Roguelikes have a history of integrating puzzle-gaming mechanics and I don’t see why Snakelikes should be any different. The most obvious example of straight up puzzle integration is the Sokoban rooms from Nethack. I love the madness of being confronted with a puzzle right in the middle of an adventure rpg. I also love how the DevTeam (as they call themselves) handled the integration. Instead of trying to push Boxes into Spots (how classic Sokoban functions) they have you trying to push Boulders into Holes. Both Boulders and Holes will be familiar to any adventurer who’s made it as far as Sokoban. The important thing is – they did it with systems that appear throughout the game! The Sokoban levels, in fact, don’t employ any unique mechanics at all! It’s wonderfully integrated.
Furthermore, they don’t have much in the way of stupid gimicks to stop you from cheating at the puzzles (as in: Sorry wizard – the magical forces are weak in these rooms!). So you can break boulders with wands, spells, pickaxes. You can summon extra boulders with scrolls of earth. And sure, you can’t dig the walls or teleport – that would completely shatter the meaning of the puzzle – but by and large you have your full powers (whatever those might be).
So we want to follow in those footsteps. Any mechanic employed in puzzling should exist in the game at large. And there should be as few restrictions as possible (shooting for none) on using any means at all to solve the puzzle – if you’re insanely long or happen to have a Blast spell in the right direction, then kudos!
But enough of what the puzzles won’t do. What about what they ought to, nay, must do? Well not to state the staggeringly obvious here, but we’ve got to use the fact that you’re a snake! What might that look like? Unlike Link running around and placing stones to hold down buttons – you can occupy many tiles at once. If you contort yourself you could hold down many buttons at once – perhaps to open a door? Or what about a mechanic that uses your serpentine length against you? A situation where you have to orient your segments just so or you’ll be unable to turn around, perhaps?
Jumping back a moment, my only complaint with Nethack Sokoban is that it’s so isolated. You get it for this one little chain of rooms and then that’s it! I’ve always wanted to see a roguelike that integrates puzzle mechanics with the general map creation. Allowing those mechanics, and the fun puzzley problem solving to work itself into the general flow of the game.
To that end, let us consider the time-honored tradition of keys, locks, and doors.
We’re picturing keys being a special pickup item. When you pick one up it gets stored in your tailmost segment (which is not already holding a key). The keys come in different colors, common grey ones, and then a rainbow of rarity. But here’s the thing – a blue key can be used in any blue lock. You could pass one by because you’re not that interested and holding out for Mr Right Blue Lock. Or you could be holding half a dozen keys at once in various segments. Now, if your tail gets cut off, don’t panic, the key will always be found by breaking the corresponding stone segment. To open the lock you need to position the segment with the key on top of the Lock Tile. And presto! Doors fly open, Stairs appear, Magic manifests – all sorts of worthwhile effects!
The keys and their locks can be an aspect of the general map creation algorithm, partitioning sections off with locked doors and spawning keys in whatever quantity proves the most fun. The cave complexes themselves, the general map, gains a function as a giant puzzle. Instead of the puzzles being relegated to a short discrete section of game, they are interwoven with the game’s core of exploration, battle, and well… trying not to bite your tail off.
And no – this won’t give these caves the same charm and bedevilment a meticulously handcrafted Zelda Dungeon yields. But I love the idea of players having to use their puzzle-brains along with their adventuring brains as they descend. So! Those are the goals then. Till we meet again!