yourself out of the satisfaction of winning honestly. Completing this game requires more stars than there are levels, so if I want to get it off the Stack, I’ll have to perpetrate some Awesomeness. I haven’t marked anything as Awesome yet, but even so, I’m finding that my approach to solutions is colored by the mere anticipation of it. Cheap answers just don’t satisfy.

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1. Actually, I’ve seen a few levels that have two stars in them, marking two goals. Beating such a level requires hitting both stars. It seems like you still get only one star for beating it, though.

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